top of page
Chinese Medicine ~ A System of Correspondences

Herbs and Acupuncture

In China, up until the present day, herbal medicine and acupuncture have always been separate; with a small percentage of practitioners doing both. This situation allows for greater specialization, as both subjects encompass an enormous amount of information. Also, to do either well, you must have a very large amount of information at your fingertips. After all, there are 2,500 years worth of books on the subjects. Some of the most prominent books in use today come from authors of the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. This is probably due to the relatively high emphasis on learning and scholarship during these times.
     There are as many theories in TCM as there are practitioners. In general, acupuncture uses the system of the 5 phases and to a lesser extant the zang fu system. Herbal medicine primarily uses the zang fu system; but also utilizes and incorporates all the other common theories. Essentially, all of the theories share in common the usage of a "system of correspondences". The primary theories used by most practitioners around the world are: yin yang theory, five phases or five elements theory, eight principles theory, and zang-fu theory. There have also been many different ‘schools’ over the ages, some examples are: the ‘cold’ school, the ‘warm’ school, the yin nourishing school, the yang tonifying school, and the reducing school.



Disease in Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese theory, disease results from a deficiency, stagnation, or excess of either the bodies own energies or fluids; or pathogens that invade from outside of the body.

     The most common deficiencies are: qi, blood, yin, yang, fluids or any combination of these. The most common excesses are: qi, damp, water, phlegm, cold, heat, fire, wind or any combination of these. The most common stagnations are: qi, blood, fluid, phlegm or any combination of these. The most common internal pathologies are combinations of these three. The most common external pathogens are: damp, cold, heat, summer heat, fire, dryness, wind or any combination of these. 
     Because TCM uses patterns of disease to diagnose and treat conditions of ill health, it is necessary to gather accurate and detailed information about all aspects of the body. The body is one unit; this means that nothing can happen within the body without coming from or effecting some other part of the body. Therefore, the whole self is treated, resulting in the complete cure of disease, rather then just a temporary solution.  



A System of Correspondences

Traditional Chinese Medicine incorporates the use of a 'system of correspondences'. The phrase 'system of correspondences' means at least these three things: one, that various signs and symptoms are known to appear together; two, these signs and symptoms point to a particular disorder, or a "pattern" of disharmony; three, this pattern can be treated in order to eliminate the signs, symptoms, underlying disease and, in most cases, the cause of disease all at once. These patterns of disease appear in almost any combination and require careful discernment to be sure of the cause. All manor of ailments can be prevented, treated, and cured through the use of this system. 
     The capability to treat a patient based on signs and symptoms alone gives TCM an incredible advantage over disease.  Essentially, what it means is that Chinese Medicine can prevent disease before it occurs! This may sound fantastic, but it is simply a matter of distinguishing faint irregularities in the body and correcting these imbalances with herbal medicines; coupled with diet, exercises and lifestyle changes, when necessary. Through millennia of observation and recording of signs and symptoms in relation to their progression through time and their response to different treatments, the Chinese developed a system of medicine that can see disease forming from its very foundations. 


Yin and Yang Theory

Within the body, this ongoing balance of yin and yang is directly related to disease mechanisms. All physiological and pathological situations in the body can be viewed in terms of yin and yang polarities. They can also be treated through careful observation and processing of this information. Yin and Yang energies in the body are seen as almost tangible elements; they are not necessarily seen directly, but their state in the body is easily observed indirectly. There are herbs and acupuncture points which have the effect to "tonify" yang or to "tonify" yin. Through external signs and symptoms, it is observed which of the two is in deficiency or excess and in what area(s) and/or organ(s) of the body. Though there are many systems of thought in TCM it is certainly possible to use this system alone. Yin and yang theory in and of itself is enough to treat all manor of ailments.  
     Any change in the body's interior or exterior circumstances will effect the balance of yin and yang. However, a healthy and balanced person will be able to adjust to those changes and maintain their health.
     An excess of yin will cause a relative deficiency of yang and cold diseases of an excess nature. A deficiency of yin will cause a relative excess of yang and diseases of deficiency heat. 
     An excess of yang will cause a relative deficiency of yin and hot diseases of an excess nature. A deficiency of yang will cause a relative excess of yin and diseases of deficiency cold.   



The Eight Principles

The eight principles is a theory designed to help clinicians establish a "base line" for their patients. It essentially functions as a way to help ensure that no gross errors take place in practice. The theory consists of choosing four out of eight choices of polarities, namely: yin or yang, cold or hot, internal or external and deficiency or excess. Generally speaking, all modalities of TCM include the eight principles. Within the Chinese model, it would be difficult to consider the body without the use of these eight principles. The eight principles are rarely used alone, but make up an important part of all other theories. For the sake of clarity, we will give brief overview here.  

