The New Chinese Medicine Handbook: An Innovative Guide to Integrating Eastern Wisdom with Western Practice for Modern Healing


The Physiology and Anatomy of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is a system of preserving health and curing disease that treats the mind/body/spirit as a whole. Its goal is to maintain or restore harmony and balance in all parts of the human being and also between the whole human being and the surrounding environment.

Each of Chinese medicine’s healing arts—from dietary therapy and exercise/meditation to acupuncture and herbs—is designed to be integrated into daily life. Together, they offer the opportunity to live in harmony and to maintain wholeness. In fact, for all of Chinese medicine’s power to heal the body, its focus is on preventive care. In ancient China, doctors were paid only when their patients were healthy. When patients became ill, obviously the doctors hadn’t done their job.


Chinese medicine’s focus on maintaining wholeness and harmony of the mind/body/spirit emerges from the philosophy of the Tao, which is sometimes translated as “the infinite origin” or the “unnameable.”

The guiding principles of the Tao are:

• Everything in the universe is part of the whole.

• Everything has its opposite.

• Everything is evolving into its opposite.

• The extremes of one condition are equal to its opposite.

• All antagonisms are complementary.

• There is no beginning and no end, yet whatever has a beginning has an end.

• Everything changes; nothing is static or absolute.

This dynamic balance between opposing forces, known as Yin/Yang, is the ongoing process of creation and destruction. It is the natural order of the universe and of each person’s inner being.

To Westerners, Yin/Yang is most easily understood as a symbol for equilibrium, but in Chinese philosophy and medicine, it is not symbolic. It is as concrete as flesh and blood. It exists as an entity, a force, a quality, and a characteristic. It lives within the body, in the life force (Qi), in each Organ System.


When the dynamic balance of Yin/Yang is disturbed, disharmony afflicts the mind/body/spirit, and disease can take root.



Liver System

Gallbladder System

Heart System

Small Intestine System

Spleen System

Stomach System

Lung System

Large Intestine System

Kidney System

Urinary Bladder System

Pericardium System

Triple Burner System




This generally relates to interior chronic conditions and is associated with:

This generally relates to exterior disease located in the skin, muscles, or bone and is associated with:

1. Pain in the body or trunk

1. Acute chills, fever, and body aches

2. Changes in tongue shape, size, and color

2. Aversion to cold or wind

3. No aversion to cold or wind

3. Changes in tongue coat/fur

4. A deep pulse

4. A floating pulse

5. Changes in urine or bowels

5. No internal organ changes

Each symptom of Yin/Yang disharmony tells the trained practitioner about what’s going on in the inner workings of a person’s body. Once a disharmony is identified, the Chinese medicine practitioner addresses the entire web of interconnected responses in mind/body/spirit that are triggered by the presence of disharmony. Healing is achieved by rebalancing Yin and Yang and restoring harmony in the whole person.


Chinese medicine conceives of wellness and disease differently than Western medicine does, and it also describes the internal workings of the body in ways you may not be used to. In place of individual organs, blood vessels, and nerves, Chinese medicine identifies the body’s Essential Substances, Organ Systems, and Channels. These terms describe the internal working of the body in ways that are significantly distinct from Western ideas.


Essential Substances are those fluids, essences, and energies that nurture the Organ Systems and keep the mind/body/spirit in balance. They are identified as:

• Qi, the life force

• Shen, the spirit

• Jing, the essence that nurtures growth and development

• Xue, which is often translated as blood, but which contains more qualities than blood and transports Shen and Qi

• Jin-Ye, which is all of the fluids that are not included in Xue

Organ Systems, unlike the Western concept of organs, define the central organ plus its interaction with the Essential Substances and Channels. For example, the Heart System is responsible for the circulation of what in the West is called blood, and it also acts as the ruler of Xue and is in charge of storing Shen.

Channels, or meridians, are the conduits in the vast aqueduct system that transports the Essential Substances to the Organ Systems.


The Essential Substances, which have an impact on and are impacted by both the Organ Systems and the Channels, are called Qi, Shen, Jing, Xue, and Jin-Ye.


Qi (chee) is the basic life force that pulses through everything in the universe. Organic and inorganic matter are composed of and defined by Qi. Within each person, Qi warms the body, retains the body’s fluids and organs, fuels the transformation of food into other substances such as Xue, protects the body from disease, and empowers movement, including physical movement, the movement of the circulatory system, thinking, and growth.

We use the Chinese word for this substance because there is no precise English translation for the word or the concepts it contains. If you want to think of Qi as the energy that creates and animates material and spiritual being, the life force, or the breath of life, you will come close to understanding Qi. As you delve more deeply into Chinese medicine, you will begin to identify how Qi lives within you and fuels your very existence. You’ll find Qi is most accurately defined by its function and its impact.

