Story: Alternative health therapies

Page 5. Asian alternative-health therapies

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Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine which Chinese immigrants brought to New Zealand in the 19th century. TCM is based on two opposing but complementary principles: ‘yin’ (the female principle, associated with the earth, darkness and cold) and ‘yang’ (male, associated with heaven, light and warmth). Another fundamental element is ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), the life force that flows along the body’s pathways or meridians. Qi must flow correctly for yin and yang to be balanced. Incorrect flow and a corresponding imbalance between yin and yang is believed to lead to ill health.

Like other alternative practices, TCM uses a range of therapies to,help the body heal and maintain itself. These include herbal medicine, tuina (massage) and meditative practices such as qigong.


Acupuncture is the best-known TCM therapy and is practised by western as well as Chinese health professionals. Fine stainless-steel needles are inserted at particular points in the body to free up the flow of qi. The location depends on symptoms and the reason treatment has been sought. Acupuncturists may also use acupressure (pressure applied to points by hand) and herbal medicines.

Needle healing

Acupuncture is used to treat animals as well as humans. Racehorse Special Ops (based in Rangiora) was given acupuncture when she was pregnant with twins in 2010. Canterbury veterinarian Virginia Williams recommended acupuncture as a treatment for animals with health problems like musculo-skeletal disorders and epilepsy.

Acupuncture was largely confined to the Chinese community until the 1970s. A group of New Zealand doctors visited China in 1974 to investigate acupuncture, which led to some doctors using it in their conventional practice to treat injuries and musculo-skeletal disorders. Acupuncturists treat a wider range of conditions.

Doctors tend to be more supportive of acupuncture than of therapies such as homeopathy. By the 2000s it was one of the more popular therapies – in the 2006/7 New Zealand Health Survey, one in five people who had used alternative health practitioners in the previous 12 months had seen an acupuncturist.

Acupuncture was being considered for regulation in 2018. The New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists (established in 1977) represents and monitors members, who must meet minimum entry requirements and undertake ongoing professional development before a practising certificate is issued. The Accident Compensation Corporation and some insurance companies fund treatments. There are schools of TCM (including acupuncture) in Wellington and Auckland.


Ayurveda is a system of medicine brought to New Zealand by Indian immigrants. It is concerned with achieving balance between the body, mind and spirit. The body is seen as comprising five elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). Three doshas (life forces) control the body.

Herbal medicines, yoga, meditation, colour therapy and nutritional advice are key components of ayurvedic medicine. Practitioners believe that ayurveda removes disease-causing materials from the body, which promotes health and wellbeing.

Ayurvedic medicines are controversial because some contain toxic substances like lead. Known cases of lead poisoning in New Zealand associated with ayurvedic medicines have been traced back to products manufactured overseas.

Ayurveda is unregulated. The New Zealand Ayurveda & Yoga Therapy Association represents practitioners.

How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Alternative health therapies - Asian alternative-health therapies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 6 Apr 2018