1, 2) Yin / Yang
First, one must determine the overall nature of the patient, and of the disease. The Huang Di Nei Jing, or the Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic says "first look to see if the patient is fat or thin". This shows whether the patient is primarily yin, fat; or primarily yang, thin. Next, the nature of the disease must be determined. It is noted whether the disease has general yin qualities, such as: coldness, stillness, dark color, chronic condition, located in the lower body, etc.; or, in contrast, if the disease is of a yang nature and has qualities such as: warmth, movement, a bright color, an acute condition, located in the upper body, etc. 

3, 4) Cold / Heat

It is important to differentiate between the overwhelming presence of hot or cold. In this context, it is not necessary to dissect hot and cold down to the minutest level. Here, it is only necessary to determine whether hot or cold is predominant overall.  
     Some common "heat" signs are: a red face, the patient reports feeling warm, the patient prefers cold drinks with a large thirst, high fever, heavy sweating; a red tongue with a yellow coating; a large, flooding, rapid pulse.  
     Some common "cold" signs are: a pale face, the patient reports feeling cold, the patient feels cold to the touch and prefers a small amount of warm drinks, a low fever, or no fever; weak, continuous sweating, or no sweating; a pale tongue with a white coating, and a deep, slow pulse.  

5, 6) Interior / Exterior
Disease may be located in the exterior or the interior. External diseases begin with a surface invasion. Surface diseases tend to include fever and chills, aches and pains, and a floating pulse. Numerous pathogens invade the body through the surface. These pathogens are generally named as: wind, cold, damp, heat, dry, and summer heat. These traditional six have been expanded over the last several hundred years, to include any contagious disease, such as influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, anthrax, chickenpox, erysipelas, Legionnaires, rubella, impetigo, leprosy, measles, infectious mononucleosis, mumps, plague, rabies, trachoma, tuberculosis, etc. 

    Diseases of the interior may originate in the interior, or they may move inside from the exterior. A disease is considered to have moved to the interior when the signs and symptoms progress to a severe degree. Any serious disorder of an organ itself would be considered an interior disease. Internal diseases, that have moved in from the outside, tend to have symptoms such as: a high fever, severe chills, delirium, rashes, bleeding, and a deep pulse. Some examples of this type of internal disease situation would be: tuberculosis, anthrax, measles, and rabies. 

     Internal disease comes from "improper" living or from genetic inheritance. Improper living includes things like: inadequate sleep, poor diet, excessive sexual or physical activity, and indulgence in emotional lability. Some examples of interior diseases are: carcinoma, sarcoma, dengue fever, schistosomiasis, syphilis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, lupus, encephalitis, glaucoma, asthma, Gall stones, irritable bowel syndrome, and sickle cell anemia, etc.
     Many disorders and diseases are a combination of internal and external pathologies. A condition of asthma, for example, would typically include the exterior condition of lingering wind cold, with the interior condition of Spleen and Kidney qi and yang deficiency. Multiple sclerosis generally includes damp heat lingering in the surface tissues, on the exterior; and phlegm misting the orifices of the Heart, Liver qi stagnation, and Kidney deficiency, in the interior.

7, 8) Deficiency / Excess

There are various aspects to determining whether the patient and the disease are of an excess type, or of a deficiency type. Some examples are: history (including the time schedule), coloring, discharges, odors, the quality of pain or discomfort, etc. Deficiencies and excesses can be yin or yang in nature.   
     Diseases of an excess nature usually have an acute onset, a short history, and they change rapidly. Excess diseases have bright colors, strong odors and sharp, stabbing, and/or severe pain. These diseases tend to progress rapidly as well. Excess diseases tend to effect the yang fu (or hollow) organs, namely, the: Stomach, Gall Bladder, Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Urinary Bladder; but they also may effect the yin zang (or solid) organs. 
     Diseases of a deficient nature tend to be chronic, and are slow to progress. They have pale colors, little to no odor, and mild, indistinct pain. Deficiency diseases tend to affect the yin zang organs, such as the: Heart, Lungs, Spleen, Liver and Kidneys; they less commonly effect the yang fu organs.   

     The Heart and Liver are often involved in both diseases of excess and of deficiency. The Heart is a yin organ, but can be considered yang for two reasons; one, it is the fire organ; two, its function of pumping the blood is yang in nature. The Liver, another yin organ, is considered yang in function (regulates qi), but yin (blood) in substance.