Where does Qi come from and where does it go? We are all born with Qi. We can preserve, create, or deplete it by the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the way in which we live within our mind/body/spirit. There are many forms of Qi, which all work together.



Original Qi or Yuan Qi is transmitted by parents to their children at conception and is stored in the Kidney System. It is partially responsible for the person’s inherited constitution. We possess a fixed amount of Original Qi, which can be used up.

Grain Qi or Gu Qi is taken in with food, and it is released from the digestion of food in the stomach.

Air Qi or Kong Qi is extracted by the lungs from the air we breathe.

Normal Qi or Zheng Qi is produced when Yuan Qi, Gu Qi, and Kong Qi intermingle within the body. This is what is generally meant by the term Qi. It has five major functions:

1. Creates all body movement.

2. Protects the body by resisting the entrance of External Pernicious Influences.

3. Transforms food into Xue, Qi itself, plus tears, sweat, and urine.

4. Governs the retention of body substances and organs, keeping everything in and in its place.

5. Warms the body.

Organ Qi or Zang-Fu Zhi Qi defines, influences, and promotes each Organ System’s proper functioning.

Channel Qi or Jing Luo Zhi Qi moves through the Channels (meridians), bringing Qi to the Organ Systems and linking the Organ Systems and the Xue, and helping them to function harmoniously. Acupuncture adjusts Channel Qi.

Nutritive Qi or Ying Qi moves the blood through the vessels and transforms pure food elements into blood. It also moves with the Xue and helps it nourish body tissue.

Protective Qi or Wei Qi resists and combats External Pernicious Influences. It is the most Yang manifestation of Qi in the body. It moves within the chest and abdominal cavities and travels between the skin and the muscles. It regulates the sweat glands and pores, moistens and protects skin and hair, and warms the organs. When Protective Qi is Deficient, we are susceptible to the deleterious effects of environmental factors, such as Cold or Wind, which are called External Pernicious Influences.

Ancestral Qi, Pectoral Qi, or Zong Qi gathers in the chest, where it forms the Sea of Qi. Ancestral Qi travels up to the throat and down to the abdomen. It is responsible for breathing, speaking, and regulating heartbeat and respiration. Meditation can strengthen Ancestral Qi, and it is particularly beneficial for maintaining or restoring harmony.


Shen (shen) or spirit is as palpable to a Chinese medicine doctor as the heart or the left hand. Shen is consciousness, thoughts, emotions, and senses, which make us uniquely human. Its harmonious flow is essential to good health. Originally transmitted into a fetus from both parents, Shen must be continuously nourished after birth.


Jing (jing) is often translated as essence, the fluid that nurtures growth and development. We are born with Prenatal or Congenital Jing, inherited from our parents. Jing defines our basic constitution, along with Original Qi. Acquired Jing is transformed from food by the Stomach and Spleen, and it constantly replenishes the Prenatal Jing, which is consumed as we age.

Prenatal Jing gives rise to Qi, but during our lifetime, as Jing changes, it is dependent on Qi. Qi is Yang; Jing is Yin. Qi and Jing are joined in the process of aliveness. While Qi is the energy associated with any movement, Jing is the substance associated with the slow movement of organic change. Jing is the inner essence of growth and decline.

Prenatal Jing is our genetic capability, but whether we reach our genetic capability depends on how much Qi we are able to nurture. Think of a child whose parents are 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. If that child is malnourished, he or she will never reach the height conveyed by genetic potential. But if there is an ample supply of food, the child can grow fully. In the same way, if there is enough Qi, the possibilities of Jing can become realized.

Prenatal Jing evolves through the stages of life. According to the ancient Chinese medicine text, the Nei Jing, in women, its changes accompany seven stages of life:

The Kidney energy of a woman becomes in abundance at the age of seven, her baby teeth begin to be replaced by permanent ones and her hair begins to grow longer. At the age of fourteen, a woman will begin to have menstruation, her conception meridian begins to flow, the energy in her connective meridian begins to grow in abundance, and she begins to have menstruation, which is the reason why she is capable of becoming pregnant. At the age of twenty-one, the Kidney energy of a woman becomes equal to an average adult, and for that reason, her last tooth begins to grow with all other teeth completed. At the age of twenty-eight, tendons and bones have become hard, the hair grows to the longest, and the body is in the top condition. At the age of thirty-five, the bright Yang meridians begin to weaken with the result that her complexion starts to look withered and her hair begins to turn grey. At the age of forty-two, the three Yang meridians are weak above [in the face], the face is dark, and the hair begins to turn white. At the age of forty-nine, the energy of the conception meridian becomes Deficient, the energy of the connective meridian becomes weakened and scanty, the sex energy becomes exhausted, and menstruation stops with the result that her body becomes old and she cannot become pregnant any longer.1

The Nei Jing also states that men’s development corresponds to eight stages of Jing:

As to man, his Kidney energy becomes in abundance, his hair begins to grow longer, and his teeth begin to change at the age of eight. At the age of sixteen, his Kidney energy has become even more abundant, his sex energy begins to arrive, and he is full of semen that he can ejaculate. When he has sexual intercourse with a woman, he can have children. At the age of twenty-four, the Kidney energy of a man becomes equal to an average adult with strong tendons and bones, his last tooth begins to grow with all other teeth completed. At the age of thirty-two, all tendons, bones, and muscles are already fully grown. At the age of forty, the Kidney energy begins to weaken, hair begins to fall off, and the teeth begin to wither. At the age of forty-eight, a weakening and exhaustion of Yang energy begins to take place in the upper region with the result that his complexion begins to look withered and his hair begins to turn grey. At the age of fifty-six, the Liver energy begins to weaken, the tendons become inactive, the sex energy begins to run out, and the semen becomes scanty. The Kidney becomes weakened with the result that all parts of the body begin to grow old. At the age of sixty-four, hair and teeth are gone.2


The Chinese word Xue (sch-whey) is a much more precise description of this bodily substance than blood, which is the common English translation. Xue is not confined to the blood vessels, nor does it contain only plasma and red and white blood cells. Xue carries the Shen. Xue also moves along the Channels in the body where Qi flows.

Xue is produced by food that is collected and mulched in the Stomach, refined by the Spleen into a purified Essence (Acquired Jing), and then transported upward to the Lung, where Nutritive Qi begins to turn Jing into Xue. At the Lung, Jing combines with air and produces Xue. Qi propels Xue through the body.



Xue is intertwined with many body functions:

• The Heart System rules Xue. Xue depends on the Heart System for its harmonious, smooth circulation.

• The Liver System stores Xue.

• The Spleen System governs Xue. The retentive properties of Spleen Qi keep Xue within its designated pathways.

• Qi creates and moves Xue and holds it in place. The Chinese saying is, “Qi is the commander of Xue.”

• Xue in turn nourishes the Organ Systems that produce and regulate the Qi. It is also said that Xue is the mother of Qi.


Jin-Ye (jin-yee), the Chinese word for all fluids other than Xue, includes sweat, urine, mucus, saliva, and other secretions such as bile and gastric acid. Jin-Ye is produced by digestion of food. Organ Qi regulates it. Certain forms of what is called Refined Jin-Ye help produce Xue.



These Five Essential Substances are the primordial soup from which life emerges and in which harmony and disharmony coexist. In Chinese medicine, reading the condition of these substances is an important part of diagnosis and treatment.


Chinese medicine talks about Organ Systems—not the individual, anatomical organs that are identified by Western medicine. Although the Organ Systems are responsible for organ functions that are familiar to Western medicine, they also embrace the organ’s impact on the whole body. Each Organ System governs specific body tissues, emotional states, and activities, and each Organ System is associated with and influenced by the Essential Substances and Channels.

• Every Organ System is governed by Organ Qi and influences the balance of Qi. This energy creates the Organ Systems’ impact on the mind/body/spirit.

• The Essential Substances—Qi, Shen, Jing, Xue, and Jin-Ye—infuse each Organ System with energy and shape its characteristics.

• Some Organ Systems are Yin, and other Organ Systems are Yang. Together, they are called the Zang-Fu Organs, and they form a harmonious balance that sustains life.





Small Intestine




Large Intestine


Urinary Bladder




Triple Burner

In general, Zang Organs are associated with pure substances—Qi, Xue, Jing, Shen, and Jin-Ye. Fu Organ Systems govern the digestion of food and the elimination of waste. But the division between Zang (Yin) and Fu (Yang) organs is not black and white. In the East, there is no great compulsion to say, “This is X, and it is always X. This is Y, and it shall never be X.” Each organ, whether Zang (Yin) or Fu (Yang), has nourishing Yin and active Yang qualities within it. The dual unit of Yin/Yang exists within all life. For example, the Heart System stores Shen—that’s a Yin function—but it also rules Xue—that’s a Yang function. The Liver System stores Xue—that’s a Yin function—and it regulates and moves the Qi—that’s a Yang function. This characteristic association with either Yin or Yang and with both Yin and Yang is true of each Organ System—and of Yin and Yang itself, which is the unity of opposites.3

The Zang (Yin) Organs

The Zang (Yin) Organs are the Kidney System, Spleen System, Liver System, Lung System, and Heart System. Let’s talk about each in turn.

Kidney System: The Kidney System manages fluid metabolism, which the West associates with the kidneys and the adrenal glands. In addition, however, the Kidney System is responsible for storing surplus Qi. The Kidney System also rules birth, maturation, reproduction, growth, and regeneration.

The bones, inner ear, teeth, and lower back are also associated with the Kidney System, as is regulation of the growth of bone, marrow, and the brain.

