Li Shi Zhen’s stick and carrot diplomacy to chase out a ghost

Recently I talked about Li Shi Zhen and his treatment of a case of gui qi, literally ghost qi, or demonic influence. A ghost or demon invaded an acupuncture hole (an acupuncture point is actually a hole: it’s three dimensional) and made himself at home there. Li Shi Zhen’s treatment was moxibustion and offerings of food and wine and the case was resolved. Now this was an elegant two prong treatment: a stick and a carrot no less. Moxibustion boosted the yang righteous qi so it became most inhospitable for the demon. You can say he literally smoked him out of there. Then he also had food and wine waiting ouside for him. The demon could not refuse this offer: he had to leave. A couple things are remarkable about Li’s treatment. First, it was compassionate and gentle. There was no attempt to kill or destroy the ghost. It was more strong diplomacy than anything else. Second, Li psychologically prepared his patient for the healing. He allowed him an understanding of the sickness; that it was a bad, uninvited, guest. If nobody knew what was going on it would be hard to treat. Now the patient had a narrative. There would be a way to pursuade the ghost to leave.

(This is part 3 of a series on gui qi.)

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Demonic influence as a cause of disease

Let’s consider the idea of gui qi, demonic influence or possession as a cause of disease that was brought up in the last blog entry.

It’s easy to dismiss gui qi, demonic influence or possession as a cause of disease, as primitive superstition. However, in the cited case Li Shi Zhen observed the signs and symptoms of the condition, located the disease, made a diagnosis, offered a two prong treatment and successfully resolved the problem. Isn’t that what all doctors hope to do? I think a few factors may likely lead to a diagnosis of demonic influence:

  • Abrupt onset of condition
  • Drastic changes in the appearance and behavior of the patient
  • Strange signs and symptoms
  • No better existing explanation for the conditon
  • The patient complains of demonic influence

Of course, the doctor with special senses may also be able to make that diagnosis regardless of the above. The question is, how is allopathic medicine today different. First, the diagnosis is likely based on various test results: imaging, biopsy, genetic analysis, etc. Then a diagnosis is arrived at, then certain drugs or procedures are prescribed. Li Shi Zhen’s patient would probably be referred to a psychiatrist who would make a diagnosis, schizophrenia maybe, and prescribe certain drugs. He would likely be hospitalized.

Any disease, even a common cold, involves many complex processes. The ambition of medicine whether ancient or modern, eastern or western, is to understand them and find a way to interrupt, stop and reverse their pathological development to restore health. Western diagnostic labels are shorthands for complexes of processes. Chinese pattern diagnostic terms emphasize certain processes  but they are still shorthands neverthless. To adequately describe one disease often requires multiple patterns. So what is gui qi, demonic influence? It describes a complex condition that is mysterious in etiology and manifestation that may have a strong psychological element. Now, doesn’t that sound like many diseases we know in the scientific world? Viewed this way gui qi is no longer superstition but a justified attempt to understand and describe the disease and to cure the affected.

(This is part 2 of a series on gui qi.)

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Peach seeds to treat evil qi

There was a time in the past when gui qi, or demonic influence, was an accepted cause of disease. Sixteenth century doctor and scholar Li Shi-Zhen, in Exposition on the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, reported a case in which an evil spirit invaded an acupuncture hole and made it home. With moxa treatment together with offerings of food and wine to appease the demon the condition was resolved. Li Shi-Zhen used tao ren (Semen Persicae), or peach seed in common parlance, to treat all kinds of demonic influence. Tao ren is an herb for moving blood and clearing blood stasis. It is quite commonly used together with other herbs to treat gynecological pain and pain from internal and external injuries.

(This is part 1 of a series dealing with gui qi.)P1130302

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The Concept of Fertility in Chinese Medicine: Tian Gui 天癸

Fertility, the natural ability to give birth to offspring, is expressed in Chinese Medicine by the concept of Tian Gui 天癸. Tian 天, meaning ‘heaven’, has two aspects: the pre-heaven and the post-heaven. That which is given at birth is pre-heaven. It includes not only ancestral and hereditary factors, DNA, and genes, but also astrological and karmic influences. That which comes after birth is post-heaven. This is our nourishment: food and water, the air we breathe, and the physical and emotional environments we live in. The pre-heaven and post-heaven are mutually dependent: the pre-heaven offers potentials and sets limits; the post-heaven enables the expression of these potentials. The pre-heaven is the seed; the post-heaven is the soil, the water, and the sun.

Gui 癸 is the last of the Ten Celestial Stems. What is important to know here is that Gui pertains to the Water element and, more specifically, to Yin Water (while the ninth stem Ren 壬 pertains to Yang Water). Yin is the substantial embodiment of Qi. Tian Gui 天癸 can be translated as ‘Heavenly Water’. Indeed, the expression Tian Gui Shui 天癸 水, or ‘Tian Gui Water’, is used to describe seminal and menstrual fluids. The Water element is related to the Kidney organ, so in fertility (or infertility), the energetics of the kidneys are the most important thing to consider. Tian Gui 天癸 is the expression of 腎氣 Kidney Qi in terms of fertility.

In the Su Wen, Huangdi asks of Qi Bo 歧伯:


In old age a person is not able to produce offspring, is it because of the exhaustion of vitality, or is it predestination by the law of nature?

Qi Bo answers by describing the developmental stages of seven- and eight-year cycles in females and males, respectively:


When a girl reaches the age of seven, Kidney Qi is rich so the baby teeth are replaced by adult teeth and the hair grows long.

Hair is the flourish of Kidney Qi, teeth is the excess of bones. Both hair and bones are expressions of Kidney Qi. The condition of the hair and the teeth is a good indication of the condition of Kidney Qi.


At the age of two times seven, or fourteen, Kidney Qi is full, Tian Gui arrives, the Ren Mai courses, and the Chong Mai becomes rich and full. When the menstrual cycle becomes regular, she is fertile.

The Ren Mai connects to the uterus and is the Sea of Yin. The Chong Mai is the Sea of Blood. Both vessels are governed by Kidney Qi; their proper functioning is essential to fertility. So fertility problems can be treated with the Chong and the Ren. Also, the menstrual cycle must be regular; hence, regulating the cycle is the basic method in promoting fertility.


At the age of three times seven, or twenty-one, Kidney Qi is calm and even, the wisdom teeth come in, and the hair grows long and luscious.


At the age of four times seven, or twenty-eight, the sinews and bones are strong, the hair is luscious, and the body is fully developed.


At the age of five times seven, or thirty-five, the Yang Ming Mai weakens, the complexion starts to wither, and the hair starts to fall out.

Women are Yin creatures, and so are naturally deficient in the Yang; therefore, problems show in the Yang channels first. The Yang Ming governs the face, hence the withering complexion and the hair loss.


At the age of six times seven, or forty-two, the three Yang channels weaken in the top part of the body, so the complexion withers and the hair starts to turn white.

Now not only the Yang Ming but also the Tai Yang and Shao Yang channels are deteriorating.


At the age of seven times seven, or forty-nine, the Ren Mai is deficient, the Chong Mai dwindles, Tian Gui stops, the body starts to weaken, and fertility comes to an end.


When a male reaches the age of eight, Kidney Qi is becomes firm, the hair grows long and the infant teeth are replaced by adult teeth.


At the age of two times eight, or sixteen, Kidney Qi and reproductive Essence are full and ready to discharge: Tian Gui has arrived. At this point, if the male and the female unite, they can produce a child. 


At the age of three times eight, or twenty-four, Kidney Qi is calm and even, the sinews and bones are strong; therefore, the wisdom teeth come in and the hair grows long.


At the age of four times eight, or thirty-two, muscles, sinews, and bones are fully developed and at their strongest.


