The Foundations of Eastern Medicine

Traditional Eastern medicine principles are based on the concept of the uninterrupted flow of life force through hundreds of meridians and acupressure points in the body. The idea that yin and yang energy exists within the body is also an essential component of this belief system, which teaches that the opposite poles of yin and yang must be in alignment for the body to function at its highest capacity. Understanding the principles of the life force, meridians, and yin and yang is an important first step in understanding the actual massage practices that grew from them. The application of these principles is found in the assessment and treatment of the whole body, physical and energetic.

The Life Force

The life force, or vital force, is the energy that is present in you and all around you. Everything consists of energy; only the packaging is different. Think of it as something similar to The Force that Luke Skywalker learns about from his master Yoda in the Star Wars movie series. The harmonious flow of this life force maintains a natural level of all body functions, including emotions and spirit. The disorder of energy can disrupt health and the feeling of well-being.

Ch'i or qi is the Chinese name for your vital life force, the energy of the universe that flows through you and all matter, and the thread that connects us all. In Japanese culture it is known as ki, in India it is prana, and in Tibet it is lung-gom.


Energy flows through the body along an uninterrupted path of interconnected channels called meridians. The meridians are the pathways through which the vital life force flows. Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of these channels through acupressure and acupuncture to balance the energy flow within the body, stimulating the healer within and allowing the body to heal itself.

There are twelve pairs of main meridians and eight meridians known as vessels. The meridians run on either side of the body, six beginning or ending in the hands and six beginning or ending in the feet. The meridians are connected to organ functions as well as the elements of nature and the balance of yin and yang. The vessels form a conduction system that provides fuel for the channels and feeds the body at large. The twelve main meridians are located as follows:

Lung Bladder Large intestine Kidney Stomach Gall bladder Spleen-pancreas Pericardium Heart Liver Small intestine Triple burner

The energetic functions of the main meridians are the same as the functions of the organs they connect with; treat the points along a meridian and you treat the organs related to the energy line. Other meridians are related to multiple organs, such as the triple burner meridian that runs through the center of the body and is responsible for heating the organs. In massage, acupressure applied by the fingers works specific points on meridian lines, either concentrating on one point or moving through the entire meridian line, depending on the massage.

Meridians circulate ch'i just as blood flows through arteries and veins, lymph flows through lymph vessels, and nerves follow a pathway. All of these circuits travel continuously throughout the entire body through every system, from one organ to another, through every body part, promoting balance.

Yin and Yang

Yin and yang are central concepts in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. The qualities of yin and yang are complementary and mutually dependent; they represent the duality of nature. Yin represents the female force, and yang represents the male force. Yin is the feminine passive principle in nature that in Chinese cosmology is exhibited in darkness, cold, or wetness; yang is the masculine active principle in nature that is exhibited in light, heat, or dryness. Together, yin and yang combine to produce all that comes to be. Because you are part of the universe, you have these opposing, yet balancing, forces within you. In the body, the internal regions are yin and the external regions are yang. For example, the muscles and bones are yin and the skin is yang. Looking from a physiological standpoint, yin stores the energy and yang performs the activities. The goal of Eastern treatment is to balance yin and yang by opening the flow of energy along the channels and restoring harmony.

The Five Elements

According to Chinese thinking, five elements make up the world: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. These are the natural forces essential for life. Although termed “elements,” these categories deal with the energy forces that are the conditions of being. You are comprised of these five elements, because you are part of nature. Imagine a wheel, a continuum of energy that has no beginning and no end. The elements are such entities that one element flows along the circle producing another element and so on. The relationship between these elements within your body represents the quality of your health.

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