The Body

How traditional chinese medicine views the body

TCM, Acupuncture
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Where Western medicine looks at a single component of the body, Chinese medicine sees the body as a whole entity, its interconnected organs and systems, and its energetic pathways in order to nourish and rebalance.


The Body


The health and functions of the body are based on harmonious relationships between the 5 Yin and 6 Yang organs— also known as "Zang-Fu organs."

Although these organs may share the same name in biomedicine, it is important to note that Chinese medicine defines them first by their functions. In this way, other elements of a system are not thought of individually, either. The adrenal glands are not separate or independent structures in TCM, but considered to be part of the Kidney organ system; of belonging to the kidneys. It is only through these relationships that the organs are defined. To reflect this difference, the organs' names are often capitalized.

Because everything in this world holds Yin and Yang, so do our organ systems. Chinese medicine recognizes five Yin organs, wu-zàng, and six Yang organs, lìu-fǔ.

Zang-Fu Organ pairs:

  • Heart — Small Intestine
  • Spleen — Stomach
  • Lungs — Large Intestine
  • Kidneys — Bladder
  • Liver — Gallbladder

The Pericardium is sometimes considered the sixth Zang Organ. The Triple Burner has no physical manifestation but rather thought of as cavities that house the organs.


Zang Organs


Yin (zàng 脏 ) organs produce, transform, regulate, and store Qi, blood, essence, fluids, and spirit.

These include the Heart, Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, Liver, and sometimes the Pericardium is considered the sixth Yin organ.

Governs: Vessels

Opens to: Tongue

Reflects in: Face

Fluid: Sweat

Pairs With: Small Intestine

Element: Fire

Spirit: Shen (神)

The Heart governs the flow of Blood and Vessels, houses the Mind/Shen, regulates the cardiovascular system, and maintains the nervous system's functions.

Governs: Transformation & Transportation

Fluid: Blood

Opens to: Mouth

Reflects in: Lips

Pairs With: Stomach

Element: Earth

Emotion: Pensiveness

Spirit: Yi (意)

The Spleen has an arguably much bigger role in Chinese Medicine than in Western medicine. It is in charge of the transformation and transportation of food Essences (nutrients), Qi, and Body Fluids to other Zang Organs.

Governs: Qi

Opens to: Nose

Relfects in: Skin and hair

Fluid: Water metabolism

Pairs with: Large Intestine

Element: Metal

Emotion: Grief

Spirit: Po (魄)

The Lungs regulate fluid metabolism, blood circulation, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune system.

They take 'Clean Air' that we breathe in and combine it with the Food Qi (Gu Qi 谷气) to form Gathering Qi (Zong Qi 宗气). Then they distribute this Qi throughout the body to moisten and nourish skin and hair. *link to page that talks in depth about different types of Qi

Governs: Bones

Opens to: Ears and genitalia

Reflects in: Hair

Fluid: Essence (Jing 精)

Pairs with: Bladder

Element: Water

Emotion: Fear / Anxiety

Spirit: Zhi (志)

The Kidneys store and release Essence - also known as Jing (精) which governs birth, growth, development, and reproduction.

They regulate water metabolism, the urinary, reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems.

Governs: Blood

Opens to: Eyes

Reflects in: Nails

Fluid: Blood

Pairs with: Gallbladder

Element: Wood

Emotion: Anger

Spirit: Hun (魂)

The Liver is considered the "General" because it is responsible for the body’s functions by ensuring the smooth flow and proper direction of Qi.

It also stores the Blood and regulates the amount of Blood circulated by the Heart.

Governs: Vessels

Opens to: Tongue

Reflects in: Face

Fluid: Sweat

Element: Fire

Spirit: Shen (神)

The Pericardium is a tissue membrane that surrounds the Heart.

It protects and maintains the Heart, and houses the Mind (Shen 神)


Fu Organs


Yang ( ) organs are mainly responsible for digesting food and transmitting nutrients to nourish the body, blood, Qi, fluids, and spirit, and get rid of the rest as waste. 

These include the Small Intestine, Stomach, Large Intestine, Bladder, Gallbladder, and Triple Burner (not a physical organ).

Governs: Receiving and Transforming

Pairs with: Heart

Element: Fire

The Small Intestine receives leftovers from the Stomach and further digests and separates the pure from the impure substances.

The pure part is sent up to the Spleen and the impure part is sent down to the Large Intestine.

Healthy Small Intestine functions are essential for normal urination and defecation.

Governs: Receiving & Ripening

Pairs with: Spleen

Element: Earth

The Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids.

Pure substances get sent up to the Spleen for transformation of nutrients for the body.

Impure substances get sent down to the Small Intestine for further sorting and digesting.

Governs: Passing and Moving Downward

Pairs with: Lung

Element: Water

The Large Intestine receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine and continues to process the substances. It then forms stools and send them to the anus.

Large Intestine disharmony presents with symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.

Governs: Storing and Excreting

Pairs with: Kidney

Element: Water

The Bladder is responsible for storing and excreting urine.

Water that is not used by the body is collected by the Kidneys and is sent to the Bladder for excretion as urine.

Disharmony in the Bladder can lead to urinary problems and can indicate a problem with the Kidneys.

Governs: Stores and Secretes

Pairs with: Liver

Element: Wood

The Gallbladder stores and secretes bile produced by the Liver and send it to the Small Intestine to help digest foods.

Disharmony of Gallbladder function can result in jaundice where one develops yellow eyes and skin as a result of bile buildup in the body.

Governs: Transportation and Penetration of Qi

The Triple Burner is a special concept to Chinese medicine. It relates to Qi activities and movement of water.

The upper burner is the cavity above the diaphragm and includes the heart, lungs, and pericardium.

The middle burner is between the diaphragm and belly button, and includes the spleen, stomach, and gallbladder.

The lower burner is located below the belly button, and includes the liver, kidneys, large intestine, small intestine and bladder.

Disharmony in Triple Burner can lead to edema (water retention in the tissues) or difficult urination.

The Body


There are also six miscellaneous organs otherwise known as Curious Organs (奇恒之腑 Qí Héng Zhī Fu), which include the Brain, Marrow, Bone, Blood Vessels, Uterus, and Gallbladder.

The Gallbladder is both a Yang (fu) and Curious organ because it is involved in breaking down food (input) but it contains a pure substance that's neither Yin or Yang— bile.

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Our organs all work together in unison with each other, united by the pathway of the meridians. It’s in the balance of all these systems that health is measured. Without understanding the entire picture, this harmony we seek in TCM cannot be perceived. Organs depend not only on our meridians, but also on each other for dynamic functionality and integration.