What Is the Meridian System in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The concept of the Meridian System is central to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). When it fails, TCM practitioners believe that the human body will fall ill. Which raises the question, what is the body’s meridian system and how does it affect the health of your body? In this article, we will be exploring the meridian system and how it intertwines with your body’s Qi.

What are Meridians & the Meridian System

Meridians can be thought of a gate or highway for Qi to flow through, allowing the life energy to flow from one part of your body to another. TCM practitioners have mapped out the meridians in the human body and thus identified the pathways in which Qi travel along. When put together, the body’s overall energy distribution system can be seen.

Comparisons with the Circulatory System

The meridian system draws close comparisons with the circulatory system that is covered in western medicine. This is due to the similar functions of the distribution of basic substances throughout the human body. However, it is here where the similarities end. If you were to look into conventional anatomy and physiology, you would be able to identify any physical life energy pathways.

While meridians work as a channel system which disseminates qi, they are not blood vessels and have not being identified with any anatomical channel structure. While many studies have been done to test different hypotheses of how the system works, none have derived a definitive model. As such, as it is simpler for you to consider the meridian system as an energetic distribution network that is separate from the circulatory system.

The Chinese Meaning of Meridians

In Chinese, meridians are referred to as “Jing Luo”, which has two interesting concepts associated with it. Firstly, “Jing” meridians act as the interior, facilitating as the vertical channels in your body. Meanwhile, “Luo” meridians branch off horizontally and thus allows for the formation of the network.

The Roles of the Meridians

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the meridians in conjunction with Qi have 3 main roles.

Firstly, a coordinating role between the human body’s different organs. Through the meridian system, all the different moving parts are able to communicate and coordinate with each other. In similar fashion, when part of your body receives a stimulus, this is communicated along the meridians to the relevant organs in order to activate them. In response physiological or pathological changes occur.

Secondly, a transporting role for Qi, blood and body fluids. These substances are essential for the continual operation of the various organs in your body. As such, should your meridians ever be shut off, your organs would be deprived of these nutrients and be unable to function.

Thirdly, meridians and Qi also play a defensive role. By maintaining a good circulation of Qi, your body is better able to repel pathogens or the invasion of foreign elements. In doing so, your body would be naturally resistant against illnesses.

Learning about the Meridian System

In the human body, there are 12 main meridians that circulate Qi. Each of your limbs is traversed by six of these meridians, with 3 Yin meridians on the inside and 3 Yang meridians on the outside. All 12 of the meridians correspond to the 6 Yin organs and 6 Yang organs. What is notable about these organs is that they have no anatomical counterpart within western medicine, but are responsible for the body processes that have been recognized as essential.

Harmony & Pairing

In TCM, balance is key within the body, where any one side or element exceeds others, problems arise. Likewise, each meridian is a Yin & Yang pair, this means that each Yang organ is paired with a Yin organ. For example, the Yang large intestine corresponds to the Yin lung organ. Within a pair, these organs have a strong effect on each other. As such, reusing the example, illnesses observed in your Yin lung organ may be due to issues of balance in your Yang large intestine.

The Flow of Qi

Qi in your body flows in a precise manner through the aforementioned 12 meridians. During this journey, Qi will flow

  • Firstly, Qi flows from the chest area along 3 arm Yin channels – lung, pericardium and heart, to the hands.
  • From your hands, Qi connects over to the 3 arm Yang channels – large intestine, San Jiao and small intestine, before flowing to your head.
  • After your head, Qi connects with the 3 leg Yang channels – stomach, gall bladder and bladder, before reaching your feet.
  • Lastly, from your feet, Qi reaches the 3 leg Yin channels – spleen, liver and kidney, before flowing back up to your chest, in doing so, completing the cycle of Qi.

Following up on our earlier example of organ pairs, arm and leg meridians of the same name are considered to be pairs as well. As such, problems with one side of them can be treated through addressing issues on the other side.

Extraordinary Meridians

In addition to the 12 meridians that were covered, there exist extraordinary meridians which are not directly linked to any major organ system. Nonetheless, they handle specific functions, namely:

  • Acting as reservoirs of Qi and blood for the regular meridians
  • Circulating defensive Qi around the body and thus maintaining good health
  • Providing further connections between the 12 meridians


Maintaining the Free Flow of Qi

In order for Qi to flow freely to all parts of your body, your meridians must remain open and be in good shape. To do this, TCM practitioners recommend the usage of Chinese herbs, Qi Gong and acupuncture for the stimulation, restoration and maintenance of balance within the body.

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