Organs Vs. Officials

Or the Key to Understanding Your Acupuncturist’s Unusual Anatomy Talk.

Author: Jasmine Stine

Have you ever come in to BAP for a treatment and heard something like this: “Well your Liver isn’t moving so great” or “Your Kidneys could use a little extra juice” or “Cold foods are hard on the Spleen”? Hopefully this didn’t send you into a tailspin of worry over your biological liver, a large lobed organ in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen; or keep you up at night fretting about your biological spleen, the tiny immune organ that processes dead blood cells. Because, you see, when we talk about organs in Chinese medicine we are really referring to a much bigger concept than just the discrete anatomical organs of Western medicine. We call this bigger concept “the Officials.”

In Chinese medicine there is a significant difference between, for example, the Liver Official (capital L) and the liver organ (lower case L). The Liver Official includes the anatomical organ (the liver) plus the entire Liver energy channel that runs from the big toe up to the rib cage, as well as a host of essential functions in the mind, body, and spirit that the Liver is responsible for. This means that a disharmony in the Liver doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a biological problem with the liver in the Western medical sense. There could be a issue anywhere along the channel (inner legs, genitals, abdomen, hypochondriac area) or in one of the many functions the Liver is responsible for.

Are you still with me? 

Let’s explore this concept a little further by taking a look at an Official which, like the Liver, is associated with spring: The Gall Bladder. You know the gall bladder to be a tiny little sac under the liver that stores bile. Bile breaks down fats, and when the time is right the gallbladder empties its contents into the small intestine to aid with digestion. As acupuncturists, the Gallbladder does all this and so much more!

According to classical Chinese medicine texts, the Gall Bladder is responsible for that which is “just” and “exact.” The whole being depends on it for both action and discernment. It works closely with the Liver, which is in charge of visioning and developing a life plan that is inline with who we really are. The Gall Bladder takes the vision empowered by the Liver, then sets goals worth achieving and executes the plan accordingly. It is also intimately involved in the Liver’s functions of storing the blood and dreaming at night. Because it empowers perspective, courage, and decisiveness, it supports the capacity for balance - intellectually through decision making, emotionally through compassion, and physically through proprioception. 

On an energetic level, a healthy Gall Bladder will manifest in a clear sense of direction, the ability to move in alignment with one’s purpose, the capacity to discern our path, and the courage to take a stand for what is right. Conversely, an imbalanced Gall Bladder might manifest as chronic indecision, excess rigidity, floundering about in one’s life, imbalance in judgement, or physically as unilateral pain or complaints within the body. Sometimes the Gallbladder takes on the processing of excess anger becomes inflamed. 

The Gall Bladder channel begins at the lateral corner of the fourth toenail, travels up the sides of the body, zig zags back and forth across the sides of the head, and terminates at the outside corner of the eye. The criss-crossing of the channel on the head especially speaks to its role in logical thought and decision making. Your acupuncturist might choose to treat points on the Gallbladder channel if you have eye complaints, lateral headaches, tight shoulders, trouble twisting your torso, or sciatica. Some common Gallbladder points include GB-37 Bright and Clear, which is good for eye issues but also supports the capacity to make sound decisions, and  GB-24 Sun and Moon, which empowers perspective and balance, and can help a patient see other points of view.

So next time your acupuncturist mentions, say, your Pericardium ask them: Is that the organ or the Official?