The Oriental Tradition
The traditional Oriental view of health takes wholeness as its starting point. It recognizes the universe as an energy field and all it contains as manifestations of energy in different patterns. Though infinitely varied, everything in the universe is connected; people are an intimate part of their environment and depend on it as much as they influence it. The primary tenet of Oriental medicine is to live in accord with nature, rather than trying to adapt nature to the needs of people.
Oriental medicine is based on observation of people and their response to the environment over thousands of years. Without the anatomical knowledge made available much later, Oriental theory established its own framework to explain how the body works and to explain natural phenomena. The focus of attention is on how to maintain harmony within the body and with the outside world.
The Chinese observed the influence of the natural world and linked people's tendencies to particular types of ailment to the characteristics of the natural world. The emotions and lifestyle were also acknowledged as contributory factors in health and disease. To stay healthy, a person must continually adapt to the changes going on, both inside the body and out. If these adaptations are not made, illness manifests as disharmony within the body. Universal energy, called Ki, flows within the body forming a matrix that links the vital Organs with all the other parts. In treatment the emphasis is on restoring harmony to the Ki in the body. The physician's task is twofold: to interpret the cause, then to advise on appropriate lifestyle adjustments and to find a means of restoring the functions of the body.
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang are concepts that are central to the unique viewpoint of traditional philosophy, science, and culture in China and Japan. Established from the observation of nature and society, they came to form the basis of traditional Chinese medicine, which then spread to Japan. Understanding the role of Yin and Yang is essential in learning about shiatsu: it forms the basis for all diagnosis and treatment.
Yin -- Yang theory was first elaborated in the ancient and famous Chinese book of divination, The Book of Changes (I Ching), which dates in its earliest form to the 2nd millennium BC. It was well established by the time of Confucius, who added his commentaries in the 5th century BC. In this book Yang was represented by a continuous or "firm" line * conveying direction and movement, and Yin by a broken or "yielding" line ** suggesting space and stillness. These lines were grouped in eight combinations of three, symbolizing all the basic permutations of natural forces and phenomena. Among these, three Yang lines grouped together *** represented "Heaven", the Yang archetype of the creative, active principle. Three Yin lines **** represented "Earth", the receptive or passive principle. Yang was regarded as masculine and Yin as feminine, and all life was seen as being dependent on their harmonious interaction. Light, warmth, and the passage of time were associated with the sun and its movement through Heaven; Earth offered material nourishment -- food from the fields, shelter, and rest. The changing seasons and the repeating cycle of nights and days were deemed to be natural indications of the interrelatedness of Yin and Yang.
Unlike the idea of opposites inherited by Western culture from early Greek philosophy, the opposing qualities of Yin and Yang are seen as complementary and interdependent. They both create and control each other. When Yin declines, Yang expands, and vice versa, but there are no absolutes. Nothing can be wholly Yin or wholly Yang. Each contains the seed of the other: Yang will change into Yin; Yin into Yang.
Because everything has Yin and Yang characteristics to varying degrees, things can only be Yin or Yang relative to each other. Relative to the sun, the moon is Yin (cold, dense), but even the pale and watery moonlight is Yang relative to the surrounding night, and the shadowy caves and hollows where no light reaches.
The Oriental view of life, nature, and the body is firmly founded on the notion of a vital force, or energy, which can be compared with the prana of Indian yogic philosophy. Its significance is so great in Oriental thinking, and its meaning so full of breadth and subtlety, that it is best to use the untranslated word "Ki" in the same way as we have become accustomed to use the Chinese words Yin and Yang.
Energy and matter
Ki arises from the interaction of Yin and Yang, and is the primary substance of the universe. This profoundly elegant understanding has existed in Eastern cultures for thousands of years. So it is said that all things are formed from Ki and that every different thing is determined or characterized by its Ki. Ki encompasses both the material and the non-material. In its "purer" form it is subtle and rarefied; it is "substance with no form". It is more Yang. Matter, on the other hand, is a condensed, "slowed-down" form of Ki. This is more Yin. It may seem paradoxical that Ki should exist as both matter and non-matter, but you may understand it more easily in terms of transformation and change.
Take the simple example of water boiling in a pot, transforming into steam, then condensing into droplets. Water is a more Yin state, steam is more Yang. The heat of the fire needed to boil water is intensely Yang (active), transforming the water into an expanded, Yang form. Coldness -- relatively Yin -- causes the condensation into droplets that collect on cooler surfaces or fall to earth. The most Yin form of water is ice. Ki is manifest in both the transformation and the substance: Yin Ki (of water) transforming into Yang Ki (steam) and then back into water. The paradox is contained. Ki is both the transformation and the substance. The universe, in its state of flux, sees the constant interplay of Yin and Yang, matter and non-matter.
Yin, Yang, and Ki in the body
The body depends on Ki, Blood and other essential substances, which change, flow, and circulate, and so are more Yang than the structural elements of the body. But here, too, Yin and Yang are at play together. Within the body Ki circulates in Channels, often called Meridians, which have no material form. Ki, similarly, has no physical structure and is, therefore, relatively Yang. It is the transforming power of the inner organs and is associated with activity, protection, and warmth. Traditionally, Ki is subdivided into many types according to its role in the body.
Blood is a liquid or materialized form of Ki. Its qualities are accordingly relatively Yin. Blood nourishes and supports the physical growth and renewal of body tissues and organs. It circulates in the blood vessels and is considered to have cooling and soothing properties.
