The Triple Burner According To Chinese Medicine

The Triple Burner According To Chinese Medicine

Chinese: 三焦      Pinyin: Sān Jiāo

Summary: The Triple Burner is also called the Triple Warmer or Three Heater. It is like a large body cavity containing all the Internal Organs. Its main function is to unify all the Organs into a integrated and harmonious system. As its name indicates, it is composed of the Upper, Middle and Lower Burner.

Classification: Fu Organ

Pharmacopoeia: View herbs that target the Triple Burner

Patterns: View patterns of disharmony that affect the Triple Burner

The functions of the Triple Burner

The Triple Burner, also called the Triple Warmer or Three Heater, is one of the most elusive concept of Chinese Medicine. For centuries, it has been debated by Chinese doctors on whether it is an actual Organ or just a function but it remains to this day one of the six official Fu Organs (also called Yang Organs). The Triple Burner is like a large body cavity containing all the internal Organs. Its main function is to unify all the Organs into an integrated and harmonious system. The total activities of the Zang and Fu Organs constitute the physiological functions of the Triple Burner.

As its name indicates, the Triple Burner is composed of three Burners. The Upper Burner is the body cavity above the diaphragm which houses the Heart, Lungs, Pericardium, throat and head. It controls respiration and it spreads Gathering Qi to all the Organs, tissues, and skin. Therefore, it is like a 'mist' which diffuses Body Fluids throughout the body.

The Middle Burner is between the diaphragm and the umbilicus. It contains the Spleen, Stomach and Gallbladder. Its main function is to transforms and transports foods and drinks. It then distributes the extracted nourishment throughout the body. It is like a 'foam' or 'bubbling cauldron', referring to digestive churning and fermentation.

The Lower Burner refers to the lower abdominal area below the umbilicus. It includes the Liver, Kidneys, Urinary Bladder, Small Intestine, Large Intestine and Uterus. Despite its physiological middle placement in the body, the Liver is actually part of the Lower Burner due to its close connection with the Kidneys. The Lower Burner is like a 'swamp', gutter or drainage ditch, which filters the clear from the turbid water. The clear gets sent upwards and the turbid travels downwards to be excreted.

Pathologically speaking, diseases of an Organs could leads to dysfunction of other Organs in that particular Burner or other Burners than its own.

The functions of the Triple Burner

"It mobilizes the Original Qi (Yuan Qi -元气)"

The Original Qi (Yuan Qi) is formed from the Pre-Heaven Essence with the input of the Post Heaven Essence. It is housed between the two Kidneys and it has a close connection to the Gate of Life's (Ming Men 命门) Fire because it also provides Heat to support body functional activities.

The Original Qi is 'mobilized' by the Triple Burner because it transforms it to different types of Qi to perform different functions in different places and Organs. It also enables Qi circulation from the deepest to the most superficial levels. Therefore, the Original Qi performs its functions through the Triple Burner.

For example, with the help of the Middle Burner, Original Qi provides the Heat necessary to the Spleen to transform and transport food essences and to the Kidney to transform Body Fluids. Through the Upper Burner's function, the Original Qi enables the creation of True Qi (Zhen Qi) from Gathering Qi (Zong Qi) in the chest. It also enables the creation of Blood from Grain Qi (Gu Qi) in the Heart. As the result of the Qi transformation, Nutritive Qi (Ying Qi 营气), Defensive Qi (Wei Qi 卫气), Blood and Body Fluids are created.

"It controls the transportation and penetration of Qi"

Qi travels widely around the body to perform its different functions. Qi ascends, descends, enters and exits Organs. All these movements are controlled by the Triple Burner. This function of Triple Burner is described by Chinese Medicine as 'Tong' (通 ) which is one of the most used terms in TCM. It means 'to pass through' or 'penetrate'. As such the Triple Burner facilitates the free flow of Qi. If Qi doesn't flow properly, it creates Qi Stagnation and diseases appear.

The Triple Burner controls all sorts of Qi, including Gathering Qi by the Upper Burner, Nutritive Qi by the Middle Burner and the Defensive Qi by the Lower Burner. It also controls the passageways in which Qi travels.

"It controls the water passages and the excretion of Fluids"

The Triple Burner's function of controlling Qi transportation and penetration has a big influence on its role with regards to Body Fluids. The transformation and movement of Fluids depends on Qi. In the Qi transportation system, Qi ascends, descends, enters and exits the Organs. This function is mobilized by the Triple Burner. If Qi flows and penetrates Organs smoothly without Stagnation, Body Fluids can also ascends, descends, enters and exit Organs in an integrated and harmonious way.

The end product of Body Fluid transformation, transportation and excretion is different in each of the Burners. The Upper Burner mainly produce sweat, which flows in the space between skin and muscles. In the Middle Burner, the Stomach produces Body Fluids which moisten the body and are used to create Blood. The Lower Burner's Fluids are mainly urine and the small amount of Fluids in the stools.