Over a year ago, I was reminded of the gift of good health. Being an asthmatic, I am no stranger to the frailty of the human condition. I thought I had come to peace with my physical vulnerabilities until a new digestive complaint emerged and made my life miserable. I asked Allah I to grant me healing and a long-term solution because I didn’t want to be dependent on over-the-counter medication each time my symptoms flared up. When I spoke to my good friend, Angela, she recommended regular Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments. She was a first-year TCM student and she was confident that acupuncture and herbs would help me.
Needles? I didn’t like the sound of that. I’m not a fan of being poked and prodded, but she reassured me that acupuncture needles are much finer than the regular ones I’ve encountered at the doctor’s. I booked my appointment at the TCM clinic where Angela studied, then hoped for the best.
My TCM clinician, May Li*, was very warm and caring. I was instantly at ease with her professionalism and sincere concern for my well-being. It’s never easy confiding about private medical matters to a complete stranger, but by the end of first session, I felt like I had gained a staunch supporter in my journey towards better health.
May Li spent almost an hour taking my medical history and I couldn’t help but compare the much briefer consultation time with my doctor. In addition to questioning me about my symptoms, past medical history, the types of food I eat, my energy levels and the quality of my sleep, May Li performed a standard physical exam on me. She looked at my tongue and checked my pulse. From taking the pulse on my right and left hand, she was able to infer the state of my stomach, liver, heart, kidneys and lungs. SubhanAllah! From looking at my tongue, May Li was able to determine the harmony or disharmony within my internal organs, especially my heart. In TCM, the tongue is described to be an “offshoot” or “flowers” into the heart. The normal tongue has “a light red or pinkish body with a thin white coating” (www.sacredlotus.com/diagnosis/tongue/).
After reading through her notes and speaking to her supervisor, May Li decided on the best type of treatment for me. She recommended a long-term course of acupuncture and herbs to build up my weak constitution, in particular, my kidneys. When it was time for me to move to the treatment room, May Li made sure I was comfortable. She was very respectful of my request for only female students to sit in and watch and for only female supervisors to assist her. I was a bit nervous at the start of the acupuncture session, but she talked me through it and I was relieved that the needles didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as I thought they would. In fact, I slipped into a very deep and restorative sleep and woke up feeling refreshed.
After my first session, I felt remarkably better. My digestive issues, which had been bothering me for months, were finally resolved. I was relieved, grateful and amazed all at once. My treatment didn’t stop there, however. I scheduled another session for the following week and made the intention to follow up with May Li’s instructions. She reminded me that in order to strengthen my constitution, I needed to cut out cold-natured food from my diet and supplement them with a lot of warm-natured foods. This meant saying goodbye to bok choy and rockmelons, and saying hello to chestnuts, sweet potatoes and stewed apples. May Li also encouraged me to drink ginger tea twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. “Protect your wind channel,” she said to me, indicating the back of her neck, “otherwise you will catch a cold.” Encouraged by the miraculous results after my first acupuncture session, I was happy to modify my diet and stay out of the cold.
May Li emphasised another very necessary change in my life. “Stress is very bad for you,” she said to me. “Go on walks, be in nature, and pray to your God and meditate before you go to sleep.” I nodded in understanding and realised that when I have more awareness in my salah, my life is slowed down and I feel better. When my salah is rushed, everything else is rushed too and then I fall sick, slow down and, when I’m better, the cycle starts up again. Juggling the multiple roles in my life is not easy, but with my renewed intention of looking after my health, I am better able to take regular breaks to centre myself.
One of the main differences between TCM and Western medicine is the methodology of treatment. Western medicine often focuses on controlling the symptoms, whereas TCM focuses on prevention. For example, when a patient presents with cold and flu symptoms, a doctor would prescribe cold and flu tablets, increased fluid intake and bed rest. A TCM clinician, on the other hand, would treat the immediate symptoms and then work with the patient to strengthen his/her constitution, to prevent infection from occurring in the first place.
Is there a link between TCM and Prophetic Medicine? Absolutely. As described by Dr Rehan Zaid in his article, “Both these systems place emphasis on procedures such as cupping, herbal therapy, and dietary modification, with fundamental reliance on prevention, balance, and the psyche.” Our spiritual tradition calls us to living a life of moderation in all things and in the example of our beloved Prophet r we have the most balanced of creation.
TCM, like all good things, requires time and effort. I needed to have patience to continue my TCM treatment for over a year and it was worth the effort. Based on my journey of healing, I would strongly recommend TCM to anyone who wishes to improve their health. Alhamdulilah, I can safely say that TCM has been a huge blessing from Allah (SWT) and a wonderful means of looking after myself so that I can continue to worship Him.
Only a year ago, I had resigned myself to a baseline of battling the cold and flu every winter, but I am happy to report that ever since I have had TCM treatments, I have rarely fallen ill and, when I have, the duration and severity of my symptoms are much reduced, alhamdulilah. I have a much greater insight into the kinds of food that are good for my constitution. Whenever I feel the first signs of a scratchy throat or a runny nose, I slice up a small piece of raw ginger and chew on it and this helps to expel the cold from my system, saving me from a full-blown week (or two!) of ill-health. TCM also reminds me of the importance of giving my dhikr and salah its due. Given my recovery over the past year, I am inspired to read up more about TCM and, if Allah (SWT) wills, one day, formally study TCM under a teacher, so that I can help others in their journey of healing.
Praise be to Allah (SWT), who has given us the means for curing all illnesses except death.
*name has been changed
Raidah Shah Idil is a writer and poet, based in Sydney, Australia. Her work has been published in Daily Life, Lip Mag and Bitmob. MyLegacy Publications will publish her novel, Finding Jamilah, in 2013. Her poetry has been selected for publication by the Australian Muslim Artists. Visit her at www.raidahshahidil.com.