The Circular Physiology


by Sandee Lippiatt

April 2021

The beauty in this medicine from what I have learnt in this study is the circular physiology and how the six conformations form one continuum.

The “circle” as a symbol has many meanings. It can represent cyclic movement, eternity, the infinite, the cycle of time, the circle of the zodiac (planets movement around the sun), the embryo. The circle is used ceremoniously and in rituals: woman’s circles, healing circles, mandala, Wicca, Druidism, and other ancient practices. In Taoism, the circle represents “Wuji” nothingness, emptiness, stillness.

Circular physiology is the circle of life, like the Wuji of nothingness. When the Heaven Qi combines with the Earth Qi, it is like the big bang or cellular division of an embryo into Yin and Yang. The fire trigram gives its centre line to anchor into the centre line of the water (Kun) trigram and the water trigram gives its centre line to the fire trigram. This gives the solid of the Yin movement and life, and the Yang receives form to its energy. When there becomes life, the Zhong qi is entering the body from the heavens and forming a central axis in the body (vertical connection) to give life to the body. This is what is what is given from Heaven and will return to Heaven (life and death). It is the one thread of life that is from previous generations and carries through this life and passed to the next generation. Cultivating connection to the centre (Zhong) is to connect to wisdom, harmony and propagate goodness (“the way of the sage”). The horizontal connection is the physical body vessel. The way we connect to nature and nature’s rhythms in order to take in and express out. The body moves the Yang Qi by submerging the heaven principle on the right side of the circle (unification) and releasing and expressing the Yang Qi on the left side of the circle (separation).

The circle can be further divided into its day and night. Day being the top of the circle, when the sun is rising from the east, is brightest at noon and setting in the west. Night is when the sun has set and continues unseen to the bottom of the circle, becomes dark and then slowly makes its way to rise up again from the circle. This is represented as Yang (day) and Yin (night). The brightest Yang at the top of the circle seasonally is Summer with the longest days, hotter weather, and it’s the time when we are feeling more social and expressing ourselves to our full potential. We are connecting with Heaven to our receive fire or Yang Qi. As the Yang energy declines and it becomes Autumn on the right side of the circle, our energy is about taking in nature to become ours, like gathering our crops to store for Winter.

Our Qi becomes more introverted, more towards nourishing the Yin phase that is about to come. Winter, the deepest Yin phase with the shortest days, colder weather, we tend to stay indoors more, conserving our energy internally. Like the deepest, dark water that is still waiting for the Yang energy of the fire trigram to give us some movement. When this is received and we are moving to left of the circle, we are separating from the stillness of the water slowly. The spring gives us more Yang energy and light and we start to express our selves like the blooming of wildflowers. The days are becoming longer and our energy is starting to activate.

Such is every day, mentioned before with Yang being the peak of the day at midday and Yin at midnight. At the peak of our Yang energy in the Taiyang phase of the six conformations, we are expressing ourselves and connecting to nature around us. As the light slowly fades, we start to take in the nature around us (Yangming), unification to help nourish our Yin phase at night. During the Yin phase of night, our body is resting with sleep, our deep Yin organs have taken into the body unification of nature on the right side of the circle (Taiyin) to connect with the water trigram and to be taken deep within the body or inner circle/Heart (Shaoyin). As we approach the left side of the circle, the body starts to separate the water trigram (Jueyin). We start to wake up and our body moves into a more Yang phase (Shaoyang) to further our separation of water into the yang energy of the fire trigram (back to Taiyang). With this cyclical flow with nature, the seasons, and the six confirmations, the body is in harmony without dis-ease. When the circle is not in time, this is when the body experiences symptoms of dis-ease.

The 3 Yang conformations of Shaoyang, Taiyang and Yangming are the body’s outer gate (revealed part of the circle). The 3 Yin conformations of Taiyin, Shaoyin and Jueyin are the body’s inner gate (concealed part of the circle).

The Unification phase of the right side of the circle is the body’s ability to attract the Heaven principle from the outside nature and to conceal it within to recharge body and spirit. The conformations involved in unification are Yangming (gathering and decending), Taiyin (carrying and transforming) and Shao Yin (storing and recharging). The Separation phase of the left side of the circle, after recharging, needs to separate from the inner circle of the Heart, activated by the empirical and ministerial fire of the Heart and Kidneys. The Yang separating from the water trigram to express and connect our body to the world around us. The conformations involved in separation are Jue Yin (rising and releasing), Shaoyang (moving and liberating) and Taiyang (reaching the external connection of nature). In Taiyang, the water separation is complete, water is expelled and fire returns.

To reach the full potential of this medicine, we must look at three aspects:

  1. Unification strong (Shaoyin strong)

  2. Body on time (outer water circle needs to be on time and all conformations are on time)

  3. Heart in harmony (emotions of the fire inner circle are in harmony)

Diagnosing and treating according to the Circular Physiology of the body is looking at these aspects of the circle and treating accordingly.

1. Is unification weak or strong?

Unification is taking in the Yang Qi of nature and submerging it into the water trigram. Unification is naturally declining with age. Young people have stronger unification; Between the age of 30-45 investigation is needed as unification can start declining. If over 45 years of age, then unification is likely to be weak. It also will depend if the person has chronic issues that will further weaken unification ability. For example a 35 year old with a 20 year chronic illness, may have the unification ability of a 55 year old person. Treatment with drugs may also have a negative effect on unification. Symptoms of weak unification are sleep problems, tiredness and fatigue (physically and mentally), anxiety, heart palpitations, feeling cold, eyesight problems and low libido.

