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This is a project written for my “Massage and Pregnancy ” course by Claire Plowright. This course is not for shiatsu practitioners, but I like to introduce some shiatsu tools because I feel that supporting a woman in more than a simply physical way is vital in pregnancy. I have had great feedback over the years on the inclusion of shiatsu techniques and ideas. However, Claire is the first student who did her whole essay on an aspect of shiatsu. I am very impressed my how much she has absorbed and feel that even shiatsu practitioners and other practitioners of Chinese medicine can learn something from what she has written. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have. Suzanne

Her essay is called ” A conversation concerning the Extraordinary Vessels: The impact, importance and ways of working with them during pregnancy”

Intentions and experience

I’ll confess that massage hasn’t always been my path. I wanted to be a volcanologist. I studied Geology at University. I wanted to travel and study the earth. I wanted to be connected to the power and the raw state. I was drawn to the fire and to the flow, and…I didn’t make it. I got taken down a different rabbit hole, followed by another and another. I became a teacher for a short while. I loved the interaction, the relationship building and the intensity. I didn’t like that it sucked my soul out! So, I left. I went onto work in sustainability; taking care of the earth. And now all those paths join together. I can see that now. The wilderness now has a centre. I’m working with mother earth in a way I hadn’t seen as a possibility. It’s not the fire of a volcano, but it’s the fire of life. The end of one cycle and the beginning of another, and at the same time part of the larger cycles, connecting to ourselves, each other, the earth and the wider universe.

I am interested in the power of this connection and how that can be harnessed to be used in a massage/ shiatsu session. The words of Frederick Leboyer in ‘The Art of Breathing’ open up this idea of connection to self and life force (Qi) and offers a reminder to remain open and modest- as both the practitioner and client.

What is this fire, this energy,

this passion

with which you seem to overflow

turned, as you are into a fountain,

a spring?

Again, no one can tell.

Call it joy.

Or life.

No. Call it love

since it is all one.

And, yet, beware

it is not yours.

You are merely a channel.

It flows through you.

You can open to it.

If you expect it will obey

your sweet will

you’re in for a serious disappointment.

Therefore, remain modest, you are only

an instrument.

It is my intention to bring together my learning and intuition into this essay and use it to deepen my work, to know that I can to talk to clients with ease and a deep understanding of my offering.

It is my hope to support women to journey into this sacred space with greater strength, more ease and less anxiety; encouraging stillness and depth. In one of the birth stories told in Ina May’s ‘Guide to Childbirth’ book, one woman’s words struck me as incredibly poignant: “I was scared to feel so much power in my body”. Through my work with clients I hope that I can support them to feel they can traverse the landscape of pregnancy and birth and encourage them to tap into their strength, despite any fears or anxieties that may arise.

It is this desire to develop my ability to work at a deep level with clients that has led me to this essay on the Extraordinary Vessels (EVs). I want to live and carry out my work from a place of authenticity and to truly experience and understand what it is that I offer. I am changing as with each client I see. Being open to the change and the vulnerability of not always knowing is a growing force inside of me and one which, I hope will be of benefit to the women who come for massage. As I gain experience, I can hold and work with greater connectedness, confidence and authenticity.

Why the Extraordinary Vessels?

With this essay, I intend to explore the energetic and practical elements of how working with the Extraordinary Vessels (and some associated meridians) can really add depth and healing to a pregnancy massage session- using all the elements of the session- the visualisations, breathing, movement, massage and shiatsu. I am interested in how this work can impact clients in terms of their connection to themselves, their baby, their family, community and consciousness, too. It is the Daoist view (and more recent thoughts, too) that everything is connected. In Candice Pert’s book ‘Everything you need to know to feel good’ she states that “We’re not only linked to each other in a giant, energetic crystal of interlocking matrices, but were also all connected to our home, the earth. The planet itself vibrates…we know that this geomagnetic oscillation penetrates the human body and overlaps with heart and brain electromagnetic oscillations, entraining our body minds in harmony with our planet”. I feel that working with the EVs can bring this connection to the fore.

I was particularly drawn to the work with EV’s as two of the clients in my case study group have had arrived for a massage carrying emotions that they were not sure how to process.  I recommended that both of them also sought out talking or similar therapies to support them, alongside the massage. Often, massage can work on deeper levels along with the relief of physical symptoms and I could see the opportunity to learn how the EV work might benefit these clients, particularly.

I understand from reading that the EVs can be a gateway to change patterns in our lives, as is the experience of pregnancy. Working with the EV’s can support the processing and healing of old memories and holding patterns. I am particularly curious about the links to personal alchemy and transformation which can be achieved or experienced whilst working with these vessels, from both a client and practitioner perspective. The text in Appendix 1 suggests the importance of ritual and mindfulness whilst working with these vessels. I am consciously trying to cultivate these aspects in the massage sessions, and also practice them in my daily life, so I am interested in where this journey may lead.

I also wanted to just make mention to what is not in this essay. I have focussed on the gestation period of pregnancy and the 4 core Extraordinary Vessels. I have not included embryology, labour, birth, fertility or postnatal elements. I have also only paid very light comment to the other 4 ‘outer’ or ‘linking’ EV’s.

So, what are the Extraordinary Vessels? (EV’s)

In short, they’re a deep sea of energy, distributing kidney energy and supplying energy to the meridians that they connect with. They hold a deep connection to our ancestry, our own spirit and the environment in which we live. For this reason, they are valuable vessels to work with in times of life transition and during cycles of life. For women, these can be times such as pregnancy, fertility, menstruation and menopause.

There are 4 core vessels. The Governing Vessel (GV) and Conception Vessel (CV) regulate hormones and send energy to where it is needed, and also regulate Yin and Yang energies. The CV is more Yin and the GV more Yang. The Girdle Vessel (GDV) regulates the changes in the pelvis. It stores experience and needs to be released before a person can move on. It links to the pelvic floor and the flow of Essence (description soon) to the uterus. The Penetrating Vessel (PV) works with the Blood.

Primarily, the EV’s support the brain and the reproductive organs and they mirror our embryological development.

EVs are energy reservoirs; flowing zones that derive all their energy from the Kidneys. The Essence that comes from and is stored in the Kidneys, is also sometimes called Jing and this is circulated by the EV’s. Essence and Blood both share the same common source- the Kidneys.

They form a continuous circuit, flowing through the 4 key organs: Kidneys, Heart, Reproductive Organs and the Brain. They are interlinked, share points and regulate the whole body, as well as some specific areas. Some examples of this are:

– Ming Men/ Gateway of Vitality (GV4) is found in the spinal vertebrae between L2/3. This point is shared by GDV, PV and GV and is worked with closely in the shiatsu work in pregnancy.

– GV20 (100 points of meeting) is on the top of the head, where all 4 of the inner core circuit EV’s meet.

There are 8 EV’s, 4 inner ones, which will be the focus of this essay, but it is also important to acknowledge the importance of the outer 4 EVs’ known as the Heel and Linking vessels. EV’s work in pairs and it is beneficial to look at EV’s before the meridians as they are the main regulators.

The EV’s do not flow in one direction, but ebb and flow like tides. However, the CV and GV flow up towards the lips.

Appendix 1 gives some greater depth of the characteristics and possible outcomes of imbalanced regulation and the diagram below shows the location of the vessels in relation to each other.

Real Blood or an idea of the  energy of the Blood?

A mix of both. Its related to the steady flow of blood and healthy blood being in the places it is needed. For example, in pregnancy, blood flow from the heart (chest) to the uterus. This is important pathway and we can work with this to promote and balance a healthy flow. If we promote a balanced blood flow on a physical level and an energetic level we therefore support connection between the mother and the baby, providing emotional anchoring and focus.

And what about the other energies just mentioned?

Essence is essentially the same as Jing, in my understanding. Essence cannot be increased or decreased by the practitioner as it is formed of both Pre-Heaven Essence (energetic DNA from the moment of conception) and Post-Heaven Jing and linked to the Kidneys. However, the flow can be balanced. Essence is the energy that produces life, is present in our blossoming and it weakens with age. It underlies all organic life. I feel like I want to call it a ‘physical’ energy, compared to either Qi or Shen which strike me as more ‘fluid’ forms.

And the Qi? This is best described by what it does. It is the flow of life force between Yin and Yang. It is the energy of movement, with the ability to activate and flow. It is within us and around us. It connects all things. It’s also called Chi.  Qi flows through the body within the 12 channels or meridians, impacted by physical and emotional activities of the individual. The names of the 12 channels for example, Stomach, Spleen, Lung, Large Intestine and Kidney indicate the governing nature of the chi within the physical body over processes such as breathing, digestion and elimination. They are also impacted by the quality of the food we eat and air we breathe.

The baby can block the flow of Qi in the mother as they grow, effecting the Qi flow in the rest of the body, leading to imbalance between the upper and lower body.

Shen is what makes us human. It is our spirit and our vitality.  

If Jing is the source of life, Qi is the ability to activate and move, Shen is the vitality behind Jing and Qi in the human body.

Where does Essence/ Jing come from?

