Traditional Chinese Medicine Theory

The Basic Theory of the Traditional Chinese Medicine

1. Yin and Yang?

  • What is yin and yang?
    Yang represents male, bright, light, hot, warm, fast, energy, function.
    Yin represents female, dark, slow, cool, cold, slow, material.
  • What is the relationship of yin and yang?
    Yin and yang can represent the universe, everything. Look the yin and yang picture below:

If the white part represents yang, then, the black part is the yin. You can see that
yin is within yang and yang is within yin. The yin and yang is always coexist.

From the center, if you draw a line and turn it along the center, you will see that if
there is more yin, then, there is less yang. They continuously change. At the 12, 6
o’clock and 3, 9 o’clock the yin and yang are equal.

  • What will happen if yin and yang separate?
    When yin and yang are separating, it means that a life is dying and a patient is in the terminal stage. When yin and yang are totally separated, life has ended. Therefore, when a heart stops beating but the chest is still warm, acupuncture can let the heart continue beating again, most times.
  • How does it related to our health?
    If a person is yin and yang balanced, he/she is healthy. If yin and yang is not balanced, people will sick or is under sick.
  • How to relate yin and yang balance to our health?
    If a person is yin and yang balanced, he/she is healthy. If yin and yang are not balanced, people will get sick or are sick.
  • How does yin and yang balance relate to our age?
    Yin and yang at homeostasis, it is healthy. However, a 20 year-old person will have a higher balance level than a 80 year-old person in general.
  • How to apply yin and yang at sickness?
    Besides yin and yang balance is the healthy status, there are four unbalanced combinations:

    • Yin deficiency: If yin is less than yang, we tonify yin to prevent yang deficiencies later. For example, menopause is kidney yin deficiency. Relatively, there is more yang, and yang is hot (creating hot flashes).  By tonifying kidney yin prevents kidney yang deficiency that may have nocturia or incontinence later.
    • Yang deficiency: If yang is less than yin, we tonify yang. For example, someone with hypothyroidism has kidney yang deficiency. Such a person always feels cold. We tonify kidney yang to improve temperature balance and ease symptoms.
    • Yin excess: An example of excess yin is cold and/or dampness inside joints, which leads to joint pain. Taking away excess yin treats joint pain.
    • Yang excess: An example of excess yang is heat stroke that has too much heat i.e. yang inside body. We treat by eliminating the excess yang energy from the body.

2. The Causes for sickness:
In Traditional Chinese medicine theory, the causes of sickness are characterized as:

    • External pathogens: Wind, cold, dryness, dampness, summer heat and fire that invade our body.
    • Internal pathogens: Emotions. The lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidney are each related to one emotion. Any prolonged emotion will affect the heart.
      Each organ corresponds to the following emotions:
      * lungs – sadness, melancholy, grief
      * heart – happiness or joyce
      * liver – anger
      * spleen – worry, pensiveness
      * kidney – Fear, feeling threatened
      Any organ abnormality will appear through its corresponding emotion. If any emotion is too strong, it will hurt its corresponding organ.
    • Non-external and non-internal: accidents

3. The five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water

  • The picture of the five elements
5 elements relationship

5 elements relationship

  • The relationship among these five elements:
    The above picture, running clockwise, demonstrates a mutual benefit relationship: With water, wood grows. Burn wood to generate fire. Ashen woods become dust and, eventually, earth. Earth contains metals. When metal is melted, it becomes a liquid like water.
  • Elements opposite to each other are harmful to one another. For example wood harms earth and metal, and earth and metal can harm wood.
  • The organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine
    • Zang Organs: Solid organs of heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidney.
    • Fu Organs: Hollow organs such as small intestine, large intestine, stomach, gallbladder and urinary bladder.
    • The Extra Fu Organs: Brain, bone marrow, uterus, vessels and gallbladder.
  • Early Chinese medicine practitioners related the five elements to the weather, seasons, directions, color, sounds, smells, body organs, body tissues and many health problems. Please refer these relations from Table 1.
  • The Zang and Fu Organs’ Relationship: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each Zang organ corresponds with a Fu organ. They transmit energy to one another. For example, if the lungs are functioning poorly, it can cause the large intestine to function poorly (and vice versa). The pairings are: Heart-Small Intestine, Lungs-Large Intestine, Spleen-Stomach, Liver-Gallbladder and Kidney-Urinary Bladder.

