The following questions  on acupuncture theory and practice have been sent to me over the past few years from colleagues around the world.  Many are recurring themes.  Where classical texts are open to interpretation I have added my reasoning for choosing a particular approach.  Press the plus sign alongside each question to see the full answer.

Psychology in  Stems and Branches acupuncture

Question: I am a clinical psychologist in private practice, and I have worked for many years to establish a clear, valid and systematized way of describing a system of personalities and forms of vitality. I use it for having a way of helping patients discover their way of clinging to personality features, discovering main ways of resisting inner openness, discovering links between symptoms and personality, discovering personality so that it can be loved as it is.

I have a growing sense that Daoist understanding based on 5 movements, and stems and branches can give me the most solid foundation. And I was encouraged in this by your book.

However, I was confused regarding Yin Metal. In 9 star Ki Yin Metal (Tui) is described as joyful, charismatic, youthful, spending, up-beat, eloquent, attractive. This is similar to what you say about Yin Metal/Tui on page 252. Here you link it to joy, smiling and laughter. And in page 254 you link Tui to speech, kissing, liveliness, words.

But then, on page 224, you link Lung (Metal yin) to insecurity and doubt, being passive, easily giving up control , easily taking orders, being overly self-sacrificing, being reclusive or aestethic, demanding little, being quiet and withdrawn. This sounds very weak and withdrawn, and it sounds much like how Water yin is described in 9 Star system. On the other hand you say ‘On the surface there can be apparent yang energy, flourishing and growth because the yin water does not control. But there is no real strength to the yang, and so flourishing is shortlived’. So the weak and controlled side seems easily to win for Yin Metal when you speak about stems.

On page 226 about the psyche of branches you describe You (Yin metal linked to Kidney) in a similar way: having a quiet determination, being pessimistic, and mistrustful and fearful, being naturally cautious and secretive, being lonely, isolating, and quiet. This seems to be in alignment of linking Metal to depression – since depression is so much connected to weak breathing in the lungs and to control, introversion and inhibition.

Both of these descriptions of Yin Metal may be a true and interesting definition since metal is controlling, contracting and cool, and here being combined with kidney and water. But for me there is a disturbing conflict between this description of Yin metal and the description of Tui (both in your description of Tui and in the 9 Star Ki books).

In the 9 Star books Water is described very much in the same way as you describe Yin Metal. And, interestingly enough, in your description of Hai (Yin Water linked to triple heater) page 226 this seems to be rather similar to 9 Star description of Yin Metal. The two positions seem to have changed place! You say about Hai/Yin water that in spite of their initial cautiousness, ‘they quickly find their level and fit in at all levels of society. There is no place they are not comfortable. The relish freedom, especially the freedom to about from country to country. They hate the restriction of borders. They facilitate others at every level. These people keep the flow moving and keep communications clear. They seem to have an endless and selfless capacity to give. They easily see potential in others. They like to work at bringing about change and have an interest in alchemical processes. Hai seems to match the descriptions of Tui in 9 Star – but Hai is in reality Yin Water. Hai seems to be very lively and bubbling water and only a lively sexuality seems to lack in the description, since water is so linked to sex.

So I have a feeling that your description page 224 (Xu) and 226 (You) of Yin Metal seems to be true and logical. And your description of Hai (Water Yin) seems also true and logical. If that is true, the 9 Star systems based on Luoshu seem to be misleading as description of the Yin aspects of Metal and Water.

So I have 2 questions:

a) Do you agree with this conclusion?

b) If you agree, do you have any idea why Metal Yin and Water Yin seem to have changed place, so to speak? Could it be related to the possibility that Water Yin has a bubbling undercurrent while Metal Yin has a depressive undercurrent?

And since I have contemplated how to align stems and branches for my purpose I have these questions:

c) Could it be tenable in the branches that Chen/Yang earth energy and Zi/Yang Water psychologically could be seen as 2 aspects of the same type? (They seem both to be strong, stable, generous, dynamic, communicative, liking to be in the center giving counsel, nourishment, overview, or orders. They both seem to be more stable, solid and more Earth than yang wood. They seem both to be connected to Enneagram 8,and numerology 8, and 9 Star no 5).

d) Could be reasonable in the branches that Chou/ Yin Earth , and Wei/Yin Earth and Xu/Yang Earth/Heart Governor in spite of their differences could be seen as 3 aspects of the same type? (They are all sensitive, generous, warm hearted, giving, nurturing and good. They have this in common with Enneagram 9, 9 star no 2, Numerology no2)

e) Could it be possible in the stems that Ding (Heart in Wood) and Wu (Stomach in Fire) could be seen as 2 aspects of the same type? They seem in spite of their differences both to be inspiring, quick, creative, loving, emotional, enjoying and celebrating. (Similar to Enneagram 4, numerology 3, 9 Star no 9)

Answer: I am very pleased that, as a clinical psychologist, you find this stems and branches method valid and useful. You have asked a very detailed and fascinating question.

You mention the 9 Star Ki Methods based on the Luoshu diagram. I have to say that I have read none of the books that you mention primarily because those are based on a numerological system contained in the Luoshu and are applied primarily to Feng Shui and Destiny Analysis (whereas stems and branches methods are based on qualities of yin and yang and the five elements) Also, I wanted to make absolutely sure of my source material when writing this book so that I could avoid spread more confusion – as best I can, and I do not know the source for the 9 Star Ki methods.


You rightly point out that the qualities of Tui, a metal trigram, (as discussed on p 252 and 254 in my book) are primarily about joy, youth, and connected with the mouth, speech, smiling etc. These qualities are taken (as noted in my book) from Wilhelm and Needham.


So I understand your confusion when I describe the Lung stem very differently. As you say, lung is metal, yin. However, this lung is interacting with weak water in the Great movement. It is this water element which brings insecurity and doubt (especially about identity – Po – metal) and passiveness. Being reclusive, demanding little, quiet and withdrawn, is connected because the Lu houses the Po (see p 210 in my book). And these are aspects of the Po. As you say, this is how yin water is described in 9 Star Ki system – so it is the qualities of water here interacting with the Lu and Po on a very deep level which produces these qualities.

Also NOTE – in Feng shui and 4 pillars, the element associated with the organ of the stem, e.g. Here the lung and therefore metal, is emphasised. In fact those systems do not use the 10 great movements (the yin and yang aspects of the 5 elements) which is so dominant in classical stems and branch acupuncture theory. So I think that this maybe a source of confusion for you.

