Foundations: Intro to Chinese Medicine Series
Ever wonder how that point on your foot connects to your head or stomach? Chinese medicine has Meridians which on the surface appears like a unique concept, but was really just ahead of its time. Bonus: acupressure tutorial for immune health.
Part 4 in our new series of talks on subjects surrounding health and TCM.
In case you missed our talk this week, here is the fourth installment in which Beth talks about the meridians according to Chinese medicine.
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Good evening and welcome!
We’re gonna get started tonight i have my friend here joining me, my little points model that i love to use.
Welcome to our final lecture of the fundamental theory basics of Chinese medicine series. Tonight we are gonna speak about the meridians. I hope you enjoyed the last three lectures on the yin and yang and the five elements, the substances and the evils of Chinese medicine. If you’re just joining us tonight not to worry we will be using some terminology that has been previously covered but you should be able to follow along as we talk tonight about the meridians.
What is a “meridian”
I’m actually realizing that meridians all by itself is a word that maybe may not make sense to you. So, as we talk about the body so i’m gonna go ahead and take you through a little bit about what this word is. Meridians or collaterals are english words that we often use to describe specific types of what would be called “mai” in mandarin and the word my actually means sort of vital circulation. Since most of us aren’t using these words in our daily life to describe pathways or repositories you know things like meridians or collaterals we don’t use those words very often so it gets a little bit lost in translation. But i’m going to use the word meridian tonight. There’s like i said lots of different words the Chinese word “mai” the subset of that called “jing” but what i want you to remember is that when you’re thinking about meridians think about flow. So whether you call them collaterals channels meridians mai or jing, those are all words that end up getting used interchangeably and they have subtle differences when we talk about the translation but more common than not you’ll hear channels or meridians.
So when you hear those words i really want you to think about: flow. All right and you’re sitting there going flow? Flow of what? And i my answer is of course, it’s like depending on your perspective that flow could be talking about qi, it could be talking about blood, electrical impulses, neurotransmitters, cells and even chemicals. It’s very broad the concept of flow but i’ve used this image here of this sort of like aqueduct. You see water flowing through or if you think about, you know from a global perspective when we look at air flows and those jet stream pathways the warm air and the cold air you know these are all macro images of what the channels and collaterals or the meridians represent in your body.
Classical vs Modern
And so when we are looking at that what we know now is that many of the meridians that were outlined thousands of years ago uh in classical texts on Chinese medicine they actually correlate to modern anatomical systems. For instance, in this image here you’re going to see that there’s a line of fascia which is the stuff that’s sort of outside of the muscles and tendons and uh but inside the skin that keeps everything kind of all together. Anybody who does bodywork or has studied fascia knows what we’re talking about here but but it’s a modern anatomical distinction and there’s a band of fascia that runs from the ankle all the way up to the base of the skull and it follows a pathway that to me looks remarkably similar to what we would call the urinary bladder channel in Chinese medicine. If you look at the image on the left you’re looking at that fascia image and you can see that pink line flowing up on the image on the right you’ve got that pink line flowing up and these are pathways. Whether we are talking from a Chinese medicine perspective or from a modern perspective it’s all the same stuff. i just love that again Chinese medicine kind of had their finger on this one thousands of years ago so um that might give you a little bit of context for one of the ways you could interpret a channel or a meridian.
But in Chinese medicine when we’re speaking about the meridians, there are 12 primary meridians and they each correspond to a different system in the body. They’re also grouped into six pairs based on their different locations of the hand and the foot and these primary pathways. um plus a couple of bonus ones that are related to yin and yang um you’ve got to give them one that the red knight runs down from the body and the doom eye that runs down the back of the body. These pathways really not only do they provide the basic map for the 360 plus acupuncture points on the body but the pathway doesn’t just lead from point to point it often takes detours and it connects with the internal organs and the other pathways in the body.
These meetings are often called confluences and they’re kind of one of the complex bits of Chinese medicine anatomy that makes the point system such an elegant healing tool so you know you have 12 channels on your body as i said and as you can see in the picture or if you’re looking here my friend who likes to fall off her stool um you know we’ve got these lines that are running down our body and those are the those are the surface representations about what the channels are and and um but that’s kind of like just the beginning right so each of the 12 meridians not only has those channels where they are looking at the points right that connect to um you know the different the different pieces of the body right but you know the the channels are there they house the points but then also they each connect into their organs and they connect with each other so each of the 12 meridians has connecting channels that link it to its paired channel.
