Rethinking Retirement  

An Eastern Perspective

By Inger Giffen

Until very recently in history, doctors in China were paid only to keep their patients well. In other words, if a patient became sick while under the care of a doctor, that doctor was required to treat the patient throughout the course of their illness, for free. While at first this may seem a trivial piece of information, deeper consideration reveals not only critical implications for the possibilities of medicine, but some key differences between Eastern and Western medical philosophies. First, and most importantly, what this illustrates is that China’s entire medicine was built around prevention. So powerful was their value of and belief in maintaining a high quality of life, that only this was deemed worthy of financial reimbursement. And second, that there must be some characteristic of this medicine that enables a doctor to use his or her diagnostic skills to virtually predict what symptoms are likely to arise in the future, even in perfectly healthy patients. For only through this skill would a doctor be able to know what to treat, so that their healthy patients would retain their high quality of life and Well-being. This medicine therefore, in theory, is a way to completely avoid the costs and suffering that go along with an ailing society.

Let’s compare this to our medical philosophy in the United States, where a powerful system has emerged that is based on curing symptoms or diseases that have already taken over the body. Today, fancy medicines are able to extend lives in ways that were only dreamt of a few short years ago. We are able to accomplish extraordinary feats of life saving that take place in hospitals and ambulances across the US every day. Symptoms of the body are perfectly matched with pills developed to take them away. Yet, we’re finding that something is still missing. While we may be living longer, our quality of life is steadily diminishing. People are on extensive lists of medications, yet are feeling worse and worse every day. Debilitating symptoms that do not show up as abnormal results on laboratory tests leave both doctors and patients with no options. Patients are told that it’s all in their heads, or that there’s nothing medicine can do.

Fortunately, this is not so. Because of the ability of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to prevent disease in the first place, and to resolve those symptoms that escape the power of modern medicine, a renewed interest in the ancient ways has emerged. A whole generation of people that finds itself living longer yet aging in a time of both increasingly risky medicine and epidemic levels of lifestyle related illness, is turning to TCM for the wisdom that is contained in the medicine that will help keep them not just alive, but thriving. We are beginning to accept, and even expect, that we can remain strong, healthy, and vibrant, well into our latest years of life.

TCM is based on the scientifically accepted fact that everything, including our bodies, is simply energy, or in Chinese terms, “Qi”. The Chinese figured out thousands of years ago, that by simply manipulating this energy, through the use of tiny, sterile needles, patients can achieve or maintain Well-being. Herbal medicines are also commonly used in treatment. Any good acupuncturist or herbalist will do a pulse and tongue diagnosis before each treatment. By feeling for up to 28 subtle qualities in the pulses of the wrist, acupuncturists are able to diagnose problems in the body, even if they have not yet manifested as symptoms. Likewise, the tongue will reveal the cause for medical issues of both the past and future. This is where the true magic of the medicine comes in, and how those ancient doctors were expected to predict and prevent future symptoms in their healthy patients.

Ancient lore tells that TCM was first developed as a hopeful cure for mortality. While it did not become the secret to eternal life, what did emerge was a medicine whose focus is on developing and strengthening the aspects of the body that enable it to function at its highest level possible, essentially enabling a person of any age to maintain a high quality of life. While it is natural for those of us born into the world of modern medicine to bring our skeptic mind in to doubt the efficacy of this medicine that was developed before the scientific revolution, what I tell my patients is, “What works, persists; what doesn’t becomes obsolete.” 5,000 years of recorded history is worth each one of us giving ourselves the chance to let the magic of this medicine help us to live the healthy, vibrant, and joyful lives that we came here to live!


Inger Giffin, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is an Acupuncturist, Herbalist, and Nutrition Counselor; who specializes in Internal Medicine. Her passion is in educating her patients, guiding them into a deeper awareness of their body's own wisdom and ability to heal and thereby empowering them to take charge of their own healing. She has traveled the globe leading seminars on Chinese Medicine and has successfully treated thousands of patients. For more information, visit

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