Viewing the body as an integrated whole is the essence of Chinese medical theory. The Zang Fu internal organs theory represents this intricate web of integrating all aspects of the human and its surroundings.

Terminology similar to western medical science is used in the translation of Traditional Chinese Medicine internal organs theory, be sure not to join the two, it is best to try and leave your knowledge of western anatomy behind because the correspondences are few. Chinese Medicine not only sees each internal organ as an anatomical/material structure but also their inseparable connections to emotions, tissues, sensory organs, mental functions, colours, climates/environment, seasons, natural elements, etc.. For this reason both anatomical and energetic/functional internal organ aspects are always considered.

There are 12 main organs, 6 Yin and 6 Yang, & 6 extraordinary:



Extraordinary Yang organs:


In Traditional Chinese Medicine the human being is looked at as an integrated whole, therefore interrelationships are of the essence. Since a person depends on the whole being in balance and harmony to achieve optimal health, discussions of the organs on their own would not be enough.

There are 2 types of internal organs: Zang are considered Yin organs, Fu are considered Yang organs. Yang organs are in charge of transforming food and drink into Qi and Blood. They receive, move, transform, digest, and excrete. The Yin organs store the vital substances (Qi, blood, Essence, body fluids) in pure refined forms from which they have received from the Yang organs after they have been transformed. They Yang organs do not store anything, they are filled, perform their functions of extraction of pure essences, and empty waste. The Yang organs can be viewed as the functional aspect of the Yin organs, i.e. the stomach is the functional aspect of the Spleen.


The following are some main aspects of the Zang Fu internal organs interrelationships with vital substances of the body, emotions, tissues, sense organs, and climate:


Zang Fu relationship with the vital substances of the body


The Zang Fu ensure the proper making of, maintenance, replenishment, movement, and transformation of the vital substances of the body.


Zang Fu relationships with tissues


There are energetic/functional relationships between organs and their corresponding tissue, therefore the health of tissues can be seen through the health of the corresponding Zang Fu.


Zang Fu relationships to the sensory organs


The health and wellness of sensory organs rely on the care and nourishment of its corresponding Zang Fu.


Zang Fu relationships with the emotions


Qi, the basis for all physiological activities of the body is also responsible for the emotional processes. This concept of emotions directly linked to Zang Fu functioning as an integral whole is of utmost importance to Traditional Chinese medical theory. The health of the Zang Fu organs will effect the emotions, and the emotions will effect the health of the Zang Fu organs when they are excessive and occurs for long periods of time. Treatment of organs therefore can help emotional health, and the treatment of emotions can improve the health of internal organs.


Zang Fu relationships to climate and environment


Different climactic factors effect different Zang Fu organ function. Excessive weather conditions for prolonged periods of time can adversely effect internal organ processes.

The Functions of the TCM Heart

The Heart is said to be the most important of all the Zang Fu, it is sometimes called the ‘master’. Its main functions are to govern blood, blood vessels, and to house the mind.

The functions of the Heart include:

Governing Blood

The Heart governs the blood in 2 ways:

1. Gu (food) Qi from the Spleen is transformed into blood in the Heart

2. Circulation of the blood (with Liver, Spleen, Lungs)

Just as in western scientific views, if th functioning of the Heart is poor, supply of blood to the tissues is deficient, i.e. Heart blood deficiency – which can cause cold extremities.

The human constitution is said to be determined by the Kidneys and their Essence, although it is also partly related to the Heart and blood. If the Heart is strong and the supply of blood in the body is plentiful, the person will be strong.

Inherited or constitutional weakness is quite often manifested in the midline of the tongue as a crack.


Controlling blood vessels

The vessels depend on the health of the Heart Qi & blood to maintain a strong, regular, and full pulse. The state of the vessels therefore directly shows the health of the Hearts Qi. If the Heart is weak the pulse may be weak and irregular.


Showing health in the facial complexion

If the Heart is governing its vessels properly and moving the blood through its circulatory functions, the facial complexion shows a rosy lustrous glow. If the Heart blood is deficient the face will show a pale or bright white. If the blood is stagnated the face will show a purplish/blue, and if the Heart has heat the complexion will get red.

Houses mind/spirit (shen)

Shen: mental functioning, corresponds to the mind – relates to the Heart. This encompasses emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the whole human, in this sense it plays a role in all the organs functions – especially the Yin organs.

Therefore, health of the Heart & blood directly effect the functions of mental activities (including emotions), consciousness, memory, thinking, and sleep. If the Heart and blood are strong and plentiful, Shen will be normal, regulated, balanced, and clear. If the Heart health is not right there may be depression, poor memory, unclear thinking, insomnia, and other problems related to the mind. This also shows that development of intelligence is effected by the state of the Heart health. If heart blood is deficient and is unable to root or anchor the mind (Shen), it will manifest as restlessness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other emotional problems. Conversely, these problems with the Shen can cause Heart blood deficiency which in turn causes palpitations, pale complexion, and weak and/or irregular pulses.

Emotionally, if the Heart is strong the spirits will be high, if the Heart is weak the spirits will be low. Heart health also determines ones capacity to maintain meaningful relationships – able to give positive energy to others.

If the Heart is in excess a person may show signs of manic depression. Of course other organ functioning should be considered as influential in any situation.

Essence and Qi are the physical basis for the mind. If these are strong and flowing smoothly the mind will be strong. This is why the state of Shen can be observed through the spirit/glow of the eyes. The mind, Qi, and Essence are considered the ‘three treasures’.

As mentioned before, the Heart is not the only Zang Fu involved with emotions, mind, and spirit. Each Yin organ plays a vital role in the health of the Shen.

“The mind is a transformation of Essence and Qi: Both Essences (pre-heaven & post-heaven) contribute to forming the mind. The corporeal soul is the assistant of Essence and Qi: it is close to Essence but it moves in and out. The ethereal soul complements the mind and Qi: it is close to the mind but it comes and goes. Thought corresponds to memory: it is the memory which depends on the Heart. The will power is like a purposeful and focused mind: the kidneys store Essence…and through the will power they can fulfill our destiny.” (Spiritual Axis)

Ethereal soul (Hun): Liver: from western point of view pertains to the soul or spirit. This soul enters the body shortly after birth and is ethereal (not physical), it does not die with the human body.

