“TCM and TCW belong to Chinese people everywhere and to the world, because they come from an understanding of deep organizing principles of Nature and human physiology. ” An interview with Professor Gerry Bodeker, Chair, Mental Wellness Initiative of the Global Wellness Institute
A Harvard-trained public health academic, Professor Gerry Bodeker researches and advises on integrative medicine and wellness. He has taught in Medical Sciences at Oxford University for two decades, is adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, and works with the private sector, governments and the UN, advising on culturally-themed wellness strategies.
Gerry chairs the Mental Wellness Initiative of the Global Wellness Institute and received the Debra Simon A ward for Leadership in Mental Wellness at the Global Wellness Summit in Singapore in October 2019. He is also co-director of the new forest immersion wellness program in Borneo, Ayus Wellness.
Gerry has published widely, including on health and wellness traditions of Asia. He is Editor in Chief of the World Heath Organization Global Atlas of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, co-editor of Understanding the Global Spa Industry and Editor of Mental Wellness: Pathways, Evidence, Horizons (2018). He is currently contributing to the Asian Development Bank’s 2020 report on the wellness industry in Asia and co-editing an academic book on Healthy Ageing in Asia.
SpaChina interviewed Professor Gerry Bodeker on the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
As a traditional way of healing, what is the current status of traditional Chinese medicine globally, and why?
Perhaps people in China may not be aware of this, but globally TCM is the best-known and most widespread traditional medicine system in the world today. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that there have been more than 25 years of good research into the various TCM therapies and their health outcomes and this has provided evidence to health authorities around the world to have confidence in granting licenses to TCM practitioners to provide medical services in many countries. Another factor has been the work of China itself in promoting TCM globally through conferences, scientific exchanges, resolutions at the World Health Organization, and funding for TCM research programs around the world. India’s Ayurvedic medical system is now also gaining ground based on the same principles, but there is no doubt that TCM was first on the world stage and has the biggest global presence and acceptance of any traditional medical system to date. It is important for people in China to know this and understand how much the world values China’s medical heritage.
From your point of view, what do you think is the most wonderful part of Chinese traditional medicine culture and wisdom?
There are many valuable and important aspects of TCM. For me, the most important aspect is that which is almost completely forgotten these days. And that is from the Encyclopedia of Medicine (Qianjin Fang) by the 7th century physician and scholar Sun Simiao. In the first two books of his Encyclopedia of Medicine, Sun Simiao outlined lifestyle pathways that prevent disease, promote health and contribute to longevity. Many of these, such as correct diet, regular exercise, a stress-free mind, have been shown by scientific research to do exactly what Sun Simiao was predicting – to create a healthy, long life lived happily. Medicine is not so necessary when these guidelines for disease prevention are followed and health is made a priority in life. We have in this work what can be called Traditional Chinese Wellness or TCW, 1,400 years before wellness became popular as a global theme. Other very valuable aspects of TCM include, of course, acupuncture, which offers very good treatments for many conditions and for pain reduction without the use of drugs. This is supported by a very large body of research. And Chinese herbal medicine which is a vast area of science with deep understanding of individual differences in metabolic types and medical needs.
In recent years, in China, no matter whether in hotel spas or day spas, there are fewer and fewer spas providing TCM treatment. The average age of guests is falling, and traditional Chinese medicine seems to no longer attract them as a stylish lifestyle aspect in China. Also there are fewer skilled TCM therapists willing to enter the spa industry. Do you have any advice on how to deal with these issues?
I think that there are a few mistakes in this way of thinking. Firstly, from what I read and learn from surveys, the young generations in China are growing in pride for Chinese culture and heritage and are seeking to learn more about this legacy that they have inherited. But doctors in white coats and strange smelling herbs and pharmacies, with explanations that don’t fit well with the scientific training they have had at school and university, all make for some confusion in understanding China’s medical heritage. On this point, there is a need for new ways of explaining TCM and offering it to younger generations that make it seem relevant, scientific, natural, safe and proudly carrying on a powerful healing heritage. This is a big opportunity in online learning, education and knowledge-sharing.
The second mistake is to offer Chinese medicines at Spas. What is better is to offer education and knowledge coming from Sun Simiao’s guidance on how to live a long and healthy life. That is, TCW rather than TCM. And to offer practices that promote this, education about how to do this, and evidence on how these approaches produce real change and improvement in health. Another factor is the sense that the doctor knows everything and that the patient must follow orders. This doesn’t feel comfortable to a new generation that finds its answers online and has many questions about how and whether medicines actually work. What is needed is co-learning, sharing of health guidelines through knowledge sessions, a partnership in wellness education rather than a hierarchical doctor-patient relationship where the patient is not educated but rather just told what to do. Wellness must come from within and be fed with knowledge to help it grow.
How to integrate the health care and wellness living wisdom of TCM into daily life in the modern world? How do you do this for your own lifestyle?
For a start, China and the world need to re-discover TCW – Sun Simiao’s first two volumes in the Encyclopedia of Medicine – and learn how to apply these. At present, this is largely forgotten. There is a huge opportunity for new courses, services, centres and wellness programs that can come from this.
As for myself, my main daily aspects of TCM philosophy are Chinese herbs, especially goji berries every day, a regular use of Chinese vegetarian cuisine, daily enjoyment of green tea, a drink favoured by China’s ancient scholars and an excellent aide in focusing the mind. And also constantly being in Nature to reconnect with our source, as is recommended by Sun Simiao.
Do you have anything else that you want to share with us, about TCM?
Yes. TCM and TCW belong to Chinese people everywhere and to the world, because they come from an understanding of the deep organizing principles of Nature and human physiology. This should become something that Chinese people come to know and live and feel ownership of, and not something that they see as belonging to people in white coats with specialist knowledge. This is knowledge to be lived and used for promoting longevity, health and happiness in life.