How many Meridians are there in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The Channels or Meridians are vessels in the human body where the Ki/Qi, a form of energy, travels through, and which has various functions in the body. In this article, I will use the word ‘Channel’ and ‘Meridian’ interchangeably. They mean the same thing.
A standard acupuncture chart or model typically shows 14 Channels, or Meridians, used in acupuncture treatment. These 14 Channels consist of the the ’12 Primary Channels’, along with 2 of the 8 ‘Extraordinary Channels – the Du Mai and Ren Mai.
Here is a standard chart:
The body network of Meridians (Channels)
However, there are many other pathways. The Channel system is an interconnecting whole – similar to a road and motorway network in a country.
For example, motorways (highways) traverse the width and breadth of a country. But for all of these highways, there will be additional smaller roads that connect them all up.
This is similar to the Channel (Meridian) system of energy pathways in the body. Some of these Channels are very long, some short. Certain Channels are closer to the surface of the body, acting like zones and which cover regions, whilst others run deeper, Also, they all have specific functions. For example, some act as reservoirs for energy and others circulate the nutritive Qi of the body to help keep the organs functioning.
The question is – just how many meridians (channels) are there?
Very few textbooks will put a number on this. However, the number 72 has been put forward by some acupuncturists and for this post, I will use that number.
In this article, I will list the 72 Channels in the Body. These are:
The 12 Primary Channels
The 12 Main Channels used in Acupuncture treatment.
- Lung Channel
- Large Intestine Channel
- Stomach Channel
- Spleen Channel
- Heart Channel
- Small Intestine Channel
- Bladder Channel
- Kidney Channel
- Pericardium Channel
- Sanjiao (Triple Burner) Channel
- Gallbladder Channel
- Liver Channel
12 Divergent Channels
These branch out from the 12 Primary Channels. They have no acupuncture points of their own. These Channels make internal linkages between the Channels.
8 Extra-ordinary Vessels
These Channels act like reservoirs, which absorb the excess qi and blood from the 12 Primary Channels. They are similar in action to a canal or ditch. Two of these Channels (the Du and Ren) are often used in standard acupuncture Treatment.
- Conception Vessel (Ren)
- Governing Vessel (Du)
- Penetrating Vessel (Chong)
- Girdling Vessel (Dai)
- Yin Motility (Yin Qiao)
- Yang Motility (Yang Qiao)
- Yin Linking (Yin Wei)
- Yang Linking (Yang Wei)
15 Luo Connecting Channels
These Channels branch out from the 12 Primary Channels and the Extra-ordinary Vessels. They are more superficial.
These Luo Connecting Channels consist of:
- 12 from the 12 Primary Channels.
- 1 from the Ren Channel
- 1 from the Du Channel
- A Great Luo Connecting Point of the Spleen
12 Sinew Channels
These Channels are on the Peripheral of the body. They do not reach the organs. They are associated with the 12 Primary Channels as they follow their course, but are wider, more superficial and related more closely to the muscles
12 Cutaneous regions
As the name suggests, the 12 Cutaneous regions are more akin to skin regions overlaying the superficial parts of the body and reflect disharmony by abnormal skin sensation, lesions or discolouration’s. The cutaneous layer is the most exterior or yang aspect of the Channel system.
All of the above 71 Channels are recorded in the The Manual of Acupuncture, by P. Deadman.
There are also mini channels called the ‘Minute Collaterals’. These are very small channels, which are similar in function to the blood vessels. These channels enable qi to reach every part of the body, like capillaries. These Channels are numerous and uncountable. So they are not recorded in this list.
To reach our number of 72, we include one other set of points:
Huato-jiaji points, M-BW-35, (T1 to L5)
This is a bilateral Channel that runs up the side of the spine from the fifth lumber vertebrae to the first thoracic vertebrae. They are on either side of the spine below each of the spinous processes. They are named after the famous acupuncturist of the Han dynasty, (206BC 220 AD), Hua To, who recorded these points.
12 Primary Channels + 12 Divergent Channels + 8 Extraordinary Vessels + 15 Luo Connecting Points + 12 Sinew Channels + 12 Cutaneous Regions + 1 Huato Channel)
How accurate is this figure of 72 Channels?
This figure is debatable. It could be argued that the Huato channel is not a Channel in its own right. You could argue that the Cutaneous regions are not Channels.
Also if you could find a way to count and include the Minute Channels, this could vastly increase the number of Channels.
However, as with calculating the actual number of acupuncture points (officially listed as 365, but is actually much more), these things are estimations.
And so for this reason 72 can be considered as a representation of the number of meridians in the body.
Ms Wada demonstrating on an electronic acupuncture point model in Tokyo.
Meridian Map – 123rf.com