When we were talking about five elements we discussed how each of the five elements has has organ systems attached to it and so the organs in Chinese medicine are actually paired according to those five elements. I’m going to talk a little bit later on about how the lung meridian and the large intestine meridian those are both paired together under the metal element and you can find this for all of the rest of the elements of the meridians. They have connecting channels that lead between them so the lung channel has a pathway within the body that connects to the large intestine channel because they’re paired meridians all the channels exist 12 channels that’s where the points live plus the Ren and the Du and then they each have their connecting channel the Luo-connecting channel that leads to their organ pair. They also have a separate channel that sort of branches off from that main meridian and that is for sinews and it follows a slightly different pathway maybe a broader pathway but it’s best for… they run a little bit deeper and we often use those for muscle tension and pain and and so you’ll find that a lot of times if you’re looking at dry needling or things like that really what people are working on there is what we would call in Chinese medicine a sinew channel. There are also divergent channels.
Sinews and Divergent
Not only do you have the connecting channel and then the ones that are specifically very musculoskeletal: the sinew channel, but you also have divergent channels so you’ll get one that sort of shoots off to make a connection to a secondary or a tertiary organ relationship. As i said, every organ has its pair that’s based on its assigned element but we also have other relationships between the organs and they work together and interrelate in more complicated ways and that’s where the divergent channels come in. We’ve got maps of all of these things and then the last kind of meridians that we have…so we’ve got 12 channels, each of them has a luo channel and a sinew channel and a divergent channel right so we’re already talking about 36 channels plus the Ren and the Du right so (well they’re part of the extraordinary meridians) but anyway the Ren and the Du are part of the eight extraordinary meridians so when all is said and done we’re looking at upwards of 40 different pathways that Chinese medicine has mapped onto the body so that we can really see how everything connects together.
8 Extraordinary meridians
The eight extraordinary meridians, the last ones. They really they’re the deepest level of channel and they’re responsible for some of the deepest endocrine work and we use them a lot for emotional issues. I kind of like to look at them as like Chinese medicine embryology. And I’ve got a bunch of ideas for talks on that later. I love to talk about the eight extraordinary meridians so if you’re interested in listening to how Chinese medicine talks about embryology or if we’re talking about acupuncture for emotional health there’s some really interesting things about those eight extraordinary meridians. But that again is above and beyond and those meridians don’t generally have points of their own. The Ren and the Du do have points of their own but the rest of the eight extraordinary meridians don’t have their own points they use points from the primary 12 channels. During my education, we were required to memorize all of the different pathways and point locations and the purpose of all of them but we’re not. We’re going to go ahead and skip that tonight because you’re not here for a doctoral degree. But you are here presumably to find out how this applies to you.
Needles? who needs needles?
As you may remember um i said that uh points don’t always need needles and that’s true we use the points to access certain places on a given channel to create a desired adjustment or course correction so remember what i said before about flow right needles are our preferred tool of choice because they allow us the ability to make a strong highly sensitive and specific course correction within the flow of any particular meridian so for acupuncturists like we love to use needles because needles are are very targeted very direct it’s a finesse tool and so that’s why we like to use them but the points work whether you’re stimulating them with the needle or not so the reason why acupuncture works and even massage styles like tui na or shiatsu which uses the same meridians is because the pressure from your fingers can also activate the points and the channels
Hands and Feed
show of hands who here has had a mani-pedi before?
okay so i’m not alone right? and uh what’s the best part of the mani pedi ritual? hint it’s not the pretty nails right it’s the hand and foot massage of course!
A vast number of acupuncture points are collected on the hands and the feet particularly at the ankles and the wrists so often times if you go into an acupuncturist they only need to access your arms up to the elbows and your legs up to your knees.
So today we’re going to talk about four specific points on four different meridians that you can use to help improve your immune health um we’re going to talk to you about where you can find them and why they do what they do right so the four points that we’re going to talk about today are lung 7 stomach 36 large intestine 4 and kidney one and we’re going to start with lung seven.
Now you may remember from previous lectures that many diseases begin from the exterior with what we call in TCM wind that’s from our lecture on the evils also we can understand that the lung one of the first organs to be affected by upper respiratory infection right and so this point is on the lung channel and this particular point releases the exterior and expels wind so we use it frequently if someone’s coming in maybe they’ve got a chill they’re just feeling a little run down you can just kind of release the wind using lung seven.
You can find it by putting your finger on your wrist bone on the thumb side and just sliding it slightly toward the outside of your elbow. You’ll find that your finger kind of drops right into the top of that bone and into the hollow and this is lung seven.
When you find these points you can just press on them they’re likely to be a little bit tender and you find if you press on them for 10 or 15 seconds you’ll begin to feel something change or shift and that maybe it’s that you feel like it’s less painful or maybe it gets more painful but something will change and shift in that feeling and all you have to do is sort of do that for just 10 to 15 seconds or you can sort of repeatedly press at them like this right until you begin to feel. I tend to feel a lot depending on what point i’m using. the lung channel kind of comes all the way up here and it comes into your chest and so what i tend to feel is when i’m pressing and massaging my lung channel i might feel like oh the breath just comes a little bit easier right and so things like that. But that point specifically is for kicking out the wind, bolstering your lung and the lung channel as i mentioned earlier is paired with the large intestine channel and in fact the large intestine channel begins where the lung channel ends.