Wu Xing - The Five Elements, or Five Phases, Theory
Five Phase Theory is a very old philosophical system. This system relies on predictable exchanges between different aspects of universal energies, also seen within the body. There are two primary aspects to this cycle, one of generation and one of control, with numerous other aspects. When there is imbalance, disease strikes; patterns of disease are seen in the form of lack of generation, over control, failure to control, rebellion against control, or the pathological spread of one phase/element over or into another phase/element.


The Four Treasures

Energy, Blood, Essence and Spirit (Qi, Xue, Jing, Shen) 
Chinese Medicine acknowledges many different fluids and substances in the body, a complete review would be excessive for this brief overview. The chief among these are; qi, xue, jin-ye, shen, and jing; all detailed below. Four of these substances are considered the "four treasures", due to their vital importance in the body.


Qi - Energy, Life Force, Activity
Qi (pronounced chee) is the life energy of the body; qi is a yang substance, and it is the contrast to blood-yin. Qi is the defining characteristic between a body that is alive and a body that is dead. Qi is the energy that the body uses for work. To move requires and utilizes qi, to breathe takes (and generates) qi, to sleep takes (and generates) qi. 

     The word "qi" has several meanings; it does not simply mean "energy", though it is generally translated and understood as such. Qi is also a word used to describe the health of an organ, an organ system or a person's state of health in general. To have much qi means to have much power, to have little qi means to be weak. To have strong qi means that you are unlikely to get sick, you will have a good appetite, digest well, reproduce well, have healthy emotions, heal quickly, etc. In short it means that all of your bodies functions are likely to be correct, if your qi is strong. 

The Major Types of Qi 
Before there was microscopic anatomy, there was natural observation. Even today, how the body communicates and functions is far more mysterious than it is known or understood. Qi is a very broad term, used in many ways. In general, it relates to form or function. 

  • Wei (defensive) qi is the qi that flows through the surface tissues, and guards the body from external pernicious influences, such as influenza.

  • Ying (nutritive) qi is the qi that nourishes the tissues of the body.

  • Da (great) qi is the qi essence gathered from inspired air. Gu (food) qi is the qi essence gathered from digested food.

  • Zong (gathering) qi occurs in the chest, where the Lungs gather together the gu qi and da qi, to be sent downward to the Kidneys.

  • Zheng (correct or righteous) qi is any healthy, functional qi of the body, it is the contrast of xie (evil) qi. Zheng qi also refers, specifically, to the bodies battle against disease.

  • Xie (evil) qi is the qi of disease. Any pathogenic influence, such as cold or damp is said to have qi, when acting upon the body it has a negative influence and is therefore called "evil qi". 

  • Qing (clear) qi is the finer parts of food and fluids gathered from the initial digestive process. It is sent upwards from the Spleen (middle or digestive system) to join with the gathering qi in the chest. 

  • Zhuo (turbid) qi is the unwanted particulate separated out from food and fluids to be discarded below. 

  • Zang-fu (organ) qi is simply the qi that is found within the organs and gives them form and function. 

  • Jing-luo (channel) qi is the qi found in the acupuncture channels. This type of qi performs the functions for the channels themselves, such as: communication, warming, and a certain degree of nourishment. 

  • Xian-tian (pre-heaven) qi is the same as prenatal essence, and is given to us by our parents. This pre-natal qi is responsible for fetal development, and also partly responsible for growth and development after birth.

  • Hou-tian (post-heaven) qi is the same as postnatal essence, which is the qi acquired from air, food and fluids. Pre-natal qi and post-natal qi combine to form yuan (source) qi.

  • Yuan (source) qi is located in the Kidneys, it is sent outward from the Kidneys and distributed around the body by the Spleen's transportation function, the channels and the vessels transport function, the Lungs rhythmic descending function, the Heart's blood pumping function, and the Liver's governing of the free flow of qi.    

The Relationship of Qi and Blood
It is said that "qi governs the blood". This is the case because the qi is responsible for holding the blood within the vessels; qi maintains the structural integrity of the cells themselves; and, secondly, qi provides the motive force to push the blood through the vessels. Qi energy is essential in the forming of new blood. The energy of the Spleen, Heart and Lungs come together to act on fluids and transform them into blood. 

