The Human Body in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
In the first article of the series, we discussed how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was a form of holistic medicine, since it focused on healing the physical and non-physical aspects of the human condition. In the second article, we discussed how the different doctrines of Taoism set the intellectual foundation for TCM.
In this article, we will discuss how these ideas form the TCM view of the human body, which is taught alongside Western anatomy at our acupuncture school in Florida.
Philosophical Paradigms of Traditional Chinese Medicine:
Perhaps the two most important Taoist ideas in Traditional Chinese Medicine are Yin-Yang and Wu Xing.
Yin-Yang: Just as reductionism forms the basis for Western medicine, the Taoist concept of Ying-Yang forms the paradigm for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yin-yang, which translates into “dark-bright,” describes the idea that everything in nature consists of two paradoxical phases or energies.
Toaist philosophy holds that yin-yang is inherit in everything
The dual relationship of Ying and Yang is meant to demonstrate that everything in the universe exists as having connected and complementary, yet polar-opposite elements. The table below demonstrates many of these relationships.
In other words, everything is made up of yin and yang. In terms of the human body, yin is associated with the lower parts of the body, while yang is associated with the upper body and back.
Wu Xing: Wu Xing, also known as the Five Phases or Five Elements, is notion that the cyclical change of the cosmos occurs in a pattern of five stages.
Wu Xing is important across all areas of Oriental Medicine
Using the classical Chinese description of the seasons as an example, Wu Xing demonstrates that Spring gives rise to Early Summer, which turns into Late Summer, which then becomes Fall, then Winter, and then Spring again. The table below shows some common examples of Wu Xing cycles.
Wu Xing is an extremely important concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine. For example, it is used for diagnosing and treating illnesses. Similarly, it gives rise to Zang-Fu, which shows how different networks in the body are interconnect as a penta-cycle. The Zang-Fu is discussed in greater detail in this article.
TCM Model of the Body
Functional Entities: Traditional Chinese Medicine maintains a holistic view of the body. Rather than being a strictly physical specimen, the body is viewed as being composed of physical and non-physical substances.
Organs in TCM are viewed by their function, not physical makeup
There are three major functional entities in TCM that explains how the human body operates. They are:
- The Five Fundamental Substances: Qi or chi, Xue (Blood), Jinye (Body Fluids), Jing (Essence), and Shen (Spirit).
- Zang-fu: A Wu Xing cycle of 5 zang organs, 6 fu organs, and their functions
- Jing-luo: The channels or meridians through which qi flows
Each of the functional entities is associated with a cardinal functions. The Five Cardinal Functions are:
- Actuation–Locomotion of all the physical processes in the body. This is especially true of blood and qi
- Warming–Regulation of temperature, especially that of the limbs.
- Defense– Protection against foreign pathogenic elements
- Containment–Preventing excessive drainage of different body fluids
- Transformation–Converting foods, liquid, and breath into qi, blood, and other jinye
As such, the functional entities should be viewed as practical roles, rather than strictly anatomical or biochemical functions. The functional entities are all interconnected.
Zang-fu: For example, the organs have a We Xing cycle called Zang-fu that demonstrates this relationship well. Zang refers to organs that are yin in nature. They are the pericardium, heart, liver, spleen, lung, and kidneys. Fu refers to organs that are yang. They are the triple burner, small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, and stomach. Each zang has a fu, and every zang-fu pair corresponds to one of the five phases. The chart below shows this relationship.
Jing-luo: Each of the Zung-fu pairs has 12 Jing-luo or major pathways where qi, blood, and body fluids flow through, known as the 12 Principal Meridians. They run from the Zung-fu organs to the limbs and joints. There are 8 extraordinary meridians, which connects the 12 Principal Meridians. From these 20 meridians, extends a network of nearly 400 points!
The numerous meridians and acupoints are visually represented in the famous acupuncture models that many are familiar with.
An exact replica of models used in our Miami classrooms
The relationship between yin-yang, Wu Xing, functional entities, and the meridians can be complex and difficult to understand at first. However, in the coming weeks, we will expand and discuss these holistic concepts in greater detail.
So far, we have assumed a balanced or ziran state of the functional entities. What happens when yin-yang or qi levels become unbalanced? In the next installment of our series, we will discuss the Traditional Chinese Medical view of illness and methods for diagnosis.
If you find this blog series interesting, then perhaps you should consider a career in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Download our free acupuncture career guide below or call our admissions office in Miami, FL at (305)-595-9500 to learn more about our acupuncture school. If you're ever in the area, feel free to give us a visit. Acupuncture and Massage College is located at 10506 N Kendall Drive, Miami, FL 33176.