This is the second part of a two part article I wrote for the Shiatsu Society Journal in 2017. First part is “The Eight Extraordinary Vessels, a family of wholeness and connection”
Their pathways all start at the feet/ankles, both the Yin and Yang, connecting with Kidney and Bladder. We see in this their connection with the earth, with what nourishes us from outside. They then pass up through the legs, although not connecting to any specific points because they are the origin of all energy in the legs linking back into the hips and abdomen, the centre, where they have some important points. This indicates their connection back to the source of the Core Four Extraordinary Vessels at the level of CV4, 8 and Ming Men and our reproductive energy. They then move upwards into the chest and shoulders where they have important points. This indicates their connection to the arms and how we express our connection to each other through our hearts. None of them have specific points in the arms, apart from the regulating points of the Wei (I discuss these later) but again, they are the origin of all energy in the arms. They all end at the head (Brain) showing their connection back to heaven.
This indicates that they are more about bringing energy back from the world outside to the inner core and heaven: whereas the core four originate in the centre and are about how we make our first connection from the inside to the outside. We know that key areas of the Wei and Qiao, the shoulders and hips, are often complex areas to work with, not just from a physical point of view, but from an emotional one. I used to find when I only worked with the 12 meridians in those areas, my work felt somewhat limited. It was liberating to work with the combination of points offered by the Wei and the Qiao which addressed these deeper complexities as well as integrating aspects of the 12 meridians.
However, although I have just described their physical pathways, I don’t tend to work from the feet up to the brain in a linear way. Especially with the Yang Qiao and Wei, I tend to find it brings too much energy to the head. I find it helpful to remember their history when I connect with them: I tend to connect certain points or areas while also linking them back to the centre, the midline, from where they came. Furthermore, when we were in the womb, our connection to the earth was not so focused on the feet. Our “earth” was our mother’s body, so they were more about drawing the energy in from our mother via our outer body (placenta) through our umbilical cord to our inner body. In our curled fetal position our hips and shoulders tend to be more in connection with the outside. Our legs are curled so our feet are near the navel and often we play with the umbilical cord with our feet. Our hands are often curled in and touching our heart or our mouth. Our immediate outer world is water: the fluid filled amniotic sac, and it surrounds us. This reminds us that the Wei and Qiao extend to all the connections around us, not just the feet. They also regulate the left and right sides of our body. During the first year of our life, we unfold back to a straight line, reversing the movement of enfolding from 4-8 weeks in utero. Only this time it takes us around a year and we then stand upright on the earth, defining our relationship primarily through our feet. (see my article: Bonding with Earth Yin).
I call this group the outer four because of these connections with the outer world. They are related with the 7 and 8 year cycles of our life, in the sense of how the experiences we draw from outside our body come back and interact with our inner being and Jing, modifying it. We can not change who are parents are, but we can change our relationship with them, along with ancestral patterning to express our own uniqueness.
Like the core four, when we work them, there is an emphasis on areas as well as points. Indeed, although I present acupuncture diagrams of these vessels, like the Core Four, I do not experience or see them as simply lines. They are much broader and include the areas through which they pass. Like the core four we also need to see them as couples, and they are perhaps even more intimately connected in their pairs than the core four.
Like the Core Four, they are an interconnected group, sharing points and pathways. Yang Wei and Yang Qiao both connect at SI10 and GB29 and GB20. Sometimes just holding combinations of these three points, usually connecting to some of the Yin points too, may be sufficient.
SI10: Naoshu: upper arm shu:
I imagine that many of you often include this point for pain and stiffness in shoulder. However it also has a strong link to the heart, nourishing Spirit and facilitating mental and spiritual stability and tranquillity. It also draws in a connection with our elders, and allows one to open up and move into the bigger circle of people and energies around us. It is also a reservoir for the movement of Qi.
GB29: Juliao: dwelling in bone, inhabited joints, squatting bone hole and crevice
You probably tend more to use GB30 for hip issues and may be less familiar with its neighbouring point GB29. This lies midway between the ASIS and the prominence of the greater trochanter. It is often used for hip disorders but also relates the shoulder joint and is often used for shoulder pain relating to the chest (Heart/Lungs). Its name suggests, our connection to the earth and it is used to strengthen the legs and the lower back as well as for issues such as cystitis and dysmenorrhea, showing its link with the core four.
