The Spirit in Chinese Medicine

The term “Spirit” is not one that is encountered very often in conventional medicine, being seen as unscientific, and of having no medical relevance. However, in Chinese medicine the “Spirit” of a person was seen as fundamentally important, and it still is by Traditional Acupuncture today:

“When one applies medical treatment, one must keep in mind first of all, the patient’s spirit”

(Ling Shu)

So what is meant by “Spirit”?

The translation that comes closest to that meant by Chinese medicine is: “the animating or vital principle in man.”(OED)

When people think of spirit they often associate it with the religious side of somebody, but “spirit” encompasses many other aspects of being: love and compassion are expressions of the spirit.

When we have experienced spiritual distress we have real difficulty coping with our lives, let alone fully enjoying them. This suffering manifests in various ways, causing problems in relationships, lethargy and despondency, lack of interest and can often be seen in a patients’ eyes.

Conversely, when a patient’s spirits are lifted they feel they can embrace life again and find joy in all sorts of areas of their life. Clearly, most people are somewhere between the two states, but we all want a greater portion of the good times!

This outcome is what the practitioner of Traditional Acupuncture always keeps in mind. The historical texts always stressed this:

“With its ability to influence the person’s Qi in the channels, acupuncture was regarded as the primary therapeutic modality for initiating change in a patient’s spirit.”(Hicks/Mole).