Immunity according to Classical Chinese Medicine – the Wholistic System
Immunity according to ancient Chinese Medicine is a complex mechanism. This complexity is inherent to our fascinating energetic make up. In this article I share with you my knowledge and observations regarding immunity, based on my study of Classical Chinese Medicine.
The western definition of immunity is our “ability to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or white blood cells”. It is therefore understood that immunity is limited to purely physical body’s reaction in order to prevent internal pathology. For the ancient Chinese immunity, just like our life force energy, was far more complex and multi-layered in its function.
First of all, for them immunity is our ability to resist the “pathogenic factors” of external, internal and lifestyle origin. External is anything that can come into our body from outside environment, including bacteria, toxins and climatic factors. Internal is related to our emotional and mental states. Lifestyle causes are related to our daily habits that do not sustain good health.
Furthermore, in Chinese Medicine immunity functions at physical and non-physical levels that can be largely grouped into four, for the ease of understanding:
- Outer layer: space beyond our physical body;
- Surface layer: skin and mucous membrane;
- Internal layer: body fluids, blood and lifeforce energy;
- Overarching layer: energy that influences all the previous three layers.
The energy field around our physical body that extends out is called Wei Qi. Wei Qi is physically perceived by our skin and mucous membrane but can be activated before a pathogen physically reaches them. Wei Qi is like an opening and closing door, it is working on the first line of defense from external causes but also working on expelling what’s got in or what’s originated from internal causes. On psychological level Wei Qi is defined as our adaptive capacity; how we adapt to external circumstances or internal influences of our mind and emotions. If we perceive ourselves as unable to deal with such factors (adapt or change), in Chinese Medicine it is perceived as being a victim. That considerably lowers our adaptive capacity and in consequence our defenses, Wei Qi.
If we imagine it like a muscle, the stronger that energy is the more we can push back out the pathogen that we do not want entering our body or energy field. How do you strengthen it? Wei Qi is formed from food we consume, which once assimilated and processed feeds the protective mucous membrane. The defensive strength of the mucous membrane is dependent on the quality of our diet and the digestive strength. The digestive strength is supported by our life force energy. So, provided we eat well and have good energy at the base, we will produce good first point of contact defense. Fortunately all these aspects of our health are in our control.
We compromise that natural barrier ourselves by prolonged stress, overwork, little sleep, little or too much exercise, lifestyle habits and unresolved emotional issues, etc. In such case, the pathogen passes through the first line of defense and the internal defense mechanism needs to kick in. It is what in western medicine we know as T-cells, B-cells and phagocytes. In Chinese Medicine it is recognized as the defense from a pathogen at the level of the blood and body fluids. The body sets off an internal layer mechanism for expelling that pathogen out.
In such moments we need to take time out and allow our body to deal with it. Our bodies are perfectly designed and equipped with mechanisms of defense to expel the pathogen by itself provided it is relatively strong and left to rest.
It is a healthy bodily reaction at that point to have fever and expel the pathogen with bodily fluids such as sweat, diarrhea, vomit or via blood as a rash. The old saying “better out than in” is the guiding principle here. In order to expel, however, we consume the strength of our lifeforce energy, as well as the blood and bodily fluids. Throughout the process of expelling, Wei Qi keeps on working, as it is the energy that directs the pathogen out of our body. Hence, once a pathogen is in and the internal mechanism is employed, we feel tired and unwell.
Depending on the strength of your body, you may need to get some help at expelling out the pathogen. In mild cases some of us reach for self-administered aids, such as ginger, lemon and honey in hot water for a simple cold, together with heating pads of coarse salt, etc. In some cases, you may need to seek professional help. It is still your choice which method you choose. Antibiotics or corticosteroids, for example, will make you feel better quicker but will seize the expelling out process. Potentially an uncleared pathogen will make itself alive soon again. Naturopathic methods such as Classical Chinese Medicine are more likely to aid you expel in a way that is compatible with natural inner processes.
All these defense mechanisms, the outer and surface layer Wei Qi, together with our nutritive energy, and the internal defense of blood, bodily fluids and lifeforce energy, are all governed and influenced by one overarching energy called Upright energy (Upright Qi).