GB20: Fengchi: Windpool
This is a familiar point used to support the head, brain, eyes and nose, organs relating to the outside. Wind affects more the upper body but can come either from outside, affecting the outer body or inside affecting the Liver. Yin Wei has a core Liver point (LV14 ) as does the Girdle Vessel ( LV13). Relating closely to the awakening of the brain and affecting our mental level, we can see its relationship back to the core four.
Yin et Yang Wei Mai (Linking)
Yin/ Yang Wei Mai: Yin and Yang Linking vessels: the warp and weft of life tissue
Together, they enable the movement of Qi between the Yin and Yang meridians, while the Du and Ren Mai govern and regulate Yin and Yang. Yang Wei connects back to Du Mai via GV15 and 16 and Yin Wei connects back to the Ren through CV22 and 23. This closes the circle of connection between inner and outer by returning to the source. The Wei are about our capacity to direct our energy with the outside world, while at the same time being aligned with our Source Qi (Yuan Qi). They are linked with Heaven: their main regulating points are in the wrists: TH5 and HP6.
The Wei are also linked to Chong and Dai through their connection with the Heart and through the pairing of the regulating point ie TH5 is the paired point for Dai and HP6 paired point for Chong. The 8 regulating points have different pairings, but one key pairing is that between one of the inner four with one of the outer four.
This connection with heaven helps to differentiate between the quality of the Wei and the Qiao. The Wei have a lighter, more airy quality. When I start working the Wei, I tend to activate their regulating points first to establish this more Heavenly connection and then link the wrists with the feet. With the Qiao, I tend to emphasise first work with the feet and the connection with the earth.
The Wei are used to regulate the relationship between the interior and exterior of the body. Their aspect of experiencing life and assimilating our experience is linked in with the elements of time and space. They are sometimes referred to as being the cloth of our body as the experiences and activities we engage with contribute to our physical and emotional body: the warp and weft of our life tissue. They relate to core muscle groups which give us support: ie for Yang Wei, key muscles of the shoulder like the deltoid and trapezius and for the Yin Wei, the abdominal muscles. These represent how we find our place in the world : how we become attached and find our stability. They represent our balance of yin and yang, the four directions, left and right, upper and lower, past and future.
People may look at choices they have made and wish things had been different. They may think how they can change things for the future. However if our energy is stuck in the past or projected into the future, then it isn’t available to us now. The Wei are therefore often used for depleted conditions. They work together with Qiao to help us to be present.
They are the expression of element types. We can tend to become fixed or limited in our responses, basing our response on what did or didn’t happen in the past. They represent how we live our experiences especially at important times in our lives and transitions such as going to school, puberty, leaving home, career, marriage, becoming parents, moving, menopause, retirement, divorce, loss of loved ones, death. Working with the Wei during these key times helps support us to make these transitions and offers the possibility of opening up to new ways of responding: a chance to modify ancestral energy. They are closely linked with our process of ageing and the 7 and 8 year cycles which underpin the other changes in our life.
At the end of life they help us make the biggest transition: that of leaving the earth and our physical body entirely. Indeed, GB21 on the Yang Wei is a powerful point for the spirit and letting go. It enables us to connect with the Heavenly energy and be less stuck in our physical body. In labour, it often supports the woman to release the baby out.
Yin and Yang Qiao: Yin and Yang Heel/Stepping Vessels: our capacity to be present
This pair forms a balanced couple and regulate how we are able to come into the present moment and make minute, moment to moment adjustments in order to keep being present. Their role is to harmonise Yin and Yang in an immediate way. If one partner is hyperactive then other will be hypoactive. They harmonise the interpenetration and rhythm between Yin and Yang: our basic movement of vitality. We can see this especially reflected in the beginning and end points: ie beginning in the ankles: K2, K6, KD8 (Yin) and BL 61, 62, 59 (Yang) . Their regulating points KD6 and BL62 lie along their pathways. This shows how connected they are to how we stand and move on the earth, our capacity to be grounded, our basic upright posture and stance and our position in the world. This is not just structural but affects our emotions and how we interact with the world.
