This is one of the 12 organ systems in Chinese medicine.
The information below is intended to enhance and expand your experience of the Spleen & Stomach podcast but can of course be used on its own to understand your treatment at Watershed Wellness more deeply.
Stomach organ system overview
The Stomach is called 胃Wèi in Chinese.
The Stomach organ system is most often talked about in tandem with the Spleen, with whom it shares many functions as well as its phase element of Earth. The Stomach is responsible for receiving food and beginning the process of digestion and assimilation, in this way it is not viewed that differently between conventional medicine and Chinese medicine. When we dig further into the whole organ system and its symbolism, however, you will see the differences in the conventional & Chinese medicine viewpoints.
The Stomach acupuncture channel
The Stomach acupuncture channel is the second longest primary channel on the body with 45 points, one more than the Gallbladder channel.
The first point of this channel is on the face just below the eye. It then travels down the face, around the mouth, to the jaw and up onto the head just inside the hairline. It then descends to the throat and heads laterally out along the collarbone. It goes from there down to the chest, intersecting the nipple, then diving in more centrally to travel along the stomach about two inches away from the bellybutton. It moves from there to the inguinal region and then moves out just lateral to the midline of the leg. It remains more or less on this line down the thigh and shin until it reaches the center of the ankle and then travels out between the second and third toes, terminating on the lateral edge of the toenail of the second toe.
Like most acupuncture channels, it can be used to treat pain and dysfunction along its pathway. In this regard, the Stomach channel is particularly good at treating clavicle, pectoral, thigh and ankle pain.
Phase Element – Earth
The five phases, also known as the five elements or five phase elements, is one of the most common symbolic systems used in Chinese medicine. The five phases are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each phase has its own basic character and series of associations, all of which can be used to understand human health, as well as other aspects of reality.
The Stomach and Spleen share the same phase element – Earth. Earth is sometimes depicted as relating to late summer, the early harvest. Other times it is thought to be a sort of buffering season that lies between the other four seasons. No matter how we look at it, Earth is ultimately about nourishment. It is the soil in which we grow our crops and it is our gut biota that processes that helps to process that food and makes it into our bodies.
Earth is related to worry and rumination – the tendency that some of us to have to overthink and try to control situations that are ultimately outside of our control. Think about when you really think yourself into an anxious state – most of us feel that right in the gut.
Six Conformations – Yángmíng
The six conformations is a system of diagnosis that divides the twelve organ systems into six synergistic pairs. There are a variety of ways to parse the information contained in this system, which is chiefly used when diagnosing and treating infectious conditions such as colds and flus, but has utility beyond that use. Yangming can be translated as “yang brightness,” and can be thought of as a blazing hot sun at high noon at summer solstice. The Stomach shares the conformation with 大腸 Dà Cháng / Large intestine.
Yangming is a strong, aggressive force in our bodies and it is here that we achieve the highest fevers. Fevers that can save our lives when we battle a viral or bacterial illness, but also fevers that can kill us should they get too high. This association with bright, hot, aggressive, intense symptoms also relates to the mental-emotional realm. Yangming treatments can treat symptoms such as very high anxiety, mania and psychosis.
Huángdì Nèijīng – Chapter 8 – Storage & Flavor
One of the most important books in Chinese medicine is the Huángdì Nèijīng or Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic. In Chapter 8 of that text, all of the organ systems are described using language that relates to the operation of a country or state. This is a common way of symbolically discussing physiology and pathology in ancient Chinese texts.
One thing I’ve not discussed about the Stomach so far is that in many texts and traditions, the Spleen and Stomach are discussed almost as a single organ system. They are so closely united in function, that they are spoken of in the same breath. This is true in this chapter of the Nèijīng as well.
In the text, this translation by Paul Unschuld, it is said,
“The spleen and the stomach are the officials responsible for grain storage. The five flavors originate from them.”
This gets to the heart of how we view these organ systems in Chinese medicine. Together, the Spleen and Stomach form the center of consumption, digestion and assimilation of nutrients. They form the “central storehouse” of the body, where all-important food is stored and processed. The “five flavors” are what we experience as we taste food, and in Chinese medicine also relate to the function of the various nutrients in building and powering our bodies.
Organ clock – 7am-9am
The Stomach is associated with 7-9am, full morning, bright light streaming in through the windows and plenty of activity outside from plants, animals, people and machines. This is rush hour traffic, breakfast for the kiddos, getting everything ready for the day for most people. It can be frantic! That’s Yangming energy. But it is also a beautiful time – flourishing movement and engaging the beauty of our world.
Our stomachs are wide open and ready to take everything in. Not just food, but also the sights, smells and sounds of the world in which we live. While everyone’s sleeping schedules are slightly different, generally sleeping much beyond this timeframe in a typical person’s morning will result in grogginess. It’s time to get moving!
Organ clock – April
Note : The lunisolar Chinese calendar doesn’t match up perfectly with the months of the Gregorian calendar. I’m using the closest month on the Gregorian calendar that makes sense.
The Stomach is associated with April. In the Northern hemisphere, we are beyond the equinox – days lengthening, getting warmer, reaching towards the zenith of summer solstice. Yes, in most parts of the United States there is still plenty of rain and often lots of wind, but nobody can deny the power of the spring by the time April comes around.
Organ clock – The Dragon
Every organ system is related to an “Earthly Branch” which is one of the pieces of the ancient Chinese calendar system. To make those symbols easier to relate to, the Chinese associated each with one of the 12 zodiac animals from Chinese astrology.
April and the Stomach are associated with one of the most powerful animals in the Chinese zodiac – the Dragon. The Dragon is a sign of regal strength and vitality, and is clearly an animal with a powerful appetite – perfect for the Stomach organ system. It also bears that Yangming energy of brilliant light and explosive capacity – while in Chinese mythology dragons are largely benevolent creatures, you still don’t want to cross one!
Acupuncture & Herbs
Stomach 36 (acupuncture point)