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Developing Yin First: Using the Extraordinary Vessels to ground and relate

In developing my new website, and preparing my new on line courses, I am continuing posting articles which I have not previously put on line.

This was published in the Shiatsu Society journal in  August 2015

By binding ourselves to the earth: we free ourselves to fly heavenwards.

Immediately after we are born, we need to establish a relationship with a whole new world, a world outside the fluid filled, watery environment of our mother’s womb. We also need to relate differently to our mother: the link between these two worlds.

In this article, I will explore how we do this, the impact of these early connections on the rest of our life and how they relate primarily to the energy of the Extraordinary Vessels.

The first few months of our life on earth are particularly important, but we have been preparing since the moment of our conception, if not before. We spend our first year exploring our new world, until we establish a vertical relationship when we stand on our own two feet, aged around one. Yin is below our feet. Yang above our head and the space around us.

Introduction to the Extraordinary Vessels

Extraordinary Vessels

Girdle Vessel, Penetrating Vessel with Conception and Governing Vessel

Core Four: Du (GV: Sea of Yang), Ren (CV: Sea of Yin), Chong (PV: Sea of Blood) and Dai (GDV: Girdle Vessel) are the vessels of the midline linking the Brain, Heart, Kidneys and Reproductive organs. They overlap with each other in ways the 12 channels do not and I find it more helpful to work with them as a group. We will see how this midline (especially the navel, lumbar spine, mouth and anus) is so vital to support our relationships.

Chong is the only one of the four that has a pathway into the legs. I sometimes wonder if this is what Masunaga felt, particularly with his extensions of Heart and Heart Protector. Chong brings the energy down to the feet which will anchor us to the earth at age 1. Chong is a bridge to the Outer Four (Yin and Yang Wei (Linking) and Qiao (Heel) as the Qiao and Wei bring energy from the earth through the feet back up to the Brain. Wei also brings energy from Heaven. It is these fundamental connections which then support the 12 meridians.

We can work the Extraordinary Vessels through working the whole channel or by working their

Regulating points

Each vessel has a key regulating point, which I list next to it, but this point can be paired with the other vessel regulating point which is on the same line: eg CV and Yin Qiao. Over the years I include many other combinations, depending on the energy: sometimes favouring a  Yin Yang polairty: eg both Wei points.


Vessel Core Four Regulating Point Paired Point Vessel Outer Four(Paired point for Core four is its regulating point)
Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) LU7 KD6 Yin Heel (Yin Qiao)
Governing Vessel (Du Mai) SI3 BL62 Yang Heel (Yang Qiao)
Penetrating Vessel(Chong Mai) SP4 HP6 Yin Linking (Yin Wei)
Girdle Vessel(Dai Mai) GB41 TH5 Yang Linking (Yang Wei)

 Our first connection with the earth: pre conception

Chinese Medicine is based on our connection to the whole Universe: the Tao. Why do we choose to incarnate on this earth? This initial imprinting of the Universe and our purpose in being here within our specific body is the essence of the energy of the Extraordinary Vessels. As a group they express wholeness.

Moving in water: life in the womb and our first relationships

For the first week we are self nourishing, as the fertilised egg journeys down the fallopian tube to land in its first earth: the uterus. We are whole and self contained, spiralling apart into 8 totipotent cells: which will give rise to both our inner and outer bodies. The 8 Extraordinary Vessels expressed again as a more physical whole. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen works with “Cellular breathing”: feeling the movement of breath in every cell.

At the end of the first week, we form an inner body that will become our physical body, and an outer body that will become our support structures: placenta and membranes. In the second week, this outer body burrows into the lining of the uterus: making blood connections to bring us nourishment. The quality of that first blood connection/bonding with our mother, when we bathe in her feelings and how much she accepts us, will imprint profoundly on us. This is an experience we carry into all future relationships. We have access to it by working with the Extraordinary Vessels, especially PV. We see here how the 8 Extraordinary Vessels exist in the space around us: not just in our physical body.

Our inner body starts developing from the Ming Men area (GV4: between L 2 and 3: a point shared by GV. PV and GDV) forming a fluid midline (primitive streak, notochord, neural tube). From this will develop our three germ layers of endo (CV:Yin), ecto (GV: Yang) and mesoderm (PV: Blood) in the third week. There are 2 points where the layers remain two: the future mouth and anus. The heart develops before the brain since blood is needed for the brain and other organs to develop. Here we see the relevance of key points along the Extraordinary Vessels and the importance of Blood (Chong).

