The Electric Slide: the 15th major meridian

On election night last week, I found myself dancing with a few
hundred people in the middle of Baltimore Ave a couple blocks down
from the clinic. The thumping and clatter of a pots-and-pans drum
jam, the trolley drivers rhythmically honking their horns as if
through a dense and receding fog, the return of ecstatic displays of
public affection, these things made it all such a delicious contrast
to seeing so many of these same people in the, shhhhh!, clinic. But,
there wa a whole lot of healing going on. Talk about your swirling
qi. I stood on a wall to take pictures of the throng. I imagined
that I could see the major meridians lit up on everyone there. Lines
of light undulating and intersecting. .

Yesterday, i was interviewed for a research project on how
acupuncturists conceptualize and relate to the meridians. I didn’t
know what i was going to be asked, or even the purpose of the
project. I just like talking about this stuff. And, i like and trust
the person doing it. Victor and i tried to create a sort of community
health center 5 years ago in a different Philly neighborhood.

Victor began asking me some basic questions about meridians. As we
proceeded, I could see that my mind is really changing about
acupuncture theory. I think that many CAPs operate with a belief that
a lot of the theory we learned is irrelevant. It was lobbed at most
of us in such de-contextualized chunks; and we’ve had to un-learn
much in order to think as pragmatically as is necessary when doing
community acupuncture. But, exactly because we’re all treating so
many people, and having to think flexibly, we have an opportunity and
a responsibility to keep track of how we think about acupuncture
theory, to come up with our own when necessary, or to find a less
abstract relationship to it..

There have been hundreds of cross-breeding schools of thought in
the history of the Asian medicines in which acupuncture has been
central. Each of these have arisen out of very particular
circumstances. Environmental and meteorological factors shaped
different schools of thought, as did the prevailing philosophical and
religious atmosphere. But, wherever acupuncture has existed within
the lives of common people, the schools of thought and the resulting
acu theories have always reflected social and economic reality. In
any given time and place, what were the teachers trying to figure out
how to treat? The cold damp conditions of warriors or farmers? The
deficient conditions of people with scarce food? The virulent
pathogens of overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions?

We get to work from theory that’s not academic but rooted in what
our work is really like, what the lives of our patients are really

Here are some of the questions Victor asked me and the thoughts
that I had.

“Do you use the term “meridian”, or is there
some other way you refer to meridians?”
  I realized i
use a couple terms, the selection of which is quite subconscious, but
the meanings of which are a little different. I use “pathways”
at times to indicate the connections between these maybe abstract
acupoints and the internal organs, the isolated functioning of which
most of our patients have been trained to believe is responsible for
their health. I use “channels” at times to indicate the
more agrarian nature of meridians, where facilitating the flow and
level of blood, fluids, and other nutrients is what we’re doing with
this therapy. In answering Victor, I realized that communicating with
current and potential patients about what we’re doing is fundamental
to my word choice and to how I think about meridians.  

How do you relate to the actual physical meridians within
your clinic?”
I feel along a theoretical map on the body using
anatomical features as landmarks and feel for the point. “Do you
always feel it?”
No, I make believe I do a lot of times. I’m
realizing how when you’re treating lots of people and you’re treating
them many times you can just go ahead and know the meridians will
respond. Points will find you if you don’t find them. There will be
some kind of feedback. Neither the diagnosis nor the point location
have to be as precise as I was trained. There needs to be clear
intent and an open heart. This is where we can try giving up the ego
about our role and appreciate that we’re just trying to help
something along. The architecture of self-healing qi and of
homeostatic yin and yang is already in place in the form of the

What are the meridians?” Initially, I said something
to him about connecting the qi of the universe with that of the
internal qi of the body, and that they comprise ways in which we can
access or send messages along this connection. This made me think
about how in our community clinics, this “universe” is not some
abstract cosmos but a room full of other people and these other
peoples’ meridians. So, he asked me, “do you believe in group

I thought about our clinic this week. It should be said that not
only this neighborhood, but pretty much all of Philadelphia partied
extremely hard on Tuesday night. Hundreds of people spontaneously
broke into the electric slide on Broad street. ( Everybody who could
cried, screamed, laughed, danced, drummed, and otherwise released
lifetimes of discouragement, rage, and and fear, not to mention poor
self esteem
. What happens to a body when, at least momentarily, the
person within it stops feeling like a desperate, fearful, hateful,
and lonely oppressor behind a huge war machine and starts feeling
like a citizen of the beautiful world? Can I hear a Healing Crisis
here? I’d be interested to hear from others, but I got more patients
this week who were mighty confused. Because, despite being elated and
relieved at the election, in the realm of physical symptoms, they
were experiencing either an intense re-occurance of the old or some
mysterious and dramatic incidence of the new.