You notice that there is an apparent yang flourishing because the water is weak. Yes, this is explained in the Nei Jing. When there is a weak yin element there can be an apparent increase in the element that it should control. Importantly, the weak stem will also very easily be over controlled via the Ke cycle.


So with the branches the inner energy (i.e. the element which is consistent with the month or time of day associated with the branch) is the dominant energy so that You is a yin metal branch. But here the metal branch is linked with the kidney which would ordinarily be associated with yin water. So again, the determination, pessimism, mistrustful, fearfulness, are associated with the kidney and water element, while the secretive (both water and metal actually) , isolating and quiet qualities are associated with metal.

I am not linking metal only to depression. Depression can be associated with the Lu, Sp, Liv, and heart as well, but each have different qualities. Metal is withdrawn, is humble (as is water – but again it is with a different quality.)

The reason that the water quality associated with Hai, TH, is different is to do with the function of the TH – which is at home throughout the 3 Jiaos. Hai facilitates others at every level – this is because the main function of the TH is to provide yuan qi for transformation of all the energies in the body (hence interest in alchemical processes.) See ch. 5 p 46 – 50 for discussion of the TH.

To sum up –


These look at one element only based on an interaction of yin and yang and the position of the odd line (e.g. Tui is the youngest daughter in the King Wen sequence.) they also have a different quality depending on whether they are in the Fuxi or King Wen arrangement, so e.g. Tui is at the beginning of summer in Fuxi, but in the West in Autumn/ metal, in King Wen. Also, in King Wen, it is associated with the number 7, from the Luoshu, which is a yang metal number. (even though 6 is yin metal it is associated with the trigram Ch’ien – the most yang trigram of all, in the Northwest!)


The stem qualities as described in my book are the qualities associated with an organ, e.g. Lung metal, interacting with a dominant element from the Great Movements, here yin water. Because it is a heavenly stem I also take the higher psyche/spirit into account, which in this example is the Po. In addition I have looked at the position of the stem among the 28 lunar mansions and the qualities as described within the Han literature on these mansions And on top of that have looked at the temples of the planets associated with the stems – as described in the Neijing and the astronomical chapters of Jin Shu. See p 197 Rings 2 & 3.


Because these are earthly branches, the qualities are more emotional than the existential qualities associated with the stems. And we lok at the function of the organ interacting with the element. (This way of looking at the branches was suggested by Peter Van Kerval , a Dutch stems and branches practitioner and lecturer, at a seminar.)

Regarding Qs

A      The trigrams have a different quality from the Stem / branch and divisions.
B      I don’t really agree.
C      re Chen / St with earth inner energy and Zi, water inner energy: No, these are not the same at all. The zi , is much more pushy and dominant and likes to take command. They do not like to take orders. The Chen/ St is more generous and harmonious and gathers people. They work better with others.
D      Yes, Chou/Liv; Wei/SI; and Xu/HG all have earth inner energy in common. However with the stems and branches, the interaction between the elements is important. The earth quality of liver is very different from that of HG (pericardium or SI.)
E      Again, Ht is in wood and St is in fire. Both have fire in common. But there are very important differences, not least because the Ht is within yin wood and the St is within yang Fire. These provide completely different qualities.

I hope this has helped. Stems and branches is simple when one understands the core. However, it is not so useful to simplify it before one gets to the core, otherwise one makes mistakes.

Solar or Lunar Year?

Question: My biggest question at the moment is the discrepancy between calculating the 4 pillars on a Solar or on a lunar basis. If you compare the Hsia calendar to the lunar schools calendar there are differences, even in the initial year chart where the divisions can be different if born around July or Jan/ Feb. time as the lunar calendar has a different New year each year. I have a copy of the Dutch groups’ Four Pillar disc and comparing the results to those from the Hsia Calendar so far the year and the day are the same but the month is occasionaly different and the hour is always different . That to me is worrying because we are working with different data. I personally have been convinced by you Roisin and work on the solar calendar, but does that mean that many others from the Stems and Branches school work with the lunar calendar? And how important is that?

Answer: Yes, there is a big difference in the timing for the start of year and months, between me and the ICOM/Dutch school.

This was a very confusing area, and there are many differences of opinion. The Neijing is, on the surface, not that clear. One has to really think about it. So here are the options.

Options in ascertaining start of year –

  1. 4th Feb. Beginning of spring – – first solar term, first month. This is my choice. It is also Unshuld’s choice.
  2. Nian – this is the year start at the winter solstice, usually 21st December. This is the point of maximum yin and yang is just about to rise.
  3. First Jia-zi day after the winter solstice. This means it is a 6 X 60 day cycle, i.e. the year is 360 days. The Nei Jing does support this in places, and the van Nghi school goes with this option. However, this means that each year starts five days (+1/4) before the previous year, until it gets close to the Winter solstice and then the following year it must be put back again close to sixty days.
  4. Yin/yang li – 2nd new moon after the Winter Solstice. This is a lunar year and is used for celebrations. (This was not given at ICOM – in fact there was no clarity given at all when I was at college. Some years were said to start even before the winter solstice, in November! But mostly they avoided the issue. )
  5. 20th Jan. – This is from Neijing and is used for the arrival of host division energies.

Read Lu Buwei re the first and last months of year. Also look at the star map (in RG – the Complete Stems and Branches: Times and Space in Traditional Acupuncture.) and work out where Lu Buwei says the sun is for the first and last month. He makes it clear that the first month starts at 4th Feb. And the last month starts 6th Jan. i.e. in Lu Buwei – for the third month of winter – the sun is in serving maid (10) In this month ,’The sun has completed its full sequence, the moon its yearly cycle, and the stars have returned to their places in the heavens. The term of the year is almost complete, soon to begin again. ‘ p 259 – this month is about preparation for what may come in the following year – p 260. The implementation of these ordinances is called’full completion’ in three decades of days. See p 38 – 1st month being established in yin (that is the 3rd branch called yin), 5 degrees into Ying Shi. This is aligned with 4th Feb. – See also notes on the calendar in RG because 5 degrees into Ying Shi is actually 10th Fabruary, unless one takes this nformation to be from approximately 350 years before the Han dynasty and therefore precession accounts for the discrepancy.

