The word “Jing” can mean a “classic,” “essence” or “basic substance,” but it is also used to describe vitality. It is the most refined substance in the body and all other energies are said to depend on the quality and strength of a person’s Jing. It can also be translated as “to steer through or to direct” or “to go through.” Jing is also used to describe the channels and meridians, as in “Jing Luo” meaning, “meridian,” or to pass through. “Jing” in this context means “canon, classic or pass-through” and “Luo” translates as “resembling a net to tie or to wind.” There is no correlation in Western Medicine for the “Jing Luo.” They are all about the functioning and interrelationship of the various Zang/Fu and Five Phases.
The Jing Luo are therefore the Channels, Collaterals, Meridians and Sub-Meridians that are the passageways for the flow of Qi, Blood (Xue), Jing, Shen and the Jin Ye (Bodily Fluids).
The Jing Luo
JING MAI: Are the energy paths and Meridians. The phrase translates as, “to go through.” The meaning of Jing and Mai (meaning “vessels”) taken together can translate as “to direct energy through definite energy pathways.” It is a term often used to describe the acupuncture Channels (aka Meridians) in general.
LUO MAI: “Mai” translates as “pulse” and “vessels or veins.” It can be understood to mean arteries, veins or vessels. The Extraordinary Vessels and Luo Vessels are typically referred to as “Mai,” while the remaining Meridians, Meridian Sinews and Meridian Divergences are referred as “Jing.” “Mai” denotes Qi, Blood (Xue), and Mai and they are all three interconnected. The Pulse: Heaven is the most Yang, it is in the top most position. Man is between Heaven and Earth and is the center pulse. And Yin is the deepest pulse and relates to the earth.
There is an interdependence between Qi, Blood (Xue), and the Mai (Meridians). Qi supplies the dynamic force associated with the movement of the Substances through the Vessels. Blood (Xue) is the more substantial aspect, filling the Vessels and being confined by them and Mai is both the system of Channels containing the substances as well as the rhythmic pulsing movement of the Substances within the Vessels. It is the “pulse.”
“Mai moves in accordance with Qi, Blood (Xue) moves in accordance with Mai. Mai confines Qi and Blood (Xue) moves within the Mai.”
XUE MAI: The Xue Mai are essentially Blood Vessels, though not exactly! The phrase Blood (Xue) Mai is used to describe that part of the Mai system concerned with the movement of Blood (Xue) specifically. While similar to blood vessels they are not identical and have fundamental differences. The Blood (Xue) Mai are called a Curious Organ, though they can also be known and described as being part of what TCM calls the “Tissues.” The Xue (Blood) Mai extend beyond just the blood vessels, becoming more net like and etheric.
- They are the main channels of communication and energy distribution in the body.
- They link the interior Zang Fu organs with the various Tissues and superficial areas of the body, allowing for internal adaptation to external changes.
- They connect the superficial areas of the body.
- The Jing Luo are more external, and therefore more Yang than the internal Zang Fu Organs. External pathogens will enter the superficial Channels first, then move into the main Channels where finally the pathogen can reach the organ level if not properly treated or if the pathogen is particularly pernicious.
- Every part of the musculoskeletal system is related to a Zang Fu Meridian and its associated Sub-Meridians.
The term “Meridian” (and sometimes “Channels” or “Chings”) is most often used to describe those pathways that are used in acupuncture treatments. While their functions are the same as the Jing Luo (Meridians and Channels are considered to be part of the Jing Luo), the phrase Jing Luo is more often used to refer to the broader picture of energy and substance transportation and connection in the body.
The Sub-meridian system, also called the “Superficial Channels” has the main function of maintaining normal functioning as the body adapts to environmental changes. These Superficial Channels have no acupuncture points of their own but are accessed through the points on the Primary Meridians.
There are five Meridian Systems. The Zang Fu Meridians, also called the Primary Meridians, are the Main Systems and can be used with the other four systems that are often referred to as the “Secondary Meridians.” While the Extraordinary Vessels have acupuncture points associated with them, the other Meridian Systems within the “Secondary Meridians” do not.
