8 Principles

These ‘8 Principles‘ are the basic categories acupuncturists traditionally use to decide how to treat a disease:


Excess (Full)Deficiency (Empty)
External (Exterior)Internal (Interior)


  • Should we try to strengthen your ‘system’ (because of ‘deficiency’ or ‘Emptiness’) or release excess energy that is causing you pain (‘Fullness’)?
  • Where is your disease? On the ‘inside‘ (internally generated – perhaps systematic, say anaemia, or hot flashes/flushes) or the ‘outside‘ (external – coming from outside, such as when you catch a cold, ie externally generated)? However, external diseases can eventually affect the inside, becoming internal.
  • Should your treatment be warming or be cooling?
  • How to diagnose the balance between your Yin and Yang and promote harmony between them?

The Western Medicine Approach

Western medicine usually analyses disease by subjecting it to minute scientific study. Medical laboratories have formidable scientific techniques and instruments to examine and test diseased conditions.

From these test results or from his experience and considerable knowledge your doctor knows whether the disease is due to a pathogen – a bug – or to a breakdown or malfunction of your system.

He can then send you a prescription or recommend treatment. If successful, your pain ceases and your body returns to health.

For many, the trouble is that orthodox medication and treatment often cause further problems, or ultimately weaken your system, making you dependent on more treatment.

The Chinese Medicine Approach using the 8 Principles

Chinese medicine also aims to return your body to health with the absence of pain. Compared to modern medicine, its techniques are, on the face of it, rudimentary.

Indeed, some of what they do might have been part of what doctors in the West did in the past, though in part long since abandoned.

For example, pulse-taking to elicit not just speed but your pulse quality; full cognizance of your skin discoloration; not just where the pain or problem is but of your face and demeanour; hearing not just the words spoken but the sound of your speaking voice; smelling you (Yes! Sorry!) and knowing what different odours might mean.

The Western medicine can take time what with laboratory tests to confirm a diagnosis or supply information leading to treatment.

Much faster than that, indeed sometimes within a minute or two, practitioners of Chinese medicine can often decide where your disease is coming from and importantly, how serious it is and how to treat it to get you back to balance. This is what the 8 Principles do.

Use the wrong technique and you can make it worse.

Unfortunately, modern medicine often uses methods that clear symptoms but do the wrong thing for the energy of the body.

For example, cooling when according to Chinese medicine, there is already Cold in it.

Modern medicine is extremely good at clearing Heat, for example when there is an invasion of External Heat or when you have caught a bug and are suffering from a fever – see Four Levels.

However, it doesn’t go on to strengthen the system which would be the automatic next step in Chinese medicine. Also, it overlooks the potential harm done to the system by the medication.

For example, if you caught a cold with all the symptoms of sore throat, fever, thirst etc, and took medicine (eg paracetemol) to quell the fever and pain, you might well find yourself quite tired afterwards, indicating Lung Qi deficiency. (Of course you might also feel this having allowed your body to fight the bug its own way but ideally, in that case, your body would have succeeded by using inheritied knowhow and would be better able to fight the next bug.)

The vital thing …

… in Chinese medicine, is not to harm the system: not to weaken the inner life force, called the ‘Upright Qi’. This Upright Qi is a bit like your system’s immune force, but goes further.

Not only does your Upright Qi include your immune system, it includes all the ways your body can go on to repair itself. Even if that Upright Qi’s battle with the invading pathogen – the bug – is causing painful symptoms for you, it is absolutely critical not to weaken your upright Qi.

If you weaken it, then you weaken your ability to fight the bug and get well quickly. This might lead to prolonged low-level symptoms.

Depending on circumstances these might be a runny nose, slight cough, snoring, low spirits, craving for sweet food and continuing tiredness even long after the bug or pain has gone. (Find out more about this at Suppression.)

The 400 year-old theory of the Four Levels is very relevant nowadays. That’s because we worry about how our bodies will cope with ‘invasion’ by ‘warm’ diseases such as from the corona virus.

Castle walls, the first line of defence against attack from the outside, as in 8 prinicples
Tower surrounded by outer walls – Photo by Jacek Pobłocki on Unsplash

The Four levels theory explains how our bodies erect ‘energetic’ barrier levels to the invasion.

The first two levels deal with fever. Modern pain-killers and antibiotics are very good at quelling fever. The Chinese theory says that if your body can’t stop the invasion at one level, the disease goes deeper. If you do that, your body’s reaction is weaker and more long-lasting.

In other words, your condition becomes chronic. You try endless types of self-medication, vitamin pills, anti-catarrh herbs. You’ll become the bane of your doctor’s life!

Why? You weakened your Upright Qi with medication at a critical moment when it was fighting to get its health back.

8 Principles for Good Treatment

In Chinese medicine, if your Upright Qi is strong your acupuncturist, using these 8 Principles as his guide, will want first to direct all efforts at clearing the bug, the external invading cause of the condition.

If he tries to strengthen your Upright Qi before the bug has gone, he may increase your pain and discomfort, as your immune system fights harder. Unfortunately, in effect, he may also increase the strength of the bug.

Worse, by forcing the Upright Qi to fight even harder, he may exhaust it. Doctors might really benefit from this simple 8 Principles knowledge.

For example, it might stop them confusing a weak condition caused by poor health, with an infection caused by a bug.

In the weak condition case, they’d avoid giving antibiotics because knowledge of the 8 Principles would warn them that the medication would only cause harm in the long term.

Jonathan Brand colours

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