The Body-Mind From The Asian Perspective
The Classical Asian View Of The Human Body-Mind
Chinese “organ theory” describes the body as an integrated, functional unit based on the production, circulation and utilization of Qi, in all its manifestations. According to the Chinese organ theory, there are five primary “organs,” each related to one of the five elemental energies. These “organs” are really, by our modern standards, major functional systems. There is more emphasis in the traditional Chinese health system on the functional relationships of the organs than there is in general in Western medicine. The organs, as defined in the Chinese healthcare system, are not just the specific organs as we know them, but include whole systems of related functions, tissues, structures, emotions and responses to the environment.
Often, the functions associated with an organ may not seem related at first glance. For example, in Chinese health philosophy, the lungs and skin are considered to be very closely related. In the West, few people see the close relationship between these two organs. Modern physiologists, however, recognize the close relationship between the lungs and the skin, both of which evolve from the same embryonic tissue and both of which have respiratory and eliminative functions. The “Kidney” system controls functions such as the reproductive system, mental clarity, hearing, hair and the skeletal system. Again, modern physiologists can explain relationships between these functions based on neurological and hormonal interactions.
The five primary organs are all considered to be Yin because they store Jing, and when functioning correctly they do not “leak.” All of the Yin organs become more stable when they have an abundance of Yin stored within their tissues.
However,Yin organs can “leak,” and often do. “Leaking” in this case is defined as any loss of energy which should be stored. It is the job of the professional herbalist or practitioner to discover where energy is being leaked, determine why it is being leaked, to plug the leak and to re-establish energy and functional balance in that organ. This is one of the primary secrets to becoming a master practitioner of the Chinese healing arts, and in particular to becoming a great herbalist. He or she who can discover such leaks and who knows what to do about it can be my herbalist.
There are many causes for leaks. An inflammation, for example, causes a serious leak of energy and resources from the body. It requires enormous energy on the part of the body to maintain an inflammatory response. Those with chronic inflammations die earlier than they would if they were inflammation-free. Recent studies, for example, have led scientists to conclude that as much as 50% of all heart attacks are the result of chronic inflammatory conditions in the major arteries near the heart. This is a new concept in the West, but one which makes perfect sense to all of us who have been involved in Chinese health care. Inflammation is called “false fire” in Chinese medicine. The Daoists have been teaching for over three thousand years that chronic false fire around the heart will ultimately result in heart failure, kidney failure, or both. Sung Jin Park, my teacher explained that as we become older, the Yin Jing becomes weaker. This allows Heart yang to expand uncontrollably and attack the heart. This shortens life. To the Daoists, both Kidney Yin (Yin Jing) and Heart Yin must be maintained in order to control Heart yang. Their are famous heart tonic formulations which in fact contain powerful yet safe anti-inflammatory herbs. These are among the most important longevity herbs of China.
Perceiving The Body-Mind As A Whole
It is critically important to free oneself of the non-integrated way of perceiving the organs, as we normally view them in the Western world. When we speak of the “Kidney,” or of the “Heart,” or of the “Lungs” in the context of Oriental health philosophy, we are speaking of much more than the specific organs we know from Western physiology and anatomy. We are speaking of whole, highly integrated groups of functions and structures that form the very basis of our life on earth.
The following discussion of the five primary organs provides the basic functions normally associated with these “organ-systems” in Asian health philosophy. By understanding these functions it is possible to perceive the body, mind and spirit as a whole and thus to be able to penetrate the secrets of human health and disease. By making this knowledge part of life in a practical way, we can start on the road to radiant health.
The Roots Of Chinese Psychology
Perhaps the greatest distinction between Eastern and Western health philosophy is the way that the two systems handle psychology. Asian philosophy emphasizes the unity of body and mind, whereas it is apparent that Western philosophy has attempted to separate the body and mind to as great a degree as possible. The Chinese have always associated the emotions directly and intimately with the organs. They do not perceive of the emotions as being stuck in the brain as we do in the West. Asian philosophers link the emotions to each organ and have developed incredibly deep theories of psychology based on these relationships. These theories are deeply engrained in Daoist and Buddhist philosophy.
In Chinese health philosophy, each organ system manifests a range of emotions. Thus in Asia, the state of mind and the state of one’s body are intimately connected. Of course, in the West, it is understood that certain physiological conditions can influence the mind. But to a very significant degree, mental and emotional disorders are not connected to specific organs or organic functions, but are believed to be wholly centered in the brain. No one can deny that Asian people have studied the human mind in tremendous depth. The profound teachings of Buddhism, which include Zen, Tantric and many other forms, as well as the Daoist and Confucian teachings, have had profound influence on the entire world.
Fundamentally, the Chinese associated the emotions and related mental states to the five elements and to the organs associated with them. In general, the emotions are related to the Yin organ associated with each element.
The body's relation to the changes in the environment are to a large degree mediated by the meridians. The internal organs are deep within the body and yet react immediately to external stimuli. This is because of the network of meridians which binds all parts of the body together. Like the leaves of a tree or a like a spider's web which flutter all over even in the slightest breeze, the meridians vibrate in response to even the smallest external change, informing the organs of the change. The meridians sense the gross and subtle changes in such environmental conditions as the temperature, air pressure, humidity, light and the so-called subtleties.
Thus, through the interaction of the environment and the meridians and through each organ's activities, a healthy human being responds correctly to the changes in the external environment and to the four seasons. However, if the organ-meridian system is in any way impaired, then the climatic influences will enter the body and cause disease. If a person's way of life is brought into harmony with the seasons and the meridian system kept clear and unblocked, they will live healthfully.
There are said to be six yin organs known variously as the solid organs, the viscera, or in Chinese as the Zhang. There are also six yang organs known variously as the hollow organs, the bowels or in Chinese as the Fu. Each of the six yin organs is paired with a yang organ. The yang organ is said to protect the yin organ while the yin organ is said to nourish the yang organ. Each of the five elemental energies manifests as on pair of organ-meridian systems, except for the element Fire, which manifests as two pairs. The twelve meridians are paired as follows:
The pairing is accomplished by means of the meridians and internal channels. The meridians are linked according to what is known as the twenty-four hour circulation. The meridians and the organs are always filled with energy, but the energy moves like a wave through the meridians so that throughout the twenty-four hour day each organ-meridian dominates for a period of two hours. The twelve meridians are but twelve divisions of one continuous flow of Qi, a flow that ascends and descends the body three times during each twenty-four hour period. This energetic clock flows as follows:
Although each meridian is said to control the area through which it flows, in general the yang meridians are said to control the exterior of the body while the yin meridians are said to control the interior of the body. Each yang and yin organ pair, that is the Zhang and Fu, are directly linked via an internal meridian. They are also linked in the meridian system, since the meridians are connected to one another at the fingers and toes. For example, the Lung and Large Intestine meridians connect between the thumb and index finger, while the Bladder and Kidney meridians meet at the little toe, etc. All in all, six meridians traverse the arms and six traverse the legs. There are three yin meridians and three yang meridians on the arm, and there are three yin meridians and three yang meridians on the leg. The yang arm meridians meet the leg yang meridians on the head and face, while the arm yin meridians meet the leg yin meridians on the chest .
The yin and yang organs (Zhang Fu) differ from one another in several different ways. The yin organs are concerned with activity and movement, and with the transformation and regulation of food and other outward influences. The yang organs are more passive organs concerned with the production and storage of yin energy which nourishes the body. The yin organs store Jing Qi, and when functioning correctly do not leak. The yang organs expel their products after they transform them and become most active (yang) when they are full. On the other hand, the yin organs become most quiet and passive (yin) when they are full.
It is important to free oneself of the non-integrated picture of an organ as we normally have in the West. Thus when we speak of the Kidney in the context of the Oriental healing arts, we are speaking of much more than the two specific organs we know as the kidneys. We are speaking of a whole, highly integrated group of functions and structures that form, in this case, the very root of our life on earth. To the Oriental health practitioner, the Kidneys include not only the kidneys, but the adrenals, the reproductive system, the power of the mind, the skeletal system, the sense of hearing, the teeth, all the areas over which the Kidney meridian flows, and more. Each of the twelve organ-meridians manifests in a similar way.
The Five Basic Principles Of Asian Health Care
Do no harm.
Follow the Great Principle of Yin and Yang. Apply the Great Principle in every aspect of you practice.
In treating disease, treat the human being as a whole. In clinical practice, see the whole human body, not just an illness. See the person as a whole, a unified body, mind and spirit.*
When a problem is acute, treat the stem. When a problem is chronic, nurture and regulate the root.
The improvement or the curing of illness primarily depends on the ability of a person to resist disease from within. The basic point of view of Traditional Chinese Medicine in treatment is known as "assist the positive, eliminate the noxious.” Positiverepresents the functions of regulation, defenseand adaptability of the organism. Noxious represents all the disadvantage factors that hinder the development of the normal organism or that lead to sickness.
Generally, assisting the positive (nurturing the root) is primary.*
Where Do Herbs Come In?
This is precisely where tonic herbs come in. Tonic herbs, by definition, “assist the positive.” They help regulate the organs and systems so that we function at an optimal level. They boost our ability to adapt, and to defend ourselves against invasion by microbes, pollutants, etc. For this reason, tonic herbalism is known in the Orient as the “superior medicine,” while medicinal herbalism is known as the “inferior medicine.”