The Five Meridian Systems
- The 12 Main Zang Fu Meridians: These are known as the 12 Primary Meridians. Each Zang Fu Organ has its own Meridian that runs vertically up and down the body. Each Zang Fu Meridian is also bilateral, meaning that each Meridian has a symmetrical and identical channel on either side of the body, just as we have a right and left side. For example, the Lung Meridian follows the same exact pathway on both the left and right side of the body, and similarly for each of the other twelve Meridians. The acupuncture points on each side will mirror each other and function the same on both sides. The Nei Jing describes the Main Meridians as “running deep, being elusive and being mysterious energetic entities.”Meridians, while they can often follow anatomical references or points on the body, are clearly not simply related to anatomy as we know it. They are the development of intuition and the experience of Taoist monks charting the course of Energies in the body. It is important to note that the Meridians were not just understood to be an internal connective system but also, they were understood to be a conduit for Heavenly Energies as well. They are pathways that link the body to the spiritual and transcendental, to the Eternal Tao. Meridians can be likened to antennas that receive and transmit Heavenly EnergiesIt is theorized that the original eleven Meridians (the Pericardium was originally associated with the Heart, and so left out) could have been grouped with the ten Meridians on the top half the body and the twelve remaining Meridians on the bottom half of the body. This configuration would have the upper body Meridians possibly reflecting what is called the Ten Branches (with the top half of the body reaching to Heaven) and the bottom twelve Meridians possibly reflecting what is called the Twelve Terrestrial Branches. This system evolved to include the Pericardium Meridian and the Ten Branches being absorbed into the growing philosophy of Five Phase Theory.Unlike earlier forms of acupuncture that allowed for acupuncture points to be more fluid, the developing Meridian System fixed points in particular positions based on experience and efficacy.
- The Luo Vessels: Are sometimes also called the “Collaterals” because they surround and extend off of the main Meridians pathways. The fifteen Luo Vessels are listed and described in the Ling Shu. The pathways of the Luo Vessels are much shorter and less definitively placed than those of the main Meridians. The Luo are not linked together in a continuous pathway the way the Zang Fu Meridians are, one Meridian flowing into the next. Most of the Luo do not have any connections with the internal Zang Fu organs. Each of the Luo Vessels separates from the main Meridian at what is called in acupuncture a “Luo Point.” From the Luo Point the Luo Vessel usually travels up the limb, except for the Lung and Gallbladder Luos that are unusually distall. Altogether the Luo Vessels appear to be an older system with a different origin and intent than the Main Meridians.“Twelve major vessels remain hidden while traveling between the divisions of the flesh. They are deep and invisible…(by contrast), the luo vessels float (to the surface of the body) where they are visible.” From the Ling Shu.This passage places the Luo Vessels at a more superficial level of bodily function than the Main Meridians. Unlike the Main Meridians the Luo can actually be seen. They seem to be associated with anatomical visual features that can be identified on the surface of the body. From further description in the Ling Shu, it is clear that the Luo followed the paths of the superficial veins.Their purpose was to allow for blood letting, allowing healers to look for sites where veins collected. The very name “Luo” means “net” and “mai” means hollow vessel. Combined they can be translated to be “Connecting Vessel” with the “nets” being understood to function as nets that could catch pathogens, rather than the single threads that allowed energies to pass through, hence the popularity of the Luo Points for use in treating sudden onset pathogenic disruptions.The association of the Luo with blood letting is a further indication of their being older than the Main Meridian systems when acupuncture was evolving out of ancient Shamanistic practices and only crude tools were available, that were good for blood letting, but not as refined as the needles that would be used in later generations and that were better for use in treating the Main Meridian Systems. Ancient Tibetan charts show these points as being used for blood letting techniques providing further evidence of the Luo being part of an older system of acupuncture that was focused on treating disharmonies caused by external pathogens, pain and swelling.”The complete examination of the luo vessels is as follows. When the channels are blue or green, it indicates cold pain. When they are red, it indicates heat and fever.” From the Ling ShuIt should be noted that blood letting in TCM typically meant only a drop of blood and was nothing like the techniques of blood letting being used by Western Medical Practice at the turn of the last century and earlier. Over time each Luo Point became associated with either a blood or nerve center, where deep insertion of a needle would cause radiating sensations of heat and or slight pain that were noted for their dispersal of Qi and observable efficacy in healing various conditions.
The Luo Points connect the Luo Vessels to the Main Meridians providing the main Meridian with the ability to treat external pathogens, pain and swelling. They can be considered as a pivot point for activating the entire Meridian that they are associated with and not just a junction from one Meridian to another. The total 28 Luo Vessels (counted individually) are said to be patterned after the 28 Lunar Mansions. The Lunar Mansions are a part of the Chinese constellations system. They are part of the Chinese zodiacal constellations and reflect the movement of the moon. This connection of internal energies with external energies is an example of the Taoist belief in the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm.