Corporeal soul (Po): Lung: the part of the soul that lives and dies with the physical body, the physical expression of the soul. Po gives us sensation, feeling, hearing, and sight.

Will power (Zhi): Kidneys: mental drive and courage which gives people determination and focus toward the accomplishment of goals and dreams.

Thought (Yi): Spleen: applied thinking, studying, concentrating, and memorization.

*It should be noted that around the Ming dynasty, before the introduction of western scientific thought in China, many doctors began to attribute intellectual functions to the brain.


Opens onto the tongue

The tongue is considered to be the sprout of the Heart. It is related specifically to the tip of the tongue, but it also influences the colour, form and appearance of it. The sense of taste is controlled by the Heart. Therefore disease of the Heart can be easily recognized on the tongue. If there is heat the tongue will be red possibly dry with a redder tip. If the heat is severe ulcers can show on the tongue, they will be painful. If the Heart is weak and blood is deficient the tongue will be pale and thin.

Speech is also directly effected by the Heart (i.e. stutters, aphasia). If the Heart is in excess there may also be excessive/inappropriate laughter, states of over-joy, and non-stop talking.


Controls sweat

Sweat comes from the space between the skin and muscles. Blood and body fluids have a common origin. When blood is thick the fluids help to thin it, they intricately are a part of one another. The Heart governs blood and sweat is a body fluid. Deficiencies in Heart Qi can cause spontaneous sweating, deficiencies in Heart Yin can cause night sweating. Too much sweat can cause a deficiency in body fluids and lead to a deficiency in blood.


Effects dreams

The Heart houses the mind, therefore it is closely related to sleep. If Heart blood and Yin are abundant a person goes to and stays asleep easily and soundly. If the Heart is weak the mind floats causing sleep disorders and excessive dreaming. Therefore all dreams are in some way related to the Heart.


“When the Heart is weak, one dreams of fires; if the dream takes place in summertime, one dreams of volcanic eruptions.” (Simple Questions). “When the Heart is in excess, one dreams of laughing…when the Heart is deficient, one dreams of mountains, fire and smoke.” (Spiritual Axis).



The Functions of the TCM Liver

The main functions of the Liver are to store blood and ensure the smooth flow and direction of Qi movement in the body. It is also said to contribute to our body’s resistance to external pathogenic influences. “The Liver is the origin of courage and resoluteness if it is in a state of good health.” (Maciocia). It is also believed that the Liver influences our ability to plan our lives.

The functions of the Liver are:

Storing of blood

The Liver is the most important organ for storing blood, it regulates the volume of blood in the whole body.

1. Alters blood volume according to physical activity

The Liver stores blood when the body is at rest or sleep (between 1-3am), when it is active it allows the blood to move to the muscles. These functions (ensuring proper nourishment to certain tissues at certain times) has a great effect on the energy one has. If the blood flows properly to the skin the body’s natural protection against external pathogenic factors will be strong (although the most important functions of protection are preformed by the defensive Wei Qi and the Lungs).

2. The storage of blood strongly influences menstruation

Menstruation will be normal if the Liver is storing blood properly. If the blood is deficient there will be amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea. If there is heat or a Liver excess the blood can move recklessly and cause menorrhagia or metrorrhagia. Bar none the Liver is the main organ of gynecological functioning. Most problems associated with womens reproductive systems are due to Liver malfunction. Liver Qi stagnation can lead to blood stagnation which can cause painful menses, PMS, and clotting of menstrual blood. The storage of blood also greatly influences the functioning of the Ren and Chong meridians.

The blood of the Liver particularly takes care of nourishing the eyes and tendons. If there is a Liver blood deficiency one will see dry eyes, blurred vision, muscle cramps, and stiffness.

Diseases of the blood can effect the Liver, and Liver diseases can effect the blood causing various skin problems.

Ensuring the smooth flow of Qi

The Liver ensures the smooth flow of Qi throughout the entire body, in all organs, in all directions. Disorders of this function are the most common patterns seen in practice. Every organs Qi has a particular direction in which it is supposed to flow. The direction of movement of Liver Qi is upwards and outwards in all directions to ensure the smooth flow everywhere, therefore it effects and helps regulate every organ. Wood grows in every direction.

1. strongly effects emotions

If Liver function is normal, people will have smooth flowing emotional states favoring happiness. If the flow of Qi is stagnated, frustration, depression, irritability, anger, hypochondriac pain, stuffiness in the chest, lumps in the throat, abdominal distension can occur. Various pre-menstrual syndrome symptoms will also arise, i.e. mood swings, & breast tenderness. Therefore emotions effect the smooth flow of Liver Qi, and stagnated Liver Qi effect the emotions adversely.

2. effects the digestion of food by the Spleen and Stomach

If the Qi is not flowing smoothly (i.e. from emotions), the Spleen and Stomach have trouble performing their digestive functions. If the Liver Qi is stagnated it can overact on the Stomach causing a reversal in the downward movement of Stomach Qi causing vomiting, belching, and nausea. If it overacts on the Spleen it will effects its natural upward flow of Qi and cause diarrhea. These digestive disturbances are referred to as ‘wood overacting on earth’ from the 5 element theory. Normally the smooth flow of Liver Qi aids the mid Jiao in digestion.

3. flow of bile

If Liver Qi is stagnated the flow of bile can get obstructed resulting in a bitter taste in the mouth, belching, or jaundice.

Controls the sinews

The sinews ability to contract and relax depends on the nourishment from Liver blood. If Liver blood is deficient it can cause spasms, stiffness, reduced range of motion, numbness, muscle cramps, tremors, tetany, seizures, and reduced strength in the limbs. This is closely related to proper functioning of the Spleen and blood production as the Spleen controls the muscles.

Shows its health on the nails

The nails are considered to be an extension of the sinews, therefore they are closely related to the state of the Liver blood. If Liver blood is deficient the nails will become dry, cracked, dark, indented, and generally unhealthy.