Essence is derived from our parents from conception (pre heaven Qi), through pregnancy and is modified by the material world initial experiences of the material world (post-heaven Qi). However, ongoingly, our Essence is supported by the energy transformed from the food we eat. The energy of which is transformed and transported by the Stomach and Spleen meridians.  

Essence is impacted by stress and I can see now why the quality of touch in a massage and shiatsu session is so important: it can support the function of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and rejuvenate) and reduce stress for the mother and therefore also the baby.

Jing or Essence is the most important energy for supporting fertility, pregnancy and the reproductive organs. All the Extraordinary Vessels support the flow of Essence to the womb. The Spleen, Kidney and Liver meridians rely on the GDV balanced flow encircling the body in the horizontal plane.

Blood and water are Yin elements of the pregnancy. These increase during pregnancy. The mothers Jing supports and nourishes the foetus in the first trimester. Her Jing is stored in the Kidneys.

Essence can be difficult to influence but it can be affected by the balance of work, diet, rest, and breathing, the latter two of which can be worked with in a massage/ shiatsu session. Essence is of particular importance in the ‘mothering’ years because of its governance over reproduction function and fertility.

Essence is experienced as a dense water or fluid texture and originates in the Kidneys while Qi is an energetic texture and is everywhere.

Balancing the Yin/ Yang. How might an imbalance show up?

Without bleeding each month, the mothers fire/ heat (Yang) also increases and this heat is needed for the foetus. This fire must be balanced with the Yin, otherwise the fire/ heat rises, causing in-balance, which may show up as headaches, nausea, breast fullness and emotionally unsettled feelings.

Overall, pregnancy is said to be a more Yin stage of life. To balance the Yin/Yang energies and help regulate the core changes in the body, EV work with the CV (sea of Yin), GV (sea of Yang), PV and GDV can be included in a massage session. Examples are included in Appendix 2.

And why are the EV’s important during pregnancy?

My understanding is that working with the EV’s are the ultimate opportunity to work with balancing and supporting the regulation of the Ying/Yan energies, as well as supporting the Essence, which can become out of balance in the life changing event of pregnancy.  Pregnancy is the most Yin state of a woman’s life. And with this, there can be some resistance, in a world which can demand a more linear and direct Yang energy- be that work deadlines, or daily to do lists. The Yin, in this environment can sometimes require a support to balance what would be a naturally Yin state. The EV’s can be used to regulate excess energy and rein in the Yang energy and therefore allow more Yin energy to flow forward. The energies are continuously and only present in relation to each other. An increase in one energy can only mean a reduced influence of the other. A healthy balance can influence the rest of the system or body as a whole as this is the energy in which the physical body lives, exists and operates from.

The Yin energies are those related to the feminine energy and can be aligned with characteristics of trust and yielding. I can see why that is, as from my own experiences of pregnancy and birth, that these two qualities are what I (finally) learned I had and needed. I didn’t truly understand this until the birth of my second child. They were my allies and I could feel their strength guiding me through.

The Yang is aligned with individuality and leaving.

Could it be that when the client shows up with anxiety and overwhelm, that the Yang energies are over powering and the person has pulled away too much from the Earth/ Mother/ Yin energies? They have lost balance with the ‘Mother’ and balance would occur with input from more grounding energies e.g with feet on the ground, out in nature, bellies (or feet, depending on the stage of pregnancy!) to the earth.

Working with the EV’s

What does ‘working with it’ really mean?

‘The idea is to work to maintain the best, most balanced production and flow of Qi, Blood and Essence’ (p133, Suzanne Yates). I’ve explained how this can be done in practical terms in the sections that follow.

Can I work with them in an energetic way? How can I do that?

Working with the EVs, in my experience so far is more of a ‘sensing’ than creating a deliberate change.

The EVs can be worked in a specific way to support regulation, balance and even flow. This can be achieved through:

  • The regulating and paired points
    • Feel both regulating points on both sides of the body, check for difference, sensation or heat. Stay on these points if required or guided by an inner sense;
    • Combine with paired point of the EV to provide additional balance to the flow/ sensation.
  • Use points and zones along the flow direction (channel)- this can be done by palming or light finger touch
  • Connect with the associated organs (these are linked via the meridian pathways and associations)

This work requires a focussed, intentional presence on the area and spaces, and a slower and deeper  quality to the touch and intention. I’ve used notes from the course handbooks to source the above information.

Where the energy feels more stagnant or heavy, it can be helpful to hold the mother hand in this area. Likewise, if there is little energy felt, or if there is an excess of energy- which may be felt as heat or intensity in the area, this can be held with intention of encouraging the energy to move to another area of the hold.

