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Jing Luo (经络) - Conduits and Networks

We are often asked; "So, how does acupuncture work, anyway?" There is a very involved theoretical basis to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a part of which involves the Jing Luo - 经络 (pronounced “jing loo-uh). The Jing Luo are the main channels of communication and energy distribution in the body. They were traditionally referred to as “conduits and networks,” analogous to the manner in which goods and products were moved around the cities in old China on roads or water causeways. In that sense, they were the commercial transportation systems that provided the energy of commerce that linked homes and businesses throughout the cities. Other terms for the Jing Luo commonly used today are “channels,” “meridians,” or "pathways."

The Jing Luo have three main functions:

1. To transport qi and blood and regulate yin and yang

2. To resist pathogens and reflect signs and symptoms

3. To transmit needling sensation and regulate vacuity and repletion

The Jing Luo link interior Zang Fu organs (zang fu - 脏腑 – viscera and bowels) with various tissues via superficial areas of the body. In this way they allow for internal adaptation to external change. They also connect different superficial areas of the body. The Jing Luo are more external (and therefore more yang) than the internal (and therefore more yin) Zang Fu. When pathogens penetrate the body from the exterior, they usually penetrate the superficial channels, then the main channels, and finally the Zang Fu.

The Jing Luo govern the body's ability to function and carry qi. They therefore contribute significantly toward harmony (homeostasis) and health maintenance. Qi coursing through the Jing Luo can be manipulated at stations called acupuncture points located along the channel pathways.

The model at left displays the Governing (Du) vessel, the Small Intestine (Hand Taiyang) channel, and the Bladder (Foot Taiyang) channel, among others.

In TCM acupuncture anatomy, the Zang Fu organs are all interconnected with one another by the Jing Luo which traverse the entire body. In this sense, the concept of the Jing Luo might be compared with Western anatomical description of the blood vessels and capillaries, or perhaps the central nervous system and its peripheral branches Yet the Jing Luo system is different from these. Blood vessels can be seen via imaging techniques as well as the naked eye, whereas the Jing Luo system is not visible.

The series of acupuncture points upon the skin, which constitute the outward line of the channel, are primary evidence of channel existence. Acupuncture point locators indicate the difference in electrical resistance that exists around acupuncture points. The traditional methods of locating the points are by locating specific anatomical landmarks, using special methods of measurement which are valid for any human body, and by finger sensitivity. The acupuncturist’s finger sensitivity is important in clinical practice; locating the points, feeling the quality of the pulses, feeling the grip that qi is exerting on an inserted needle, feeling (palpating) for sensitized areas of damage on the body.

Just as blood vessels (arteries and veins) function as pathways for the blood, so too, according to TCM, do acupuncture channels serve as pathways through which energy circulates throughout the body. The Jing Luo spread out through the entire body connecting all the tissues and organs of the body binding it together as an organic unit. They regulate normal functioning of the body, and diagnostically reflect pathology or illness.

Every part of the musculoskeletal system is related to a main Jing Luo and its associated sub-channel. Via the main pathway, every part of the body associated with a given internal organ can be affected by imbalance in that organ. (Please note that the term “organ” in TCM refers primarily to a set of functional relationship as opposed to the definition of the term in Western medicine to denote the morphology, or structure, of an organ.)

Knowing the pathway of the channels, the acupuncturist can make connections in symptoms as diverse as itchy eyes, occipital headaches, lumbar pain and spasms in the gastrocnemius (calf muscle). For instance, the Heart channel begins in the axilla (i.e., the armpit) and ends on the small finger. It has long been noted in Western biomedicine that pain from myocardial infarct often travels along this channel. TCM provides a link between this external muscular pain and an imbalance in the associated internal zang fu.

In acupuncture we generally consider that there are 72 channels of therapeutic importance:

12 Primary (regular) channels
15 Collaterals
12 Tendinomuscular regions
12 Cutaneous regions
8 Extra channels
Huatuo channel

The most important and essential pathways for the circulation of qi and for most therapeutic applications are the twelve primary channel pathways and two of the extraordinary (or extra) vessels. The extra vessels serve as estuaries (i.e., reserves) for excess qi and blood so that the body may draw upon the reserves when needed.

The two most important extra vessels are the Governing or Du vessel (which runs along the entire spine) and the Conception or Ren vessel which runs along the entire front midline of the body. The Conception (Ren) vessel is extremely important in the treatment of gynecological disorders and in women’s health in general. However, it is also of great importance in male health as well. The Ren and Du vessels are the only extra vessels with their own acupuncture points.

The twelve primary Jing Luo are bilateral. That is, there are symmetrical pathways on either side of the body in relation to the anatomical midline of the body. So there is a Lung meridian on both the left side of the body and the right side of the body, and similarly with all of the other eleven pathways. The acupuncture points for the various Jing Luo are in the same mirror image locations on either side of the body. The primary Jing Luo are also grouped together in coupled pairs. Each yin channel is coupled to a specific yang channel.

Another way of classifying the Jing Luo is based on the main location of the channel and its terminal point. Six channels are located on the upper portion of the body, and start or end on the fingers. The other six channels are located on the lower portion of the body and end or start at the toes.

The ancient Chinese also classified the Jing Luo according to the cycle of qi within the channels. They determined that energy flows from one channel to the next in a continuous and fixed order. It flows from channel to channel in a two-hour cycle, making the complete circuit once a day. This cycle is known as the Horary cycle. As the qi makes its way through the meridians, each meridian in turn, with its associated Zang Fu organ, has a two-hour period during which it is at maximum energy. The Horary effect is recognizable by measurable increases of qi within an organ system and channel during its time of maximum energy. (Qi is, of course, present within every organ system all the time; its level simply fluctuates according to the Horary cycle.)

If a person moves from one time zone to another, the resultant jet lag is a result of the biological Horary clock adjusting to the new time frame. Moving east or west causes this phenomenon, but moving due north or south has no effect on the internal clock.

Energy traveling from the face to the toes begins as predominantly Yang energy. As this Yang energy approaches the lower extremities of the leg, the polarity begins to change again. By the time the toes are reached the Yang energy is mixed with the Yin energy in almost equal proportions. The return from the toes to the chest causes the transformation again. This Yin energy then flows back into the arm, to continue the cycle.

It can be seen, therefore, that as Qi circulates through the Primary Meridians, it alternates in coupled pairs of Yin and Yang Meridians, staying for two hours in the Yin and two hours in the Yang, in a smooth alternating rhythm.

Each primary channel has its own transversing Luo vessel. These are cross-wise connecting channels, what we might refer to in Western medicine by the Greek term “anastomosis.” Each primary channel has one transversing Luo, each primary channel coupled pair (except one) is linked by two of these. The transversing Luo vessels could be considered horizontal or transversing pathways.

To summarize, the acupuncture channels provide for the circulation of qi and the functions of the body. They also provide communication lines between external body appendages and surfaces and the internal Zang Fu organs, as well as between the upper and lower parts of the body. They thus contribute significantly toward health maintenance. The qi coursing through the Jing Luo can be manipulated at stations called acupuncture points, located along the channel pathways.

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