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San Jiao is Composed of “Membranes” (Fascia) Located Inside Cells and the Extracellular Matrix. The San Jiao Organ IS the Fascial Network



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 Is San Jiao Composed of “Membranes” (Fascia) Located Inside Cells and the Extracellular Matrix? Is the Ancient San Jiao Organ the Fascial Network by Another Name?

Tissues are Composed of Cells Plus Extracellular Matrix (ECM) which Both contain Highly Organised Structure of “Spaces” and “Network” – Cou Li.

In the article titled ‘Extracellular Matrix: Function, Components & Definition’, Christensen (1) explains, ‘Living tissues are not just accumulations of tightly packed cells. Much of a tissue’s volume is made up of extracellular space, that is, the space directly outside the cell. This void is filled with a complex meshwork called the extracellular matrix (ECM).’ Christensen (1) continues, ‘The fiber-making cells in the ECM are fibroblasts. In no tissue is the extracellular matrix so well defined – or so easily studied – as in connective tissue, where the extracellular matrix is frequently more plentiful than the cells.’ He states:

One vivid example of how the extracellular matrix influences tissue function can be seen in the differences between bone and the cornea of your eye. In bone, the extracellular matrix is thick and highly mineralized, providing a tissue that is hard, inflexible and opaque – just the thing for building a skeleton. In contrast, the cornea’s extracellular matrix consists of a water-rich, transparent, flexible gel – ideal for transmitting light into your eyeball.

The main functions of connective tissue proper is for filling spaces, networking purposes, and sticking other tissues together. While all fascia is connective tissue, NOT all connective tissue is fascia. There are four types of connective tissue that can be categorised in the following manner – Proper Connective Tissue, Blood, Bone, and Cartilage.

It is important to note that connective tissue is predominantly composed of non-living material known as the extra cellular matrix (ECM).  To a large degree, this ECM is as important as the cells that are confined within it. All cellular movement and function is due to the surrounding ECM.

Note that at a microscopic level, both the cells and the ECM are filled with space and structural network. The Chinese called this highly organised structure of “spaces” and “network” Couli. The Couli (Cou Li) was the smallest system of spaces that made up the “Three Burning Spaces”, more commonly referred to as San Jiao, Triple Heater of Triple Energizer.

The Remarkable Properties of the Largest Organ System in the Body – Fascia

Regarding the remarkable properties of fascia, in the 2011 book titled ‘Energy Medicine East and West: a natural history of qi’, authors David F. Mayor and Marc S. Micozzi (2) state:

The fascia, with its connections to the interior of cells and cell nuclei, and with its electronic conduction properties, could be a whole body regulatory system that works silently in the background — that is, below our conscious awareness, integrating and coordinating the functioning of all of the parts of the body.

In considering the role of fascia, it is important to recognize that the connective tissue is a composite material; it consists of a strong fibrous protein core, collagen, embedded in a soft polymer gel known as the ‘ground substance’. The collagen is the conductor of electrons (it is actually a semiconductor) and the ground substance stores the negative electrons. A field or cloud of negative charge therefore surrounds the ‘matrisome’, which is the structural unit of the ground substance.

Another perspective emerges from considering the vital role of water in the body. Each collagen molecule has a helical shell of water molecules intimately associated with it. Taken together the various layers of fascia form the largest organ system in the body, and the only system that touches all of the other systems. The highly regular and nearly crystalline arrays of collagen molecules organize equally regular arrays of water molecules, which tend to have a particular orientation with respect to the collagen because of interactions between the repeating charges on the collagen and the electrically polar water molecules (i.e. water molecules line up in an electric field).

I suspect that this ‘water system’ in the body acts as an antenna, which is very sensitive to resonant interactions with chemicals or signals in the environment. This sensitivity arises because the water forms a coherent phase-correlated system. This property can explain the way vibrational frequencies from therapeutic devices, herbal remedies, essential oils and homeopathic remedies can all interact so sensitively with the living system — as discussed by Cyril Smith in Chapter 9. Smith has pointed out that a homeopathic remedy, or a toxic molecule, need not be taken internally to have an effect, as substances emit electromagnetic fields that can have an influence at a distance.