Appendix 3 also gives further information on the meridians linked to the EVs and how they can support the whole systems energy flow.

EV’s in breath work and visualisations

Attention is the process that directs energy and information flow—within our brains, and within our relationships. And so we’ll discover that how we learn to focus attention can activate specific circuits. Where attention goes, neural firing occurs. And where neural firing happens, neural structure can be strengthened. When that firing is integrative, then we can see how using our attention in integrative ways can actually reinforce coherent integrative functioning in the moment and grow integrative fibres for future functioning to be more balanced, coherent, and harmonious.

Breath work and visualisation work can really allow a woman to feel into her own energy and body. As Daniel Siegel states above, in bringing the awareness to the body and enquiring about the sensations and message from particular areas, we bring about the possibility of self-healing and connection and a calming of the autonomic nervous system. Deep breathing creates space in the abdomen for the baby, it gently stretches the muscles and improves blood flow. It offers the possibility for a healthy, natural birth using breath and visualisation to harness this power. The route of the breath follows the PV and CV in particular and brings Essence and Blood to the uterus

Common pregnancy issues and relation to Extraordinary Vessels

Through the case study work I have been able to plan how to consciously work with the EV’s. The areas I have observed so far are:

Sickness and Nausea: “During the first three months, profound changes to the Penetrating Vessel take place. The mothers’ blood, essence and Kidney energy are diverted to nourish the foetus, so Qi and blood become relatively deficient in the Penetrating vessel and its qi rebels upwards towards the stomach and chest. For this reason, acupuncture points and herbs that effect the PV are also effective for easing morning sickness in pregnancy women. Common points are ST30, KD16-19 and particularly KD20 and KD21.

Working with a client who was feeling sick during her first trimester (as the placenta is forming) was a first experience for me. I took note of the guidance in the above quote and worked with the PV on the heart- uterus connection. The mothers Yin is used to nourish the foetus at this point so she can become depleted, so I also looked to strengthen Yin and promote grounding. I did this through working on the feet but avoiding the labour focus points.

Anxiety and Depression: I would suggest calming of the autonomic nervous system with sedation massage techniques, coupled with work on the PV to strengthen the heart. I would support this with work on the Kidney meridian to promote strong Essence and work on GV20 to link to ‘heaven’ connection and create more ‘fire’. Holds along the PV/CV line to strengthen the connection between heart and uterus and therefore mother and baby, can be suitable here, too. These links would be similar to the ones with a client in the first or third trimester who was feeling emotionally vulnerable or sensitive, this could be due to the changes in her hormonal system or an imminent birth.

Cervical shortening: When the cervix is shortened or ‘compromised’, working with Spleen energies to strengthen connection to earth and the ‘upward’ flow of energy is key, along with strengthening the GDV to maintain the Essence within the pelvis. This can also support clients with varicose veins.

Witnessing/ space holding: In creating a nurturing space and healthy relationship with the client, the massage therapy space can be an environment (either before or after massage, depending on the client) where clients wish to express issues which are troubling them. In some instances, a client will talk more after the massage and I believe working with the body triggers this, and at other times, they wish to unburden themselves beforehand so that they can feel a greater benefit from the massage. In either case, I can see that the massage/ shiatsu work can help release buried emotions and in the right environment, can support the woman to heal from their past, therefore creating space for a new paradigm.  These releases, along with other physical releases and ‘allowing’ can have an effect on the woman and the baby, clearing the way for a calmer more relaxed environment for the baby in the uterus. In supporting the mother, this directly supports the baby.

In his book ‘Biology of Belief’, Bruce Lipton writes of recent research by Nathanielsz, who writes “There is mounting evidence that programming of lifetime health by the conditions in the womb is equally, if not more important, than our genes in determining how we perform mentally and physically during life” and Lipton continues “understanding the mechanisms that underlie programming by the quality of life in the womb, we can improve the start in life for our children and their children…the responsiveness to individuals to the environmental conditions perceived by their mothers before birth allows them to optimize their genetic and physiological development as they adapt to the environmental forecast”. He finishes by stating that “…the transgenerational passage of characteristics by nongenetic means does occur.” Combining the power of allowing, release and touch (through massage and shiatsu work, especially with the EVs), or at least allowing the space for these aspects in the massage session can surely help to provide a positive and nurturing environment for the baby, the type of quality of environment that Nathanielsz speaks of. This element is strengthened by working with the partner or birthing partner to enable them to proactively and confidently support the woman and baby in pregnancy and birth.  This work supports the fact that the quality of the pre-heaven essence (which is fundamental in the EV work and flow) in the Jing essence, can be influenced by the quality of the environment in which the foetus grows.  Work in particular with the GDV, CV and kidney meridian can influence the foetus directly and the mother-baby connection. This can be achieved through supporting quality flow of energy through holds between heart-uterus, heart- kidney and abdominal massage.

