Yin & Yang
“The law of Yin and Yang is the natural order of the universe, the foundation of all things, the mother of changes, the root of life and death. In healing one must grasp the root of the disharmony which is always subject to the law of Yin and Yang.”
- The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, Circa 1000 B.C.E
At the heart of the traditional Chinese worldview was the conceptual heuristic of Yin and Yang, the polar opposite qualities all phenomena contain. In contrast to the Cartesian dualism that pervades European thought where opposites such as body and mind are seen as a static and separate dichotomy, Yin and Yang represent, two opposite phases of a whole, two sides of the same coin, a dynamic unity that can be viewed in opposing yet complementary ways. Nothing in existence falls outside this principle.
For example, heaven (i.e The earth’s atmosphere.) , fire, brightness, activity, the masculine, daytime, moving outward, speed, aggression, red, yellow, spring, summer and warmth are Yang, where as earth, water, quietness, the feminine, night, resting, reflection, blue, green, autumn, winter and cold are Yin.
All the systems of your body are also categorised as either Yin or Yang. Illness is seen as the result of disharmony of Yin and Yang where Qi and blood flow become interrupted and stagnate.
This concept is foundational to Chinese Medicine and is applied in diagnosis and treatment in an elegant and sophisticated way, to assess organ systems and symptoms and apply treatment modalities to restore the dynamic balance of the whole person.
Qi - What does it mean?
Qi, (pronounced “tchee”) in a cosmic sense is that subtle substance out of which everything is formed and as is constantly transforming, heat, light, electricity, magnetism are all Qi, the whirling of atoms and particles is Qi,
Potential energy is Yin Qi kinetic energy is Yang Qi, glucose and oxygen are Qi, Energy is either stored (Yin Qi) or flows. (Yang Qi)
What’s this got to do with Medicine?
In respect of the human organism, Chinese Medicine defines Qi primarily as ‘refined air’ (What we now call oxygen and negative ions .) and ‘Grain qi’ (Glucose and nutrients from food) which combine together to give rise to the functional activity of the organ systems.
Both hypofunction, a lack of Qi (Deficiency, a Yin pathology) or hyperfunction - an unbalanced increase in Qi (Excess, a Yang pathology) are states of disharmony and are always seen as linked with blood circulation and smooth nervous function. Where nervous function is excessive or inhibited there is pain, sub-optimal circulation and interruption of the healthy hormonal cascade, and where this carries on unabated there is emotional distress, thus creating a downward spiral of ill health. Traditional acupuncture works by restoring the free flow of Qi and blood (Restoring normal nervous function and optimal blood circulation.) thus balancing the function of the organ systems, their related emotions and restoring health.
The Five Phases
The Five Phases is an ancient Chinese philosophical concept (often translated as the Five Elements. ) which describes the qualities and stages of transformation of Qi. This operates at both the macrocosmic level of the environment and the microcosmic level of the individual .
The two basic cycles of interaction are the generative sequence and the controlling sequence.
How does this apply to medicine?
In Chinese medical theory, all of the physical, mental and emotional aspects of a person can be categorised into a system of correspondences based on the schema of the Five Phases.
The Five Phases have two basic modes, the generative sequence and the controlling sequence. Acupuncture treatment of a systemic disharmony can utilise either the generative or control sequences to restore balance to the patient by selecting points belonging to the correct phase correspondence.
The Five Phases also plays a role in preventative treatment in that the seasons each belong to a certain phase: Winter belongs to Water, Spring to Wood, Summer to Fire and Autumn to Metal.
Traditional acupuncture can address disharmonies and symptoms that arise from an individual’s being out of sync with the climatic conditions and changing seasons.
In addition, one’s constitution is seen to be dominated by one or a combination of the organ systems associated with a particular phase , thus in Chinese medical theory one is said to have a five phase ‘type’. For example, people dominated by the Metal phase will tend to have inherently stronger lung and large intestine function and comparatively weaker liver and gallbladder function (Wood Phase organs) Metal is opposite Wood as autumn is opposite spring. People dominated by the Fire Phase will have a strong heart and small intestine and comparatively weaker kidneys and bladder. These constitutional disharmonies can be addressed by regular acupuncture treatments and lifestyle changes aimed at strengthening the weaker organ systems.
The Organ Systems and Acupuncture Channels and Points
In traditional Chinese medical thought the human body/mind is organised into groups of systematic correspondences which include organs, tissues and the psycho emotional aspects of a person as well as his or her relation to their physical and social environment.
The channels (There are twelve Primary Channels and eight extra Vessels.) on which the points are located and through which the “Qi and Blood flow” are all linked to a certain organ system and are paired longitudinally with the channel in the analogous location on the body from upper to the lower. For example the Heart Channel on the arm is paired with the Kidney Channel on the leg. The Small Intestine Channel on the arm is paired with the Bladder Channel on the leg. Internally, the Heart is paired with the Small Intestine and the Kidney is paired with the Bladder forming a four fold connection.
All of the channels are connected in this way weaving the organ systems and the rest of the body into a unified whole of systematic relationships.
Channels are said to become blocked either by being ‘full’ or ‘empty’ this gives rise to pain and if chronic, can be a symptom of dysfunction in the related organ. Needling the channel at the right points can disperse the ‘fullness’ or stimulate circulation from the rest of the body to remedy the 'emptiness'.
The acupuncture points are places along the channel where the greatest response can be achieved in restoring or encouraging free flow of Qi and blood. Some also have special functions in treating their related organ systems.
A modern explanation
There have been many attempts to explain how acupuncture works in the West, the two explanations that are heard most often are both at opposite extreme ends of the spectrum. One is an attempt to explain away the results of acupuncture as merely a placebo effect, the other is that a mystical unknown energy travels through the body in invisible ‘meridians’. Both of these explanations demonstrate a lack of knowledge of traditional Chinese philosophy as well as medical theory and practice. In reality, if the Chinese classical literature and philosophical concepts are correctly understood and interpreted then acupuncture’s ‘mechanism of action’ is perfectly explicable in terms of Systems Theory and recently researched anatomical and physiological knowledge.
New modern research has confirmed what was written in the oldest acupuncture texts, namely that the acupuncture channels are based on myofascial chains organised longitudinally into different groups, and the points are areas on the channels with the most nervous receptor fibres.
Research has also shown that the paired organs of Chinese medical theory are organised internally by having the highest quantity of vascular connection relative to other organs.
There has also been much research in acupuncture treatment being able to release endorphins (feel good chemicals ) and enkephalins (natural opioid painkillers more powerful than morphine!) and that this activity is mediated through the nervous system and midbrain.
Acupuncture has also been shown to positively and powerfully affect hormone levels in men and women. Unfortunately most medical professionals remain completely unaware of this research.