I stared at the question in my inbox, blinking for at least 10 seconds. “So ignorant!” I thought to myself.
The question came from a sincere student, and what it revealed was not his ignorance, but my own.
Here’s the question:
Dear Sifu Anthony,
How can I balance my meridians and remove blockages? Or how can I keep them flowing and strengthen them? Do they self balance and clear with daily qigong practice? Thank you for your time in advance! It is appreciated.
Let me be clear: I know the answer to Joshua’s question. That’s not the ignorance I’m talking about.
Ignorance can mean a lack of knowledge or information, but it also means a lack of awareness.
In my case, I don’t lack the knowledge or information to answer the questions above. But I did lack the proper AWARENESS.
As a teacher, it’s my job to be constantly aware of what qigong looks like through the eyes of my students, including fresh beginners.
That’s not always easy. Like most teachers, I’ve been doing this for a long, long time. Decades. Maybe lifetimes.
I’ve studied with masters from all over the world, read hundreds of books, practiced for thousands of hours, and I even went to acupuncture college to deepen my understanding.
And yet, as I read Joshua’s email, I saw my own ignorance, my own lack of awareness.
Concepts like “meridians,” “energy,” and “blockages” are still completely foreign to most people. It’s MY job as a teacher to make those concepts clearer.
And that’s what I’m going to do in this post.
What Are Meridians?
Let’s start with the word “meridian”. This word is widely used in acupuncture, qigong, Chinese herbal medicine, and tui na (Chinese massage therapy).
Unfortunately, the word “meridian” is a poor translation from the Chinese word:
經 絡 (jīngluò)
The simple translation is “channel”, like a channel that water runs through. In this case, it’s qi, or vital energy, that flows through the channels.
But there’s an additional connotation here.The 2nd character, 絡, means “net-like”. So the jingluo are a net-like series of channels through which qi flows.
Think of a highway system, with big Interstate highways and smaller roads, all forming a complex network. Except that instead of cars, it’s qi that flows along the network.
Note: Even though the word “channel” is a better translation, I’m going to continue to use the word “meridian” because it is already in common usage. Hell, even Google translates the Chinese word to “meridian”. I’m too busy with my teaching to pick a fight with Google right now!
What is Qi?
I mentioned that your meridians are a net-like series of channels through which qi flows.
But what is qi?
Qi is THE central theme in qigong, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine. It’s also central in feng shui and tai chi chuan.
Qi is your life energy or life force.
Whether that’s the energy that moves food through your digestive system, or the energy that mobilizes your immune system, or the energy that powers your cells — all of that is qi.
Qi is also information — like data running through an internet network. For example, the information that signals the production of a hormone, or that tells certain genes to turn on or off — that is also qi.
This is the “substance” that flows through your meridians.
How Does Qi Flow?
Most of the classics talk about a “flow” of qi. A common analogy is to compare it to the flow of water.
In fact, some of the Chinese Medicine classics compare the flow of qi to water flowing from bubbling springs, streams, rivers, seas, or oceans.
It’s important to remember that the concept of qi is ANCIENT. It’s thousands of years old.
Back then, they didn’t know about protons, neutrons, or electrons. They had no electric lights, no electric cables, and (gasp!) no WiFi.
In the 21st century, it’s natural to think of qi as a form of energy, like a current running through a wire.
And that’s fine as long as we remember that the ancient masters didn’t have this paradigm. They had a close connection with nature, so that was where they looked for analogies. And I think that these analogies still work today as long as you don’t take them too literally.
Where are the Meridians?
Speaking of taking things too literally, skeptics love to point out that the meridians can’t be found and therefore don’t exist.
It’s true that if you dissect your leg (please don’t do this), you won’t see any acupuncture meridians. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Don’t let 21st-century hubris block you from benefitting from this ancient wisdom. Just because we haven’t understood something yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Open-minded researchers are doing interesting studies into the meridians, and I believe that the next 10-20 years will confirm their existence.
For example, this study looked at wave-induced flows in the meridians. This is a bit obtuse, but the study concluded: “that the strong light propagation and optical properties along the meridian channel comprised a histological structure correlated with interstitial fluids.”
And this study tried to document a new micro-circulatory system that corresponds to classical acupuncture meridians.
What would you say if I told you that researchers just recently discovered a whole new organ in the human body?
It’s true. In this new study, researchers discovered not only what they think is a new organ, but the largest organ in the body!
The new organ, the interstitium, contains tiny fluid-filled structures that can be found just about everywhere in the body.
Will this discovery eventually lead to a deeper understanding of the Chinese meridian system? Who knows, but it’s definitely an exciting time to be alive!
How Were Meridians Discovered?
This raises an important question: How did ancient masters discover the meridians?