How do the EVs change during pregnancy?

As the pregnancy changes from one trimester to the next, fundamental changes occur. These are mainly hormonal and emotional changes in the first trimester (T1), where the uterus and placenta and foetus are all just beginning to grow. Its accompanied with a strong focus on preparation, maintenance and growth. Focus on the upwards flow of energy from the feet, to support and maintain the pregnancy, along with strengthening the GDV and the flow of Blood and Essence within the CV and PV. Strengthening the Yin, particularly in CV. This is the most changeable time for the EVs and can lead to a rapidly changing emotional landscape in the pregnant woman. The energy of the earth and the links to PV (the only EV to flow in the legs) are important as the mother can be supported by energies outside of herself.

In T2, the main feature is growth along with strong physical changes as the foetus grows. This impacts the heart, lungs and uterus and as such the focus with the EVs is on the regulation of the Blood, Jing and Qi. This translates to a strong focus on the PV, GDV and CV. Musculoskeletal work in the back and spine can influence the GV as mobilizations help to increase the flexibility of the spine and the flow of the energies. From 8 weeks, the foetus can experience touch. With growing size, T2 is a good time to introduce massage directly for the baby, if possible.

In T3 the baby can begin to block the flow of Qi in the mother. For this reason, working with the GDV (which is the only horizontal flow of energy in the body) can help regulate the other EV’s and the meridians which cross through this area. After working this area and supporting flow, focus can then shift to the other EVs such as the GV and CV to encourage the flow of energy to the limbs and the PV to ensure flow to the legs.

The EVs change again at birth, and indeed I have seen how, within the last few weeks of pregnancy, this change is already taking place in the women who have come for massage. A more inward (Yin) power, a strength rises, and there are moments of fear and intense grief for the change that is coming. This then is also another opportunity to work to support this transition time, when the reality of the surrender and focus required are building. EV work can support this by enabling the woman to really ‘go inside her body’ to experience and feel her own power and energies that will guide her through this. This can be done through holds and following the areas of flow of the EVs.

Integration after the birth is another time of change for the EV’s.

What does it look like when you ‘work’ on the EVs?

This question has continuously piqued my curiosity while I have been looking at the EV’s. How can I actually influence them if they’re so huge and so slow to change? How could I tell if I had? What evidence do I have that working with them actually works? The following two quotes have helped me to understand this and to know that even if I do not know directly, having clear knowledge and intention is the key to influence.

“What this essentially boils down to is that everything we label an object, no matter how large or how heavy, is essentially a collection of electrical charges interacting with other energy. You and everything around you are simply a collection of charged energy having a relationship” (Lynne McTaggart. The Bond. Hay House 2011, p13)

“Inviting our thoughts and feelings into awareness allows us to learn from them rather than be driven by them.” (Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.)

Mobilizations, essentially creating rhythmic passive movements in the following areas:

  • Spinal rocking: to rock and mobilise the spine with longitudinal, superior/ inferior and posterior/ anterior pressures to work with the GV and PV.  
  • Pelvic Girdle: This can support the mobilisation of blood and lymph, the Yin fluids in the body.
  • Pectoral Girdle: Circular movement of the pectoral girdle can support for example, the downward flow Yin energy to the core.

Myofascial Release

  • MFR techniques such as cross hand release of the lateral upper leg, lateral knee joint, lateral lower leg, medial upper leg and medial knee joint and lower leg can all bone done in a side lying position. The medial leg work being of particular significance in following the general areas of the rising Yin meridians.
  • Supine positions which work in the upper body such as the cross-hand release of the upper chest, to support the heart flow and in postnatal sessions to strengthen the GDV, a transverse plane release of the pelvic floor to bring stability and awareness. Scar tissue release for women post caesarean could also be used to support balanced flow of energy in the GDV.
  • Fascial stretching in extremities such as the foot sling, which is directly linked to the pelvis tilt. Often an anteriorly tilted pelvis can lead to fallen arches, sometimes experienced in pregnancy. Working with a slackened tibialis anterior and fibularis under tension, massage could help ease this holding pattern, which in turn could ease the anterior pelvic tilt, and associated shortening in the lower lumbar spine. Working of the foot sling could therefore help in releasing the GDV and GV to flow and regulate more efficiently.

