What are Acupuncture Meridians? Acupuncture “meridians” are the pathways through which our body’s Qi (pronounced “Chee”) energy flows, as described in the seminal medical text the Nei Jing around 200 B.C.E.. But the term meridian, coined by the Jesuit Priests who first learned Acupuncture in China in the 17th century, reflects a mechanical western mode of thinking. Meridians are lines drawn on a map. And energy does not flow in lines on maps, lines merely denote locations.
Its not such a critical difference for the receiver of acupuncture, but it is an important difference for those of us practicing it, because, its just this kind of difference between Classical Chinese and Modern Western modes of thought that a modern person has to transcend if they want to really learn Chinese Medicine. The hardest thing about studying Chinese medicine as a modern westerner is not the amount of memorization or critical thinking, rather it is learning a whole new way of thinking, just as learning a new language is.
Acupuncture Meridians or Acupuncture Channels?
The acupuncture pathways in Classical Chinese Medicine describe “channels” of energy flow, akin to the channels in agriculture in which water that nourishes a field of rice paddy flows. This is why all recent translators from Classical Chinese now use the word channel, instead of meridian. The use of the word meridian, by early European translators of acupuncture texts reflected a western mentality that did not fully translate the concept of Qi flow that the word channel does a better job of translating, because, the concept of Qi flow in acupuncture comes, in no small measure from agriculture.
Health Occurs When Qi Flows Through the Acupuncture Meridians or Channels
In agriculture, especially the growing of rice, which grows in water flooded fields, a healthy field is healthy because it has water. And water is often stored in tanks and diverted when needed to fields through channels, or canals. A field of rice paddy without water is unhealthy and dies. Too much water and its flooded out and it dies. So the basic concept of Acupuncture is that health occurs when Qi flows unimpeded through the Acupuncture channels. Nothing can flow through acupuncture meridians, because meridians are lines, not vessels. In fact the word we translate as channels is also translated as vessels–as in vessels through which Qi and blood is carried. Where there is Qi flow pain or disease will not occur, and where there is obstruction of Qi flow through the acupuncture meridians or channels, disease and pain will occur. You can see this quite clearly, for example, when the arterial vessels become obstructed, and the heart/emperor is starved of blood and infarction occurs.
Qi Flow in Tai Qi Chuan and Feng Shui
This idea of Qi flowing freely through channels, whether visible or not is impregnated into the notion of Qi flow in both the martial arts, and also in Feng Shui, the art of Classical Chinese architecture. In the basic stance of Tai Qi, all the joints are released slightly, rather than held stiffly; this is to allow the Qi to flow freely through the joints that act as obstructions, especially when the muscles are tense.
And in Feng Shui, building are constructed with respect to natural surroundings like hills and rivers, and in way that provide the ideal balance between protection from malign influences and flow of Qi. Feng is Chinese for Wind. Wind is a malign influence in the west as well as east, in fact, while we all love a balmy breeze, isn’t it true that even in English we speak in terms of an evil wind? For example, the front door of a house should not open, unprotected, right onto a road. All that traffic is like an evil wind. Too much movement where calm is desired, like a busy mind. Either trees will provide some protection, or the door will open parallel to the road. I am by no means even remotely expert in Feng Shui, but I know that every house I have seen that has been designed by a Feng Shui architect, there is a feeling of balance and harmony, much like the great ancient temples/Kovils of South India.
Water Flow is Qi Flow
Shui is Chinese for Water. The flow of water is a metaphor in Chinese culture for something good that you want to follow, as in “to go with the flow.” So we have that same notion in the west, its just not so specifically codified. But we do think of a calm sea as peaceful, whereas a windy sea is dangerous. So in Feng shui the flow of water is considered and respected as a kind of flow of Qi. For that reason corners are abjurred in Chinese buildings. Its why the ends of rooves were curved.
Poor design leads to sick buildings for the same reason that extreme emotions, faulty lifestyle, or poor diet leads to sick human beings– because the Qi does not flow, and the body, mind, and or building are either unprotected, like going out without a hat in a freezing wind, or overnourished, like a house with too much moisture causing mold or a body with too much beer causing yeast, water retention, or weight gain..
copyright eyton shalom, l. ac., san diego, ca, June 2016 all rights reserved use with permission.