It is not until week 4 that the other organs start to develop out of these three layers  and we form limb buds: the 12 channels arise out of the 8 Extraordinary Vessels. Gradually during weeks 4- 8 as we start to fold our fluid midline into the fetal position, the umbilical cord forms. This will gradually provide a new form of orientation around the navel, as through it we receive Blood, our nourishment from the placenta. A new relationship is established with our mother, and this area is part of CV, PV and GDV. Bonnie has developed “navel radiation breathing” where we breathe into our navel and feel our body organising around it. This is our centre for now.

From 9 weeks, we are called a fetus, and gradually start moving our arms and legs: developing the Wei and Qiao and the 12 meridians. Touch is the first sense which develops around 8 weeks and provides the most basic foundation to support the nervous system and then other senses. We experience the outer world through our perception of movement.

Later we start to develop reflexes which support different body movements, preparing the tool-kit we need when we emerge on the earth.

Preparing to land on earth: birth: strengthening the vertical axis

In a vaginal birth, the head presses down against the perineum, which stimulates contractions. Birth is thus initiated by the head which descends and emerges first, followed by a rotational movement of the shoulders, which moves down through the hips to the feet. This spiralling movement engages the whole of the midline in a very physical way, beginning at the head and ending at the feet: preparing for us to stand. If this movement becomes restricted in any way, such as for example in a forceps delivery, where there are different pressures on the head down through the spine, or a Caesarean delivery, where the movement of the spine is different, this affects the quality of the midline. The feelings of the mother, and those present at the birth also inform its quality. However if this stage is missed out, we simply need to be aware that the midline (Core Four) needs more strengthening. The most important time is as soon as possible after birth, as babies are very adaptable, and seek to integrate movements. However even working with an adult can support the strengthening of the midline, although it is likely to take longer to achieve.

Our first movements on the earth

The first new movement we have to make is to take in oxygen (air) through our nose and mouths, which brings about a complex shift in our circulatory system shifting the focus from the navel (umbilical cord) up to the lungs. We start to re-organise differently around our mid-line as we take in food through our mouths and eliminate waste through our anus.

How do we start to relate to this new world outside? We see how it is first through the Core Four. There are various reflexes which support our basic bonding. One of the most fundamental is the Tonic Labyrinthine (Tonic Lab). This draws us to earth by increasing the postural tone of the muscles on the side of the body in contact with the earth. If we rest on our front then flexor tone (Yin) is increased. If we lie on our back then extensor tone (Yang) is increased. If we lie on our side lateral tone is increased. Each position brings a different energy with it and affects our new relationships with heaven and earth, as we connect with gravity and space. If we yield first, we can then push away. A basic yes and no are established in our first three months. If we push first without yielding, a different relationship forms.

Begin by developing Yin: trust and yielding: CV/PV .

At birth, our posture is still fetal: physiological flexion. We have more tone in the front of our body (flexor muscles, CV/PV: Yin) while the back (GV:Yang) is curled around in protection. Initially newborns lie in a left or right C curve, determined by the way they were in the womb: so are more comfortable on one side than the other (Qiao and Wei). Development of the tone begins in our lower abdomen and seems to be linked with our new digestive activity and the stimulation of the mouth/anus connection. The tone of our digestive organs develops upward from the torso to the mouth. Flexor tone develops from the feet through the torso to the upper limbs and head. It is integrated when a supine baby can lift their head away from the ground.

If we are breast fed and held against our mother’s body, a stronger Yin to Yin connection is established. The quality of that connection imprints profoundly. If for example our mother is unsure or anxious, it expresses through her whole being and we will perhaps not be able to relax deeply into feeling safe and trusting. It’s another layer of how we experience our most basic way of relating. If all our needs are met, we trust enough to move away. If our needs are unmet, then we may spend the rest of our lives searching for this most basic connection. If our mother is not our biological mother, then we have to get used to a whole new body, which may either feel safer or less safe than that of our biological mother. If our mother doesn’t hold us close against her body, but away from her and is bottle feeding, then we will be experiencing a different kind of stimulation to our front, and may not be able to relax into the Yin.

From Yin, Yang develops our capacity to push away from the earth: GV and GDV

Extension develops slightly later in the womb than flexion and develops fully 6 months after birth. It relates to the development of the back muscles so that in prone, the baby can arch into a total extension posture (airplane: Landau righting reaction) . Extensor tone is developed as the infant starts to push away from the earth. We see it they are held upright in someone’s lap.

Like flexor tone, it first reflects in the feet developing through the torso and upper limbs to the head. It appears to originate in the development of tone in the lower tip of the spinal cord and to be a manifestation of spine and central nervous system activity  (GV, Yang ).

It develops through stimulation to the back. First through Tonic Lab the baby will yield to the earth and then it will push away.

A balance between the two is important with Yin providing the basis for Yang.