Sedation techniques

  • These can be used to balance and strengthen the GV and PV, working with the muscles linked to these areas. Sedation techniques might include paravertebral raking, sacral friction and rib raking that can be used “to lower blood pressure by stimulating the paravertebral and sacral plexus parasympathetic nerves; to induce a sedative, calming state; to gather and centre the client’s energy around her core” (Osbourne, Pre and Perinatal Massage Therapy). Although not directly a shiatsu approach, these techniques can bring about effects on the EV’s- in this case the likely all 4 core EV’s.

Holistic massage (musculoskeletal system):

I think it would go without saying that in working the muscular- skeletal system that we are also working the energies that are bound within and interact with it. Regular strokes such as holding, compression, palpation, stripping, cross fibre friction and passive stretching can be used. It can help to do a postural assessment as this can help to indicate where the physical issues are, which often relate to the energetic blocks. For example, postural imbalance, restrictions of joints, balance, gait and respiration.

I am have noticed that when I work slowly, focussed and in a present way that the benefits to the client are enormous. They feel more able to let go and relax. Working int his way allows their body to do what it needs to, and the resistance can be dropped. The slow pace and the allowing seem to fit the work with the EV’s well. They seem to me, to be deep, deep oceans of slow flow, almost linked to the exhale and inhale of the Earth. Working with them, rather than trying to change anything, is beneficial.

Massage during pregnancy is not a pamper. It can offer real benefits such as improved blood flow, which is beneficial for the mother and baby, softer muscle tone through improved releasing musculoskeletal tensions, improved breathing, digestion and sleep, calming of the nervous system and improved lymphatic flow.

Changing the depth, speed and stroke type depending on the area is helpful (Awareness of blood clots in medial thigh, particularly in later stages). Any work done with them could, if possible be done at the start or middle of the session, to allow integration with the rest of the body, so this could mean intentionally working with the GDV and then linking the whole body through holds to the occipital, crown, hands and/ or feet.

Appendix 4 gives the names of the muscles and how they are affected by the woman’s posture, which can influence the flow of all the EV’s, depending on the tilt of the pelvis, or the presence of hyper kyphosis.


  • Palming (using the palm of the hand to press inward gradually, with palm of hand up to maybe 3 times on a particular point), off body work, massage strokes,
  • Shiatsu finger pressure touch and massage strokes. Applying gentle pressure to the route or area of the EV’s. Spaces can open up possibilities for both physical and emotional awareness.
  • Open and activate the EV’s through the regulating and the paired points. These points address the meridians they open and activate, as well as the associated EV
  • Movements which open the pelvis such as leg pulls and stretches, knee bends and quad pulls, all opening the pelvic region.

To finish…

This is my current understanding of what’s possible when working with EV’s. I can see how much more there is to learn and understand, but I wanted to start here and see where the journey takes me. I am totally open to the possibility that some of my understanding needs tweaking or adjustment. J

It has taken me sometime to collate all the information, and in many of ways, I feel like it isn’t really significantly different to the wisdom and information from the November course.   Except for the main thread, that this is my understanding of the systems, experience and knowledge, expressed in a way that I can make it my lived experience. I’ve needed to unpack the work to then repack it again, to know that I can see it through my eyes and understand it. On one level of the experience, I know that I’ve been focussed on the physical and mental wellbeing of the clients who have come to see me, and also at a deeper level,  I hope that in some small way, that I have been able to support the women through their own transformation- be it from maiden to mother; release from old holding patterns, even if temporary, provided the space for emotional and physical release; or been their advocate when they needed extra support. The work of the EVs is bringing me to new dimensions of understanding and experience, too. A little bit of alchemy, shared.   


Pregnancy and Childbirth: A wholistic approach to massage and bodywork by Suzanne Yates. Published 2010

The Extraordinary Vessels and Gynaecological Diseases by Zhenbo Li;

Everything you need to know to feel good. Candice Pert. Hay House, published 2007

Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.  

Lynne McTaggart, The Bond, Hay House 2011, p13

Pre and Perinatal Massage Therapy: A comprehensive guide to prenatal, labour and postpartum practice by Carole Osbourne. Published 2012.

Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin. Published 2003.

Childbirth without fear by Grantly Dick Read. Published 1951

Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual Movement Therapists by Thomas W. Myers

The Art of Breathing by Frederick LeBoyer. Published 1985.

The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton. Published 2005. P57

Listen to your body: The Wisdom of the Dao by Bisong Guo and Andrew Powell

Myofascial Release: A step by step guide by Ruth Duncan. Published 2014

Psycho-emotional pain and the eight extraordinary vessels by Yvonne R. Farrell. Published 2018.

