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Traveling the Energetic Highway: What Are Meridians?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system that is unknown to many in the Western world. However, this medical system has been practiced for over 3,500 years in comparison to the Western medical system which has been around only since the 19th century. One of the key concepts of TCM is that of the meridian or energetic pathways. This article will explore the idea of meridians a little more deeply.

What is a meridian? This is something that every acupuncture student asks when they begin their training. The simplest definition is that a meridian is an energetic highway in the human body. Meridians allow the flow of energy, known as Qi (pronounced “chee”), to circulate throughout the body. Meridians exist in corresponding pairs and each meridian has multiple acupuncture points along its pathway. While it is tempting to think of the energy meridians in the same way that we think of the circulatory system, this would be incorrect. According to TCM, the meridian pathways are responsible for the distribution of substances throughout the body, but they have yet to be physically and visually identified in the same way that we can see blood vessels. Therefore, it is more logical to view the meridian system as an energetic distribution network.

All together there are fourteen main meridians tht run through the body. There is one that runs up the center of the body in the front, another that runs along the spine, and the other 12 run bilaterally from head to toe throughout the rest of the body. Each meridian is named after the major organ system that it runs through. Each limb is traversed by six channels, three that are considered yin in nature and three that are considered yang in nature.  Yin channels are located on the inside surfaces of the body and the yang channels are located on the outside surfaces. Each meridian is part of a yin yang pair, meaning that each yin meridian (Lung, Heart, Kidney, Liver, Spleen) is paired with its corresponding yang meridian (Large Intestine, Stomach, Small Intestine, Bladder, Gallbladder). Every living thing contains both yin and yang. Yin corresponds to water, darkness, and cold, while yang corresponds to fire, daylight, and heat. In order for the body to function properly there must be a balance between the yin and yang aspects.

In addition to the main meridians, there are eight other meridians called “Extraordinary” meridians that are not associated with the major organ systems. These eight Extraordinary meridians have very specific functions.  They act as reservoirs for Qi and Blood, they circulate substances around the body, they help circulate Wei Qi which acts as the immune system, and they provide connections between the regular channels.        

Qi must flow freely in order for the body to remain healthy and resilient but due to outside causes such as stress, the body’s meridians can become clogged or stagnant. When a blockage occurs along a meridian it disrupts the smooth flow of Qi and illness can then take hold.

Acupuncture is a wonderful way to unclog the meridians. Acupuncture, herbal formulas, exercise and proper dietary habits all work in conjunction to keep the body aligned and functioning properly.

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