Ayurveda VS Traditional Chinese Medicine
A brief comparison between Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Basic Principles and Diet
1 - Prana / Tejas / Ojas & Qi
2 - Doshas & Yin / Yang
3 - Gunas & 6 Jings
4 - Agni & Dhatus
5 - Srotas / Nadis & Jingluos + daily rhythms
6 - Elements
7 - Flavours
8 - Seasons
The advice given in this work is for information only. It indicate the general trends of certain situations, with some general parameters. Of course, it is essential to know your particular situation to put these medicines into practice in their integrity.
1 - Prana / Tejas / Ojas & Qi
The principle of vital energy is found in the heart of both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines.
The Ayurveda defines 3 kinds of vital energies, intimately connected to the 3 Doshas: Prana, which is the life force of Vata ; Tejas, which is the internal fire of Pitta ; and Ojas, which is the vital energy supply of Kapha, which can be maintained or refilled.
In Mandarin, Qi means "breath", "air" or "gas", but as a fundamental principle of TCM, it implies more "life force" or "flow of energy", and has a cosmic scale to it. The Shen shapes our spirit, and resides into the heart. The Jing represents the essence of our physical body, and is a non-rechargeable energy supply.
2 - Doshas & Yin / Yang
Reference is made to the principle of equilibrium at all levels of analysis of a human being, whether it be in Ayurveda or TCM.
In Ayurveda, Doshas are the source of balance or imbalance of the body and of all conditions that lead to health or disease. They control the internal movements of the body, and are three in number: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Concerning TCM, the principles of Yin and Yang evoke the duality of the universe. They are two interconnected forces, both diametrically opposed and complementary. Similarly, their balance or imbalance is a source of health or disease.
3 - Gunas & 6 Jings
The fundamental properties attributed to all foods are Gunas, according to Ayurveda. There are 20 of them, but they could extend to infinity. They allow classifying the attributes of a food to determine whether it will intensify or soothe each of the three Doshas. The Gunas are: heavy, light, cold, warm, unctuous, dry, slow, fast, soft, rough, solid, fluid, soft, hard, coarse, subtle, stable, mobile, viscous, clarifying.
The TCM proposes a system of six Jings (stages) to define the properties of a given food, and of many other aspects of health. These are heat / cold, interior / exterior, and excess / deficiency.
4 - Agni & Dhatus
Agni is the digestive fire in Ayurveda. Everything starts from it in the diet, and it includes several subcategories: different Agni located in different parts of the body.
The so-called Dhatus are the tissues that maintain and nourish the body: plasma, blood, muscle tissue, adipose tissue, bone, nerve tissue and bone marrow, and reproductive tissue. The succession of their actions creates Ojas, the vital energy reserve. They are produced by food digested and processed by the Doshas. They have no exact TCM equivalent, though the stomach is seen as the cauldron and the spleen as the digestive fire that warms it up.
5 - Srotas / Nadis & Jingluo + daily rhythms
There are 13 Srotas systems for men and 15 for women. These are the physical coarse channels through which the Dhatus communicate, and through which substances circulate. They may be affected or disrupted by the same substances that pass through them. The joint Srotas are: Srotas of air, food, water, plasma, blood, muscle, adipose, bones and cartilages, bone marrow, reproduction, urinary, excretory, and sweat. The menstrual and lactary Srotas are specific to women.
As for the Nadis, they are also canals, but energetic and subtle ones. There are 3 major Nadis, each carrying a force (feminine, masculine, and neutral), located along the major Chakras, and thus the spinal column. There would be 72,000 Nadis in total.
In the TCM, the Jingluos (meridians) are interconnected channels that connect the organs and limbs, communicate top and bottom, surface and interior, regulate the functioning of each part of the body, blood, but also Qi. There are several theories on meridians, depending on the point of reference. However, these references do agree on the following data: there are 12 regular meridians systems, connected to the organs (Yin systems: lung, large intestine, spleen and pancreas, heart, kidneys, master heart, and liver; Yang systems: stomach, small intestine, bladder, triple heater, and gall bladder), either connected to the upper limbs, or to the lower limbs. To these 12 systems are added 8 extraordinary meridians, also called vessels, which are not connected to a particular organ (trunk vessels: the governor, the conception, the thoroughfare, and the belt ; feet vessels: the Yin-heel and Yang-heel, the Yin-link and Yang-link). The Yin meridians circulate from the bottom up on the front of the body, while the Yang meridians move from top to bottom on the back of the body, except for the meridian of the stomach, Yang, which path is on the front face of the body. The meridians associated with their points of acupuncture, numbering 361, would be the equivalent of the Nadis.
Circulating continuously through the 12 regular meridians in the TCM, the Qi goes through all of them in 24 hours, granting 2 hours to each of them. We call this phenomenon the horary cycle. Ideally, we should take these cycles into account in our diet, in order to optimize the moment when the food will be transformed by each organ, for better assimilation, but also not to exhaust our organs.
As for the daily rhythms in Ayurveda, they vary according to the sources, but it is generally considered that the morning is Kapha, the midday Pitta, and the evening Vata.
6 - Elements
The elements are at the core of Ayurveda. They represent the fundamental qualities of nature. Through them all the characteristics of the body, the matter and the spirit are expressed.
The ether is the first element, and the most subtle. It is space and essence of emptiness. The ether is closely related to the original sound and vibration of space (the sound of the Big Bang?). The ear is therefore connected to it.
The air is derived from ether. It is the potential for movement, the energy, the forces and the movement resulting from them all. The air has a special relationship with the touch, and therefore the skin.
Fire evolves from ether and air, and takes shape through them. It is the heat and the light, the energy and its release. Vision and eyes are attributed to him.
Water is protective and nourishing. All fluids are part of the water element, and it represents the cohesion. It is tied to taste and language.