So, yes I “believe” in group qi. And, what I mean, I told him
was this thing about how we’re experiencing the world together. Most
of the disharmonies our bodies exhibit stem from something that a
huge number of other people have experienced. Yes, there are
individual patterns of disharmony, but most of the time we’re
treating the effects of the same hurts and oppressions that countless
others have experienced. Instead of a patient feeling responsible for
his or her own solitary sickness and surrendering control of its
treatment to an individual specialist, he or she gets to know that
lots of other people are struggling with similar forces and that we
get to heal together, and that our bodies know how to. We all knew
there was something right about coming out into the streets and
hugging and celebrating with one another. It’s easier to cry and
laugh when you’re with other people, and the crying and laughing is
healing. We’ve needed each other in this way for our whole lives, and
the opportunity finally came. Similarly, we know there’s something
right about sitting together quietly. Other natural processes occur
in this field of safety and trust. One can open something and let it
free. And, it’s dawning on me that channels work this way. And, it
helps if the environment in which one comes to open up is somewhere
between benign and really safe and welcoming. As acupuncturists we’re
hoping to help channels stay open to the universe so we want a
universe the channels feel like opening up into.

So, where as I used to think of the meridians being treated as
diseased and the acupuncture as healing, I now think of disease as
arising from hurt, mostly oppression (loneliness, isolation,
exploitation, discouragement, overwork, addiction – your
basic estrangement from the tao) and the meridians as the
architecture of of the pure goodness and connectedness of humans.

In the debate about acupuncture education and our opposition
to the first professional doctorate, we can be clear that we’re not
suggesting the throwing out of theory but that theory gets to reflect
the social and economic reality of our patients – and the reality of
humans’ creativity and goodness. We get to reclaim it for community
acupuncture. We get to apply it to actually treating lots of people,
together, and to the social nature of people, and then re-write it if
we need to.

Author: korben

I'm an acupunk and owner at Kindred Community Acupuncture in Pawtucket, RI. I co-founded Philadelphia Community Acupuncture in 2007, and moved to Providence in 2011 to be close to family after the birth of my son, and to work with the inimitable Cris Monteiro at PCA.

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  1. Ah, Korben, You’ve done it again!

    You’ve gotten to the heart of the matter and connected so many ideas in such a poetic way.  And best of all, this piece is grounded in the reality of our lives and feelings. Keep writing, Korben.  I love your ideas!

  2. Thinking about meridians and CA

    I think about meridians much more in doing CA than I did doing TCM and private room acu. even though I’m busier and you would think I wouldn’t have the time.  Initially I thought this was because I use Dr. Tan’s balance method 99% of the time, but it’s more than that.

    TCM teaches us to first think of the 8 principles – interior/exterior deficient/excess, hot/cold, and yin/yang. Then one can begin thinking of the 6 levels, 4 stages, 3 jiaos and/or the zang fu patterns as is appropriate.  None of this involves thinking of the meridians directly.  When it came to finally making a diagnosis and then a point selection, points were chosen mostly by their function.

    I use the basic balance method and many of the 8 and 12-point balances.  This method is totally dependent on the location of the problem, i.e which meridian the problem is on or near.  To choose the best balance for treatment, I have to consider all areas of complaint and see if they are related through one or several meridians.  I could choose extra vessel balances, balances that relate to the organs and/or the meridians (i.e. Jue yin, Shao Yang) or I could choose to balance all 12 of the major meridians.  Point selection using the basic balance method depends on what meridians are affected and how that meridian relates to the others.

    I also notice what meridians are actually affected by treatment.  I have long noticed, for instance, that the Jue Yin Shao Yang balance will effectively treat low back pain and sciatica that involved GB 30.  That the sciatica along the GB channel is treated is not surprising. It does surprise me that the low back pain across both inner and outer bladder channels and the Du is treated with this balance.  Initially I added Ling Ku and Da Bai to the balance but later tried without it and the low back pain was still treated.

    When I think of Jingei pulse diagnosis I then wonder if GB 41 and GB 40 are perhaps not so different since LR 3 and GB 34 (paired source point and He Sea point of the diseased channel) are contained in the balance.  Perhaps I’m treating the root diseased channel when I do the Jue Yin Shao Yang balance on someone with a pulse of 1.5 :1 HR less than 80.  I will probably never really know for sure but I find it fun to consider.

    I have been doing the extra vessel balance quick and dirty balance for a variety of problems and notice that many times people mention their sinuses and nose clearing.  The location of the arm points can almost explain this but noticing these sorts of things has sent me back to the books to look at channel theory.

    I actually have a lot more fun coming up with a treatment in CA. I  tended to use the same “big” points in TCM style acupuncture.  In CA I ask the client to show me where each complaint is, then consider how to balance it and then how to round out the treatment.  If, for instance, I want to further encourage the circulation of qi Dr Tan recommends needling only yin points on one arm, yang on the other arm, yin on the leg below the yang arm and the other leg yin points.  Since I now know at least several approaches I can take for any given constellation of problems, I often use one type of treatment for a few times and then change to another treatment.   I ask the client after that which one she/he prefers.  I often ask them which one they intuitively prefer if they have no clear preference.  Thus, I learn how the different balances/treatments affect them so that I can apply that to other clients. They learn to pay attention to how they feel and how acupuncture is affecting them. In addition to being very helpful to people, this is a very interesting job!Smile

  3. If you understood the

    If you understood the internal connections, you would understand why “the low back pain across both inner and outer bladder channels and the Du is treated with this balance.” I recommend studying classical Chinese acupuncture theory so that you understand these internal connections. By understanding them, the balance method can be used more effectively.