The information and alignment on the stars is very useful to know because I have seen one calendar which was presented to me prior to 2010 in which the position of the new moon was out by at least five months! It is very easy to see where the moon ought to be in relation to the mansions – one looks at the new moon each month. The new moon is exactly where the sun is, and remembering to move from right to left across the star maps, and remembering that the sun moves just under one degree per day, then one can pretty much calculate where the sun is on any date, and hence know where the new moon is. One doesn’t need to re-calculate for precession, because it is not the stars that are important here but the position of the sun in relation to the spring equinox/winter solstice – which is a position in space as well as time, i.e. at the celestial equator or lowest declination respectively.

Objections to Lunar Solar start

The monthly branches cannot be placed according to this method. e.g. 2009 – is a leap year – with the month of june/22nd – 22nd July a leap month. This means, according to this method, that June and July are both wu branch – a fire branch, and also summer therefore has four months! It also means that the WS is in the Hai month, and Zi branch is in Jan. This is incorrect. (see tai chu calendar reform of 104 BC) It also means that the elements associated with the branches would be meaningless. The year needs to be solar because of connections with theory associated with the six divisions – branches connected with divisions five elements are related to the sun, not moon, and the stems and branches are related to the five elements. Energies need to arrive together. Needs to be after WS. (In fact I think that the only real other option for the start of the year is in fact the winter solstice – but this is not used by anyone.)

Why not 20th Jan? –

Because this does not coincide with the first month of the year, nor the first jie qi/solar term. It is okay for the host divisions.

The six guest energies arrive after the six host energies – one does not have a guest arriving at the same time as hosts. This way the guests are aligned so that the first guest arrives with the New Year on new year’s day – a solar year. “In the year Jia Zi the first energy begins. The first energy starts on the first ke on New Year’s Day, and ends at 60 days plus 87.5 ke.” SW68:22-27

Each guest divisions lasts 60. 875 days, which X 6 = 365 ¼ days. This unambiguously refers to a solar year, and not a lunar solar year. Unshuld states that the 1st guest arrives on New Years Day and in fact so does Henry Lu – but he contradicts himself elsewhere in his notes.

The six divisions of yin and yang are intimately linked to the branches, and specifically to this four revolutions and three arrangements – see RG The Complete Stems and Branches Time and Space in Traditional Acupuncture p 148-149.

This allows for solar leap years, but also, importantly, the branches can be in alignment so that the three leg yin, 3 leg yang, 3 arm yin, 3 arm yang, can be in harmony with calendrical calculations.  This is due to the fact that each branch is aligned with a particular revolution so that three branches all have the same starting position.  This is due to allowances for the leap days in a solar year, so after four years the branches start in the same place.  In this way the three leg yang meridans are all grouped within one revolution, the three leg yin within another, and the same for three arm yang and three arm yin meridians.

It also allows the Nei Jing to incorporate earlier concepts that linked the four revolutions according to seasons –as in Huainanzi. In other words – the branches and
divisions link absolutely has to be solar.

The great movements – these cannot be separated from the stem organs, so both of these arrive together. Henry Lu sometimes allows 72 day periods and in other places 73 day periods for each element in these great movements. There are 360 degrees obviously, and the sun moves just under 1 degree per 24 hours (as is recognized in the Nei Jing.) Hence 360 divided by 5 = 72. Just as the Neijing refers to the six divisions lasting 60 days, whereas in other places it is more precise. So Henry Lu refers in other places to the elements of the great movements lasting 73 days.

Once you get into more complicated areas, such as the five palaces, and the position of the branches among the lunar mansions, then one really needs to understand
astronomy. Understanding the solar positions is the only way to make sense of, for instance, the counter Jupiter movement of the branches and concepts such as
combination deities – see p 201 table 13.5 in RG. See the diagram p 197.

Also – see p 147 for more discussion about the year start.

The Moon

Re the moon – the moon is very important in connection with monthly ebb and flow of qi and blood – but it does not affect the five element circulations. It gathers and
disperses each month through all of the seasons.

Ultimately – the most important thing about this is that the placement of the stems and branches and divisions according to a regular solar movement provides a clear pattern
of interactions between the five elements according to the sheng and ke cycle. The solar position – and the lengths to which the Nei Jing emphasised that it was solar – gives a very clear indication of how important this is.

I don’t see the merit in unhooking all of the different elements of the stems, branches, and divisions and have them all arrive at different times, as some schools suggest. All this does is to add in an unnecessary complication, one that goes against the Nei Jing, and adds nothing to understanding the underlying principles.

If a person is born one day either side of the new year or a particular month – well – we are not doing astrology. We want to be really clear about the basic theory and be able to apply it.

Animal Signs

Question: Is this year, (2011 ) a Metal White Rabbit year or are you saying its a Water Rabbit? Are both approaches daoist? It gets a bit confusing.

Answer: The Neijing really emphasized the ruling element of the year, i.e. the Great Movement, and that this has a dominating effect on the climate. For this year the ruling element is yin water – i.e. weak water, which then could get dominated by the warm damp of earth (unless wind and wood comes to the rescue.)

For acupuncturists of the Han, many different (philosophical threads) had to come together. They tried to mesh together their Daoist beliefs with the reality of the body – how it operated and what energies impacted on it. They did an amazing job and were able to interweave yin and yang and the five elements and time and heaven and the organs etc. into a pretty water tight theory. They used pre Han concepts and
developed these to the nth degree.

So the question isn’t really whether these systems are all Daoist – because remember that there is philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism. Acupuncture tends more towards philosophical Daoism but has some religious daoist undertones – e.g. in the Ling Shu ch 77 and movement of Tai Yi among the 9 palaces. Whereas four pillars and feng shui use more religious daoist concepts – e.g. flying stars etc. which feature more strongly. Acupuncture theory attempted to be more ‘scientific’ through intense observation and the rigorous application of astronomical and other theories. The theory is pretty tightly woven.

So really, yes it is a ‘white rabbit’ year because the ‘rabbit ‘ concept really belongs to feng shui and predictive four pillars, but for us as acupuncturists we need to pay attention to the effect of yin water with lung interacting in it.

By the way – it is a good question.

Best wishes

Left Heaven Yang, Right Earth Yin

Question: There are differences in opinion as to which side is yang and which is yin. Some claim that Yang is on the right and Yin is on the left. So does it really matter for these kinds of treatments which side you start on? Is it more relevant when talking about the Yin and Yang or heavenly and Earthly matters? I come from a school which was full of contradictions and it drove me crazy.