Upright Qi is referred to as the Immune System in Classical Chinese Medicine as from that energy departs the stimulus for the defense mechanisms just described. Upright Qi does not reside in any particular physical part of our body but it is expressed in the way we PONE ourselves in life. Upright means erect and honest. The opposite energy to it is perverse and bent. We can tell its quality by looking at a person. If the body is erect and the mind and heart are honest, the immune system will be receiving a strong and positive energy. If your body is bent over and your mind and heart are perverse with negative thoughts and emotions, the immune mechanism will not be getting a helping hand in keeping it “on its feet”.
Having said Upright Qi has no particular physical “residence”, the parts of our body which help us stay erect are the spine and the Heart. There is an energetic link between those two. In Chinese Medicine, the Heart is a meeting point of Heaven and Earth on their energetic axis. That means that the Heart presides a meeting of the Body and the Spirit along the axis of our spine. Therefore, the strength of that energy will influence how you PONE yourself in life and how you pone yourself “in face” of a pathogen.
Whilst in western culture we’ve learnt to think that outside causes are out of our control, Classical Chinese Medicine says: “our way of living PERMITS (external or internal causes) to control us”. It does require a shift in our acquired belief to think: “how could anything enter you if you do not allow it”. I trust that having read so far, you may now understand better the thinking behind that statement.
In an article written by Dashtar et al., Upright Qi is even elevated to a definition of “real power” or “true power” of a person, saying “if a person is full of positive force, a malicious energy will not attack”. It concludes that people with weak Upright Qi will be the sickly type, who get ill very easily.
Lastly there is an issue of a vaccine. When receiving an injection of a pathogen we surpass two layers of natural defense mechanism: the outer and the surface layer. At this point, we are left with the internal blood, body fluids and life force energy to defend and expel the pathogen. Granted it is a very small amount of the pathogen, however, other toxic ingredients are included in a shot, to conserve or stabilize the vaccine, which the body needs to expel as well. If, at that moment, your life force, blood or body fluids are insufficient, your body will struggle to expel either. Wei Qi at the moment of a jab does not get activated in the way it would have during the natural course of infection. Therefore, your body is put under undue stress, which may be problematic for generally weaker people. An un-expelled pathogen gets lodged in muscles, joints and bones awaiting the time the body will be stronger to push it out. If latency is prolonged it will manifest as chronic and/or autoimmune diseases.
Between about 1300 and 1600 in China there was a practice of “vaccinating” people with lesions of smallpox scrapped from infected people and blown into noses of healthy population. Having studied it for hundreds of years the medics at the time have noticed that such practices were compromising too much the health of more susceptible population, namely children and elderly whose immune systems are immature in case of the first and debilitated in case of the latter. That has led them to suspend such practices. One can deduct from it that one medicine is not equal for all and that the complete natural defense system is capable to respond better when left to its own devices.
Thanks to ancient traditional diagnostic techniques, everyone can be assessed energetically for the strength of their immune system, for all four layers: outer, surface, internal and Upright energy. Acupuncture and herbs can be used to sustain any weaknesses or deficiencies as a preventive measure. Let’s remember that the Chinese Medicine comes from primarily preventive practices when medics of the time were paid to maintain people in good health and unpaid when their patients got ill.
In conclusion, I have explained to you what constitutes the first and second line of defense and what energy oversees all the immune processes in Classical Chinese Medicine. I have described to you what happens once the pathogen gets in and how we have a choice in choosing the methods that sustain natural healing processes. I have shared with you what type of energy oversees all of these processes, and how best to sustain it. Finally, I have explained the reaction of the immune system to a vaccination from the Chinese Medical point of view. I trust that having read this article you may better appreciate the complexity of our wholistic immune system we all possess and that your health and immunity are truly in your own hands.
1. Yuen J. Chronic and Autoimmune Diseases. Warsaw. 2018 Dec.
2. Yuen J. Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine I. New York. 2021 Mar.
3. Yuen J. Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine III. New York. 2021 Oct.
4. Dashtdar M, Dashtdar M.R, Dashtdar B, Kardi K, Shirazi M.K. The concept of Wind in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Journal of Phamacopuncture. 2016 Dec; 19(4):293-302.
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