TCM doesn’t spend much time looking inside the body, in fact it’s concerned with balancing energies. This is where the “Yin and the Yang” come into play which is often illustrated with “hot” and “cold” in TCM.
TCM looks at functional entities within the concept of the patient which are all theoretically connected. This first such entity is Qi, and this is defined by five functions.
- Actuation (tuidong) – all the physical processes of the body.
- Warming (wenxu) – the body itself and in particular the limbs.
- Defense (fangyu) – Against “Excogenous Pathogenic Factors”
- Containment (Gushe) – of bodily fluids, so stopping leaking or excess emission of blood, semen, etc.
- Transformation – of food, drink and breath into qi, xue (blood) and jinye (fluids)
A lack of qi is supposed to be shown by pale complexions, a lack of spirit, weakness, sweating, not being bothered to speak, failure to digest food and shortness of breath after exercising, not forgetting my personal favourite “a pale and enlarged tongue”!
Qi is also broken down into ying-qi (qi of the blood) and and wei-qi (qi of the skin, muscles and tissues).
Qi is supposed to be created from food, drink and breathing but you also get born with some qi donated by your parents which you will use up over the course of your life.
The second entity is Xue (Blood)
Blood unlike qi is clearly physical, but in TCM other than nourishing parts and tissues of the body, it is supposed to safeguard moisture and let you have a good night’s sleep too.
If you’re lacking in Xue, you’ll be pale (again), dizzy, suffer from “flowery vision”, palpitations, have trouble sleeping, a “fine” pulse, numb extremities and there’s that tongue again which this time will just be “pale”.
The third and final entity is Jinye (Bodily fluids)
All Jinye and Xue are considered to be “yin” in nature, and semen is often considered to be of particular interest when considering Jinye.
If you’re confused by now, don’t worry you’re not the only one. One of the things that is most striking about TCM is how little sense it makes in a modern medical context, happily some practitioners are now pretending that there is a scientific basis to it all by adding bits to TCM that look like they have something to do with medical knowledge. In reality, you need to be careful with this – in most cases convenient medical facts that match up with the theory are taken on board, and the inconvenient ones that contradict are just ignored.
Tomorrow we’ll continue this series, with a look at bodily functions in TCM and “meridians”.