Answer: There are some differences in opinion. There was much confusion and there was no clear reasoning behind assertions at given at my college or indeed at post grad seminars and so part of the reason for my book was to iron those out. I have done that by going to the Nei Jing etc. and in addition I have tried to work out the reasoning behind statements, such as left is yang, right is yin. Nothing is arbitrary. Some things that we were taught was not supported in the Nei Jing (in fact was wrong) and so when that happened I went with the Nei Jing.

As I taught in class, patterns of yin and yang come from observations of the Heavens.

Heaven = yang, on the outside, moving, expansive, above.
Sun = yang, hot, bright, day time, dominant.
Earth = yin, still, measurable, below, on the inside
Moon = yin, cool, dark, night time, water, submissive. (it does not become dark just because the moon is in the sky – that depends on the presence or absence of the sun.)

First – a few things to add about the Left- Right thing. in Veith’s footnotes, Wang Ping (Tang dynasty – 762 AD approx.) who did the major edit of the Su Wen, explains clearly that left represents yang and is the male principle, right represents the yin and is the female principle.

Other footnotes in Veith explain that yu – the right side, also indicates West. Tso, the left side , also indicates the East. This supports my assertion that the reasoning is astronomical. Using left and right depends on what we are trying to do.

When we are engaging heaven then we use upper left, e.g. ht and lu left – whether on a man or woman (for example to affect the head and brain.)

When we are engaging earth then we use lower right, ki, liv, and sp – whether on a man or woman.

Or we may want to connect heaven and earth e.g. in fertility treatments, and then use heaven on the left and earth on the right.

If we are using or tonifying yang then it may be better to use the left side. If we are using or tonifying yin then we may be better to use the right side.

If we are just doing something more neutral or balancing, then we would go with the sex of the person – i.e. right for women and left for men.

It is also important to realise that the right is stronger in women and left is stronger in men. This means that we can more safely sedate on the right in women and on the left in men. But we can also, if we want to, tonify on their own side (unless they are already excess.)

I often use branch tonifications by going with the time – e.g. balancing at the solstice – heart on the left (summer solstice) and on the right (winter solstice).

These are some of the ways to think about left and right.

Does this matter? These treatments aren’t tested but I think we should understand the reasoning behind what we do and this helps to provide clarity. It also usually helps to reduce the number of points.

Best wishes

Left yang, Right Yin 2

Question: I have learned that left is yin and right is yang. This is different than you teach.”]

Answer: Yes. I know you have said before that the left side is more yin and the right side more yang but this isn’t right. You later contradict that by saying that women should be stronger on the right.

While it is true that blood, yin, is on the left, and qi, more yang than blood, is on the right in the pulses,  I think this relates more with lu (qi) rising on the right and liv (blood) rising on the left (even though the liver in reality is on the right.)

See Su Wen 15:11 – makes it quite clear that left is yang and right is yin.  Also, in SW 5 it talks about Heaven being Yang and Earth being yin and that heaven is on the left and earth is on the right and this explains why the right side of the body (earth region) is stronger than the left, and the left side of the head (heaven region) is sharper than the right side. (Maoshing – generally not really a translation- agrees with Henry Lu on this.)

Not only does the Su Wen say that left is yang and right is yin, but there is also a logic to it. As is often the case the logic boils down to time and the heavens – in this case it is connected straight forwardly to the sun and moon. As you may know, the Sage is said to face the South (this is because he is meant to be aligned with the very still pole star):

When facing the south the sun rises on the left (east) and sets on the right (west). I.e. the yang ascends and increases on the left and descends and decreases on the right.

In addition, the moon (yin) waxes on the right and wanes on the left. Therefore, yang is on the left and yin is on the right.

Teh Han Chinese used the Plough or Big Dipper– Beidou, to calculate time during the year.  The starting point of the handle of the dipper turns one degree per day from north, to east to south to west, ending up in the north again at the winter solstice.  It acts like a big year clock hand.

Its pointer stars indicate the days and the twenty four seasonal dates and the four seasons. In winter it points due north, and slowly moves upwards pointing to the east as it moves from winter to the beginning of spring, then spring, and summer, when it points south. Then it points to the west to autumn and finally back to winter.

From the perspective of Ren Di, the Celestial Human Emperor, who resides at the northern pole facing south, one sees this east on the left / and west on the right.

This is axiomatic in Chinese theory – so that diagrams such as River Luo and yellow river map show this. The map is shown from the position of north facing south. The winter solstice at the bottom (north), wood and spring on the left and then beginning of summer is on upper left, and then once summer has reached its peak yang descends towards metal and autumn, or yin increases on the right. Then beginning of winter on the bottom right.

Also the tai qi symbol itself, yin (dark) is on the right and yang (bright) is on the left.

This is why also liver ascends on the left and lung ascends on the right.

I thought this was pretty standard stuff, but I see that there are opposite versions. I go with this version – yang left and yin right – because
a) it is in the Su Wen
b) there is a logic to it.

Also, re symptoms on the right on a woman – I think it is true that many women show symptoms on the right – but these are usually excess symptoms. It is their strong side and it meets with a strong pathogenic qi. Then on their left it is weak because the qi is weak and does not fight so much. With men the reverse is true. (this is why it says in SW that men’s abnormal colour on left is double yang, while on right on women is double yin.)

A Note on Translations

Actually, this isn’t really a question. It is just that when people are referred to the Su Wen, Ling Shu , Nan Jing, and other texts, people often come back with an objection to the translator.

I object to this because translations of the Neijing take really a life time. While it is admirable that people study Classical Chinese, one cannot learn a little classical Chinese and then expect to make sense of the original Neijing, nor even 11th Century or later versions of it. A read through of ‘Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen’ by Paul Unshuld should make clear why that would be folly. Below are responses to a
few objections to tranlators that have been put to me .

As for Henry Lu making up left is yang – see Ilsa Veith p 122 – west is yin is right (paraphrasing a page of text) and east is yang is left. She also puts in a foot note on p 154 that “Wang Pang [I think this is a typo for Wang Ping] explains : Left represents Yang, the male principle therefore man’s left pulse indicates disorder. Right represents yin, the female principle, therefore woman’s right pulse indicates disorder.”

