Emotions, desires and physiological fire in Chinese medicine, part one: The pericardium and lifegate

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Journal Article
Australian Journal of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, 2012, 7 (1), pp. 16 - 22
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Chinese medicine's concept of qi mediates between a person's mental-emotional life and the physiological processes producing and maintaining the body form. The pathogenic potential of human emotions and desires figured prominently in China's ancient medical and philosophical texts and, more than any other type of qi, the sovereign and minister fire embody the influences and relationships between mental, emotional, sensory and physiological activities. Contemporary traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) textbooks rarely mention the minister fire, except as an illness mechanism that is identified with liver and gall bladder yang repletion patterns. The preferred term for its physiological influences today is the kidney yang qi. The two parts of this paper examine the physiological and clinical implications of the minister fire. In the Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon commentaries (after c. 100 BCE), minister fire is the complement of the heart's sovereign fire; in the Treatise on Cold Damage commentaries (after c. 200 CE) it is an emergent property of the lifegate; and in TCM it is equivalent to the kidney yang. When Song-Jin-Yuan (960-1368) medicine revisited the Inner Canon's division of the fire phase into 'sovereign' and 'minister', minister fire became a key physiological concept guiding some of China's lasting medical developments, methods and formulas. Part One begins with the pericardium and lifegate. Premodern references link the pericardium and lifegate with the minister fire that disseminates the orders of the sovereign fire. Together, the pericardium and lifegate reflect the communication between the heart and kidney visceral systems and disseminate their qi-influences - the pericardium communicating the executive influences of the sovereign fire, and the lifegate producing the physiological influences of the minister fire. The minister fire itself, and the pathogenic stirring of minister fire due to emotions and desires, will be the subject of Part Two.
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