Qigong Students: Here’s How to Make Sense of the Meridians

“You don’t find all this history and theory stuff painfully boring?” I asked.

The year was 2012, and I had just finished a lecture on Chinese Medicine theory in my brick-and-mortar studio. In order to make sense of the theory, I also had to teach some history.

“Not even a little bit,” she said.

This surprised me. For years, I had assumed that students weren’t interested in esoteric Eastern theories, and that they DEFINITELY weren’t interested in history.

I mean, I LOVE both the history and theory aspect of qigong, but I’m an outlier. Or am I?

In a previous article about the acupuncture meridians, I asked my readers if they wanted to learn more. The answer was loud and clear: YES!!

Apparently, I’m not an outlier. Thousands of you enjoy learning about history and theory, just like I do.

So my fellow nerds…shall we get this party started?

The Qigong Meridians?!?

In my previous article, I used the term Acupuncture Meridians, but not because it’s correct. I used it so people would have some clue what I’m talking about!

If I used the term “Qigong Meridians”, many people would be confused, especially people who are more familiar with acupuncture.

Actually, both terms — Qigong Meridians and Acupuncture Meridians — are equally INCORRECT.

As I’ve said, the Chinese term is jingluo (經 絡, pronounced jing-low), which translates to “channel”.

But here’s what you need to understand. For thousands of years, the meridian system has been shared by MANY Chinese arts, including:

In other words, we could just as easily use the term Qigong Meridians, Acupressure Meridians, or Tai Chi Meridians. All of these terms are equally inaccurate.

Needling and Moxibustion

It gets worse! The term acupuncture meridian is actually a DOUBLE misnomer!

Not only is the term “meridian” a poor translation of jingluo, but the term “acupuncture” is just utter Western nonsense!

The Chinese term for acupuncture is: zhenjiu (針灸, pronounced jun-geo)

Zhen (針) means needle, and jiu (灸) means moxibustion (see above). So zhenjiu literally translates to “needling and moxibustion”.

I know what you’re thinking: Where the hell did the word “acupuncture” come from?

It’s a good question. The term “acu” comes from the latin for “needle”. So they got that part right.

But “puncture”? Where did that come from, and who thought that this was a good idea?

Talk about bad PR! I can’t think of a worse word to scare off confused Westerners.

Unfortunately, the word stuck (pun definitely intended). Not only that, but the term “acupuncture”has become an umbrella that refers to several branches of Chinese Medicine, not just acupuncture.

For example, most acupuncturists today also practice Chinese herbal medicine. Traditionally, these were two separate arts. But today, they often all under the same moniker of “acupuncture”.

The Influence of Chinese Medicine

Here’s a simple way to make sense of all this: It’s all Chinese Medicine!

Qigong, acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine, tuina — these are all branches of Chinese Medicine.

By Chinese Medicine, I’m referring to the 5000-year old system that originated in what we now call China.

The traditional term is zhongyi (中醫, pronounced jawng yee) which translates nicely to “Chinese Medicine”. This ancient medicine not only influenced all of the Chinese arts that I listed above, but also influence arts in much of Asia.

Here are some examples of non-Chinese arts that were heavily influenced by Chinese Medicine:

In other words, Chinese Medicine is everywhere! Today, it’s not just in Asia, but all over the world.

Jingmai vs. Luomai

Enough history. Now that it’s clear that we’re really talking about Chinese Medicine rather than just qigong or acupuncture, let’s dive into some theory.

The meridians are divided into 2 main categories: the jingmai (經脈, pronounced jing-my) and the luomai (絡脈, pronounced low-my).

The jingmai consist of:

The luomai consist of:

In qigong, we’re mainly concerned with the 12 Primary Meridians and the 8 Extraordinary Meridians, which is why I put them in boldface.

The 12 Primary Meridians

According to ancient Chinese Medicine theory, you have 12 Primary Meridians (十二经脉), as follows:

You’ll notice that each meridian is associated with an internal organ.

You don’t need to memorize the 12 meridians (unless you’re an acupuncturist, duh), but if you take away once concept from this article, it should be this one:

The meridian is NOT the organ.

It’s tempting to the Western mind to hear “Heart Meridian” and just think of the physical organ that we know of as the heart.

That’s a mistake, and if you think that way, you’ll never understand Chinese medicine.

Yin and Yang Organs

In Chinese Medicine, the organ-meridian association is called Zang-Fu (臟腑, pronounced zahng foo).

In Zang-Fu theory, the organs fall into 2 main categories: yin and yang.

