Early in Oriental medical training, the student learns that the umbilicus or navel, which corresponds to acupoint CV-8 ( Shen Que: spirit Gate), is regarded as a “forbidden point” for needling.
Students then discover that the application of moxibustion to this area of the abdomen is permissible for specific conditions, such as loose stools or increasing the will to live. However, they rarely see it used clinically, and they may not use it often, if at all, when they become practitioners. Nevertheless, in Oriental medicine, there are important uses of the navel as a microsystem with its own diagnostic parameters and treatment strategies that extend well beyond the conditions cited above.
To gain perspective on the navel as a microsystem, it is useful to review the bases of abdominal palpation and diagnosis. Authors Kiiko Matsumoto and Stephen Birch note that “… abdominal palpation was used in the Ming Dynasty in China, but does not seem to have played a large role in the practice of internal medicine or acupuncture of the time”. However, in Japan at the same time, the classics had been absorbed and were being applied in practice.
The assimilation of Chinese medicine adapted to the needs, circumstances and cultural conditions in Japan evolving into a unique “Japanised” Chinese medicine. Matasumoto writes: “We know with certainty that practitioners of the Han Dynasty used palpation as part of the diagnostic process. When Han Chinese culture was imported to Japan, Chinese medicine arrived along with the entirety of the Chinese cultural and philosophical systems. The practitioners of that era found it easiest to understand the medical classics by using palpation, and as a result, major trends of palpatory diagnosis developed in Japan.”
Although the Chinese did not continue to develop this recognised method of diagnosis, both Japanese acupuncturists and herbalists used palpation and diagnosis as the fundamental theoretical orientation in the 17th century. The basis of their paradigm was the Chinese Five Element classic, the Nanjing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of 81 Difficult Problems, Huang Di Ba Shi Yi Nan Jing, Han dynasty). Shudo Denmei concurs, “The development of abdominal diagnosis in meridian therapy was, without a doubt, based on the Classic of 81 Difficult Problems.”
The author is Head of Acupuncture at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi