The Yin Organs. Within Chinese medicine there are five yin organs (wu zang) – plus the pericardium, and six yang organs (liu fu). The wu zang are considered deeper inside the body than the liu fu, and are therefore yin by comparison to the yang organs. This does not mean that the wu zang have no yang functions – in fact they possess both yin and yang functions.
The function of the yin organs is to produce, transform, regulate and store the fundamental substances of the body -jing, qi, shen, xue, and jin ye. It is an understanding of the yin organs, their functions and relationships that forms the core of Chinese medicine.
Gan -The Liver.
The liver rules flowing and spreading. It moves the xue and qi to all pans of the body. In fact the liver and its qi are responsible for the smooth movement of all the body’s fluids. Smoothness is a keyword when talking about the liver in its healthy state because it ensures even and harmonious movement, but when there is disharmony of the liver the opposite occurs – fluid become stuck or stagnant and the emotions become unstable -especially anger.
There are three aspects to the liver’s flowing and spreading activities. Firstly it adjusts the flow of qi and xue making it smooth, and ensuring even circulation. Secondly the liver controls the secretion of bile for digestion and thirdly it harmonises the emotions. These functions are fundamentally inter-related and can profoundly affect each other, thus just as bad temper can caused by internal disharmony it can also cause it. There is no mind/body dichotomy as in the West -within Chinese medicine the emotions have precise physical correlation and because of the liver’s role in the harmonisation of the emotions it is closely related to the correct functioning of the mind.As well as its flowing and spreading activities the liver also stores blood. When a person is active then the liver ensures an even flow throughout the meridians, but when a person rests, the blood returns to the liver, where it is stored.
The liver rules the tendons (in Chinese medicine this is a general term that also includes ligaments and to an extent, muscle) and manifests in the nails. The liver is responsible for nourishing, moistening, and keeping the tendons supple. It also keeps the nails moist and pink. Disharmony can manifest in a deterioration of these function.
The liver opens into the eyes. While it is true to say that all the organ give their purest energy to the eyes the liver has a special relationship. Though the action of a harmonious liver, the eyes are able to distinguish the five colours (green, red, yellow, white and black). Many eye disorders are attributed to liver disharmony.
Xin The Heart
The yang function of the heart is that it rules the blood and the blood vessels. The heart, blood and vessels are related through their common activities. The heart governs the vessels and moves the blood within them, controlling its even and regular flow throughout the body. The circulation of the blood thus ensures vitality of the body because of its nourishing activities.
The yin function of the heart is that it stores the Shen. When the heart’s blood and qi are harmonious Shen is nourished. The main function of Shen is keeping the mind clear thus its disruption can be a serious matter leading to insomnia, forgetfulness, or even madness. Emotional disturbances, such as excitement or excessive happiness can easily affect the stability of the heart, especially during the summer when it can be prone to becoming too yang.
The heart is directly connected to the small intestine. An excess of heart fire can therefore interfere with the small intestine’s management of the body’s water.
The heart opens into the tongue. The tongue is closely related to the heart, its blood and qi, which means that their disharmonies may manifest in the tongue, but also that illnesses affecting the tongue, such as ulcers can sometimes be treated through the heart and its related acupuncture points. The face in general is where the heart manifests its brilliance -thus abundant heart blood will cause a moist bright reddish complexion and any disharmonies vary from this norm.
Pi The Spleen
The spleen rules transformation and transportation. It is the primary organ of digestion. The spleen water up to the lungs where the final synthesis of xue, qi and clear fluid, take place. In its function of directing and ascending movement the spleen rules the rising of the pure. The spleen is the source of blood and qi, which makes it the foundation for the whole of postnatal existence. The spleen ensures that xue and blood are abundant and strong, but if the spleen becomes weak (it is especially vulnerable to the cold and damp) then the whole body becomes weak. The spleen has the function of governing the blood, in the sense that it keeps the blood within its correct paths. In general qi commands the blood but it is particularly the function of spleen qi to hold xue in its place. As a result of this relationship many chronic bleeding diseases are a result of spleen dishammony.
The spleen rules the muscles, flesh and four limbs. Because it is the origin of blood and qi , and because of its function transporting the xue and qi to the muscles and limbs, the strength of the spleen is essential for the movement and strength of the limbs and muscles. By its nourishing actions a healthy spleen produces good muscle tone.
The spleen opens into the mouth. When the spleen is harmonious the mouth can take the five tastes (sour, hitter, sweet, pungent, salty). The lips manifest the spleen’s brilliance and when it is healthy the lips will be moist and red.
Fei The Lungs
The lungs are the lid of the yin organs owing to their position at the top of the thoracic cavity. Because of their activity and this position they are the yin organs most easily affected by external pernicious influences, hence they have a reputation for being the tender organ. The lungs are able to affect the
movement of fundamental substances in two ways – xuan and su-Jiang. Xuan is the movement of dissemination and circulation and su-Jiang is the movement of descending and liquefying. The lungs rule qi. They administer breathing which is the action that brings the qi outside the body into contact with the qi inside the body.