The semiconduction of electrons through the collagen matrix, the migration of protons through the water matrix, and the clouds of mobile electrons described above are just a few of the possible biophysical mechanisms that could account for aspects of vital energy, prana or qi in living systems. (Emphasis is mine).

My heart skipped a beat when I read the information above from the book titled ‘Energy Medicine East and West: a natural history of qi’. What Mayor and Micozzi (2) stated, thoroughly supports my theory that the mysterious San Jiao Organ is one-and-the-same as the Connective-Tissue Metasystem. Let me explain.

The Fascial Network Includes the Extracellular Fascial Network and the Intracellular Fascial Network

When Mayor and Micozzi (2) discuss “fascia, with its connections to the interior of cells and cell nuclei”, they confirm that the fascial network includes the extracellular fascial network and the intracellular fascial network. They propose that the fascial network “could be a whole body regulatory system”, that is responsible for “integrating and coordinating the functioning of all of the parts of the body”. All of these descriptions of the omnipresent body-wide fascial network intimately agree with the location and function of San Jiao properties as defined by TCM.

In the commentaries on the 31st Difficult Issue of Unschuld’s (3) translation of Nan Ching, Chang Shih-hsien stated, ‘The Triple Burner is the official responsible for the maintenance of the ditches; the waterways originate from it.’ So the San Jiao controls all water in the body; and here the authors connect “considering the vital role of water in the body” with the fascial network. In this context, what aspect of water do the authors consider significant?

In the book Heart Master Triple Heater (page 118), regarding how the Triple Heater ensures free communication and circulation throughout the entire body, the authors (4) finish with a translation attributed to Hua Tuo, who said, ‘When the triple heater ensures free communication, then there is free communication internally and externally, left and right, above and below. The whole body is irrigated, harmonized internally and regulated externally, nourished by the left, and maintained by the right, directed from above, propagated from below. There is nothing greater!’

Confirmation that the San Jiao Organ IS the “Fascial Network”

Comments of the authors (2) agree exactly with this ancient description of the Triple Heater aka San Jiao, described immediately above, when they state, “water forms a coherent phase-correlated system”, “collagen is the conductor of electrons (it is actually a semiconductor)”, and with “semiconduction of electrons through the collagen matrix, the migration of protons through the water matrix”. Subsequently, the authors “suspect that this ‘water system’ in the body acts as an antenna, which is very sensitive to resonant interactions with chemicals or signals in the environment”. In my book, I have proposed that the San Jiao Organ is one-and-the-same as the Connective-Tissue Metasystem which is as the ancient sages described when they stated “the Triple Heater is nothing but membranes”. Modern biologists call “membranes” connective tissue.

Ancient TCM physicians recognized the San Jiao or Triple Heater was the largest of the twelve recognized organs in the body. Only later, thanks to misunderstanding about the intent of information in the Nan Ching regarding the San Jiao having “a name but no form”, did confusion occur. The literal San Jiao Organ does exist and is very real. But it is amorphous, and does not possess the defined morphology of the other 11 TCM organs.

That is to be expected. Findley (5) notes the fascia consists of ‘a large amount of amorphous material called ground substance’. Mayor and Micozzi (2) declare “the various layers of fascia form the largest organ system in the body, and the only system that touches all of the other systems”. Thus, both the TCM San Jiao Organ and the modern western fascial network control water throughout the entire body, are amorphous or have “no form”, constitute the “largest organ system in the body” and both are “the only system that touches all of the other systems” of the body, and they both have “resonant interactions with chemicals or signals in the environment”.

Fascial Connections Reach to the Very Interior of the Cell

Regarding the extent that fascia is present throughout the body, in the article titled ‘Fascia Research from a Clinician/Scientist’s Perspective’, Thomas Findley (5) states:

These fascial connections reach to the very interior of the cell, all the way to the nucleus. The scientific progress in documenting these connections has been truly amazing. As lead speaker in 2007, Dr Ingber showed us how the slightest touch on a cell surface with a micropipette caused the nucleus to immediately expand and begin DNA transcription. The older models of the cell regarded it as a formless water balloon.

