What are the channels?
Updated: Apr 20, 2018
Another mystery to Westerners in the realm of Chinese medicine is the notion of acupuncture channels. These channels, called "jing luo", in Chinese have been sought out in the West through the study of anatomy' and many have concluded they did not exist or if they did they were mysterious "energy" lines on the surface of the body. This made it easy to discredit or disregard this aspect of Chinese medicine.
If you've read my previous post about "qi" then you know that the ancient Chinese knew a lot about anatomy - through explorations of dissection, vivisection, and empirical observation. So, we cannot conclude that the channels had no anatomical basis. Again much is due to inaccurate translation in the early days of Europeans first explorations into Chinese medicine. Soulie de Morant translated "jing luo" as "meridians". Meridian alludes to a line on a map, and with the Chinese drawings and figures featuring lines like these, it was assumed that the channels ran on or close to the surface of the body. This is a common assumption still today.
However, this is a false assumption as these area maps only showed the insertion sites or the outer approaches to these channels - which actually exist deeper in the body. Later still American scholar Donald Kendall Ph.D. challenged Morant's translation and theories of "energy meridians" and decided that "jing luo" referred to the blood vessels. This was closer to the truth but still not accurate. From a much more recent translator, Jason Robertson, who's work on the book, "Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine" goes in depth to explore the real meaning of channels with experienced acupuncturist Wang Ju-yi:
"In a larger sense, the concept of channel...include[s] not only the spaces within the connective tissue, but also the structures (and fluids) held and brought together by these connective tissues. A channel is then like a river in that it includes the riverbanks and also the complexity of life within the water itself held by those banks. In the body, the channels are then groupings of connective tissue that bring together the blood vessels, bones, lymphatic vessels, nerves, tissues, and interstitial fluids within their purview."
This accurate translation of the concept of "jing luo" in Chinese medicine shows us that there is an anatomical basis for the channels. The connective tissue interstitial fluid system makes sense as the anatomical basis for these channels since it connects the surface of the body to muscle, bones, and organs as well as makes up the space where blood vessels, lymph, and nerves co-mingle.
2. Wang JY. Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine. Robertson JD, translator, editor. Eastland press. 2008.