Indeed, Maciocia renamed these the “stepping vessels”. We breathe through our feet and take in energy from the ground and draw it back up into our 3 body spaces: travelling up through the pelvis, chest and head and also influencing our spine.
When I work with the Qiao, I usually start with the feet, connecting not just to the points but to the whole stepping action of the foot and to feeling the bones. The Qiao offer a more dense quality, rooted to the earth and our basic structure and posture. Many of their points connect closely with bones: ie the heel, the pelvis, the bony part of the shoulder (LI16: Jugu, Great Bone) the clavicle (ST12) thyroid cartilage (ST9) and the jaw (ST3, 4) and eye socket (ST1 and BL1) rather than the more muscular quality of the Wei. Together, bone and muscle make up the texture of our body: the warp and weft of our being.
Both the Yin and Yang Qiao end at BL1 (JingMing :Bright Eyes). BL 1 is considered a point which has a strong impact on the hormonal system. The eyes are an important organ for maintaining homeostasis. How much light we receive affects our system profoundly. Before the days of electricity and artificial light, people would sleep much more in the winter time. Now we can have light all the time if we want and so people stay up later and sleep less. They also tend to eat more in the winter, rather than storing food and hibernating. We know these tendencies can strain the Kidneys but they also affect other aspects of our hormonal system, especially Spleen/Pancreas, our ability to take glucose out of our system. This means that it is likely that a lot of modern illness such as obesity, diabetes, some autoimmune diseases, may be partly due to what we eat but also how our bodies metabolism is not having to make the seasonal adjustments. This is the role of the Qiao, to adapt in a rapid way to our external environment.
The Qiao is the present moment. They are about how we present ourselves in the world. Where are you now in your life? They are also closely linked to Du and Ren as they express this deeper core energy in the present moment. Like the Wei, they are also linked to the defensive Qi. They offer the first line of defence of the body linked with the metabolism through BL1 .
While Wei tend more to regulate deficiencies of energy (depletion of energy over time), the Qiao regulate excesses: how we can build up tensions and emotions quite rapidly. Linked as they are to our immediate response in any situation, we see that if there is too much Yang then the outer muscles of the leg are tight and the inner leg muscles lax and if there is too much Yin then the inner leg muscles are tight while the outer leg muscles are lax. Naturally if this is an habitual response, then the muscles will tend to hold onto these areas of tension, and the corresponding depletion. In this way also, emotions which are frequently expressed become more fixed in our habitual responses. As the Qiao regulate excess they are often linked with patterns of addiction. In this way we see that we often need to work aspects of both the Wei and the Qiao within the same session because for eg if the Yang Qiao is in excess then we might want to support the deficiency of Yin by working the Yin Wei.
The moment to moment adjustments also mean the capacity to balance between the left and right sides of the body as well as ascending and descending energy. Left is the position of the rising sun and right is the position of the setting sun: movement of the sun.
Like the Wei, they have a close relationship to Du and Ren Mai, flowing out from them at the Ren and Mai coupled points (BL62 and KD6). At the hips they connect with the Dai and Chong and flow into the Chong (ST points) at the face.
Conclusions: a web of interconnection
By understanding the interconnectedness of the network of the Extraordinary Vessels, I hope you can appreciate that often we need to work with more than one vessel in a session and that usually at least one of them is likely to be indicated. If someone is for eg going through a divorce, it is possible that s/he may be expressing some physical symptoms, often at the level of the hip (a link with our sexuality) or shoulder (our link with our emotional centre/heart). How we process our divorce will depend on our sense of self, how present we are in the moment (Qiao) or if we are stuck on all the previous times we went through separations or loss (Wei). It may be related to the quality of our parents’ relationship with each other as well as with us (often Ren and Chong) . On some level it will tap back into even the way in which we were conceived (Du, Mai and Chong), our time in the womb, or our birth and first year of life. A complex web of connections to explore. Enjoy!
Jeffrey Yuen, The Eight Extraordinary Vessels, notes from a lecture at the New England School of Acupuncture. 2005
Maciocia, Channels of Acupuncture, Elsevier 2006
Psycho-emotional pain and the Eight Extraordinary Vessels : Yvonne Farrell, Singing Dragon 2016
Eight Extraordinary Vessels, David Twicken, Singing Dragon 2013