It is accepted in western teaching of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that life force energy, or chi, circulates in the body via special channels, known as acupuncture meridians or jing luo. Some see these ideas as pure fantasy but does meridian research support them?
Unfortunately the acupuncture lines cannot be seen or felt, and the lack of physical evidence causes many practitioners of western medicine to doubt their existence.
People are naturally sceptical and that’s a good thing. Where would we be if we believed everything we were told? We’d start believing in creatures from fantasy, like unicorns, because let’s face it they sound wonderful. But… have you ever seen one?
Well, I expect that the idea of unlimited, vital life force flowing through special pathways in your body sounds wonderful too! However, as they are invisible, you’d be forgiven for wondering…
Are Meridians And Chi Real?
It’s easy to accept the presence of blood vessels, lymph vessels and nerves, even those we can’t see with the naked eye, because the research provides clear evidence of their structure and function. We now have the technology and awareness to examine them in microscopic detail, but remember, this wasn’t always the case.
In Europe, before the 1600’s, these familiar structures were a mystery; inconceivable to the masses. The concept of blood and lymph circulation as we know it today, would have been laughable.
Likewise, meridians and the Chi (energy) or jing (essence) that they carry, are a bit of a joke to some people, who will readily discount the idea as being ridiculous.
However, there may come a time when new research, new technology and improved awareness reveal the truth of the matter.
In the meantime,
It’s Worth Asking A Few ‘What If’ Questions
What if the Chinese have been right for thousands of years, and invisible life force does circulate through your body, via a network of mysterious and unseen pathways?
What if the life force that these acupuncture meridians carry to all of your organs is every bit as vital to your well being, as your blood, lymph and oxygen?
What if you really do have a glowing light-body; an energy body that is intimately connected to your physical self by a network of channels?
Most of us can only imagine what a meridian would look like, but some spiritually advanced people claim to see the meridian lines.
What if we could ALL see them?
What Would Meridians Look Like?
They might be similar to silken threads with drops of energy sliding along them, like water on a spider’s web.
Or they might be like ribbons of light that thread their way through the planes of interstitial connective tissue.
Or maybe, meridians exist mainly in the non-physical, revealing their presence only through a network of physical, energy hot spots, that we call acupuncture points.
Whatever form or non-form they take, until we find a way to ‘see’ the meridian pathways, we can only assume that the ancient Chinese teachings at least carry some element of truth.
What About Scientific Research – Is There Any Proof?
There’s plenty of anecdotal proof and there’s over 5,000 years of successful Chinese medicine practice that is based on these beliefs about the human energy system, but for sceptics, the scientific proof from meridian research is a little thin.
Chi is assumed to be electromagnetic radiation (EMR) or light, but it’s obviously not in the spectrum of visible waves, or we would all see it; and it’s probably not in the spectrum of any other detectable EMR, which ranges from radio waves to gamma rays, because these can be scientifically measured.
There have been hundreds of tests done, with the intention of proving the existence of chi and the acupuncture meridians. The results so far (Nov 2012) are inconclusive but encouraging.
- Since 1998, there have been over 700 research studies done using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (fMRI) in order to connect activity in the brain with stimulation of acupuncture points. The first tests looked promising, showing an exciting link between points that are traditionally used to treat the eyes; and the visual cortex, but the results were unfortunately not consistent.1
- A different type of study, used a cryogenic, charge-coupled device camera to record extremely low levels of light emission. It can detect light intensity a thousand times lower than the level that can be perceived by the naked eye. This camera can ‘see’ a single photon. Healthy, young male volunteers were filmed at set stages during the day and night. The test subjects, were observed to emit a rythmically variable amount of light… they all glimmered! This is not the same as thermal imaging which measures skin temperature. 2 Although this experiment is not specifically about meridians, it is a step in the right direction, showing that the human body emits a changing pattern of light.
