I love East Asian medicine because of the rich understanding it has of the human body. Each human being is treated purely as an individual. Even if five people have acid reflux, they could all have a different underlying reason that causes the acid reflux. Each person in this example needs a different, individualized treatment for their unique pattern of acid reflux.
A large part in diagnosing a patient with East Asian medicine relates to understanding each of the acupuncture meridians and its associate official or organ system. There are twelve main meridians in East Asian medicine, each named after an organ. This organ is considered the official of the acupuncture meridian.
These twelve meridians are broken down into yin-yang pairs. Most people are somewhat familiar with yin and yang. You probably have seen the symbol. A circle with two tear drops with eyes turning into each other. The symbol itself is meant to be a wheel in motion, yin rotating into yang, yang rotating into yin. It is never stationary. The eyes symbolize that yin always has a tiny seed of yang in it and vice versa. Yin and yang when applied to the body, health, and illness is an incredibly complicated concept. The basic take away point though is that there is no yin without yang and the pairing is necessary for life.
The yang organs are easier to explain, they move, transport, and/or eliminate a substance from the body. The yang organs are the large intestine, bladder, small intestine, gallbladder, stomach, and an organ called the triple burner (many acupuncturists theorize that this relates to the actual space all our other organs reside in and/or the endocrine system). The yin organs are harder to create a snapshot. They are the more dense organs that are in charge of holding onto different aspects of our health, influencing the circulation and release of blood and life force called qi (pronounced chee). The yin organs are the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas/spleen, and the pericardium.
Each yin-yang pair of the organs not only encompasses what we know of the organs in western physiology, but exemplifies a larger concept of how the human body behaves in health and in illness or dis-ease. Each yin-yang pair is related to an element, an emotion, a cognitive pattern, a tissue structure in the body, an external orifice, a flavor in cooking, a season, a sound, a time of day, and et cetera.
When you look at the larger picture of human health, in some cases insomnia can relate to certain patterns of joint pain or painful menstruation. Extreme hunger can relate to muscle weakness and pain. Night sweats can relate to ringing in the ears, frequent urination, and low back pain. These examples are just meant to be examples. The above symptoms do not always go together, but it is exciting to look at how a tissue structure like muscles can relate to extreme hunger or lack of appetite. If you are interested in learning more about these types of relationships, please stay tuned for the next series of six blog posts where I will go more deeply into each yin-yang organ pair. For more information outside of my blog posts on the subject, then I highly recommend the book: Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold.
Energy moves through each acupuncture meridian throughout the day. There is a two hour time period where the most umph is filling that acupuncture meridian and organ. When one of the officials is struggling, we sometimes have periods of fatigue, bloating, or insomnia at exactly the same time each day. It can be helpful to share with your acupuncturist if a specific time of day seems to keep bringing the same symptoms day in and day out.
- 7am-9am is the stomach (earth, yang)
- 9am-11am is the pancreas/spleen (earth, yin)
- 11am-1pm is the heart (fire, yin)
- 1pm-3pm is its pair the small intestine (fire, yang)
- 3-5pm is the bladder meridian (water, yang)
- 5-7pm is the kidney meridian (water, yin)
- 7-9pm is the pericardium (fire, yin)
- 9-11pm is the triple warmer (fire, yang)
- 11pm-1am is the gallbladder (wood, yang)
- 1am-3am is the liver (wood, yin)
We’ll start the blog series with an overview of the metal pair. Each subsequent week, I’ll follow up with the next organ system pair following the clock cycle. I hope you enjoy the information.
The Metal Yin-Yang Pair
Lung and Large Intestine
The metal pair are partially responsible for boundaries in our lives. The type of boundaries that the metal pair create are clear, crisp, and sometimes cutting boundaries. The tissue structure that the lung and large intestine are in charge of is the skin- the organ that creates the clearest boundary demarcating our bodies from the world around us. Think of everything we create with metal from intricate jewelry to coins to culinary knives to weapons.
The emotion associated with the lungs and large intestine in health is grief,and nostalgia. Out of balance is grief, melancholia, and difficulty of letting go of negative experiences and negative self-talk. You’ll notice grief is in both categories. Grief can be both a positive, natural expression of emotion or it can become something that one gets stuck in, miring a person in grief.
The cognitive patterns of the metal organs are awe, inspiration, and the ability to let go of that which we no longer need.
This tissue structure is the skin. Many skin disorders and rashes are attributed to the larger concept of the Lung and Large Intestine organ system pair. The orifice of the lungs and large intestine is the nose. The lungs are also thought to be an integral part in the immune system response to disease (this is not solely an aspect of the metal pair, but often is involved when people get sick easily or frequently).
Various illness and disease processes of the lung and large intestine pair relate to Western pathology such as coughing, bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, issues involving bowel movements (consistency and frequency), inflammatory bowel diseases, and some patterns of irritable bowel syndrome relate to the metal pair. The exciting aspect of the approach of East Asian medicine is the incorporation of the larger concept of these organs applied to pathologies affecting either the pathway of the acupuncture meridian on the body, or the organs themselves.