Exploring Qigong – What Are Body Meridians?

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The EXPLORING QIGONG Series includes:
1. The Chi (Qi) Story | 2. What Does Yin Yang Mean? | 3. What Are Body Meridians? | 4. What Is A Dantian? | 5. Wu Chi (Wuji) And Other Qigong Principles | 6. Microcosmic Orbit Chi Meditation


As you now know, Qigong cultivates your vital life force by building, strengthening and balancing your yin and yang chi. It also optimises the flow of energy through your body meridians, of which there are several types. What are body meridians? You’ve probably heard of them as acupuncture meridians. Either term is fine but relating them to the body  may make more sense since qigong does not focus on specific acupuncture points.

Introduction To Chinese, Body Meridians

This first look at the meridian system, introduces the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept of energy pathways in the human body. All information on this site regarding these pathways is, of course, based on English language translations of this ancient wisdom. There is a four-part, closer look at the meridian system here, if you want more detailed information.

Unlock The Mystery of Body MeridiansSo, What Are Acupuncture Meridians?

It’s almost easier to start with what they are not!

Unlike the body’s nerves and blood vessels, meridians are not physically palpable; or visible, even under a microscope. As you can imagine, this is a bit of an issue for most people. It makes these pathways difficult to study; to describe, and to prove.

We are used to judging the human body and indeed, everything in our world, with our five senses but for these unique vessels to make sense to us, perhaps we need to unlock a new way of seeing.

Why Bother Learning About Meridians?

People are gradually coming to realise that there is far more to life than we can currently perceive. We are often asked to have faith in things that we don’t understand, or that we can’t see, touch, hear, taste or smell. For example, many of us take technology for granted. How is it that we can send an image or a text message across miles of empty space?  The letter that we could touch and see, has been replaced with messages without substance. We use computers and mobile phones every day and TRUST that the process has worked because we can’t see, feel or hear the data whizzing around the planet.

Well, meridians are more mysterious than cyberspace, but even though they sound like someone’s fantasy, and look like an elaborate magic trick, maybe soon we’ll find a greater body of evidence to support what the Chinese have accepted as true for thousands of years.

Since this is a big topic, you’ll be relieved to hear that you don’t need to know everything about meridians in order to do well with qigong exercises. However, it does help to have a general background knowledge of where and how your chi travels, so that you can picture the energy flowing around your body more easily.

If you intend to use qigong to heal others then you would benefit from a greater depth of knowledge about these energy pathways.

Meridian Definition And Categories

Acupuncture Meridian Chart from AMT showing main meridiansMeridian Definition: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a meridian  (ching-lo or jing luo), is an energy pathway, that carries vital life force known as chi, to every part of your body.

If you look at the meridian chart, these pathways are shown as running up and down the body, in a fairly linear fashion, much like your major blood vessels do.

You may have seen a chart like this one before, which shows a general view of the main pathways. The acupuncture charts for professional training are more detailed and show each acupuncture point with its identifying name, like in these awesome living meridian charts.

Thanks to AMT,  http://theamt.com/ for allowing the use of their meridian chart.

As I said earlier, these body meridians are also known as acupuncture meridians, and the ‘dots’ along them are specific acupuncture points.  Click for a larger image

Most of the meridians are identified with unique acupuncture points. There are over 500 identified points close to the surface of the body, where the energy flow can be influenced by various forms of stimuli. This includes needles, pressure, moxibustion (or burning mugwort), and tapping.

Traditional Chinese Medicine identifies a network of 20 major body meridians, many of which are linked together by additional connecting channels called transversal lo vessels.

This body network of twenty energy pathways are grouped as either principal (main or regular) vessels, or extraordinary ones.

The 12 Main Meridians

As you can see in the meridian chart above, these bilateral pathways are named for the specific organ, or body system, that they serve. They are the lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, triple warmer, gall bladder and liver meridians.

Although each acupuncture meridian is named separately, they are really one ‘stream of energy’. It may help to think of them as being like a deep underground river that surfaces twelve times.

The 12 meridians are categorised as either arm or leg vessels, depending on whether they start or finish in your hand or foot; and as either yin or yang, depending on which form of qi they predominantly carry.

The 8 Extraordinary Vessels

These special vessels are your body’s core energy pathways that are linked to the embryonic stage of human development, and are thought to hold the prenatal qi.

They are described as being either yang reservoirs or yin reservoirs. All eight extraordinary vessels are responsible for regulating the flow of qi in the main, body meridians, by receiving the overflow of energy, or by supplementing a deficiency.

What Do These Core Qi Pathways Have To Do With Qigong?

Only three of the eight channels are commonly part of qigong practice. They are…

  • The Governing Vessel or Du Mai which connects all of the Yang meridians. It travels up the back of your body, from below your coccyx to the midline of your back, over the top of your head, and down to your top lip.

  • The Conception Vessel or Ren Mai which connects all of the Yin meridians. It travels up the front of your body, from your pelvic floor, along the midline of your abdomen, chest, neck and chin, to just below your bottom lip.

  • The Central Vessel (Penetrating Vessel) or Chong Mai is like your energetic core. It runs deep in your body, up the front of the spine, from the pelvic cavity to the head. See the full list of Extraordinary Vessels here. (available soon)

The Meridian Clock

Energy cycles through all of the 12 main meridians in a manner similar to a tidal ebb and flow. Within a 24 hour period, each of the 12 pathways has 2 hours of peak activation, and 2 hours of minimum energy flow.

This always happens in the same sequence, and is referred to as the Horary Cycle or meridian clock. More on the awesome meridian clock here


If you’ve been following this series of articles for Exploring Qigong, you now have a good understanding of the vital life force called chi (qi). You know that it has yin and yang qualities, and that it flows to every part of your body via energy pathways called meridians.

This knowledge will help you gain more from any energy healing method that you are using, including qigong.

Body meridians are more complex than this article has space to cover but you now know the basics, and hopefully understand what they are.

You’ll recall that there are 20 major body meridians identified by Chinese medicine. Twelve of them are the main acupuncture meridians that transport chi to your body’s cells, and they are named for the body organ or system that they serve. These are the ones most commonly seen on a meridian chart. The other eight are extraordinary meridians, that regulate the flow of chi, and act as energy reservoirs.

You’ve been introduced to three of these extraordinary meridians, but what about the other five? If you’d like to know more, or if you have unanswered questions about the acupuncture meridian system, then this series of detailed articles on body meridians will please you.

>> GO Here Next To Find Out About Dantians, and how they relate to your body’s chakras.

Thanks for joining me today

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