- Other special camera studies, using the infrared spectral range, have revealed tracks of light that are strikingly similar to the descriptions of meridian channels. These light pathways result from stimulation of particular acupuncture points, using moxibustion or a similar light technique. 3
- In another research study using ultrasound imaging and postmortem tissue sections, an 80% correlation was found between the sites of traditional acupuncture points and connective tissue planes, (both intermuscular and intramuscular)4. This tends to support the idea that the meridians are located in layers of connective tissue.
What If You Could Simply See The Meridians?
Some qigong masters have developed their ‘internal vision’, so that they can see the lines of chi in the body. They describe some of the energy channels as being like thin silken threads, or stripes of light, while others look like cobwebs in the skin, muscles and internal organs.
To these masters of energy work, healthy flowing chi has colour and lightness, in contrast to areas of blocked chi where it is darker and denser. 5
Unfortunately, having a small number of skilled observers give similar descriptions of the acupuncture meridians does not amount to evidence. Outside of faith, people generally believe in what they can see, hear and touch; or what scientific research tells them is true.
The Problem With Meridian Research
How do you measure the invisible, or trace the undetectable?
Well, obviously you find ways to make it ‘visible’; or ways to detect and quantify the energy, and that’s what researchers are still trying to do.
One day, we may know for sure but, right now, it’s up to you to decide how much of the ancient teachings about acupuncture meridians feels like fact, and how much is fantasy; and whether it matters either way.
Here’s a thought…
What if the fact that the meridian research has yet to prove the existence of acupuncture meridians, isn’t the same thing as proof that they don’t exist? Think about it for a moment. It might serve you to allow the possibility of their existence.
If you’re gaining benefit from energy healing tools like acupuncture; EFT (meridian tapping), and qigong, that are based on the meridian system, then the truth becomes a purely intellectual matter. It’s interesting to know how and why things work, and no-one likes to feel they’ve been deceived, but in the end, isn’t it the results that matter most?
If the concept of meridians introduces a healthy, rejuvenating element to your life, then why would you let someone else’s truth stand in the way of your well-being?
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Meridian Research Papers And References:
1 Characterizing acupuncture stimuli using brain imaging with FMRI–a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature. Huang W, Pach D, Napadow V, Park K, Long X, Neumann J, Maeda Y, Nierhaus T, Liang F, Witt CM. Source: Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics, Charité University Medical Center, Berlin, Germany PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e32960. Epub 2012 Apr 9 Abstract and full article available here
2 Imaging of Ultraweak Spontaneous Photon Emission from Human Body Displaying Diurnal Rhythm Masaki Kobayashi,1,* Daisuke Kikuchi,1 and Hitoshi Okamura2,3,* PLoS One. 2009; 4(7): e6256. Published online 2009 July 16. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006256 PMCID: PMC2707605 Abstract available here
3 Biophotonics in the infrared spectral range reveal acupuncture meridian structure of the body. Schlebusch KP, Maric-Oehler W, Popp FA. Source: International Institute of Biophysics, Landesstiftung Hombroich, Neuss, Germany. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Feb;11(1):171-3. Abstract available here
4 Relationship of acupuncture points and meridians to connective tissue planes. Langevin HM, Yandow JA. Source: Department of Neurology, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, Anat Rec. 2002 Dec 15;269(6):257-65. VT 05405, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org Abstract and full article available here
5 The Channels of Qi http://www.qigong.net.nz/channels
6 Appearance of human meridian-like structure and acupoints and its time correlation by infrared thermal imaging. Yang HQ, Xie SS, Hu XL, Chen L, Li H. Source Key Laboratory of OptoElectronic Science and Technology for Medicine of Ministry of Education, Institute of Laser and OptoElectronics Technology, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou 350007, China. Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(2):231-40. Abstract available here
7 Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body’s Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality by Donna Eden and David Feinstein, Ph. D. Publisher: Jeremy P Tarchet/Penguin 2008