The Organs Systems
THE SIX YIN ORGANS
The Lungs control physical energy
Lungs control Qi. By increasing and decreasing the rate and depth of respiration, one can control one’s energy.
If the Lungs are weak, breathing is shallow, constricted or otherwise weak and deficient. If the Lungs are strong and vital, the breathing is long, quiet and deep and the body fills with energy. The development of respiratory power and control is fundamental to radiant health. Regardless of the amount or quality of the food we consume, it will not energize the body if breathing is insufficient, just as a candle will not burn if there is no air available. Oriental masters insist that all sickness is connected in one way or another to insufficient breathing.
Through breathing we can master the emotions
There is a deep connection between breathing and one's emotional state. The masters of every tradition in the Orient have always taught that through breath control we can master our emotions, the mastery of which is basic to our health and happiness. However, if we have not developed the power to control our breathing, we will remain at the mercy of our lower selves.
When we are under stress or when immediate problems arise, our emotions instantly influence how we breathe. For example,
- When we are angry, our breathing becomes rough.
- When we are worried or depressed, our breathing becomes shallow.
- When we are fearful, our breath becomes frozen.
- When we are in disagreement, we take short breaths.
- When we are frightened or surprised the power of the breath goes into our inhalation.
Indeed, the emotions and breathing are one. The art of maintaining one's composure under stress, then, is accomplished through the practice of controlled deep breathing. Even when we become overwhelmed by anger or fear, or become depressed and sad, if the breathing is kept calm and long, then even the most powerful emotion will quickly subside.
It is for this reason that the meditative and yogic techniques of the East all train the student of life the art of deep breathing. By practicing proper breathing, habits are formed which will be retained in emergencies, the emotions can be controlled and the higher self, Shen, will be in charge. All forms of Zen breathing, Taoist breathing, etc. are methods of training the breath so that the practitioner can maintain their tranquility even under great adversity, as well as through the routine difficulties of daily life.
By training our breathing we can master our inner organs
By training our breathing, we not only learn to control our emotions, but it is also possible to control the inner organs. It is not possible to consciously control our inner organs because they are not under the control of the conscious part of our nervous system. However, nature has provided a loophole for Man that has directly led to his elevation out of the realm of the lower animals and into the elevated being which we call human. The loophole is based on the nature of the human nervous system.
The nervous system can be divided into two subsystems: the conscious nerves and the unconscious nerves. The conscious nerves are those that allow us to do things consciously, such as sitting, talking, drawing, typing, hitting a baseball, etc. These functions are controlled primarily in the central nervous system. However, there are many functions that take place without conscious intervention, such as the beating of our heart, digestion, intestinal peristalsis, immune system activities, blood production and purification, hormonal activities, etc. This automatic activity is controlled by the autonomic nervous system . The autonomic nervous system is in charge of the functions of all of the internal organs, and is also in charge of integrating their many functions. The main control center of the autonomic nervous system is in the mid-brain. In the midbrain, all of the functions of the internal organs are integrated. If any of the internal organs are in trouble or mis-function, all of the other internal organs will try to compensate in their own particular way. On the other hand, if any of the internal organs finds itself in particularly good shape, this will benefit the entire internal organ system.
Like all of the internal organs, the lungs are primarily controlled by the autonomic nervous system. We breathe automatically, without thinking, twenty four hours a day. However, the lungs differ from all of the other internal organs in that a human being has the capacity to consciously regulate breathing, making it faster or slower, deeper or more shallow, or even suspending breathing altogether for a short while. Only the lungs are under both autonomic and, at will, conscious control. The lungs therefore are the great link in a human being between the unconscious functioning of the organs and conscious control. And since the lungs are linked to each of the other internal organs by the autonomic nervous system, each of the other internal organs can be controlled through conscious breathing. This is the great secret of the yogic masters of the East.
Taoist Yoga, for example is a system in which a student learns many different specific breathing techniques so that any specific organ or function can be vitalized, harmonized and benefited. My teacher, Sung Jin Park used to do a demonstration of how breathing could influence another organ system. He would have us take his blood pressure. By concentration and by breathing as though he were angry, he could raise his blood pressure very significantly within just a few moments. Then by calming his breath, he would just as easily and quickly lower it to a level even below the baseline at which he started. Yogic mastery of the organs is all done through willful control of the breath. It would be sufficient if the average person simply realized that by breathing deeply and calmly, many of their vital functions would be much improved.
The Lungs control the diaphragm
The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It lies directly below the lungs and heart and just above the liver, stomach, pancreas, spleen and transverse colon. Many people consider the heart to be the primary "pump" of the body, but in reality the diaphragm is the great pump of the body since through its action the organs and rhythmically are physically pumped twenty-four hours a day.
As the diaphragm moves up and down, the lungs inhale and exhale bringing oxygen and other gases and molecules into the lungs and eliminating gaseous by-products of the respiratory process and a significant amount of water and dissolved materials. But what is often not noticed about the action of the diaphragm is that its movement has a tremendous influence on the circulation and other functions of all of the organs of the body.
Deep breathing in which the diaphragm is free and active, results in a continuous pumping of all of the abdominal and pelvic organs. This action is essential to maintain free movement of blood and to prevent Qistasis or blood stasis, which are the causes of most disorders and diseases in the human body. Poor breathing, in which the diaphragm is not allowed to move freely, invariably results in both Qiand blood stasis. Constipation, for example is attributed to many causes. But the most prominent cause, in reality, is the end result of stress which causes a person to hold their diaphragm tight. The Rhythmic undulations of the diaphragm continually massage the large intestine, as do the abdominal muscles which move automatically when the diaphragm moves. This constant pushing and pulling, squeezing and expanding greatly aids the eliminative process and takes a great deal of burden off of the colon musculature itself. If the colon is forced to do all of the moving of material through its canal, it will eventually fatigue and the colon will become chronically or acutely sluggish. This can only be rectified by increasing the Qi of the large intestine, which in reality can only be accomplished by motivating and relaxing the diaphragm so that its movement is strengthened.
The same is true of the liver, which relies upon the diaphragm for its pumping action. Blood circulation is not sufficient over a lifetime to keep the liver clean. The gentle, continuous massaging of the liver by the diaphragm is necessary for the liver to remain open. Toxicity of the liver is caused by stagnation of blood in the liver, which can be freed by deep diaphragmatic breathing along with proper work directly upon the liver itself.
The spleen, pancreas, kidneys, uterus and other organs of the abdominal and pelvic cavities likewise rely upon diaphragmatic breathing to continue functioning smoothly over a long period of time. After an emergency, it natural to breath deeply, not just to bring in more oxygen and rid the body of carbon dioxide, but to pump all of the organs to help cleanse them and to bring new blood, rich in appropriate nutrients and energy sources to them.
Therefore, it is essential that a practitioner of the Oriental healing arts recognizes the fact that diaphragmatic breathing is an absolutely integral driving force for all the functions of the body, and not just an isolated function of gaseous exchange. Diaphragmatic breathing is a function that directly influences every function in the body at every moment of our lives by simple virtue of rhythmic movement.
The Lungs and the Heart are intimately connected.
There is a great concept in the Oriental healing arts that "Qi leads blood." This means that wherever Qiflows in the body, blood will soon follow. This is very important to healing. If through visualization, yoga, breathing, exercise or acupressure we can direct the Qi to a blocked or otherwise imbalanced area of the body, blood circulation to that area will soon follow. The blood contains nutrients and oxygen which can heal or improve the condition of the area. Habitual deep breathing, acupressure and exercise will assure excellent circulation which will benefit the health if the blood is strong and healthy as a result of a clean, healthy diet and the intake of herbal tonics.
Furthermore, the heart is said to be the seat of Shen and if breathing can control the emotions, this allows Shen to reign. When Shenreigns, the heart will be healthy, nervous anxiety will not be a problem and the practicer will experience life to the fullest. On a more purely physiological level, the lungs and heart are often deficient together so that a person may experience dyspnoea (difficult breathing) and heart palpitations upon slight exertion. This is the basis of the modern cardio-respiratory therapy and aerobic training.
The Lungs are the Seat of Wisdom
Wisdom is said to derive from the Lungs. Cosmologically the Lungs are associated with the Metal element. The Metal element is associated with the ability to let go of the old while learning the lessons, or, in other words, extracting the essence contained within experiences. Throughout life we are required to face a never-ending set of circumstances from which we can learn the lessons of life. But many people become stuck in the emotion of the actual experience and instead of learning the lessons, become locked in the past. As emotions become habitual, they begin to rule our lives and Shen loses its power. In effect, we become addicted to certain emotional responses and respond throughout our lives like a broken record.
Deep breathing is the tool of the masters for letting go of old attachments and old emotions, and for extracting the wisdom hidden within the experiences of life. In learning these lessons, we grow and evolve. Eventually, those who have learned the art of letting go and extracting the wisdom hidden within each experience will become profoundly wise. Thus the Lungs are said to be the seat of wisdom.
