The Chinese Medicine Meridian System

So, what is a meridian anyway? This is one of the first questions students of Chinese medicine want to understand. Simply put, a meridian is an ‘energy highway’ in the human body. Qi (chee) energy flows through this meridian or energy highway, accessing all party of the body. Meridians can be mapped throughout the body; they flow within the body and not on the surface, meridians exist in corresponding pairs and each meridian has many acupuncture points along its path.

The term ‘meridian’ describes the overall energy distribution system of Chinese Medicine and helps us to understand how basic substances of the body (Qi, blood and body fluids) permeate the whole body. The individual meridians themselves are often described as ‘channels’ or even ‘vessels’ which reflects the notion of carrying, holding, or transporting qi, blood and body fluids around the body.

It is tempting to think of the meridians of the human body the same way as we think of the circulatory system, as the meridians are responsible for the distribution of the basic substances throughout the body just like the circulatory system, but here is where the similarities end. Conventional anatomy and physiology would not be able to identify these pathways in a physical sense in the way that blood vessels can be identified.

It is more useful to consider the meridian system as an energetic distribution network that in itself tends towards energetic manifestation.  Meridians can be best understood as a process rather than a structure.

Practitioners of Chinese Medicine must be as knowledgeable about these meridian channels as the Western Doctor is about anatomy and physiology of the physical body. Without this thorough understanding, successful acupuncture treatments would be difficult. A practitioner of Chinese Medicine must know how and where to access the qi energy of the body to facilitate the healing process.

There are twelve main meridians, or invisible channels, throughout the body with Qi or energy flows. Each limb is traversed by six channels, three Yin channels on the inside, and three Yang channels on the outside. Each of the twelve regular channels corresponds to the five Yin organs, the six Yang organs as well as the Pericardium and San Jiao. These are organs that have no anatomical counterpart in Western medicine but also relate to processes in the body. It is also important to remember that organs should not be thought of as being identical with the physical, anatomical organs of the body.

Each meridian is a Yin Yang pair, meaning each Yin organ is paired with its corresponding Yang Organ: the Yin Lung organ, for example, corresponds with the Yang large intestine.

Qi flows in a precise manner through the twelve regular meridians or channels. First, Qi flows from the chest area along the three arm Yin channels (Lung, Pericardium, and Heart) to the hands. There they connect with the three paired arm Yang channels (Large Intestine, San Jiao and Small Intestine) and flow upward to the head. In the head they connect with their three corresponding leg Yang Channels (Stomach, Gall Bladder and Bladder) and flow down the body to the feet. In the feet they connect with their corresponding leg Yin channels (Spleen, Liver, Kidney) and flow up again to the chest to complete the cycle of Qi.

Arm Tai Yin channel corresponds to the Lung Leg Tai Yin channel corresponds to the Spleen Arm Shao Yin channel corresponds to the Heart Leg Shao Yin corresponds to the Kidney Arm Jue Yin corresponds to the Pericardium Leg Jue Yin corresponds to the Liver Arm Yang Ming corresponds to the Large Intestine Leg Yang Ming corresponds to the Stomach Arm Tai Yang corresponds to the Small Intestine Leg Tai Yang corresponds to the Bladder Arm Shao Yang corresponds to the San Jiao Leg Shao Yang Channel corresponds to the Gall Bladder

The arm and leg channels of the same name are considered to ‘communicate’ with each other in Chinese medicine. Thus, problems in a given channel or organ can be treated by using various points on the communication ‘partner’. As an example: a problem with the lungs can be treated by using points on the Spleen channel as they are both Tai Yin channels.

In addition to the twelve regular meridians there are ‘Extraordinary Meridians’ that are not directly linked to the major organ system but have various specific functions:

1)    they act as reservoirs of Qi and blood for the twelve regular channels, filling and emptying as required

2)    they circulate jing or ‘essence’ around the body because they have a strong connection with the Kidneys

3)    they help circulate the defensive Wei Qi over the trunk of the body and, as such, play an important role in maintaining of good health

4)    they provide further connections between the twelve regular channels

The meridian system of the human body is a delicate, yet intricate web of interconnecting energy lines. If a person masters an understanding of this meridian system they will know the secrets of the flow of Qi energy in the body.

For a colored map of the meridians of the body visit Acupuncture Chart – Main Meridians

By: Jennifer Gawne

About the Author:

Jennifer Gawne is a Registered TCM Herbalist at the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences in Nelson, British Columbia. ACOS is a TCM and Acupuncture School offering 3, 4 and 5 year fully-accredited diploma programs.

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Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): First Choice or Last Resort


“You’re my last chance, doc. I’ve tried everything.”


As an acupuncturist for 25 years, I’ve heard this many times. I can’t blame people, Oriental medicine may be very old, but in America, it’s new. People just don’t know about it, and what they do know may sound very strange. And let’s face it, the idea of someone sticking needles in you is a little scary.