Inhalation is the process whereby kung-qi is taken into the body and pushed dawn into the abdomen and exhalation is the process of expelling or disseminating impure air. When the lungs are healthy qi enters and leaves smoothly: respiration is regular and even. The lungs move qi (and hence blood too) throughout the entire body, thus lung disharmony can cause deficient or stagnant qi anywhere in the body.
The lungs are the upper origin of water. They move and adjust the water channels in the same direction that they move qi. They disseminate in that they
scatter and circulate water vapour throughout the laxly, and they cause su-Jiang by liquefying water vapour which descends to the kidneys.
The lungs rule the exterior of the body. They regulate sweating, the moistening of the skin, and resistance to external pernicious influences. This resistance depends on Wei-qi and the power of the lungs to disseminate it. Because of the intimate relationship with the outside of the body the brilliance of the lungs manifest in the body’s hair. Hence the quality of the body hair shows the strength of the lungs qi.
The lungs open into the nose. The nose is the road of respiration and the throat is the gate of the lungs and the home of the voice. Thus nose and throat disorders are often related to lung disharmony.
Shen The Kidneys
The kidneys more jing. Because of this function they rule birth, maturation and development. Jing is the source of life and individual development. Jing produces life. It is the potential for differentiation into yin and yang -the process of life itself. The kidneys are thus the mansion of fire and water, the residence of yin and yang, and the channel of life and death. Every organ, every part of the body needs jing to thrive. Because the kidneys store jing they have a special relationship with every organ in the body.
The kidneys control the material preconditions for each organ’s existence. Every organ has its yin and yang (i.e the heart stores shen and rules
blood. The liver stores blood and spreads qi, etc.) which is a materialisation of the potential jing. Jing itself is the primal material; it is before yin and yang. Because of its undifferentiated nature it is a yin substance within the body, but a yin substance that contains another yin fang differentiation. If the kidneys become unhealthy they can affect any and every organ in the body, but any other sufficiently chronic disorder in any organ will also affect the kidneys.
The kidneys are the root of life. Jing is the source of reproduction, development and maturation. Conception is only possible through the power of jing.
Growth to maturity is the blossoming of jing, and the decline of old age which proceedes gracefully. With a sense of completion, reflects the natural weakening of jing.
The kidneys rule water. This is the yang aspect of the kidneys- the mingmen-hou – the life gate fire. A fire that turns water into a mist so that it can ascend. A fire that also forms the foundation of the vaporising functions of the spleen.
Within the body the process of the water system is started by the stomach.
The stomach separates the pure from the unusable. The unusable is passed on to the intestines and the pure to the spleen. The spleen raises the pure – it vaporises the water so that it can ascend to the lungs. The lungs move and adjust the water channels and liquefy vapour – they circulate the clear fluids and liquefy that which has become impure from use. Thc impure descends to the kidneys where the turbid is separated from the clean. The clean is vaporised to ascend back up to the lungs where it is stored and excreted. The kidneys are thus the foundation on which the entire system of water movement and transformation rests.
The kidneys rule the bones (and also the teeth which are a surplus of the bones). This again is an aspect of the kidneys storing jing. Jing produces marrow which in turn creates and supports the bones. The growth and renewal of bones is thus dependent on the nourishment of kidney jing.
The kidneys rule the grasping of qi. This is a part of the process of normal breathing. The kidneys enable kong-qi to penetrate deeply into the body by grasping it, completing inhalation, as it is pushed down by the lungs. The kidney Jing is also used to produce a pure fonn of qi known as Yuan-qi which is stored in the lower dantien. Because of these two functions, the kidneys are called the root of qi.
The kidneys open into the ears. Kidney qi passes through the ears and enables them to hear the five tones. Many hearing problems are related to weak jing. The kidneys manifest in the head hair. Strong kidney jing can he seen in them moistness and vitality of head hair and weak kidney jing in its greying and receding. It should also he remembered that hair is dependant on the blood for nourishment and is known as the surplus of the blood.
Xian-Bao The Pericardium
Clinically the pericardium is the sixth yin organ, complete with its own respective meridian, but in general it is not distinguished from the heart. The
pericardium is the first line of defence against external pernicious influences attacking the heart. The heart is the body’s most vital organ and it needs the correct qi level to function properly. The pericardium dissipates excess qi along its channels to the Laogong point in the centre of the palm.
There are five centres or gates where zheng-qi (body qi) can communicate with the surrounding environment – the two laogong prints, the two yongquan points and the face. The yongquan points, on the soles of the feet, are used to regulate the qi in the kidneys in the same way that the laogong points
regulate qi in the pericardium and the heart. The face is connected and related to many organs and whenever the qi of any organ is abnormal it will show on the face.
The pericardium corresponds to ministerial fire in relation to the sovereign fire of the heart. It has no separate physiological functions from those of the
heart. It simply serves as an outer layer to protect the heart from excess energy -especially heat in the summer, which can disturb the shen and make it unclear.