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Yang is the general category for activity and aggressiveness. It is like fire with its heating and circulating characteristics. Associated with things higher up or more heavenly, yang is the energy that directs movement and supports its substance.

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Symptoms such as redness in the face, fever, high blood pressure, and acute conditions are associated with yang. People with excess yang tend to be nervous and agitated and cannot tolerate much heat.

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It must be understood that yin and yang cannot exist independently of each other. Nothing is either all yin or all yang. It is the interaction of yin and yang that creates the changes that keep the world in motion; summer leads to winter, night becomes day. Yin and yang are used in both the diagnosis and treatment of illness. For example, if a person is experiencing too much stress, usually understood as an excess of yang, more yin activities, such as meditation and relaxation, are the appropriate treatment.

As they studied the world around them, the Chinese perceived connections between major forces in nature and particular internal organ systems.

Seeing similarities between natural elements and the body, early practitioners developed a concept of health care that encompassed both natural elements and body organs. This theory is known as the Five Phases Theory wu-hsing. These elements do not represent static objects, since even mountains and rivers change constantly with time.

In the Five Phases Theory, it is not the substances themselves that are important, but rather how they work together to make up the essential life force or chi. The rhythm of events resembles a circle known as the Creation Cycle. In this cycle, wood burns to feed fire; fire's ashes produce earth; earth gives up its ore to create metal; metal causes condensation to bring forth water; and water nourishes and creates plants and trees, creating wood. The yin organ is solid and dense, like the liver, while its yang partner is hollow or forms a pocket, like the gallbladder.

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It is the proper interaction of the organ partners that influences how well the entire body functions. The elements and their related systems and organs are shown in Table 3.


Just as the internal world of systems and organs is linked to the Five Phases, so too is the external world, specifically, the seasons and points of the compass. The Chinese compass differs from the Western compass in one other way: Chinese culture places so much importance on the direction south that it, rather than north, is placed at the top of maps and compass roses. Just as south rules the top of the compass, it also represents summer, the "high noon" of the year and is linked to fire.


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West, the direction of the setting sun, is associated with autumn and metal, which is used to make tools for harvesting. North is linked to winter and water, the opposite of the element of fire and is seen as a period of dormancy. East, the direction of the rising sun, is associated with spring and with wood, which represents all growing things. The fifth and central element, earth, is related to the late summer season and a time of maturity. These relationships are shown in Figure 3. If one component is overbearing and excessive, the system is thrown out of balance, and another component becomes weak and debilitated.

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  8. It is a complex system of checks and balances that is often not easily grasped by those with a Western perspective. Diagnosis and treatment of illness depends on understanding the five elements, seasons, and directions and how they interact.

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    The Chinese believe that a combination of life force elements make up the substance and functions of the body, mind, and spirit, which are fundamentally all one and the same. One way to understand this connection is to think of water with its wet, fluid nature. Compare that to ice, which not only appears different but feels hard and cold, and steam with its hot, gaseous nature. Despite the differences in appearance, the molecules are the same, they are simply in three different states.

    In the same way, body, mind, and spirit can be seen as different expressions of the same individual. The Taoists call body, mind, and spirit the three "vital treasures. The balance of their abundance or deficiency influences the state of health. Jing is the essence with which people are born, similar to Western concepts of genes, DNA, and heredity.

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    Essence is the gift of one's parents; it is the basic material in each cell that allows that cell to function. It is the bodily reserves that support life and must be restored by food and rest. Chi, as described previously, is the sustaining energy of all life. The vital treasure known as shen is the gift of heaven and represents spiritual and mental aspects of life.

    Shen comprises one's emotional well-being, thoughts, and beliefs. It is the radiance, or inner glow, that can be perceived by others. In order for people to be healthy, their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects must be balanced. See All Related Store Items. The Absolute Minimum. Find out all about TCM in this sample chapter.

    If you are interested in general information about herbal medicine, styles of treatment and reasons for seeing an herbalist, the following information may be helpful. Why should I see an Herbalist? What styles of Herbal Medicine are practiced? What conditions can Herbal Medicine treat? What will my first Herbal treatment be like?

    Where can I find an Herbalist? Herbal Medicine has been used for centuries by people all over the world to treat disease and promote health. Both the west and the east have spent considerable time, research and energy developing the theories and applications within the field of herbal medicine. Herbs are generally easy to administer and cost-effective and when properly prescribed and used, have the advantage of being relatively free of side effects when compared to western pharmaceutical medicines.

    Western Herbal Medicine: Herbal Medicine is a general term for the use of plant material, minerals and possibly even animal substances administered individually or in combinations to improve ones health and heal disease. The practice of western herbal medicine is distinguished primarily by the use of herbs commonly found in the west. John's Wort, Black Cohosh, Chamomile and Feverfew are some examples of herbs commonly used in western herbal medicine. In general, western herbal practitioners treat your condition as it is defined by western medicine, using St. John's Wort to treat depression, for example.

    This is in contrast to many other systems of herbal medicine which diagnose and treat a particular condition according to the theories unique to that medicine. The herbs administered within Western herbal medicine may be raw and cooked into a tea, taken in pill form, extracted into a tincture, or applied externally.


    Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine: Chinese Herbal medicine is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine which also includes the practice of acupuncture and Tuina massage. Herbal medicine has been used in China for centuries and is backed by a long and rich history of development, use and research. Chinese herbal medicine is unique in that the diagnosis and treatments are based on the theories of traditional Chinese medicine. Besides discussing your health issues with you, a practitioner of herbal medicine uses other signs and symptoms such as those found in your tongue and pulse to form a TCM diagnosis.

    The common cold, for example, may be diagnosed as "wind-cold invasion" and herbs which dispel wind and warm cold may be prescribed. Herbs administered within Chinese herbal medicine are usually raw and cooked into a tea, in a powder form and taken with hot water or in a pill form. Kampo Herbal Medicine: Kampo herbal medicine is a system of using herbs based on the theories behind Traditional Chinese Medicine as they have been developed in Japan.