If someone has heard of acupuncture there are probably two things they know. Firstly, that it involves having pins stuck in you. Secondly, that it has something to do with lines that go all over the body. These are both entirely correct.
Those lines illustrate what are called meridians or channels. I prefer to call them channels. Firstly, because we don’t use ‘meridian’ in normal conversation and so few people know what it means. Secondly, because ‘channel’ gives a pretty good idea of what they are thought of as doing in acupuncture. As the irrigation channels on a farm supply water to different parts of the farm; so the channels in our bodies supply vital fluids to the parts of our bodies. We will go into these vital fluids in great detail later (the one that people who have heard of acupuncture will have heard of is called ‘qi’ – or ‘chi’. There are five in total: qi, blood, jing, shen, jin-ye).
What is less known is that acupuncture also, like western medicine, has names for the different organs in our bodies (heart, liver and so on).
ORGANS AND CHANNELS
In acupuncture there are twelve organs and two channels associated with each organ. These channels travel the same route on the left and right hand sides of the body (they are symmetrical).
Most of the acupuncture organs share the same names as the western body structures. These are:
pericardium (sort of)
spleen (sort of)
The acupuncture organ the spleen probably includes what western medicine calls the pancreas (in some texts you will find it called the spleen-pancreas). The pericardium in acupuncture surrounds and protects the heart. In western medicine the heart is surround by the pericardiac sac but this has nothing like the importance of the organ in acunpuncture.
There is one acupuncture organ which has no equivalent in western medicine:
the Triple Heater (sometimes called the Triple Burner, Triple Warmer or the Three Burning Spaces).
Where acupuncture is vastly different to western medicine is in what the organs do. We will go into this in detail as we go through each organ in turn. However, one way in which all the organs in acupuncture are different to their western functions is that they are associated with an emotion. This is without parallel in modern western medicine (though there are similar ideas in some kinds of bodywork and psychotherapy). Another major difference is that the yin organs (kidney. liver, heart, spleen and lung) are said to store or regulate the vital fluids. This too is unparalleled in modern western medicine.
The channels carry the vital fluids to different parts of the body. It is along different points on the channels that the acupuncture pins are put.
In my opinion we are a long way from understanding how it is that acupuncture works. We are fortunate that in the last couple of decades technology has reached the stage where we can watch the body’s functions in real time – through various types of scanners. This technology is just beginning to be used to study how acupuncture works. (Most acupuncture research is still just devoted to comparing outcomes of acupuncture with other forms of treatment. This amounts to my pin versus your pill. Not exactly exciting or laying the foundations for extending the effectiveness of acupuncture).
It is very likely that our nerves are involved in how acupuncture works – the channels mostly follow the same pathways as the major western nerve pathways. (However, some of the major points do not lie on these pathways.) An idea of my own is that acupuncture probably involves what western medicine calls the hormones as well. (This is just my idea.)
If you learn shiatsu, especially zen shiatsu you will learn to fell these channels and whether they are full or empty. This is an excellent way to learn where they are and is a wonderful way of treatment too. (Unfortunately the zen shiatsu channels are somewhat different to the acupuncture channels.)
The channel is named after the organ where it begins.