If you have ever had an acupuncture treatment you may have heard the following: ‘Chinese liver moves your qi’ or ‘Chinese kidney affects your fear’. Chinese liver who? If you have grown up in any country outside of Asia, chances are that human organs mean something completely different to you. You need not go to medical school to have a basic knowledge of the western medicine view of organ function. These basic functions are sometimes taught as early as kindergarten which makes it that much more ingrained in our paradigm. So what do Chinese organs do anyway?
Each organ in TCM has an element, color, emotion, season, and is paired with another organ. The organs and their pairs are as follows: Kidney - Urinary Bladder, Liver - Gallbladder, Heart - Small intestine, Spleen - Stomach, Lung - Large Intestine, Pericardium - Triple burner.
It all begins in the kidneys, where, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM all qi or energy originates. The kidneys are where we store our pre and post heaven essence and qi. In other words, all that we inherit from our parents is pre heaven, and all that we cultivate from diet and lifestyle is post heaven. The kidneys’ element is water, their color is black, and fear their emotion. The season for the kidneys is winter. The kidneys are also very important organ for growth, development, and reproduction.
The Liver is in charge of the free flow of qi in the body. In other words, the energy should run efficiently without any interruptions to ensure that all the organs function in a harmonious way so that the machine that is the human body works optimally. When people feel stressed or overly emotional, the liver’s qi becomes stagnant and it’s normal flow is interrupted. The liver’s element is wood, color is green, and anger its’ emotion. The season for the liver is spring. The liver also stores blood while resting so taking time out to rest ensures that the body gets a fresh and nourished flow of blood from the liver.
The Heart controls the blood vessels. It needs a proper amount of blood to nourish it in order to perform its’ best. The heart houses the mind, therefore a healthy functioning heart will support a healthy mind and emotional state, while an impaired heart can cause mental disturbance. Fire is the heart’s element, red it’s color, and joy is it’s emotion. The heart’s season is summer. Although joy is something that in the west we cannot get enough of, TCM perceives too much joy as something that can injure the heart.
The Spleen is in charge of transportation and transformation in regards to the body’s digestive system. It works closely with the stomach’s functions to break down food nutrients and nourish the body. It also breaks down digestion so that the nutrients can be absorbed and nourish the blood. While the kidneys are considered to be the root of pre heaven qi, the spleen is the root of post heaven qi both of which are stored in the kidneys. The Spleen element is earth, it’s color is yellow, and emotion is pensiveness and overthinking. The season for spleen is late summer, a time which is more damp and warm. It is said that while a weak spleen can give rise to overthinking, overthinking can also give rise to a weak spleen.
The Pericardium is tied closely to the heart’s role describe above and it’s pair organ is not really an organ but a function. The triple burner is a warming function that occurs from the upper to lower burner. The areas and functions are as follows: the upper burner distributes fluids all over the body (lungs, heart, pericardium), the middle burner where digestion takes place (spleen, stomach, gallbladder), and the lower burner where the body separates the clean from the dirty (Liver, kidneys, intestines, bladder).
Given what has been described above, the organs take on a whole new meaning to what most of us have been taught here in the west. It is interesting to note that in TCM, physical and emotional aspects of each organs are one and the same. This is why many claim that when going to an acupuncturist to fix one symptom, they come out also resolving a few other seemingly unrelated symptoms.