Opens into the eyes

The eye is the special sensory organ which is directly connected to the Liver. They require nourishment from the Liver blood in order to see properly. If Liver blood is deficient there can be blurred vision, myopia, floaters, colour blindness, dryness, soreness, itchiness, and other eye disorders. If the Liver has heat the eyes can get blood shot, painful and burning. If the Liver has created internal Wind the eyeballs may turn upwards or shake.

Other organs also effect the proper functioning of the eye: Heart, Kidneys, Lungs, Gallbladder, Bladder, and Small Intestine.

The Kidney Essence plays a big role in the nourishment of the eyes, many chronic ocular disorders are due to the decline of Essence. The Heart through the Shen is also a factor in eye health. This is why the state of a persons spirit can be observed through the eyes.

Houses the Ethereal Soul (Hun)

The Liver is the residence of the Ethereal Soul (Hun). This is most closely related to the spirit without form. The Ethereal soul does not die with the organic body. It is non-material, therefore Yang in nature. Its counterpart, the Corporeal soul (Po) which resides in the Lungs would be the Yin, or material aspect to our being. It dies with the body.

The Ethereal soul is said to influence the planning of our lives and the feeling of purpose. Lack of direction or purpose is due to a deficiency of the Liver, this causes the soul to be uprooted and float resulting in confusion, lack of visionary conclusions, and wandering. Some say that if Liver Yin and/or blood are deficient enough that the person will have a sensation of floating just before going to sleep (some also consider this to be a healthy state).

Effects dreams

“When Liver is in excess, one dreams of being angry.” “When the Liver is deficient, one dreams of very fragrant mushrooms. If the dream takes place in spring, one dreams of lying under a tree without being able to get up.” (Simple Questions). “When the Liver is deficient, one dreams of forests in the mountains.” (Spiritual Axis).


The Functions of the TCM Lungs

The Lungs govern Qi and respiration. They also are closely related to the skin, therefore they are the organ that connects the human to the environment. Lung Qi also helps the circulation of blood by the Heart by controlling the blood vessels and controlling the movement of body fluids or water passages.

The functions of the Lungs are:

Govern Qi and respiration

Lungs extract clean Qi from the air which combines with Gu (food) Qi from the Spleen. This constant source of fresh clean Qi from the air ensures proper functioning of all the body’s physiological processes.

The Qi extracted from food by the Spleen is directed to the Lungs where it combines with the air to form Zong Qi. This is why the chest is called the sea of Qi. The Lungs then disperse Qi all over the body with the help of the Liver. If this process is strong, the voice will be powerful, circulation will be good, energy will be high, and there will be strength in the limbs. The Lungs are the most external of the Yin organs, this is why the Lungs are attacked during external pathogenic invasions. The Lungs are also referred to as the most delicate organ in the body.

Control meridians and the 100 blood vessels

The Lungs govern Qi, and Qi is essential for the Heart to circulate blood. Both the Lungs and Heart control the circulation of blood in the blood vessels. The Lungs however, also control the circulation of Qi (Ying) within the meridians. Therefore the Lungs control the circulation of Qi in the blood vessels and meridians. If Lung Qi is strong the circulation will be good and the limbs will be warm, if not the hands will be cold.

Control dispersing and descending


The lungs disperse the defensive (Wei) Qi and body fluids all over the body between the skin and muscles. If Lung Qi is weak this function will not be preformed optimally and susceptibility to external invasion is greater.

The Lungs also spread body fluids to the skin to moisten and regulate the opening and closing of the pores and sweating. Generally if the Lungs are being attacked by excessive pathogenic factors the pores will clog and there will be no sweat (Wind/Cold), if it is a case of Lung deficiency the pores will over relax and there will be spontaneous sweating. If this particular function is impaired there may be accumulation of fluids under the skin and may result in facial edema.


As the uppermost organ, the Lungs are often referred to as the lid or roof. This is why their Qi must descend. Lung Qi must descend to communicate with the Kidneys so as to hold or grasp the Qi. The descending term also refers to the Lungs sending fluids down to the Kidneys and Bladder. If Lung Qi does not descend there will be accumulation in the chest resulting in cough, difficulty breathing, and tightness in the chest. If the Large Intestine (the Lungs paired organ) does not receive enough Qi from the Lungs it may not have enough energy to defecate or move properly. The retention of urine can sometimes be attributed to the malfunction of the Lungs.


1. D & D ensures the entering and exiting of Qi, regulate breathing and the exchange of Qi between the body and the environment

2. D & D ensures that every organ gets its nourishment from Qi, blood and body fluids. It also keeps fluids from stagnating in the body

3. D & D prevents the scattering and exhaustion of Lung Qi

Regulate water passages

As discussed above, the regulation of water passages relates to the fluid dispersed under the skin, the pore regulation, and the fluids flowing down to the Kidneys and Bladder. The Kidneys vaporize the fluids to send the pure parts back up to the Lungs and the impure parts to the Bladder for excrement. Therefore, the Lungs play a major role in the excretion of body fluids through urine and sweat.

Control skin and hair

As discussed above, the Lungs take care of the skin all over the body with nourishment and moisture. Therefore, if the Lungs functioning is healthy the skin will be healthy. When the Lungs are referred to as controlling the hair it is referring to the body hair. It is nourished through the same process as the skin. The controlling of the pores is also a Lungs function of controlling the skin.

Open into the nose

The nose is the opening of the Lungs, respiration occurs through it. If Lung Qi is strong, breathing will be clear and the sense of smell will be sharp. This is why when the Lungs are invaded by external pathogens the nose clogs, there can be sneezing, and smell is inhibited. If there is heat in the Lungs there may be bleeding, and the sense of smell may be lost. It should be noted that the Spleen also effects the sense of smell.

Houses the Corporeal Soul (Po)

The Lungs house the Corporeal soul. This is the Yin (material, physical) part of the human soul or spirit. The Corporeal soul allows for sharp movement and keen sensations. Sadness or grief obstructs the movement of the Corporeal soul, it is known that these emotions consume the Lung Qi and effect breathing. This is why treatment of the Lungs is so important when treating sadness or depressive states. Maciocia recommends the use of Lung 7 (lieque) and BL 42 (pohu) to treat the corporeal soul.

