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The Eight Guiding Principles of Chinese Medicine

In conjunction with the Theory of the Five Elements, there are Eight Guiding Principles followed in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  By differentiating the energetic imbalances or the nature of the patient’s condition, Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners use the guiding principles, which consist of four polar opposites:  yin/yang, cold/heat, deficiency (xu) / excess (shi) and interior/exterior.

The cold/heat principle is used to determine the overall energy of the patient.  A cold condition may be remarked as a slow metabolism, the chills, pale skin, a low-grade fever, while a hot condition may be described as a heightened metabolism, sensations of heat in the body, high fevers and flushed complexion.

Interior/exterior principle describes symptoms in terms of location of the patient’s problems.  Exterior conditions are described as those which are caused by the invasion of the body of pathogens and are usually acute and superficially located with a short duration.  Exterior symptoms are those which affect the hair, skin, muscles, joints, peripheral nerves and blood vessels.  Interior conditions result from pathogens, which have entered the interior of the body.  Whereas, interior symptoms affect the organs, deep vessels and nerves, brain, spinal cord and bones.

Deficiency/excess is a principle which describes the strength of an illness.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a deficient condition would be viewed as lack of blood (like anemia), energy (Qi), heat or fluids.  Chronic illness would also fall into this cateThe Eight Guiding Principlesgory.  In contrast, an excess condition means that the body has too much of something, such as Qi or blood.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, an acute condition would be viewed as an excess condition.

Yin/yang in principle is described as the generalization of the above principles, as well as a condition in which everything can be categorized in terms of the relative dominance of either yin or yang.  All organisms have both yin and yang energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  A balance of the two is necessary for overall good health.  Yin energy is associated with cold, generally, and female energy represents the solid organs.  Yang is associated with hot male energy and represents the hollow organs.  Chronic illnesses are seen as yin and acute illnesses are seen as yang.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the combination of these principles determines the nature or quality of the three constituents of the body, which are energy (Qi), moisture, and blood.  As described above, Qi is vital life energy.  Moisture is the liquid medium which protects, nurtures, and lubricates tissue, and blood is the material foundation out of which we create bones, nerves, skin, muscles, and organs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners diagnose health problems using various combinations of the eight guiding principles.  For example, a patient might be diagnosed as having an “internal cold” or “external heat” condition. Used in conjunction with the five element theory, the eight guiding principles give the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner a more complete picture of a patient’s energy imbalances and determine the treatment to be pursued through acupuncture, herbs, diet, and exercise.

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