Large Intestine 4
This next point we’re going to talk about which is large intestine 4 is probably the most common acupressure point ever to be prescribed and we use the point a lot in acupuncture it’s when we’re doing treatments it’s just very strong and has many different uses you got headache tooth pain stomach issues the list goes on today and for our purposes we want this point because it regulates defensive chi and again you might remember our talk on Qi and how there’s a particular type whose job it is to just protect against illness? yeah. this point helps with that. Of note this point can also induce labor and actually we use this a lot in full term pregnancy to get the process started more gently than some other modern interventions so pregnant folks this one is not for you. If anybody has questions about other points to avoid during pregnancy i’m happy to answer. There aren’t that many and they’re pretty easy to avoid so maybe we’ll do a pregnancy lecture another day. Let me know if you’d be interested in that.
You’ll find large intestine four by flattening your hand and squeezing your thumb toward the hand until the muscle between your thumb and your hand bulges. You just find the top of that bulge and then you press down as you relax your hands toward the hand bone and the point as it says in the diagram is roughly midpoint on that metacarpal bone so sort of like midway in the middle of your hand on that bone um right there on the side of your hand so um and that one you’ll see it i’m sure you’ve seen this before people give this to you all the time for like oh it’s a great way to cure headaches and in fact it is got a headache it’s the first go-to for that um the second go-to is actually on the foot somebody uh somebody chime in we’ll see if we can guess that one.
But anyway, the next point we’re going to talk about is called stomach 36. That’s another point that’s used all the time in clinic it’s just so versatile. There are mentions of it in some of the oldest texts as being the key to longevity and when moxa or moxibustion is applied daily apparently it preserves your long life so. I myself have been participating in a new moon ritual where we apply moxa to this point for the first eight days every new moon and i have found that it has boosted my energy during those periods of the last couple of months. So in this context we’re including it because it supports the Qi and it nourishes both the blood and the yin it’s a very safe point, a tonifying point to use particularly if you think you might be coming down something and you maybe are worried about tonifying the pathogen rather than tonifying the human…we’ll use stomach 36 for that.
To find stomach 36 i use like to use the little indentations that come right underneath your knee right at the base of your patella there’s those little indentations under your knee right and so if you find those and then you take your hand the width of your knuckles from from your pinky side of your hand over to the index finger side right there at the knuckles if you take that width right and you line it up at those indentations and you and you take just below that measurement there right along the side of the shin bone right that’s stomach 36 and i actually like to sort of massage my stomach channel from from that point all the way down the shin bone on just the outside of the shin bone all the way down to the ankle so right below the knee to down to the ankle and you’ll get a lot of good points on the stomach channel so um that’s kind of how i like to activate that but the point itself is actually right there just because soon but it’s just that one hand breath right down from those indentations below your knee and that’s stomach 36 so again you press that you massage your stomach channel you’re activating that channel you’re boosting your chi you’re giving yourself a little bit more energy that you can use to fight off illness.
I wanted to include a point on the foot just to kind of you know balance out the rest of the other points which are on the upper part of the body and there’s a lot i could have chosen but i went with kidney one for two reasons the first is that it’s a really powerful point for grounding as it descends the excess from the head it calms the spirit and i think both of those things are really important in immune regulation we’re gathering so much science right now about how stress just wreaks havoc on the body and this is an amazing point for just that so um and uh the second one is that while i personally love to have this point needled it is a strong point and um needling it can be pretty intense for the first one to two seconds i always maintain that acupuncture should be painless when executed correctly however there are few points that can be tender and are actually meant to be and so i usually warn patients when we’re going to use those points and if someone is needle phobic i work around it so um but that being said acupressure or again moxibustion on this point can be amazing.
So kidney one is on the sole of the foot it says one third of the way from the base of the toes to the heel but if you massage your foot right there where the arch meets the ball you’ll find it it’s just sort of right there again it’s like if you just put your hand and rub it just off the bottom of the foot into that indentation so many of the acupuncture points on the body are located in the in the hills and the valleys and when you’re massaging in the approximate right place your body will tend to tell you when you’ve hit the right point um and as i mentioned before you know needles are a finesse tool and so precise point location is important but fingers and hands are less precise and therefore massaging in and around the point to get results is sufficient to give you a little treatment so you’ll feel it when you hit the right spot all right so that is our um mini acupressure lesson for the evening and our talk about how those meridians connect with each other.
THANK YOU AND GOODNIGHT
So i hope you enjoyed the lesson in the tutorial and uh and if you have any questions stay on and i’ll take the last few minutes here to address them and if you want to have a more personal in-depth q a i do free 20-minute consultations either over the phone or via private medical video chat or in person at my clinic here in Taynuilt i do these lectures every two weeks and so let me know if there’s a subject you’d like me to cover because i’m almost sure there’s a point for that so have a lovely evening and we’ll see you again in two weeks thanks so much