Causes of Qi Deficiency and Qi Stagnation
The following are some things that will cause a deficiency and/or a stagnation of qi: emotional excesses, poor diet, excessive sexual activity, irregular sleep patterns, irregular eating patterns, shallow breathing, stress of any kind, caffeine, sugar, over consumption of meat or carbohydrates, drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, consumption of or exposure to chemicals of any kind, excessive exercise, lack of exercise, overwork, and under activity. 

Methods of Tonifying and Regulating the Qi To Maintain Health
The following are some things that will tonify and regulate the qi: certain herbs, rhythmic breathing, regular eating, quality food, chewing your food thoroughly, regular and sound sleeping, moderate aerobic exercise, a peaceful mind, and qi gong (energy exercises). 



Blood (Xue) 
The blood, in Chinese Medicine, is similar to blood in Western Allopathic Medicine. However, there are, of course, some major differences between the two. A discussion of blood from the western scientific perspective should be easy to come by, so here we will only discuss blood from the perspective of CM. 


The Major Types of Blood in CM
Though it is understood that there is only one "blood" in the body, Chinese medicine looks at the blood in several different ways. Chief among these differentiation's are: Heart blood, Liver blood, uterine blood, and vessel blood. The blood of the Heart and Liver, particularly, have different responsibilities within the body. 

The Heart blood is responsible to act as a home for the "shen", the Heart spirit. If there is not enough Heart blood, the shen will have no place to rest and reside; hence, restless and dream disturbed sleep will result. The Heart blood is responsible for nourishing the spirit. If this is done improperly then the spirit will become "withered" and listless. Blood deficiency of the heart will result in a pale, dry face, apathy, poor concentration and poor memory. 

The Liver blood is responsible for building up the menstrual blood in utero, prior to menstruation; it is also responsible for nourishing the skin, nails, eyes, head and body hair. If the Liver blood is deficient it will fail to nourish its own spirit, the Hun (or animal soul); resulting in sleep walking and violently dream disturbed sleep. Liver blood deficiency will result in generalized anemia, including: dry, weak nails and hair, pale skin, and mucous membranes, scanty menses, infertility, poor memory, weakness, poor vision, floaters, dry eyes, and lusterless complexion. It will also result in anger and irritability, due to the fact that the Liver blood is the comforter of the Liver; and, without enough blood the Liver is easily stagnated. 


The uterine blood can be deficient, stagnant, cold, hot, etc, all without the same pattern existing in any other organ system; this is why we can say that the uterine blood is a unique blood. This menstrual blood has the function of building and discharging. Additionally, if there is a healthy embryo or fetus present, it has the function of holding and nourishing. Deficient uterine blood will result in: scanty menses, irregular bleeding, spotting between periods, missed periods, or no periods, an improper temperature and empty feeling in the uterus, and infertility. 

Finally, there is the vessel blood, which is responsible for nourishing all the tissues of the body. This is the blood found throughout the body in the vessels themselves. These vessels are filled by the blood of the liver and to a lesser extent the blood of the Heart. The blood is forced through the vessels by the power of the spleen qi, the Hearts rhythmic pumping and the channel qi's movement, which is controlled by the Lungs. 

When blood in one organ system or area is deficient, it will gradually reduce the blood in the other systems as well. This happens, of course, because the body is one unit, one system. Commonly, the Liver blood is the initial culprit, which becomes deficient by being overworked and taxed by wrong living. Generally, the Liver is overworked by excessive stress and by the detoxification of chemicals, both very prevalent in modern times. The Liver proceeds, usually, by first draining the bodies blood in general, then draining the uterine blood, then the Hearts blood and finally the Kidneys yin essence; all in an effort to refill its own coffers. 


Causes of Blood Deficiency 
Some causes of deficiency of blood are: qi deficiency (weak energy), poor diet, lack of exercise, irregular schedule, working or reading at night or in low light, smoking, drinking alcohol, heavy menstruation, loss of blood, consumption of or exposure to chemicals of any kind, stress, emotional lability, old age, and a weak Heart.

Causes of Blood Stagnation 
Some causes of blood stagnation are: blood deficiency, qi deficiency, trauma of any kind, blockage by phlegm, damp, cold, or qi stagnation, no menstruation, irregular menstruation, loss of blood, consumption of or exposure to chemicals of any kind, stress, emotional lability, old age, and a weak Heart. 