4. The San Jiao System:    

  • The San Jiao System runs along spaces between the zang and fu organs or between different tissues. The system enters through the uterus, brain and lymph systems. It is divided into upper, middle and lower jiaos.
    • Upper Jiao: Above diaphragm
    • Middle Jiao: Between diaphragm and the horizontal section of the umbilicus.
    • Lower Jiao: Below the horizontal section of the umbilicus.

5. The meridians: The body’s freeways

  • The twelve main meridians:
    There are six hand meridians and six foot meridians:

    • Six hand meridians:
      • The Lung Meridian of Hand Taiyin: Passes through lungs and large intestine.
      • The Large Intestine Meridian of Hand Yangming: Passes through lungs and large intestine.
      • The Heart Meridian of Hand Shaoyin: Connects heart, lungs and eyes
      • The Small Intestine Meridian of Hand Taiyang: Connects small intestines, stomach, heart and eyes.
      • The Pericardium Meridian of Hand Jueyin: Connects pericardium with upper, middle and lower jiaos.
      • The San Jiao Meridian of Hand Shaoyang: Connects pericardium, upper, middle and lower jiaos, ear and eyes.
  • Six foot meridians:
    • The Stomach Meridian of Foot Yangming: Connects forehead, cheeks, nose, upper gum, lips, stomach and spleen.
    • The Spleen Meridian of Foot Taiyin: Connects Spleen, stomach, heart,  as well as tongue’ root and lower surface.
    • The Bladder of Foot Taiyang: Connects eyes (inner cantus), forehead, brain, kidney and urinary bladder.
    • The Kidney Meridian of Foot Shaoyin: Connects heel, kidney, urinary bladder, liver, lungs, throat, root of tongue as well as its branch links lungs, heart and pericardium.
    • The Gallbladder Meridian of Foot Shaoyang: Connects ear, eyes (outer cantus), liver and gallbladder.
    • The Liver Meridian of Foot Jueyin: Connects genital area, liver, gallbladder, eyes and top of the head.
  • Every two hours, body energy gathers and passes through one meridian.  Of cause, the other meridians still have energy flowing.
    • If a meridian is not functioning properly – if it is processing excess or minimal energy – it can’t process the body’s energy correctly. When the body’s energy cycles through a deficient or excess meridian, it causes trouble.
    • By measuring illness and symptoms throughout the day, we can know when symptoms are worst, and where the problem lies. This process helps to diagnose and treat symptoms.
  • The meridian flowing sequence and time is as the following:
    The 12 meridians circulation time

    The 12 meridians circulation time

    Liver                        1:00AM- 3:00AM
    Lungs                      3:00AM- 5:00AM
    Large Intestines   5:00AM- 7:00AM
    Stomach                 7:00AM- 9:00AM
    Spleen                    9:00AM-11:00AM
    Heart                    11:00AM-  1:00PM
    Small Intestine     1:00PM- 3:00PM
    Urinary Bladder   3:00PM- 5:00PM
    Kidney                    5:00PM- 7:00PM
    Pericardium          7:00PM- 9:00PM
    San Jiao                 9:00PM-11:00PM
    Gall Bladder        11:00PM- 1:00AM

