Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine

Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine
400 B.C.

The Essential Text of Chinese Health and Healing is written in the form of a dialog between the
Huang Di the Yellow Emperor and his acupuncturist, Qi Bo.

Author Quotes

However, decision-making is the King?s job. If the spirit is clear, all the functions of the other organs will be normal. It is in this way that one?s life is preserved and perpetuated, just as a country becomes prosperous when all its people are fulfilling their duties. If the spirit is disturbed and unclear, the other organs will not function properly. This creates damage. The pathways and roads along which the qi flows will become blocked and health will suffer. The citizens of the Kingdom will also suffer. These are the relationships of a Kingdom. Qi Bo continued, The principles of healing and medicine in general are difficult to grasp because many changes occur in illness, and the healing process must adapt to that. It becomes difficult to know the root. The origin of illness can be so small and vague, in fact, so elusive, but the illness can still become substantial over time.

Previously, people led a calm and honest existence, detached from undue desire and ambition; they lived with an untainted conscience and without fear. They were active, but never depleted themselves. Because they lived simply, they knew contentment, as reflected in their diet of basic but nourishing foods, and clothing that was appropriate to the season but never luxurious. Since they were happy in their position in life, they did not feel jealousy or greed. They had compassion for others and were helpful and honest, free from destructive habits. They remained unshakable and unswayed by temptations, and they were able to stay centered even when adversity arose. They treated others justly, regardless of their level of intelligence or position.

Yin and yang are not absolute, but their principle never changes. The law that governs does not falter, although everything around it changes according to the point of reference. For example, before the birth of all things and creatures above the ground, the living potential resided in the place of yin. Once it was born and appeared above ground, this phenomenon was called yang within yin. It was after birth or post-heaven that the yang qi enabled everything to grow. Yin provides form. Yang enables growth. Warmth of the Spring gives rise to birth, the Fire of Summer fuels rapid growth and development, the coolness of Fall matures all and provides harvest, and the coldness of Winter forces inactivity and storing. This is the rhythmic change of nature. If the four seasons become disrupted, the weather becomes unpredictable and the energies of the universe will lose their normalcy. This principles also applies to the body. Huang Di then said, I wish to year you expound on the separation and the union of the three yang. Qi Bo replied, The sage stands facing south. In front of him is guang ming or broad expanse, in back of him is tai chong or great fall. Traveling in this lower region of tai chong is a channel called shaoyin or minor yin. Above this is the taiyang or major yang/bladder channel. The lower part of the taiyang/bladder channel begins at the outside of the small toe at the point zhiyin (B67). The upper part connects with jingming (B1) in the face near the eyes. The taiyang/bladder channel is coupled with the shaoyin/kidney channel. The taiyang/bladder is lateral is exposed to the sun and is considered external. The shaoyin is medial and is in the shade and is considered internal. We call this yang within yin.

Huang Di asked Qi Bo, ?Can you please tell me the functions and the relationships of the twelve zang fu organs and their meridians?? Qi Bo replied, ?Your question is very precise and I will try to answer you as precisely as you asked. The Heart is the sovereign of all organs and represents the consciousness of one?s being. It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom, and spiritual transformation. The Lung is the advisor. It helps the Heart in regulating the body?s qi. The Liver is like the general, courageous and smart. The Gallbladder is like a judge for its power of discernment. The Heart Protector is like the court jester who makes the king laugh, bringing forth joy. The Stomach and Spleen are like warehouses where one stores all the food and essences. They digest, absorb, and extract the food and nutrients. The Large Intestine is responsible for transportation of all thickened substances. All waste products go through this organ. The Small Intestine receives the food that has been digested by the Spleen and Stomach and further extracts, absorbs, and distributes it throughout the body, all the while separating the clear and pure from the thick and impure. The Kidneys store the vitality and mobilize the four extremities. They also aid the memory, willpower, and coordination. The Sanjiao promotes the transformation and transportation of water and fluids throughout the body. The Bladder is where the water converges and where, after having been activated by the qi, it is eliminated. So these twelve zang and fu organs must work together harmoniously, just like a kingdom.

Qi Bo added, ?An effective doctor is able to observe the changes and transformations of the five zang and the six fu organs. He knows the corresponding external factors and transformational energies, the yin and yang, the six atmospheric influences of heat, cold, wind, damp, dryness, and summer heat. The accomplished doctor is able to follow illnesses both on the surface and internally, and the direction and progression of a disease. All these correspondences will aid the doctor in effectively diagnosing and dispensing treatment to the patient. This is the Tao, the Way of Life.

