The acupuncture system of the human body is divided into a few different types of energy pathways that each have specific characteristics and roles to play in the energy body. These types are listed below in order from “most” important to “least” important, or rather from largest energy pathways to smallest energy pathways. You can think of the acupuncture pathways listed below as if we are listing all of the types of roads in a large city: first you would list the major freeways, then the highways, then the four-lane avenues, then the two-lane roads, then the one-lane roads, then finally the dirt pathways that weave between the countryside and connect all of the remaining land.
To clarify more exactly the differences for you, I will list the types of energy pathways in order of importance:
- The 12 Primary Meridians – Each of these meridians is associated with a body organ. They are the major energy pathways that direct energy throughout the body:
- The 2 Major Extraordinary Vessels – The extraordinary vessels primarily act as balancing agents and pathways of distributing the energy flow that originates from the 12 primary meridians.
- The 6 Minor Extraordinary Vessels – These pathways do not have their own acupuncture points, but are composed of acupuncture points from the other pathways. In other words, some acupuncture points are part of multiple energy pathways in the body, similar to how a single road intersection is a point that connects two different intersecting roads. The 6 lesser extraordinary vessels are known as:
- The 15 Major Connecting Vessels – These vessels are points at which a lesser energy channel separates from the main channel, and connects the main channel to its Yin/Yang opposite main channel. This can be thought of as a small road that exits off of a main highway (a primary or extraordinary energy meridian) and then connects to another main highway (another energy meridian), allowing energy to flow between the two. There are 12 that are associated with the 12 primary meridians, 2 that are associated with the 2 major extraordinary meridians, and 1 “great connecting vessel” of the spleen.
- The Various Lesser Connecting Vessels – These are smaller and less important connecting vessels that serve to distribute energy from the main pathways to the rest of the body tissue that is not along a main pathway. These could be likened to small dirt roads that connect the countryside to the more important and larger paved roads of the city. These lesser connecting vessels are differentiated into Minute connecting vessels, Superficial connecting vessels, and Blood connecting vessels.
- The Channel Divergences – These pathways are called “divergences” because they separate, or ‘diverge’ from the primary meridian pathways at various locations along the pathways that are not located at specific points. The channel divergences can be thought of as an internal spiderweb of energy pathways that connect different larger meridians to each other. While the connecting vessels mentioned above are located near the outer portions of the body (ie near the skin), the channel divergences are located further inside the body and thus would be hard to display accurately in a simple 2D diagram.
This page contains links to diagrams of the 12 primary meridians and the 2 major extraordinary meridians that have their own acupuncture points.
There are a few simple reasons for leaving the other energy pathways out of these diagrams. The first is that the 14 pathways just mentioned are generally considered to be the most important pathways of energy in the body, similar to how a large highway would be considered more important to the people of a city than a small one-lane road off in the countryside. If there is a problem with a large energy pathway, you will most likely suffer much greater negative health effects in the body than if there is a problem with the energy in a much smaller connecting vessel pathway.
The second and perhaps more obvious reason for not creating diagrams of the other pathways is simply that they are very complex and thus hard to display in 2D format. This is because many of the other pathways are located further inside the body than the 14 meridians mentioned. This would make documenting their exact location in a diagram more difficult and confusing, similar to how drawing an accurate representation of the exact 3D layout of the small intestines would be much more difficult than drawing a simple picture of an arm and fingers.
Yin and Yang Associations
The theory of yin and yang is complex in its breadth and depth of meaning. The basic idea of yin and yang is that they are two opposite types of energy that work together to form the basis of our total life energy traditionally called Chi or Qi.
As a general rule of thumb, yin energy works and is expressed in subtle ways and yang energy works and is expressed in overt ways.
For instance, a preference or association with greater yin energy is typically attributed to introverts (quiet, subtle people) whereas an association or expression of yang energy is attributed to extroverts (loud, outgoing people). A person with an affinity for yin energy will likely prefer comfort and rest over stimulation, while a person expressing yang energy will do the opposite and seek out stimulation in the world.
Both energies are two sides of the same coin, so to speak. A good balance of both is necessary for an optimal life filled with health and durable psychological fulfillment.
In acupuncture, the twelve primary meridians are all associated with either yin or yang. The 2 extraordinary vessels that have their own acupuncture points (Conception and Governing vessels) are not associated with yin or yang.
The yin meridians are:
The yang meridians are:
Together, all of these meridians balance out the yin and yang flow of energy throughout the body. Just as yin is inescapably connected to yang, so are all of the meridians of the body inter-connected with each other.