The Tripple Burner

Triple Burner - San Jiao - Qigong

The Triple Burner is a concept unique to Chinese Medicine. Rather than a physical area, the Triple Burner can be described as having a name but no form, a collection of functions rather than a bodily organ. Its Chinese name is San Jiao, often translated as ‘three burning spaces’.

One of the main functions of the Triple Warmer is regulating the movement of water within the body. According to Chinese medicine, water behaves differently in the three different burners.

The ‘upper burner’ is above the diaphragm and includes the heart and lungs. Its function is the dispersal of fluid throughout the body. This fluid is in the form of mist or vapour.

The ‘middle burner’ includes the area above the naval and below the diaphragm, including the spleen and stomach. Its primary function is digestion and the distribution of nutrients throughout the body.

The ‘lower burner’ is located below the naval and includes the liver, kidneys, large intestine, small intestine, and bladder. The bodily fluids are absorbed by separating food and drink waste, with the remainder transported to the bladder.

Many Qigong exercises focus on the Triple Burner, allowing smooth coordination and communication between all the associated organs, which is crucial in maintaining the entire body’s health. 

Spaces making up the Interstitium are connected.

Is the Newly Discovered Interstitium the Mysterious Triple Warmer?

Scientists discovered an organ in the body during a medical procedure on a patient, which they named the interstitium. Little is currently known about this organ or its functions. However, there appear to be many similarities to one of the most mysterious organs in Chinese medicine, the Triple Burner.

The Interstitium

Before this new discovery, the dictionary definition of interstitium was “a small area, space or gap in the substance of an organ or tissue” or “the space between cells in a tissue”. “Space” is the key word for this new organ, which comprises a series of fluid-filled chambers connected by a robust and flexible lattice of collagen.

This organ has been overlooked until now because traditional methods of looking at tissues under a microscope involve draining off fluids. This caused the chambers of the interstitium to collapse and be mistaken for normal connective tissue.

Scientists accidentally stumbled across this organ when they were working on a live patient. So they investigated further and found that the network of chambers was attached to all the major organs, including the lungs, digestive system and urinary system, as well as blood vessels and muscles.

It is currently thought that the interstitium acts as a shock absorber, protecting the other organs from damage.

It also appears to be involved in the transportation of fluids around the body. It drains into the lymphatic system, which plays a vital role in immunity, carrying white blood cells to sites of infection and removing waste and toxins.

Scientists are considering the possibility that the interstitium could play a role in transporting cancerous cells throughout the body. If they can prove this theory, this discovery could open up new avenues in developing novel cancer treatments and better understanding how this deadly disease spreads.

It may also play a role in conditions where fluids collect in a specific area, such as swelling and oedema. However, more research is needed on the subject.

More on the Triple Burner

The Triple Burner is unique in Chinese medicine. Most organs are seen as solid masses, responsible for storage, or hollow vessels, responsible for processing bodily fluids and waste. The Triple Burner is neither. It is often referred to as the organ with function but no form.

In Chinese, the Triple Warmer is called San Jiao. San means “three”, and Jiao means “burnt” or “scorched”. Therefore, it is usually translated as “three burning spaces”. These spaces typically refer to three areas of the torso. The ‘Upper Jiao’ is the area above the diaphragm and includes the Lungs and Heart. The ‘Middle jiao’ is the area between the diaphragm and the navel, which consists of the Stomach, Spleen, Liver and Gallbladder. Finally, the area below the navel, housing the Intestines, Bladder and Kidneys, is known as the ‘Lower Jiao’. The Triple Burner is a vital connection between areas in the body, keeping them in harmony.

One of the main functions of the Triple Burner is regulating the movement of water within the body. According to Chinese medicine, water behaves differently in the three areas. To understand this, the body can be compared to a container used to ferment wine, a popular pastime in ancient China; In the ‘Upper Jiao’, water behaves like a mist, the gas being given off by the fermentation process. This makes perfect sense, as the Lungs are responsible for breathing in and out of air mist, providing oxygen and getting rid of waste. The Lungs also disperse this mist to the skin, keeping it moist and supple.

In the ‘Middle jiao’, water behaves like a foam that collects on top of the wine as it ferments. This is created by the churning of the stomach and the digestive process. Food is broken down here, allowing its nutrients to be released and absorbed, nourishing the body. Underneath the foam is the wine, representing the ‘Lower Jiao’. 

Wine often contains sediment, which needs to be separated from the clear fluid, and this is the job of the Intestines and Bladder. The sediment, or the impure fluid, is removed as waste. The wine, or the pure fluid, can then be returned to circulation.

The Triple Burner controls this process and keeps the three Jiao working harmoniously. According to The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic (one of the oldest texts on Chinese medicine), it is the “controller of the entire circulation of body fluid”.

According to the Difficult Questions chapter of The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, the Triple Burner “represents the conclusion and the start of the course of qi”. This means that the Triple Warmer has a vital role in circulating not only fluids throughout the body but also Qi.

So rather than being an organ, a solid mass, or a hollow receptacle, the Triple Burner can be seen as a passageway, allowing free movement in the channels, the waterways and the bowels. And although it has no physical form, it plays a crucial role in maintaining the entire body’s health.

When the Triple Warmer is not functioning well, this can result in several different conditions. Because it covers all three areas, Triple Burner issues can affect any of the other organs, which can be challenging to diagnose. 

Is the Interstitium the Triple Burner?

It is impossible to say whether these two mysterious organs are one and the same, but there are certainly many similarities. Neither has a clear, physical form in how we view organs. However, both are distributed throughout the whole body, and both play an essential role in the transportation of fluids.

As we learn more about the interstitium, it may become clear that it has even more in common with the Triple Burner, but for now, we can only speculate. Nevertheless, we know that this discovery proves that there is much more for us to learn about the human body and how it works.

Many thanks to the authors of texts on which this article is based; The Rising Moon Taichi School and Renn Wellness of Ravenswood.

Greg Williams of NYU Langone medical centre provided additional resources on the Interstitium organ. Visit their website here:


Certified Yizong Instructor Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Taijiquan with a background in external kung fu and western boxing.