I have had the distinct pleasure of working with the Living Meridian acupuncture charts these last weeks while studying for finals. I wanted to spend some quality time working with them before I wrote a review so I could get a full appreciation for their strengths and weaknesses. My one line impression is that these are, bar none, the highest quality acupuncture charts available on the market. In fact, I encourage you to buy one right now. No joke!
One of the creators of these impeccable tools contacted me several months ago via my blog to let me know about the painstaking process he and his colleagues went through to create charts that are accurate, beautiful and easy to use. The team spent many hours palpating points, debating about their locations, looking for the perfect marking pens and generally ensuring themselves and their customers a product that meets their very high standards of accuracy.
They worked for thousands of hours cross referencing their locations with the locations noted by all the major acupuncture book writers. They did find some disparities in the descriptions of point locations. Further, they found that their charts conflicted in several ways with the other commercially available charts. The result of their hard work is that they have created charts that show with great accuracy the most typical locations of points as modeled by a real human being, not simply approximated on a two dimensional drawing of a human being.
Think about this! There’s a lot of shifting of tissue that happens when a person stands up. You can see how this might impact the way that the points appear on the final product. You can see an example of the difference by comparing these two photos that Fifth Element provided. For instance, look at the top of the columns and the relationships of the points near the bottom of the columns. The fact that they figured this out and then adjusted their charts accordingly to be maximally useful really speaks highly of Fifth Element’s dedication to producing something that reflects the real world. I think using these charts also helps for us to think carefully about the way that the position and condition of the body should shift our thinking when we are locating points on our patients.
Robust set of features!
Aside from this dedication to accuracy, there are many other fantastic features of the charts. Perhaps most important of these – they are beautiful. The colors are vivid, the surface is glossy and of high quality. I have no problem having these on my wall, I want everyone to see them! They are also durable. Shipped from Australia in a sturdy cardboard tube for a minimal cost, they suffered no wear and tear. I’ve been using them for almost a month, moving them about, rolling and unrolling, letting my daughter mess with them and they look just like they did when I pulled them out of their packaging.
The points are numbered clearly and labeled according to their channel by using distinct colors for each. There is a key included, but the colors are intuitive for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese medicine theory. They have also included special labelling to indicate Yin vs Yang channels, Yuan-source, Xi-cleft, Luo-connecting and all the Shu-Transport points. While it does take a few minutes to get used to their method of labeling, once you get used to it, quickly spotting the relevant piece of information to jog your memory is simple. The charts are shipped in pairs, one showing the Yin side of the body (front and right side) and one showing the Yang side (back and left side). Despite not having a top view, the locations of the head points are clear enough.
The company produces TCM charts, Zen Shiatsu charts and a chart with all of the channel pathways combined. I tested this latter set, but because my knowledge of the Zen Shiatsu system is limited, I cannot attest to the usefulness of it in terms of locations. I can say that this combined chart shares all of the same excellent features as the TCM only set.
The usefulness of the charts in studying acu-points
While finding the palpable landmarks and feeling the Qi of the point are the keys to accurate location – visual accuracy counts, especially when you are just beginning to learn. There’s really something special about seeing the points marked on a human body. As I talked about in my article about learning the acupuncture points, not much substitutes for seeing the points as they lay on a real human body. These charts are a perfect companion to that process, as you can see a highly accurate photograph of the points marked out and compare it to how the channels you’ve marked on your partner appear.
The charts could also be quite useful if you’re not yet in the process of learning the points and channels in a formal way. You can simply have them up on a wall and pick a channel a day to study informally. You could simply follow the course of the channel on your own body based on how it looks on the chart – this process will be so much easier on these charts because of the closeness of fit between the image and the contours of your own body.
As someone who has already learned the points and channels but needs to refresh every day, I have found these charts to be an invaluable resource. When I need a break from my book study, I simply look up to my charts (they hang above my study table) and start following a channel point by point. While you could use other charts to do this, again the accuracy and quality of the Fifth Element charts make me rest easily knowing that the locations are correct.
Minor constructive criticism
First, some of the marking of the Shu transport points is a little difficult to differentiate at first, especially when the designated colors are very close to the channel colors. Perhaps stronger imagery or a different color scheme could help this. Second, I would have appreciated the inclusion of Chinese characters for the point names as well as other relevant information. This might have cluttered the chart, but a small font would have been alright. I have to say that, honestly, I don’t have much more in the way of criticism to offer! I talked to several others, including professors, to ask their opinion on the charts and everyone agreed that they are some of the best they have seen.
Edit (12/1/2007): In discussion with Fifth Element, I’ve learned that they chose to label the points as they did because it follows the naming system being devised by WHO and are willing to create charts with Chinese characters if there is demand. If you are interested in seeing something like this, do feel free to visit their website and provide them with this feedback.
I can’t think of a single reason that you shouldn’t buy these charts. If you think you don’t need a chart, but have never worked with one – I encourage you to give it a try. The price is right, even with shipping from Australia and if nothing else it will make a good decoration for some part of your clinic! If you’ve used these charts or buy them as a result of this review, please leave a comment to let us know about your experience.
I should note that this review pertains to the Wall Charts that Fifth Element offers, but they also have life-sized banners that adhere to the same quality standards. They offer quantity discounts and can ship large quantities in flat-packs for institutional orders.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.