The acupuncture channels and Chinese herb flavors

This is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Michael Givens.


It’s been a while since I’ve submitted an article for this blog, but I recently read something both inspiring and provocative, which has moved me to writing; this, and that I am in the thick of writing my classical Chinese Medicine thesis for NCNM on a related topic.

Interestingly, I found this article after I began searching for sources of the theory in classical herbalism of “Thick and Thin Qi and Wei (temperature and flavor)”, which I am using as a means of attempting to stir our theoretical constructs away from a more material/ substance based approach to herbalism, to a more “Qi” and “Wei” or “heavenly” and “earthly” based approach.


My reasons for doing this are, firstly, to understand more clearly how the internal architecture of a formula works within human physiology, allowing it to have a specific direction; and secondly, to suggest that the “channel affinity” theory which dominates our profession is something quite distinct from classical theory.

The reason this is interesting is that the author, Tony Reid, used the very source I was planning on using to demonstrate how herbal theory was being superimposed upon acupuncture theory, essentially “herbalizing’ acupuncture by making both the herbs capable of moving into specific channels, and making acupuncture points fit a “prescription”.  On the one hand, we are both looking at the same problem and trying to move back to the source of our medicine; yet, on the other, we are coming to a different conclusion about the importance of classical formula science.

I would like to direct the reader to the article [], for I think it is a very important one, and in reading it, I think my point will be easier to make.  Nonetheless, here it is: There is a problem with the institutionalization of Chinese medicine, yet the problem is not only that it, as Reid clearly explains, personal and individual palpation of the patient on the table (channel, abdominal, pulse, tissue…) can only be taught through a “discipleship” or “mentorship” and is so essential to classical medicine (yet left out of TCM education), but also that the “herbalist” model which is overwhelming the profession  and education of Chinese medicine, is not the classical model of formula science.

Classical “formulism” and classical acupuncture have the same source, the same theory and the same approach.   This should by no means lead us to create “acupuncture prescriptions” based on “point actions” just as it should by no means lead us to create herbal prescriptions based on “herbal actions”, though in both cases, knowing the points and the herbs is nonetheless essential.  It is the channels and the conformations of the patient, right in front of us, which should inform us of how to treat.  Thus, I now see the great importance of understanding classical palpation and meridian acupuncture in conjunction with classical formula science.

Therefore, we are now challenged to investigate how our medicine works without relying on TCM materialism and Western science.  To do this, we must work from deeper understanding of the classics.


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About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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