The Lungs control the skin
The skin has important respiratory functions in humans, just as it does in other animals. If there is an abundance of free flowing Qi, the skin opens and closes appropriately to adapt to changes in the weather.
Cosmetically, the Lungs have a profound influence over the skin. Any skin disorder, including blemishes and dry skin are aided by balancing the Lung function and improving breathing. Lung tonic herbs are beneficial to the skin.
The Lungs and skin have a thermoregulatory function.
The skin is responsible in a human being for approximately 87% of all heat irradiation, while the lungs are responsible for about 7-8% through expired air. The rest of the bodily heat loss takes place via the urine. This role of the skin and lungs is fundamental to general adaptability to atmospheric changes and can be important when treating febrile diseases.
The Lungs produce the defensive energy, Wei Qi
The defensive energy, or Wei Qi, produced by the Lungs is of critical importance to one's health. This energy is Yang because it circulates at the surface of the body and supplies the skin with the energy to defend the body against climatic and pathogenic forces that otherwise could penetrate the body and cause damage to the internal organs. Thus the Lungs play a major role in the defense energy of the system. Chinese tonic herbs, which are said to be Lung tonics, play a major role in tonifying this Wei Qi.
The Lungs affect the upper respiratory tract and voice.
The functioning of the nose and sinuses is an important reflection of the health of the Lungs. If the Lung energy is flowing freely through the nose, the sinuses are clear, the nose is open, and the sense of smell is acute.
The voice reflects the state of the Lung energy. If the Lung energy is full and vital, the voice will be likewise strong, full and clear. If the Lung energy is full, the speech will be easy and will not tire easily. If, on the other hand, the voice is weak and lacks any force, it is likely that the Lung energy is deficient.
The Kidney, in Chinese health philosophy, is a complex organ system that includes much more than the renal function with which it is associated in the West.
The Kidney is the Root of Life
The Kidney stores and generates the fundamental life energy of the body and is considered to be the power source of our entire being. Like the root of a plant, the Kidney is the deepest source of life energy to a human being, and our life depends upon the primal power contained in the Kidney. The Kidney is called the Root of Life. Strong Kidneys will lead to a strong and long life.
The Kidneys store Essence
The Kidney is the great reservoir of energyfor the entire body. This stored energy, Jing, is stored in the Kidney. Jingstored in the Kidney can be released to any organ or to the whole system upon demand.
The Daoists have always taught (with great emphasis) that the secret to a long and healthy life is to accumulate an abundance of Jing in the Kidneys and to avoid its reckless dissipation. This is accomplished by avoiding excessive and abusive activities in our lifestyle, by avoiding stressful situations and emotional excess as much as possible, by breathing and exercising in such a manner as to accumulate energy and directing that energy to the Kidneys, and by eating foods and consuming tonic herbs that nourish the Kidneys and build Jing.
Certain tonic herbs can actually provide Jing directly to the Kidneys and their associated organs. That is why the Kidney tonic herbs are considered to be the primary anti-aging and longevity herbs of Chinese herbalism.
Yang Jing and Yin Jing
There is a Yin and Yang aspect to the Kidney. The classics call the Yang primal energy of the Kidneys Yang Jing. If this Yang energy is weak, the body and the mind are depleted, weak and dull. The Yin primal energy is called Yin Jing. If the Yin Jing is depleted, the body degenerates and ages quickly. Yang Jing is associated with the Fire element and Yin Jing is associated with the Water element.
TheYang Jing is the primal energy source of the entire body throughout one's entire life span. The Yang Jing generates all the yang energy of the body. It motivates all the activities of the organs and without it death would ensue. The Yang Jing keeps the body warm and generates, in particular, the activities of the mind, reproduction and birth.
Because both Yang Jing and Yin Jing are located in the Kidney, the Kidney is said to be the root of Yin and Yang and of Water and Fire for the entire body. These two opposing primal forces constantly interact and together are called the Root of Life, which is the source of growth, transformation, regeneration and reproduction. Neither one can exist without the other, and a deficiency of one or the other will lead to imbalances in other organ systems that will eventually lead to disease and even death if the original imbalance in the Kidneys is not corrected.
The Gate of Life and Premier Fire
The Original Qi, also known as Pre-natal Qi, is the result of millions of years of evolution and represents the genetic makeup and potential of an individual. Essentially, the genetic coding is believed to be influenced by the state of being of one's parents and by their ancestors before them as they adapted to the universe around them, and this genetic coding determines how well we function as well as how long we will potentially live. It is suggested that differences in one's energy at different times of one's life will create minute, yet significant changes in the genetic substance of the reproductive cells. Perhaps due to a change in blood chemistry, a change in body temperature, or to any other such influence, a gene may be slightly altered so that at some stage of the new child's life the gene will manifest in a way different from the way it would have if other parameters had been present at the time of the production of the genetic material and at conception. The Original Qi is the life force generated, or allowed to be generated, in the new human being. The life force may be weak or strong, abundant or wanting, but whatever it is, it cannot be significantly altered in one's lifetime, although the Original Qi passed on to the next generation via genetic substance might be.
This Original Qi is stored in the Kidneys. Although it appears to be stored in all the various tissues associated with the Kidneys as known to the Chinese, the Chinese believe that it is primarily stored in the Lower Dan Tian, or Lower Field of Elixir, located approximately two inches below the navel internally in the area now known to be the lumbar plexus . The Taoists called this great energy reserve the Golden Stove.
The Golden Stove is like a furnace that provides heat to a house or like a battery that provides the fundamental energy to an automobile. If the energy in the Golden Stove is great, the body and the mind are vital, strong and bright. If this yang energy is weak, the body and the mind are depleted, weak and dull. The Original Qi is slowly (or quickly) consumed over a lifetime.
The classics call this yangaspect of the Kidneys the Gate of Life and say that "the Gate of Life is where the Original Qi is attached, is the origin of Qi, and is the root of the twelve meridians. It is a moving energy located between the two kidneys." 1 The Gate of Life is associated with the primal yang energy called Premier Fire. The Premier Fire is the vital energy source of the entire body throughout one's entire life span. It is said in another classic:
"When the Kidney Qi is weak and the Premier Fire is in a degenerated and exhausted condition, there is an inability to digest foods. Just as the rice in a cooking pot which has no fire beneath it will not be cooked, when the Premier Fire of the Kidney is not sufficient, the Stomach will not be able to transform and digest food.2
The Premier Fire is frequently called the Original Yang. The Premier Fire generates all the Yang energy of the body. It motivates all the activities of the organs and without it death would ensue. The maintenance of respiration depends upon it. The Heart depends upon the Premier Fire for mental and psychic clarity, and the Liver and Gall Bladder depend upon it to maintain their creativity, drives and decisions, and their ability to carry out those decisions. The Premier Fire keeps the body warm and is the energy that generates, in particular, the activities of reproduction and birth.
Because both Premier Fire and Essence, which is Yin and is associated with the element Water, are located in the Kidney, the Kidney-Life Gate complex is said to be the root of Yin and Yang and of Water and Fire for the entire body. Just as Premier Fire is known as Original Yang, Essence is known as Original Yin. These two opposing primal forces constantly interact and together are called the Root of Life, which is the source of growth, transformation, regeneration and reproduction. Neither one can exist without the other, and a deficiency of one or the other will lead to imbalances in other organ systems that will eventually lead to disease and even death if the original imbalance in the Kidneys is not corrected.
The Kidneys control reproduction and fertility.
When the Yang Jing rises, stimulating the Liver, sexual arousal occurs, resulting in an erection in a man and deep sexual arousal in a woman. If the Yang Jing is sufficiently strong, ejaculation of the seminal fluid will occur in the man, and the woman will excrete vaginal secretions and will experience intense orgasm. This can result in impregnation if the woman is healthy and ovulating.
Fertility is generally associated with the Yin Jing, while potency is associated with Yang Jing. Yin Jing, in this regard, represents the hormones and other substances and fluids related to reproductive functioning and fertility. The Kidney controls fertility.
The Kidney controls the skeleton
The skeleton and all tissues immediately related to it are controlled by the Kidney. The bone tissue itself is considered "surface tissue" and is thus yang, and is therefore under the influence of Kidney yang. Anything that strengthens Kidney yang will strengthen the bones while anything that depletes Kidney yang will weaken the bone structure.
The ligaments and cartilage, and to some degree the tendons, are associated with Kidney yang, but also to some degree with Kidney yin. Excessive stress or other Kidney depleting activities can weaken these connective and supportive tissues resulting in joint disorders. Therefore all the joints are directly under the influence of the Kidney. When the Kidney energy is flourishing, the joints are supple and strong, and are free from pain, swelling and inflammation.
In particular, the lumbar section of the spine and the knees are very closely associated with the Kidneys. When the Kidneys are full of energy, the back and knees are strong and flexible, but when the Kidneys are weak these joints are very vulnerable. Lower back pain is one of the most common ailments in our society. Most people start to feel pain in their backs after a simple movement like bending over to pick up a pencil or looking over their shoulder. This simple act is not the action that causes one's back to "go out." Most often, when a person's back go into acute spasm, or slips or ruptures a disk, that person has recently experienced severe stress. The stress exhausts the adrenals, and after the stress is over and the person is able to relax and "let down," the adrenals shut down for a few days while they rebuild hormone supplies. During this time the body is not able to handle additional severe stress and a simple action can result in injury to the back. In the Orient, it is not sufficient to do manual therapy only directly to the back in case of a back injury. It is also considered necessary to stimulate the acu-points that quickly rebuild the Kidney energy so that the root of the back injury is eliminated and so that the back is strengthened from within. Backs heal only very slowly, if at all if the Kidneys are not nurtured along with direct work on the injured tissue itself.