The Kidney System stores Jing, and it provides it to other Organ Systems and body tissue. Also, the Kidney System is the root of eight important Channels that connect the Organ Systems to one another.

The Kidney opens up to the external world through the ear. Kidney harmony is revealed through acuity of hearing.

Spleen System: The Spleen System creates and controls Xue, as it is involved with the blood in Western medicine. It is also responsible for extracting Gu (Grain) Qi and fluids from food, transforming these substances into Ying (Nutritive) Qi and Xue, and storing Qi that is acquired by the body after birth.

The Spleen System also maintains the proper movement of ingested fluids and food throughout the body. The Spleen System transmits the Gu (Grain) Qi upward and the pure fluids to the Lung and Heart Systems. Balanced fluid movement lubricates the tissues and joints. This prevents excess dryness, and it keeps fluids from pooling or stagnating and creating Dampness. The Spleen likes dryness, and it is negatively affected by Dampness. The Spleen System also is associated with muscle mass and tone and with keeping the internal organs in place.

When the Spleen is balanced, the transformation and transportation of fluids is harmonious, Qi and Xue permeate the whole body, and the digestive tract functions well. The Spleen System’s connection to the external world is through the mouth, and the Spleen’s vigor is mirrored in the color of the lips.

Liver System: The Liver System stores the Xue, and it is responsible for the proper movement of Qi and Xue throughout the body. The Liver System regulates the body by making sure Qi moves smoothly through the Channels and Organ Systems. It regulates the secretion of bile to aid digestion, balances emotions, protects against frustration and sudden anger, and stores Xue. You can think of the Liver System as a holding tank where the Xue retreats when you are at rest. The Liver System also nourishes the eyes, tendons, and nails. The Liver System opens up to the world through the eyes, and the health of the Liver System is reflected in the sharpness of eyesight.

Lung System: The Lung System rules Qi by inhaling the Kong (Air) Qi from outside of the body, which, along with Gu (Grain) and Yuan (Original) Qi, forms Zheng (Normal) Qi. As in Western medicine, the Lung System administers respiration, but it also regulates water passage to the Kidney System, which stores pure fluids. The Lung System also disperses water vapor throughout the body, especially to the skin, where it is associated with perspiration. In addition, the Lung System is in charge of Zong (Ancestral) Qi, which gathers in the chest, providing the Heart System with Qi. It also rules the exterior of the body through its relationship with Wei (Protective) Qi, providing resistance to External Pernicious Influences. (See “The Six Pernicious Influences” on page 48.) The nose is the gateway of the Lung System, and the health of the Lung System is reflected in the skin.


We can learn about the power of the Organ Systems through the following two examples.

Organ removal: If an organ is removed (a woman may have a hysterectomy, for example), the body does not lose the entire Organ System or its contribution to the harmony of the mind/body/spirit. The energetics of the Organ System and its associated Channel remain. Although the removal of an organ creates an imbalance, it can be addressed with acupuncture, herbs, dietary adjustments, and exercise/meditation.

Intangible organ systems: In Chinese medicine, there’s an Organ System—the Triple Burner—that you couldn’t find if you were to cut open the body and search for it. This is possible because Organ Systems, similar to much in Chinese medicine, are defined by function, not location. The term Organ System in Chinese medicine describes a nexus of functions that are concrete and have identifiable traits. That’s all the information that’s needed to be able to chart the development of disharmony in an Organ System and to remedy it.

Heart System: The Heart System is associated with the heart, the movement of the Xue through the vessels, and the storing of Shen. It is the ruler of the Xue and the blood vessels. When the Heart’s Xue and Qi are in harmony, the Shen is at peace, and a person has an easy time dealing with what the world dishes out. The emotional states of joy, lack of joy, and charisma are associated with the Heart.

The Heart opens into the tongue, and abundant Heart Xue is revealed by moist and supple facial skin.

Pericardium: The Pericardium is considered by some to be a distinct Organ System because it disperses Excess Qi from the Heart and directs it to a point in the center of the palm where it can exit the body naturally. The Pericardium is the covering or protector of the heart muscle, and it provides the outermost defense of the Heart against external causes of disharmony. Although the Pericardium has no physiological function separate from the Heart, it has its own acupuncture Channel. Not all systems of Chinese medicine consider the Pericardium to be a separate Organ System.

The Fu (Yang) Organs

The Fu Organs’ main purposes are to receive food, absorb usable nutrition, and excrete waste. Fu Organs are considered less internal than the Zang Organs because they are associated with impure substances: food, urine, and feces. The Fu Organs and Channels can play a major role in acupuncture. The Fu Organs are the Gallbladder System, Stomach System, Small Intestine System, Large Intestine System, Urinary Bladder System, and the Triple Burner System.