Basic Clinical Massage Therapy: Integrating Anatomy and Treatment by James Clay and David Pounds. Published 2003

Course notes issued by Suzanne Yates from ‘Pregnancy 4 day module’ and ‘Extraordinary Vessels Core text with Wei and Qiao’

Appendix 1

There is depth to the EV’s, as written about in Exposition on the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, by  Li Shi-Zhen:

Yet Li demands in no uncertain terms that we do indeed engage the extraordinary vessels from the perspective of internal alchemy as well as medicine. He closes both of his introductory chapters with an admonition to physicians and cultivators alike that each group must become conversant with both medical and alchemical perspectives on the extraordinary vessels. Competency in both these aspects of the extraordinary vessels will allow physicians to “comprehend the great purpose of the 12 channels and 15 networks.” Li warns that by remaining ignorant of the larger scope of extraordinary vessel lore, physicians will “remain in the dark as to the cause of disease.” Similarly, longevity seekers ignorant of the medical applications of the extraordinary vessels will find it “difficult to tame the cauldron’s heat.” P53

Modern commentators tend to refer to the passages concerning internal alchemy in the Exposition as qigong, but this is something of an oversimplification.2 Developing slowly over centuries as a uniquely Chinese method of personal cultivation, the term ‘internal alchemy’ refers to more than breathing practices or exercise. Although such practices are an integral part of internal alchemy, the goals and techniques of internal alchemy are much more far-reaching. Isabelle Robinet defines internal alchemy as a “technique of enlightenment including a method of controlling both the world and oneself and a means of fashioning (zao hua 造化) and hence understanding in the sense of an existential and intellectual integration.” 3 Others define the goal somewhat more simply as a quest to transcend space and time that often takes the form of the pursuit of physical or spiritual transcendence. Livia Kohn has described this quest for transcendence as a progressive “lightening and brightening” wherein the corporeal body becomes ever buoyant and more luminous until the adept is finally able to soar away on the clouds.4   


According to Robinet, internal alchemy has three distinguishing components:

1. There is a concern for mental and physiological training, with an emphasis on the mental aspects. In addition, internal alchemy strives toward a synthesis of various Daoist aspects (breathing exercises, visualization, alchemy), certain Buddhist speculations, and references to Confucian texts.

2. There is a systematized use of the trigrams and hexagrams of the Classic of Change, already used metaphorically in the laboratory rituals of external alchemy.

3. Finally, internal alchemy invariably involves references to metallurgical practices of a purely metaphorical nature.5

All of these components are plainly evident in the Exposition’s references to internal alchemy.

What defines the discipline of internal alchemy is the synthesis of all three of the above-mentioned characteristics, and these components are present in all texts on the subject.

Thus it was that Qin Yue-Ren compared this to when the “rains pour down from heaven, the irrigation ditches overflow, the rain floods rush wildly, flowing into the lakes and marshes.” This is the revelation of the secret meaning not presented in Divine [Pivot] and Basic [Questions].