The knees and the ankles too are under direct influence of the Kidneys. These are joints that are most often injured when a person has been under chronic stress and then encounters a severe acute stress. These joints are, like the lower back, also weakened by excessive sexual activity which depletes the Kidney energy. It is said that sexual activity is "excessive" if the knees become weak or the back aches after sex. Strengthening the Kidneys, of course, strengthens sexual energy and increases one's capacity and protects the lumbar area and the knees. The feet and ankles often hurt spontaneously when the Kidneys have been depleted.
The marrow, of course is the material inside the bone. The marrow is responsible for the production of much of one's blood, including red blood cells and many white cells. The marrow tends to degenerate as we age, and by the time we reach middle age, most of our marrow has dried up. The Kidneys are responsible for marrow and for its functions. Nurturing the Kidney energy is believed to likewise nurture the marrow and thus increase one's energy and immune functions, and thus lead to a longer, healthier life.
The Kidneys are also said to control our teeth. Strong Kidneys will generate strong teeth that are resistant to disease, decay and breakage.
The Kidneys support the marrow
The marrow, of course is the material inside the bone. The marrow is responsible for the production of much of one's blood, including red blood cells and many white cells. The marrow tends to degenerate as we age, and by the time we reach middle age, most of our marrow has dried up. The Kidneys are responsible for marrow and for its functions. Nurturing the Kidney energy is believed to likewise nurture the marrow and thus increase one's energy and immune functions, and thus lead to a longer, healthier life.
The Kidneys nourish the teeth
The Kidneys are also said to control our teeth. Strong Kidneys will generate strong teeth that are resistant to disease, decay and breakage.
The Kidney provides the vitality of the brain and mind
The brain is generally associated with the Kidney as well. Kidney Qi nourishes the brain tissue itself, and the mind is said to be energized by the Kidneys. Thus if one's Kidney energy is abundant, one's mind will be sharp and clear, memory will be powerful and intuitive and cognitive powers will be great. On the other hand, if the Kidney Qi is depleted, the mind will be cloudy and slow, memory will be weak and intuition will be veiled. Forgetfulness and "spaciness" are usually treated by tonifying the Kidneys Qi.
Many yogic systems, including Daoist and Tantric Yoga utilize special techniques for transforming Kidney (especially sexual) energy into psychic power. Tonifying the Kidneys will strengthen the mind. Overworking or otherwise exhausting the mind will deplete the Kidneys.
The Kidneys control hearing
The Kidneys control hearing, and thus acute hearing is a sign of strong Kidneys. However deafness, ringing in the ears or other symptoms of impaired hearing a signs of weak Kidney energy.
The Kidneys control excretion and urination
Just as in Western physiology, the Kidney is said to control the excretion of urine. When the Kidneys and the Gate of Life are in harmony, the body fluids are abundant and flow smoothly throughout the body. Constipation and difficult urination, however, may be signs of excessive Kidney fire or of water deficiency. If the Kidneys cannot transform water, urination is weak and the body swells resulting in edema.
The Kidneys control the hair on the head
The hair on the head is controlled by the Kidneys. Yin Jing deficiency and/or excess of Yang Jing can result in hair loss. Tonifying Yin Jing in particular is famous for preventing or reversing excessive hair loss. Premature graying of hair, too, is associated with stress-related depletion of the Kidney energy.
The Kidneys control our healing energy
The energy that we use up in the process of healing ourselves and others is the Kidney energy. As practitioners of the Oriental healing arts, it is absolutely essential to remember this, because if we give up too much of our own energy in the healing work we do, we inadvertently are shortening our own lives. It is therefore necessary to constantly beware of the need to replenish our Kidney energy, particularly the Yin Jing, lest we become "burned out" and lose our power to help others, and cut into our own life span.
The Kidneys give us Will and Courage
When the Kidneys are full of Qi, the body and mind naturally feel a sense of self-confidence and courage. Then the Will to live is strong and the future seems bright. We automatically sense that we have abundant reserves of energy and know that to a large degree we are safe.
If the Kidneys are weakened and depleted by stress or other factors, the body-mind senses this as well and becomes fearful and paranoid. We know that the reserves are short and that another emergency or depleting situation might cause permanent damage or even death. And from the opposite perspective, chronic fear will deplete the Kidney, resulting in other signs and symptoms of Kidney deficiency.
The Kidneys astringe Qi and fluids
One of the responsibilities of the Kidney is to consolidate the energy and fluids and preventing their leaking from the system. The authors primary teacher, Daoist Master Sung Jin Park, believes that one of the cardinal secrets of longevity is to prevent virtually all unnecessary leaking of the Essence. "Leaking" may manifest as urinary and seminal incontinence, excessive perspiration and diarrhea. Excessive emotions, chronic inflammation and incessant talking are also considered to be leaks that drain the Kidney or result from weak Kidneys.
The Kidneys store. By tonifying the Kidneys, we increase their power to store.
The Kidneys control the power of digestion
Although the Kidneys do not directly digest food, the Yang Jing of the Kidneys directly influences our ability to digest food. If the Yang Jing is strong, we can completely digest our food and even a little bit of food can generate significant energy. If the Fire of the Kidneys is weak, our digestive function is weak and food goes through undigested and we derive little energy and blood from it.
All disease can be traced to the Kidneys. It is always beneficial to regulate and strengthen the Kidney, no matter what the disorder, and even when there is no disorder.
The Kidneys control the power of digestion
Although the Kidneys do not directly digest food, the Premier Fire of the Kidneys directly influences our ability to digest food. If the Premier Fire is strong, we can completely digest our food and even a little bit of food can generate significant energy. If the Fire of the Kidneys is weak, our digestive function is weak and food goes through undigested and we derive little energy and blood from it. When digestion is weak, it is necessary to strengthen the Spleen, as will be discussed later, but it is also necessary to tonify Kidney fire. A famous Sung dynasty physician, Xi Shu Wei once said that "When tonifying the Spleen, the constant warming and tonifying of the Kidney Qi is essential;" and another scholar of that period, Yen Yong He said that when it comes to strengthening digestion, "tonifying the Kidney is better than tonifying the Spleen."3
This is in line with a school of thought called the Pre-natal School of Chinese Medicine, widely followed in traditional Chinese medicine and in particular by most Taoist practitioners. The author is himself, to a very large degree, a follower of this school, as was his primary teacher, Taoist master Sung Jin Park, and his master before him, Mu San Do Sha. The Pre-Natal School considers all life to be rooted in the Kidneys and therefore all health and disease are rooted there as well. All disease can be traced to the Kidneys either via the transformations of Qidescribed earlier in this chapter or via the transformations of the five elemental energies. It is always beneficial to regulate and strengthen the Kidney, no matter what the disorder, and even when there is no disorder. Taoist yoga, the Art of Longevity focuses most of its attention on developing the Kidney.
The Liver, like the Kidney, is a complex organ system. Its functions include not only those of the liver as we know it physiologically in the West, but also includes a number of other organic structures and functions that might seem unrelated at first glance, but are in fact closely related functionally such as the control of the peripheral nervous system and of our vision.
The Liver stores and purifies blood
When we are active our blood circulates freely throughout our body, but when we are at rest, much of our blood returns to the liver and is stored there. While the blood is in the liver it is purified and changed. The liver plays the major role in our body of detoxifying the blood. Chemical toxins and metabolic by-products are separated from the blood in the liver and are either discharged through the bowels or stored in the liver where they cannot harm other tissues in the body. Of course, chronic consumption of toxic substances will severely damage the liver over time. Therefore a major part of strengthening the liver and making it healthy is detoxifying the liver itself of the toxins that have been stored there.
The Liver smoothes and regulates the flow of Qi
The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. It prevents stagnation and accumulation of Qi in the internal organs and meridians. If the liver is not functioning well in this respect, there is a tendency to bloating and congestion in the digestive tract. Other conditions that can arise from the inability of the liver to spread Qi are muscular tension, poor circulation, headaches, cold hands and feet, menstrual problems.
The Liver manifests as creativity, ambition, motivation and the "will to become"
When the Liver is balanced, Qi flows smoothly and a person will naturally be able to express ideas creatively. Creativity itself is a manifestation of the Liver energy. Liver is associated with the Wood element, which is associated with expansive energy. Ambition and drive are also manifestations of the Liver energy. A person with a healthy Liver will have a well balanced urge to grow and develop, and will feel happily and energetically motivated. This is known in Chinese lexicon as the "will to become." The "will to become" is the will to live and to evolve. Lacking this "will to become," one will become depressed and lethargic. Depression and lethargy are clear signs that the Liver is not functioning properly.
