The meridian system in acupuncture is the very foundation of Chinese Medicine, and was mapped out more than 2,000 years ago. The meridians represent the principal pathways that qi, blood, and fluids are circulated throughout the body, tissues, and organs, providing them with nourishment and energy. These pathways are vital in the communication among the organs, muscles, glands, and digestive and endocrine systems, as well as the brain. It is this communication that makes the body a unified whole.

Acupuncturists believe that when qi flows freely, there is no pain or disease. But when there is stagnation of qi, pain, disease, or disfunction shows up in the body. It is up to the acupuncturist to maintain this free flow of qi, blood, and fluid in the body. This is where the knowledge of meridians is most important, and most helps patients maintain abundant health.

How Do They Work?

Meridians are complicated to understand, and take years to fully comprehend. I’ll try to simplify the theory here to illuminate the process. There are twelve paired yin and yang meridians, and two unpaired channels. Each of the twelve meridians are bilateral and are associated with an organ of the body.

The two unpaired meridians are the Governing or Du meridian, and the Conception or Ren meridian. The Governing meridian runs along the center of the spine, along the back of the body, and represents the yang or the masculine aspect of the meridian system. The Conception meridian runs along the center of the front of the body, and is the yin or feminine aspect of the meridians.

These two opposite channels represent the yin and yang at the center of the body. Balancing the yin and yang of the body is fundamental for life’s vitality and these two meridians are very important and useful in regulation of these energies. The Conception (yin) meridian can be used to increase fertility, regulate the menstrual cycle, and treat impotence. The Governing (yang) meridian can treat all the organ systems of the body, regulate the hormones, and increase stamina and adrenal functions.

The Points Involved

Each meridian has its own specific acupuncture points that regulate the body. It is the work and artful practice of the acupuncturist to choose the most effect point prescription that will balance and regulate a patient’s imbalances. Each acupuncture point has its own unique influence on the body and its own function.

There are 361 points along the traditional meridians and then hundreds of extra points, like the auricular (ear) points and the scalp points, just to further complicate learning this vast network of intersecting points. In the West we learn acupuncture points as numbers, but for the Chinese speaker the points often have poetic names that give insight about the acupuncture points themselves.

For example, acupuncturists learn that Stomach 36 is a great point for increasing stamina, immunity, and regulating digestion. The Chinese name is “Leg Three Li” meaning that by stimulating Stomach 36, one can relieve fatigue sufficient to allow one to walk three more miles (li is miles in Chinese).

Acupuncturists also learn that qi circulates in each meridian at specific times of the day. For example, the Stomach and the paired Spleen meridians receive their most abundant qi from seven to nine a.m., and nine to eleven a.m., receptively. The morning hours are one of the strongest digesting times of the day, one more great reason to eat a good breakfast. This flow of qi begins with the Lung meridian and ends with the last point on the Liver meridian, and then once again this flow of qi begins anew through the meridian system.

The Science Behind The Needles

This flow of qi circulating through our bodies is what connects us to the universal life force. We now have exciting stereo-microscope photographs and images that show tubular structures 30 to 100 mm wide that overlay the acupuncture meridian system, called Bonghan channels. This may be the empirical evidence necessary to explain how acupuncture works.

In “Mind and Nature”, Gregory Bateson states that this could be the very system that controls growth at the embryologic level of development. Charles Shang, MD also noticed the physiological similarities between acupuncture points and the embryological organizational center. He found both are areas of high electrical conductance, high density of gap junctions, and cellular organelles that facilitate cell-to-cell communication. This points to the Eastern knowledge that meridians are the information super-highways of the body.

The acupuncture meridian system is a unique system of organization that is capable of carrying an enormous volume of information throughout the body. It is by regulating and keeping these systems balanced that health is kept at its optimal level.

For more information about Bonghan Channels, take a look at my previous blog post here.