Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: Between Heaven and Earth

There is a growing dissatisfaction toward Western medicine, especially here in America, where it seems that every year it gets more expensive, but the results don't reflect the price. My biggest complaint is that we don't have cures for the most common ailments; we just have treatments, mostly in the form of prescription medicines that have to be taken indefinitely. A second and possibly related complaint is that we treat the placebo effect, which reflects the power of the mind, as something to be controlled for instead of something we might be able to use to our advantage.

If you are interested in alternative medicine and would like to learn about some of the concepts and options, Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine is a good place to start. The book covers acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition. The book offers the model of the body as a garden and the doctor as a gardener as a contrast to the conventional model of the body as a machine and the doctor as a mechanic. A healthy garden has growing plants and fragrant flowers; a machine works as intended or it's broken. A gardener tends a garden and removes weeds; a mechanic does preventive maintenance and replaces broken or worn-out parts. You get the idea.

A healthy garden includes more than the plants themselves; the soil, water, and weather conditions also have an impact. The gardens that we are include not just our bodies, but our minds, emotions and personalities. Thus the book gives five elements (fire, water, earth, wood and metal), which have more in common with the four elements of alchemy (fire, water, air and earth) than with the elements of the periodic table. The five elements correspond to basic personality patterns and to five of what the book calls "organ networks." The idea is that there should be balance between the elements.

You won't be able to perform acupuncture or prescribe herbs after reading this book, but you will have a solid grounding in the concepts behind traditional Chinese medicine. I recommend this book for those interested in the subject.

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