Gallbladder System: Working with the Liver System, the Gallbladder System stores and secretes bile into the Large Intestine and Small Intestine Systems to help digestion. Any disharmony of the Liver System impacts the Gallbladder System, and vice versa.

Stomach System: The Stomach System receives and decomposes food so the Spleen System can transform the fluids and food essence into Qi and Xue. The Stomach System is also responsible for moving Qi downward and sending waste to the Intestines. The Spleen moves Qi upward, and harmony between the Stomach and Spleen is vital.

Small Intestine System: Working with the Stomach System, the Small Intestine System helps produce Qi and Xue. The Small Intestine separates and refines the pure from the impure in fluids and food and in the mind.

Large Intestine System: Moving the impure waste down through the body, the Large Intestine System extracts water and produces feces.

Urinary Bladder System: The Urinary Bladder System excretes urine, which is produced by the Kidney and Lung Systems and from intestinal wastewater.

Triple Burner System: This Organ System, which is divided into three parts—the Upper Burner, Middle Burner, and Lower Burner—does not exist in Western medicine. In Chinese texts, it is called San Jiao, and it is said to have a “name without shape.” The best way to understand the Triple Burner is to examine its function, which is to mediate the body’s water metabolism. Don’t worry about where it lives, but seek to understand what it does.

• The Upper Burner is identified in the ancient Chinese text Ling Shu as an all-pervasive, light fog that distributes the Qi of water and food throughout the body. This part of the Triple Burner is associated with the head and chest and the Heart and Lung Organ Systems.

• The Middle Burner, identified as a froth of bubbles, is associated with the Spleen, Stomach, and, according to some texts, the Liver. It’s involved with digestion, absorption of Essential Substances, evaporating fluids, and imbuing Xue with Nutritive Qi. The froth of bubbles refers to the state of decomposing, digested foods.

• The Lower Burner, which is called a drainage ditch, designates an area below the navel and includes the Kidney, Large and Small Intestines, Urinary Bladder, and Liver—due to the location of the acupuncture Channel. It governs the elimination of impurities. The Lower Burner helps regulate the Large Intestine System, and it helps the Kidney System process waste.4

The Extraordinary or Ancestral Fu Organs

The Marrow, Bones, Brain, Uterus, Blood Vessels, and Gallbladder are called the Extraordinary Organs. The ancient Chinese medical text Nei Jing states that they resemble the Fu (Yang) organs in form and the Zang (Yin) organs in function.

Marrow and Bones: The Marrow, which includes the spinal cord, bone, and brain, are wedded to the Kidney System, and their existence depends on Jing, which gives rise to Brain and Marrow. The Marrow nourishes the bones.

The Brain: This is the Sea of Marrow, and it is nourished by the Marrow. Consciousness is also associated with the Brain. The five senses, plus memory and thinking, are associated with other Organ Systems, but they are influenced by the Brain. Although the Heart stores the Shen, the Brain is also associated with it.

The Uterus: The Uterus, called Bao Gong (palace of the child), usually functions as a storage organ. However, in relation to menstruation and labor, its function is to discharge. While the Uterus is the anatomical source of menstruation and the location of gestation, its functioning is governed by other Organ Systems.

Both the Conception (Ren) and Penetrating (Chong) Channels (see page 40) arise from the Uterus. Menstruation depends on these Channels’ harmonious functioning, on the strength of the Kidney Jing, and on the Xue functions of the Spleen and Liver Systems. Kidney Qi dominates the Uterus’s reproductive function because reproduction is related to the Kidney. When the functions of the Heart, Liver, Spleen, and Kidney Systems are balanced, menstruation is normal. When the Heart and Kidney functions are strong, conception is easy.

Men are said to possess the energetic area of the Uterus. It contributes to their harmony, and it affects the flow of Essential Substances through the Conception and Penetrating Channels.

The Blood Vessels: These transport most of the Xue through the body. Although the distinction between Xue circulating in the Blood Vessels and in the Channels is not delineated, it’s generally accepted that Blood Vessels carry more Xue than Qi, and Channels carry more Qi than Xue.

Understanding how the Blood Vessels function cannot be separated from understanding the relationship between the Xue and the Zang Organ Systems. Heart rules the Xue, keeping the heartbeat regular and balanced; the Liver stores and regulates the Xue, keeping an even flow of Xue throughout the body; and the Spleen governs the Xue, keeping it within the Blood Vessels and Channels. Disharmony of the Blood Vessels may be corrected by treating one of these Organ Systems.

The Gallbladder: This Organ System is considered both a Fu Organ and an Extraordinary Organ because it contributes to the breakdown of impure food—a Yang function—but unlike any other Yang Organ, it contains a pure fluid, bile.