An imbalance will develop between the two if the baby is placed too much on their back, which is often the case these days. Following government guidelines in the Back to Sleep campaign( (which we need to respect) babies are placed to sleep on their backs, rather than, as had been in the past, on their fronts. Many parents reinforce this further by placing a waking baby on their back more than on their front, for example on a change mat or in a car seat. Encouraging the baby to stand before they are ready, will also overstimulate tone in the back of the legs. This means that the front (abdominal muscles, ileo –psoas, sartorius and rectus femoris) doesn’t get developed enough. Yang overpowers Yin! This presentation is common in adults.

Furthermore parents are more likely to wave toys and other objects at their baby if they are on their back, so baby’s attention is drawn to space and Yang. If our Yang is overstimulated then we want to pull away from the earth before we have fully connected. This will affect all future relationships.

Moving away: once we have experienced yield, we can push away

These first movements are a continuation of how we strengthen our midline through spinal movement, like a fish. Gradually we then start to move our arms and legs more as we develop tone in them, also first through yielding and then pushing away way.

The integration of these new movements happens in a specific order, but it is not simply linear: it happens in overlapping waves.

1; Homologous: Amphibian. Frog like movement of both arms and both feet together:  This establishes a connection with the upper body and the lower body: GDV. It is integrated when the baby can touch both hands or both feet together: around 3-4 months

2; Homolateral: Reptilian: Lizard like movement of the arm and leg on the same side: baby learns left and right. It is integrated when the baby can touch their hand and foot together on same side. We can then work more in the side position and with Wei and Qiao.

3; Contralateral: Mammal: The baby can link their arm and leg of opposite sides. It indicates an integration between opposites. As shiatsu practitioners, we all remember practising contralateral crawling.

Only once we have integrated all these movements in both a  yielding and reaching away version we are ready to stand on our two feet and establish a new vertical relationship along the mid-line: with Heaven above and Earth below. It is only at this point that the Yin/Yang flow we know so well in the 12 channels is established.

I find that it can be helpful to show some simple exercises to re connect the client back to these areas for themselves.

Exercises: What is our capacity to bond and leave?

Whole body Exercise to feel yes and no

Repeat this exercise in the three different positions of lying on your front (Yin), lying on your back (Yang) and lying on your side (Yang Qiao and Wei) . See which is most comfortable and reassuring. This indicates which way you bond more easily and which energies you express more.

Simply allow yourself to rest and feel the parts of your body in contact with the floor. Notice any feelings which come up. Then imagine the earth as a body you are lying against.

How comfortable do you feel with simply letting go and receiving the support from the earth or another body? How does your” yes” feel?

Next start to feel how you move away from this position: how does your “no” feel? .

Lying prone will test the strength of Yang:

Wiggle down the whole length of your spine like a fish and initiate all movement from here

Extend both arms and extend legs away from the ground. (homologous)::)

Extend your leg and arm on same side, first on one side and then the other: (homolateral) :

Extend your opposite arm and leg;  (contralateral):

Lying Supine will test Yin.

Move your spine like a fish and initiate all movement from here

Curl into ball by bringing your both arms and legs together (homologous)

Bring together your leg and arm of same side (homolateral)

Touch your opposite leg and arm (contralateral) .

How does each feel?

I use the regulating points of the Extraordinary Vessels to support the movement which has not been integrated ie homologous: both points on feet or hands, homolateral: same side point on feet and hand, contralateral: opposite hand and foot. If in doubt, always go through the sequence of movements beginning with homologous.

The impact on children/ adults

If any of these connections is not fully integrated, it will impact all future relationships: with Earth, Heaven and other people. The good news is that it is always possible to go back to a movement or posture or connection we have already experienced later in our life.

Since they relate so much to the Core Four Extraordinary vessels we need to work with them as the base. How we work with them will depend on which aspects may have been overworked or underworked. We can feel this in the current expression of the vessels, but need to bear in mind that touching these areas may potentially be difficult for the client to accept and this is where the regulating points can be extremely useful as a way in.

I often find that people re connect deeply with their experience of the first year and nine months of their life. The purpose of this is not about re living the past or any traumas, but re-discovering the potential of each movement. People come into spaces with deep capacity for connecting to their own inner resources of Yin, Yang bonding and leaving, and are no longer bound by the past patterning. They are then able to establish new ways of relating and develop a new capacity to be fully present in each moment.


I have explored this through workshops with Bonnie and Linda as well as Cherionna Menzam Sills and Karin Kalbante Wernicke’s work with babies has also influenced me.

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen: Sensing Feeling and Action, Contact Editions

Linda Hartley: Wisdom of the body moving, North Atlantic Books

Embyrology books: eg Larson: Human Embryology, Elsevier

Karin Kalbanter Wernicke: Baby Shiatsu , Singing Dragon

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