Eastern medicine is sometimes known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Oriental Medicine. Remedies include acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies. Since acupuncture works on pets, who don't believe in anything, we can see that Eastern medicine is NOT a religion and does not require belief or faith. It is a collection of ancient Chinese paradigms, which practitioners can use to identify a level of diagnosis, which is not otherwise available in modern medicine. Treatments are considered to be "conservative care" by today's standards. Luckily for Americans, TCM schools have been open since the 1980's that have 3000-hour degree programs. Currently, we have thousands of qualified practitioners all over the country. US acupuncturists must be licensed and this includes being certified in clean needle technique.
Like many indigenous cultures, early Chinese people solved health complaints with plants used in making teas or incorporated into recipes. Unlike any other culture, they began to document their results in 300 BC. Luckily, the authors were masters in preserving this information. So, over the centuries this body of work grew as more information was available. As a result, anyone could do research and find the right herbal formulas to use and get repeatable outcomes.
For centuries, Chinese emporers clung to the belief that there was an eternal elixer, enabling them to live forever. Each emporer was determined to find it in his lifetime--so he could rule China forever. To aid him in this quest, many of the best Chinese doctors worked for the emporer--trying to help him achieve immortality. When an emporer died, this was bad news for the court doctor, and many were executed. On the plus side, this pressure and the sky's-the-limit budget that these practitioners had to work with led to great advances in the field of Eastern medicine. They never found an eternal elixer but they discovered many important remedies in the process.
During the 20th century, with enormous political upheaval, traditional Eastern medicine was threatened in China, as were many practitioners. Luckily, the information was preserved and has been rekindled there. Traditional Chinese Medicine is commonly used in China today, with patients being shuttled between Traditional Chinese Medicine hospitals and modern Western medical hospitals. For the rest of the world, the books were translated from Chinese into French, English and various other languages, opening the door for foreigners to study TCM.
They say that Western medicine is difficult to learn and easy to practice while Eastern medicine is easy to learn and difficult to practice. Although this is an over-simplification, there's some truth in this statement. The asian concepts are based on nature--as in the five elements and in the yin an yang. So, once you learn the basics you can rely on that as you study the detail of each herb and each acupuncture point. It's actually quite fun to study. Acupuncturists also take many Western medical classes in their course of study. Western medical school packs more information into the curriculum and medical students attend thousands of hours of observation, rather than the hundreds required by TCM practitioners. An MD's repertoire is specialized and high-tech, with contingencies for even the gravest conditions. To practice, they diagnose and treat using standardized protocols.
To practice TCM, it takes quite a bit of detective work to find the root of the problem and the right course of action, which will lead to results. Results depend on a correct patient assessment. Every TCM practitioner wants to get results, so each must learn to select the correct points and herbs for that patient--and everybody is different. For this reason, many Eastern medicine practitioners focus their practice on an ailment, such as psoriasis or on an outcome, such as fertility. Even within these narrow areas of focus, there are variables among patients.
Where Eastern medicine shines is in getting rid of symptoms that Western doctors don't treat. For example, sciatica is sometimes left untreated by western doctors--or is treated by pain medication. Most acupuncturists are adept at getting rid of sciatica. An ailment comes with a group of symptoms. By treating the root of the problem, the ailment disappears. Often patients will complain of one problem, such as acne and in the course of the first intake will report that they also have insomnia and knee pain. To their surprise, as the back pain improves with each treatment, the other issues disappear as well. For this reason, TCM is considered to be an holistic medicine. The goal of treatment is for the person to correct an imbalance or multiple imbalances--and get the person feeling normal again.
To benefit from all that Eastern medicine has to offer, you don't need to know any of the terminology; just find a licensed acupuncturist. In case you are interested, here's TCM theory in two paragraphs:
The yin and yang represent two extremes that can transform into each other. We use this interplay of yin and yang to classify a patients condition. Yin is cold, deficient and interior, and yang is hot, excess and exterior. Qi (energy) is more yang and blood is more yin. Dampness, phlegm, and wind are excesses, which can accumulate due to deficient and/or stagnant Qi and blood. In non-TCM terms, yin is like body fluids and yang is like the power our bodies have to stay warm and active.
To further analize someone's condition, we also have the five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each element has its associated organs, tissues, emotions, times of day, and much more. So, an Oriental Diagnosis for insomnia could be Heart Yin Deficiency, which is a Fire disharmony. The treatment plan would be to Tonify (build) Heart Yin and balance the Fire element. An acupuncture point could be on the Heart channel or the Pericardium channel, which also belongs to the Fire element. An herb to choose would be one in the category of Yin Tonics, more specifically one that enters the Heart and Tonifies Heart Yin.
If you are interested in learning more about TCM theory, I recommend reading The Web That Has No Weaver or Between Heaven and Earth.