At the age of five times eight, or forty, Kidney Qi starts to weaken, the hair starts to fall, and the teeth weaken.

Men are Yang creatures, and so are naturally deficient in the Yin. Decay, therefore, shows in the Yin, i.e., Kidney Qi, first.


At the age of six times eight, or forty-eight, the Yang Qi weakens at the top part of the body so the complexion starts to wither and the hairs turn white.


At the age of seven times eight, or fifty-six, Liver Qi weakens, so the sinews become stiff.

Liver governs sinews and is dependent on the Kidney.


At the age of eight times eight, or sixty-four, reproductive Essence dwindles, the Kidneys and the body as a whole become weak, teeth and hair fall out, and Tian Gui comes to an end. The Kidneys govern Water but they depend on receiving the Essence of the Five Zang and the Six Fu Organs to store Water. So when the Organs are flourishing, Kidney Essence is full and it can discharge. Now that all the Organs are weak, bones and sinews slack and droop, so Tian Gui ends, the hair turns white, the body feels heavy, and even the gait is unsteady; it is no longer possible to produce offspring.

Proper Kidney functioning depends on the nourishment from the other organs. This paragraph reinforces the interdependence between the Kidneys and the other organs, and also between pre-heaven and the post-heaven Qi. The clinical significance is that the ‘tonify the Kidney’ school notwithstanding, it is important to support the healthy functioning of the other organs in order to strengthen the kidneys.

Huangdi then asks:


Then how come sometimes a child can be conceived in spite of old age?


Qi Bo: These are rare cases in which the parent is blessed with exceptionally strong pre-heaven Kidney Qi, so Qi, Blood, and the channels still flow unimpeded in spite of age. Normally a man cannot produce a child past the age of eight times eight and a woman cannot produce a child past the age of seven times seven because both pre-heaven and post-heaven Qi and Essence would be exhausted.


Huangdi: And the ones who are most accomplished in nourishing life in accordance with nature, when they are close to a hundred years of age, can they still produce a child?


Qi Bo: Yes, for these accomplished ones, even as they age they maintain their full form and functioning so they can still produce a child.

Understand this to mean that with proper practice in living and nourishing life in accordance with nature, a person can indeed stay healthy, strong, and vital, and live to an old age.

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Regulating Moods and Emotions with Breathing

Except for the mechanical tickings of a clock, time is an illusive concept inseparable from experience that occurs in space. Does time heal all wounds? Not necessarily. It’s what happens in time that can heal. What connects one point in time to another is breath. If the breath is short and labored, or hurried and unruly, or suffocating, there is not going to be any healing – not in a million years. On the other hand, if the breath is full and harmonious, regular and rhythmic in accordance with the Yin and the Yang, then it can, indeed, heal all wounds. Here we are going to talk about the two basic breaths: the Yin and the Yang breaths with which we can regulate our moods, our emotions and, hence, our subjective experience. But first, let’s differentiate between moods and emotions.

An emotion has an identifiable cause. You feel sad if a dear one leaves you, happy if you run into a surprise fortune, or simply because the sun comes out from behind the clouds. The important thing is that most of us assume that the emotions we experience are inevitable and inescapable. Some of us identify with them so completely that we honor them as the essence of our being, and we allow them to govern us. When a negative experience causes fear, pain, or regret, we tend to replay the experience and its accompanying emotions over and over again, reinforcing and deepening the wound. In fact, we have a choice. Instead of walking down that same road over and over again, we can choose another. We can leave it as it is, accept it, and walk away, or we can relive that experience in a different way and become conscious of all the positive aspects we had previously been blind to. Breathing the proper way will help us achieve this transformation.