Though acupuncture and Chinese medicine are now available almost everywhere in the United States, people certainly don’t think of trying it first. In some states they can’t because acupuncturists have to practice under the authority of an M.D. In these states the few insurance policies that cover acupuncture require that it be prescribed by a doctor. In California and several other states where acupuncturists are licensed as primary care physicians, patients can simply make an appointment when they have a physical problem. If the problem can’t be addressed by acupuncture, the practitioner will refer the patient to an M.D.


Nevertheless, acupuncture has been shown to be beneficial for many conditions, including infertility, addiction, and pain.


A study at the University of Heidelberg in 1982 showed acupuncture to be more effective for infertility than hormone therapy while having no side effects. A placebo-controlled study at the University of Michigan provided strong evidence that acupuncture can greatly enhance the success of alcohol and drug-abuse support programs. And a study at the Hunan College of Traditional Chinese Medicine completed in 1992 showed that acupuncture can relieve angina pain. Forty patients with angina were assessed during and after acupuncture treatments. After 7 treatments 63 percent of the patients experienced alleviation of pain in extent, area, and duration of attack.


This doesn’t mean you should call your acupuncturist if you suddenly experience chest pain. Your first response should be to call your doctor or 911. However, there are a number of conditions where it makes good sense to give Chinese medicine the first try, including common colds, both food and airborne allergies, infertility, nausea, simple digestive problems, insomnia, hair loss, mild to moderate depression, back pain, arthritis, eczema, acne, psoriasis, substance abuse, and fatigue.


For these conditions, I believe that Oriental medicine is more effective, safer, and cheaper than Western treatments, and needles are not always required. Few people know that Chinese medicine has solved some problems that modern medicine is still puzzling over. Probably the best example is the common cold.


The Common Cold


The common cold accounts for more doctor visits than any other ailment. But just what can your doctor do for a cold? Nothing, at best, though some doctors still prescribe antibiotics that can have unwanted effects.


While Chinese medicine has not cured the common cold, it has come a lot closer than Western medicine.


In 1798 Dr. Wu Ju Tong published the herbal formula for Yin Chiao. Since then, daily use by millions of people over two hundred years is proof enough for me that this herbal masterpiece has probably relieved, shortened, or even stopped more colds than all Western drugs combined. Yin Chiao and its younger sister Gan Mao Ling, and other Chinese cold remedies have done this reliably and with absolute safety for both children and adults.


Why haven’t we heard about it until now? Maybe good new travels slowly; maybe no one was paying attention; maybe drug companies can’t make a profit on an herbal remedy.


Remedies like Yin Chiao and Gan Mao Ling, have found their way to most local natural food stores. When you start to get your next cold, try them first, before running to your doctor. And don’t wait too long; the sooner you take these herbal remedies, the better they work. To learn more about this little known wonder visit

Reducing Stress


Acupuncture is a remarkable stress reliever. A 2005 study conducted on 55 patients suffering from stress-related emotional disorders showed a reduction of symptoms in 95 percent of the subjects. If simple stress is causing you sleeplessness or anxiety, acupuncture can make tranquilizers and sleeping pills unnecessary. Why go down the road of addicting or dangerous drugs? A 2007 pilot study cited in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease suggests that acupuncture may also help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.



Addressing the problem of infertility, which has grown increasingly common as more women in their thirties and forties try to get pregnant, Western medicine offers highly technical and very expensive procedures like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). A study at the University of Texas found that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can increase the chances of success with IVF by as much as 50 percent. In China today, most women will try a Chinese remedy for gynecological problems before seeking expensive Western medical help. For those in the U.S. who can afford high-tech interventions, I would certainly recommend at least trying TCM.


All this is not to say that you should try TCM first for every disease or suspected condition. Despite some claims, TCM cannot diagnose or cure cancer. TCM cannot look inside you or analyze your blood. High blood pressure, for example, is a serious killer, yet ancient Chinese doctors were not aware of it and had no way to measure it.


If you have or suspect you may have a serious medical condition, see your doctor. Modern medicine is the best kind of health care for diagnosing these conditions. Western medicine deserves respect. At the same time TCM has refined itself and survived for thousands of years, and it is not going away. If you want the best in health care, learn about both of these medical alternatives and use them wisely.

By: Joel Harvey Schreck, L.Ac.

About the Author:

Joel Harvey Schreck, L.Ac. is an acupuncturist and herbologist. Schooled in Hong Kong and San Francisco, he’s been practicing since 1987. He is the author of A Patient’s Guide to Chinese Medicine He is co-founder of the Shen Clinic and co-founder of the popular Dr. Shen line of natural medicines, sold nationally in many natural food stores.

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