Early in the life of this blog, I wrote a lot of basic “what is this” posts about Chinese medicine. I did that because I saw that there was a need for basic information, and since I was learning it, it seemed like a natural progression. I realize that there are a lot of readers who don’t “need” this basic information, but other folks new to the medicine might. I hope everyone can enjoy this basic article.
For what seems like the hundredth time, we were taught about the master points of the extraordinary vessels recently. It’s interesting how much you can learn about something if the lesson is just repeated again and again. I have struggled to find my way with regards to acupuncture.
The road to a Classical Chinese herbal practice has been clear ever since I came to NCNM. On the acupuncture side, things have been much less clear. We have learned a lot of Jing Luo theory, which has helped us to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of the Qi pathways in our body. We have learned all the standard categories, and have focused a lot on point prescriptions laid out in various Classical texts. Recently, I’ve begun to study how to apply Shang Han Lun style thinking to acupuncture practice. I’m also learning a lot about Five element acupuncture. Through all of this, one thing has always captured my interest – the extraordinary vessels and their master points.
Note: Throughout I may use the word vessel and channel interchangeably as is my custom. Forgive me if this offends your sensibility – I have heard them used in this way so many times I fear I can’t find a reason to do otherwise.
The Eight Extraordinary Vessels : 奇Qi 经Jing 八Ba 脉Mai : neglected powerhouses
From what I understand, these eight channels were not discussed as a group in the Neijing (Suwen or Lingshu) though they were mentioned separately. They were first gathered together in the Nanjing. They are called 奇, Qi, which can be translated as strange, rare, or even marvelous. You can also call them the “extra” channels, insofar that they exist outside the normal 12. They differ significantly from those 12 channels in the following ways:
- They don’t have regular starting and ending points
- They don’t go to the arms at all and barely exist on the legs
- Apart from the Ren Mai and Du Mai, they don’t have points of their own (instead sharing points with the regular channels)
- They are not associated with the 12 Zangfu organ systems, but are sometimes associated with the Extraordinary Fu organs
- They are not paired in a way similar to the 12 regular channels
Many times I have been taught that the Qi Jing Ba Mai act as reservoirs for Qi and Blood that overflows from the regular channels. As such, when accessed, they can mobilize great reserves of Qi and Blood for use in healing disease. Peter Deadman in his Manual of Acupuncture states:
“The Nanjing compares the extraordinary channels to reservoirs which are able to absorb excessive qi and blood from the primary channels in the same way that reservoirs take excess water from canals and ditches at times of heavy rain” (17).
They are also said to link up the rest of the channels in various ways, and thus can act as a way to access many channels at once. The rest of the functionality of the channels depends on the character of the channel itself. I will not be going deeply into this right now, as it would make the article impossibly long. The important thing for this article is to note the functional pairings of the Extraordinary channels and their control points, as well as providing some guidelines for usage as it has been described to me. Below, I will list the channels, some brief information about each and their control points.
One more important note: I was taught two ways to pair the extraordinary vessels. The first is structural – this is a more familiar type of pairing analogous to the way that Triple Burner (TB) and Pericardium (PC) in the regular channel series are paried. They are on similar parts of the body, but one is Yin and one is Yang. The second, and I think more powerful, pairing is functional. Here, the channels are bound by a shared range of influence – similar to the way that Shaoyang Gall Bladder (GB) and Shaoyang TB are paired. Most of my understanding of these pairings come from my first acupuncture teacher, Dr. Jim Cleaver.
任脉 Conception vessel (Ren Mai) : Ren Mai is one of the more well known of the extraordinary vessels, learned in most acupuncture schools. It arises in the uterus or lower abdomen and emerges from the body at the perenium then rises to just below the lips. It exerts a powerful influence over the Yin of the entire body. As such, treating CV points often gives direct access to the Zang organs. Consider that many of the Front-mu points of the organs are located on the CV channel. While front-mu points are often used for acute disorders of an excess nature, CV points – particularly those on the lower abdomen – are quite nourishing and tonifying and thus can be used for chronic diseases of a deficient nature. The master point of Ren Mai is LU-7, Lie Que. Ren Mai is functionally paired with the Yin Qiao Mai.