The creative energy of the Liver manifests most fully at the early stage of new cycles, when a person's energy is fully charged and the future seems unlimited. The "honeymoon" of a relationship is just such a period that would be governed by the energies of the Liver.
Anger damages the Liver
Blockage of the Liver energy usually results as a blockage of one's creativity, or the ability to express it. This inability to express one's creativity results in frustration. Since our society forces most people to suppress much of their natural creativity, most people build up Liver tension and frustration. If this frustration builds, eventually the energy turns to anger and rage. It is very difficult to suppress anger, which is an explosively powerful emotion, and eventually anger will manifest in one way or another. Anger is not always, or even usually, directed at the cause of the anger. People most often vent their anger in directions that will put up little resistance.
Anger should not be suppressed, but it should not be allowed to grow out of control either. Uncontrolled venting of one's anger will further damage the Liver. By regulating the Liver energy, it is actually possible to dissipate and dissolve old anger and to rise above the things that generate anger. It is very important to regulate the live and to dissolve old anger and resentment because carrying this emotional energy around constantly distorts one's entire life.
Anger often results in what is known as restrained Liver Qi, which will manifest as tightness in the ribs and cold hands and feet. The Liver does not allow the Qito spread smoothly and thus the circulation to the hands and feet is insufficient.
Excessive ambition can damage the Liver because it can result in frustration and anger. Excessive desire of any sort will result in frustration because by the very nature of this world, desires beyond attainability will result in frustration and depression. For this reason all the great spiritual traditions caution their followers against harboring excessive desire and ambition.
The Oriental people also consider the Liver to play an important role in one's courage. Although the Kidney influences courage by providing the raw hormonal power to the system, the Liver influences courage by generating raw animal desire and power along with the human capacity for intelligent planning and decision-making.
The Liver controls the peripheral nervous system and regulates the degree of muscular tension
One of the great tricks to understanding the nature of the Liver function, as described in the Chinese healing arts, is to realize that the Liver function includes all the functions of the peripheral nervous system of the body. The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves the emanate from the central nervous system. This of course includes the nerves that enervate the organs and tissues of the body, the arms and legs, the face, the genitalia, etc.
When the Liver energy is functioning properly, the Qi is said to flow smoothly. This means that the energy flowing through the nervous system will flow smoothly. Blockage of this function, known as Qi stagnation, results in muscular tension. This is an extremely important syndrome. If the Liver function malfunctions, as when we are chronically frustrated or angry, or due to toxicity of the liver, this will physically manifestation as muscular tension. This tension will manifest wherever there is weakness. So, for example, if the lungs are out of balance, the tension will manifest along the Lung meridian and around the areas actually directly related to the lungs and its functional accessory tissues. The same would be true for any of the organs.
Muscular tension often occurs most severely in the regions specifically controlled by the Liver and the Liver meridian. For example, it is always said that "the Liver controls the neck." The main meridian of the Liver itself does not actually flow through the neck, but the Gall Bladder meridian does. The Gall Bladder is the Yang partner of the Liver. If the Liver is tense or "heated," the Gall Bladder will become more Yang resulting in neck tension. This in turn can cause chronic a acute neck problems, jaw problems and headaches. In fact, the great majority of headaches are so-called "Gall Bladder headaches," which are in reality caused by blockage or suppression of the Liver's ability to express itself freely and satisfactorily.
When the Liver fails to regulate the nervous system properly, the peripheral nervous system will become unruly. Spasms, cramps, twitching, dizziness, vertigo, convulsions, paralysis and hypertension will result. Headaches, for example, are generally caused by spasms of the blood vessels and other muscles of the head, neck, face and eye. This is a typical Liver symptom caused by an imbalance in the peripheral nervous system. Leg cramps, menstrual tension and cramps, back spasms, chronic shoulder tension, twitching, jaw tension (tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome), muscular dystrophy, spastic colon and so on are all manifestations of Liver dysfunction.
These conditions that are caused by a lack of control of the peripheral nervous system are all known as internal wind conditions. Like the wind blowing, the energy shoots through the system chaotically and in bolts and waves. Drunkenness is a windy condition as well.
The Liver opens into the eye and controls vision
The eyes are a part of the peripheral nervous system, and are therefore controlled by the Liver. Both visual acuity and the condition of the eye itself are under the influence of the Liver. Acute inflammatory eye diseases are generally associated with excess of Liver fire. Chronic eye disorders such as blurred vision, dizziness, chronically dry eyes, and glaucoma are caused by blood and Yin deficiency of the Liver (often in conjunction with Yin Jing deficiency). Anger and toxic substances will cause the eyes to become red, as will a lack of sleep, which harms the blood and Yinof the Liver.
The Liver nourishes the tendons and ligaments
The tendons and ligaments are governed by the Liver, so when the Liver energy decreases, the tendons contract and become stiff and movement is impaired. Liver diseases, due to diminished Liver energy, are often indicated by contracture, tendon soreness, curled tongue and contraction of the scrotum. Excessive anger, or chronically repressed anger and frustration will damage the Liver and will cause the tendons to contract.
The Liver feeds the nails
The finger and toe nails are nourished by the Liver and provide an excellent indication of the condition of the Liver. Someone who has a healthy Liver function will have beautiful nails that are smooth, strong, and naturally shiny. If the Liver energy is depressed, the nails will be soft, thin, brittle, pale, dull and ridged. There will also be a tendency to develop inflammatory conditions around them or chronic fungal diseases.
The Liver energy concentrates in the genital organs
The Liver meridian runs through the genitalia of both men and women and thus are responsible for male erection and female arousal. Sexual drive is closely related to the Liver's primary drive to create (procreate) and to manifest the future. Poor erection or the inability to achieve arousal in a woman is the result of deficient Liver and Kidney energy.
The Liver benefits from calmness and smooth transitions
The Liver flourishes when transitions are smooth and general calm is maintained. Rapid, harsh change will damage the Liver. Change is a form of wind, and wind stimulates the Liver. If the wind is excessive, in other words the change is drastic, the Liver will not be able to make plans and have them carried out. The ability to make plans is an important function of the Liver, and the inability to do so can cause frustration and anger.
The Liver prefers to remain cool
The Liver is damaged by excessive heat, and therefore prefers to remain cool. Excessive heat conditions can cause general hypersensitivity, allergic reactions, and the full range of Liver symptoms. The natural tendency of the Liver is to overheat, in which case the heat rises, causing neck tension, hypertension, bloodshot or inflamed eyes, headaches, etc. This is called Liver fire rising. Or the heat can dry up the Liver Yincausing Liver Yin deficiency, which manifests as dizziness, depression, headache, irritability, blurred vision, nervous disorders, chronic eye problems and menstrual difficulties. Hypertension (high blood pressure), which falls into the pattern of these two syndromes (often a combination of both) is one of the primary killers of modern man because it predisposes a person to major cardiovascular accidents. It is treated by nurturing the Liver Yin and quelling excessive Liver fire.
If however, the heat combines with moisture, it can descend resulting in inflammatory conditions in the lower burner (the pelvic basin). Urinary tract infections, genital inflammation, vaginal discharge, and other such inflammatory conditions are known as Liver fire descending with dampness, or simply as damp heat of the lower burner and are treated by drying up the moisture and cooling the fire while balancing the Liver energy.
The Liver is the Seat of Happiness
Happiness is said to reside in, and emanate from, the Liver. Happiness occurs when there is no frustration and anger, and in the Orient this is closely associated with the idea of modifying one's desires and ambition so that frustration and anger do not become hidden within the Liver and destroy our lives. A balanced attitude will result in a healthy Liver and a calm and happy life.
Shen, the guiding spirit, resides within the heart
The classics say:
"The Heart is the Supreme Master of the organs and is the home of Shen, the Spirit. If the Master is brilliant, his subjects are peaceful. If the Master is disturbed, his twelve officials are endangered."
Shen is the spiritual aspect of a human being. Shen presides over the emotions, allowing them to manifest appropriately, but overriding them when they are not appropriate. When Shen rules, the oneness of all things becomes sublimely clear and duality becomes an obvious illusion. One can see the whole picture--both sides of every issue and of every story. Yin is seen in Yang, and Yang is seen in Yin. Good is seen in bad, and bad is seen in good. No dualistic position is absolute, and therefore tolerance, compassion and patience become the guiding spirit of one's life.
When Shen is "shaky" or "disturbed" any emotion can become dominant. Frequently, the person will experience agitation, nervousness, heart palpitations, insomnia, dizziness and fainting spells, uncontrolled laughter and grief (often occurring only moments apart), hysteria, deep sadness, fright, and mumbling to oneself.
The Heart controls the cerebral cortex of the brain, consciousness and the mind
The Heart function encompasses the cerebral function associated with the mind. The heart therefore controls the mind and is capable of being the master of the body. The Heart maintains consciousness. The Heart maintains control over perception and thinking. Normal functioning of the Heart, as it governs the brain and mind, produces a clear, quick mind and a vigorous spirit.
The Heart controls the entire cardiovascular system, blood circulation and the pulse
The Heart is responsible for the proper condition and functioning of the entire vascular system, including the heart itself. The condition of both the large and small blood vessels throughout the body are under the control of the Heart. The heart muscle is maintained by the energy of the Heart meridian and is protected by the Pericardium. Blood obstruction of the cardiac tissue will result in angina pectoris, purplish lips, purple spots on the tongue, and shortness of breath.