Effects dreams

“When the Lungs are I excess, one dreams of weeping.” “If the Lungs are deficient, one will dream of white objects ar about bloody killings. If the dream takes place in the autumn, one will dream of battles and war.” (Simple Questions). “When the Lungs are in excess, one will have dreams of worry and fear, or crying and flying…if the Lungs are deficient, one will dream of flying and seeing strange objects made of gold or iron.” (Spiritual Axis).


The Functions of the TCM Spleen (pancreas)

The main function of the Spleen is to help the Stomach in digestion by transforming and transporting Gu (food) Qi or essence from the food, and separating the waste. This extraction of Gu Qi is the basis for the production of Qi and blood. This combines with Qi from the Lungs to form Zong Qi. The formation of blood also takes place with the Heart. Because the Spleen gives the material basis for the production of Qi and blood, it is referred to as the root of post-heaven Qi.

The functions of the Spleen (pancreas) are:

Governs transformation and transportation

Once the food Qi is extracted and formed the Spleen transports this to various organs and other parts of the body. “Food enters the Stomach, the refined part goes to the Liver, the excess goes to the sinews. Food enters the Stomach, the unrefined part goes to the Heart, the excess goes to the blood vessels…fluids enter the Stomach…the upper part goes to the Spleen, the Spleen transports the refined essence upwards to the Lungs.” (Simple Questions). This shows the Spleens importance in the digestive process and the formation of Qi and blood. If this functioning is diseased, there will be poor appetite, loose bowel movements, bad digestion, bloating, and other digestive discomforts.

The Spleen separates clean and unclean fluids also, the pure part goes up to the Lungs, and the unclean part goes down to the intestines and Kidneys for further refinement. If this function is diseased, the formation of Dampness will occur (this is why it is said that the Spleen hates Dampness and likes dryness). The Spleen is always treated when there is Dampness, Phlegm, or edema. It is also easily effected by external Dampness. Cold icy drinks damage the Spleens functioning, therefore impairing digestion. The Stomach likes moisture.

Controls the blood

It is Spleen Qi that keeps the blood in the vessels. If the Spleen is deficient the blood may escape from the vessels resulting in various types of hemorrhaging.

With the help of the Heart the Spleen is a major organ involved in the production of blood. The Spleen extracts essential essence and Qi from the food and with the help of the Kidneys Yuan Qi, the Heart finishes the making of blood. The Spleen is always treated when blood is deficient.

Controls the muscles and four limbs

The Spleen transports its refined essences taken from food to nourish all tissues in the body. When the Spleen is healthy the muscles on the limbs are well nourished. The Spleen is paramount in determining the amount of energy one has, therefore when there is fatigue or tiredness the Spleen must be treated.

Opens into the mouth and shows its health on the lips

Mastication releases certain elements which help prepare the Spleen to perform its functions. This is why the mouth is directly related to the Spleen. If the Spleen is healthy the mouth will be slightly moist, the lips will be lustrous and not dry, and the taste will be normal. If the Spleen has heat the patient may complain of dry lips and a sweet taste in the mouth. If Spleen Qi is deficient the patient will have pale lips.

Controls the raising of Qi

The Spleen ensures that all internal Zang Fu organs stay in their place and do not fall or prolapse. If the Spleen Qi is weak the Kidneys, Uterus, Stomach, Bladder, or anus may prolapse. This raising action also refers to the raising of the food essences to the Heart and Lungs. With its paired organ the Stomach which has a downward movement of Qi, these two must be in balance for proper digestion, Spleen Qi goes up, and Stomach Qi goes down. This ensures the clear Yang to ascend and the turbid Qi to descend.

Houses thought

The Spleen houses thought (thinking, worry, studying, concentration, focus, and memorization). If the Spleen is weak, thought will be clouded and unclear. Also excess thought can injure the Spleen. The Heart and Kidneys also aid in thought: The Spleen is more involved in thinking processes like work or school, the Heart is more involved with problem solving and long term memory, and the Kidneys nourish the brain and short term memory. This shows why people can be genius in a particular field but absent minded in everyday life activities.

Effects dreams

“If the Spleen is deficient, one dreams of being hungry. If the dream takes place in late summer, one dreams of building a house.” (Simple Questions). “If the Spleen is in excess, one dreams of singing and being very heavy…if the Spleen is deficient, one dreams of abysses in mountains and of marshes.” (Spiritual Axis).


The Functions of the TCM Kidneys

The root of pre-heaven Qi. Our Essence is taken from our parents and established at conception. The Kidneys are the foundation or primary Yin and Yang for all other organs. Kidney Yin is fundamental for birth, growth, and reproduction. Kidney Yang is the momentum behind all physiological activities. The Kidney Yin provides material for the Yang to burn, without Yang the Yin would be inert. Therefore, they each need each other to exist. If one becomes deficient, the other will become deficient (like a fire running out of wood, or like a pile of wood with a small waning flame). When treating disorders of the Kidneys a practitioner should note that treatment of both Yin and Yang is necessary. If the flame of a fire is stoked but there is little wood, the fire will quickly consume. If there is a very small fire and too much wood is added it will smother the flame. The Kidneys are the water organ, and they are also the source of fire for the body ‘the fire of the gate of vitality (Ming Men)’.

The functions of the Kidneys are:

Store Essence and govern birth, growth, reproduction, and development

Essence is inherited from our parents and is constantly replenished to a certain extent from our food intake or breathing exercises. Essence nourishes the fetus and after birth governs growth, maturation, and development. This is the basis for our constitution. It is also the basis for sexual functioning, i.e. sperm and egg production. If the Kidney Essence is deficient infertility, impotence, slow growth in children, and early senility can occur. The Kidneys also store post-heaven Essence from the Spleen and other organs.

Aging is a natural decline in the Essence. It is said that Essence has a cycle of 7 years in women and 8 years in men. Kidney Essence is the basis for Kidney Yin, therefore supplementing the Kidney Yang for warming purposes. If the Essence is strong the Kidneys are strong.

