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Theories of TCM

Theories and Ideas of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Qi and Blood

"Qi is the source of all movement and heat. Blood is mother to the Qi."

Chinese herbs are about qi. We study where it comes from, where it goes, and how it flows. Your body is nourished by, cleansed by, and dependent on flows. Think of your qi as all your body's energies, electrical, chemical, magnetic, and radiant.

Matter and energy, (flesh and qi), are governed by natural law. Natural forces such as gravity, time, inertia, friction, yin, and yang, all affect us, inside and out.

Qi must flow. Movement shows that qi exists. Warmth shows that qi is present.

There are many kinds of qi. There's qi of the channels and qi of the collateral channels, protective qi, digestive qi, central qi, and original qi. There's normal qi and perverse qi, kidney qi and lung qi and liver qi (every organ has its own qi). Qi and blood nourish the body. Qi moves the blood, and blood is mother of the qi. 

Normal flows of qi and blood are the basics of good health. When they are abundant and flowing, we are well. When blood or qi is weak or stuck, we become ill.  

Yin and Yang

"In confidence", Dr. Shen whispered, "There are times even I cannot tell Yin from Yang."

Yin and Yang describe change.

Yin and Yang refer to the sides of a mountain.

In the morning, one side is in shade, the other in sunlight.

Later in the day, the sides have reversed.

Dark becomes light and light becomes dark.

Nature is like this, forever changing, undulating. In time, Yang turns to Yin. Yin predictably becomes Yang. Change is certain, a basic law of nature you can count on, like gravity.

Yang and Yin support one another as they oppose each other. There is always yin within yang and yang within yin. You simply can' t have one without the other. We see the body and its disharmonies in changing shades of Yin and Yang. This helps to understand where events come from and where they are going to. This helps to understand the disease and the patient.  

The Channels and the Acupuncture Points
Where There's Flow, There's No Pain

Much of our qi energy flows along fourteen major channels and numerous minor channels. These flows influence the flow of all our fluids and energies. Each one of these flows passes through and influences an internal organ. Typically, these rivers of energy are named according to the internal organs which they nourish. Thus we have the Liver Channel, Stomach Channel, Heart channel, etc.. To the acupuncturist, these channels provide access to the internal organs. Most of the 500 or so acupuncture points lie on major channels.

Acupuncture points are used to regulate flow along these channels. The most powerful points on these channels lie on the extremities - below the elbows and knees. Five powerful points on the extremity of each channel are known as the five Shu points. They are likened to the flow of water and named the source points, well points, stream points, river points, and sea points.  

Theory of the Organs, the Zhang / Fu

The organs are more than flesh and blood. They also perform tasks involving the qi. Since we are, in part, about energy (qi), we obviously must have ways of using or managing it.  In TCM, we attribute the creation, storage and circulation of qi to some of the internal organs. 

Chinese medical theory groups the organs into pairs. The Yin organs - (the heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and liver) are called the ZANG are considered the most important.  They are structurally solid, and responsible for the creation and storage of qi and Blood. The Yang organs, (large intestine, small intestine, stomach, gall bladder, and urinary bladder) are called the Fu and are considered less important. They are hollow organs, responsible mainly for the transportation of food and for elimination. There is sixth pair of organs known as the Pericardium and Triple-Heater.  These are conceptual organs. They have protective and energetic attributes, but no actual mass. 

The Five Elements
Relationships of the organs to one another and the theory of correspondences 

It is obvious that the organs are dependent on one another. The Five Elements is a theory that helps us to understand these relationships. According to this principle, there exist five elemental types. These elements are known as Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each element relates to the other according to two cycles of influence. Disharmony in one element will thus create disharmony in others according to these cycles.

1- The generating cycle (clockwise effecting the next element)) For example, the Liver, overheated by anger, can attack the heart,

2- The checking cycle (counter clockwise, skipping over the preceding element).  For example, Insomnia from Heart Fire can  be caused by Kidneys, weakened by overwork. Each type also corresponds to a major organ system. Each type also has corresponding tastes, colors, odors, and emotions.

Some of these correspondences are:

1 - Fire/ Red/ Heart/ Joy/ Bitter/ Scorched (acrid)

2 - Earth/ Yellow/ stomach/ Spleen/ Worry/ Sweet/ Fragrant

3 - Metal/ White/ Lungs/ Grief/ Hot/ Fleshy

4 - Water/ Black/ Kidneys/ Fear/ Salty/ Putrid

5 - Wood/ Green/ Liver/ Anger/ Sour/ Rancid

The 8 Principles: Locating the disease and its nature

The Eight Principles are four Yin / Yang conditions that assess the location and nature of the illness. Once this is known, the treatment plan is simple - Balance the body. Strengthen the weak, cool the hot, moisten the dry, etc. These pairs are: EXCESS/ DEFICIENT Too much or too little. These terms describe both the disease and the patient. Sudden illness is excess. Chronic illness suggests deficiency. Symptoms of excess are stronger or more pronounced than those caused by deficiency. A severe sore throat suggests wind-heat excess (viral), while a persistent scratchy throat implies heat cause by a deficiency of coolness (yin).

INSIDE/ OUTSIDE  Where does the disharmony originate? Is it invading from the exterior, or is it caused by deficiency, emotion, or stagnation in the interior. Airborne viruses, bacterial infections, or other pestilential diseases are Exterior. Exterior diseases can penetrate the body and become Interior disease.

HOT/ COLD Heat suggests an oversupply of qi or an inadequacy in the body's cooling system. Cold suggests the opposite, qi deficiency or weak metabolic function.  Just as it can be hot in Miami and cold in Siberia, bodies can be hot and cold at the same time.  the Liver can be hot while the Kidney is cold. Diseases can also have hot or cold natures, depending on the way they affect us.

DAMP/ DRY Life loves water, and excessive dampness inside the body helps breed microscopic life such as bacteria, virus, fungus. Swollen tissue, excess phlegm or other fluids are signs of dampness. Dryness indicates a scarcity of fluids. Causes of dryness are Blood or Yin deficiency. Excessive heat can also scorch the fluids and leads to dryness. Prolonged exposure to dry weather will cause dryness inside the body as well.  

The Five Emotions

 Events in our minds effect our chemistry. We sense the state of our body's inner chemistry. We call this sense our feelings.  We project these feelings to others as emotions.  When emotions are intense, they change our body in profound ways. This changing inner chemistry affects the flow and rhythm of our organism by influencing the qi and the organs.

The emotions correspond to the organs and the five elements. For example,

Joy the Heart

Sadness the Spleen

Grief the Lungs

Fear the Kidneys

Anger the Liver

Excessively strong emotions pervert the qi to create disease. Fear or anger lead to constraint of qi, which results in depression, stagnation, and a multitude of physical ailments.

© Joel Harvey Schreck

Information about Chinese medicine on this site is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your own physician or other medical professional. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.