In Chinese medicine, health is the ability of an organism to respond appropriately to a wide variety of challenges in a way that ensures maintaining equilibrium and integrity. The source of disease is any challenge to the body with which it is unable to cope, whether it is a harmful substance or a bad feeling. Disease represents a failure to adapt to the challenge, a disruption of the overall equilibrium. When defences are weakened and resources exhausted, a multiplicity of factors conspire to permit illness.
Disease is a manifestation of an unstable process, a pattern of disharmonious relationships. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, such disharmonies are understood in terms of Blood, Fluids (Moisture) and Qi. Although these are distinct, they have a mutually dependent and indissoluble relationship. Qi is understood as creating and moving the blood, and keeping it in place, whereas blood nourishes the organs that produce and regulate Qi. Without proper moisture, the Qi becomes hot and agitated and the blood dries up and congeals.
The three factors influencing in producing patterns of harmony and disharmony and so precipitating illness are environment, emotional outlook and way of life.
Many patterns of disharmony are distinguished by Chinese medicine. These are usually grouped into eight principal patterns. Identifying which of these patterns is operative is one of the principal task of a physician. This process is to be contrasted with the approach of a western physician, focused on syndromes, in that the state of bodily disharmony is recognized within the domain of signs and symptoms rather than seeking a a cause or mechanism susceptible to isolation and treatment. It is a configuration of signs and symptoms that is to be recognized, not a causative mechanism beyond that configuration.
Like the gardener, the doctor observes the patient and perceives signs and symptoms to determine the nature of the problem. The doctor's diagnosis may sound similar to the gardener's. They use the same vocabulary. Both are concerned with the balance of heat and cold, moisture and dryness and the excess or deficiency of these conditions. A person, like a garden, is subject to external excesses of Heat, Cold, Wind, Dampness and Dryness, as well as to Deficiency of Blood, Moisture and Qi.
Acupuncture, moxibustion and herbal remedies are the three methods used for rebalancing and correcting disharmonies of the body.