督脈 Governing vessel (Du Mai) : The Du Mai is a structural pair with Ren Mai – which is to say that they are similarly placed on the body. Ren Mai covers the front of the body and runs up the anterior midline. Du Mai covers the back of the body and runs up the posterior midline. There are many important points on the Du Mai including GV-14/Da Zhui, a popular point for releasing heat and wind pathogens from the body and GV-4.Ming Men, a popular point for strengthening the basic energy of the body and dispelling cold. The Du mai is especially good at treating back pain, headaches, dizziness, fevers and all manner of musculoskeletal issues along the back of the body. The master point of Du Mai is SI-3, Hou Xi. It is functionally paired with the Yang Qiao Mai and treated together, these channels excel at treating all manner of musculoskeletal complaints as well as various brain disorders.
陰跷脉 Yin Motility vessel (Yin Qiao Mai) : The Yin/Yang Qiao and Yin/Yang Wei are less familiar to most folks. The Qiao vessels are sometimes referred to as “motility” vessels as they deal with motion and lack thereof, but they are also referred to as the “heel” vessels as that is where they originate on the body. It originates on the inside of the foot and exerts its influence along the medial leg, through the lower abdomen and up to the mouth and eyes. Its master point is KD-6, Zhao Hai – the Shining Sea. It is functionally paired with the Ren Mai and used together these points can have a great therapeutic effect on the chest, lungs and throat as that is part of their shared range of influence.
陽跷脉 Yang Motility vessel (Yang Qiao Mai) : The Yang Qiao Mai is structurally paired with the Yin Qiao Mai. They treat similar conditions, but on different parts of the body. The Yang Qiao is associated with the outside of the leg, but can also treat conditions like epilepsy, insomnia, and various disorders of the eye and eyelid. It is functionally paired with Du Mai and its master point is BL-62, Shen Mai.
衝脉 Penetrating/Surging vessel (Chong Mai) : The Chong Mai is said to link up the 12 regular channels’ blood and Qi to a greater degree than the other extraordinary channels. The Chong runs through the core of the body and has a great influence on the menstruation of female bodied people, storing the blood as the cycle progresses towards the monthly flow. It is sometimes called the “Sea of Blood.” Sometimes I have heard that whenever we see a point with “Chong” in the name (like ST-42 – Chong Yang) the Chong Mai is somehow involved. The control point of Chong Mai is SP-4, Gong Sun. It is linked with the Yin Linking Channel (Yin Wei Mai).
带脉 Girdling/Belt vessel (Dai Mai) : The Dai Mai is one of the more interesting extraordinary vessels, in my opinion. It’s short, encircling the body approximately at the waistline. It is structurally paired with the Chong Mai, so is often discussed when considering women’s disorders. It can easily be associated with the point called Dai Mai, GB-26 – a point primarily used for transforming damp heat, particularly when there is a problem of discharge from the lower jiao. However, the master point of the Dai Mai is further down the Gall Bladder channel, at GB-41, Zu Lin Qi. The Dai Mai treats the lateral side of the torso, but also can treat problems in the shoulders and lateral side of the neck. The Dai Mai is functionally paired with the Yang Wei Mai, and treated together these channels can work with a lot of classic Shaoyang symptoms like alternating chills and fever and flank pain or fullness.
陰维脉 Yin Linking vessel (Yin Wei Mai) : The Yin Wei Mai runs along the inside of the leg, taking its point from the Kidney, Spleen and Liver channels as well as the Ren Mai conception channel. It is sometimes discussed as controlling the tendons and muscles on the inside of the leg as well as influencing the chest and abdomen. Pathological symptoms include heart pain, stomach pain and fullness in the center of the diaphragm. The control point of Yin Wei Mai is PC-6, Nei Guan. It is functionally paired with the Chong Mai (penetrating/surging vessel). Treated together, Chong and Yin Wei will have a powerful effect on reproductive health, abdominal and chest pains, as well as problems with the Heart and Stomach organs.
陽维脉 Yang Linking vessel (Yang Wei Mai) : Finally, we come to the Yang Wei Mai. The Yang Wei Mai runs along the outside of the leg, but more posterior to the Yang Qiao Mai. It is particularly good at treating epilepsy and eye diseases, but as the other Wei and Qiao, it treats musculoskeletal disorders along its track. It is functionally paired with the Dai Mai, as discussed previously. Its master point is TB-5, Wai Guan – which should be familiar to most of you. This helps us to understand more completely the shared range of influence on Shaoyang syndromes.
This is obviously just an overview of the Extraordinary vessels – intended to provide some basic information. I would like to continue my exploration of these important channels, but first would like to open it up to you, Chinese Medicine Central readers. What have you learned about the Extraordinary vessels? How have you used them in clinic? Do they interest you as much as they interest me?
I should say that the only Maciocia book I can recommend is his recent study of the Extraordinary Vessels. It’s a good overview.
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.