The Meridian system

The Meridian or channel system (Jing Luo) and acupuncture points that are found on its pathway (tsubos) were first described over 2000 years ago, in the Huang Di Nei Jung -the book of the Yellow Emperor (Classic of Internal Medicine). Comparable to the street network in a country, in Traditional Chinese thinking, the body is covered by a network of energy channels. The Qi (or Ki in Japanese) -generally translated as flowing life force (energy)- that flows through these channels (meridians) regulates all physical, psychological, and mental functions. The meridians and the internal organs (Zang Fu) that are closely related to them, as well as the diverse functions of the whole body, may be influenced by the targeted treatment of certain acupuncture points (these are specific locations which are mainly located along the meridians).

Main/principal meridians

Almost all acupuncture points lie on the twelve Principal Meridians (Jing, Regular Meridians), which connect the inner meridian branches with the associated Yin and Yang organs. The main meridians run in pairs, both on the left and on the right side of the body; only the Large Intestine Meridian is an exception and crosses over in the face to the other side of the body.

Lung Meridian (LU)  Shou Tai Yin Fei Jing
Large Intestine Meridian (LI) Shou Yang Ming Da Chang Jing
Stomach Meridian (ST) Zu Yang Ming Wei Jing
Spleen- Pancreas Meridian (SP) Zu Tai Yin Pi Jing
Heart Meridian (HT) Shou Shao Yin Xin Jing
Small Intestine Meridian (SI) Shou Tai Yang Xiao Chang Jing
Bladder Meridian (BL) Zu Tai Yang Pang Guang Jing
Kidney Meridian (KD) Zu Shao Yin Shen Jing
Pericardium Meridian (PC)* Shou Jue Yin Xin Bao Jing
Triple Heater Meridian (TH) Shou Shao Yang San Jiao Jing
Gallbladder Meridian (GB)  Zu Shao Yang Dan Jing
Liver Meridian (LV) Zu Jue Yin Gan Jing

*The Pericardium Meridian is often called Heart Protector (HP) or Heart Constrictor (HC).

In general, the Yin meridians flow on the inner side (palmar, medial) and the Yang meridians on the outer side (dorsal, lateral). The Yin meridians: Lung, Heart, and Pericardium flow from the chest area on the inside of the arm to the hand. The Yang meridians: Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Triple Heater- flow from the hand up the outside of the arm to the head. From the head the Yang meridians: Stomach, Bladder, and Gallbladder- flow down to the foot (the Stomach Meridian ventrally, the Bladder meridian dorsally, and the Gallbladder Meridian laterally). Then the Yin meridians: Spleen, Kidney, and Liver -close the circuit by travelling up the inside of the leg to the torso. 

Meridian pairs

In each case a Yin and Yang Meridian together form an internally and externally coupled meridian pair (internally going through the organs, externally through the meridian structure, especially through the transverse Luo -connections). Each of these pairs belongs to one of the Five elements/transformations.



Metal Lung (LU) Large Intestine (LI)
Earth Spleen- Pancreas (SP) Stomach (ST)
Fire Heart (HT) Small Intestine (SI)
Water Kidney (KD) Bladder (BL)
Fire Pericardium (P) Triple Heater (TH)
Wood Liver (LV) Gallbladder (GB)

Meridian Axis

Two successive Yin or Yang meridians of the meridian circuit, together form a (Yin or Yang) Meridian Axis. The Yang meridian Axis goes from top to bottom, from the arms over the head to the torso and down the legs. Conversely the Yin meridian Axis flow from the bottom up, from the feet over the torso to the arms. Meridian Axis have diagnostic and therapeutic importance; Chinese acupuncture literature often uses the Meridian Axis for the naming of Meridians, e.g. hand- Yang- Ming for the Large Intestine and foot Yang Ming for the Stomach Meridian.

Tai Yang Greater Yang Small Intestine- and Bladder Meridian
Yang Ming Bright Yang Large Intestine- and Stomach Meridian
Shao Yang Lesser Yang Triple Heater- and Gallbladder Meridian
Tai Yin Greater Yin Spleen-Pancreas- and Lung Meridian
Shao Yin Lesser Yin Kidney- and Heart Meridian
Jue Yin Terminal Yin Liver- and Pericardium-Meridian

Energy circuits in the meridians

Two consecutive meridian pairs of the meridian pathway -one in the region of the arms, the other in the region of the legs- form an additional energetic circuit.

The first meridian circuit is formed by the Lung and Large Intestine with Stomach and Spleen-Pancreas Meridian.

The second meridian circuit is formed by the Heart and Small Intestine with Bladder and Kidney Meridian.

The third meridian circuit is formed by the Pericardium and Triple Heater with Gallbladder and Liver Meridian.

The energy (actually "Qi Xue", literally "Energy of the Blood") circulates like a wave through the meridian system. In the course of a day each meridian (and thereby also the associated organ system) has both a maximal and a minimal state of charge, which is described as the meridian cycle or "organ clock".

In this way each meridian exhibits, for two hours, a maximal full state of Qi ("maximum energy"), and exactly twelve hours later its energy is at its weakest ("minimum energy").

Maximal energy
Minimal energy
Lung (LU) 03-05 15-17
Large Intestine (LI) 05-07 17-19
Stomach (ST) 07-09 19-21
Spleen-Pancreas (SP) 09-11 21-23
Heart (HT) 11-13 23-01
Small Intestine (SI) 13-15 01-03
Bladder (BL) 15-17 03-05
Kidney (KD) 17-19 05-07
Pericardium (P) 19-21 07-09
Triple Heater (TH) 21-23 09-11
Gallbladder (GB) 23-01 11-13
Liver (LV) 01-03 13-15

These temporal correlations are used in Traditional Oriental Medicine as diagnostic means: In case of a Fullness condition, the symptoms increase during the maximal time, whilst in the case of an Emptiness condition, the symptoms increase in the minimal time. Emptiness symptoms improve during the maximal time and Fullness symptoms during the minimal time.

Extraordinary Meridians

In addition to the Twelve Main Meridians, Traditional Chinese Medicine recognises Eight Extraordinary Meridians (Qi Jing, Ba Mai, Miracle meridians). Of these only the Governing Vessel (Du Mai) and the Conception Vessel (Ren mai) have their own points. These two Extraordinary Meridians, which flow along the front and rear midline of the body, together with the twelve main meridians form the system of the Fourteen Meridians (Shi Si Jing, Fourteen Regular Meridians).

While the Governing and the Conception Vessel have their own points, the other six Extraordinary Vessels form connections to the twelve Principal Meridians and "use" their points. Traditional thinking suggests the Extraordinary Meridians transport and distribute the Pre Natal Energy (Yuan Qi) throughout the body.

Du Mai Governing Vessel
Ren Mai Conception Vessel/ Directing Vessel
Chong Mai Penetrating Vessel
Dai Mai Girdle Vessel
Yang Qiao Mai Yang Stepping Vessel
Yin Qiao Mai Yin Stepping Vessel
Yang Wei Mai Yang Linking Vessel
Yin Wei Mai Yin Linking Vessel

The Primary Extraordinary Meridians; Du Mai, Ren  Mai, Chong Mai and Dai Mai originate in the pelvic area and are closely related to the functional cycles of the Kidney. In contrast, the Secondary Meridians; Yang Qiao Mai, Yin Qiao Mai, Yang Wei Mai and Yin Wei Mai flow from the leg to the head and have a close relationship to the Bladder Meridian

The energetic composition of the body

The uppermost of the energetic layers of the body form the Tendino-Muscular Meridians (Jin Jing, sinew pathways, muscle meridians) where the Defensive Qi flows. Here you will find the first confrontation between the protective energy layer of the body and the pathogenic influences (Xie Qi), which want to penetrate into the energetic structure of the organism.

All the Tendino-Muscular Meridians unfold from the extremities toward the heart. They have, regardless of the principal direction of the meridian flow, an ascending direction of energy flow. They are energetically coupled to the main Meridians through the Jing points. The end or beginning points of the meridians are located in the corner of the nails of the fingers or toes (the only exception is KD1, which lies on the sole of the foot). From there they go over the extremities in the abdomen, chest and/or head area. They are mainly connected to the Main Meridians in the area of the large joints.

The Tendino- Muscular Meridians are connected at the surface of the body to the Sun Luo, small structures that are comparable to capillaries. Inwardly the Main Meridians (Jing, regular meridians), in which Ying Qi (nutritive Qi) and Xue (Blood) circulate, form the next energetic layer.

The Transversal Luo Vessels (Luo Mai, Connecting Vessels) originate in the Luo- point (Connecting point) of the Meridian and connect two "internally and externally linked Meridians" (Meridian pairs). From the Luo point of a Meridian the energy flows to the Yuan point (Source point) of the coupled Meridian, where the Transversal Luo Vessels serve to maintain the energetic balance between the two channels.

The Longitudinal Lu Vessels (Connecting Meridians and vessels), in which the Wei Qi is flowing, also originate in the Luo point of the main meridian. The flow direction of all the Longitudinal Luo Vessels is from the extremities to the head. Their main function is to absorb or assimilate pathogenic influences that have penetrated to this depth, and thereby to protect the organism (second protective layer).

In the He (Sea) points originate the Divergent vessels (Bie Jing, Divergent Meridians) in which the Wei Qi flows; equally their direction of flow is from the extremities to the head. The Divergent vessels flow deep into the body and make connections between the surface meridian pathway and the organs.

The Divergent Vessel of the Yin Meridian connects to the one of the Yang Meridian and eventually- transmitting over the Divergent Vessel of the Yang organs- all Divergent Meridians end in point GV20. It is the task of these organs to absorb a pathogenic influence that penetrated to this level ("third protective layer").

Acupuncture points, Extra points, New points and Ashi Points

Acupuncture points (tsubos) are topographically fixed points on the surface of the body, the Chinese name "Xue Wei" literally means entry point to an underground passage or to an underground connection. Through the meridian system acupuncture points have a close relationship to inner organs by mutually influencing each other. This means that disharmonies of the internal organs manifest at certain locations on the surface of the body, e.g. as pain when applying pressure or changes in the skin. Conversely, the stimulation of an acupuncture points is being passed on to the corresponding organs systems, and thereby the illness influenced.

In addition to the 361 classical acupuncture points that lie on the 14 Meridians; (the Twelve Main Meridians and the Two Extraordinary Meridians - Conception Vessel/Ren Mai and Governing Vessel/Du Mai) there are extra points (points outside of the meridians) that- as it assumed today- were only discovered after the systematisation of the meridian system, or couldn't be classified into a channel or network. The majority of the Extra points lie outside of the meridian pathways.

Ashi- acupuncture points (A Shi Xue) is the name given to pain points ("loci dolendi") that can be located both within, as well as outside of the meridian system. In treatment they can be used both individually,  as well as in combination with regular acupuncture points.

The name "A Shi" is based on the reaction of the person being treated ("ah, yes"), when the doctor presses this painful area.


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