Rebellious Qi: Rebel With A Cause

Day 6

by Gene Chuah

It’s natural law. To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. What goes up must come down. Things that get blocked, don’t stay blocked for very long. If something is pent up, it will explode at some point. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, “Rebellious Qi” is basically any energy flow that breaks out of the established pattern. But we’re not talking about James Dean, being a rebel just for the sake of it. Purposeful rebels are not always a bad thing. Gandhi was one. Mother Theresa in many ways was one too. Even Jesus in his time, was such a rebel that they killed him. And the Rebel Alliance definitely had The Force with them.

But before we can rebel, we need to understand the establishment. All organs and “organ groups” (common pairings or sets in TCM) have established directions of Qi flow. Let’s take a look at the 5 main organs: the Spleen, Lungs, Kidneys, Heart and Liver. Keep in mind that most of the time, Rebellious Qi is disruptive; however the point is that there is always a reason (purpose?) that it came about. Seeing the correct flow of things helps us understand why or how Rebellious Qi might arise. Time to break out the drawing tablet and make some pretty pictures:

1. SPLEEN Established Qi direction: Upward

Carbs (esp. refined) are bad for weak Spleen.
Weak Spleen: stagnation, bloating.
Healthy Spleen: clear mind, focused (energy goes upward to mind)
Don’t be puzzled, the Stomach is in this diagram but compared to the Spleen, it is somewhat secondary. The Stomach is responsible for initial processing of food, and sends its products to the Spleen for finer processing. The Spleen (again, recall that we really mean “function of the intestines”) has a bigger role overall in TCM.
Notice the Rebellious Qi here in orange.

2. LUNGS Established Qi direction: Downward and Outward

Qi of Lungs (from breathing) powers the Kidneys.
Poor air or breathing leads to weak Wei (Defensive) Qi. Symptoms: cold hands, recurring colds, spontaneous cold sweats on slight exertion; “pores too weak to remain closed”. Conversely, with good breathing and air quality, Wei Qi is strong.
The Lungs & Kidneys are correlated in health. One affects the other. In good health, one is able to have full inhalation and exhalation.
Cough is considered “rebellious Qi”. Weak incessant coughing usually due to weak Lungs or poor air quality. In this case Kidneys are unable to “grasp” the Air Qi from Lungs (could be weak Kidneys too). In many cases coughing is purposeful: to unblock the Lungs.
Allergic asthma: main symptom is whistling sound when breathing. This is due to phlegm in the nasal passages.
Allergens in TCM are considered Wind Heat. They burn up fluids of the Lungs (Yin). This makes sense considering saline nasal spray, nose drops or the Neti Pot are effective treatments for most breathing allergies. Saline = salt and Salt = Yin, which counteracts the Yang-burn.

3. KIDNEYS Established Qi direction: Upward and Downward

Lungs deliver “mist”/”vapor”/”moisture” to Kidneys to be harmonized energetically (e.g. more hot or cold).
Kidneys send Water to Lungs if they’re dry, or Fire to strengthen. Kidneys send to the Heart in the same fashion; this is to regulate the energetic temperature of these organs.
In old age, weaker Kidneys affects urination (takes longer to start and stop), particularly for men.

4. HEART Established Qi direction: Downward

Heart needs to move Qi downward as an outlet. Otherwise if blocked somehow, one symptom is heart palpitations. If this is triggered by only slight exertion, then look to Heart Qi Deficiency as the culprit. Blocked Heart Qi can also result in insomnia. Since the Heart houses the Shen (spirit), too much Heart Heat can cause anxiety (spirit is restless).

5. LIVER Established Qi direction: Outward and Upward

The Liver is the “Energetic Fan”. No you silly, I’m not talking about a Toronto Maple Leafs spectator. The Liver, although one of the Yin Organs, has a Yang energy to it because it is constantly moving energy, particularly the energy of emotions. The Liver allows you to move on from one emotion to another. Liver Qi stagnation is equated with frustration, irritability and anger. Here’s the interesting thing: in TCM, the 7 emotions each has a corresponding Organ. Too much of one emotion will affect the corresponding Organ. Conversely, dysfunction of an Organ can result in the manifesting of its corresponding emotion. Cause and effect can happen in either direction (see my previous blog post on this phenomenon). This means that you can treat the Organ by lessening the emotion, but it also means that you can treat the emotional issue by treating the Organ.
Back to the Liver: main causes of Liver Qi Stagnation are: stress, inability to express yourself (e.g. under oppression), frustration. Without an outlet, a pent-up explosion of anger will occur. Constant sighing is a sign of Liver frustration (i.e. anger).
For more on the 7 Emotions of TCM, see this snapshot taken from

Combined view for Lungs, Heart, Kidneys

So far we’ve focused on each Organ and its directions for Qi flow. Above here’s a combined view of the ones that intersect.

