Your Chinese organ systems: Part two

Here I continue my illustration of how I see the twelve organ systems as they have been described in Chinese texts and courses of study I pursue. I’m sharing this to give an idea of how I think about how the organs function in the body and how they work together from a Chinese medical standpoint. If you are my patient you’ve probably gotten bits and peices of this, but I hope to offer a more complete picture in this three-part series.

There’s a full introduction to this series and the first four organs in my previous blog post. For now, let’s dive right in to the second grouping of organs: the Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, and Kidney.

Please note when I use a Capital versus a lowercase when mentioning organs–that will clue you in to when I’m talking about a concept versus the physical organ.

The Heart

We finally meet the Emperor! The Heart is considered the ruler of the other organs, situated in the upper part of the torso and sending life-giving blood to the whole body. Symptoms such as vivid dreaming or sensations in the chest such as heart palpitations can indicate that the Heart is involved in the patient’s pattern. We can address any imbalances that affect the Heart indirectly by treating the other organ systems, which will restore balance to the whole.

The Heart is the upper source of fire in the body, receiving fire from heaven and sending it down to the lower part of the abdominal cavity. In this way the Heart above connects with the Kidney below.

The Small Intestine

The Small Intestine is the Receiving Official, accepting food from the Stomach and Spleen, separating the turbid from the pure, and sending the waste down and out while sending the nutrition up to benefit the body. In the physiological body too, the small intestine does a large part of nutrient absorption.

The Small Intestine is a yin/yang, interior/exterior pair with the Heart. The warmth of the Heart, sent down from above, contributes to the SI’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Some CM practitioners attribute idiopathic urinary tract infection or discomfort to Heart fire flaring along the Small Intestine, usually due to some external upset or influence. In that case, the SI acts almost like a relief valve for the Heart. There are few other common SI symptoms.

The Urinary Bladder

The Urinary Bladder has functions very similar to our physiological bladder. It holds the urine until it’s time to release it. The strength of the qi of other organs such as the Kidney aid in this store-and-release function. If there is urinary incontinence or difficulty the UB will be treated, but other organs may also need to be addressed. The condition of the UB also relates to the general state of the fluid metabolism of the body.

The UB channel has the most points of any in the body (67) and runs from the corners of our eyes, over the top of our head, in a double row along our spine, and down to the outside of our smallest toe. It covers the part of our bodies often attacked by wind–the neck and nape. You know that feeling when you’re coming down with a cold, and your neck gets all achy? That’s the domain of the Urinary Bladder. The UB is connected in this way to the exterior of the body and the Lung, which as I mentioned in the previous post regulates the opening and closing of the pores.

The Kidney

The Kidney is related to cold water, and is located low in the body. From its position below the other organs, it combines cold water with the fire that comes down from its partner the Heart to steam a fine mist upwards to moisten the other organs and aid in the digestive powers of the Spleen and Stomach (discussed last time). The watchword of the Kidneys is “storage.” If there are things coming out of storage–such as urine leaking out of the Bladder, blood leaking out of the vessels, or fluids leaking from the sexual organs–the Kidney could be involved.


If you have any questions, are curious or confused by this post, or just want to say hi, please email me at MGGaskinLAc@gmail.com or leave a comment here in my blog. I’m always happy to chat with you!

Next time I’ll discuss the Pericardium, San Jiao, Gallbladder, and Liver. Sign up for my email list and/or like me on Facebook to be notified when I publish my next post!

**None of this information is meant to help diagnose any medical disorders. If you have any questions please reach out to me or to your primary care physician.

Your Chinese organ systems: Part one

One of the most important things to be aware of in learning a little about Chinese medicine is that all aspects of the body and mind are interconnected, and none is discussed in isolation from the others. This tenet applies whether discussing blood, body fluids, bones, the emotions, or what I am going to talk about here: the organs.