The earth represents the solid matter and the structure of the universe, but also of all creation. It is the seed and the potential energy. The smell and the nose are associated with it.
In the field of TCM, the elements, or movements, are the basis of physiology. They are used to understand the infinite correspondences between all facets of life, and are organized according to the cycles of creation and control. These cycles weave the relations that exist between the 5 elements, either in the form of generating one another or in the form of overcoming one another.
Wood represents the force of activation and growth, it is an active and primitive force like the vegetal life that germinates, emerges from the ground and rises towards the light.
The fire represents the power of transformation and maximum animation of the yang at its peak. The fire rises up.
The metal represents condensation, taking a sustainable shape by the process of cooling down, drying and hardening.
Water represents passivity, the latent state of what awaits a new cycle, gestation, the apex of Yin. The water goes down and moistens.
The earth represents the support and the fertile environment. The earth is both Yin and Yang since it receives and produces. Just like in Ayurveda, it contains all the other elements.
7 - Flavours
There are 6 flavours (Rasa) identified in Ayurveda: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. The first 4 are gustatory perceptions, while the last 2 are somatic perceptions. In Ayurveda, there is a correlation between flavours and Doshas, Dhatus, elements and seasons. Each flavour, because of its physical and gustatory properties, has the power to enhance or balance one or more Doshas, according to its intensity, to the food associations that are made, and to quantities as well. On the other hand, the same food usually has several flavours, which can be qualified according to their intensity: Rasa being the primary flavour, Anurasa the secondary flavours, which often appear immediately after the first, and Vipaka the post-digestive flavour which we cannot taste but that is perceived by our intestines. Ideally, a meal contains all 6 flavours for a healthy balance and to flatter the senses.
The TCM recognizes five basic flavours: pungent and sweet (which are Yang), and sour, bitter and salty (which are Yin). They specifically influence two organs each. There are also 2 complementary flavours that are astringent and tasteless. Here again, flavours are interconnected with elements and seasons, and generally have the same therapeutic and thermal properties, accentuating or soothing the symptoms, as they do in Ayurveda. The prescribed flavours are always to be used with moderation, because they can have more effects than one can imagine.
8 - Seasons
There are 6 seasons in Ayurveda, according to the Indian climate: beginning of Winter, end of Winter, Spring, Summer, Rainy season, Autumn. But for most of our western countries, we consider the 4 traditional seasons.
The summer is linked to Pitta, it can also worsen Vata because of the dryness, as well as Kapha if it gets wet. Otherwise, Kapha is pacified. We must therefore favour refreshing food, always according to our own Prakriti and Vikriti, as well as according to our living conditions.
Autumn is associated with Vata, it can also aggravate Kapha, but it pacifies Pitta. It is advisable to eat hot food.
Winter is related to Kapha, but Vata is also affected because of the cold. As for Pitta, he is pacified. Rich food is often beneficial, but mostly food that circulates energy, while saving resources.
Spring is associated with Vata, and Pitta also towards the end when it gets warmer. Kapha begins to calm down. It's time to activate Agni even more than usual in order to eliminate Ama accumulated during the Winter.
The 5 seasons of the TCM are Spring, Summer, late Summer, Autumn, and Winter. It is important to vivify the organ in connection with each season.
Spring is related to the element Wood and with the liver ; it is Yang. In the Spring, one wants to clean the body of all the fats and heaviness of the Winter, to fill it with a new ascensional and refreshing energy. For this, you have to fast or eat less and in this case, you should eat light food and a little raw food like sprouts. Salty flavour is to be avoided, as it draws energy down (best for Winter). Prefer the sweet and spicy flavours, always in moderation. When talking about sweet flavour, it relates to food derived from complex carbohydrates like cereals, legumes, or root vegetables, and when talking about pungent food it relates to all the spices (most of them are mild). The appropriate cooking mode in this season is at high temperature but for a short period of time, in order to keep the food fresh. It can be steamed or boiled slightly, or quickly stirred in oil.
Summer is in relation with the element Fire and with the heart ; it is Yang. Throw yourself into lots of outdoor activities, and eat a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, with a mini touch of spices. Raw foods should not be overconsumed since they weaken the digestive system via the wide temperature difference between climate, organs, and food. The cooking modes are identical to those of Spring, but the cooking time is even shorter, and the salt becomes even rarer.
The end of Summer, which defines the middle of the Chinese year, is a moment of transition from Yang to Yin, and an ideal one to refocus. Everything is done with moderation, whether it is the taste of food or any other aspect of the diet.
Autumn is related to the Metal element and to the lungs. We eat warm food again, and we favour food with more concentrated flavours, root vegetables (promoted to thicken the blood for colder temperatures), and gradually the sour, bitter and salty flavours that help to absorb the energy deeply within us. It's a season to refocus our activities, to begin to do less. Preparation is done with less water, low temperature and long cooking.
Winter is related to the Water element and to the kidneys. Prefer the salty and bitter flavours, which again conserve energy inside the body, and soups, whole grains and roasted nuts. We take the time to do everything quietly, while remaining active to maintain the flexibility of the spine and joints. The methods of preparation are the same as those indicated in the Autumn.
Interseasons (the 18 days before the start of each season) are related to the Earth element and the spleen. These are good times for toning organs.
Of course, since seasons, climates and plantations are specific to each geographical area, the principles of TCM and Ayurveda should be adapted judiciously according to the specificities of each place, to the multiple types of lifestyles (some people work outdoor, others indoor, etc.), and our nature and imbalances of the moment should especially be taken into account. Fundamentally, if we were still listening to our instincts, we would naturally adapt to each of the transitions of the year, such as establishing a slower routine and sleeping much earlier in the Autumn and Winter.
Reconnect to your instinct!