Then there are moods. Moods have less identifiable causes.The lyrics of the standard “Almost Like Being in Love” come to mind:

What a day this has been
What a rare mood I’m in
Why, it’s almost like being in love

There’s a smile on my face
For the whole human race
Why, it’s almost like being in love

All the music of life seems to be
Like a bell that is ringing for me
And from the way that I feel
When that bell starts to peal
I would swear I was falling
I could swear I was falling
It’s almost like being in love

What is the source of this wondrous feeling? A ray of sunlight, a scent that evokes primeval feelings, or just an awareness of the lightness of being? Often we are not sure. And then there are those foul, deep, blue moods that have inspired so much great music. Both are equally overwhelming, equally mysterious. Do they come from nowhere? No, their origin is our connection with the larger forces: the natural cycles, the seasons, the stars, and the cosmos. But even here we have a say. We can rectify our moods with proper breathing.

The science of breath may be complicated but the basics are simple: it boils down to the Yin and the Yang breaths. But first, some science. The lung is a large organ with five lobes. It is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top so there are more lung cells (alveoli) lower down. Breathing is not only about sucking air in; it is about getting rid of carbon dioxide and toxins and oxygenating the blood – a marriage of blood and air, of heart and lungs. When the breath is shallow, as in chest breathing, it only hits the upper part of the lungs. Not enough oxygen is brought in, and the heart immediately works double time to compensate. The effect is palpitation and shortness of breath, a sensation that gives rise to feelings of panic and anxiety. When the breath is full, as in abdominal breathing, the heart is relaxed, resulting in a sensation of comfort and well being. In both the Yin and Yang breaths, we use abdominal breathing.

Abdominal Breathing

In abdominal breathing, direct the breath to the lower abdomen, the part between the navel and the top of the pubic bone. In Daoist practice, this is called the Dantian, the field where the elixir is cultivated. Put your mind there. This means you put your consciousness there, watching the rising and falling of the abdomen with the breath, aware of its warmth and light. It also means that you withdraw your mind from your brain with all its endless clingings and chatterings.  The energy is pulled down to the Dantian. The rising, the falling, the light and warmth. Ever-watchful, but no conscious thoughts. Now breathe like this nine times and see how you feel.

The Yin Breath

The abdomen is completely relaxed in the Yin Breath. There is only watching and little doing. Breathing in, the abdomen rises and bulges out a little. Breathing out, the abdomen sinks in. Put your mind on the abdomen and watch it expand and contract like bellows. Bring the consciousness to the diaphragm. Feel it contract and push downward with the in-breath. Feel it relax and rise up with the out-breath. We are usually not conscious of the diaphragm muscle,  but, with some attention and practice, we can feel how this muscle works. The Yin breath focuses on watching, on not doing. It is a relaxing breath that calms the racing mind and soothes anxiety. It is the breath to use to gain grounding, anchor, and balance. Now breathe like this nine times and see how you feel.

The Yang Breath

In the Yang breath, the Dantian is charged with intention. When breathing in, the lower abdomen is also gently drawn in and back toward the spine. By compacting the space while air is drawn in, the Qi is concentrated. When breathing out, the lower abdomen slowly relaxes and bulges out a little. In the Yang breath, there is as much doing as watching, but the doing is gentle, natural, and not forced. The doing has more to do with intention than a physical act. Try to find that balance. If you feel strained, you are doing too much. The Yang breath is an activating breath. It is most suitable to use when you feel tired, listless, or depressed. Now breathe this way nine times and see how you feel.

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How to identify five element body types

Stereotypes are caricatures. Every pure type represents a distortion in which one elemental force dominates to the exclusion of the other four.  Perfect health implies a life in which the tendencies of all five elements participate in equal measure, promoting, checking, and balancing each other. Few of us enjoy such perfect health. Meridians are like roadways in life. We tend to take the same roads repeatedly while leaving the others untravelled. The energetics of the ones we travel on repeatedly become excessive while the ones we ignore become deficient. In time, this imbalance become our personality, defining the the way we interact with other people, with the world,  and with ourselves.


