CHAPTER 8: QIGONG AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF YIN-YANG AND FIVE ELEMENTAL PROCESSES
The people here are said to have harmony of yin and yang
(This chapter is selected from Li Shou Kang, Qigong for Curing Illness and Maintaining Health, Hong Kong De Li Books 1974. It was published in Chinese.)
What is Yin-Yang
Some people when faced with the words “yin” and “yang” think that they are mysterious, something that is difficult to understand. Actually, it is not so. The two words, “yin” and “yang”, have their particular meaning, and can be explained. People in the past believed that all things in the natural world could be described by the two words, yin and yang.
For example, if the sun is described as yang, the moon will be described as yin. If heaven is described as yang, the earth will be described as yin. If fire is described as yang, water will be described as yin. The sun and fire are warm, the moon and water are cool. Following this philosophy, whatever is warm is symbolized as yang, whatever is cool is symbolized as yin.
Fire is moving, so all things that are moving are symbolized as yang. Water is quiescent, so all things that are quiescent are symbolized as yin. Following this philosophy, spring and summer are warm and hot, and enable plant life to grow, whereas autumn and winter are cool and cold, and cause plant life to decay. Hence, spring and summer are symbolized as yang, and autumn and winter are symbolized as yin.
People in the past saw that the sun and fire could transform liquids into gas, or energy, so they said yang transformed into energy. They also observed that vapour when passing through coldness changed into flowing water, so they said yin transformed into form.
All things in the Cosmos are transformed from yin and yang. Yang is the life force that provides movement in living things. Yin is the life force that provides form in all material. Metabolism is the process where material produces energy. It is yin giving birth to yang. Digestion and absorption are the processes where energy produces material. It is yang giving birth to yin.
These two processes of yin and yang mutually transform each other. If there is only yang but no yin, there will be no life. If there is only yin but no yang, there will be no growth. The whole Cosmos operates on yin and yang. Hence, it is said that yin and yang are the fundamentals of all things, the origin of all life and death.
Although the myriad things in the Cosmos are very complex, when viewed from two complementary perspectives, they are only two. When there is big, there is small. When there is tall, there is short. When there is bright, there is dark. When there is front, there is back. When there is clear, there is milky. So people in the past have said that there are thousands in counting, and there are millions in philosophizing, but you must know their principles.
Yin-Yang in a Person
Yin-yang not only explains the two complementary and opposing aspects of the natural world, but also the physiological and pathological questions of man. People in the past have said that the back of the body is symbolized as yang, and the front symbolized as yin; the interior symbolized as yin, and the exterior symbolized as yang. The internal organs, which are heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys, which are called the five storage organs, are symbolized as yin. Gall bladder, stomach, colon, intestine, urinary bladder and triple-warmer, which are known as the six transformational organs, are symbolized as yang. (Editorial Note: Triple-warmer, which is a yang internal organ, refers to three cavities of the body. The top warmer is from the throat to the solar plexus. The middle warmer is from the solar plexus to the navel. The lower warmer is from the navel to the anus.)
People in the past have believed that the functions of the five storage organs are different from the functions of the six transformational organs. The five storage organs control the nervous system, consciousness, knowledge, movements and emotions. The six transformational organs control digestion of food and drinks, absorption, secretion and nourishment.
There are no food and drinks in the five storage organs. Only the essence that has been transformed from food and drinks can enter the five storage organs. There is nothing to be secreted from the five storage organs. These five organs are like the earth, storing numerous things. Earth is represented as yin, so the five storage organs are also represented as yin.
There are food and drinks in the six transformational organs. The six transformational organs also have the functions of transformation and secretion. They cannot store the essence from the food and drinks. Their function is to let the essence pass through. These six organs are like the sky, with rain and dews falling down. The sky is represented as yang. So the six transformational organs are also represented as yang.
Although the five storage organs are represented as yin, there is also yin-yang inside them. Similarly, although the six transformational organs are represented as yang, there is yin-yang inside these six yang organs too.
The heart is regarded as the yang of yin. This is because the upper part of the body, where the heart is located, is represented as yang (the lower part is represented as yin), and the heart organ is like the sun.
Lungs are regarded as the yin of yang. This is because the lungs are like the sky. It cannot radiate light on its own. The sky is represented by yang but contains the nature of yin. The lungs are on the upper part of the body. Hence, it is yin in the place of yang. So, the lungs are regarded as the yin of yang.