Treatment for weakening unification is with hot and fiery herbs to help with Taiyin’s downward and inward ability (cinnamons - Lan Gui, An Gui or Fu Zi (if legal in your country). Zhi Gan Can (molasses prepared Licorice root) helps to submerge the fire from the cinnamons or Fu zi into Shaoyin. Sheng Jiang (fresh peeled ginger) completes the unification by harmonising the action of the herbs. If there are signs of heat (especially in Yangming), then “non-hot” herbs can be used: Dang Shen, Shan Yao (for signs of dryness), Xi Sha Ren (for signs of damp/phlegm). Ba Ji Tian to submerge the fiery herbs, and Du Zhong and Xu Duan to hold energy in unification more (beneficial for older/weaker people).

2. Is the body on time?

Yangming, when on time, prohibits Yang from continuing to release and brings energy back into the body. Nature enters the body (ie food) , life is separated from the material in the process of digestion (the first stage of unification). When Yangming is slow, there will be heat, thirst for cold drinks, dryness of the mouth, red complexion, acid reflux and acute constipation. Depending on the level of heat, the

following herbs from less cold to most cold can be used to speed up Yangming: Gan Cao, Bai Shao, Zhi Mu, Huang Qin and Huang Lian. If there is damp heat or phlegm, Fa Ban Xia can be used.

Taiyin, when on time is carrying and transforming what’s taken from nature separated in Yangming to unification. If Taiyin is fast, there may be diarrhoea. Bai zhu, Rou gui and Gan Jiang can help slow down Taiyin on the circle. If Taiyin is slow, there may be bloating, nausea, constipation, shortness of breathe, tiredness and weakness and difficulty falling asleep. Unification herbs help speed up this part of the circle of unification.

Jue Yin is when Yang is released from the water trigram and the process of separation begins. When on time, the body tissues are moist, there’s healthy menstruation and one feels rested after sleeping well and waking at a proper hour. When Jue Yin speeds up, there is overall dryness, hot flashes, menses will be heavy and scanty and waking up early (ie wake at 3am and can’t get back to sleep). Herbs to slow down Jueyin are (from less wet to very wet, depending on level of dryness symptoms); Hei Zhi Ma, Nu Zhen Zi, Gou Qi Zi, Bai Shao, Sheng di Huang, Shu Di Huang. When Jue Yin is too slow, there will be water retention/oedema, Menses will be painful with clots and cramps, PMS, Breast retention, headaches, pains (abdomen, chest and maybe joints), and tiredness in the morning. Herbs to speed up Jue Yin are Dang Gui, Xiao Hui Xiang, and Xiang Fu and Chuan Xiong (stronger action on speeding up).

Shaoyang is the revealed part of separation (energy revealing itself). When on time there will be harmonious function of body, heart and emotions. When not on time, there will be physical pains in the muscles, joints, and/or head; injury induced pains, blurry vision, bitter taste, ringing in the ears, nausea and no desire to eat. Herbs to speed up separation are Gui Zhi (for a broad action on the left side of the circle) and Chai Hu for Shaoyang separation.

Taiyang is where the body is externally connected to nature, water separation is complete and water is no longer needed, the yang is separated from it and water is expelled through urination or sweat. When Taiyang is on time, the body reaches external application (proper urination, sweating and warming up). The Heart reaches its external application (generosity, goodness and selflessness). When Taiyang is not on time, there is aversion to cold (an invasion of cold and wind), fever, head and neck pain, inhibited urination, pains on the exterior (skin and the muscles just under the skin), skin redness and eczema. There will be thirst, tiredness and pain. Ma Huang will help the Taiyang separation (in an acute phase), Fu ling helps the water separation in this part of the cycle and Fu Shen returns the fire in Taiyang in the inner part of the circle and enters the right side to return to unification.

3. Heart in Harmony

The Heart is symbolised by the fire trigram. It needs stillness when it is connected to the origin (or centre) in sleep and it needs to separate, to move away from the centre to be ourselves (dichotomy). By separation, the heart investigates emotions (eg baby cries, mother responds and gives food and then the heart is back to state of fullness). As a person ages, their likes, dislikes and desires can become more than what is necessary and a strong dichotomy can form (ie: overreact with anger). Lifestyle and addictions can also form a large dichotomy as can social and personal experiences such as abuse. Treatment of the conformations can have a beneficial effect on the heart by unification, moving the circle to avoid slow down, or slowing down the excessive movement outward of the inner circle. The real transformation is when a practitioner treats from the Heart and can reach the patients Heart to help transformation. Self cultivation practices such as Qigong, and other therapies (including Acupuncture) can be of great benefit to connect to the source.

The cycle (or circle) of life continues, sometimes slowing down, sometimes speeding up. The use of the herbs to enable the body to be on time, keep unification strong and keep the heart in harmony is a simple, yet powerful part of our medicine.

Thank you Marina for teaching me this beautiful way of treating.

This essay is the final written project of the Chinese Herbal Medicine Practitioner Certification Programme 2020-2021 written by:



Sandee is a Chinese Medicine Practitioner in the beautiful south west town of Margaret River, Western Australia.  She has a special interest in treating women’s health and fertility.

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