Produce Marrow, fill up the brain, and control bones

Essence is the foundation for the making of Marrow. However, do not be confused with the western concept of bone marrow, this is only a small part of how TCM views the marrow. In TCM Marrow is what makes up the bones, bone marrow, brain, and spinal cord. This is why it is said that the Kidneys fill up the brain. If the Kidneys are strong the brain functions will be sharp (i.e. memory, etc.). The Kidneys are also considered to be the origin of skill and intelligence. The brain and spinal cord are referred to as the Sea of Marrow. If the Kidneys are strong the bones and teeth will be strong. The Kidneys determine both the mental and physical strength of the individual, and the will power.

Govern water

In the five element theory the Kidneys correspond to water.

1.The Kidneys control the two lower gates (orifices) for the proper regulation of fluids. If the Kidneys are strong the urination will be normal in quantity and colour.

2. The Kidneys are in the lower Jiao, the organs in the lower Jiao are looked at as the drainage ditch – they excrete waste fluids. The Kidneys provide Qi to the Bladder to perform its physiological function.

3. The intestinal functions of separating pure and dirty fluids is also under the control of the Kidney Yang.

4. The Kidneys also recienve fluids from the Lungs. They are then further separated, the waste excreted and the pure steamed back up to the Lungs.

5. The Kidney Yang provides the Spleen with the heat needed for its function of transforming and transporting fluids.

Control the reception of Qi

The Lungs direct Qi down to the Kidneys and the Kidneys hold or grasp the Qi. If the Kidneys do not perform this function properly it will result in chest congestion and trouble breathing. This is a very common root to asthma.

Open up into the ears

The ears need Essence for their normal functioning. If the Kidneys are weak there may be trouble hearing or tinnitus.

Show their health on the hair of the head

The hair needs Essence to grow and be healthy. It is when the Kidney Essence is weak that there is premature hair loss or other troubles with hair health.

Control the two lower gates (orifices)

The opening and closing functions of the urethra and spermatic ducts in men, urethra in women, and the anus in both sexes is dependant on the health of the Kidney Qi/Yang. If there is weakness there can be urinary leakage, incontinence, enuresis, spermatorrhea, or nocturnal emissions. This may also cause diarrhea or prolapse of the anus.

House will power (Zhi)

If the Kidneys are strong our determination and will power will be strong. Mental strength, focus, and drive to achieve goals will flourish. Lack of motivation will respond well to treatment of the Kidneys.

The gate of vitality (Ming Men)

The fire of the gate of vitality (Ming Men fire) today is considered to reside between the two Kidneys. It is the motive force of all functional activities of the body. It is also referred to as the “minister fire’. It gives heat for all bodily functions and for the Kidney Essence. The Kidneys are the root of fire and water in the body, the Ming Men is considered to be the fire.

Main functions:

1. it is the root of Yuan (original) Qi

2. it is the source of fire for all the internal Zang Fu organs

3. it warms the lower Jiao and Bladder

4. it warms the Stomach and Spleen to facilitate digestion

5. it harmonizes sexual activities and warms the Essence and Uterus

6. it assists the Kidney function of receiving Qi from the Lungs

7. it helps the Heart to house the mind

Effect dreams

“When the Kidneys are weak, one dreams of swimming after a shipwreck.If the dream takes place in winter, one dreams of plunging in water and being scared.” (Simple Questions).“When the Kidneys are in excess, one dreams that the spine is detached from the body…When they are weak, one dreams of being immersed in water.” (Spiritual Axis).


The Functions of the TCM Pericardium

The Pericardium is very closely related to the Heart. The fact that it is a bag for the Heart comes from both TCM and western science. TCM believed that this bag was there to protect the Heart from external pathogenic invasions. The pericardium governs blood, and houses the mind, both functions being the same as the Heart. As a practitioner or student we know that the Pericardium meridian points have a powerful influence on the mind. The Pericardium also has an effects on a persons relationships.

The Functions of the TCM Small Intestine

The Small Intestine receives the food and drink which has been transformed by the Stomach, it’s function is to further separate the clean from the dirty. It influences mental clarity and judgment, making decisions (different from the Gallbladder which gives us the courage to make decisions, the Small Intestine gives us the clarity to make decisions well).

The functions of the Small Intestine are:

Controls receiving and further transforming

It’s main duty: the further separation of clean and dirty (useable and non-useable) from the food stuffs sent to it from the Stomach. The Spleen takes and transports the clean to the body (just as with the Stomach), and the dirty parts are transported to the Large Intestine and Bladder for excretion. This TCM view correlates very closely with that held by western medicine.

Separates fluids

This function is the same as for food outlined above, although this activity is made possible by the warming action of the Kidney Yang. If this function is impaired, there can be excessive or scanty urination depending on whether the organ has heat or cold.

Effects dreams

“When one has small intestinal parasites they will dream of crowds. When they have long parasites they will dream of fights and mutual destruction.” (Simple Questions). “When the Small Intestine is deficient, one dreams of large cities.” (Spiritual Axis).

Relations with the Heart

This relation is not as strong as that of the Liver Gallbladder or that of the Spleen Stomach. This relation between the Heart and the Small Intestine is best shown in the mental activities of the two. We know it is of great importance to our spirit to be of clear mind and make wise decisions. Giovanni Maciocia recommends SI 5 (Yanggu) to tonify the strength of this relation and proper functioning.

Heart-Fire can transmit to the Small Intestine causing thirst, bitter taste, tongue ulcers, and blood in the urine.

The Functions of the TCM Gallbladder

The Gallbladder is the only Yang organ which does not deal directly with food and drink. It is also considered an extraordinary organ. All other Yang organs have direct contact to the outside world. It also doesn’t transport food stuffs. The Gallbladder stores a refined essence (bile) which actually makes it resemble a Yin organ. Possibly the most important aspect of the Gallbladder is its influence on decision making.