Ki and Blood support and complement each other. The Blood needs the Ki to keep it moving. The Ki needs the Blood to nourish the organs that generate it. Some Ki therefore flows with the Blood in the vessels and there is some Blood with the Ki in the Channels. "Ki is the leader of Blood; Blood is the mother of Ki." The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (c. 100BC)
Body Fluids are the most Yin of the body substances. This general category includes the thick (most Yin) fluids that nourish the spinal cord and brain, and the thin (more Yang) lubricating fluids, including saliva, sweat, and tears, that moisten the skin and lubricate the openings of the sensory organs.
Mind and the spiritual attributes
The Chinese conceived the Spirit, or Mind, as a very rarefied body substance, the most Yang of all, associated with consciousness, intelligence, and will. The various aspects of the Spirit were thought to be housed in the Yin organs.
Organs, Channels, and the direction of Ki
Not only does Yin -- Yang theory try to explain the relationship between the internal parts of the body, it also describes an "energetic" relationship between its inner and outer aspects -- the vital organs and the surface. The supreme achievement of traditional Chinese medicine was perhaps that it perceived the inner organs as centres of transformation and distribution, which literally "organized" the entire body. This "organization" is mediated by the system of Channels that carries the Ki to all parts. It flows from within and circulates near the surface of the body. The internal condition of the body is reflected on the outside; work on the outside can affect the inside. In health, this is the body's regulating mechanism and allows us to adjust to the environment. In sickness, the mechanism breaks down, symptoms are produced on the outside. The ability to move Ki inside the body by giving treatment from the outside arises from the continuity of the energy network between inside and out. This is the "energetic" relationship.
The 12 main, or "Primary" Channels are dominated by the influence of either Heaven or Earth, producing accordingly either a downward flow from Heaven (Yang) or an upward flow from Earth (Yin). The Yang Channels are found on the back and on the outside surfaces of the arms and legs. They belong to the more superficial or "hollow" Organs of the digestive tract, principally the Stomach, Large and Small Intestines, Bladder, and Gall Bladder. Yang Organs are concerned with the processing of food and the elimination of waste; they are involved in the body's defensive functions and they are often implicated in the early or acute stages of illness. The Yin Channels are located on the front of the body and the inner surfaces of the limbs. They belong to the deep, "solid" Organs -- the Lungs, Spleen, Heart, Kidneys, and Liver. The role of the Yin Organs is the transformation, storage, and distribution of Ki and Blood and they are most affected in long-standing illness or weakness. The Yin and Yang Organs complement each other: each Yin Organ is paired with a Yang Organ in a reciprocal relationship.
The Five Elements
The theory of Yin and Yang was not the only way by which the ancient Chinese interpreted the world. Early in the 1st millennium BC another system began to emerge in which all phenomena were seen as manifesting through one of five primary modes of Ki. These were known as the Five Elements, Five Transformations, or Five Phases, and were symbolically described as Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth. The Shang Shu, a text from this period, describes their qualities: "That which soaks and descends (Water) is salty, that which blazes upwards (Fire) is bitter, that which can be bent and straightened (Wood) is sour, that which can be moulded and become hard (Metal) is pungent, that which permits sowing and reaping (Earth) is sweet." The Five Elements were also associated with the seasons, colours, sounds, mythical animals, grains, and many other things and events. So a system of correspondences gradually developed to build up a picture of the connections in the natural world.
Around the 4th century BC, a time of turmoil and change in China, the search for order and meaning in the relationship between people and their environment led to the expansion of Five Element theory. Things were more than just categorized; their capacity to change, interact, and transform into each other was recognized and described in various ways.
The early physicians based their understanding of the cause and development of illness on the interrelating patterns of the Five Elements. Each Organ was either nourished or controlled by one of the others. Disease could progress from one Organ to another through lack of nourishment, "over-control", or its opposite, "insult". Treatment of a deficient or malfunctioning Organ was often given by strengthening the Organ preceding it in the sequence known as the "generating sequence".
The usefulness of this system extends beyond the portrayal of harmonious interaction since it can also predict or interpret the effects of disharmony, when things get "out of phase" and inevitably balance is lost. For example, if Fire is weak the effect of Water will be more than mere control, threatening to extinguish it altogether. This is known as over-acting of one Element on another. Similarly, if Water is deficient then Fire can vaporize it, thus overcoming the Element that usually controls it. This reversal of the controlling sequence is called counteracting, or "insulting".
The development of medicine progressed with the extension of the Five Element theory to include the body's major organs, the sensory organs and body tissues, the human emotions, and subtle spiritual qualities. Combined with external factors, such as season, climate, foods, and so on, the whole picture of correspondences provided a reference for diagnosis and healing. A table of the traditional Five Element correspondences is given above.
As Chinese medicine developed through the centuries, the Five Elements were accorded greater or lesser importance, but their usefulness is still widely recognized today as a general system of medical reference. The Five Element system is particularly well regarded in Japan and the practice of shiatsu is greatly enhanced by a knowledge of this traditional approach.
Copyright © 1992 Gaia Books Ltd, London
Text copyright © 1992 Paul Lundberg
Vitality & Health Through the Art of Touch
The Book of Shiatsu
Vitality & Health Through the Art of Touch
Headaches and migraines
Menstrual and reproductive problems
Muscular pain and tension
Here you'll find more than 240 color drawings and photographs in a brand-new, accessible format, demonstrating how to give both whole-body and specialized massages, diagnose specific conditions, and work with the body's energy meridians to promote sustained health and well-being.