The Channels, which are sometimes called meridians or vessels, are a great aqueduct system that transports the Essential Substances—Qi, Jing, Xue, Jin-Ye, and Shen—to each Organ System and to every part of the body. By tuning into the way Qi moves through the body’s Channels, Chinese medicine practitioners can “read” the harmony or disharmony of the body’s Essential Substances and Organ Systems. Practitioners can also manipulate the flow of Qi and other Essential Substances through the Channels to keep the flow irrigating the body evenly.

Acupuncture controls the flow of the Essential Substances by needling acupuncture points that are positioned along the network of Channels like a series of gates. At these points, the flow of Essential Substances, particularly Qi, comes close to the surface of the skin, and the needling stimulates or retards their passage through the Channels.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the functions of the Channels are to:

• Transport Xue and Qi and regulate Yin and Yang

• Resist pathogens and reflect symptoms and signs of disease and disharmony

• Transmit curative sensations that occur during acupuncture, such as the spreading of warmth and relaxation through the body, the sense of Qi moving, and a feeling of concentrated heaviness

• Regulate Excess and Deficiency conditions

The major Channels are divided into the Twelve Primary Channels, the Eight Extraordinary Channels, and the Fifteen Collaterals. There are also the less-often-discussed, although important medically, Twelve Divergent Channels, Twelve Muscle Regions, and Twelve Cutaneous Regions. Let’s talk about each in turn.

The Twelve Primary Channels

Each Primary Channel is linked to an Organ System, transports Qi and other Essential Substances, and helps maintain harmony in mind/body/spirit. The Ling Shu, part of the Nei Jing, explains, “Internally, the twelve regular meridians connect with the Zang-Fu organs and externally with the joints, limbs, and other superficial tissues of the body.”

The Twelve Primary Channels are Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Burner, Gallbladder, and Liver.

Each Channel is defined by whether it starts or ends at the hand or foot, whether the Channel is Yin (runs along the center of the body) or Yang (runs along the sides of the body), and whether it is related to a Zang Organ System (the Lung, Kidney, Spleen, Heart, Liver, or Pericardium) or a Fu Organ System (Large Intestine, Stomach, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Triple Burner, or Gallbladder).

Each Yin Channel and Zang Organ is paired with a Yang Channel and a Fu Organ. The Lung is paired with the Large Intestine, the Spleen with the Stomach, the Kidney with the Urinary Bladder, the Pericardium with the Triple Burner, and the Liver with the Gallbladder. This association means that if one of the paired Organs becomes unbalanced, the other one may be thrown into disharmony as well.








Note: The time of day when each Channel is most open and active is noted under each organ. The time is given in twenty-four-hour time.

The Eight Extraordinary Channels

In addition to the Twelve Primary Channels, there are Eight Extraordinary Channels. According to another ancient medical text, the Nan Jing, “The twelve organ-related Qi Channels constitute rivers, and the eight extraordinary vessels (channels) constitute reservoirs.” Unlike the Twelve Primary Channels, the Eight Extraordinary Channels aren’t associated with any of the twelve Organ Systems. But they are extremely important because they augment the communication between the Twelve Primary Channels, act as a storage system for Qi, and exert a strong effect on personality. These reservoirs collect Excess Qi, releasing it into the various Twelve Primary Channels if they become Qi Deficient because of mental or physical stress or trauma. They also have their own special functions. Some French acupuncturists call them “miraculous meridians” because they are used for therapeutic effects when other techniques prove to be ineffective.




Four of the Extraordinary Channels are located in the trunk of the body. They are solitary, unpaired Channels with special functions. They are the Chong Mai, the Ren Mai, the Du Mai, and the Dai Mai.

The Chong Mai (chong-my), or Penetrating Channel, is known as the Sea of Qi and Xue. It regulates the Qi and Xue of the Twelve Primary Channels, and it distributes Jing throughout the body. It brings the Kidney Qi upward to the abdomen and chest. The Chong Mai is the root of the other Extraordinary Channels.

The Ren Mai (ren-my), or Conception Channel, regulates the six Yin Channels and Yin throughout the body. It’s in charge of the Jin-Ye and Jing, and it regulates the supply of body fluids to the fetus. Along with the Chong Mai, this Channel originates in the Uterus, supporting and supplying the Uterus and regulating the seven-year life cycle in women and the eight-year life cycle in men. (In men, the energetic area of the Uterus exists even without the presence of the physical organ.)

The Du Mai (doo-my), or Governing Channel, also rises from the Uterus, and it links the Spinal Cord and the Brain and all of the Yang Channels. (The Uterus area of the body exists in both men and women.) The Du Mai is the master of all of the Yang energy. Along with the Ren Mai, it regulates the balance of Yin/Yang, which in turn regulates the balance of Qi and Xue.

The Dai Mai (die-my), or Belt Channel, encircles the middle of the body like a belt. It links together all of the other Channels. It controls the Chong, Ren, and Du Mai, and it strengthens their links to the Uterus.