Blood circulation is controlled by the Heart as well. This includes the capillary circulation as well as blood circulation through the large vessels. The pulse, which reflects the condition of one's circulation, is thus controlled by the Heart function.
The color of the face reflects the condition of the condition of the Heart. If the face is bright red, this indicates an excessive condition of the Heart. A pale, lusterless complexion indicates a deficient condition. If the condition continues, the skin will become not only lusterless, but dark because of blood stagnation.
The tongue is the orifice of the Heart
The tip of the tongue also shows the condition of the Heart. If the tip of the tongue is bright red, this indicates excessive Heart fire , while a pale tongue indicates a deficiency of blood and Heart Qi.
The entire tongue is said to be the orifice of the Heart, and therefore when the Shen is disturbed one cannot speak (as when one is in shock).
The Heart helps regulate blood pressure
If Heart Qi is sufficient, blood pressure will be maintained at a proper level. If Heart Qi becomes deficient, blood pressure may be low, the limbs will be cold, the tongue will be pale and the pulse will be weak and may skip beats.
The Pericardium protects the Heart
The Pericardium is actually an energy field that is believed to enclose the heart and resides in the fatty tissues which surround the heart. One of the primary functions of the Pericardium is to protect the heart by absorbing attacks leveled at the heart and by taking on the diseases that would otherwise attack the heart.
A classic states that:
"The Pericardium is the castle of the heart. Since the heart is the Master of all the other organs, evils must not be allowed to approach it. The evils of the heart therefore are borne by the Pericardium."
When the Pericardium is under attack, the person may experience dizziness, voice loss, hysteria, delirium and fever. The Pericardium helps to regulate the emotions and when the Pericardium meridian is open and flourishing, it can overrule the lower emotions and establish calm. For this reason, the acu-points that balance the Pericardium meridian are frequently used in treatment sessions to stabilize the emotions when they become uncontrolled or unruly.
The Pericardium executes the demands of the Heart
The Pericardium is also charged with executing the demands of Shen, which resides in the Heart. If Shenis strong and pure, then Pericardium follows the dictates of Shenand life is dynamic, peaceful and joyous. A great Chinese classic states that "the Pericardium is the door of joy and happiness." This is not the "joy" of revelry and excess, which will be followed by a depressed period, but the joy of universal, all-embracing love.
If, on the other hand, Shenis weak, the demands of the true self are overcome by the emotions and the lower passions and Shenis forced to recede and to become essentially dormant. The result will be a loss of self-control and endless craving for excitement and satisfaction from the illusionary world outside. These cravings can never be permanently satisfied, so the person will experience cycles of excitement and depression.
In clinical practice, the Pericardium is treated much more often than the Heart. It is said that one should approach the Heart as though it were a great sage; e.g., with utmost respect, and should only venture to treat it directly when a disease has overcome the Pericardium and is directly attacking the Heart. In other words, only acute conditions of the Heart are usually treated directly with acupressure (or acupuncture). All normal conditions of the Heart are treated through the Pericardium.
The Pericardium circulates the Kidney Yangand unites the Heart and Kidney
Another name sometimes used for the Pericardium is Circulation-Sex.. This name aptly describes one of the most fundamental functions of the Pericardium and of the body as a whole. Many scholars have concluded that the Pericardium is in fact none other than the Kidney Yangfunction as it affects the Heart. Many (if not most) practitioners interpret the Pericardium pulse on the right wrist (which we will discuss in detail later) to indicate the condition of Kidney Yang, while the Kidney pulse on the left wrist indicates the true energy of the Kidney, which is Yin(the Kidney is aYinorgan).
Circulation-sex, then, unites the two primal forces within man and nature, that of Water and Fire, Yinand Yang, Heart and Kidney. It unites the two poles of our being, the physical and the spiritual and harmonizes the feelings of love as they manifest both physically and spiritually.
If a person has difficulty experiencing or expressing love either physically or emotionally, the Pericardium meridian must be opened and regulated. Therefore the Pericardium meridian is of utmost importance in the treatment of a great many people, especially those who are having difficulty in communicating their feelings of love with people to whom they are close. The Pericardium meridian is of deep importance in the treatment of sexual dysfunction due to anxiety and other suppressed emotions.
The Spleen controls gastro-intestinal functions and generates Qi, Blood and bodily fluids
The function of the Spleen is different from that associated with the spleen in Western physiology. For one thing, the Spleen function as described in the Chinese healing arts encompasses the various digestive and assimilative actions of the pancreas, stomach, duodenum, and small intestine. Therefore, the Spleen is most accurately associated with the gastro-intestinal functions which generate Qi, blood and bodily fluids.
The Spleen, which is sometimes translated as the Spleen-Pancreas, is in charge of the transformation of energy. It is the responsibility of the Spleen to transform food both chemically and energetically so that it can be utilized by the body. Thus it is responsible for the various stages of digestion and assimilation, and especially for the extraction of Qi from the food in the stomach and its transmission to the Lungs, where it is blended with the Qi extracted from the air inhaled, thus creating the Essential Qi. If the Spleen is strong, the body will be strong. But if the Spleen is weak, it will be unable to extract energy from the food one eats and the body will be weak and frail, and the following symptoms are likely: congestion is the stomach and small intestines, lack of appetite, bloating and gurgling, anemia due to poor blood production, and reduced immune function.
The Spleen is also responsible for the distribution of the chemical, fluid and energetic constituents of food to all the appropriate parts of the body. Therefore it can be said that the Spleen is like the Earth, which nourishes everything. The Spleen is thus classified as being of the Earth element. It is called "the Center" and being at the center is said to have a balancing and harmonizing effect on the whole body.
The Spleen controls Fluid metabolism
Fluid metabolism is one of the very important functions of the Spleen. The classics say that swelling from excessive water is due to the Spleen function being depressed. This is known as Spleen Qi Deficiency.
The Spleen is responsible for removing water from the digestive tract and for distributing it to the various tissues of the body for their own needs. But if the water stays in the stomach and is not absorbed because the Spleen is weak, then there will be a tendency to watery stools, difficulty in urinating, abdominal bloating, and phlegm congestion. Edema, where the water stays under the skin and does not circulate properly, is also due to Spleen Qi deficiency and is a major cause of chronic fatigue.
The Spleen maintains the organs in there proper positions
Gravity has a natural tendency over the years to cause the organs to sink. It is the Spleen's responsibility to provide energy to the muscles that hold the organs in their proper positions so that the organs do not prolapse (drop). Several organs have a strong tendency to prolapse, including the stomach, intestines, rectum, and uterus, not to mention the general sagging of all tissues as one ages. Strengthening the Spleen function helps maintain the general Qi so that over the years the organs and tissues stay vital and do not drop.
If a person is experiencing a prolapsed condition or conditions, such as hemorrhoids, hernias, prolapsed uterus, varicose veins, etc., it is necessary to strongly tonify Qi by strengthening the Spleen function along with specific treatment for the specific disorder. In the Chinese healing arts, it must always be remembered that the underlying cause of a disorder must be discovered and corrected. It is generally also necessary to work at the more superficial level to deal with the specific ailment. But the tendency of many less mature practitioners of these arts, be they acupressurists, acupuncturists or herbalists is to try to "heal" the patient or client by concentrating on and eradicating the symptoms, or conditions that just underlie the symptoms. This cannot be done even with the Chinese herbs, acupuncture or whatever. Prolapsed organs are an example of this. They cannot be truly corrected unless the underlying root of the disorder, which in this case is Qi deficiency due to a weak Spleen, is successfully addressed. In fact, it is important to go even deeper and try to discover if other organs, such as the Kidney or Heart, have caused the Spleen to malfunction, and to discover what emotions or habits may be at the root of the problem
The Spleen keeps the blood in the vessels
When the Spleen Qi is sufficient, the blood vessels properly regulate the distribution of blood to all tissues of the body. The Spleen is said to regulate the permeability of the blood vessels, especially at the capillary level. If there is a Spleen Qi deficiency, the blood vessels may leak, causing bleeding syndromes. Excessive menstrual bleeding, and/or continuous bleeding and spotting between periods is often due to a Spleen Qi deficiency and is treated by toning up the Spleen function. Another very common symptom usually associated with this important Spleen function is chronic bruising, which is often virtually spontaneous. Both of these syndromes are caused by a weakness in the capillary function, which is controlled by the Spleen. Other common symptoms include gastric and duodenal ulcers, hemorrhoids and bloody stools.
Thus another primary responsibility of the Spleen is to maintain the volume of blood in the body. It does this by providing Qi to the blood vessels and protecting them from collapse and from leaking and by regulating the production of blood from the food we eat.
The Spleen supports the Immune System
The Spleen plays a very important role in maintaining the defenses of the body. It does this primarily by regulating the various constituents of the blood, which include the immune cells that defend the body against invading microbes. A deficiency of Spleen Qi will result in chronic low grade infections such as urinary infections or chronic colds. The specific location of the infection(s) will depend upon which other organs functions are weak and vulnerable.