Henry Lu is a practitioner as well as a sinologist and a teacher of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. However ***** is not a sinologist and unfortunately having a small knowledge of the Chinese language does not allow for a proper translation of the Nei Jing. If I had to choose between reading a translation of the Nei Jing between a sinologist and a practitioner with very little knowledge of classical Chinese, I would pick the sinologist. But we also compare different translations.

On top of translations and who says what, there has got to be a logical explanation for statements. One has got to understand why something is so as this helps clear the confusion. As you can imagine, my training was full of confusing and contradictory misunderstandings – which is why I went to such lengths to make sense of it. There were many mistaken ideas repeated and passed on at my college.

A similar objection was posed in relation to the question of the year start. The practitioner rightly pointed out that the Neijing doesn’t mention 20th January for the start of the host energies and that the only words used (in relation to the host energies) were Winter solstice Tai yang summer solstice Shao yang. My response was that this made complete sense because then the water Tai
Yang division and the Fire Shao Yang division were both centered on the solstices. 30 days before the winter solstice Tai yang host takes position, and for 30 days afterwards. (allow for the 0.875 ke.) So this means that the wood division, jue yin, starts 30 days after the winter solstice, i.e. 20th January.

Elements of Organs

Question: What is the logic of the placement of organs with elements?

Answer: First of all there are yin and yang elements. Wood and fire are yang, metal and water are yin and earth is in the middle – balanced yang.

Heaven and Earth

Many of the yin and yang qualities are associated with Heaven and Earth. Heavens are above, Earth is below. Heaven constantly moves and so does yang. The earth is still (so it seems.) and so is yin. The sun and the heavens themselves seem to rise higher in the summer, and
seem to sink in the winter (because the sun moves to the southern hemisphere below us.) and so too with yang and yin.

Organs at the top of the body, the heart and lungs, are therefore associated with with Heaven. The heavens are associated with fire (the sun) and precious metal – sparkling stars and planets. (Han and earlier Chinese believed precious metals came from heaven.) Because metal is less bright (than the sun) it is considered less yang than fire.

The liver and kidney are below in the body and are therefore related to Earth and yin.   Wood and water are clearly visible on Earth. Wood rises (plants and trees) and water sinks and therefore wood is more yang than kidneys.

Earth element (separate from Earth as in Heaven and Earth) is in the middle and nourishes man.

Yang and Yin elements

One is yang and two is yin.  The heart is one organ and is above in the body.  The liver is also one organ, but below the heart.  The Liver is yang but below the heart in the lower region. So fire, being the most yang, is placed with the heart.  Wood, being rising yang, is placed with the liver.  so liver and heart are placed with the yang seasons.  The plough points to the east in Spring, and to the south in summer (early evening during the Han.)  Therefore East and spring belong to wood and the liver. South and summer belong to fire and heart.

Lungs are two and kidneys are two and so these are yin organs. Water is more yin than metal and so the kidneys belong to water, being below the lungs.  The double organs must be put with the yin seasons – so kidney and lung, with winter and autumn. The plough points to the north in winter and to the west in autumn (early evening).  But because lungs are at the top they are more yang than kidneys, and so they move to the west position in association with autumn.

This appears to be the reasoning behind the association with the elements and directions.
Yin is right and yang is left – liver energy moves up on the left (even though it is on the right of the body) and the lung energy is said to move down on the right.

Climate and divisions

Question: The snow still hasn’t arrived yet and everything is beginning to dry up here in the mountains . Has that got anything to do with guest energies or is it solely the inpact on ourselves that we see? Is Shaoyin so drying ? (This was late january 2012)


Shao yin is not drying – it is ‘steaming heat’ . Shao yang is very drying. But, as I said, one can’t predict the weather with this. For instance, there should be a little balmy heat now, but then it is mixed with the changeability of jue yin host division, and the cool dry of metal visiting qi (following around from the element of the year. ) And this year the visiting metal element qi is yang in nature and this means it has a strong drying effect.

All this in a sense is academic. The weather is what the weather is, which is largely unpredictable by any system (the BBC weather forecast is just about as reliable as my daily horoscope!) But, we can still work with and be influenced by the interaction of the different energies. Stems and branches really helps us to organise and understand those various factors. And don’t forget there are daily ebbs and flows of yin and yang elements.

Question: But what is the visiting metal qi? I didn’t get that. Last year the quest energy was yang ming so that is metal . Is it because the Bladder , which is the stem this year, is in the metal element as a branch?

The visiting metal energy is the element energy – you’ll see it on the outside ring of the disc – the mini cycles of the great movement. There is probably a more appropriate name but Unschuld calls it something long winded as does Lu. They are said to affect weather more than they affect a person’s energy.

Six Divisions of Yin and Yang

Can I ask a ‘back to basics’ question?!!! Why is winter and cold associated with Tai Yang which translates as Great Yang, yet it is essentially utmost Yin (Tai Yin) in all sense of quality?!!! The same with the height of Yang – Summer, is called Shao Yang – or lesser Yang!?? I was reading a Daoist preist’s translation of the Su Wen (Louis Komjathy) and he writes:

‘Traditionally speaking, Shaoyang (yang in ascendence) is associated with Spring, Taiyang (yang at apex) with Summer, Shaoyin (yin in ascendence) with Autumn and Taiyin (yin at apex) with winter…..’

Which leaves me confused!!! I understand the relationship of the 6 divisions in terms of the body- that makes complete sense!”]


So, the divisions can of course be thought of just in terms of yin and yang – i.e. biggest yang associated with summer, biggest yin associated with mid winter. But when it comes to association of quantities of yin and yang within the meridian system then one looks at the relationship of the meridians to the body, i.e. the biggest yang covering the yang part of the body, while shao yin is at the front and inner part (most yin), etc.

The naming of divisions in relation to yin and yang as in the host sequence, guest heaven and guest earth are not consistent with their relation to the climate and season. I discuss this on page 90 in my book, and in fact the nei jing also discuss divisions in relation to the inconsistencies – as outlined in table 7.2 on page 91 of my book.

And yes there are other sequences of the divisions mentioned in the Nei jing. I point out one of these sequences under the ‘anomalies’ found in the nei jing on page 151, table 10.4. This is from Su wen ch 49. I can’t make head nor tail of why those divisions are associated with the months outlined. I think it quite possible that someone else might come up with the reasoning behind this or maybe no reason will be found. So all in all, in respect of the divisions, the patterning of time and space onto the body is pretty good but not absolutely holographic. When you think of it, the spatial bit is okay. But while the quantities of blood and qi within the divisions reflect their actual season (i.e. the 3 yin divisions i.e. while the sun is below the equator – tai yang, yang ming [blood and qi] and jue yin have
more blood, while the 3 yang divisions i.e. while the sun is above the celestial equator – shao yin, shao yang, tai yin have more qi) somehow or another the

naming of levels of yin and yang don’t reflect this.