The liver is a yin organ. In the system of five elemental processes, the liver is symbolized as wood. Fire is born from wood. Wood and fire share similar energy. Hence, it is said that the liver is the yang of yin.
Kidneys are located in the lower body, and is represented by yin. In the system of five elemental processes, kidneys are symbolized by water, which is yin. Hence, kidneys are said to be the yin of yin.
The spleen is symbolized by earth in the system of five elemental processes, and is also located at the lower part of the body, which is represented by yin. Hence, the spleen is also yin of yin.
People in the past said that the yang energy of man was like the sun in the sky. If there is no sun, everything will be dark. Similarly, if there is no energy in a person, he will be dead.
Yang energy protects man, and enables him to cope with various stimuli. It also prevents illness and has the ability to regenerate. On the other hand, yin is the material of yang. Yang can have all these functions because yin provides yang with nourishment. If yin is insufficient, yang will also be insufficient.
People in the past also said that yang must be stored so that yin can be strong. If yang is insufficient, or is used excessively, the yin in the body would not be able to cope. Man must be able to control, be able to harmonize to maintain the balance of yin-yang. When yin-yang harmony is maintained, there will be health and vitality.
If there in imbalance in the yin-yang of the body, illness will occur. Yang is hot. If yang is more than yin, the person will have a fever. Yin is cold. If yin is more than yang, the person will feel cold.
In clinical experience, illness that produces fever is regarded as yang diseases, illness that produces cold is regarded as yin diseases. Illness that progresses forward is regarded as yang, illness that retrogresses backward are regarded as yin. Illness that excites is regarded as yang, illness that weakens is regarded as yin.
Yin-Yang in Clinical Experience
The yang energy of people can protect their essence. If there is insufficient essence, it becomes a cause of internal injury. Whenever there is insufficient strength for movement, little energy, lazy to speak, afraid of cold, being tired, and inability to endure, belong to symptoms of external cold. It is called insufficient yang.
To overcome insufficient yang, it is necessary to nourish yang. Medication for nourishing yang can improve metabolism, and increase the strength of a person.
Whenever there is lacking of material, little blood, yellowish face, being thin, and bones becoming hot belong to symptoms of internal cold. It is called insufficient yin.
To overcome insufficient yin, it is necessary to nourish yin. Medication for nourishing yin can compensate for what is lacking in the material aspect of the person.
To overcome conditions where there is plenty of yin, we can use nourishing yang. The therapeutic principle is when yang is plentiful, it can reduce yin. To overcome conditions where there is plenty of yang, we can use nourishing yin. The therapeutic principle is when there is plentiful of yin, it can reduce yang.
There are two main types of diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine. If the skin of the patient is hot, he is agitated and disturbed in his spirit, his face reddish, his lips dark red, his mouth rough and tongue dry, his voice loud, his breathing rough, his pulse rate heavy, and his faeces solid, then his illness is yang.
If the patient’s limbs are cold, he is quiet and his spirit low, his face pale, his lips faint, he does not feel thirsty, his tongue soft, his voice low, his breathing soft, his pulse rate weak, his sperm leaking, and his faeces watery, then his illness is yin.
Against yang illness, use yin medicine. Yin medicine has the properties of reducing heat and stabilizing spirit, reducing agitation and increasing material of the body. Against yin illness, use yang medicine. Yang medicine has the properties of increasing heat and activity, promoting physiological functions and eliminating fatigue.
The concept of yin-yang in traditional Chinese medicine is a representation. It is a system of principles derived from actual experiences discovered by people in the past. The terms are symbolic and they represent real life experiences. People in the past have employed this philosophy to cure illness and maintain health, and this philosophy is derived from actual experiences. We must understand this philosophy of yin-yang harmony in order to learn and further develop traditional Chinese medicine.
Philosophy of Five Elemental Processes
What is wu xing, or Five-Elemental Processes?
(Editorial Note: Most Western writers translate “wu xing” as “Five Elements”. Here and subsequently it is translated as “Five Elemental Processes”. The term “wu xing” actually refers to processes and not elements. Literally “wu xing” mans “five movements”, not “five things”.)
The five elemental processes are the metal process, the wood process, the water process, the fire process, and the earth process.