The functions of the Gallbladder are:

Stores and excretes bile

Just as in western medicine, the Gallbladder receives bile from the Liver which it stores until it is needed for digestive processes. It is the only Yang organ that stores a refined fluid. When the Gallbladder releases bile it is considered to regulated by the Liver Qi, when digestion is smooth so is the flow of Liver Qi, conversely, the Gallbladder needs Liver Qi to flow smoothly to be able to release its bile. If this relation with the Liver is impaired it can create a situation called ‘wood overacting on earth’ which can result in rebel Stomach Qi flow.

Governs decision making

The Liver is considered to be responsible for the ability to plan life, the Heart oversees all mental functions, the Small Intestine gives clarity and wisdom to decision making, and the Gallbladder gives the courage and capacity to make decisions. All these functions must be harmonized to plan and lead a harmonized life. If the Gallbladder is weak a person will be timid and lack initiative and courage. The Gallbladder gives us drive and the passion to excel and the action potential necessary for these to come to fruition. Dealing with adversity also comes under the role of the Gallbladder. It is often necessary to tonify the Gallbladder to support the Hearts function.

Controls sinews

This is almost identical to the function of the Liver but the Gallbladder provides the Qi to the sinews not the blood. This is why GB 34 Yanglingquan is the influential point for the sinews.

Effects dreams

It is said that the Gallbladder effects the quality and length of sleep, if it is deficient a person will wake very early and not be able to return to sleep. “When the Gallbladder is deficient, one dreams of fights, trials, and suicide.” (Spiritual Axis).

Close relations with the Liver

The Liver and Gallbladder depend on each other to perform their functions. They both play an essential role in the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body.

In order to plan a good life (which is a function of the Liver), one needs good decision making skills (which is a function of the Gallbladder).

The Functions of the TCM Large Intestine (colon)

The main function of the Large Intestine is to receive food and drink from the Small Intestine, absorb some nutrients and fluids, and excrete the waste in the form of stools. This closely correlate with western medicine.

The Lungs and Large Intestine are interiorly/exteriorly related Yin and Yang paired organs. The Lungs descend Qi to the Large Intestine to give it the energy needed to defecate. This is displayed when Lung Qi is deficient and constipation ensues. This is very common in the elderly. Conversely, if there is constipation, the Lungs descending function is impaired. This can cause breathlessness, and hypertension.

“When the Large Intestine is deficient, one dreams of open fields.” (Spiritual Axis).

The Functions of the TCM Stomach

This is the most important of the Yang organs. With its paired organ the Spleen, it is responsible for the formation of post-heaven Qi from the digestion of food and drink.

The functions of the Stomach are:

Controls ‘rotting and ripening’ of food and drink

The fermentation of food and drink happens in the Stomach. This makes it possible for the Spleen to transform the refined essences from the food for Qi and blood production (root of post-heaven Qi). It has always been said that if the Stomach Qi is strong, the prognosis is good.

Controls the transportation of food essences

The limbs in particular are the Stomach and Spleens responsibility to nourish with food essence. It also has a major role in the transportation of food essences to the whole body. If the Stomach and Spleen are weak, so shall the person be (in particular the muscles). The pulse also shows Stomach health and activity: neither weak or strong, a balance between Yin and Yang qualities, and with a slow but regular beat shows good Stomach Qi. It also makes the pulse soft and gentle. The Stomach also reflects its health on the tongue coating. This coating is created by the same materials and processes that rot and ripen the foodstuffs. A thin white coat shows good health of the Stomach, no coat shows low Stomach Qi, thick white coat shows cold and thick yellow coat shows heat.

Controls the descending of Qi

The Stomach sends food downwards to the Small Intestine, this is why it is said that Stomach Qi goes down. If Stomach Qi rebels or goes upward, there can be heartburn, acid regurgitation, belching, hiccups, nausea, or vomiting. When digestion is harmonized the Liver Qi helps Stomach Qi descend, if the Liver Qi is stagnated the above symptoms can also arise.

Is the origin of fluids

Just as an essential medium is needed to extract the essence from herbs (water, alcohol, etc.), the same principle correlates to the Stomachs need of fluids to extract the essences from the food to be used by the body. If these fluids are plentiful, digestion will be normal. If these fluids are deficient, the patient will show thirst, bad breath, dryness on the tongue with possible cracks, and digestion will be poor. Stomach fluid deficiency is frequently caused by eating large meals late at night. The Stomach ensures that the parts from the food and drink which are not refined is turned into body fluids. This is why it is said that the Stomach likes wet and dislikes dryness.

It is also said that if the Kidneys are not functioning properly in their role of fluid metabolism that the fluids will pour into the mid Jiao from the low Jiao and impair digestion. Conversely, if the Stomach fluids are deficient for a period of time, the chances of Kidney Yin deficiency is good.

It should also be noted that the Stomach meridian is the only Yang meridian located on the anterior aspect of the body.

Effects of mental function

The Stomach often displays disease patterns of excess such as fire or Phlegm-fire. This can effect the mind. It can manifest as anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, someone shutting themselves in the house, closing all the doors and windows, wanting to be alone, violent behavior, and taking off clothes in public (these all would be referred to today as manic behavior).

Effects dreams

“When the Stomach is deficient, one dreams of having a large meal.” (Spiritual Axis).

Close relations with the Spleen

Both the Stomach and Spleen belong to Earth element in the five element theory. These two organs are considered to be the Yin and Yang aspects of the same system of functioning. The Stomach is Yin and the Spleen is Yang. Stomach Qi descends, Spleen Qi ascends. The Stomach likes wetness, The Spleen likes dryness. The Stomach easily gets excess patterns of disease or deficiency of Yin and heat, the Spleen most often suffers from patterns of deficiency of Yang and cold.

The Functions of the TCM Bladder

The Bladder stores and excretes urine, and performs necessary functions for the production of urine. When things are wrong with the Bladder there can be jealousy, suspicion, and the holding of grudges.

