The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine is divided into two sections, the first of which is titled Suwen or ‘Basic Questions’ and the second section is titled Lingshu or ‘Spiritual Pivot’. The two halves of this canon of internal medicine were written in the Han dynasty around 2000 years ago, and are still regarded as the foundational texts of Chinese Medicine and the practice of Acupuncture. Along with this Classic another Classical text was written known as the Nanjing or ‘Classic of Difficulties’. This text plays the role of highlighting and further penetrating the deep philosophical concepts expressed in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic, and is regarded by many as the primary acupuncture text. This high regard for the Nanjing as the original acupuncture ‘manual’ is due to its relative in depth description of both acupuncture diagnosis as well as treatment techniques. Thus it is these two primary texts that form the deep foundation of Acupuncture and Chinese Medical philosophy, and it is from this foundational source that we find the importance of the stomach illustrated time and time again.
In chapter 11 of the Suwen titled “Further Discourse On The Five Yin Viscera” we find the statement that ‘The stomach is the sea of nutrients, the foundation of the six yang organs’. It then continues to make the statement that ‘Therefore, the five yin organs and the six yang organs derive their qi and nutrition from the stomach.’
Basically what these few sentences are saying is that the stomach and the strength of the stomach qi (relating to function) are responsible for nourishing all the organs in the body. It is the stomach holding the title of the ‘sea of nutrients’ that feeds and fuels all the bodily organs and thus the integrity of the stomach will rule how all the organs function and thus determine our state of health or disease.
In Chapter 15 of the Nanjing it discusses the quality felt when an acupuncturist feels the pulses of the patient. It relates the certain quality felt to the seasons and highlights what the pulse should feel like in each season. It relates the feeling of this seasonal quality felt in the pulse to a state of health, disease, and near death. So for example the seasonal quality felt in the pulse at springtime indicative of health is described as ‘slightly stringy’. It goes on to now to state that if the stringy quality is felt but the stomach qi/influences of the stomach are weak, illness is implied. Furthermore, if the stringy quality is felt but the presence of stomach qi/influences of the stomach are absent, death is implied.
So basically this chapter is saying that the seasonal quality of the pulse (which is a pillar of diagnosis for acupuncturists) can feel like really anything, but what truly decides the health of the individual and subsequent prognosis is the influences/qi of the stomach. Hence further highlighting the importance of the stomach and its integrity in Chinese Medical thought and thus acupuncture philosophy.
These ideas expressed in the Suwen and Nanjing heavily tie in to the philosophical construct of 5 element theory or ‘Wu Xing’. As it is the Earth element of which the stomach organ relates to that is depicted in the centre of the other four elements. The earth element represents the point of transition from one phase/element to the next. Thus as the energetic flow shifts it passes through the centre/earth where it receives nourishment before continuing on the next element. Again this further highlights the stomachs foundational role in Chinese Medicine and as an acupuncturist this highlights to me why acu-points on the stomach meridian can benefit so many conditions, and can positively affect so many systems in the body.
Giancarlo Nerini - Licensed Acupuncturist