Huang Di asked, ?I?ve heard of people in ancient times, spoken of as the immortals, who knew the secrets of the universe and held the world in the palm of their hands. They extracted essence from nature and practiced Qi Gong and various stretching and breathing exercises, and visualizations, to integrate body, mind and spirit. They remained undisturbed and thus attained extraordinary levels of accomplishment. Can you tell me about them?? Qi Bo responded, ?The immortals kept their mental energies focused and refined, and harmonized their bodies with the environment. So they did not show typical signs of aging and were able to live beyond their biological limitations. ?Not so long ago there were people known as achieved beings who had true virtue, understood the Way of Life, and were able to adapt to and harmonize with the universe and the seasons. They too were able to keep their mental energy through proper concentration. ?These achieved beings did not live like ordinary humans, who tended to be hard on themselves. They were able to travel freely to different times and places since they were not governed by conventional views of time and space. Their sense of perceptions were supernormal, going far beyond the sight and hearing of ordinary humans. They were also able to preserve their life spans and live in full health, just as the immortals did.

The accomplished ones, of ancient times, advised people how to guard themselves against disease-causing factors. On the mental level, one should remain calm and avoid excessive desires and fantasies, recognizing and maintaining the natural purity and clarity of the mind. When internal energies are able to circulate smoothly and freely, and the energy of the mind is not scattered, but is focused and concentrated, illness and disease can be avoided.

Huang Di asked, ?What about the separation and the union of the three yin?? Qi Bo replied, ?The outside is yang and the inside is yin; that has been established. What is inside consists of the three yin. The taiyin/spleen is medial and is in the shade. This channel begins on the side of the big toe at the point yinbai (SP1). It is called yin within yin. Behind the taiyin there is the shaoyin/kidney channel, which begins at the bottom of the foot at yongchuan (K1) point. It is considered the shaoyin within yin.

The earthly qi evaporates to form the clouds, and when the clouds meet with the heavenly qi, rain is produced. Similarly, in the human body, pure yang qi reaches the sensory orifices, allowing one to see, hear, smell, taste, fell, and decipher all information so that the shen/spirit can remain clear and centered. Huang Di continued, In nature, we have the four seasons and the five energetic transformations of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Their changes and transformations produce cold, summer heat, dampness, dryness and wind. The weather, in turn, affects every living creature in the natural world and forms the foundation for birth, growth, maturation and death.

Huang Di asking, ?I?ve heard that in the days of old everyone lived one hundred years without showing the usual signs of aging. In our time, however, people age prematurely, living only fifty years. Is this due to a change in the environment, or is it because people have lost the correct way of life?? Qi Bo replied, ?In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance as represented by the transformations of the energies of the universe. They formulated exercises to promote energy flow to harmonize themselves with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided overstressing their bodies and minds, and refrained from overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind; thus, it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.?

The hot weather, the Fire on the planet, the blood vessels, the color red, laughter, and joy are all related to the Heart. The Heart, or Fire element, manifests emotionally as joy, but too much joy can cause a depletion of the Heart qi. This can be counterbalanced by fear (the emotion of the Water element.) Pathogenic qi can invade the Heart via the Heart Protector, injuring Heart qi. Cold and cooling herbs can be useful to counteract this condition. Consuming overly bitter foods can have a harmful effect on the Heart qi, but salty foods (the taste of the Water element) can be used to balance the excess bitter.

Huang Di said, ?From ancient times it has been recognized that there is an intimate relationship between the activity of humans and their natural environment. The root of all life is yin and yang; this includes everything in the universe, with heaven above and earth below, within the four directions and the nine continents. in the human body there are the nine openings - ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, anus, and urethra; the five ?zang? organs - kidneys, liver, heart, spleen and lungs; the twelve joints - elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, shoulders and hips - which are all connected with the qi of the universe. The universal yin and yang transform into the five earthly transformative energies, also knows as the five elemental phases - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. ?These five elemental phases also correspond to the three yin and the three yang o the universe. These are the six atmospheric influences that govern the weather patterns that reflect in changes in our planet?s ecology. If people violate or disrupt this natural order, then pathogenic forces will have an opportunity to cause damage to the body.

The key to mastering health is to regulate the yin and the yang of the body. If the yin and yang balance is disrupted, it is like going through a year with Spring but no Winter, or Winter but no Summer. When the yang is excessive and cannot contain itself, the yin will become consumed. Only when yin remains calm and harmonious will the yang qi be contained and not be overly expansive. The spirit will be normal and the mind clear. If the yin and yang separate, the jing/essence and the shen/spirit will also leave each other.