The functions of the Bladder are:

Removal of water by Qi transformation

The dirty part of the fluids from the Small Intestine that is passed to the Bladder is what is transformed into urine. The Bladders function of transforming fluids requires the heat provided by the Kidney Yang. Therefore the Small Intestine and the Bladder are responsible for the movement of fluids in the low Jiao. This is also the route taken when disorders of the Heart effect the Bladder. When the Bladder is deficient there will be copious clear urine. The San Jiao and the Bladder also have relations because of their respective functions of transforming fluids in the low Jiao. The San Jiao makes sure the water passages are open and free in the low Jiao.

Effects dreams

“When the Bladder is deficient, one dreams of voyages.” (Spiritual Axis).

Relations with Kidneys

The Bladder gets the Qi and heat necessary for transformation from the Kidneys. The Kidneys rely on the Bladder to excrete the dirty fluids.

The Functions of the TCM San Jiao (triple burner)

To some, the San Jiao is thought to be a Yang organ. To some, the San Jiao is thought to be where the Yuan (original) Qi flows. To some, the San Jiao is thought to be three divisions of the body.

The following discussion of the San Jiao will be divided into these three ideas (as seen in Maciocia – the foundations of Chinese Medicine)

The San Jiao as a Yang organ:

“The San Jiao is the official in charge of irrigation and it controls the water passages.” (Simple Questions). In this thought, the San Jiao has form like all the other organs. It helps to receive food, digest it, transform and transport it, and excrete the wastes. The San Jiao moves fluids in the upper Jiao through the defensive Qi, through the mid Jiao as nutritive Qi, and through the low Jiao as body fluids. The ability of the Stomach, Lungs, and Kidneys and Bladder to disperse their fluids is dependant on the San Jiao. Therefore malfunction of the San Jiao can Manifest in blockage of the upper, mid, or low Jiao. This can cause sneezing, abdominal distension, and retention of urine.

The San Jiao is where the Yuan Qi flows:

In this theory, the San Jiao has no form, it is not an organ, it is a collection of functions. The Classic of Difficulties says that the Yuan Qi resides between the Kidneys and spreads to the Zang Fu via the San Jiao, it then enters the twelve meridians and emerges at the Yuan-source points. The Yuan Qi can only make possible all body functions through its spreading by the San Jiao. Therefore it greatly effects the warming for digestion, and excretion.

The San Jiao as three divisions of the body:

This theory comes from both the Spiritual Axis and The Classic of Difficulties. The upper Jiao is from the diaphragm up (Heart, Lungs, Pericardium, throat and head), the mid Jiao is from the diaphragm to the umbilicus (Stomach, Spleen, and Gallbladder), and the area below the umbilicus is the low Jiao (Liver, Kidneys, Intestines, and Bladder).

Upper Jiao: distributes the fluids in a mist-like form all over the body through the use of the Lungs.

Mid Jiao: digests and transports the essential nourishment from food and drink to the whole body.

Low Jiao: separates the essences from the dirty in our foods and fluids. This functions ensures excretion of urine.



This is considered the most important of the extraordinary organs. It regulates menstruation, conception and pregnancy. It is very closely related to the Kidneys, Ren and Chong Mai. Both Mai originate from the Kidneys and have major functions of regulating menstruation, conception and pregnancy, they also both flow through the Uterus. If Kidney Essence is strong, Ren and Chong flourish, hence the Uterus is nourished with Qi and blood. Since the Heart governs blood, the Liver stores the blood, and the Spleen controls the blood, the Uterus has very close relations with them. Disorders of blood associated with any of these organs directly effects the health and functioning of the Uterus, in particular the menstruation. For example, if the blood is deficient there can be amenorrhea. If the blood is hot there can be metrorrhagis or menorrhegia. If Liver Qi is stagnated there will be clotted menstrual blood and painful periods. The relationship between Liver blood and the Uterus is very important in practice. Disorders of reproduction on the other hand are often from weak Kidneys (miscarriage, infertility). The Uterus is also related to the Stomach via the connection from the Chong Mai. Morning sickness is usually due to changes in the Uterus explained through this connection.


“The Sea of Marrow”. The Brain controls memory, concentration, sight, hearing, touch, and smell (the special senses). The Kidney Essence produces Marrow which fills the Brain and spinal cord. Therefore the Brain is closely related to the Kidneys both anatomically and functionally. The Brain also depends greatly on nourishment from Heart blood. If the Heart blood and the Kidney Essence are healthy the brain and it’s functions are normal


This Marrow according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is the common substance which forms the bone-marrow, and fills the brain and spinal cord. It is produced by the Kidney Essence.


The Bones are also related to the Kidneys. They are considered an extraordinary organ because they store bone-marrow. If the Kidney Essence or Marrow are deficient the Bones will be weak and easy to fracture or breakage. Treating the Kidneys can help with the healing of bone fractures or breaks.

Blood Vessels

The Blood Vessels are considered an extraordinary organ because they contain blood. They can also be traced back to the Kidneys because the Kidneys produce bone-marrow and the bone-marrow contribute to the making of blood. Yuan Qi from the Kidneys also contributes to the transformation of Food (Gu) Qi into blood.


The Gallbladder is considered a Yang organ and an extraordinary organ because unlike other Yang organs it stores bile which is a refined essence. Otherwise it’s functions are discussed under the Fu organs.

Yin (Zang) Organ Interrelationships

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the human being is looked at as an integrated whole, therefore interrelationships are of the essence. Since a person depends on the whole being in balance and harmony to achieve optimal health, discussions of the organs on their own would not be enough.

Heart & Lungs

The relationship between the Heart and the Lungs is one of Qi and blood: the Heart governs blood and the Lungs govern Qi. Qi pushes blood so it can circulate in the blood vessels, and blood nourishes Qi. The Heart needs Qi from the Lungs to drive blood through the vessels and the Lungs need blood from the Heart for nourishment. If Lung Qi is deficient, Qi can stagnate. If this occurs Heart Qi will stagnate leading to Blood Stasis (palpitations, blue-purple lips, chest pain). It is common for both Heart and Lung Qi to be weak at the same time (upper Jiao). This can also mean that the Gathering Qi has become weak and is effecting both the Heart and Lungs. Sadness can also weaken the upper Jiao Qi.