The Yin organs are:

The Yang organs are:

(Note: the Sanjiao is an organ not yet recognized by Western Medicine. However, resent research, like this discovery of a “new organ”, is bringing Western Medicine closer and closer to the concept of the Sanjiao.)

If you think of the Zang-Fu simply as organs, like we do in the West, then you’ll get confused.

It’s better to think of each organ as a SYSTEM.

In Western Medicine, we have systems like the Circulatory System, the Endocrine System, the Nervous System, etc.

But in Chinese Medicine, the systems are different. For example, instead of the Circulatory System, we have the Heart Meridian. (This analogy only goes so far, so please don’t get carried away with it. They are not identical systems.)

The Circulatory System involves more than just the physical heart, and the same is true of the Heart Meridian.

Pale And Tan, Yin and Yang

Yin Meridians run down the more yin part of your arm.

That makes perfect sense. But what part of your arm is more yin? Here’s an easy way to figure this out:

For example, the palm and the inner forearm are less than than the back of the hand and the back of the forearm.

The same is true of the legs. The inner thighs are paler than the outer thighs.

This will simplify things when trying to understand where the meridians are located (see below).

Where are the 12 Primary Meridians?

If you’re in acupuncture college, then you’ll need to memorize all of the meridians (not to mention the points along them.)

Luckily, this isn’t necessary for most people, and it’s definitely not necessary for qigong students.

Nevertheless, it’s good to have SOME idea about the meridians. Here’s a super simple explanation:

(Note: all of these meridians are bilateral, which means that they are located on both sides of your body.)

And here’s a helpful image if you want to geek out on the meridians. Click the image to enlarge it.

Whew! And that’s just an overview. Now, do you see why acupuncture college requires 4 years and thousands of hours of training?

The 8 Extraordinary Meridians

You also have what are known as the 8 Extraordinary Vessels (奇經八脈):

The Ren Mai and Du Mai are the two that we’re most interested in.

The Ren Main runs from your chin down to your perineum, and the Du Mai runs from your perineum, up your spine, over the top of your head, to your upper lip.

If you’ve ever wondered why many teachers tell you to lift the tongue to the upper palate while practicing qigong, it’s to connect these 2 meridians. (Here’s an entire article about whether or not you should lift the tongue in qigong.)

When you connect these two meridians and direct lots of qi into them, you get what is sometimes known as the Small Universe, also called the Small Heavenly Circuit or Microcosmic Orbit.

I like the idea of a circuit because that’s what it is. It’s a powerful energetic connection.

This connection is HUGELY important for martial artists. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the reason most people in the 21st century have little internal power (neijin, read more here) compared to past masters is simply because they don’t have the Small Universe.

Let me be clear that many people PRACTICE the Small Universe, often for years or even decades, but they don’t HAVE it.

And the main reason they don’t have it is because they haven’t spent enough time with more fundamental techniques.

I’ve written several articles about the Small Universe, which you can read here:

What are Acupuncture Points?

We can’t talk about meridian theory without also talking about the “points”.

Some people believe that there are over 2000 different points. Modern students of acupuncture typically learn 300-400 points.

In 1992, The World Health Organization (WHO) developed A Proposed Standard International Acupuncture Nomenclature Report, which identifies 361 acupuncture points.

But what are acupuncture points?

As I’m sure you will have guessed by now, the term “acupuncture points” is no bueno. Not only are they used outside of acupuncture, but they aren’t even points!

For example, my qigong students often feel a tennis-ball-sized vortex of energy at laogong (勞宮), which is located in the center of the palm.

In other words, they feel not a tiny point of energy, but a vortex. And this happens in qigong, not acupuncture.

Actually, vortex is a good word because it gives us a better idea of what acupuncture points really are.

In Chinese, the two most common terms are:

Those words give us the idea of a cavity or depression where “movement” takes place.

What kind of movement takes place in these depressions?? The movement of qi, of course!

Summing Up

Whew! We covered a ton of ground in just one post! Anyone ready for recess?

Remember, you do NOT need to memorize this information in order to have a healthy, thriving qigong practice.

Here are the things that I hope you take away from this post:

I hope this post helped you to better understand the meridians and how they relate to your qigong practice, even if it’s just food for thought.

Many of my students enjoy having a better working knowledge of Chinese Medicine theory, and our Facebook group has become a great place to discuss these topics. Why not join us over there! It’s free!

You can also post your questions and comments below.

And as always, if you think that this post will help someone, then please click the share buttons below. Best regards, Sifu Anthony \"\"I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I\’m fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.

This content was originally published here.