Overall Qi as a function of age

Overall Qi levels rise and fall over a lifetime. If one’s Kidneys are already weak in childhood, they will also face Kidney-related issues in old age. One of the symptoms is difficulty in inhaling fully. In mid-life, however, things shift and if there is difficulty in exhaling fully, it points to Lung and Spleen issues. Conversely, a sign of good health is when one can inhale and exhale fully.

Pathologies of Qi

1. Deficiency of Qi
Can usually be pinpointed to an Organ.
* Tiredness <-- Spleen, Lung, Kidney Qi Deficiency (the Qi-generating Organs!)
* Tiredness, slow digestion, soft stools <-- Spleen Qi Deficiency
* Shortness of breath, spontaneous cold sweating <-- Lung Qi Deficiency
* Paleness, heart palpitations (on slight exertion) <-- Heart Qi Deficiency

2. Qi Sinking/Collapsing (Extreme Qi Deficiency)
Oh boyoes! In extreme Qi Deficiency, you get a collapse. The house falls because its foundation is gone. Symptoms: prolapse of organs, pathological hemorrhoids, chronic cold diarrhea. In serious cases, expect fainting, unconsciousness, or even coma. Without energy, there can be no spark of life.

3. Qi Stagnation (excess)
To recap from Day One: Excess will cause blockage or stagnation, which leads to pain. Think traffic jam. This can manifest (1) in an energetic channel, causing local pain, or (2) in an Organ, causing pain (e.g. Lung Qi stagnation -> chest constriction) or internal/systemic problems (e.g. Liver Qi stagnation causing frustrated emotions).
Excess/blockage/stagnation can actually be caused by a Deficiency farther up the chain. For example: Spleen Qi Stagnation (maybe due to Weak Spleen) reverses normal upward Qi flow from Spleen, causing bloating/distension.
Sometimes Excess can also be caused by a sudden (external?) disruption, for example stubbing your toe. A Yang reaction happens in response to the sudden Qi blockage/stagnation.

4. Rebellious Qi
Any Qi that flows against, or is different from, the established/regular order/pattern, is considered Rebellious Qi. As mentioned, most of the time it is “out of place” or disruptive, but it can also be beneficial in the sense that sometimes it initiates an “unblocking” or a change that is needed (albeit uncomfortable at first). Sounds like Marin Luther King Jr, no?

Now that we’ve covered enough on Qi, we move on to another Fundamental Body Substance, Blood.

Blood Basics
* Blood is denser form of Qi (more Yin).
* Blood is inseparable from Qi.
* Qi moves (pushes) Blood; Blood is the mother of Qi.
* Qi gives life and movement to Blood, but Blood nourishes the Organs that produce Qi.

When we speak of Blood in TCM we can mean the physical kind that flows in blood vessels, as well as the energetic kind that flows in Qi channels. Blood and Qi are interdependent; one needs to be strong for the other to be strong, and vice versa.

Pathologies of Blood/Qi:
* Qi weak, Blood strong –> heart attack (Qi can’t push Blood)
* Qi stagnant –> Blood Stagnation/Stasis
* Qi+Blood Deficiency (usually go together)
* Blood Deficiency –> dizziness, lack of mental focus, premature greying/baldness
* Blood Deficiency <-- shallow breathing <-- Lung dysfunction

Creation of Blood

This looks very similar to our Qi Synthesis Flowchart from Day 5, but one key difference is the role of the Heart. The Heart makes the Blood circulate in its vessels, but we knew that already. What we didn’t know was that in TCM, the Heart is the Emperor who gives the Blood its red color by stamping it with his official seal using red ink. He approves mightily.
Pathologies of the Heart:
* coldness <-- Heart Qi/Yang Deficiency
* low energy <-- Heart Qi Deficiency
* poor appetite <-- Heart Qi Deficiency
* pale complexion <-- Heart & Blood Qi Deficiency

The Spleen is the main Orgain in Blood production (see flowchart). The Spleen is also the “governor” for Ying (Nutritive) Qi (contrasting with Lungs which govern Wei (Defensive) Qi). Yin Qi is considered part of the Blood. Blood, as well as Ying Qi, are important for the nourishment of internal organs. Too much mental stress weakens the Spleen, which causes a vicous cycle (see Day 5). Adding stress as a factor here goes something like this :

Stress -> Spleen damage -> weak Spleen -> crave & eat Sweet foods -> more Speen damage -> tiredness, brain fog, inability to cope -> more stress -> repeat cycle.

Quick recap of the circadian rhythm, or “Chinese clock” in TCM: the Liver stores Blood at night, e.g. it is active and processing at 1-3am. The Liver is responsible for the quality and quantity of Blood. There is an excellent interactive “Organ clock” here, with (static) screenshot here.