The last four Extraordinary Channels are located in the trunk and legs and are paired.

The Yangqiao Mai (yang-chow-my), or Yang Heel Channel, connects with the Governing Vessel. The Qi supplying this Channel is generated through leg exercises, and it rises upward to nourish the Yang Channels.

The Yinqiao Mai (yin-chow-my), or Yin Heel Channel, connects with the Kidney Channel. Qi enters the Channel through the transformation of Kidney Jing into Qi.

The Yangwei Mai (yang-way-my), or Yang Linking Channel, regulates Qi in the Yang Channels, including the Du Mai. Yangwei connects and networks the Exterior Yang of the whole body.

The Yinwei Mai (yin-way-my), or Yin Linking Channel, connects with the Kidney, Liver, and Spleen Yin Channels, the Ren Mai, and the Interior Yin of the whole body.

The Fifteen Collaterals

These are branches of the Twelve Primary Channels. They run from side to side along the exterior of the body, and they have the same acupuncture points as the Twelve Primary Channels. They also take their names from the Twelve Primary Channels, plus the Du Mai, the Ren Mai, and the Great Collateral of the Spleen.

The Fifteen Collaterals are responsible for controlling, joining, storing, and regulating the Qi and Xue of each of the Twelve Primary Channels.


You may have heard of the Five Phases (Wu Xing)—or as they are sometimes called, the Five Elements. This is the philosophical basis for the systems used by Worsley School acupuncturists, many Classical Chinese Medicine practitioners, and many Japanese and Korean practitioners both to describe the physiology of the mind/body/spirit and to guide diagnosis and treatment.

Strictly speaking, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not use the Five Phases for treatment. However, many TCM practitioners also incorporate the Five Phases into their diagnosis and treatment because many aspects of the Phases provide powerful diagnostic tools. I often use Five Phases–based treatment plans for problems that are primarily emotional or that I intuitively sense would benefit from the approach.

The Five Phases—Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth—describe the dynamic system of matter’s transformation through growth, decline, decay, rebirth, and balance. This continual cycle of growth and dormancy exists in both the external world and the world within human beings.

A person may be characterized as being predominantly Wood, Earth, Fire, Water, or Metal, or a combination of Phases. A disharmony may manifest the influence of one or more Phases as well.

Around the outside of the illustration on the next page is the Shen Cycle, or cycle of creation. Wood burns Fire, which, when turned to ashes, forms the Earth, from which Metal is derived, which in turn if heated becomes liquid, like Water. Water then creates Wood, and the Shen Cycle is whole.

The Destruction, or Ko cycle, connects the Phases (see the arrows in the center of the diagram). This cycle controls and balances the Phases. Wood controls Earth, Earth controls Water, Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, and Metal controls Wood.


The tension between creation and destruction and the interrelationships of the Five Phases maintain the natural flow and harmony. Disharmony in one Phase impacts the associated Phases.

Each Phase is associated with and describes a stage of transition, direction, color climate, human sound, emotion, taste, Yin Organ, Yang Organ, sense organ, tissue, smell, and grain. These associations aid diagnosis, providing detailed clues about the nature of disharmonies.

Emotions are of particular importance in the Five Phases system, and many practitioners spend a great deal of time in their initial interview with a client asking about the Seven Emotions: Joy, Anger, Grief, Sadness, Fear, Fright, and Pensiveness/Worry. Every disharmony or illness in a Phase is associated with an emotion. That emotion is a strong indication of where in the body to look for illness and which Channels to treat with acupuncture. The Five Phases practitioner will also evaluate facial colors, smell, touch, and pulses, although these are sometimes different in character from TCM.5 Each Phase is associated with acupuncture Channels, and disharmony in a Phase or Phases indicates which Channel(s) to treat to help restore harmony.

To help you understand how the Five Phases translates into practical medical care, you may want to familiarize yourself with the following basic principles of the Five Phases: Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth.

The Wood Phase

Wood is associated with functions in the growing stage of life. Like a strong, rooted tree that grows upward and outward, a Wood person is firmly anchored with clear, strong Qi. If the Qi is not clear, you feel off-balance, uprooted. Sufficient Qi does not nourish your limbs. You may have spinal problems.

The Liver System, associated with Wood, governs the flow of Qi. People who are Liver dominant are critical thinkers and problem solvers, well focused, and take charge of business. The psychic sense of Liver is that it carries things into the future. When Liver is over-dominant, a person may become compulsive, rigid, irritable, and judgmental. The Gallbladder is also associated with Wood. It is also related to the decision-making ability.

The emotion of anger is associated with Wood, and it can be Excess or Deficient. The climate connected with the Liver is Wind. That has an impact on health because, as the ancient texts explain, if Wind enters the body and depletes the breath, then a person’s Essence (Jing) is lost, and evil influences will injure the Liver.