  • The Wood-type person can be identified by the ‘three longs’: long face, long body trunk, long fingers.
  • The Wood-type person is shaped like a tree, with a long face; wide on top and narrow at the bottom, bony with scant flesh, and has wide, slouching shoulders.
  • The Wood-type person has a greenish complexion and a solemn looking demeanor. The Wood-type person is prone to anger manifested by bulging, green veins.
  • The Wood-type person’s speech is blunt and short, with words sounding “thin,” as though coming from the teeth.
  • The Wood-type person walks with a noisy, marching gait, lifting the feet and letting them drop.


  • The Fire-type person can be identified by the three “pointies”: a pointy nose, a pointy chin, and a pointy top of the head.
  • The Fire-type person’s body is shaped like a torch: pointy on top, narrow on the bottom, and flared in the middle. The face is round and full, and the hair is thin. The body is plump, of medium build with sloping shoulders.
  • The complexion is reddish; the ears and the neck turn crimson when the temper is roused.
  • The voice is sharp and high-pitched, with a broken quality. The sounds seemingly come from the tongue.
  • The Fire-type person is light-footed and walks at a hurried pace, dashing forward with the upper body swaying from side to side.


  • The Earth-type person can be identified by the three ‘shorts’: the body is short, the neck is short, and the fingers are short.
  • The Earth-type person has a square face with big ears and a bulbous nose shaped like a head of garlic. The muscles are strong and both the waist and back are thick. Movements are clumsy and the demeanor is honest and sincere. Not well-educated but a simple person with no guile.
  • The complexion is yellow, which turns into a withered yellow when the person is unhappy.
  • The Earth-type person speaks with a loud, low-pitched nasal tone. The gait is heavy-footed with every step solidly landing on the ground.


  • The Metal-type person can be identified by the three ‘thins’: thin lips, thin eyelids, and the flesh on the back of the hands is thin.
  • The Metal-type person is attractive-looking. The face is rectangular in shape, with a pointy chin, and well-defined, well-distributed features. The body is slim, and the movements are graceful and lively.
  • The Metal-type person has a good way with words and is a persuasive communicator.
  • The complexion is white, and turns pale when the tempers are aroused.
  • The voice is bright and clear as a bell with the sounds coming from the throat. The gait is swift, light, and lively.


  • The Water-element person can be identified by the three ‘thicks’: thick eyelids, a thick jaw, and the flesh on the back of the hands is thick.
  • The face is large, fleshy, round, wider at the base than the top, and often a double chin. Big eyes, thick eyebrows and thick hair, both the face and body are full and chubby.
  • The complexion has a black tint, which darkens when the temper is roused.
  • The Water-element person speaks with a relaxed, low tone with the sounds coming from the throat.
  • The Water-element person walks slowly, with the feet dragging on the ground.


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Five Elements Theory

The oracle bone script for 行 (xíng) pictures a left and a right footstep

The translation from the Chinese 五行 (wŭ xíng) into Five Elements does not convey its essential meaning of movement. The character 行 is composed of two parts, 彳on the left and 亍 on the right. They are actually the same radical drawn differently. The radical means a step made by a human foot. 行 is composed of a left and a right footstep. It means walking, or movement. Understanding Chinese ideas is easier if one remembers that they are about process and change.

Five Element Correspondences with Nature

Five Flavorssourbittersweetspicysalty
Five Colorsgreenredyellowwhiteblack
Stages of Developmentbirthgrowthtransformationwithdrawalstorage
Seasonsspringsummerlong (late) summerautumnwinter

Five Element Correspondences with the Human Body

Yin (treasure house) OrgansLiverHeartSpleen and PancreasLungsKidneys
Yang (processing) OrgansGallbladderSmall IntestineStomachLarge IntestineUrinary Bladder
Five Senseseyestonguemouthnoseears
Body Tissuessinewsblood vesselsfleshskin and hairbones
Five Emotionsangerjoyworrygrieffear

The Five Elements interact with each other by exerting promoting and inhibiting forces on one another. Promoting means to create, to nourish, to enable growth, to make stronger. Inhibiting means to control, to inhibit growth, to make weaker, to diminish.