There is a tendency among Oriental therapists to try to treat only the function or organ system that shows signs of infection or inflammation. This is an insufficient approach. The Qi and blood must be supported and the immune system enhanced by tonifying the Spleen Qi in any case of reduced immunity.
The Spleen governs the muscles and the flesh
The quality and quantity of muscle and flesh is governed by the Spleen. If the Spleen is functioning well, the muscle will be full, well toned and strong. If the Spleen Qi is deficient, as a result of the poor production of energy and blood by the Spleen, there will be a tendency to become physically (muscularly) weak and fatigued. Also, muscle mass tends to diminish so that people with severe Spleen Qideficiency tend to become very thin and emaciated. The Spleen must be strengthened in all wasting diseases. For this reason, people who develop conditions such as diarrhea and dysentery, become extremely fatigued within days and begin to lose weight if the condition is not remedied quickly. Chronic digestive weakness will likewise result in chronic fatigue.
In a more positive sense, people who wish to build muscle need strong Spleen Qi. For this reason, Spleen tonic herbs are famous for strengthening and building muscle.
The Spleen is connected to the mouth and lips
The condition of the Spleen can be seen in the mouth and lips. If the Spleen is healthy, the lips will be full and radiant and their color will be rich. But if the Spleen is depleted, the lips will be pale, emaciated and lifeless.
Furthermore, the Spleen provides the moisture to the tongue and produces saliva, the "precious fluid." Saliva, of course, is necessary for proper digestion of food, especially carbohydrates and also regulates and protects the condition of the mouth. A deficiency of saliva is generally considered to be a sign of Stomach Yin Deficiency, but the root cause of the defiance lies in the Spleen's inability to properly control the production and distribution of fluid to the mouth.
The Spleen maintains digestion during warm weather
If the Spleen is functioning well, digestion and assimilation will continue to do well when the weather becomes warm, as in the summer or upon visits to warm climates. If the Spleen is not strong, a syndrome known as summer heat syndrome can develop. The symptoms of summer heat syndrome are vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, abdominal bloating, heavy head and severe fatigue. Summer colds and flu fall into this category of disorder.
Intoxication is considered to be a type of summer heat disease and is thus treated, at least symptomatically, by stimulating the Spleen to increase the flow of fluids (by causing urination). Obviously, deeper problems need to be addressed if the person has a chronic drinking problem or if the drunkenness was the result of some sort of emotional disturbance or trauma.
THE SIX YANG ORGANS (tab)
The Large Intestine
The Large Intestine is in charge of the transformation and elimination of digestive residue
The Large Intestine processes waste received from the small intestine. This waste material is stored in the large intestine, or colon, until it is time to be eliminated. The colon is a thin-walled tube with a large capacity for retention of its contents. It is divided along its route by muscular bands that separate the colon into saccules or pockets. There are sphincters at both ends of the colon, preventing leakage in either direction.
The feces have a water content of from 65 to 80 percent after the most of the water is eliminated in the first part of the colon. The solid matter is almost one third dead bacteria and the rest is fiber and other metabolic by-products. The normal color of the feces is brown, because of the presence of modified bile pigments, especially bilirubin which is a breakdown product of hemoglobin. If the gall bladder becomes blocked and the bilirubin and bile pigments cannot enter the intestinal tract, the feces will be light or grayish in color.
Elimination of the fecal material occurs when the colon wall is distended to a limit point. In adults, this must be accompanied by conscious relaxation of the anal sphincter together with contraction of the abdominal wall and diaphragm, thus increasing the intra-abdominal pressure. This permits additional reflex defecation and permits the emptying of the higher parts of the colon.
Proper elimination also depends upon the Large Intestine Yin. If the Large Intestine Yin is deficient, constipation will result. This is known as dry constipation, in which there are small hard stools. Long term Yin deficiency of the colon will deplete the Qi of the colon and peristalsis will also weaken, resulting in chronic constipation with impacting of fecal material. This can result in toxic blood conditions. Dry skin is often associated with Large Intestine Yin deficiency. Liver tension too can result in constipation due to spastic colon (wind).
If the Spleen is weak, the food is not properly assimilated in the small intestine and moves through the colon too quickly, resulting in diarrhea.
The Large Intestine absorbs water and salts
One of the classic functions of the colon, in both the East and West, is to absorb water and minerals. These substances are absorbed through the thin intestinal lining, and if the colon is impaired, may carry toxic material with it. The water and salts are carried to the kidneys where they are either eliminated from the system and returned to the blood stream for further assimilation.
Intestinal bacteria complete the digestive and assimilative process
The Large Intestine contains many bacteria which live and work symbiotically with the colon to release food substances and to produce vitamins and gases. These highly active microbial flora continue the digestive process by further breaking down foodstuff not broken down in the small intestine, and as a by-product manufacture a number of B-vitamins and vitamin K, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Antibiotics are well known destroyers of these beneficial bacteria, resulting in quite marked symptoms of vitamin deficiency. A further complication of the antibiotic kill-off of intestinal flora is an uncontrolled population explosion of fungi and yeast, especially candida. If candida spreads sufficiently in the colon, it can further enter the bloodstream and cause systemic symptoms which include general malaise, cloudy thinking, severe digestive disturbances and a host of allergic reactions.
The Large Intestine is closely associated with the Lung
The Large Intestine is the Yang partner of the Lung and bolsters the many functions of the Lung. For instance, acu-points on the Large Intestine meridian are commonly used to influence the functioning of the skin and to enhance the immune functions which are controlled by the Lung.
The Bladder is the receptacle of the urine
The primary function of the organ known as the bladder is to receive the urine from the kidney and to hold it until the bladder is sufficiently distended, and then to contract so as to eliminate it from the body. During cold weather, this function increases since sweating is reduced and water is directed to the bladder. Furthermore, excessive water is undesirable in cold weather and is eliminated to raise the body temperature.
The Bladder helps regulate all the organs through its meridian connections
The Bladder meridian is unique in that it contains a series of acu-points that virtually control all the internal organs. These acu-points are located on the back. There is one point for each organ.
The Bladder is united with the Kidney
The bladder receives urine from the kidney and is its yangpartner. Many disorders of the kidneys will reflect in the bladder. Bladder infections can easily spread to the kidney, which is dangerous and should be avoided, because injury to the Kidney will influence the entire body.
The Gall Bladder
The Gall Bladder is in charge of making decisions and executing the plans of the Liver
If the Gall Bladder is functioning properly, it is said that one's entire attitude toward life is balanced, happy and generous. The Gall Bladder carries out the plans of the Liver, which is said to be in charge of making plans. Decisions made by a healthy Gall Bladder are made without prejudice and bias and are based on just principles.
Bravery and a strong, positive attitude is a result of the proper functioning of the Gall Bladder and this in turn results in the occurrence of positive events in one's life. Thus the Gall Bladder brings happiness and enjoyment to life.
The Gall Bladder receives, stores and excretes bile
The bile is known as the pure liquid. All the other bowels contain impure liquids which are the product of the digestive process. Because bile is pure, the Gall Bladder can be the Seat of Justice and is allowed to make decisions for all the organs.
The bile is a hot substance that is excreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder until it is released into the small intestine to aid the digestion of fats and oils. If the gall bladder becomes blocked and the bile cannot enter the intestinal tract, they will instead enter and remain in the systemic blood stream and will color the skin and eyes yellow, resulting in the symptom known as jaundice. The lack of bile in the intestines will result in improper digestion of fatty foods and there may be pain and distention in the area of the gall bladder, and even the formation of gall stones. Bile, which is quite bitter, causes a bitter taste in the mouth when it is unable to enter the small intestines.
The Gall Bladder is also associated in Chinese medicine with many food allergies. Part of the rehabilitative treatment for food allergies is to open up the actual gall bladder so that bile secretion is appropriate.
The Gall Bladder is closely related to the Liver and its emotions
The Gall Bladder has an inside-outside relationship with the Liver. If the Yang of the Gall Bladder becomes excessive, then the Yang of the Liver will generally become excessive as well, and this will result in symptoms of irritability and anger. On the other hand, if the Gall Bladder becomes deficient, this will suppress the Liver causing fearfulness and depression.
Like the Liver, the Gall Bladder has a major influence over the level of tension one experiences. It is particularly well known that Gall Bladder has a large influence on shoulder, neck and head tension. Tension headaches are most frequently associated with the Gall Bladder, and these are of course called "Gall Bladder headaches," with symptoms of severe tension in the shoulders, nape of the neck and pain in the forehead and eyes.
The Small Intestine
The Small Intestine is in charge of assimilation and the separation of the pure and impure
Chinese and Western physiology agree that the small intestine is the primary site of assimilation of nutrients into the blood stream. The small intestine receives digested food from the stomach and absorbs the Jing-i (nourishing liquids), passing the residue on to the Colon for further processing. Western physiology has shown that the small intestine does in fact absorb most of the water from the gastro-intestinal tract (about fifteen pints per day, on the average).
The Small Intestine and the Heart are closely related
If the Heart becomes over-heated, the Small Intestine will most likely become over-heated as well, and this often results in the symptom of blood in the urine.
The Small Intestine is related the Pituitary Gland
Small Intestine function as described in Chinese medicine is now understood to relate very closely to the functions of the pituitary gland, often called the "master gland." The function of the small intestine itself is often most accurately associated with the Stomach, Spleen and Bladder meridians.
The Triple Warmer is in charge of energy production and the elimination of waste
The Triple Warmer is not an organ, but a system of integrated functions. The general function of the Triple Warmer is to process food and air so that energy is extracted and assimilated into the system and waste eliminated from the body.
The Triple Warmer is, as its name indicates, composed of three divisions called Warmers. The three divisions are the Upper Warmer, the Middle Warmer and the Lower Warmer. The three Warmers actually include all of the other organs and is the integrated action of all of them with regard to energy production and elimination of the byproducts of energy production.
The Upper Warmer
The Upper Warmer encompasses that area ranging from the diaphragm to the base of the tongue. The primary organs of the Upper Warmer are the Heart and Lungs.
The classics say that "the Upper Warmer is like mist ." The Qi of the Upper Warmer originates in the Middle Warmer and then like mist it enters to the lungs and from there it permeates the entire body. The Upper Warmer circulates the Qi around the body and moistens the skin and hair and regulates the vaporizing of Qi in the skin.
The Upper Warmer controls the Wei Qi, which flows between the skin and flesh. The Wei Qi regulates the opening and closing of the pores and protects the body from invasion of "exogenous evil."
The Upper Warmer also controls the intake of air and food, the primary source of Qi for a human being.
The Middle Warmer
The primary function of the Middle Warmer is to take food and water and to transform it into Qi, blood and bodily fluids. The Middle Warmer is likened to a muddy, frothy pool. This is where energy and fluids are separated from the food . All of these substances are nourishing. The Middle Warmer is thus associated with digestion and assimilation. Thus the Stomach and Spleen are the primary organs associated with the Middle Warmer, and the digestive function of the Liver is included as well. The general area of the abdominal cavity is associated with the Middle Warmer. Malfunction of the Middle Warmer will result in indigestion and weakness due to lack of Qi and blood.
The Lower Warmer
The primary function of the Lower Warmer is similar to that of a drain, which keeps the Stomach and Spleen from becoming waterlogged and foul. The Lower Warmer helps separate the pure from the impure and helps the pure to return to the system, although it is primarily concerned with the expulsion of the impure from the body by controlling the feces and urine.
The Lower Warmer thus encompasses the functions associated with the colon and the urinary function of the renal kidneys and bladder. Disorders in the Lower Warmer will influence these organs and their functions, but may also affect the reproductive organs which are intimately connected and are also located in the pelvic basin.
The Lower Warmer is also the residence of the Original Qi (prenatal energy). The Original Qi, as has been described previously, provides the warmth so that the Spleen and Stomach may digest food properly.
The Triple Warmer and the Pericardium are closely connected
If the Triple Warmer does not function properly, the organs will not be properly nourished and will "revolt" against the Heart. The Pericardium will protect the Heart, but the Heart will be endangered and emotional stability will be at risk.
The Stomach is the "Sea of Nourishment" and is in charge of digestion
A human being requires nourishment to grow and to maintain itself. The Stomach is the organ in which the transformation of food into human Qiand nutrition takes place. Thus the Stomach is called the Sea of Qi. In the Stomach, the food is said to be "ripened and rotted" so that it may be assimilated into the system as blood. In the process, Qiis extracted and sent to the lungs by the power of the Spleen. Thus the Stomach is said to be in charge of digestion while the Spleen is in charge of the distribution and circulation of the Food Qi. If the Stomach cannot retain the food, the Spleen cannot act upon it and extract the Qiand will not be able to distribute the essences.
Thus along with the Spleen, as well as the Kidney, the Stomach is one of the primary organs associated with energy. A weak Stomach will result in general fatigue and a weak pulse.
The Stomach is easily influenced by wetness
A deficient Spleen will accumulate moisture, resulting in a Damp Spleen. This will block the Yangof the Stomach and cause poor digestion.
If the Spleen and Stomach become excessive, the Stomach will become dry which can be seen in dry lips and mouth. This is a Yin Deficiency syndrome of the Stomach.
The energy of the Stomach normally descends
If the energy of the Stomach properly descends, digestion will be complete. If however, it ascends, vomiting, belching or hiccups will result.
The salivary glands are controlled by the Stomach
Salivation is a function of digestion and is controlled by the Stomach.
The Eight Extraordinary Channels
There is another set of energy channels that circulates throughout the body which is essential to human life and to the maintenance of health. These channels are known as the Eight Extraordinary Channels, although they are often referred to by other titles. They are also sometimes also called the eight Psychic Channels, and they are now being referred to by modern scholars as the eight Regulatory Channels. Each of these names provides some insight into the nature of these wondrous channels that are so vital to our health and well being.
If the twelve Organ Meridians can be compared to streams of energy, then the eight Extraordinary Channels can be compared to reservoirs or energy. The eight Extraordinary Channels regulate the balance of energy in the twelve Organ Meridians. They do this by supplying energy to organ meridians when they are deficient and by absorbing energy from the organ meridians when they are overly full.
Wherever there is contact between an organ meridian and an extraordinary channel, there will occur an acu-point at which the transfer of energy may take place, as long as the acu-point is not blocked. The function, then, of the eight Extraordinary Channels is to regulate the balance of energy in each of the twelve organ systems by balancing the amount of energy in the meridians associated with those organ systems. This is an automatic process.
The Extraordinary Channels were the first channels of energy known to the Chinese. Taoist adepts discovered them several thousand years ago through meditation and yogic practices. The Taoists called them the Strange Flows at that time. Over time they became known as the Psychic Channels because the Taoists learned to control the flow in these eight channels consciously with their minds. It is not possible to directly control the twelve organ meridians with the mind, so the eight Psychic Channels became the basis of Taoist Yoga/Meditation as a means of controlling all the functions of the body psychically. Thus to the Taoist, the Extraordinary Channels are considered superior to the organ meridians because the Extraordinary Channels regulate the organ meridians and because they can be controlled with the mind.
Three of these Extraordinary Channels are of significant interest to the person who is practicing the art of tonic herbalism. They are known as the Governing Vessel, the Conception Vessel and the Penetrating Vessel.
The Governing Vessel
The Governing Vessel unites all Yang Qi of the whole body. All six Yang meridians converge and meet at the Governing Vessel. The Governing Vessel controls the Yang energy of all of the organs.
The Governing Vessel is related to one's primary constitution because it is connected to the function of the Kidney. Thus the acu-points on the Governing Vessel regulate the Yang of the organs.
When the Governing Vessel itself is overactive and the Qi is blocked, the spine becomes stiff and there may be a headache. When the Governing Vessel is deficient, the shoulder become round and the head feels heavy. This channel runs upward from the tip of the coccyx, centrally along the spine and over the head, ending above the upper lip.
The Conception Vessel
The Conception Vessel controls the Yin meridians of the body and therefore the Yin functions. All Yin meridians unite with the Conception Vessel. The acu-points of the Conception Vessel control the Yin energy of all the organs.
The Conception Vessel has a special influence on pregnancy (this is why it is called the Conception Vessel). The classics say that "the Conception Vessel controls the downward flow of the menses, is the root of conception and controls the nourishment of pregnancy."
The Conception Vessel runs through the genitalia and thus has a powerful influence upon sexual functions.
The acu-points of this channel generally influence the organs that they are near. The lower acu-points influence the uro-genital organs and functions, the middle acu-points influence digestion, and the upper acu-points influence the thoracic organs.
The direction of the flow of the Conception Vessel is the center of a controversy. The Chinese health arts are relatively free of major controversies. Over the period of several thousand years theory has been solidified to the point that virtually all the basic theories are taken as great guiding principles which if understood and applied accurately can, and usually do lead to success in health attainment.
The Penetrating Vessel
This Vessel, unlike the pair of vessels described above, runs deep inside the body and is uniquely capable of flowing in either direction. It basically runs along the inside of the spine and from the perineum to the crown of the head. It is thus sometimes refered to as the “ridgepole” of the energy body. Along the Penetrating Vessel there are a number of extraordinarily powerful energy centers called the Dan Tian’s. These have been discussed earlier.
The Penetrating Vessel is the main internal conduit for the flow of Jing, Qi and Shen. It is especially important because it provides the link between the Kidney and the Heart. If this flow is impeded or depleted, the body and mind become disturbed and all sorts of problems result, from impotence, to infertility to insanity. Generally, though, moderate blockage of the Penetrating Vessel results in a dis-association of the sexual functions of the Kidney and Liver with the loving and caring functions of the Heart.
There are tonic herbal approaches to rebuilding the energy in the Penetrating Vessel and in assuring free, bi-directional flow of energy in that vessel.
The overall well being of an individual is dependent on all of these meridians and vessels functioning properly. The Extraordinary Vessels play a major role in maintaining this complex system in a healthy state. And they can be maintained through meditative techniques and through simple acupressure techniques. However, the tonic herbs play the biggest role in Chinese healthcare for maintaining the health of the system by fortifying and regulating the entire organ-meridian system.
1 Nan Jing (Difficult Classic) Eighth Nan
2 Xi Shu
3 JACTCM, 4, 82, p. 4