Foundations of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: Meridian Theory
The meridian system of Acupuncture is the network of vessels through which our energy flows. The proper flow of Qi, or energy, in our body regulates and maintains our health. By understanding how the Qi in our meridians connect and interact, we can begin to comprehend the intricate system of acupuncture.
Discovery of the Meridians
The meridians are believed to have been discovered through meditation and Qi Gong practice that allowed developed individuals to feel the flow of Qi in their body. Pressure applied to points along these meridians created a propagated sensation that revealed their intricate pathways from the surface of the body to the deep organs within. Later investigations of how specific points altered the flow of Qi in the meridian system lead to the development of comprehensive acupuncture charts and the formalized system of acupuncture used today.
Functions of the Meridians
The flow of Qi in the meridians regulates the functions of our body, including the internal organs, various tissues, and sensory functions. The meridians also protect us by preventing external pathogenic factors from moving into deeper levels of our body, causing more severe illnesses. In cases of pathological conditions, the flow within the meridians will be disrupted indicating diseases of the internal organs, or the meridians themselves. Palpation of the meridians and the pulse can assist an Acupuncturist in determining imbalances in the flow of Qi, and providing the proper treatment to return the body to balance.
12 Primary Meridians
There are 12 Primary Meridians that connect the 12 internal organs and the entire surface of the body; each meridian is named by its major connected organ, including Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Heater, Gall Bladder, and Liver. The primary meridians contain most of the major acupuncture points used in clinical practice. The meridians are organized in a complex fashion that allows a network of connection between specific organs and meridians. These meridians are symmetrical and follow lines that run vertically up and down the body for their external pathways. The internal pathways of the meridians connect their respective organs and their paired organs. The Oriental Medicine organs are not strictly the physical organs we know from Western Anatomy; they are energetic representations of body functions. As a note, the Triple Heater organ is a purely energetic organ and has no physical form.
Let’s look at the chart below to begin to understand the 12 Primary Meridians and how they are named. Each of these meridians is mainly named by their major connecting organ, such as Lung, Spleen, etc (under the column “Organ Name”). Of the 12 meridians, there are three hand Yang, three hand Yin, three foot Yang, and three foot Yin meridians. In addition, each meridian has an energetic level related to the Hand and Foot pairings (under the column “Energetic Level”). Each of these components forms the name of a single meridian. For example, our first meridian is named the Hand Greater Yin Lung Meridian. Another example would be the Foot Lesser Yang Gallbladder meridian. To simplify the names, meridians can also be labeled by only their organ name, such as Lung or Stomach. Also note that each meridian is associated with one of the five elements: Metal, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wood; this will be important for later.
Now that we understand the naming convention, let’s begin to look at the connections the names reference. There are six energetic levels listed in the chart above: Greater Yang, Bright Yang, Lesser Yang, Greater Yin, Lesser Yin, and Absolute Yin. As we move from the exterior to deeper in the body, we move from Yang to Yin in the order of the previous list. When disease invades the body, it moves from the exterior levels to the interior levels as it becomes a deeper, more serious condition. The meridians that share an energetic level exist in Hand and Foot pairs, such as Lung and Spleen meridians, to form the Greater Yin level.
There are also Yin-Yang pairs of meridians which are represented by each horizontal row in the table. For instance, the Lung meridian is paired with the Large Intestine meridian. These Yin-Yang paired meridians have additional connecting meridians that strengthen the connections between these two meridians and their corresponding organs.
Qi Flow through the Regular Meridians
So now we can bring it all together by discussing the flow of Qi in the body. The Qi flows through the 12 Primary Meridians fifty times each day. It travels through three major circuits: Earth, Heaven, and Human. The cycle begins with the Earth circuit, as the Qi flows from the Lung to the Large Intestine, then to the Stomach, and then the Spleen. By looking at our chart above, you can see we start in the upper left corner of the Earth circuit in the Hang Greater Yin Lung meridian. Then we move across the chart to the Hand Bright Yang Large Intestine meridian. Next we drop down a row to the Foot Bright Yang Stomach meridian. And finally the Earth circuit completes by moving left to the Foot Greater Yin Spleen meridian. The Heaven and Human cycles move through the chart in the same manner. To summarize, the Qi flows as follows: Lung – Large Intestine – Stomach – Spleen – Heart –Small Intestine – Urinary Bladder – Kidney – Pericardium – Triple Heater – Gallbladder – Liver. After Liver, the Qi cycles back to the beginning to start again with the Lung meridian.
8 Extraordinary Meridians
The 8 Extraordinary meridians are deeper meridians of the body that serve to act as reservoirs of Qi and Blood in the body. Only 2 of these meridians have their own acupuncture points (Du, Ren); the other six meridians can only be accessed by acupuncture points on the Primary meridians. The 12 Regular Meridians plus the 2 Extraordinary Meridians with their own points are commonly referred to as the 14 Major Meridians. The extraordinary meridians are clinically important to influence the body as they connect many of the Primary meridians of the body. In addition, these meridians serve to protect the body. Each of the 8 extraordinary meridians has a confluent point on a primary meridian which allows the extraordinary meridian to be accessed. The extraordinary meridians also function in pairs and are listed with the confluent points below. These acupuncture points are commonly needling at the same time to create a specific action in the body.
||Area of Action
||Abdomen, Chest, Lungs, Throat, Face
||Small Intestine 3
||Spine, Neck, Head, Eyes, Brain, Back Leg
||Urinary Bladder 62
||Outer Leg, Side of Body, Side of Neck
||Triple Heater 5
||Inner Leg, Stomach Abdomen, Heart, Chest
There are several other types of meridians that exist to assist each of the 12 Primary Meridians. The Divergent meridians are 12 meridians that run deepest in the body to reinforce the connection between Yin-Yang paired meridians and organs, connect to areas not supplied by the Primary Meridians, and distribute Qi and Blood to the face. The Connecting meridians connect a meridian to its Yin-Yang paired meridian. The Sinew meridians exist on the surface of the body and follow the major muscles, widening the influence of their associated Primary Meridians. The Cutaneous meridians are the regions of the skin which represent the pathway of the Primary meridians. And finally, the Collateral meridians represent the small vessels that branch from each meridian to create a mesh-like network over the body spread the influence of the meridians over the entire body.
This network of Primary Meridians, Extraordinary Meridians, and Other Meridians function together to regulate our energy and organs, and protect the body from disease.