The Five Elements promote one another in this order: wood > fire > earth > metal > water > wood

The Five Elements inhibit one another in this order: wood > earth > water > fire > metal >wood

The promoting and inhibiting forces are working constantly and simultaneously in nature and in the human body. Natural and human events are the results of Five Elements interaction. Everything is evolving and changing. Some changes are quick and immediate, others are so slow as to give the illusion of permanence.

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What is Yin/Yang

Yin/yang is a way of knowledge  If everything in the world is the same shade of white then one can not see anything. One is able to see because things are of different colors and different shades. The yin and the yang are opposing qualities that can be used to describe anything by placing it in a context. So, first and foremost, yin/yang makes it possible to know and talk about things. The yin and the yang are like two people in a long, intimate relationship. There are many different aspects to this relationship:

The yin and the yang are opposing qualities  Yang means sun and yin means shade. The ancient sages intuited the laws that govern all phenomena based on observation of the dance of sun and shade.

yin yang
earth heaven
night day
interior exterior
quiescent active
cold hot
woman man
flavor temperature
water fire
downward upward
dark bright
contracting expanding
soft hard

A word about the flavor/temperature pair. Temperature and flavor are qualities in food and herbs. Temperature varies from very hot to very cold; neutral is in the middle. Temperature here refers to the inherent nature of the food or herb, rather than the heating or cooling of it, although the later can exaggerate or moderate the natural temperature. There are five flavors: sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and salty. Neutral may be added to make six. Temperature is a more energetic quality compared to flavor which is denser and more substantial, hence temperature is yang, and flavor is yin. Temperature and flavor always work together to affect the body.

The yin and the yang are rooted in each other  Even while they oppose each other, they depend on each other, enabling each other to flourish, each relying on the other to do its work.

As one waxes, the other wanes  The opposition between the yin and the yang is not static; it is a dynamic process of complementary growth and diminishment. As the yang grows larger, the yin grows smaller, and vice versa. In this way they perpetuate each other.

One can transform into the other  Any phenomenon is an expression of its inherent yin/yang dynamics. When required conditions come into being, it will reverse its course: the yin will transform into the yang, and the yang into the yin.

The body organs have these yin/yang relationships:

  • That which is above is yang, that which is below is yin.
  • The exterior of the body is yang, the interior yin.
  • The four limbs are yang, the trunk of the body is yin.
  • The back is yang, the abdomen is yin.
  • The lateral sides of the body are yang, the medial sides of the body are yin.
  • The Heart, Kidneys, Lungs, Livers, and the Spleen including the Pancreas, are the five yin organs: they store precious body substances. The Stomach, Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Urinary Bladder, Gallbladder, and the Triple Burner, are the six yang organs: they perform the functions of processing, and discharge.
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Chief acupuncture point for eye problems

Urinary Bladder 1, named Jing Ming, meaning Bright Eye, is located within the eye socket, but off the eyeball. It is useful for inflammation of the eye causing redness, swelling, heat sensation, and pain. Also for blurry vision, eye itch and twitch. Needless to say, needling has to done carefully. Its location is defined as a depression .1 cun above the inner canthus of the eye. One cun is the width of the patient’s thumb measured at the distal joint so this is one tenth of that. The safe way to exactly locate Jing Ming is not by measurement but by palpation. Textbooks recommend needling with the eye rolled down. Palpate the spot yourself and you will find that the depression is actually more open with the eye rolled up, and that is the right way to needle Bright Eyes. The patient in the picture is smiling because of the relief she is feeling.

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Premier issue of Inner Gate Qigong newsletter is out

Pangu Created the World

New students may take advantage of the 50% discount for a private class and experience how customized and targeted instruction can help them along their paths.
This issue features three stories. Ancient history meets space age science in the perennial Quest for Immortality. Pangu Created the World is a Chinese creation myth. Its meaning and relevance to Chinese medicine are explored in Heaven Above, Earth Below.

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