Chapter 74 of Su Wen – as outlined in Table 7.2 – seems to acknowledge that it doesn’t fit in all respects but it is as good a fit as they can manage.

This is one of the main anomalies and something that I point out in class and in my book. I’m afraid for the moment we have to live with that.

Good question. I’m afraid it may be an eternal one 🙂

Diverging opinions on the divergent meridians.

This followed a discussion on divergent meridians with some coming up with interesting other meeting points.

Ling Shu chapter 11 describes the separate master meridians in detail and explains that their function is that the yin and yang meridians both meet each other and separate from each other.

“Yellow emperor asks – how do master meridians meet each other and separate from each other, and how they travel outward and inward in the body.”

The divergents (or separates) , as described, follow the path of the normal meridians from the jing well points until they reach the he sea points when they follow their own separate course, meeting their couple meridians (lu with colon, ht with small intestine, etc.) at the lower and upper meeting points.

Their principle actions are to connect the outside with the inside, inside with outside, and to connect the yin meridians with the head. Where does this idea come from?

From their pathways as described.

One of the main treatments using divergents is to use the jing well points of the yin meridian on one side of the body and the he sea points on the other, said to encourage perverse qi to move away from the yin organ and out through the yang, usually via the bowels, or when any perverse qi becomes ‘stuck’. This reasoning is based on the start and entry of the separate meridians themselves. These points are said to prevent perverse qi from penetrating the body deeply thereby attacking the viscera.

These treatments are described in chapter 72 of Su Wen – although this chapter doesn’t specifically mention the separate master meridians. However, the treatment described is said to prevent an attack by climate caused by dominant guest earth energies, whether from fire, earth, metal, water, or wood (guest energies often provoke perverse climates because they are not in tune with host energies.)

Guest earth energies move up from the earth and have a way of penetrating deep into the body. Therefore, if for example the wood was in danger of being attacked by guest metal (yang ming), then the metal ‘divergent meridians’ i.e. the lung and colon, would be used to prevent the energy going deep within. One is advised to needle Lu 11, and then Colon 11 on the opposite side.

Just a note about the meeting points of the divergents – well, firstly there are no exact points given in Ling Shu 11 in relation to the divergent pathways. But there are standard trajectories nonetheless. However, we were taught that the upper meeting points are often the window of sky points – but I just want to point out that Claude Larre says that this is a confusion, as pointed out also by Chamfrault (Survey of Trad. C.M. – Claude Larre).

So none of it is written in stone.

The meeting point of the heart and small intestine divergent is S1 16 and BL 1. Some sources give SI 18 as an upper meeting point for heart and SI. But according to my notes the heart Divergent does not go through SI 18. SI 18 is, as far as I know, just the meeting of the TMMs of the 3 leg yang meridians.

The Ling Shu states that the Liver and gall bladder divergents goes through the centre of the cheek, and generally this is taken as lateral to SI 18 – as shown in the pathway drawings, as seen in the LS. They then meet at G. bl 1 (although from my college notes we also have the upper meeting point as 20, whereas Shima and Chase have it as 12. Giovanni has it simply as G. bl 1 – which at least is un-contentious.) Whereas you have SI 17 as being the upper meeting point of the and Liv divergents. I don’t see that as a point that the and Liv divergents goes through.

It is great to see other people’s notes on these matters. It really makes us sit up and think and compare –which is always good. And it also shows I think that one needs to understand – as far as we can- what the logic behind each assertion is. Then that helps in making assessments of statements and pronouncements people make.

Best wishes

Clarification on Open hourly calculation

Accurate Day Stem Branch update
Question: I love your book but could use some clarification. Was using a free website (Henry Fong’s Absolutely Feng Shui), which gives the Day Stem-Branch for Open pt. acupx. When this site went down I tried calculating using your method in the book, coming up with, for example, June 21,2011 as being a Geng-Chen day. (Stem 7/ Branch 5). Blue Poppy Press has a free Day-Stem Calendar listing for June 21, 2011 as Ding-Wei (Stem 4/Branch 8). Could you help me out and give me your calculation of Stem-Branch Day for June 21, 2011. Perhaps I am doing the math wrong? Or is Blue Poppy Press off? Would appreciate your help with this.

Answer:  You gave me a fright! Blue Poppy press are right. And thankfully so am I.

You forgot to do one thing. See The Complete stems and Branches: Time and Space in Traditional Acupuncture

P 171 – find stem and branch for first day of year – p 262 – 2011 – 7:3 Find it’s numeral – p 261 =27

Next – see p 161 – add up days of year from 4th Feb.
Feb 24
March 31
April 30
May 31
June 21
Total = 137 (hence your 17 numeral)

Add numeral for first day of year = 27

Total = 164 – 120 = 44 = stem 4 branch 8

Thank goodness for that.

Best Wishes

Extras and open hourly

I have left the following question fairly lengthy because I think the background
information is important to the question. 

Question: My first degrees are in biological sciences, animal physiology, and physical oceanography, though now most of my studies have centered on the traditional Chinese medical classics, as well as the works of George Soulié de Morant and Drs. Nguyen Van Nghi and Tran Viet Dzung.

Following my attendance at several of Dr. Tran’s lecture seminars, and as an adjunct project, I have taken it upon myself to thoroughly research and understand the notions of the celestial stems and terrestrial branches, and their pertinence to chrono-treatment methods. This led me to purchase your book, and I must say I’ve found it wonderful resource for helping one to dig further into the many puzzles that emerge from this very complex subject.

So I have a question and comment, regarding one of the chrono-puncture techniques you mentioned only briefly — specifically, the discussion in Chapter 12 on using the Eight Extra Meridians. This of course involves the Eight Laws of the Sacred Turtle (Ling Gui Ba Fa), and since it happens to be one of the techniques I’ve been most interested in learning to calculate, my question is why you chose to rather gloss over this technique, and whether you have, through your own research and experience, found this to be relatively unimportant or ineffectual?