Those who wrote the classic texts we still reference today knew about the existence of the body’s organs. They chose the metaphor of an emperor and his court to describe the relations of the organs to each other and to the body. This concept would have been understood by all scholars–if an author named the Heart as the emperor, the reader would understand that this meant the Heart occupied a very important, dominant position among the organs. The organs took on something akin to personality in this metaphor, and things they could and could not do might be understood without explanation because everyone understood how royal court worked.

The actions ascribed in the classics to each organ often correspond to the functions of the physical organs as we understand them today in the West. For instance, we’ll say that the Lung “faces the 100 vessels.” This sounds like a poetic way to describe how our lungs oxygenate our blood and send fresh life through the vessels back to the heart, and in a way it does mean that. More relevant to a discussion about Chinese medicine, however, is the emperor’s court metaphor. We will also say that the Lung is in charge of a downbearing effect related to the body’s fluids, and this has little equivalent in a biomedical sense.

Questions such as “how is the lung related to the skin” are ones that prompted me to try to put together some basic descriptions of the organs and their functions at court. I will begin with the first four organs: the Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, and Spleen. I intend to give an extremely brief overview of each of the 12 organs eventually, mention what parts of the body they correspond with, and how they interact with the whole. I fully expect that I’ll only get more questions in return after publishing this–and that’s what I want!

Please note when I use a Capital versus a lowercase when mentioning organs–that will clue you in to when I’m talking about a concept versus the physical organ.

The Lung

Think about how long you can go without eating versus how long you can go without taking a breath–that’s how important the role is that our lungs play. The air they take in is a very important part of how we generate qi, or energy, for the body. The constant bellows-like motion of the Lung is vital in aiding the Heart to disperse qi around the body. The Lung is considered a Minister in the metaphorical emperor’s court. The energy of the Lung spreads out and downward through the body.

Our lungs are considered the most superficial of organs, connected as they are with the external environment. The Lung therefore is related to the surface of the body–the skin, pores, and body hair. It is intimately connected with our early lines of defense against wind and other extremes of the outside world.

The Large Intestine

The Large Intestine is a yin/yang, interior/exterior pair with the Lung, and is also concerned with the exterior of the body. If you are aware that in Western thought, the food we eat isn’t “inside” our bodies until it gets absorbed into our cells, it will make sense that the L.I. is associated with the exterior.

The Large Intestine is a packaging center, to put things politely. After we have absorbed all we can from our food, it needs to be sent out of the body neatly and in a timely way. Issues with stools, the lower abdomen, and sometimes the skin correlate to the Large Intestine.

The Stomach

The Stomach is said to be in charge of “rotting and ripening.” This refers to its role in digestion, and very closely parallels the actions of our stomach organ. The area the Stomach is related to is the abdomen just below where your ribs separate. When the Stomach is working properly, food enters, is processed comfortably, and moves through to the packaging center (see above) to be handled in a timely manner. It operates in a downward direction–if it is disturbed and its energy flows upwards, we experience it as vomiting!

We shouldn’t notice most what our Stomach does in our day to day life–we should not experience undue rumbling, bloating, or discomfort in this process. If any of those things disturb you, it might be a good time to start a relationship with an acupuncturist!

The Spleen

The Spleen is an organ that performs a metaphorical function rather different from its role in our physical bodies. It is a yin/yang pair with the Stomach (which you recall acts in a downward direction), balancing out our digestive system. The Spleen is said to “hold the middle”–its energy is meant to lift and support our organs in their places, to assist in the ascent of qi and other energies that need to go up towards the upper parts of our bodies, and to send the good things we absorb from our food up and out to the places they are needed. This last function gives Spleen its title of Minister in charge of Transportation and Transformation.

The Spleen is often associated with the muscle layer. If we feel weakness in all four limbs, this may be related to a disruption in Spleen function.


Next time I’ll discuss the Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder and Kidney. Sign up for my email list and/or like me on Facebook to be notified when I publish my next post!

**None of this information is meant to help diagnose any medical disorders. If you have any questions please reach out to me or to your primary care physician.