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The Complete Stems and Branches

The Complete Stems and Branches

This exciting and comprehensive book gives a clear, detailed and accessible presentation of the stems and branches theory of acupuncture. The majority of the principles behind Stems and Branches underlie the whole of acupuncture, regardless of the system being used. Fundamental principles are outlined in a clear manner and each chapter covers philosophical theory in depth and uses practical examples and exercises throughout, allowing any practitioner to integrate this form of acupuncture into practice as they progress throughout the book. Easy to follow and easy to use.

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JCM Review

Stems and branches theory has traditionally been the domain of those interested in the esoteric aspects of Chinese cosmology: Chinese astrologers, Feng Shui practitioners, Taoists, scholars and acupuncturists. A number of books have been published outlining various aspects of the theory applicable to these disciplines. Perhaps the most definitive sources rendered into English for acupuncturists are the classic texts of Chinese medicine, in particular the Su Wen. Until now we have not had an English language book outlining the theory of stems and branches in a comprehensive and accessible way. The practice of stems and branches has been taught for many years at the International College of Oriental Medicine (ICOM) in the UK. The college was founded in 1972 by Dr. J. D. van Buren who articulated the theory into a practical system for acupuncturists. Roisin Golding is herself a graduate of this college and it is perhaps no surprise that her book essentially describes van Buren’s system. For ICOM graduates the terrain will be instantly familiar and the text immediately accessible. For others it will provide a fascinating exploration into the rich tapestry of cycles and rhythms that permeate our lives and will hopefully inspire and awaken an appreciation for this area of study within Chinese medicine. Roisin’s book is extremely rich in detail and the material adheres to the tradition extremely well. Critical discussion of the theory is also included, with the concepts scrutinised and researched with reference to available sources.

This book is indeed a highly aspirational work, as stated in the foreword by Peter Firebrace, “… to understand the nature of time in all its changing patterns and manifestations and to restore it to its all-but-forgotten position at the heart of Chinese medicine.” To render this theory into print in an accessible and enjoyable format is not an easy task. It is clearly a useful book for the practising acupuncturist or student of stems and branches acupuncture and also ideal for those who want to delve deeply into Chinese medicine and learn about its resonances with Chinese cosmology. The theory described includes the interactions of heaven and earth, yin and yang, space and time and five elements and six energies and maps directly onto the functions and form found in Chinese medicine. It is a highly systematised and complex subject and in order to appreciate the true value of this book one should approach it with enthusiasm for this level of complexity. For those unfamiliar with the subject I would urge patience with the steep learning curve. The book is organised into three main parts: Time, Space and the Dao; Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches; and The Inner Core of Acupuncture. The theoretical underpinnings discussed in part one are essential to understanding the stems and branches framework. The basic concepts of time, space, the seasons and the calendar are linked to the internal organs of Chinese medicine with clear explanations and references. Then the discussion moves on to heaven, earth, humankind (tian di ren), and the production of qi (complete with the type of flow diagram that is ubiquitous in Western colleges). There are plenty of links to the functional components of Chinese medicine and the material is presented in a way that is usable in a clinical context. Many useful examples of acupuncture points that link directly with the theory are given, with case history examples to illustrate the theory in practice. The theory of the five elements, essential to using the stems and branches, is covered in some detail.

The real core material begins in part two, where space and time are mapped directly onto the body. The six divisions deal with the division of time (and variance of yin/yang) and relate to the circulation of six heavenly energies and how the meridians resonate with them. This is useful clinically as it enables us to think in terms of climatic imbalances in the body - already embedded in Chinese medicine as the presence of cold, heat, damp, dryness, wind or fire. The channel pairings, their anatomical level, quantity of yin/yang and ratios of qi and blood are all logical extensions of this theory and are clearly explained.

The stems and branches themselves are used to describe space and time in Chinese medicine. The five elements and six energies help to reveal the resonances and correspondences within the theoretical framework. At the level of humankind, form and function is expressed through zang-fu and jing-luo theory, and hence we have correspondences with the qi of the organs and meridians. This is a complex area. Stems are related to the organs and examples of treatments according to the calendar are described in detail. The branches are perhaps more familiar as the hours of the Chinese clock. Their elemental correspondences are related to time and season, so we end up with a different correspondence of elements to those usually associated with the zang-fu pairs. The theory is finally put together in charts for the year of birth, or other years of particular interest. The open hourly system is touched upon, although if this is your particular interest it is probably not enough.

Part three, The Inner Core of Acupuncture, forms the remainder of the book and seems a little eclectic at first. It deals with some fundamentals as well as more advanced material pertaining to Chinese astronomy, psychology (i.e. wu shen, emotions, element types, climatic temperaments), numerology and symbols. I would agree that an appreciation of astronomy is essential to grasping the significance of the cosmological cycles described in this system. The numerology and symbols help to bring in the theory of the I Ching and also touch upon the subject of forbidden points.

All in all this is a welcome text which scopes out the cycles and rhythms of heaven and earth very effectively.

Rob Hughes



Table of divisions, stems, branches, 24 solar periods, 28 lunar mansions



PART ONE Time, space and the Dao

Chapter 1: Non-time Four seas Eight extraordinary meridians

Chapter 2: Sequential time Reproductive life Ageing habits Forbidden years Death Exercises

Chapter 3: Cyclical time Day and night The four seasons The five elements Moon cycles Case study Recap Exercises

Chapter 4: The calendar Farmer?s Calendar Xia (Hsia) calendar Lunar?solar calendar Ever increasing cycles

Chapter 5: Heaven, Earth and humankind (tian, di, ren) Humans – between a rock and a high place The centre The birth of humankind Humankind?s creativity The middle region The triple heater Clear Heaven and muddy Earth Nine pulses of the three regions Treatments using the principles of Heaven, Earth and humankind Treatment of mental and emotional disorders

Chapter 6: Wu xing – five elements The sheng cycle The ke cycle Exercises

PART TWO Heavenly stems and earthly branches – tian gan di zhi

Chapter 7: Divisions Divisions of the body Internal/external pairings of divisions Host divisions Guest division Treatment strategies Case study Exercises

Chapter 8: Great movements Wood Fire Earth Metal Water Treatment Exercise

Chapter 9: Stem organs Command points Balanced qi Unbalanced qi Stem treatments Divergent meridians Prognosis

Chapter 10: Branches (di zhi) Chinese clock Branch inner energy Branch meridian sequence – the sheng cycle Anomalies Branch treatments

Chapter 11: Putting it all together The Stems and Branches Year Chart Personal chart Four pillars Case studies Herbs General rules Exercises

Chapter 12: Open-hourly method of point selection Methods based in branches – na zi fa Methods using stems – na jia fa Intergeneration of points Using the eight extra meridians

PART THREE The inner core of acupuncture

Chapter 13: The Chinese sky Huang Di The shape of the universe Divisions of the heavens Three enclosures Five palaces The 28 lunar mansions Four palaces of the cardinal directions Relationships with the stems and branches Planets

Chapter 14: Psychological profiles Spirit Emotions Element types Stems and the psyche Branches and the psyche Character and the six divisions Typing according to yin and yang Clinical applications

Chapter 15: Numerology The Hetu/Yellow River map The Luoshu magic square Forbidden points Needle technique

Chapter 16 Symbols Early Heaven arrangement of trigrams – Fu Xi Later Heaven arrangement of trigrams – King Wen Trigrams and the body Eight extra meridians and trigrams


Appendix 1: Charts

Appendix 2: Astronomy

Appendix 3: Star maps





AuthorRoisin Golding
Book FormatSoftcover

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