East Asian medicine takes a holistic approach to preventing and healing illness. Traditional East Asian medicine is the third-oldest form of medicine in the world; it is predated only by medical practices in Egypt and Babylonia. For thousands of years, it has proven to be an effective form of preventive and therapeutic health care.
By employing both East Asian and Western approaches to care, you can take advantage of the best of each. You can use the science of Western medicine and the natural healing of Eastern modalities as both daily prevention and treatment in times of sickness. Below I describe some of the principles of natural healing in East Asian medicine.
A moderate and gradual approach
Natural healing is gentle and noninvasive. Most natural-healing treatment methods are slow, steady, and low risk. Because most of these techniques are mild, you can try one, observe the results, and then try another. You can even safely use multiple treatments at the same time. Perhaps best of all, there are no negative side effects of natural-healing methods, only benefits. Thus, you can safely use natural-healing techniques to increase your child’s vitality and energy anytime—even when she is not sick.
Whole and integrated
Natural healing is a holistic approach that treats your whole baby, rather than treating individual parts of her physical body. It views all systems as integrated and working together and considers all aspects of her condition.
For instance, if she has an earache, the source of her pain may involve internal systems that you cannot see by looking at her ear. By thinking of her whole system, you can more deeply consider the cause of, relief from, and cure for her earache.
Holistic healing for your baby reflects the following viewpoints:
- She is not an isolated being. She is influenced by her relationship to her environment—both her physical environment, such as weather and living conditions, and her emotional environment, including levels of stress and nurturing.
- Her broad physiological landscape, or overall verve and life force, is a significant part of her health. The terrain of her physiological landscape affects her ability to adjust and respond to external forces. If she is sick or injured, the speed of her recovery depends on her overall condition.
- Repeated patterns tell a story that can be noticed, observed, and questioned. Immediate discomforts, such as an ongoing runny nose or regular temper tantrums, may be signals of another cause to consider in an overall diagnosis.
- The relationship of different parts is more meaningful than the individual parts alone. Tangible parts add up to make a whole that is intangible; for example, many trees make up a forest. The four vital signs in medicine are: pulse rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature. Together they create well-being, which is immeasurable, yet consequential in healing.
- The discovery and treatment of a sickness’s causes may be nonlinear, rather than following the direct cause and effect logic of scientific methods. Fixing a single symptom or place that hurts may have little impact if other factors affect the whole.
- Healing moves from the inside out and from the roots up. True healing occurs when you strengthen your baby’s overall health.
Symptoms are your friends
People often mistake symptoms for illnesses. You may provide temporary relief by extinguishing symptoms, but if you do not address the root cause of a symptom, then long-term healing cannot occur. Aspirin may reduce fever, but it does not address the cause or the purpose of the fever; it merely stops a symptom, and thus may cover up a clue to what is really going on.
While natural-healing techniques can and do relieve individual symptoms, their goal is to find the root of the sickness underlying the symptoms. Symptoms—such as fever, pain, rash, aches, or swelling—are messages that point to a problem; they are signs that something is askew. They are not the problem; they are an expression of the problem. By listening to the messages your child’s body is sending through symptoms, you can appreciate their benevolent purposes of healing, bringing balance, and establishing wholeness.
Every day your baby’s body takes in food, liquid, and air in order to produce blood, nerve and other cells, as well as bone and muscle tissue. What her body does not use is eliminated through urination, bowel movements, respiration, and perspiration. If she takes in substances that are low in quality and not useful, her disposal system becomes overwhelmed. Her body becomes unbalanced.
From the East Asian point of view, most sickness in the modern world is caused by too many, rather than too few, nutrients. Excess can cause a disruption in your baby’s chi (life force) flow, which appears as a deficiency. When she has too much waste to process through elimination, respiration, and perspiration, she may discharge that waste through a fever and through the openings in her body and skin—manifesting in a runny nose, an earache, coughing, drooling, discharge from her eyes, rashes, or bumps. When she is overloaded and her elimination organs cannot clean her blood, fatty acids accumulate inside her body in the form of hardness, cysts, or mucus deposits in her liver, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and circulatory system.
Because children’s bodies are self-balancing, they eliminate excesses naturally and have the ability to heal on their own. For instance, a common cold may be the result of discharging excess from mucus-producing foods. To kill an infection, your baby may develop a fever, which can be cleansing and healing.
Thus, you can contribute to sickness by giving in to your baby or toddler’s desire to overindulge. While it can be challenging to say no and to set limits that cause short-term discomfort for both child and parent, a constant answer of yes can end up compromising your baby’s health. As your baby grows and begins to make demands, protecting her health may involve helping her to avoid excesses in foods, activities, and stimulation.
Because of a young baby’s inherent weakness, external factors disturb her chi fairly regularly. In an effort to achieve balance during seasonal changes in temperature, her body makes adjustments. In the winter, her body builds up heat that diminishes in the spring, which may result in a fever. In the summer, her body needs cooling foods, such as fruit, and light cooking to slow down her metabolism. The cool weather of autumn can squeeze out excess liquid in her body through a runny nose or cold.
These natural adjustments and discharges cleanse your baby’s body. It is healthy and normal for babies and toddlers to have periodic sicknesses that discharge minor excesses and develop and strengthen their immune systems.
The following external influences can influence your baby’s health and cause reactions:
- Cold can diminish your baby’s immune system, resulting in poor blood or chi circulation. This may lead to a cold, cough, other respiratory disorder, stagnation of chi, or weak digestion.
- Heat can quickly affect your baby. Babies are naturally hot and yang, with insufficient yin, and heat builds up over time. Excess heat can result in fever or inflammation. When summer begins, excess heat can bring on diarrhea.
- Wind causes the quickest injury to your baby’s energy system. Symptoms of exposure to wind include chills, fever, and colds. Because babies and children are vulnerable to getting chilled from a breeze, keep your baby’s neck covered when it is windy or cool. Damp weather can contribute to excess mucus, which can affect your baby’s respiratory system, which in turn may result in swelling or bloating.
- Dry air from air-conditioning or central heat can result in dry skin, dryness in your baby’s respiratory and digestive systems, and overall dryness in her body.
Disruptions to your baby’s rhythms and patterns of energy and emotions can create different kinds of imbalances. Natural healing not only balances and restores harmony to different parts of your baby’s physical body, but also revitalizes and rejuvenates her whole system.
Note: The suggestions and ideas in this article are not intended to take the place of professional guidance or treatment; they are meant to complement the advice of your child’s health care provider, caretakers, and educators, while offering consolidated information to help you develop your intuition and make choices that fit with your own personal, religious, or spiritual philosophies. There is no guarantee as to the effects of the use of the recommendations and no liabilities can be taken.