Huang Di said, ?I understand that heaven and the Sun are considered yang, and earth and the moon are considered yin. Because of the natural movement of heaven and earth and the sun and moon, we experience a change of long months and short months and go through 365 days, which form one year on the calendar. The energy flow within the human body through the channels corresponds to this. Can you elaborate further?? Qi Bo answered, ?The reaches of heaven and earth and yin and yang are vast, and ultimately everything in the universe can be classified into the polarity of yin and yang.

The sage knows that the jing/essence is the most precious substance in the body. Like the root of a tree, it should be protected and hidden from ?thieves? during Spring. If one does not sweat and cool off during the hot Summer, illnesses will develop in the ensuing Fall. It is therefore essential to protect the jing/essence by observing and adapting to the seasonal rhythms. It is said that there is yin within yang, and yang within yin. The day is considered yang, while the night is yin. This is further differentiated as follows: sunrise to noon is yang within yang. Noon to sunset is yin within yang. Twilight to midnight is yin within yin, midnight to sunrise is yang within yin. This kind of classification can also be applied to the human body. The outside of the body is considered yang, while the inside is yin. The back is yang and the front is yin. The upper half of the body is yang while the lower half is yin. In terms of the zang fu organs, the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys are the zang organs since they are yin in nature and their function is transformation and storage. The Gallbladder, Stomach, Large Intestine, Small Intestine, Bladder, and Sanjiao (the Triple Heater, or three body cavities responsible for fluid metabolism) are the six fu or hollow organs, and they are considered yang. Their function is reception and passage. The concept of yin within yin and yang within yang can be understood when and where disease occurs. For instance, an illness of Winter occurs in the yin part of the body, a Summer illness in the yang part; a Spring disease in the yin part and a Fall disease in the yang part. One will then treat with acupuncture points according to the location of the disease.

Huang Di said, ?In nature there are eight types of wind, and within the body?s channels and meridians there are five types of wind. What do they mean?? Qi Bo answered, ?The eight types of wind that occur in nature are abnormal and pathogenic winds, which cause disease. These can affect the body?s channels and meridians, producing five types of internal wind that damage their corresponding organs. These internal winds are Liver, Heart, Lung, Kidney, and Spleen wind. They are caused by abnormal changes in the four seasons. For example, consider the ?grandparental? relationships between the five elements in a circle, forming a ?star? pattern. Wood controls Earth, so Spring overacts on Late Summer. Earth controls Water, so Late Summer overacts on Winter. Water controls Fire, so Winter overacts on Summer. Fire controls Metal so Summer overacts on Fall. And Metal controls Wood, so Fall overacts on Spring. This represents the ?control cycle? of the five element interactions in nature. ?The corresponding organs and seasons for these elements are: Wood - Liver - Spring, Fire - Heart - Summer, Earth - Spleen - Late Summer, Metal - Lungs - Fall and Water - Kidneys - Winter. During the Spring, the weather and environmental conditions can affect the Liver, while in the Summer, the Heart can be affected, and so forth.

The source and preservation of yin come from the five flavors of food in the diet, but improper use of the five flavors may also injure the five zang organs. Too much sour taste may cause overactivity of the Liver and underactivity of the Spleen. Too much salty taste can weaken the bones and muscles, and stagnate the Heart qi. Too much sweet taste can disturb the Heart qi, causing it to become restless and congested, as well as cause imbalance in the Kidney energy. Too much bitter taste disrupts the Spleen?s ability to transform and transport food, and causes the Stomach to digest poorly, and swell. Therefore, one should be mindful of what one consumes to insure proper growth, reproduction, and development of bones, tendons, ligaments, and meridians of acupuncture. This will help generate the smooth flow of qi and blood, enabling one to live to a ripe age.

Huang Di said, ?The law of yin and yang is the natural order of the universe, the foundation of all things, mother of all changes, the root of life and death. in healing, one must grasp the root of the disharmony, which is always subject to the law of yin and yang. ?In the universe, the pure yang qi ascends to converge and form heaven, while the thicker yin qi descends and condenses to form earth. Yin is passive and quiet, while the nature of yang is active and noisy. Yang is responsible for expanding and yin is responsible for contracting, containing, and consolidating. Yang is the energy, the vital force, the potential, while yin is the substance, the foundation, the mother that gives rise to all this potential.

The Tao is precious and is not to be passed on unless a student is sincere and compassionate toward human suffering. Only in this way can the great tradition remain pure and virtuous.

A fourth type were the natural people who followed the Tao, the Way of Life, and were called naturalists. They lived in accordance with the rhythmic patterns of the seasons: Heaven and Earth, moon, sun and stars. They aspired to follow the way of the ancient times, choosing not to lead excessive lifestyles. They, too, lived plainly and enjoyed long life.

