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Meridians: Mapping the Body Electric
Your practitioner helps treat chronic pain and other illnesses with a technique based on the Chinese concept of meridians. Read on to learn how pros navigate these invisible pathways.
Like currents in the air, meridians as postulated by traditional Chinese medicine are invisible paths of action in the body. This theory of Chinese medicine holds that a person’s life force, or chi, flows along specific channels from organ to organ. When chi becomes unbalanced or gets blocked, health and wellness problems arise, whether it’s digestive trouble or a bicep that looks like a creepy face when you flex. It’s a trained practitioner's job to unblock chi using such alternative-medicine techniques as acupuncture, acupressure, gua sha, and cupping—all of which revolve around these pathways.
Twelve primary meridians flow through the body, each categorized as yin or yang (roughly defined as the passive and active forces within nature). Each meridian corresponds to a specific organ, element, and set of emotions. For instance, the lung meridian flows through the arm and is associated with yin and metal, as well as with feelings of grief and sadness should its flow of energy be disturbed. For each condition a practitioner seeks to assuage, a timetable dictates when each meridian is most active and therefore easiest to treat.
So far, doctors and scientists have had little luck mapping meridians to visible anatomical structures, but some studies have uncovered overlap between ancient and modern medicine. For example, meridians tend to fall along planes between muscles, or between a muscle and bone or tendon—areas usually rich with connective tissue. A 2010 study published in PLOS One made one further connection: bands of collagenous tissue, in particular, present less opposition to the flow of electricity than other areas of the body. These bands underlie some—though not all—primary meridians, suggesting that the energy known as chi may be related in some way to the energy that zips through our power lines and singing toothbrushes.