Functions of Blood

1. Nourishes the body
Blood circulates, transports substances and nourishment to organs, skin, muscles, tendons, sinews, ligaments, orifices, etc.
* Dizziness <-- lack of nourishment of Shen from the Blood
* Poor eyesight, floaters, night blindness <-- weak Blood (/Liver)
* Numbness of limbs <-- Blood Deficiency, or Blood not flowing in its channel; contrast this with Western (mis-diagnosis) of nerve dysfunction
* Numbness/tingling due to sleeping without turning <-- Blood Stagnation <-- Qi Deficiency

2. Moistens body tissues
Soft, supple skin and hair for instance. As one ages, their overall Qi as well as Blood health declines, and body tissues are not as moist; as we age, we tend to “dry up”. Menopause is actually a form of Yin Deficiency, exhibiting symptoms like vaginal dryness. Excess Heat can also be to blame. Dry sinews tear easier (prone to sports injuries, for instance). Another symptom of weak Blood is dry eyes (feels like sand).

3. Mental activity
When Blood is strong in terms of quality and quantity, one is mentally calm, happy, and able to focus (Shen is balanced). Blood “grounds” the Shen (spirit), housed in the Heart. Pathologies include anxiety, insomnia, sadness, disturbed dreams. Remember that the Spleen (intestines) is crucial in Blood creation? The new science shows that there is gut-brain connection. Studies performed by Dr. Wakefield and duplicated by others, prove this. Google this topic here, they tried to shut this whistleblower down so it’s worth exploring both sides (be careful, one side is motivated by money, not truth).

Disharmonies of the Blood

1. Deficiency due to poor diet, trauma/shock causing loss of blood, or Organ dysfunction (e.g. Spleen, or Lungs).

2. Heat in the Blood. Symptoms: fever, excessive sweating, red complexion, insomnia, disturbed dreams/hallucinations, mental restlessness/illness (bipolar, manic-depressive), skin conditions (ulcers, carbuncles, furuncles), meningitis->psoriasis, cold sores (this one is a misnomer, should really be heat sores). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy cause excessive Heat in the Blood (very damaging). Other causes: too much coffee, red meat, spicy foods, alcohol, even toxic emotions. We could say that Blood Excess Heat = Toxin Overload (physical or emotional). Also, lack of sleep or sleeping out-of-cycle long-term will cause Heat in the Blood.

3. Blood Stasis: it’s not moving! Symptoms: usually sharp, strong/stabbing pain. If the case of Heart Blood Stasis, heart attack is the result, or angina pectoris (chest pain <-- obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries). In the brain, Blood Stasis could be caused by blood clotting <-- brain aneurysm. This is very dangerous because the brain in TCM is considered one of the Jing-carrying substances as well.
Etiology (causation): excess Cold. Here is how this typically progresses: extremities get cold first --> pain –> numb (no Blood flowing) –> Cold has “conquered” –> turn blue or bluish-purple –> lose a limb, oh noes !!

Now on to our next Wonder Substance, or as the proper folk like to say, Fundamental Substance… the oft-mentioned but never-fully-explained Shen, or spirit.

Shen (spirit)

I actually know someone Chinese with this name. The actual word in Pinyin is Shén and the vowel sounds more like the one in “stern” than in “men”. Hear it at Google Translate and to see the Chinese character. Yes folks, it’s true, we each are a trinity of Mind, Body and Spirit, a fact recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Shen also represents vitality, consciousness and mental health. In TCM it resides in the Heart, is housed (grounded, nourished) by the Blood. Shen is responsible for wisdom, creativity, emotional intelligence, insight, intuition, sixth sense, and awareness of ourselves as distinct from the environment. The Shen enables one to be aware of (and choose to follow) social norms. This reminds me of a concept I studied in Psychology, self-monitoring.

If the Shen is disturbed in a person (e.g. due to trauma), it will not be grounded, and in extreme cases can be dispersed or even temporarily displaced. The results vary: restlessness, anxiety, mindlessness, confusion, even terror or insanity.

Shen enters the body upon conception, and leaves during death. It is eternal, being Spirit; it is the part of us that never dies (law of conservation of energy: energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but can be transferred) and many belief systems subscribe to the idea of reincarnation. Whatever you believe, the concept of Shen is essential in TCM because it explains and helps predict many things. Shen is considered pure (Yang) energy and because it is so pure, is easily disturbed.

Now for the fun (but possibly scary) part… we learned how true the adage “the eyes are the window of the soul” is, with the concept of “sanpaku” (Japanese word, meaning “3 whites of the eyes”). It’s a big topic but I’ll let you research it yourself here in words or in pictures (each worth a thousand words). Now wait a minute, why is the eye on the US dollar bill a sanpaku eye?

Some Other Items We Discussed In Yesterday’s Class

* The Brain is known as the “Sea of Marrow” and contains Jing like the Kidneys and spinal cord.
* Diabetes in TCM is not classified as a Blood dysfunction, but overall Yin Deficiency.
* Too much sleep is unhealthy because it creates Yin Excess –> Dampness. As compared to too little sleep which has the opposite effect, burning of Yin (mentioned in Day 4).


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