The Way


TCM for the uninitiated

By Matt McGarvey /

TCM for the uninitiated

It was the spring of 1995 when I first experienced TCM. I was a Chinese student in Beijing and was suffering from insomnia and an upset stomach. One of the other exchange students living down the hall was a pony-tailed, Californian studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, which at the time was an almost completely unheard of concept to me. When my classmate heard I was experiencing health issues, he was keen to help. I was significantly less keen on being helped.

A few afternoons later I found myself on my back with acupuncture needles protruding from my body and a strange man burning something that smelled vaguely like marijuana and waving it over my stomach. I was 19 years old kid from Des Moines, Iowa. I was decidedly out of my comfort zone.

I don’t recall if his treatment worked or not, but I do remember him introducing me to a world that was completely foreign to me: a world of things like “qi” and “meridians” and “yin and yang”. These were things I could not see, but that I intuitively sensed existed.

One thing he said that stuck with me was how disease and illness were born out of our bodies being out of balance, and that the role of TCM was to bring the body back into balance–either through herbs, or through massage or through acupuncture. Balance, he explained, was an evolving concept. As a Westerner I was used to viewing my body as either healthy or sick. To my doctor, everything was relative.

According to the Eastern approach to health, we’re always either moving towards balance or away from balance. Illness and disease don’t just appear, but rather evolve from a life out of balance.  Almost 20 years later, this concept has become one of the things I love the most about the Eastern approach to health.

Matthew McGarvey is a co-founder of DAO Labs, having spent most of his professional life in and around China. He is a regular contributor to The Way.

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