Traditional Korean Medicine is not as well-known as some other traditional Indo-pacific medicines like those of China, Japan, or India. This is unfortunate, as just as all of these traditions share many elements and bring their own unique perspectives, traditional Korean medicine is culturally significant as one of many ancient Indo-pacific medical traditions but also has its own important and unique contributions.
No matter whether you’ve heard of it or not or how you feel about it, take out your notebook for Traditional Korean Medicine 101.
Traditional Korean Medicine and Energy
Most Indo-pacific medical traditions focus on the idea that health is improved or damaged based on the balance of an energy, life force or soul. This force, usually called “qi,” — pronounced “chee” — flows through channels around the body and usually collects in various locations or organs, often called chakras. The methods of redirecting or balancing energy is one of the main differences between Indo-pacific medical traditions.
In both Japan and Tibet, energy healing became a common practice. In traditional Korean medicine, as in other Indo-pacific medical traditions, one way to promote the healthful flow of energies is through physical movement. In India and Tibet this led to the development of yogic practices, though in traditional Korean medicine a similar sentiment is often supported by martial arts – a sort of physical practice of philosophy in Korea.
The concept of energy balance is key in one of the two major schools of traditional Korean medicine.
Hanyak is the practice of balancing or complementing the body’s energy. In most of the Indo-pacific medicinal practices, the body’s energy is an almost entirely internal phenomenon. In the energy healing of Japan and Tibet, a healthy person’s energy can interact with another person’s to redirect energies and in acupuncture practices common throughout most Indo-pacific medical traditions, pins along the body’s energy channels can help to redirect energy. In most other practices, the energy must be restored or balanced by the individual through practices like meditation.
Hanyak is fairly unique in that it attempts to balance the body’s energy in part through herbal teas. Many of the traditional ingredients, such as Ginseng, are popular and widely available around the world.
The other big school of traditional Korean medicine is Boyak. This school involves the use of food to balance between “deficiency” and “exuberance,” conditions similar to the conventional medical conditions of low and high metabolism. In Boyak this is largely done through addressing digestion.
The “prescriptions” in Boyak are more similar to recipes given by a specialist based on the symptoms or concerns of the patient. Benefits of Boyak recipes are probably the result of prebiotics and probiotics, which help good bacteria in your stomach and intestines to digest food.
Beginning with Traditional Korean Medicine
Unfortunately, there’s little to find online and finding a practitioner near you is rare. On that note, there are no certification boards for Boyak and Hanyak practitioners so if you find one, they should have some kind of certification from a board that you do trust.
If you do get into Boyak and Hanyak practices, talk to your primary care provider about your Hanyak practices. While Hanyak is usually safe, herbal teas and supplements can sometimes interact with medications, so while you aren’t likely to run into trouble, it’s a good idea to be careful. Boyak, however, is perfectly safe
One aspect of traditional Korean medicine that you probably do have access to is martial arts. Soo Bahk Do and Taekwando are both Korean martial arts that have some popularity in America.
They are great for practitioners of any age and incorporate exercises in strength, balance, flexibility, and aerobics as well as introducing practitioners to concepts of energy balance and health.