TCM Series #4: Keeping Qi Moving
Continuing downstream from one meridian to the next, we proceed from the Lung meridian to the Large Intestine meridian. These two meridians are connected by a short “connecting channel” in the region of the thumb and wrist. As I mentioned at the end of the last post, the major organs in Traditional Chinese Medicine are often thought of in pairs, each “Yin organ” paired with a “Yang organ.” The Lungs’ (a Yin organ) paired Yang organ is the Large Intestine.
Some of the organ pairings are more obvious and intuitive than others. For example, the Kidneys are paired with the Bladder, the Liver paired with the Gall Bladder. Connections between the Lungs and Large Intestine are not quite so obvious. (Although if you try having a bowel movement sometime without breathing, you begin to see the connection.) However, I find that just having the knowledge that there is a connection between the health of the lungs and the functioning of the large intestine can be a helpful awareness to have, for both doctor and patient. And conversely, an unhappy, unhealthy Large Intestine can be a contributor to problems in the respiratory system.
Generally speaking, Chinese Medicine considers the Yin organs to be far more important than the Yang organs. Consequently, there is not quite as much written about them. However, problems involving the Large Intestine (for example, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and many others) are among the most common complaints patients bring to my practice. So while the Large Intestine perhaps isn’t as intriguing or fascinating to discuss as, say, the Heart, it’s certainly an important organ for an acupuncturist to understand, as so very many people can have happier, more peaceful lives after resolving its imbalances. Acupuncture (and herbs, in some cases), can do this well.
In the big picture, the quality and state of the entire digestive system is dependent on the state of health of what acupuncturists refer to as “the Spleen.” Again, the spleen is an actual organ, but “Spleen” in Chinese Medicine means something larger than that: it is the energy that governs the entire digestive system. Consequently, Large Intestine problems such as constipation are almost always going to be treated by an acupuncturist as a Spleen problem to some extent, as well as – more specifically – a Large Intestine problem. It’s almost as if Large Intestine Qi is a subset of Spleen Qi.
As I stated in the previous post, the Yang organs are primarily responsible for moving along that which we take in to our bodies: Food and liquids are processed and separated by the Yang organs into usable energy sources (Qi, Blood, Body Fluids, and Essence) and waste material to be excreted. Chinese Medicine often refers to the general function of the Yang organs being that of “transportation and transformation.”
There is not a great deal of difference between Chinese Medicine’s understanding of the Large Intestine’s functions and that of Western Medicine. Simply stated, the Large Intestine is responsible for the final stages of fluid reabsorption, and the removal of waste material. Like all the Yang organs, the biggest problems for the Large Intestine involve its energy being obstructed. This can be seen quite obviously in the case of constipation, but loose stools and diarrhea are also a manifestation of the Qi of the Large Intestine being obstructed. When the Qi is not flowing smoothly through the Yang organs, their proper functioning becomes impaired, and the smooth flow of your digestion, which ideally you don’t even notice, becomes an irritation at least, if not a cause of greater problems.
Like the Lungs, the Large Intestine is vulnerable to the effects of excessive heat or cold, either of which can disturb its functioning. Broadly speaking, constipation is generally a sign of an imbalance toward too much heat, and loose stools a sign of an imbalance toward cold, although there are definitely some exceptions to this rule. Lack of adequate hydration (a “yin deficiency,” which by definition tends to indicate heat) can also be a problem. And, like the Lungs, prolonged grief, sadness, or worry effects the Large Intestine’s proper functioning.
To differentiate patterns of disorders involving the Large Intestine, an acupuncturist will often ask questions not only about a patient’s bowel movements, but also about symptoms the patient might be experiencing such as abdominal pain, dry mouth, sores in the mouth, feelings of being hot or cold, fatigue, and other symptoms that may not seem obviously related to you, the patient, to large intestine functioning. But these things offer clues to the acupuncturist which allow them to zero in on the specific treatment that will be most effective. In addition, an acupuncturist will probably ask questions about your diet, and your emotions. This information is helpful too. There is very little information about one’s health that isn’t relevant to a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. If there’s a problem in your body anywhere, it’s going to be related, at least somewhat, to your health in other parts of your
body. It’s all connected!