After all, they didn’t have microscopes or high-tech equipment. How could they possibly have known about such a complex, invisible network in the human body?
Years ago, I taught qigong at an acupuncture college. I had both students and professors in my classes.
After practicing qigong for about a year, one of the professors had an epiphany.
“I can feel my Gallbladder Meridian!” she said excitedly.
The same thing sometimes happens in acupuncture. I’ve seen patients talk about a strong sensation running down an arm or a leg. If you ask them to trace the sensation, they’ll trace the meridian almost exactly! How cool!
In qigong, feeling acupuncture points along the meridians is quite easy. Most of my students can start to feel this within 1-2 years of practice, especially my Qigong 101 students.
For example, acu-points like laogong (P 8) in the palm, baihui (GV 20) at the top of the head, or hegu (LI 4) in the web of hand — all of these points are can be felt even by beginners.
At more advanced levels, techniques like the Small Universe Qigong give you a clear and obvious perception of acupuncture meridians.
Back to the question about how the meridians were discovered: I believe that ancient mystics began to perceive the flow of energy in their own body. It’s likely that they transmitted their discoveries through oral traditions, and eventually through writing.
Creating Harmony and Clearing Blockages
Let’s come back to Joshua’s questions. His original email contains 3 related questions:
- How can I balance my meridians?
- How can I remove blockages in my meridians?
- How can I strengthen my meridians?
If we’re talking about Acupuncture or Chinese Herbal Medicine, then the answer is simple: leave all of this to your physician. In other words, don’t try to self-diagnose what your meridians might need. (That’s a subject for a future blog post.)
But qigong is a self-healing art, especially the category called Medical Qigong. With the right qigong method, you can heal yourself, even without a proper diagnosis.
Notice that I said “with the right method”, not “with the right exercises.”
My students are always asking me which exercise they should practice for _____ problem. I’ve written about this in depth (click here to read more), but the takeaway is the same.
To balance, strengthen, and clear your meridians, you should practice the following routine:
- Entering Zen
- Smiling from the Heart
- Lifting The Sky
- Pushing Mountains
- Carrying the Moon
- Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow
- Flowing Stillness
- Washing the Face with Both Hands
- Combing the Hair with the Fingers
- Massaging the Vital Points
- Rubbing Two Coins
- 24 Heavenly Drums
The above routine will simultaneously balance, strengthen, and clear all of your meridians. (I teach this exact routine, and much more, in my Qigong 101 program.)
Because of the way this routine is organized, you don’t need a diagnosis, and you don’t need to worry about which meridians are blocked, weak, or unbalanced.
But you do need to practice diligently!
The 12 Dimensions
No. It doesn’t.
In the world of qigong, there are many different styles and methods, but there are only 12 different things that you can do with your qi.
In my teachings, I call these the 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery. (Click here to read more about the 12 Dimensions.)
Different teachers may use different names, but when you boil everything down, the skills are the same.
The routine I listed above focuses on the first 4 of the 12 Dimensions:
1. Discovering the Qi
2. Circulating the Qi
3. Aligning the Qi
4. Gathering the Qi
I call these The 4 Pillars of qigong because they form a stable foundation for any holistic qigong practice. If you don’t have this foundation, then advanced qigong skills will continue to elude you.
The 8 remaining skills are:
5. Protecting the Qi
6. Purifying the Qi
7. Mobilizing the Qi
8. Directing the Qi
9. Consolidating the Qi
10. Transforming the Qi
11. Unifying the Qi
12. Transmitting the Qi
As you become more skillful in qigong, you can use more advanced skills to continue balancing, strengthening, and clearing your meridians.
- To balance the meridians, you can use: Circulating the Qi (#2), Aligning the Qi (#4), and Mobilizing the Qi (#7).
- To remove blockages, you can use: Purifying the Qi (#6) and Protecting the Qi (#5).
- To strengthen your meridians, you can use: Gathering the Qi (#4), Consolidating the Qi (#9), and Transforming the Qi (#10).
In other words, focus on learning and mastering the 12 Dimensions and you will have ways to balance, clear, and strengthen your meridians for the rest of your life!
Remember that these are skills, not techniques. The techniques may differ from teacher to teacher, but the underlying skills are the same.
Want to Learn More About Meridians?
I hope you found this article helpful. As always, if you have questions, post them below.
If you’d like me to write more on the subject of meridians, then please let me know in the comments below.
Honestly, I only scratched the surface here. I didn’t talk about the 12 Primary Meridians, the 8 Extraordinary Meridians, or the Yin and Yang Organs.
There is a ton of Chinese Medicine theory and philosophy that I can write about, but I need to know if you’re interested in this stuff! So whadaya say? Are you interested?
[Edit: Y’all asked for more on the subject, so I wrote another article, which you can read here.] Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.