The Fire Phase

This Phase is associated with life in all of its passion and vitality. In the cycle of birth, growth, and decay, Fire is warm and nourishing, keeping life moving forward. When there is a lack of Fire, you cannot give or receive warmth in your life. Your life spark is dimmed. This may result in hot, painful joints, as if Fire were stuck. Fevers may flare up, and circulation may become poor, making parts of the body cold, while others are hot. Varicose veins and digestive problems are possible results.

The Organ Systems that are aligned with Fire are the Small Intestine, Heart, Triple Burner, and Circulation Sex, which corresponds to the Pericardium in TCM.

The Small Intestine, paired with the Heart, separates the pure from the impure, physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Excess or Deficient Fire affects Xue, and the blood vessels are associated with Fire as well. Furthermore, because the Heart is home to the Spirit Path or Gate, where Shen resides, people who have Fire as the dominant Phase are usually charismatic, open-minded, and empathetic. They seek similarities between people instead of differences. But if Heart becomes too dominant, a person may be come easily confused, uncertain, and oversensitive. They may become afraid of not knowing where or who they are. In cases of extreme disharmony, the person becomes disturbed, even psychotic. When Fire is unbalanced, the Shen is wounded, and joy, the emotion associated with Fire, is lost or destroyed.

Circulation Sex is paired with the Triple Burner, and it has a powerful effect on the psyche. According to the Five Phases, Circulation Sex is associated with the vascular system and the circulation of fluids. The Organ has no specific location. The Triple Burner is associated in Five Phases with temperature maintenance and regulation. It impacts family relationships and social ties, plus sympathy and antipathy.

The Metal Phase

This Phase represents functions that are declining. Metal is involved in the communication networks in the body that allow the intake of air and fuel and assimilate them into energy. A Deficiency of Metal causes a breakdown in the mind/body/spirit.

The Lung System is associated with Metal, and an imbalance in Metal is associated with asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema. The Lung System also fuels emotions—consider how overwhelming beauty is said to be “breathtaking.” A Metal imbalance can produce grief and deep sadness. A person who is Lung dominant is said to be ethereal, creative, intuitive, and even psychic. When Lung becomes overly dominant, the emotions may veer out of control, and the person may have difficulty dealing with change and may swing between being a passive victim and a tyrannical dictator.

The Large Intestine is associated with Metal. Its function is to remove waste from the body. Any imbalance of Metal may make it difficult for the body to rid itself of toxic substances and emotions.

The Water Phase

The Water Phase takes the shape of whatever contains it, and it can be hot, cold, liquid, solid, clear, or murky. In the body, water enlivens every cell and the blood, tears, urine, sweat, and other liquids.

The Kidney System is associated with Water. It is the storehouse of what is called the Vital Essence (Jing), and it acts as the gateway to the Stomach. A person who is Kidney dominant is often a visionary, imagining future possibilities and seeing her or his own destiny clearly. If knocked down, this person gets right back up and fights again. However, if the Kidney becomes too dominant, the person may slide into suspiciousness, fear of getting close to others, and a sense of separation or falling apart. When the Kidneys are in disharmony, the Shen is volatile. You may feel like you are drowning in your fears. Physically, Kidney-dominant people may experience lethargy and edema and urinary and back problems. It is also associated with hypertension.

The Earth Phase

This Phase denotes balance. Healthy Earth provides a feeling of contentedness and purpose. When it is unbalanced, disruption of the basic cycles of sleep, menstruation, appetite, breathing, and fertility may occur.

Earth’s role as the center is revealed in its association with the Spleen System, which is the source of life for all of the other Organ Systems. It is also aligned with the Stomach, which influences formation of ideas and opinions. People who are Earth dominant are characterized as reliable, sedate, nurturing, and supportive. They have excellent memory for details, and they like to be the center of things. When Earth becomes overly dominant, they can become obsessive, they may drown in their own mental contents, and they may lose the ability to associate ideas logically. Physically, they may experience trouble with digestion and absorption of food.


Understanding your Five Phases characteristics can help you balance your mind/body/spirit and guide your healing process. To identify your primary Phase, answer the following two questions.

1. Would you characterize yourself as:

A. Ethereal and creative

B. Open-minded and empathetic

C. Able to imagine your destiny clearly

D. Reliable and nurturing

E. A take-charge kind of person

2. Which emotion do you feel is the strongest in you?

A. Sadness

B. Joy

C. Fear

D. Worry/pensiveness

E. Anger

A answers have constitution characteristics associated with Metal, while B associates with Fire, C with Water, D with Earth, and E with Wood.



















































Human Sound




































Yin Organ












Yang Organ




Small Intestine, Triple Burner




Large Intestine


Urinary Bladder


Sense Organ






















































Late Summer/Change of Seasons