Clinical research and practice are constantly evolving in the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but its origins can be traced back to thousands of years ago. Long before detailed acupuncture point charts and herbal medicine texts were written, the basic principles of TCM theory were born in the I Ching. The I Ching, or Yi Jing, is the oldest classical text in China and one of the earliest in the world. It explains the formation of the universe, humanity’s relationship with the universe, and natural cycles. While not a medical text, it set the stage for the holistic worldview of TCM theory where the human body is a microcosm within the macrocosm of our universe.
Introducing the I Ching
The I Ching, literally translated as The Book Of Changes, contains theories of how the universe was formed and operates through observation of the environment, including the orbits of the sun, moon and stars. These changes are the continuous movements and cycles of the universe that make up the essence of Tao.
The I Ching is well-known for being a reference text of the Ba Gua, a series of eight trigrams that depict Yin and Yang in a different visual sense. Yin is a broken line (- -); Yang is unbroken (–). When combined into three tiers, they form eight possible combinations which are the eight trigrams. These were used for divination by tossing inscriptions of them on bones or shells into a fire; those that cracked were said to show a message. The more complex six-tier set of 64 combinations was devised by the ruler Zhou Wen Wang, with an explanation for each. His son later expanded on this by writing explanations of every line and trigram inside each.
The essence of the I Ching is the function and expression of Yin and Yang, including how they interact and circulate. They are derived from the same source, Tai-Chi. Its authors believed they are the two opposite energies and background forces that make the universe. Yin and Yang are manifest in opposites such as feminine and masculine; night and day; cold and heat; and negative and positive electrical charges.
TCM Theory and the I Ching
TCM theory is based on the Yin and Yang principle, as well as the Five Elements of Wood, Earth, Water, Fire and Metal. Theories discussed in the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine) heavily rely on concepts of Yin and Yang introduced by the I Ching. In general, imbalances where Yin predominates are said to cause underactivity, while a Yang predominance leads to overactivity. Just like Yin and Yang, the life force energies of Qi and Jing are interdependent and perfect, and transform into each other. The concentration and flow of Qi in the human body is seen as a microcosm of the great cosmic movement of Yin and Yang. TCM theory lists consequences of Qi deficiency as including fatigue, poor concentration and constipation.
The Five Elements explains Yin and Yang Qi’s “check and balance” mechanism, and illustrates relationships strengthened or weakened by “acting and controlling” among the elements. They are each linked with their corresponding internal organs, senses, emotions and types of body tissue. They are also related to certain seasons, tastes and colours. The Heart is related to Fire and joy; the Lungs are connected to Metal and grief; the Liver is related to Wood and anger; the Kidneys are associated with Water and fear; and the Spleen is linked with Earth and anxiety. Some modern practitioners have even began linking the Five Elements to components of our cells!
Additionally, Taoist alchemical theory states that the psychological and cosmic forces depicted in the I Ching’s trigrams are stored in the internal organs. They are reservoirs of the cosmos’ spiritual powers, symbolic points that connect microcosm with the macrocosm. For example, the Kidneys (which include the adrenals in TCM) are identified with the origin of all life, the Great Yin. They are seen as the reservoir of Jing essence that is our life source. During the winter solstice, the Great Yin gives birth to the Young Yang, starting a new cycle. As within, so without – the Kidneys are associated with the human body’s renewal and regeneration. The Heart is associated with Qi-energy, Yang and the foundation of cosmic unity. In humans, it controls mental activity and circulation. The Spleen is seen as the centre of the body, where the union of opposite forces takes place. In TCM, it rules the acquired constitution (Hou Tian) while the Kidneys rule the inherited constitution (Xian Tian). It corresponds to the colour yellow, and is related to the mythical Yellow Emperor who personifies Earth’s power. Nutrient digestion and absorption, as well as the health of the limbs, are key Spleen functions.
The roots of TCM theory are so complex and interwoven that it would take an entire book or three to explain it all, especially as they spread with modern science’s findings. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy its fruits. Contact me here if you are interested in a consultation.