  • The fifteen collaterals
    The fifteen collaterals are branches of the meridians. They run transversely and superficially across the whole body. There are 15 collaterals: One next to each main meridian, plus collaterals for the Du meridian and Ren meridian, and the Major collateral for Spleen.
  • Divergent meridians & cutaneous Regions
    Besides the 12 main meridians (often seen in regular acupuncture meridian pictures), there are twelve divergent meridians that serve as extension of the main meridians to connect the internal-external meridians and 12 cutaneous regions that split from collaterals and  distributed all over the body.
  • The eight extra meridians
    • Du meridian: The Du meridian passes through the spine. All yang meridians get qi and blood supplements from the Du meridian. The body’s yang gathers here.
    • Ren meridian: The Ren meridian passes through the spinal cord and the center of the front part of the body. It supplies qi and blood to the yin meridians and directly connects to the throat.
    • Chong meridian: The Chong meridian runs through the spinal column, kidney, both sides of the abdomen, and throat and lips. In women, the “milk” in the lungs that makes the breasts distended before menstruation flows down along the chong meridian to reach the uterus. According to TCM, on the way to uterus, it turns the “milk” from white to red (due to the heat of the small instestine), leading to menstruation. This meridian runs inside the body.
    • Dai meridian: The Dai meridian is located around the waist (like a belt). It transversely connects  all twelve main meridians.
    • Yang Qiao meridian: Pulls the foot toward outward and makes our steps forward. Between the Gallbladder foot shaoyang meridian and the Bladder foot taiyang meridian on the legs, runs up along lateral side of the body to back of the shoulder, pass through neck, cheek, eye and goes over head to reach back of the head.
    • Yin Qiao meridian: Pull the foot toward inward and makes our steps go backward. It runs along the medial side of the legs and passes through the abdomen, chest, throat to the inner cantus of the eyes.
    • Yang Wei meridian: It connects and coordinates all of the fu organs.  It connects all of the yang meridians to hold them in position that looks like a cage.
    • Yin Wei meridian: This meridian runs under the ribs to connect and coordinate all of the zang organs. It also connects all of the yin meridians to hold them in a position and does the same as yang wei meridian’s function.
  • The area that the meridians and collaterals covered
    They cover our whole body everywhere form skin to muscles, tendons, organs and bone even when you see the area that looks like there is no meridian covering on the acupuncture chart, actually, the area is covered by the nearby main meridian’s Divergent meridians, cutaneous Regions and collateral meridian as well as the extra meridians that nearby it. Therefore, depends on the blockage of the individual, for a sensitive and less blocked person, stimulate any point of his/her body, can induce different level stimulation to the qi flow in the meridians that nearby the point. Therefore, if use the western medicine’s double blind method to prove acupuncture does not work is not a scientific approach. If anyone wants to use the modern ways to against a couple of thousand years wisdom is very difficult and not practical.
  • The acupuncture points

    • There are 365 regular acupuncture points located on the 12 regular (or “main”) meridians,  Ren and Du meridians. These are the “original” points first established for acupuncture.
    • Beyond the 365 regular points, there are more than one thousand additional acupuncture points. They are either located on meridians that were discovered after the original 365 points, or located out of the meridians but they were established and proven effective for some symptoms over thousands of years by Chinese doctors.
    • Acupuncture points are usually located between bone and bone; muscle and muscle; tendon and tendon; muscle and tendon; muscle and bone; or tendon and bone.
    • Each acupuncture point works like a “switch” to turn on or off a body function or can micro turn body function such as xiajinjing 下金津 and xiayuyie下玉液 can produce more saliva immediately.  When doing acupuncture treatment, a patient feel thirsty, the acupuncturist does not need to prepare the water to the patient, he/she just puts needles on those two points, patient’s thirst relieved. Even only one needle in, the saliva already comes out.
    • Acupuncture points are both diagnosis and treatment points. If you feel tenderness at an acupuncture point, it means you need a needle at that point. More tenderness is an indication that the situation is more severe.
    • There are luo-connecting points on that connect internal-external related meridians.
    • There are eight influential points: They are zhangmen LR13 (treats all zang problems), zhongwanRen 12 (treats stomach problems),  yanglingquan GB34 (treats tendon problems),  juegu GB39 (treats marrow problems), geshu UB17 (treats diagraph problems, activates whole body blood circulation and nourishes blood). dazhu UB11 (treats bone problems), taiyuan LU9 (treats blood vessels problems) and tanzhong Ren 17 (treats qi problems).


  • Acupuncture and energy flow
    • When a needle is inserted in an acupuncture point, it induces energy flow and opens up the blockage from local gradually to the whole meridian. The energy extends from the main meridian to its internal-external related meridian and flowing connected meridian as well as indirectly connected meridians.
    • The induced energy flow works faster in younger people than older people in general.
    • For older people (especially the elderly) and people with chronic illnesses requiring long-term drug treatments, acupuncture treatments require more time to counteract the severity of the illness
    • In babies, needles aren’t required. Fingers can replace needles to provide massage and stimulate energy flow to treat some illnesses.
    • A vegetarian’s energy flow is easier to induce than a meat eater’s energy.
  • Acupuncture Techniques
    Chinese doctors are trained to use different techniques that manipulate the needles in different ways. These techniques alter the amount and direction of energy flow.
  • Each Acupuncturist is Unique
    Like chefs using the same ingredients to create different meals, each acupuncturist uses slightly different techniques or acupuncture points for treating the same illnesses. Variations such as acupuncture points selection, needle depth and other techniques are common.

