TCM Terminology for All

Estimated read time... 3 minutes

Why bother using TCM terminology?  Especially when you are not a practitioner, herbalist, or the like?  Because TCM allows one to look at the self, and world as an integrated system.  TCM explains things that cannot be explained within simpler medical terms.  TCM is both very simple and infinitely complex.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology can seem overwhelming, but I find that TCM is very intuitive, and the terminology makes a lot of sense with a little bit of effort.  It doesn’t hurt that I have the privilege of running a weekly chat at my superb Alma mater (East West School of Planetary Herbology) that is focused on foundational TCM theory to constantly refresh my mind and keep me on my toes.

Ready to dip your toes into the waters of TCM and TCM Terminology?  Here we go!


TCM Terminology Beginner’s Basics:

Yin, Yang, Qi, Blood, Fluids, Essence and Shen


1. TCM is not an either/or paradigm, it is either/and, meaning: the world does not exist in a clear-cut manner.

2. The goal of TCM is to bring balance to the body and self.  Balance is the lack of disease, it is also a lack of disease insofar as your genetics and constitution allow.   This means that if you were born with a genetic predisposition to a particular imbalance/disease, TCM’s goal is to help bring you into balance as much as possible.

2. Yin and Yang is the foundation of all TCM – if you become confused, return to the basics: Yin and Yang.

What are Yin and Yang?

  • Yin and Yang are opposite energies that exist on the same spectrum.
  • There is no pure Yin or pure Yang, they exist together.  There is always Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin.
  • An example is the moon: while the moon is Yin, the sun’s light reflects the moon and there can be more Yang (light) within the Yin moon depending on the moon’s cycle.  A full moon would have more Yang within Yin, whereas a new moon would have little Yang within Yin.
  • It is all relative.

Yin is that which is feminine, dark, heavy, wet, cool, passive, receptive, it moves inward and downward, sinks, it is the moon, the dark side of a hill, it is sympathetic. It is still.  Yin is West and North, below, contracting, growing, resting, matter, space, water, earth.

Yang is masculine, light, dry, warm, active, it is upward and outward moving, rises, it is the sun, the sunny side of a hill, it is para-sympathetic.  It moves.  Yang is South and East, above, expanding, generating, activity, energy, fire, time, heaven.

In the body, Yin is the interior, front, below the waist, structure, Blood and fluids.  Yang is the exterior, back, above the waist, function and Qi.  Yin is primarily the body, Yang is primarily the head.

3. Qi is the fundamental energy, the force that activates life.  It is part of Yang, in that it is movement, warmth, activity. Qi transports, transforms, warms, protects, and holds the body, systems and processes.

4. Blood is part of Yin, it is similar to the Western description of blood and it also includes circulation and stagnation.

5. Fluids are also part of Yin, they include: saliva, tears, urine, sweat, lymph and other bodily secretions.

6. Essence is similar to Ojas in Ayurveda.  Essence is in charge of reproduction, development, growth and decay; as such it is the basis for our vitality and strength.  You can never have too much Essence, you can have too little.

7. Shen is not just Spirit, but also the Mind.  Shen resides in the Heart, and both the reflection and representation of the health of the person/animal: spiritual, emotional, mental/psychological, and physical.

I hope that this brief list is enough to whet your appetite, because in the next post, I’ll provide information about what these different imbalances look like using TCM terminology!

Pink Peony - TCM Terminology Quaternity Holistics

Please note: this series is not intended to be used as a system for assessment (oneself, others) but as an informational guide.



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