‘Stomach Qi’ is a term that I have heard said many a time by various individuals to express a range of concepts. I have heard other acupuncturists and teachers state that “this person has good stomach qi” in regards to the patient’s reported ability to digest and process food, or perhaps they have taken the patients pulse and felt the ‘middle position’ on the right wrist to be strong and replete & thus made their assumption of ‘good stomach qi’ based on this finding, or, they may have looked at the tongue of a patient & correlated it with the fact that the individual rarely suffers from colds & flu and thus deemed that ‘they have good stomach qi’ . So I assume that ‘stomach qi’ has something to do with our strength, digestion, immune function or vitality? This may be true, however the term ‘Stomach qi’ tend to be used in quite a vague and broad manner and this variance relates to both the way in which it is evaluated and in what concept the term is actually referring to.
Thus, for the purpose of clarity & to throw another idea into the mix I would like to introduce the concept of ‘Stomach qi’ as it is presented in The Nan-Ching “Classic of Difficulties” Chapter 15. Below I have included extracts from this chapter to highlight the roots of the ‘Stomach qi’ concept.
(Please note: The term ‘influences of the stomach’ relates directly to the state of ‘stomach qi’)
[If the movement in] the vessels in spring is slightly stringy, that implies a normal state; if it is mostly stringy, and if few influences of the stomach are present, that implies illness. But if it is stringy in the absence of influences of the stomach, that implies death. In spring [the organism needs] the influences of the stomach as its basis.
[If the movement in] the vessels in summer is slightly hook-like, that implies a normal state. If it is mostly hook-like, and if few influences of the stomach are present, that implies illness. But if it is hook-like in the absence of influences of the stomach, that implies death, [because in] summer [the organism needs] the influences of the stomach as its basis.
(If the movement in] the vessels in autumn is slightly hairy, that implies a normal state. If it is mostly hairy, and if few influences of the stomach are present, that implies illness. But if it is hairy in the absence of influences of the stomach, that implies death, [because in] autumn [the organism needs] the influences of the stomach as its basis.
[If the movement in] the vessels in winter is slightly stony, that implies a normal state. If it is mostly stony, and if few influences of the stomach are present, that implies illness. But if it is stony in the absence of influences of the stomach, that implies death, [because in] winter [the organism needs] the influences of the stomach as its basis.
We can see from the extracts taken from the Nan-ching presented above that a discussion of the seasonal qualities felt at the radial pulse is taking place. In essence, the author is stating that regardless of the seasonal quality felt at the radial pulse i.e. stringy (spring), hook like (summer), hairy (autumn) or stony (winter), if there is few ‘influences’ of stomach qi felt illness implies & if the influences of stomach qi are not at all present, death will result.
This chapter of the Nan-Ching truly highlights the importance of the ‘Stomach qi’ concept and relates its presence or lack of, directly to the individual’s prognosis (life or death). Many acupuncturists over the last two millennia have been fascinated by the concept of ‘Stomach qi’ and how to build and foster the stomach qi of the patients they treat. One particular master acupuncturist is Kiyoshi Nagano, a very prominent Japanese acupuncturist who had a deep understanding of the Nan-Ching and other acupuncture classics. Master Nagano found through his many years of acupuncture practice that treating patients ‘Stomach qi’ was integral to many individuals’ health and wellbeing, as stipulated in the Nan-Ching. However, although the Nan-Ching stresses the importance of ‘Stomach Qi’ it does not state how to treat it or through which acupuncture points to needle.
I would like to now bring in another extract from Chapter 15 of the Nan-Ching:
(Please note: in acupuncture philosophy the ‘earth’ element encompasses the ‘spleen/stomach’. Thus in the paragraph below when the ‘spleen’ is mentioned it implies the ‘earth’ element and the yang paired organ the ‘stomach’.)
"The spleen is the central region. Its balanced and normal state cannot be recognized [through feeling the movement in the vessels. Only its] exhaustion can be recognized. [In this case, the movement in the vessels] comes like the pecking of birds, like the dripping of water. This is how one may recognize exhaustion of the spleen.”
Interestingly enough Master Nagano states that the ‘Stomach qi’ can be felt directly in the pulse. If the pulse has a forward wave to it and there in no ‘pecking’ present the stomach qi is in a replete state. However, if the pulse feels to be ‘pecking like a bird’ then this denotes that the stomach qi is insufficient. Master Nagano also found that needling the ‘bumps’ on the stomach meridian from the region of Zusanli ST 36 to Jiexi ST 41 (left side first) improved the Stomach qi directly and moved the pulse from ‘pecking’ to a rounded, forward flow. Thus Master Nagano was able to take the Classical yet foundational acupuncture concept of ‘Stomach qi’ expressed in the Nan-Ching & apply it directly to his patients through his intuitive and profound acupuncture practice.
My clinical acupuncture experience with using Master Nagano’s ‘Stomach qi’ treatment has highlighted to me that it truly has a very wide scope of application. I have utilised this treatment & technique in addressing many conditions from digestive disorders, hip pain, knee pain, shin splints, chronic fatigue to nausea & morning sickness and much more. Furthermore, as stated in the Nan-Ching on any occasion when the radial pulse of an individual feels like the ‘pecking of birds’. My clinical experience has shown me that assessing and addressing the ‘Stomach Qi’ in this manner can make a tremendous difference in the therapeutic effect induced.
An example of this occurred on the Monday that past, whilst I was treating at my Safety Beach acupuncture practice I had a patient with among other signs and symptoms expressed a main complaint of ‘deep’ ‘bone like’ ankle pain and shin pain. Pulse presented with a forward movement (indicative of stomach qi) and the first half of the treatment was based on treating the ‘constitution’ of the individual. Acupuncture treatment was guided by medical history and palpation. About half way through the treatment the patient stated that the pain in her ankles and shins had reduced but was still very much apparent. I then palpated down the stomach meridian (close the bone) & felt for the ‘bumps’ that were both present and painful. Upon needling these ‘bumps’ directly on a 10 degree angle downwards with the flow of the meridian and leaving the needles in for 10 minutes, the patient reported that the pain had greatly reduced. By the end of the acupuncture treatment the individual reported next to no discomfort at the ankles or the shins and informed me yesterday (4 days post treatment) that the pain has continued to stay at bay even whilst being on her feet for extended periods of time.
The above clinical snapshot highlights the most recent and but one of the many uses I have implemented the ‘stomach qi’ treatment in my acupuncture practice. However, as stated this is only one example and its scope of application runs very deep.
(Please note: I have used and directly copied the text extracts from Paul U. Unschuld’s translation of the Nan-Ching)
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
Giancarlo Nerini - Acupuncturist (Melbourne & Safety Beach)