For more than three millennia, needles, herbs and teas have been vessels for wellness among the Chinese people. Eastern medical philosophy is based upon the idea of harmony, a balance between the individual and environment: yin and yang.
This May, Ithaca College students will have the opportunity to study traditional Eastern medicine in China through a spring-semester course titled ‘Exploring Rehabilitation and Health Promotion in China.’ The course is followed by two weeks abroad in China, where students have the chance to apply the philosophies taught in class.
The course, which began last spring and is taught by Nicholas Quarrier, clinical assistant professor of physical therapy, explores the fundamentals of Eastern philosophies. The two weeks abroad include workshops in traditional Chinese medicine techniques, including acupuncture and moxibustion, a heat-based therapy that stimulates circulation. China’s leading professors at the Beijing and Chengdu Sport universities, where many Olympians train, teach workshops.
Quarrier said workshops were only a fraction of the experience.
“You go to college for a major, but the four years you’re here you learn much more about life than you learn about academics,” he said. “We went [to China] with a goal to learn about Chinese medicine … [but] more than anything we learned about diplomacy.”
Students lived in dorms at Beijing and Chengdu Sport universities and worked with Chinese student guides studying English.
Hongwei Guan, assistant professor of health promotion and physical education, said sessions in etiquette and chopstick use before the trip helped students prepare culturally.
“In the beginning [the students] were nervous, and after a while … they overcome the uncertainty about the culture,” Guan said.
Senior Jaclyn Miller, a clinical health and physical therapy major, said she valued the chance to confront cultural expectations from both American and Chinese students.
“People tended to kind of giggle at us when we spoke Chinese,” she said. “Not because we were doing it badly, but because they were so surprised we were trying.”
Quarrier worked with Guan and Steve Siconolfi, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, to create the international study opportunity. They chose Beijing and Chengdu Sport universities because they had established programs in alternative medicine, which they wanted to focus on.
Guan said there are radical differences between Eastern and Western medical philosophies. While Western medicine focuses on curative treatment of external maladies through surgery and drugs, Eastern medicine strengthens the individual from the inside using natural, traditional techniques to address problems and promote healing.
Quarrier said according to Eastern philosophy, chi — or energy — flows through the body through meridians. The chi interacts with the energy in the environment, and energy imbalances are what cause illness.
“We’re not brought up in this country to really understand the interrelationship outside of us,” he said.
To immerse students in Chinese culture, the course includes excursions to historic sites, classes in tai chi and martial arts, shopping and eating in unique locales.
Miller said the student population of China seems to be gravitating toward Western medicine as a more efficient alternative to traditional remedies. She said many of the students would choose to practice Western medicine because the effects are more immediate, despite learning that Eastern medicine is better for their health.
“There’s a really large dichotomy of who chooses to do what kind of medicine in China,” she said.
Quarrier said in recent years Eastern medical techniques have made their way across the Atlantic to become an established medical field in the U.S.
“I think Western medicine is starting to look at this Eastern-style philosophy,” he said.
Eastern desire for efficiency illustrates the “Westernization” China is experiencing as it seeks to establish itself as an economic world power, while the growing popularity of organic treatment in the U.S. might indicate a need for balance within the fast-paced nature of American culture. Guan said a fusion of Eastern and Western medical philosophies and practices would result in the most effective treatments.
“Nowadays in the big cities, people are really talking about stress,” Guan said. “I think that the stronger the connection or exchange of ideas, we may find an appropriate point of balance.”