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Main Concepts

Traditional Chinese medicine is based on a certain number of concepts, which explain both the world around us and the human body’s functioning, the two being intimately related.


The concept of Qi is fundamental to Chinese medicinal thinking, though quite difficult to translate precisely for a Western mind. Qi shapes the vital force that activates all of the human body’s functions and processes. Qi manifests itself through five main functions: vitality, movement, protection, transformation and heat. On a cosmic scale, Qi is the main active principle of all movement and life. There is a Chinese proverb that says that a body can survive several weeks without food and several days without water but not a single second without Qi.

Chinese medicine distinguishes between several types of Qi, with some being in the body and some in the environment (Air and Earth Qi). In the human body, an important distinction is made between prenatal Qi (Yuan Qi) and postnatal Qi (Zong Qi). Prenatal Qi represents the baggage acquired from parents before birth, a bit like genetics, and shapes an individual’s constitution, history and heritage. On the other hand, postnatal Qi comes from Essence of Food and Grain Qi (Gu Qi) and from Air Qi (Kong Qi).

Since traditional Chinese medicine is a function-based medicine, based on the interrelationships between the organs and the physiological systems, Qi can be indirectly observed through its actions. In the human body it manifests itself through five main functions: vitality, movement, protection, transformation and heat.


The human body has more than 800 acupuncture points; most of which align with the meridians. The meridians can be seen as energetic pathways and most are connected to one of the human body’s twelve main organs, either the six Yin organs (liver, lungs, kidneys, spleen, and pericardium) or the six Yang organs (bladder, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, and triple burner). There are also eight other important meridians, called the extraordinary meridians, whose main function is to store and regulate the circulation of Qi.

When the flow of Qi is blocked by trauma, stress or an internal disorder, there is an imbalance. The areas located upstream from the blockage experience congestion while the areas located downstream become deficient. Acupuncture, Tuina massage and Qi Gong practice can act on the flow of Qi and influence the affected meridian as well as the related organ and systems.


The theory of Yin and Yang are part of the Taoist worldview. According to this philosophy, when the universe went from an empty state (Wuji) to a state of movement and expansion (Taiji), it came to life thanks to the complementary principles of Yin and Yang. Characteristically, Yang is the main active principle, which creates and generates. White, movement, the masculine, etc. represent it. Yin, on the other hand, nourishes and maintains. Black, stability, the feminine, etc. represent it. Despite their apparent opposition, the Yin and Yang principles are complementary and relative, a thing being neither yin nor yang except in relation to another.


Chinese cosmology classifies the five fundamental elements of nature as being wood, fire, earth, metal, water, which can interact in beneficial or conflicting ways. Related to different organs in the human body, these elements characterize their functions and interrelationships. When a dysfunction manifests itself, the interactions between the elements and their related organs are used to re-establish the system’s balance. For example, a person experiencing heart problems (the heart being associated with fire) might benefit from a tonification of the kidneys (associated with water).

The following chart provides details on the elements and how they correspond to the human body:

Organ Liver Heart Spleen / Pancreas Lung Kidneys

Movement Wood Fire Earth Metal Water

Direction East South Centre West North

Season Spring Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter

Climate Wind Heat Humidity Dryness Cold

Taste Sour Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty

Entrails Gallbladder Small intestine Stomach Large

Tissue Muscles Vessels Flesh Skin and hair Bones

Senses Sight Touch Taste Smell Hearing

Sense organ Eyes Tongue
Mouth Nose Ears

Secretion Tears Swear Saliva Mucus Spittle

Hun, ethereal soul Shen, consciousness Yi, ideation Po, animal soul Zhi,
will power

Emotion Anger Joy Worry Sadness Fear

Source: Passeport Santé

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