Then, with the example and method you presented, for enabling one to determine the principal open point, during any hour of the day, you refer the reader to Table 12.2. My attempt to use this table, as a way to corroborate what I have already found in table listings from both Chinese and French sources, doesn’t seem to work out at all. Furthermore, I noted that this table contains duplicate references to the Yin Qiao Mai, and has left out any reference to the Yang Qiao Mai.

As I’ve said, one of my current objectives is to learn more about how these open points were calculated for the 60-day cycle of Stem-Branch combinations, but at the same time I would be very interested in learning a bit more about your understanding and reservations with this technique.


Thank you for your email.

Yes, when I re-read that chapter it is extremely short!

The main aim of my book was to look at the underlying principles and origins behind stems and branches acupuncture – as they arose at the start of acupuncture theory during the Han dynasty (and rooted in earlier iatromancy – i.e. divination and diagnosis based on the calendar – first writings dating from 4th C. BC. )

There have been many books on chronotherapeutics. As I said in the introductory paragraph in my book ch. 12 – the use of this type of system arose in the Song dynasty. It was also during the Song dynasty that the 8 extra meridians became associated with the eight trigrams. Using the eight extra meridians – by using the opening points of the 8 extraordinary channels – arose after Li Shi Shen developed the
use of the opening points of the eight extra channels. (The extra meridians were not opened by using these points before Li Shi-Zhen – as far as I remember.)

Thank you very much for pointing out a typo in my book – which must be very confusing. Apologies for that and thanks for pointing it out. Under stem 2 and 10 the correct meridian is yang Jiao mai. For the stems listed in table 12.2 the opening points for the particular meridians are used – e.g. sp 4 for chong.

These points refer only to the stem of the hour, irrespective of the stem and branch of the day or branch of the hour.

I have seen many methods of using the extra meridians – the one I used in the book as an illustration is taken from Chronotherapeutics p. 86 (as noted under the table.) It is also outlined in a study of daoist acupuncture p. 156 – 157.

I also recommend that you read my chapters on numerology – chapter 15 and also chapter 16 – on symbols if you haven’t already. I do think that these chapters may be a little bit difficult because, as a writer, it is hard to keep in mind that the subject is complex while writing because it can seem so very obvious at the time – just because of the focus used when writing it. It is only later that one recognises that there was a need for a more lengthy exposition and explanation. But if one reads these chapters slowly enough then the information is all there.

Yes, I am less fond of using this system – partly because it is removed from the original daoist idea of heaven-Earth-Man and time and space that this creates. Numbers and symbols (trigrams) are symbols for the reality – but they are removed from it. It is a bit like eating a picture of a meal instead of the meal. The reality is time and space as these affect the body and are mapped onto the body. Already with stems and branches the sexagesimal sequence is a symbol for the movements contained within time – the solar and lunar cycles, the Jupiter cycles and Saturn. They are useful because they lay bare the relationships within the five element sequence – the sheng and ke cycle.

This sequence itself may be useful – but the use of open hourly points on their own should seem appropriate at the time for that patient. When they are used with other points it may be hard to establish the result from using them. I have used them but it has not been easy to establish how successful they have been. That’s just my experience with experimenting for a couple of years. There may have been many
reasons why they did not give fantastic results including not taking in all of the other things that I talk about it my book (as I used this method before I really thought through the concepts explained in ‘The Complete Stems and Branches’ . Or it may simply be because they are too removed from all the other elements of the time and the condition of the patient.

They are certainly worth experimenting with since many writers have said that they get terrific results using it. In any case it is always useful to understand so that one can

better understand the concepts.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes
Roisin Golding

Basic Questions on Open Hourly points.

You understand the open hourly and intergeneration fairly well. The explanation for the open hourly is on pages 172- 173 – the Na Jia Fa section. – in my book.

Q In your book, chart 6 page 264. Is the top line the stem of the day? eg on February 8th this year, Gall bladder day stem.

A yes.

Q Does that mean the open hourly point from 0900 to1100 on that day is Sp5?
A Yes

Q And being in Italy would I have to go back an hour?
A No. Use local time.

Q Maybe not as the sun rises and falls slighty later than in Greenwich here.
A yes.

Q Then going on to the next charts , from 1012 to 1036 on that day the open hourly point would be Liv 4?
A yes.

Q Do you use these ponts much?
A No. I used to.

Q It seems a bit of a shot in the dark .I would like to experiment nevertheless.

A yes. I used to experiment. It seemed a bit hard to keep track of. One has to have good reason to use them – i.e. they should be supportive in one way. I also think that to use them correctly then just use them on their own, or perhaps with one other point that you want to be supported in someway. Then I think you might see a difference.

Almost always, by using fewer points, one gets much stronger effects from treatments. The times when I go wrong in treatment and get a poor response is if I succumb to pressure to get certain results quickly and for some reason I use too many points. I hate it, but thankfully that is a less frequent occurrence now.

Ears Relate to Water

This followed a discussion on eczema and deafness in the ear.

When one says that “Eczema in the outer ear canal relates to violent heat in the Qi of the Bladder” – well, it is a very reductionist approach. This is not what I like to teach.
Let’s look at the whole case before we make any pronouncements about what it is. Because most certainly eczema in the ear is not always about heat in the bladder. It might sometimes be about that – but first of all, with classical acupuncture we have to consider everything.

There are so many meridians affecting the ears – all of the water meridians Bl and Ki, both water element. Small intestine (water stem) TH and G.Bl (water branches) Of course these are the three meridians that go to the ear directly – bringing the deeper water energy from stems and branches to the ears. Then you also have the Colon Luo meridian which goes to the ear.

On top of that, the unlike qi of the water stems and branches can have an effect – for instance I treated a young child (see the case study in book) with deafness from Lu in water stem – see case study B. p164.

North South East and West.

Question: I did have a question and I would really appreciate your perspective if you have the time for it. I have been considering the so-called ‘Chinese clock’ as well as the movements of the five phases and the different arrangements of such (i.e. sheng-ke and cosmological). In the Nan Jing the abdomen is described as having Fire above and Water below, with Wood on the left (of the patient’s abdomen) and Metal on the right. This curious arrangement has Metal and Wood reversed from the standard cosmological one. My question for you is the following: After reading your article citing Sima Qian’s observation of the movement of Beidou, you say that if you are facing North, the handle of the dipper points east, thus spring time, and rotates anti-clockwise throughout the year to point up in the summer, left in the fall, and down in the winter. My issue is that with your explanation, you say that if we are facing North we get the handle of the Beidou pointing east, but we must be facing south in order for the summer and winter to fall into the places of upwardly and downwardly pointing. This may seem like a small detail, but I thought that you, appreciating rigorous scholarship, would be interested in this apparent contradiction. Of interest is that if you observe the phenomenon in the way that you describe, it actually produces the same arrangement as the Nan Jing description of the abdomen, where you have Fire above and Water below, with Wood on the right and Metal on the Left. I hope the explanation of my confusion is clear.”]

