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Theory question on the acupuncture clock and generation cycle



I have a question that has been eating at me for a bit now, and I was wondering if any of you had a good answer to it.

I have mostly been taught up to this time that the energy of the body flows through the 5 elements, with one feeding the next, in a relationship called "mother-child"relationship.For example, Water feeds Wood, feeds Fire, etc.I was led to think that this mirrored the energy flow in the body through the meridians, and that if somebody was Deficient in a particular area, I should feed Qi into the "Mother" of that area(ie treating a Wood deficiency by building the Water element meridians(Kidneys and Bladder meridians.)

However when I look at the"acupuncture clock" as portrayed here:

It seems to say that the Qi flows through the body from one organ system to another according to 2 hr cycles.However it seems that the cycle from one meridian to the next very distinctly does not follow the generation cycle(Metal seems to feedEarth, seems to feed Fire, seems to then feed Water, and Suplemental Fire, and then feeds Wood.I do not follow the logic of how this relates to the Generation cycle, or even IF it does.

I was wondering if and or how these two maps of energetic functioning overlapped,and how they are integrated clinically?

Thankyou for your time ,and for maintaining an invaluable resourse for all TCM and other practitioners.



Hello Craig, and welcome to the site. This is a good question. The very short answer is that the theories are not strongly correlated. The five element theory can be used clinically and if you practice five element acupuncture you use it extensively. For practitioners who use more of the TCM style you may still use the theories to look at relationships when forming a diagnosis and when counseling the patient with lifestyle and/or dietary suggestions. I'll go through those two scenarios independently.

For integrating the techniques clinically:

If, for example, you have someone with a metal imbalance you can, in theory, use the meridian activity times to reinforce the effect of the treatment. So the lung meridian is most active from 3-5am and then, accordingly, least active from 3-5pm. If someone had a lung issue you could treat them at 3-5am to have a stronger effect on the meridian. At least, you might avoid treating them from 3-5pm to steer around the time when the meridian is least active. Many practitioners of both TCM and five element styles try to do this to some degree. You may even choose some different points depending on what time your patient is in the office, as you cannot always control what time they are able to make it in.

One other aspect that the chart you reference shows is the entry/exit points for each meridian. This is an important treatment protocol in classical five element acupuncture and another example of how the meridian activity times may be used. You can see how this protocol is applied in the entry/exit blocks section of the worsley style article.

For pattern differential and lifestyle/dietary suggestions:

More than a clinical theory like KD Yin Deficiency, for example, the five element theory is about the patterns of environmental, emotional, physical, etc. influences that exist in nature as well as within each of us. The theory, then, is more of a framework within which you can understand how things influence eachother. For example, excessive anger (fire, heart) will weaken the heart meridian and may over control the lungs (not being able to breath while angry), etc. Also strong heat (fire) from the environment may also weaken the lung system, and so on.

If someone works in a damp environment, for example, they will run the risk of weakening the earth (stomach/spleen) system. Now they may be coming in for back pain, but your lifestyle/dietary/emotional suggestions for them as a complete person may be to mitigate some of the potential imbalance that may happen through things they have no control over. It may or may not influence which points you use in some cases, but for the person overall it is still an important theory for understanding their overall pattern and tendencies.

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