- The Extraordinary Vessels: The Extraordinary Vessels are said to originally have been intended to reflect the eight trigrams of the I Ching. They are an ancient model of energy circulation; believed to have been in use prior to the Main Meridian Systems. They are also called the Eight Ancestral Meridians as they play an important role in the storing and distributing of Jing (Essence). They have a similar history with the Luo Vessels, and in fact the Nan Jing counts two of the Extraordinary Vessels as being part of the Luo Vessels.Neither the Luo nor the Extraordinary Vessels connect with an internal main organ, though the Extraordinary Vessels do connect with the Curious Organs, most especially the Brain and the Uterus. The Nei Jing does not mention the Extraordinary Vessels as a system. If they are referred to at all it is as part of other topics. The Extraordinary System was not really developed as its own system until later as part of the Nan Jing.“What does it mean when it is said that the eight extraordinary vessels are not part of the circulation in the main channels? It is like this. The sages (of antiquity) devised and constructed ditches and reservoirs and they kept the waterways open in order to be prepared for any unusual (situation). When the rains pour down from heaven, the ditches and reservoirs became filled. In times like that, the sages could not make plans again; (hence they had to be prepared). Here, (in the organism), when the luo-connecting vessels are filled to overflowing, none of the (main) meridians could seize any (of the contents, and it is only then that the surplus contents of these vessels flow into the extraordinary vessels.” From the Nan Jing’s theory of the Extraordinary Vessels.The Extraordinary Vessels were being viewed and described as a storage conduit for excess energy and a backup for treating external pathogens that might attack the Luo Vessels. This “backup energy” could then be drawn upon to prevent pathogens from moving in more deeply to the internal organs and the Main Meridians.Each of the Extraordinary Meridians is in some way connected to the kidney organs or the Kidney Meridian, and by extension, to Jing. There are twelve Extraordinary Vessels, usually divided into two groups. The first contains the names of all the Vessels with two characters to their names: The Ren, Chong, Du and Dai Meridians. They represent two Yin and two Yang Meridians. These four are the functional nucleus of the Extraordinary Vessel System. They are all located in the trunk and head of the body. They are known for storing Jing and supporting the internal organs and the Curious Organs (brain, uterus, gallbladder, blood vessels and bones.) They are also responsible for the body’s structural support, controlling the deeper muscles and bones that support the head and back, including the pelvis and abdominal muscles.The second group of Extraordinary Vessels all have three characters in their name and in contrast to the first core group of Vessels, these all travel across the full length of the body. They connect the lower extremities with the upper body. They are the: Yin Qiao, Yang Qiao, Yin Wei and Yang Wai Meridians. This group of Meridians helps extend the effectiveness and reach of the four core Vessels by connecting the extremities with the upper body.Ren Mai (Conception Vessel)/Du Mai (Governing Vessel): store Yin and Yang energy.
Chong Mai/ Dai Mai: circulate energy between Yin and Yang regions of the body.
Yin Qiao Mai/Yang Qiao Mai: distribute energy between the Yin and Yang surfaces of the body.
Yin Wei Mai/Yang Wei Mai: link Yin and Yang aspects of the body’s energy together.
In the Ming Dynasty a new theory was being developed that suggested each Extraordinary Meridian had a special access acupuncture point located on the extremities. These were called the “Eight Intersection Points,” often translated as the “Eight Master Points.” These points were said to connect the Main Meridians with the Energy (Qi), and also Blood (Xue), that was stored in the Extraordinary Vessels. The Extraordinary Meridians become the root of the body’s Meridian System. These points allowed the acupuncturist the ability to extend treatment more deeply into the internal and core areas of the body. Essentially this theory has evolved into today’s practice where the addition of a Master Point into a treatment will infuse the entire treatment and Meridians with more Qi and Blood (Xue), making all other points more effective and stronger. In contrast, some feel the use of the Extraordinary Vessels should be conserved for extraordinary situations and not just used for daily treatment purposes.
- Meridian Sinews: (Sometimes inaccurately translated as the “Tendinomuscular Meridians”) Meridian Sinews are not Meridians in the strict sense of the word. They are bands of energetically related muscles and tendons that look like Meridians. They may well have been originally conceived for massage therapy and not acupuncture. There are a total of twelve, one for each Meridian and they roughly follow the course of the Main Meridian that they are associated with.
- Meridian Divergences:Although the twelve Divergences are listed as separate Meridians they are actually branches off the Main Meridians. They were added by the authors of the Nei Jing and extended the internal connections formed by the Main Meridians and appear to answer theoretical questions.