Chinese medicine principles
Chinese medicine evolved over many thousand of years when human beings lived closely with nature, aware of their dependence upon and their interdependence with their environment. A system of understanding health evolved, where the human being was placed within nature as a reflection of an expression of these natural principles. The body and mind were perceived as being a part of nature and influenced by changes and so a web of systems for describing the state of flux of wellness and balance took shape.
Yin and Yang
The theory of Yin and Yang evolved out of a need to describe the process of constant change occurring within this universe that affects all matter and living things.
It describes the flow of change in nature such as the phases of the moon, the rising and setting sun, extreme weather, tidal movement, the human being’s journey from gestation to death…
The Chinese ancients evolved a simple yet profound way to describe the constant state of change that is naturally occurring. Simplistically, we view Yin and Yang as opposites, when in fact they describe a harmonious interdependent whole. The flow of energy within each process of change involves constant movement from a Yin state, towards a Yang state and then back again… with neither Yin and Yang being absolute (as nothing in the universe can be permanently fixed or immutable).
Originally the written character of Yin was pictograph which meant ‘the shady side of the mountain’, and Yang character meant ‘the sunny side of the mountain’. As a result, the following characteristics can be associated with either Yin or Yang states…
The practitioner of Chinese medicine observes, palpates and questions their patient to understand the balance of Yin and Yang within the body to determine the treatment method that will resolve symptoms of the body. This is further supported by observing the patient’s tongue.
The Yin Yang balance within the body is also understood within the context of the balance of the 5 elements. These theories create a holistic picture of the patient within the context of their environment and determine a treatment approach.
Decline Death Gestation
Birth Growth Maturation
the 5 elements
We can observe the 5 elements at work in nature as the natural cycle of a year.
Spring gives birth to the Summer which is expressed as the element of Wood feeding the element of Fire.
Summer leads in to the Late Summer which is expressed as the element of Fire creating Earth by reducing matter to ash.
Late Summer continues into Autumn, expressed as the Earth generating Metal through the formation of minerals.
Autumn declines into Winter expressed as Metal nourishing Water by infusing it with its mineral qualities.
Through following this natural cycle and observing, the following associations were attributed to the 5 elements and applied to the human being:
wood element associations
Spring, Wind, Green, Liver and Gallbladder, sour taste, rancid smell, shouting, the eyes, the tendons, anger, awareness, frustration and understanding, capacity for control, the Pioneer…
fire element associations
Summer, heat, red, heart and small intestine, bitter taste, scorched smell, laughter, the tongue, the blood vessels, joy and hatred, indecision and discrimination, arrogance and unity, the Magician…
earth element associations
Late summer harvest, humidity, yellow, stomach and spleen, sweet taste, fragrant smell, singing, the mouth, the muscles, self-pity and empathy, resentment and compassion, the Peacemaker…
metal element associations
Autumn, dryness, white, lung and large intestine, pungent taste, rotten small, weeping, the nose and anus, the skin, grief and sensitivity to beauty, bigotry and broadmindedness, the Alchemist…
water element associations
Winter, cold, blue black, kidney and bladder, salty taste, putrid smell, humming, the genitals and urethra, the bones, fear and wisdom, loneliness and contentment, the Philosopher…
Together with Yin and Yang and the 5 element patterns that describe the patients state of being, the practitioner assesses the state of the 12 major organ systems within the body…
The 12 organs system
The Liver stores and releases blood, spreads the Qi through the body, and lifts the Qi and blood to the upper part of the body. Its ability to do this depends on a balanced and consistent physical body and an evenness of emotions. It plays a major role in sexual health and fertility through its meridian pathway and it physiologically supports digestion. Its Yang pair the Gallbladder, stores and secretes bile to stimulate peristalsis in the intestines. The purity of the bile supports a person’s capacity for judgement and clarity. A healthy Gallbladder system engenders decision making and the Liver supports the power to act.
The Heart propels the blood, houses the Spirit (Shen) and engenders awareness. A healthy spirit in Chinese medicine is the expression of the consciousness as an alive and lustrous presence. A compassionate unity with humanity and nature is an expression of a balanced spirit. The Heart is considered the monarch of the body due to its affiliation with higher consciousness and its beating presence. The action of the Heart propelling blood throughout the body to each cell permeates the human being with consciousness, sensation and life force. It’s paired organ network, the Small Intestine separates the pure nutrient from digested food to ensure the blood is rich in nutrients and then sends down the coarser parts to the Large Intestine. On the subtle level, the Small Intestine supports the heart by physically filtering out course and negative influences to support the spirit.
The Spleen extracts and transforms food nutrients into Qi and blood, distributes moisture and nutritional essence, and holds the Qi and blood in their pathways. It functions like the centre of gravity for the body or like the kitchen in a restaurant. In the same way that the Spleen extracts nutrients from food to be transformed and transported, it supports the mind to concentrate and incorporate ideas and information into action.
The Spleen provides the concentrated intent to balance the impulse of the Kidney and the drive of the Liver to action an idea. If the Spleen is overburdened by too much or inappropriate food, it cannot transform and transport but becomes congested and bogged down. The body feels lethargic and distended and the quality of thinking can be obsessive and confused. The Stomach is the yang partner of the Spleen. Its job is to accept food and decompose it effectively. Stomach Qi needs to descend to bring coarse material and liquid to the intestines so that the Spleen is free to lift up and spread its essence around the body. When the Stomach Qi rebels there is belching, vomiting, hiccups and even inflamed gums.
The Lung refines the body’s Qi and establishes a rhythm through the breathing pattern. It also determines boundaries and defences by providing an interface between the internal and external worlds via its connection to the skin. This both promotes defence from external pathogens, as well as negative psychological influences that might disturb the mind. In this sense the Lung is like a foreign affairs minister – brokering diplomatic solutions with foreign sources and determining boarders for protection and unity. From an immune perspective, the Lungs mobilise the defence Qi that circulates on the periphery of the body supporting adaption to the different climate influences such as wind, heat, cold, humidity and dryness. The Large Intestine is the partner of the Lung. It completes the digestive process by shaping what is no longer useful to be eliminated. Our ability to easily let go of what is no longer needed in life is determined by the Large Intestine. The capacity to be flexible with relinquishing impulses and control is attributed to the metal element. A balanced metal element will reveal flexibility and openness to new ideas and the power for inspiration.
The Kidney generates and stores Essence (Jing), controls growth and reproduction and balances the body’s fluids. When the kidney essence is abundant the ability to adapt to change and resist disease is strong. The body is vigorous and agile, the teeth and hair are healthy, and mental faculties are strong.
The Kidney essence (Jing) was transmitted to us by our parents at conception and is the template for our lifelong development when combined with the Qi from the breath and food. There is a finite amount of this essence that determines health, vigour and fertility. Once the kidney has separated out the useful parts form the liquids, it vaporises moisture upwards and outwards via lubricating fluids and passes on the filtered remainder to be held by the bladder. The bladder then stores and releases the waste product of urine.
When the practitioner of Chinese medicine listens to and observes their patient, they are collecting information to pin-point the constitutional type and tendencies of the person in relation to their presenting disharmony. This information weaves a picture revealing the balance of Yin and Yang, the 5 elements of the body and the vitality of the 12 organs system. The practitioner can then apply treatment to restore harmony and vitality.