Heart & Liver

This relationship is one of blood. The Heart governs blood and the Liver stores blood. Disease of the blood of either organ will surely effects the other. If Heart blood is deficient, this will lead to Liver blood deficiency and mismanagement of the regulation of blood causing dizziness and excessive dreaming. Mother not nourishing the child is also quite common; deficiency of Liver blood causing Heart blood deficiency resulting in palpitations and insomnia.

On the mental level, these two organs are the most important when it comes to emotional management. The Heart houses the mind and the Liver controls the smooth flow of all emotions. Disorders of either can result in a wide array of mental/emotional problems.

Heart & Kidneys

This relationship has two main elements:

1. The mutual assistance of Fire and Water

2. The common root of mind and Essence.

The mutual assistance of Fire and Water

The Heart is in the upper Jiao, it corresponds to Fire, is Yang in nature, and relates to movement. The Kidneys are in the low Jiao, they correspond to water, are Yin in nature, and relate to non-movement. These two elements represent the Yin and Yang of all the organs (Fire and Water). Heart Yang descends to warm Kidney Yin, Kidney Yin ascends to nourish Heart Yang. The Heart and Kidneys are constantly communicating. If Kidney Yin is deficient it can’t rise to nourish the Heart Yin which leads to hyperactive Heart Fire (insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, flushed cheeks, night sweats, red tongue with no coat and a midline crack).

The common root of mind and Essence

The Heart houses the mind and the Kidneys store Essence. The mind is a manifestation of pre-heaven Essence. Post-heaven Essence also gives the mind nourishment. Therefore if the Essence is abundant the mind will be healthy. If the Essence is weak then one will have poor mental function, emotional instability, low self-esteem & will power will suffer. This relationship shows the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view that the body and mind are an integrated whole.

Liver & Lungs

This relationship is that of the one between blood and Qi. Lungs govern Qi and the Liver stores and regulates blood. The Liver helps the lungs to ensure smooth flow of Qi all over the body, and the Liver needs Qi from the Lungs to regulate the blood. If Lung Qi is deficient Liver Qi can stagnate. If Liver Qi stagnates it can obstruct the flow of Lung Qi causing rebel Lung Qi symptoms (cough, asthma, etc.). This is wood insulting metal from the five elements point of view. If Liver Qi stagnates long enough it can cause Liver Fire which rises and damages Lung Yin.

Liver & Spleen

This relationship is often seen is clinic when emotional stresses stagnate Liver Qi and effect the Spleen causing digestive troubles, this is known as wood overacting on earth. When Liver Qi is flowing normally it aids the Spleen with digestion. Conversely, if the Spleen is deficient, food can stagnate in the mid Jiao and disrupt the smooth flow of Liver Qi, earth insulting wood.

Liver & Kidneys

Liver blood nourishes Kidney Essence, and Kidney Essence produces bone-marrow which helps produce blood. Kidney Yin nourishes Liver Yin from a mother/child relationship in the five element theory, water nourishing wood. Essence deficiency can lead to blood deficiency causing dizziness, blurred vision, and tinnitus. If Kidney Yin does not nourish Liver Yin it can lead to hyperactivity of Liver Yang causing anger, headaches, dizziness, and hypertension. Liver blood deficiency can lead to malnourishment of the Essence which may lead to auditory and reproductive problems.

Spleen & Lungs

The Spleen sends the refined essences from food to the Lungs where it combines with air to form Gathering Qi. In turn, the Spleen relies on the Lungs to send down Qi to fuel the process of transformation and transportation. Therefore is Spleen Qi is deficient the Lungs won’t get the Food (Gu) Qi required to mix with air to make Qi. Spleen deficiency can also lead to the formation of Dampness and Phlegm which gets stored in the Lungs. If Lung Qi is weak the Spleen may also lose function of transforming and transporting fluids which can result in edema.

Spleen & Kidneys

The Kidneys are the root of pre-heaven Qi and the Spleen is the root of post-heaven Qi. Post-heaven Qi produced by the Spleen from food constantly replenishes pre-heaven Qi. The pre-heaven Qi (from the Minister Fire) provides the heat for the Spleen to digest the food and drink. If Spleen Qi is weak the Essence will not be replenished and symptoms of Kidney deficiency will arise (backache, tinnitus, no appetite, fatigue, sexual malfunction). If Kidney Yang is deficient the Spleen will not get warm enough to digest and there will be diarrhea and coldness. If Spleen Qi is deficient there may be an accumulation of fluids which will impair Kidney function. Conversely, if Kidney Yang is deficient there will be no steaming of fluids in the low Jiao and the Spleen will not get the warmth it needs as discussed before, causing diarrhea, coldness, edema, and fatigue.

Lungs & Kidneys

The Lungs send fluids and Qi down to the Kidneys, the Kidneys hold down the Qi and steam fluids back up to nourish the Lungs. Thus the Lung function of governing Qi and respiration is dependent on the Kidney function of reception of Qi and vice versa. If the Kidneys are deficient and their function of reception of Qi is impaired there will be asthma, breathlessness (more on inhalation), and cough. The Lungs send fluids down to the Kidneys and the Kidneys steam and send water back up to the Lungs to keep them moist. If Lung Qi is weak and cannot properly send fluids down there can be retention of urine or incontinence. If Kidney Yang is deficient there can be impairment of the steaming function, the low Jiao accumulates with water and the Lungs cannot send water down which will cause edema. If Kidney Yin is deficient there are not enough fluids in the low Jiao to be steamed and keep the Lungs moist, this causes Lung Yin deficiency (dry mouth/throat, dry cough, night sweats, 5-centre heat sensation).

Spleen & Heart

This is a connection of blood. The Spleen makes blood and the Heart governs blood. If Spleen Qi becomes deficient and does not produce enough blood there can be Heart blood deficiency which causes dizziness, poor memory, insomnia, and palpitations. Heart Yang pushes blood through the vessels and Heart blood is needed to nourish the Spleen.

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Yin Organs


Yang Organs

Small Intestine
Large Intestine
San Jiao

Extraordinary Yang Organs

Blood Vessels

Yin(Zang) Organ Interrelationships

Zang Fu Organs
functions + overview