Western medicine recognizes several types of flowing or circulatory systems in the body. Two types of fluids move through the circulatory system: blood and lymph. The blood, heart, and blood vessels form the cardiovascular system. The lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels form the lymphatic system. The cardiovascular system and the lymphatic system collectively make up the circulatory system.
Chinese medicine believes there is another distribution network for the fundamental substances. There body fluids and Qi blood coursing throughout the body. These fundamental substances are different but complimentary to the common western concept of these terms. They are fundamental precepts and are important for maintaining health using Chinese medicine. This other distribution network is called the Meridian System. Diagrams of it resemble an intricate web that links different areas of our body together. Meridian pathways make up a complex body system that supplies vital energy to every part of the body. The Meridian System explains philosophically how we live, and why we become sick.
These observations and traditions are not limited to Asian cultures. In 1991, the scientific world was rocked by the discovery of Otzi, a 5,000-year-old mummified man found in the mountains along the border between Austria and Italy. Otzi had a number of tattoos on his body at key acupuncture points. Experts from three acupuncture societies then examined the locations of the tattoos. In their opinion, nine tattoos could be identified as being located directly on, or within six millimeters of, traditional acupuncture points. Two more were located on an acupuncture meridian. One tattoo was used as a local point. The remaining three tattoos were situated between 6-13mm from the closest acupuncture point.
Their findings, first published in The Lancet in 1999 and updated in Discover magazine, purport to show that acupuncture or a system of healing quite similar to it may have been in use in central Europe more than 2,000 years earlier than previously believed. Asians have preserved and refined this system where as it was lost to the West.
An Explanation of the Meridian Concept
Since this is an Asian concept there are no words in our culture to explain the components and the principles which are difficult to translate. If you were to study Tai Chi you would discover these concepts only after years of practicing for and your teacher would tell you that it is better to learn how they feel than try to describe them since they are energy. For example describe the difference between blue and red to a blind man. It isn’t quite that difficult yet it takes practice to learn their true meanings.
- "Jing Luo" is the Chinese term for meridian. It has two interesting precepts which date back several thousand years and comprise the basic structural components of the system.
- Jing meridians act as the interior. Jing means to pass through or pathway and refers to the vertical channels.
- Luo means network and refers to the networks that branch off from the vertical channels (Jing).
- Both Jing and Luo translate as a link or connection, and together form channels.
Meridians are not blood vessels
Although meridians work as a channel system that carries and distributes Qi and blood, they are not blood vessels and have no anatomical channel structure.
For those of you familiar with electrical principles, when an electrical current flows through a wire there is also a magnetic field that flows along with the current as a result. The magnetic field flows in compliment to the electric field and is measured separately.
Many meridian research projects have been carried out over the years testing different hypotheses of how this system works. For example lightning was observed and its powerful effects were known long before it was fully understood.
Meridians are a collection of acupuncture points
Like blood vessels, the meridian network connects and unites different parts of our body. Meridians provide the transport service for the fundamental substances of Qi, blood, and body fluids. The flow of Qi in the Meridian System concentrates or "injects" in certain areas of the skin's surface. These areas are very small points, otherwise known as "acupuncture points". Although acupuncture points are located externally and superficially, they can affect the internal functions of our body. There are 365 acupuncture points, and each point belongs to a particular meridian channel that connects to specific organs.
Development of the Meridian Theory
Traditional Chinese Medicine’s ancient literature hypothesized the meridian theory developing in the following ways:
1. A "needle" projected feelings elsewhere in the body
A researcher would place a fine needle in certain specific points on the skin and feelings like soreness, numbness, heaviness and swelling would occur. This reaction is known as the "needle" feeling. It was found these "needle' feelings were usually felt on a specific skin area, following a certain direction and pathway. Ancient Chinese medicine philosophers meticulously determined the patterns of the needle/acupuncture points in the body, which is the basis of the meridian theory.
2. Observation of the effects of acupuncture points
Healers would stimulate and study different acupuncture points to get symptomatic relief from a particular ailment. They discovered points with similar effects were always formed an organized pattern. After much study, debate, classification and analysis, a meridian map was created.
3. Correlation of certain illnesses with acupuncture points
When a particular disease or organ disorder occurred, patients would feel pain in a particular part of their skin, which was often associated with a rash or skin color changes. People gradually recognized, from every day experiences, that after studying these correlations using philosophies, such as the yin-yang and the five elements theories, there was a pattern. It further developed into an integrated scientific and artistic model for maintaining health in TCM.
There are 12 principal meridians in the system that corresponds to the Yin and Yang organs and the pericardium.
- Yin organs include the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. What makes these unique is they are usually those without an empty cavity.
- Yang organs are organs are the opposite and have an empty cavity. They are the gall bladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine and bladder.
- Yin and Yang organs are physiological functional units that with a much broader meaning. Each Yin and Yang organ has a corresponding Yin/Yang meridian. In addition to the 12 principal and eight extra meridians, there are eight extra meridians and smaller network-like Luo meridians (networks that branch off from the vertical channels). In the eight extra meridians group, the Governing Vessel and the Conception Vessel are considered the most important channels. This is because they contain acupuncture points that are independent of the twelve principal meridians