The Fire Within – Traditional Chinese Medicine

Ancient Chinese Medicine has a quaint way of describing human life – it says every human life has a fire within it. The fire keeps the body warm. The fire in the body is fed by the food that we eat. When the fire gets too hot it is fed water. The energy produced by the fire is utilized for activity.

If we only produce fire and no activity, the fire will consume our body. The fire is controlled by the ‘essence’ that is stored in the internal organs. If the internal organs are damaged, there may be no production of essence or, its production might get out of control and the fire would get unregulated leading to disease and pain.

The red colored essence is transported around the body in little tubes so that the warmth of the fire is spread all over the body. When the fire dies, the body dies. 1

If we stop to think, we might realize that Chinese Medicine has an amazing description of the human body functions – one that is rather apt and in line with modern understanding of our body. Indeed, the description of the human body is well suited for simple village folk and is easily understandable. Chinese Medicine captures the entire essence of modern medical science in just that one small paragraph.

It also goes on to describe the internal organs as being made of the food, air and water we consume. How well the internal organs work and the quality of the ‘Essence’ it produces therefore depends on the quantity and quality of the food, air and water we consume. Chinese Medicine believes that fire and essence are inter-connected. If there is no fire, the essence is useless.

The reverse is equally true. Chinese Medicine further believes that every human activity requires both fire and essence. Fire powers the activity while essence controls the fire, same as the relationship between the fire in the steam engine and the speed of the steam engine. 2

If we think about it, we might realize that all ancient cultures have similar versions of our understanding of the relationships between food, body and activity.

The Indian Ayurveda too, though it is more complex and detailed, has similarities with Chinese Medicine on the understanding and functioning of the human body.

In many ways, modern medicine although more detailed and complicated, is a formalization of the ancient Chinese Medicine as well as medical knowledge from other ancient cultures. While many of the superstitions might have been discarded, the basic information remains the same.

From a modern standpoint, the only problem with Chinese Medicine or other medicines was their inability to quantify values or be precise. (For example, Chinese Medicine did not quantify how much food is right.)

Instead, it recommended quantities of food based on the physical activity. For example, Chinese Medicine recommended two bowls of rice (amongst other things) for a soldier but only one bowl of rice for village leader. Chinese Medicine therefore has a fair understanding of modern food portions and the need for portion control, which also probably explains why you do not see many obese Chinese. 3

There is so much value to this ancient and yet thoroughly contemporary form of medical practice. See a practitioner today. You may be completely surprised.

Bye for now.

Footnotes and references:

1. Chinese medicine:

2. Ancient medicine:

3. Differences between Chinese medicine and modern medicine: