We are healthy, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, when our qi, or life energy, is balanced, bountiful and flowing freely through the network of meridians that connect our organs and energy centers.
Health-oriented qigong systems generally aim to help us reach this state by means of a series of slow, mindful movements blended with the breath. Most of the systems I’ve experienced are taught without specifying which energy centers and meridians are being stimulated when, but Yi Ren Qigong, my “home system,” teaches awareness of energy centers and meridians from the very beginning.
I have found this enormously challenging. The energy centers part isn’t so difficult, but lordy, there are a lot of meridians.
There are two ways to know these meridians. One is by studying them in a book or on a plastic acupuncture model like the one that sits on my desk. The other is by feeling them in your own body (unless, of course, you’re an acupuncturist and get to feel them through your needles in someone else’s body).
After three years of studying Yi Ren Qigong and practicing exercises that target particular meridians, I’ve made some progress on feeling my meridians. I can feel energy moving, say, down the insides of my arms, but I really don’t know which meridian it’s in because the feeling isn’t precise enough.
Longtime Yi Ren practitioners have told me that if you keep doing the exercises, eventually the meridians reveal themselves to you, one segment here, another segment there. One said I should buy an acupuncture atlas so that when I felt something very specific, I could go look in the book and say, “That’s it!”
But I am impatient, and so when I read the section in Damo Mitchell’s book “Heavenly Streams: Meridian Theory in Nei Gong” about his technique for learning to feel meridians, I thought, “Ah, hah! I’m going to try this.”
Damo Mitchell says you can learn to feel each of the 12 organ meridians by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at shoulder level and elbows a bit lower, and with your awareness on the meridian’s “source point.” The posture is called “standing post,’ and it might be comfortable if I were a post, but I am not and it is not, especially when I try for something approaching the 45 minutes Mitchell recommends—say, 20 or 25 minutes. But if I stand like this enough times, Mitchell says, I will become aware of the path of the meridian as a narrow 3-D tube beneath my skin.
He lists the meridian source points, all of them located on the hands or feet, and suggests massaging them before you begin standing to lock the location in your mind and also stimulate the qi.
I have been working on my lung meridians, which Mitchell says are the easiest of the 12 to access. I know I’m supposed to breathe deeply, observe without trying to make anything happen, and not be too attached to the outcome.
The breathing is easy; the holding-something-in-awareness, and the not-being-attached-to-feeling-something-I-really-want-to-feel-or-why-else-would-I-be-standing-like-this, isn’t.
I try to tell myself that I am not attached to feeling my lung meridians because even if I never do, the standing in and of itself will have helped me improve my posture. In truth, I probably just have two attachments.
After I finish standing, I cheat, and try other techniques.
A Yi Ren friend and fellow teacher showed me how to use a yin-yang complementary finger to zigzag across the area where I know the meridian must be to find it, sort of like a Geiger counter. This works, although what I feel is fairly fuzzy, not a narrow tube.
I’ve also found that if I use sword fingers (index and middle) of the opposite hand to stimulate the upper end of the lung meridian—that is, the place beneath my collarbone where it emerges from deep within my body—I can sometimes feel just a hint of there being a line down my arm to my thumb.
Finally, I do a couple of rounds of the Yi Ren Lung/Large Intestine exercise, mostly to be kind to my poor, beleaguered lung meridian by balancing it with its yin-yang partner, but also because it’s such a relief to do something pleasant.
I don’t know which method is best—doing the Yi Ren exercises, Damo Mitchell’s standing meditation approach, or using a Geiger counter finger or sword fingers. I do know I haven’t nailed the lung meridian and am not ready to move on to the next one.
But I have learned some things.
I have found that massaging and focusing on particular acupuncture points seems to change them. When I was first learning the Yi Ren organ meridian exercises, we would massage key points along the meridians a time or two. However, I never felt that massaging these key points was any different than massaging anything else, so I never bothered with massage when I practiced at home.
This was a mistake. I have begun noticing that the Bubbling Spring points on the soles of my feet and the Laogong points on my palms—two spots I do massage and focus on frequently–and now the lung meridian points at my wrists are becoming somehow softer and more sensitive.
I have also had enough fleeting lung meridian sensations to be even more convinced that the meridian network is real, and that I can access it through qigong.
Damo Mitchell says he can tune into his meridian system as readily as he can perceive sensations of his physical body. I doubt I will achieve this proficiency, but goodness, what an amazing possibility….
The prospect of being able to manage my meridians and improve my health is almost the least of it. I would also be lifting a veil on another dimension of reality.