Essence (Jing) 
Jing (精), translated as "essence", is stored in the Kidneys. This essence comes from two distinct sources: pre-natal essence from the parents, which is imparted at conception; and post-natal essence which comes from the refined qualities of food, fluids, and air. These two are of equal importance, and are stored together as one substance, called jing, or Kidney essence. Throughout life this essence is burned as fuel for the body. The more post natal essence you are able to generate, the longer you will live and the healthier you will be. 
     The Kidney yang qi acts on the Kidney yin essence in order to transform it into yuan source qi (the fuel for the body). This yuan source qi is sent upwards to the Spleen from where it is distributed to all the cells of the body.
     All disorders termed "congenital" or hereditary are caused by a deficiency of Kidney essence. Some examples of Kidney essence deficiency pathologies are: microcephaly, macrocephaly, hydrocephaly, mental retardation, physical retardation, malformation of limbs or organs, etc. It is noteworthy that many congenital disorders seen as incurable in the West are treated effectively and can be greatly resolved by administering herbs that "tonify the kidney essence". 


Thin and Thick Fluids (Jin Ye) 
Jin ( 津) translates as "thin fluids" and ye ( 液) translates as "thick fluids". Jin fluids are created more quickly and easily then ye fluids. In general, jin-thin fluids come in contact with the outside world, whereas ye-thick fluids do not. Jin fluids tend to be translucent, whereas ye fluids are more opaque. The two are of equal importance, in the daily functioning of the body; however, the loss of ye-thick fluids is a greater disaster compared to jin-thin fluid loss, due to the greater difficulty in reproducing them. Some examples of jin fluids are: tears, snivel, sweat, thin saliva, thick saliva, and urine. Some examples of ye fluids are: cerebral spinal fluid, semen, vaginal secretions, ear wax, synovial fluid, lymph, serous fluid, and any other fluids of the body that do not come in contact with the outside environment.  
     Problems with the jin - ye fluids are almost always organ related; and most often come from disorders of the spleen. The reason for this is simple. The spleen is responsible for the "transportation and transformation" of all the fluids of the body.


Shen - Spirit/Mind
The shen is translated as the "mind-soul" and is the spirit of the Heart. Although all five of the zang organs have an individual soul, the Heart shen is seen as the emperor or monarch. The shen is believed to greatly determine the general character and morality of a person. The concept and perspective on "shen" overlaps with "consciousness" in the West. 

Health and Pathology of the Shen - Spirit/Mind
A healthy shen is seen in the facial complexion and in the speech. Laughter comes from the Heart and makes the qi flow smoothly. A person with a healthy shen will have healthy emotions all around, and be a very "well adjusted" person. The character of a healthy shen is charming, outgoing, funny, and witty.
     A pathological, or disturbed, shen will show signs such as: inappropriate laughter, for example; laughing at a dramatic story, or at  violence; sleep disturbances, inappropriate behavior, childishness, incapacity to be serious, mania, psychosis, or schizophrenia.



Zang Fu Pattern Diagnosis Theory
Zang fu is the most comprehensive theory in Chinese medicine; incorporating the eight principles, yin yang, five phases, qi, blood, jing, and shen theories. Zang refers to the ‘solid organs’ and fu refers to the ‘hollow’ organs. The ‘solid’ organs are the: Heart, Lungs, Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys. The ‘hollow’ organs are the: Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, and Urinary Bladder. Some organs are classed as ‘extraordinary’, they are the: brain, uterus, and Gall Bladder.  
     All of the organs are capable of suffering from various disease patterns. These patterns are discerned from signs and symptoms and then treated with herbs and other appropriate modalities. This particular system allowed TCM to develop to a very high level of diagnostics without the aid of modern electronic equipment.  
     A patients insides can be seen clearly from the external signs and symptoms. The pertinent information is gathered and analyzed on a regular basis, then the disease patterns themselves are treated. This means that as long as the signs and symptoms can be gathered, then the disease may be treated. Thus, ten different patients may go to a TCM doctor for a Heart attack and each receive a different formula, though their cases may appear identical on a modern EKG, each may have a different pattern and require different, highly specific, medicine. One of the things that makes TCM work so well is that a new and absolutely unique formula can be devised, not only for every patient, but for every time the patient sees the doctor. This high level of fine tuning allows for maximum benefits and results.  


Yang qualities.jpg
Yin qualities.jpg

Yin and yang is the oldest and most primal of all Chinese theories. It is a theory based on the opposing nature of all things. Yin and yang are perfect opposites; however, there is always yin within yang and yang within yin. Just as the body and the universe are never at rest, neither is the Tai Ji (or the exchange of yin and yang energies). Yin is forever turning into yang and yang is turning into yin. As yin waxes, yang wanes, and as yang waxes, yin wanes. Perfect health occurs when there is an absolute balance of yin and yang energies in the body; this state is virtually impossible to achieve. 

bottom of page