(Editorial Note: These five processes are called metal, wood, water, fire and earth for short.) People in the past regarded that the Cosmos is made up of these five processes. (Editorial Note: The author of the original writing, Li Shou Kang, mentions “basic materials”. But it is translated here and subsequently as “basic processes”. In other words, the Cosmos is not made up of five materials of metal, water, wood, fire and earth. The Cosmos is made up of five processes symbolized as metal, water, wood, fire and earth.)
Initially, from direct experience in their daily life, people experienced the characteristics of these five elemental processes. For example, the facts that fire rises up, and water softens down, were very simple. But later this developed into a philosophy that generalized, unified and transformed all events in the world.
Inter-Creativity and Inter-Destructivity of Five Elemental Processes
People since the past have believed that these five elemental processes are not independent. They mutually create one another. This is called inter-creativity.
Wood creates fire. Fire creates earth. Earth creates metal. Metal creates water. Water creates wood.
The original meaning was as follows. People in the past observed that when a piece of wood was rubbed against another piece of wood, fire was produced. They also observed that wood provided fuel for fire. Thus, wood created fire.
When trees were burnt, they turned into ashes which returned to the earth. Thus, wood created earth. Metal was mined from the earth. Thus earth created metal. When metal implements were left on the ground, they produced water droplets. Thus, metal created water. Plants needed water to grow. Thus water created wood. (Editorial Note: The part about water creating wood is not stated in the original writing, but this is commonly mentioned in most writings about the inter-creativity of the five elemental processes.)
The inter-destructivity of the five elemental processes refer to the following. Wood destroys earth. Earth destroys water. Water destroys fire. Fire destroys metal. Metal destroys wood.
A proverb says that “When water comes, stop it with earth.” This showed people in the past believed earth destroyed water. People in the past noted that fire was extinguished by water. Thus, water destroyed fire. Whenever metal implements were burnt by fire, they became soft. Thus, fire destroyed metal.
Axes and sabres made of metal could chop down trees. Thus, metal destroyed wood. The roots of trees sucked up nutrients from the earth, making the earth dry. Thus wood destroyed earth. (Editorial Note: The part about wood destroying earth is not stated in the original writing, but this is commonly mentioned in most writings about the inter-destructivity of the five elemental processes.)
Functions of Five Elemental Processes in Chinese Medicine
The philosophy of the five elemental processes in traditional Chinese medicine is not as simple. It is used to explain the relationship of physiological and psychological processes in the body. Further, it is used to explain the relationship between the five storage organs and the six transformational organs on one hand, and on the other hand the seasons, weather, positions, and influences of all other things and events in regards to their physiology, pathology, diagnosis, and principles of healing, reflecting the influences of geography, climatology, and materialism on the physiology, psychology and pathology of a patient. It provides a holistic view of man and the Cosmos.
According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy, the liver is represented by wood, the heart is represented by fire, the spleen is represented by earth, the lungs are represented by metal, and the kidneys are represented by water. Hence, each vital organ has its inter-creativity and inter-destructivity with every other organ. The inadequacy or excess of each organ influences that of other organs.
In treatment, if one particular organ is diseased, another relevant organ can be treated to help the patient recover. Treatment can even be extended to a third organ, as the third organ can influence the other two related organs. It is not merely treating a particular disease when that disease is found in a particular organ. A doctor trained in traditional Chinese medicine does not isolate any particular organ. By observing the relationship amongst various organs, he can cure or prevent diseases.
For example, as wood can create fire, if fire is insufficient, wood can be nourished, which will result in plenty of wood enabling fire to be abundant. The Chinese medical term for this treatment process is called “When insufficiency occurs, nourish its mother.” When wood is excessive, fire can be reduced. This is known in traditional Chinese medical term as “When excess occurs, reduce its son.”
The principle of inter-creativity and inter-destructivity of the five elemental processes is rewardingly employed in traditional Chinese medicine. Hence, herbs that can overcome diseases of the spleen, may also be used to overcome diseases of the lungs. This enhances the holistic concept of a person as well as further the development of the material medica of Chinese medicine. As people in the past had a good understanding over the philosophy of the five elemental processes, fully supported by clinical experience, the originally simple explanation of the five elemental processes has developed into a sophisticated philosophy for overcoming and preventing illness.
The kidneys are regarded as the "water" process