Appendix 2

Extraordinary Vessels (Core 4): Characteristics, Balance and linking channels
Name Organs/ spaces Key Points Connecting meridians Characteristics and function Conditions associated with imbalance To strengthen and support balance Associated muscles/ joints/ bones
Chong Mai (Sea of Blood) Penetrating Vessel (PV) Heart stomach Uterus Sacrum inner thighs Digestive + respiratory West: Hypothalamus- pituitary- ovary axis RegulatorSP4   Pair HP6   Linking Vessel: Yin Linking     Stomach Kidney Spleen Links Heart – Uterus. Heart- Uterus sends Blood energy and emotional energy to the uterus to strengthen baby’s system. Links kidneys to stomach Emotional connection w. heart and Blood. How we nourish our hearts Key in menstruation Regulates flow of Qi and blood in regular vessels Relates to blood, heart, gynae, digestive, front body.  Unsettled in T1, calmed in T2  by placental growth. Placenta regulates hormones and blood more and heat settles. PV then more settled. Digestive issues Nausea + vomiting (excess Blood counter flows to stomach) Baby slow to develop or not developing strongly Depression Stomach and Kidney lines can be used to regulate function Spleen and stomach to be regulated to transform and transport food and drink energy- generate blood and Heart- uterus holds Work on the feet (settle energy)     Deep internal?
Ren Mai (Sea of Yin / Sea of Yin channels) Conception Vessel (CV) Strengthens Yin Lungs throat diaphragm uterus abdomen Endocrine RegulatorLU7   Pair KD6   Linking Vessel: Yin Heel Spleen Liver KIDNEY Works with PV to regulate uterus and menstruation. Nourishes Blood. Regulates Qi and Blood in all the yin channels Directs the dev and growth of foetus Provides all yin substance for all female cycles Can be used to nourish the Yin energy Controls the foetus Receives and carries Qi of all Yin meridians. Headaches Nausea Pre- eclampsia Above occur as excess yang rises in yin deficient state Fluid retention i.e. oedema Heart- uterus holds Spleen work Spleen and kidney work for oedema Work with feet, esp K1 Abdominals Pelvic floor Pelvis (all)
Du Mai (Sea of Yang)   Governing Vessel (GV) Strengthens Yang Back/ spine outer thigh neck scapula  brain RegulatorSI3   Pair BL62   Linking Vessel: Yang Heel Bladder Stomach Gall Bladder Governs the Qi of all Yang meridians Related to brain, spinal column and back of body Chronic lower back pain (due to Kidney deficiency) Lordosis hinders the flow Foggy, poor sleep, headaches, heavy energy Haemorrhoids, prolapse High/ Low blood pressure   Spinal rocking Bladder line Work with GV20 encourages heaven connection, pulls energy up and increase ‘fire’. Link with CV Heart points on the hand. Erector Spinae Latissimus Dorsi Pelvic stabilizing Trapezius Rhomboids Posterior neck muscles Cranium muscles and tendons
Dai Mai (Qi of Uterus+ Essence) Girdle Vessel (GDV) Gastrointestinal Female reproduction RegulatorGB41   Pair TH5   Linking vessel: Yang Linking     Spleen Liver Kidney CV8 Relaxed but supportive at optimum Clear out before nourishing. Regulates bwn upper and lower body. Regulator of energy in pelvis Encircles and influences all the channels in a longitudinal direction Directly affects female physiology and pathology All meridians rely on GV encircling well Reproductive issues Emotionally core issues How anchored, or not. Emotionally sensitive and changeable Spleen cannot transform and transport food and drink and spleen qi sinks- prolapse, damp, excess discharge Tense OUTER leg muscles if not flowing freely Slack GDV= can’t restrain essence= bleeding, restless foetus, miscarriage Tense GDV = Cold legs, heaviness. Cuts energy off to lower body. Straighten spine- nourishes spine +brain. BL32- good for pelvic problems- consolidate GDV, strengthen Spleen Kidney-Uterus holds Pelvic floor Transverse abs Int. + ext obliques Symphysis pubis Gluteals Piriformis Erect spinae SAJ Pelvis- all

Appendix 3

Are there some key things to know about the meridians and their links to the EVs?

Some key points to note, that I have come across in my learning:

  • Spleen is the root of Qi and Blood and can be used to raise Qi. The Heart rules Blood energy.
  • Liver is responsible for free/ smooth flow of Qi and stores Blood.
  • Kidney stores Essence and is responsible for reproduction, lowering and holding Qi.
  • All 3 above rely on GDV encircling the body.
  • The CV strongly correlates to Kidney.
  • CV4 meets Spleen, Liver, Kidney. Tonifies the CV and regulates menstruation. 
  • CV6 fosters original qi and tonified qi.
  • CV7 is meeting point of CV with PV and Kidney.
  • KD3 nourishes the kidney.
  • SP6- tonifies the kidney, liver and spleen and regulates menstruation.
  • Smooth Liver is important in gynaecology as regulates ascending and descending Spleen and kidneys, because it encircles their channels.
  • Kidney can become depleted if a woman has more than one child in relatively quick succession. This can create weak Lung meridian and is supported by BL13.
  • Postnatally, activating GB27 and BG28, both points against the inner bone of the ASIS, help activate the GDV.
  • The Yin meridians are key to supporting the woman in pregnancy. The picture below shows their approximate location and area of influence.

My own drawing of the Yin meridian zones (medial arm and leg)

Yin meridians in body
Yin meridians of body

Appendix 4

Hyperkyphosis and chin out
Short and tight Weak and inhibited
Sternoclino Mastoid (SCM) Rhomboids
Upper trapezius Middle traps
Suboccipitals Thoracic erector spinae
Levator Scapulae Supra/infra hyphoids (chin out posture)
Scalenes Longus capitis
Pectorals Longus cervicis
Serratus anterior Other:
Anterior intercostals TMJ
Supra and infra spinatus  
Teres minor  
Anterior pelvic tilt/ hyperlordosis
Short and tight Weak and inhibited
Lower erector spinae Rectus abdominis
Transverse spinalis External and internal obliques
Hip flexors (psoas major and iliacus) Gluteus min and max
Rectus femoris Pelvic floor
Tensor Fascia Late Transverse abdominus
Quadratus Lumborum  
IT band- (Massage Sloth has a great video for this)  

Other common muscle change are weak and inhibited adductors.

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