Huang Di said, ?The months of the Spring season bring about the revitalization of all things in nature. It is the time of birth. This is when Heaven and Earth are reborn. During this season it is advisable to retire early and arise early. Also, go walking in order to absorb the fresh, invigorating energy. Since this is the season in which the universal energy begins anew and rejuvenates, one should attempt to correspond to it directly by being open and unsupressed, both physically and emotionally. ?On the physical level is good to exercise more frequently and wear loose-fitting clothing. This is the time to do stretching exercises to loosen up the tendons and muscles. Emotionally, it is good to develop equanimity. This is because Spring is the season of the Liver, and indulgence in anger, frustration, depression, sadness, or excess emotion can injure the Liver. Furthermore, violating the natural order of Spring will cause cold disease, illness inflicted by atmospheric cold, during summer. ?In the months of Summer there is an abundance of sunshine and rain. The Heavenly energy descends, and the Earthly energy rises. When these energies merge there is an intimate connection between Heaven and Earth. As a result, plants mature and animals, flowers and fruit appear abundantly. ?One may retire somewhat later at this time of year, while still arising early. One should refrain from anger and stay physically active, to keep the skin breathing and to prevent the qi from stagnating. One can indulge a bit more than in other seasons, but should not overindulge. Emotionally, it is important to be happy and easygoing and not hold grudges, so that the energy can flow freely and communicate between the external and internal. In this way, illness may be averted in the Fall. The Summer season of Fire and Heart also encompasses late Summer, which corresponds to the Earth element. Problems in the Summer will cause injury to the heart and will manifest in the Fall.

The yang qi moves like the Sun. As the Sun begins to rise at dawn, the yang qi begins to move to the outer body, and the pores open. The peak of the yang qi is at noon, and when the yang qi is most active it is advisable to relax and stay quiet so the yang qi does not escape. As the Sun sets, the yang qi moves inward and the pores begin to close. At this time it is harmful to engage in strenuous physical activity or expose oneself to cold, damp, mist or fog. If one violates the natural order of the yang qi as it rises, peaks and sets, the body will gradually be weakened by pathogenic factors and be subject to disease and degeneration. Qi Bo added to the discussion: Yin is the essence of the organs and the fountain of the qi. Yang protects the body against pathogens and makes the muscles work. When the yin fails to contain the yang, the flow in the channels will become rapid, causing the yang qi to become excessive and reckless. If the yang qi is deficient and unable to counterbalance the yin, communication between the internal organs will be disrupted, and the nine openings will not function. The sages, who understood the principles of yin and yang, were able to let their bodies perform all functions harmoniously. When yin and yang are balanced, the five zang organs function appropriately together; all energy flows smoothly, the muscles and bones are abundant and strong, qi and blood follow the right path, internal and external correspond correctly, vision is clear and hearing is acute. Thus the zhen qi, or true qi, becomes unshakable, and pathogens cannot invade.

Anger can injure the Liver, but sadness (the emotion of Fire) can relieve anger. In Summer, the weather is generally hot, and when there is extreme heat it produces Fire, which can burn and char things, producing the bitter taste. Bitter-tasting substances can clear the Heart. the Heart governs the blood, the Fire of the Heart produces the Earth, the Heart opens to the tongue, and therefore subtle changes in the Heart can be reflected in the tongue.

If Spring overacts on Late Summer, the weather is abnormal, with spring weather then occurring in Late Summer. The body?s reaction to this is excessive Liver - Wood energy that overacts on the Spleen - Earth. When the Late Summer overacts on Winter to create the weather of Late Summer in Winter, the Spleen - Earth energy will overact on the Kidneys - Water. If Winter overacts on Summer, there will be cold spells of Winter during Summer. The Kidneys - Water will then become excessive and put out the Heart - Fire.

The yang qi of the body is like the Sun. If the Sun loses its brilliance, all things on Earth become inactive. The Sun is the ultimate yang. This heavenly energy of the Sun surrounds the Earth. And in the body, this means that the yang qi circulates around the center or core and has the function of protecting the body. Huang Di continued, Living in a cold climate, one must take care with one?s activities. Just as people indoors are protected from the weather, the yang qi acts as the walls in a house to protect the body. It is important to be aware, and not allow any openings; pathogenic energy cannot invade if the castle doors are closed.

Author Picture
First Name
Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine
Birth Date
400 B.C.

The Essential Text of Chinese Health and Healing is written in the form of a dialog between the
Huang Di the Yellow Emperor and his acupuncturist, Qi Bo.