Stems and Branches

Wu Yun Liu Qi



In addition to receiving a broad based education in classical and contemporary acupuncture at ICOM you will also be taught about the application of the classical Chinese Stems and Branches philosophy. ICOM is the only acupuncture college to teach Stems and Branches acupuncture at undergraduate level in the UK.

What is Stems and Branches?

Stems and Branches theory is about cycles, transformations and interactions of qi that affects a person both internally and externally.

The ancient Chinese observed the cycles of nature: day and night and the changing seasons. They recognised that the natural rhythms of nature underlie the most fundamental aspects of our lives and are thus fundamental to our health. They believed in a holistic world: Everything in the universe is connected. A vibration in any part affects the whole.

Although everything is made of qi – it is clear that everything in the world around us is not the same, things look and feel different from each other, they have different qualities. In classical Chinese theory there are different ways of categorising phenomena including:

  • the duality of yin and yang
  • the correspondences of the Five Elements

All of these concepts are fundamental to ALL acupuncture approaches (Five Elements, TCM, Stems and Branches) and intertwined in Chinese Medicine.

We (humanity) are born into the world are affected by the cycles and rhythms of life. In practice, Stems and Branches acupuncture is a style that allows you to work consciously with these factors for the benefit of your patient’s health and development.

Stems and Branches (the calendar and the clock) provide the warp and weft upon which yin and yang, the five elements and Heaven, Earth and humanity can be woven.

The ancients applied this to medicine and called it acupuncture. We call it classical Stems and Branches.

Roisin Golding

ICOM Graduate 1983, Author of The Complete Stems and Branches (2008)

Life is ceaselessly built on rhythms, through the yin-yang oscillation of day and night, the moon’s waxing and waning phases and the turning seasons of the year – this knowledge preserved in the Lunar and Lunisolar calendars of ancient China – and through the cycles presented in the sexagesimal sequence of the heavenly stems and earthly branches.

Peter Firebrace

Former ICOM principal, Author of A Guide to Acupuncture (1994)

How is Stems and Branches Used?

The system of Stems and Branches can be used in several ways. Most commonly, it is used to help us understand each patient’s constitutional strengths and weaknesses and why disease occurs in that individual. It helps us develop a treatment plan to address the root cause of the patient’s problem with acupuncture. It also helps you choose wisely from the vast array of acupuncture points available.

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