6. The Scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Basically anything that can bring health back, prevent sickness or maintain health is within the scope of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

  • Modern Chinese Medicine

    • Broad definition is anything that makes us toward longevity and healthier in nature ways. It usually includes
      * Acupuncture: insert fine needle under the skin and use patient’s own energy to activate self-healing.
      * M
      oxibution: use herb ai ye’s strong penetration power and heat to treat coldness-induced pain or sicknesses.
      * Herbs, herbal bath, herbal meals/tea
      * Qi Gong including tai-ji
      Diet (organic and natural food without processed)Tuina (broader than massage)
      * Gusha (scraping)
      * Cupping (traditional one used fire or cook the bamboo cups to transmit heat)
      * Bleeding
      (not allowed in California)
      * Bone adjustment & help broken bone healing acceleration (not applied in the US)
      * Life Style changeMeditations and moral cultivation (less material desire, more open mind thinking), etc.
    •  Narrowly defined, Chinese Medicine uses treatments with acupuncture and raw herbs, herbal formula in the form of decoction (tea), capsules, powder, pills, tablets and tincture or patented formulas.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
    Besides all of the modern Chinese medicine mentioned above, TCM also includes fortune telling, geography power and behavioral changes to conquer the life predetermined disaster, accidents, major sicknesses, etc. TCM also predicts possible disease or plague epidemiology. For more information, please refer to Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

7. Qi and Blood   

In the western medicine, blood circulation is pushed by heart. However, in the Chinses medicine, besides heart pumping, qi pushes blood and lymph system circulate inside our body. Outside of the blood vessels  is the wei qi that has the defense function. Inside the blood vessels, there is ying qi (nutrient qi) that supply the nutrients. Wei qi (yang) and ying qi (yin) need to be balanced in order to keep health.

Therefore, when energy flow is weak, the blood flow amount is also less. That caused blood vessels become smaller. When or after acupuncture needles inserted under the skin, induces more energy flow that pushes more blood flow. The blood vessels ought to be expanded in order to allow more blood flow inside them. Due to outside of the blood vessels, there are a lot nerves surrounded them, when blood vessels expanded that presses on the nerves, very short time, patient will feel tingling. When this happens, it means that the blood circulation is improved at the tingling area. Moreover, when there is blockage at the qi flowing pathway, it also can cause pain until the blockage is unblocked by the flowing energy. Usually, pain only keeps a short time period.

8. Body Fluids

There are five kinds body fluids correspond to each organ and they moisture different sensory organs:
Liver: Tears for eyes
Heart: Sweats
Spleen: Clear saliva for lips
Lungs: Nasal discharge for nose
Kidney: Sticky saliva for mouth

9. Organs and Emotions

In western medicine, the brain controls emotion. In Chinese medicine, each organ controls a different part of the brain and a particular emotion. Each organ has its own emotional expression. For example, when the heart is healthy, a person feels happy. If the liver is not healthy, a person feels more anger. If the kidney is not healthy, the corresponding emotional response is fear. Even the gallbladder is tied to decisiveness.Please refer to Table 1 for more information.

9. Methods of Diagnosis

  • Inspection
    Observe vitality, color, appearance, five sensory organs, tongue, walk, etc.
  • Auscultation and Olfaction
    Listening and smelling
  • Inquiring
    Ask ten questions: body cold/warm or hot, four limbs, appetite, thirsty, sleep, sweats, urination, bowel movement, energy and if the patient is female, ask about menstruation.
  • Palpitation
    Palpitate pulse and if needed palpitate body for pain and/or organs problems.

10. Eight Principles to Differentiate Syndromes

They are interior/exterior, cold and heat, deficiency and excess, yin and yang. The western medicine only has interior and exterior without the rest.

11. The Treatment Strategies

  • Sweating
    When outside pathogenic factors like wind, cold etc. invaded body such as flu, use sweating method to expel virus outside body.
  • Vomiting
    To induce vomiting out phlegm in the lungs or toxins in the throat or chest or stomach through the mouth.
  • Draining Downward
    Such as draining water, inside coldness or toxins below the diaphragm through urination or bowel movement.
  • Harmonizing
    To harmonize among organs or among organ functions or between defensive and nutritional energy or yin vs yang.
  • Warming
    To warm up body to expel coldness.
  • Clearing
    Clear heat or fire or toxins from the body.
  • Reducing
    Reduce excess such as tumor, swollen, energy stagnation, etc.
  • Tonifying
    To tonify body deficiencies such as anemia, weak constitution, weak energy, etc.© 2011 Frieda Mah, L.Ac.

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