Firstly, when I said that east is on the right when looking at the north celestial pole, it just is. It is on the right and west is on the left.

However, the sage acts as if he is seated at the centre, at the north celestial pole, the place of stillness, and so sees east on the left and west on the right. The heavens move in unison, rising on the left (at the east) and sinking on the right (west) when looking towards the south. The sun, moon and planets follow this rise and fall throughout a day. The sun rises approx east, moves towards the south, and sinks in the west. East is linked with wood and spring and yang because of the movement of Beidou, as explained in my article, and also in my book, see pages 184-185, and also fig 13.1 in
my book page 192.

South of course is below us if we are in the northern hemisphere, but nonetheless the heavens seem to rise up towards the south at noon.

And of course as explained before, the plough itself points downwards in winter (towards the northern region), upwards in summer (towards the southern region), to the east in spring and to the west in autumn. When we face south, as does Ren Di (or Taiyi) then still the plough points upwards in summer, downwards in winter and to the left in spring and to the right in autumn (these directions are all for the starting place of the plough because the plough will move full circle in one day.)

Directions are a tricky problem. I think a large part of the problem is that the earth is tilted so that the north celestial pole is down from the apex of the heavens unless we live at the north pole. Our zenith is always directly overhead. When we look towards

the south, the sun, planets and stars seem to rise higher in this area. Read over the appendix on astronomy in my book.

I hope this helps. It is a very good question. We often think of north south east and west as two dimensional directions because that is how we see them on maps, but really we are talking about the celestial sphere and so it is three dimensional. So above and below remain the same even though west and east move to the left or right depending from which perspective we are looking.


Question: I do still have some questions about perspective. When sitting at the north pole, everything is south, right? At least on a compass. I understand that you say the heavens rise on the left and fall on the right when you face south, thus placing east and west on either side, respectively. But the abdomen? Where are we sitting in order for us to get south above, north below, east to the right and metal to the left? If I ‘face south’ to observe Fire above the navel, where would I be sitting? It seems to me that I would have to be sitting inside the abdomen of the patient looking out. Almost a mirror-like situation. Am I just confused? By contrast, if we were to ‘sit’ at the north pole on the abdomen, in other words, below the navel, we would find south above and wood on the right and metal on the left, opposite of what you would expect when sitting at the north pole, no? Sorry to belabor this, but its a sticking point for me.

I agree with you about the trickiness of directions. My thoughts lately have really been about understanding the two-dimensional diagrams we have been left with and exploring them three dimensionally – so thank you for helping me think this through. That is indeed why I am so intrigued by your work. I think there are too few people who try to actually understand what our ancient Chinese colleagues were

thinking about the cosmos and how it applied to medicine. I too often get answers like, “Because its the clock-opposite,” and that just simply isn’t good enough. The information left to us is very sophisticated and provides insight into the very shape and fabric of the universe, much more than, “It works because the Gall Bladder is opposite the Heart on the clock.” And thank you for always citing your work and drawing on the Classical texts, it allows for continuity of logic that leaves out modern tendencies to lump all sorts of ancient theories together just because they are ancient.
I have had teachers who give Ayurvedic and Mayan and Taoist and Buddhist and American Indian and Sufi explanations for things, saying that it is all, “just one.” Which could be true, but there is certainly something to be said about understanding perspective. One chapter that illustrates that perfectly for me is about the menstrual cycle. I can safely say that I learned more practical information from reading that chapter than in my entire semester of TCM gynecology at school. That is not to bash TCM (I am also tired of the Classical vs. TCM war – just a waste of energy if you ask me) its just to say that a simpler but more sound theoretical foundation can yield greater results in the clinic because it is based on understanding of principles. I think everyone, regardless of their “camp”, could agree with that.

Answer (Another attempt):

In your previous email you say “from the north pole everything is south.”

So – no, if one lives on a flat earth we only have directions on the horizon. The heavens are round (or at least hemispherical) but the earth is flat. This is quite different. Direstions on earth are then on a plain – horizon. For the heavens, however, the north and north west is much lower than the south. What does this mean?

Well, our zenith is always above us. The north celestial pole lies at our number of degrees of latitude above the northern horizon. Beijing is approx 40 degrees north. During the Han dynasty the capital was approx 34 degrees north. That means that the north celestial pole was more or less 34 degrees altitude above the northern horizon – so the pole star was more or less here (give a degree or two.)[ look at my book – appendix on astronomy – p 274 – 277.] From a flat plain perspective the sky rises towards the south – i.e. the ecliptic runs in parallels around the equator – i.e. a tight helix. The celestial equator (of which the han Chinese had no notion) is always going to be the number of degrees of one’s latitude away from the zenith. Therefore the position of the sun and planets are going to reach 23 degrees (plus or minus a couple for the planets) above the celestial equator in summer and 23 degrees below the celestial equator in winter (I am approximating the numbers – 23.26 or something). Therefore the highest point of the ecliptic (I mean to say the position of the sun at noon) is always going to be above the altitude (degrees above the horizon) of the north celestial pole – except for a few short days around the solstice – but we cannot make a distinction of a degree or two with our naked eyes. Even if the capital were at Beijing – which it wasn’t – for most of the year, until way into Autumn, the position
of the sun at noon (and the ecliptic, so one sees the planets higher degrees altitude above the horizon when they culminate – i.e. reach their highest position) is above that of the north celestial pole.

So this is why the Chinese thought that the heavens tipped down in the north / north west. Even in the Neijing and in Huainanzi, when comparing humans to heaven and earth it was written that the head is heaven and the feet are earth. And because the heavens tilted down towards the north, so too our chin points downwards! I think the exact quote is in my book.

Anyway – look at my book – appendix on astronomy – p 274 – 277. Maybe look also at the four palaces – p 191 – 194. I am not sure but I think I may have touched on this in that part.