Dr Ingber showed that ‘the cell is built more like a tent with poles bearing compression and guy wires under tension, following the principles of tensegrity’. He suggested that the microtubules within the cell are equivalent to the tent poles, and the actomyosin filaments are equivalent to the guy wires. Ingber’s presentation of the living cell is a ‘mechanical structure with a force balance between compression-bearing microtubules and tension-bearing bundles of actomyosin filaments. The tent pegs are the integrin receptors’.

The Fascial Network Strongly Influences the Origin of Embryo Development

Dr Ingber further states:

The cells are anchored to the extracellular matrix by clusters of integrin receptors, which connect extracellular proteins and filaments to intracellular filaments, the actin-associated molecules. These integrin receptors also serve to sense physical forces outside the cell and transmit that information through mechanical connections throughout the cell to the nucleus, as well as to multiple locations in the cell. This cytoskeleton provides both mechanical structure and direction to biochemical reactions within the cell. The cell can thus convert external mechanical signals into internal biochemical reactions. In a similar fashion, development of the embryo is strongly influenced by the mechanical environment of the cell and is guided by this extra- and intracellular fascial network.

Here, Dr Ingber proposes that the extracellular fascial network and the intracellular fascial network strongly influence the development of the embryo at its very origin. In my book I propose that the San Jiao Organ is called “Origin” and that the San Jiao distributes “Original Qi” or “Yuan Qi” throughout the body.

I further propose that the combined intracellular and extracellular “fascial network”, which I call the “Connective-Tissue Metasystem” is actually the abode of the San Jiao Organ. The article continues:

Histological studies show that fascia consists of cells (mostly fibroblasts), collagen fibers, and a large amount of amorphous material called ground substance. In mechanics terms, it is similar to fiberglass cloth and resin used in auto body repair, except that both the cloth and the resin can change properties depending on the applied loads. My focus at this point is not on the strength and material properties of fascia, but rather on its regulation of fluid flow.

Fascia Consists of a Large Amount of Amorphous Material Called Ground Substance

Here, Findley notes the fascia consists of ‘a large amount of amorphous material called ground substance’. Being “amorphous” this large amount of amorphous material has “no form”. The confusion about the status of San Jiao being an actual organ pivots exclusively around the fact that the Nan Jing stated San Jiao “had a name but no form”. Note that his analogy of fascia to “fiberglass cloth and resin” suggests a compilation of spaces and structural textures. Strikingly, the TCM terminology “Cou Li” exactly describes the highly structured network system of cou-spaces and li-textures which is distributed throughout the entire body. Then remarkably, regarding the properties and function of fascia, note that Findley’s focus is “its regulation of fluid flow”. In TCM San Jiao is the Organ responsible for the “regulation of fluid flow”. Am I reading into this? Or am I stating the obvious that the recorded TCM properties and functions of the San Jiao are identical to the modern western scientific properties and functions of the “intracellular and extracellular fascial network”?

The Dynamic Nature of the Extracellular Ground Substance on Active Fluid Flow

Regarding the dynamic nature of the extracellular ground substance on active fluid flow, Findley further states:

Rather than being a passive filter, the extracellular ground substance directly affects fluid flow. Reed notes that the interstitial matrix contains osmotically active compounds, particularly hyaluronans, which will swell when given free access to fluid. Extracellular cellular matrix fibers restrain this swelling when they are actively tensed by connective tissue cells through β1 integrin mediated contraction. This restrains the fluid retaining capacity of the ground substance which is normally underhydrated.

Thus, Findley reiterates the dynamic nature of the extracellular ground substance in controlling and propelling fluid flow throughout the body. He explains:

Thus the extracellular ground substance is normally restrained from absorbing fluid by tension on collagen fibers which restrain the substance’s ability to swell as it draws in fluid. It sits there, like a sponge tied up with string. With trauma to tissue, the fluid flow out of the capillary can increase by a hundred-fold within minutes. This is not because it is leaking out of the capillary (that only changes 1–2 times). It is because the ground substance actively draws the fluid out. Thus the loose connective tissues are neither static nor passive, and within minutes can change their physical characteristics to affect fluid flow.

