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Blood Stagnation: When Yin and Yang separate, you die!

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

In Chinese Medicine, we say that Qi is inside blood, and blood gives Qi a home.  What does this mean and how can it help me diagnose and treat your health issues?

Blood is relatively Yin (dense, substantive and fluid) compared to Qi, which is more Yang.  Qi is the energy or life force inside the blood that warms and circulates it, and gives it its red color.  When Blood doesn’t have enough Qi in it, it becomes pale or purple (it loses its fresh red color).  Circulation (hence warmth) slows down.  If Qi completely separates from blood, blood congeals, the heart stops pumping it, and the person (or other animal) dies. 

Another way of saying this:  Death is the total separation of Yin and Yang.  Yin and Yang are all encompassing concepts in Eastern philosophy.  All of life and manifestation is the result of the harmonious interplay of Yin and Yang.  Inside our bodies, all disease processes involve some separation of Yin and Yang, Qi and blood.

Here’s an example:

When you sprain or break your ankle, the Qi and blood stagnate locally.  The ankle swells with water, which is really the Yin (fluid, blood aspect)of the blood leaking out of the blood vessels.  The Qi is stuck (like fallen logs across a stream) preventing the blood from moving along its proper pathway. 

In Western medical terms, this process is called extravasation.  Extravasation is the leakage of a fluid outside of its proper container.  Inflammation is a type of extravasation where, due to injury, the white blood cells move out of the capillaries and into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling (or diapedesis).

Picture a river that is dammed up.  If the sluice doesn’t open properly, there may be local flooding—a backup and overflow of water upstream of the sluice.  Yet, the water level might be dangerously low and stagnant downstream.

Blood stagnation is much the same.  You may have dark, purple, sticky and clotted blood due to localized dryness, plus edema and fluid retention elsewhere.  Both dryness and dampness in the very same person.

In Chinese medicine, dampness is any fluid in the body that builds up and lodges somewhere it is not normally present.  Normal physiological fluids, such as blood, sweat, tears, saliva, gastric juices, and urine are the “Yin” of the body.  The Qi (Yang life force) of the body circulates all the Yin fluids so that they function like rivers and streams, irrigating and nourishing our body.  If the Qi gets blocked or damaged, these healthy Yin fluids wind up pooling, stagnating or leaking out.  The pooling and stagnating is called “dampness”.  The leaking out is called “dryness”. 

Some people are more damp.  Others are more dry.  Many people are both damp and dry in different places in their body.  The root of dampness and dryness is poor circulation, and a breakdown in the proper harmonious relationship between blood and Qi (Yin and Yang).

A common example of this is a woman with PMS and menstrual difficulties.  Normal menstrual blood should be fresh looking, red and without clots.  It should flow out smoothly and painlessly in moderate quantities.  If the blood is dark, purple, brown, watery-pale, clotted, gushing, or if the flow seems to stop and start—then the Qi and blood are stagnant or deficient. 

Deficient Qi can’t adequately warm, nourish and circulate the blood.  Stagnant Qi blocks the flow of blood.  Either way, you wind up with the same result:  the blood doesn’t flow smoothly, doesn’t get nourished properly, and becomes “dry” and stagnant instead of fresh and flowing.  In a menstruating woman, this can result in symptoms such as swelling, bloat, bowel changes, weight gain, and edema (signs of dampness).  It’s the “Yin” aspect of the blood leaking out of the blood vessels and lodging in places where it shouldn’t be.  Hence, dampness and dryness in the same person.

Acupuncturists gain invaluable information about a woman’s overall health–the condition of her Qi and blood– simply by obtaining detailed information about her menstrual history.  Harmonizing the Qi with the blood can alleviate many female problems, such as infertility and menopausal symptoms.

One final example:

Most cases of hypertension are due to blood stasis.  The sluggish thick quality of the blood is difficult for the heart to pump through the vessels.  It’s like pushing a milk shake through a straw.  This puts too much pressure on the vessels, which causes the pressure inside the vessels to rise.  

Untreated hypertension may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, restlessness and blurred vision.  In Chinese medicine terms, this is due to blood stagnating in the vessels, impeding the movement of Qi through its proper pathways.  Qi that is not properly rooted within the blood will escape the vessels and “rise”, causing symptoms of hyperactivity in the head and upper body.

Untreated hypertension also may cause edema, due to the fluid aspect of the blood being pushed out of the vessels due to stagnant Qi and blood.  Diuretics mechanically remove this fluid (dampness) from the body, but they may cause side effects, even death. 

Acupuncture, along with Chinese herbal medicine can nourish the blood (improve uptake of nutrients), and improve the quality of the blood (reduce its viscosity) so that the stagnant water (dampness, edema) can transform back into normal physiological fluid, or “Yin”.

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