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

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.

Anterior to shaoyin we have jueyin or extreme yin. The jueyin/liver channel begins on the other side of the big toe at the point dadun (LV1). Surrounded and preceded by two yin channels, the jueyin is the most yin of the yin channels. Thus it is called jueyin of the yin, the extreme yin. In summary, we can say that the taiyin is the most superficial of the three yin channels, and its nature is expansive. The jueyin is the deepest inside the yin. Its nature is that of storing and thus is considered the house. The shaoyin is in between, and acts to connect and is consdered the hinge or door. The three yin must also work in unison. Collectively, too, these are considered one yin. So you have one yin and one yang. The qi of the yin and of the yang move unobstructed throughout the entire body. This is because of the interplay of yin and yang and the relationship of the exterior and interior.

If the pathogenic cold penetrates deeper to the blood level, bruising will be seen. When cold invades through the points of the acupuncture meridians and continues to move through the circulation into the organs, it will show up as fear, fright or startling nightmares. Pathogenic wind is the root of all evil. However, if one is centered and the emotions are clear and calm, energy is abundant and resistance is strong; even when confronted with the force of the most powerful, vicious wind, one will not be invaded. When it remains in the body for a long time, pathogenic wind will transform, internalize and stagnate to the point where the flow of qi is impaired, from top to bottom, side to side, or between yin and yang. Even the most accomplished doctor finds it difficult to remedy this situation.

There was a third type of a person, known as the sage. The sages lived peacefully under Heaven and Earth, following the rhythms of the planet and the universe. They adapted to society without being swayed by fashions and trends. They were free from emotional extremes and lived a balanced, contented existence. Their outward appearance, behavior and thinking did not reflect the conflicting norms of society. the sages appeared busy but were never depleted. Internally they did not overburden themselves. they abided in calmness, recognizing the empty nature of existence. The sages lived over one hundred years because they did not scatter or disperse their energies.

As Qi Bo spoke of the subtlety and difficulty of medicine and healing, Huang Di exclaimed, ?Aha! I finally understand the intricacies and the essence of healing. I cannot receive this treasure carelessly. I must pick the best day and time to receive and store this knowledge. I must put this in my secret chamber and pass it down for future generations.?

In the human body there are the zang organs of the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung and Kidneys. The qi of the five zang organs forms the five spirits and gives rise to the five emotions. The spirit of the Heart is knows as the shen, which rules mental and creative functions. The spirit of the Liver, the hun, rules the nervous system and gives rise to extrasensory perception. The spirit of the Lungs, or po, rules the animalistic instincts, physical strength, and stamina. The spirit of the Kidneys, the zhi, rules the will, drive, ambition, and survival instinct.

These days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing - the body?s essence that is stored in the Kidneys - and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die soon after.

During Spring the subtlety and vastness of the universe, the intelligence and intuition of the human being, the ability of earth to produce unmeasureable diversity, the natural movement of the wind, and the upward motion of all plants, collectively produce he movement of the tendons, the color green, the shouting of the voice, the cramps and spasms, the eyes, the sour taste, and the angry emotions. These are all associated with the Liver, since the Liver is responsible for maintaining the orderly routine flow of energy, and its nature is movement and expansion.

In the months of Fall all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The Heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the active phase (yang) turns into its opposite, the passive phase (yin). One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in Fall turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from excess sadness so that one can make the transition to Winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one?s sprit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. One must keep the Lung energy full, clean, and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance Lung qi. Also, one should refrain from grief, the emotion of the Lung. This will prevent Kidney or digestive problems in the Winter. If this natural order is violated, damage will occur to the Lungs, resulting in diarrhea with undigested food in Winter. This compromises the body?s ability to store in Winter.

To further categorize, the chest area is considered yang, while the abdomen is yin. The Heart and Lungs are therefore yang types of zang organs. The Heart is yang within yang, while the Lungs are yin within yang. Below the diaphragm in the abdomen we have the yin zang organs: Liver, Spleen and Kidneys. The Kidneys are yin within yin. The Liver is yang within yin, and the Spleen is utmost yin within yin. This classification helps one to understand the relative relationships between the organs and the body as a whole in terms of location, function, and nature of each organ. Huang Di inquired, The five zang organs correspond to the seasons. Do they each have other correspondences, and how do these effect the energy flow? Qi Bo replied, In the east we have the green color, an energy that corresponds to the Liver. The Liver energy opens to the eyes. Illness may manifest as a startling, fright, or shock. The natural elements related to this are grass and trees, the flavor is sour, the animal is the chicken, the grain is wheat, the planet is Jupiter, the number is 5, the smell is rancid, the season is Spring, the energy is ascending, and the area affected is the head. The Liver controls the tendons.

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.