Remember, in TCM it is the San Jiao that is the official (Yu) in charge of controlling all the waterways throughout the body. While, here, Findley nominates “the extracellular ground substance in controlling and propelling fluid flow throughout the body”.

Practical Application for TCM Practitioners

Findley provides practical information to TCM practitioners when he states, ‘Therapies designed to locally increase edema, such as Chinese cupping, may increase the adaptability of the fluid flow adjustment systems by temporarily increasing fluid flow’. He then further notes, ‘Therapies to reduce lymphedema must take into account the tissue changes which take place with a prolonged decrease in interstitial flow, including the increased tissue compliance or “overstretching” of the interstitial matrix’. In TCM the San Jiao involves and directs all of the organs in accomplishing their respective assigned roles, and understanding the TCM San Jiao Energy and Fluid Production Cycle is integral in understanding and effectively treating all kinds of medical conditions to ensure the San Jiao Cycle is optimised. With this in mind note what Findley says next. He states:

All organs, muscles, and body structures must be viewed in the context of the surrounding connective tissues and distant blood and lymphatic fluid flow; specific pathology cannot be fully understood or treated without taking those tissues into account. In recognition of the regulation of body function by mechanical forces, I suggest we begin to use the term “mechanotherapy,” coined by Khan for physical therapy, to guide both our scientific exploration and our clinical applications.

San Jiao and Connective Tissues Communicate with All Organs and Body Structures

So Findley states that “all organs, muscles, and body structures must be viewed in the context of the surrounding connective tissues”. This is in complete harmony with TCM in that the San Jiao controls all fluid and energy production and is responsible for the correct distribution of those precious resources. Findley concludes, ‘Does the fibroblast just respond to the mechanical forces around it, or is it a primary force for directing growth and adaptation? Either way, it is a key player in the fascial orchestra, and perhaps it is the conductor’.

Remember that the principal cell of the connective tissue is the fibroblast, which produces the extracellular matrix, in addition to its roles in regulation of inflammation and wound repair.

Note also that ground substance is manufactured by fibroblasts, which happen to be amongst the original cells to form in the embryo. Is it a coincidence that the very cell present at the origin of life, i.e. the fibroblast produces the body-wide connective tissue metasystem which has the identical functions and properties of the San Jiao that is respectfully termed “Origin” and distributes “Original Qi”?

In my book, The ‘Mystical’ TCM Triple Energizer. Its Elusive Location and Morphology Defined (6), I discuss in great detail the actual location, composition and functionality of the San Jiao or Triple Energizer Metasystem, as I call it. The book can be purchased securely by clicking the link below.


(1) Christensen, S., ‘Extracellular Matrix: Function, Components & Definition’. Available from <>

(2) Mayor, D. F. and Micozzi, M. S., ‘Energy Medicine East and West: a natural history of qi’. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier. (2011) Available from <>

(3) Unschuld, P. U., Nan Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues (e-book edn, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 771. With commentaries by Chinese and Japanese authors from the third through the twentieth century.

(4) Larre, C., and E. Rochat de la Vallée, Heart Master Triple Heater (Norfolk: Monkey Press, 1998).

(5) Findley, T. W., ‘Fascia Research from a Clinician/Scientist’s Perspective’, Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2011; 4(4): 1–6. Available from <>

(6) Gordon, L., The ‘Mystical’ TCM Triple Energizer. Its Elusive Location and Morphology Defined. Xlibris Press, Australia. 2016.


I wish to sincerely thank Dr Paul U. Unschuld for the selfless and tireless work he has committed to make many ancient Chinese medical classics available in English for study and research. My book is based predominantly around his scholarly work ‘Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues’. I also wish to sincerely thank Professor Unschuld for permission to use citations of his translation in my book. His translation of ‘Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues’ can be purchased from the following link:

To Securely Purchase the Book, Click the ‘BUY NOW’ Button!




             Sanjiao’s Mystique Demystified


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