TCM Terminology

Traditional Chinese Medicine, encompassing both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs, has its own unique philosophy and system of diagnosis. In order for patients to have an understanding of this system, it is first necessary to define some common TCM terminology.

Please keep in mind that a core principle of Chinese Medical philosophy is that no single concept stands on its own, i.e. everything is relative and any one thing can only be understood in relation to other concepts and/or in proportion to its functioning within the system as a whole.

Basic Theory

Yin – 阴, pronounced like “in”
The feminine, darker, heavier, slower aspects of the body: the abdomen, the legs, the feet. Yin nourishing activities include sleep and meditation. Some Yin nurturing foods are meat and vegetables.

Yang – 阳, pronounced like “ahhng”
The masculine, brighter, quicker aspects of the body, such as the back, the head and the hands. Some Yang activities are talking and exercising, and Yang replenishing foods tend to be easy to digest simple carbohydrates like white rice and fruit juice.

Qi – 气, pronounced like “Chee”
Qi is one of the more difficult words to define in TCM, but the most important. Connoting vital energy, or life force, Qi is what keeps us, as well as everything in the universe, alive.

Blood –
Blood in TCM is very similar to its Western counterpart, distributing nutrition (and Qi) into organs, tissues and cells of the body. Blood is the more yin aspect of Qi, it depends on Qi both for its movement and replenishment.


Liver –  肝
Corresponds to Wood element, the color green, and springtime

Heart –  心
Corresponds to Fire element, the color red, and summertime

Spleen – 脾
Corresponds to Earth element, the color yellow and the season of harvest

Lung –  肺
Corresponds to Metal element, the color white and autumn

Kidney –  肾
Corresponds to Water element, the color black and wintertime