The concept of meridians comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, where meridians are viewed as the 'energetic highway of the body'. The energy that is thought to move through the body's meridians is known as vital energy, qi, or chi (pronounced chee),. For over 2500 years 'acupuncture has been an energetic and vibrant treatment with a successful application'.
In TCM, health is understood as an energetic balance in cells, systems, and organs throughout the body. When out of balance, it is thought that energetic imbalances across the body can lead to health issues and dysfunction showing up over time in the physical body.
What are meridians?
Meridians are best understood as an energetic distribution network all over the body, a bit like rivers, carrying energy flow in specific directions. They are all interconnected (end to end), meaning that your vital energy, qi or chi can flow to every part of your body. Throughout the body, it is thought that meridians come to the skin's surface at specific points where they become external. These points are where 'acupoints' exist.
Because traditional medical systems like to identify pathways visually, physically, and scientifically (which is harder to do with meridians because they are based on energy), they are often frequently overlooked or misunderstood by Western Doctors, medicines, treatments and therapies.
The 12 Meridians
There are 12 main meridian pathways, 8 minor ones and other collateral and supporting ones, all working together and interconnected.
Each principal meridian is named after an organ in the body directly related to and connected to it (i.e. The Heart Meridian). The 12 main organ meridians also work in pairs - some of which are yin, and some of which are yang. The heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and liver are yin meridians, and the small intestines, large intestine, bladder, gallbladder, stomach and pericardium meridian, and San Jiao meridian are yang.
Yin organs (like yin energy which is often thought to be more feminine energy) are believed to calm the body, and yang organs (like yang energy) are thought to stimulate. The Yin organs are thought to be solid, with the function of storing energy and fluid and Yan ones are hollow, with the function to transmit, transmute and transform energy and fluid across the body.
These main meridians are responsible for specific activities and regulation of processes within the body:
- Lung Meridian - regulates how energy is used and consumed by the body and regulates / impacts the respiratory and breathing systems;
- Large Intestine Meridian - regulates the processing of waste and extraction of water from bodily waste;
- Stomach Meridian - this works on regulating the extraction of nutrients from food, as well as general digestion and onwards nutrient distribution to the intestines & the spleen;
- Bladder Meridian - regulates the removal of toxins from the body, predominantly in urine;
- Kidney Meridian - a multitasking meridian, this regulates testosterone levels, produces bone marrow and blood for the body, and also regulates the reproductive system;
- Pericardium Meridian - this regulates the energy of the heart, as well as protecting it, ensuring its consistent and proper function and also ties into emotional wellbeing, stability and balance;
- Triple Warmer Meridian - involved with the metabolism of the whole body, as well as our flight, fight or freeze response, and our immune system and stress management;
- Gall Bladder Meridian - this regulates the removal and storage of toxins produced by the liver; and
- Liver Meridian - regulates eyesight, the female reproductive system, and, interestingly, the flexibility of connective tissues like ligaments and tendons.
Understanding Meridians and Balance
Because all of the meridians are interconnected across the whole body, each meridian needs to be working (and, ultimately, flowing well) to keep energy, chi, qi or vital life energy flowing through all other meridians around the body.
Blocked meridians can be problematic because it means that energy flow throughout the body has been obstructed. If there is a blockage, this energy will need to re-route itself through other meridians to get to where it needs to go to communicate what it needs to.
This blockage and interruption of energetic flow is thought to lead to a buildup of energy on one side of the meridian and a deficiency of energy in the other. Due to the organ pairing of the meridians, energetic imbalances may also mean that some organs are drained of energy (because the energy cannot reach the organ due to the blockage), and other organs may become over-energized or stimulated (receiving too much energy).
Meridians are connected to muscle groups too. For example, the kidney meridian is thought to be associated with the lower back muscles, so physical symptoms such as a bad back can be reflective of an energetic imbalance or suggestive that the direct or corresponding meridian is low on energy.
Acupuncture & Meridians
Once you understand meridians, the flow of energy, blockages, and deficiencies, you can start to understand acupuncture and its power in contributing to general wellness, as well as helping with specific health conditions.
As mentioned earlier in the article, each meridian has several points along its length that are known as 'acupoints'. Acupuncture involves entering the top layer of skin at very precise acupoints with very thin needles. The needles stimulate the acupoints, and this stimulation helps remove blockages. The needles also work as a signal to the body, communicating with the central nervous system that there is a blockage and drawing attention that a specific area needs healing, fixing, and re-building.
And the science? It's coming.
A 2019 Pub-Med study, linked here, aimed to put science to the energetic hypothesis by identifying anatomical structures within the physical body that could relate to the concepts of meridians. Their study found evidence that acupuncture meridians were *physically* part of the human body and that fascia was an essential and critical part of the anatomical structure. Researchers also found and concluded that parts of muscles, tendons, and ligaments within the body follow the lines of meridians too.
They concluded that their scientific observations built an anatomical basis for explaining the concepts of meridians, energy exchange, and traditional Chinese medicine and support a more holistic approach to exploring, diagnosing, and treating disease. They also concluded that their findings contradict the general scientific understanding that acupuncture points either do not exist or are only located along channels in the nervous system.
Another research article in the Journal of Acupuncture & Electro-therapeutics Research suggested that the author of the study had been able to 'accurately localize meridians and acupuncture points that correspond to specific internal organs'.
The study found that the general patterns of meridians and acupuncture points described in ancient Chinese medicine literature were 'more or less correct' as TCM described, just with a couple of corrections. Using the "Bi-Digital O-Ring Test Molecular Identification Method" the researcher also found that within the boundary of most acupuncture points and meridian lines that there were concentrations of specific neurotransmitters and hormones (like serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine) which adds another level of depth to our understanding of the intricacies of these acupoints,
The study also concluded that each acupuncture point has an area, occupies a physical 3D space, and has a circular (or oval) boundary, often 3mm - 2.7cm, although 6 - 12mm more frequently in adults.
The study also concluded that the Heart meridian has additional Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (a small peptide secreted by the heart) in both the heart meridian and acupuncture points, suggesting an interconnection between peptide activity and meridian behavior.
I fully trust and believe in alternative medicine forms that date back thousands of years and have helped and healed so many.
I also love that traditional science and research are now starting to put data and scientific understanding behind the concepts because this is when they really start to get taken seriously by the West and can help even more people.
Understanding energy and energy flow is a big part of understanding optimal health, and acupuncture is a revolutionary and super non-invasive way to help get your energy flowing. It helps with many different conditions, particularly pain management, fertility, but really so many more.
Maybe you also need to think about incorporating acupuncture into your life if you have unexplained or misunderstood health issues too. Sometimes working on getting our vital energy systems flowing can be a critical part of helping our body return back to homeostasis .
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST