What Are the Meridians in Chinese Medicine?

by Hannah Fries |

What Are the Meridians in Chinese Medicine?

“Meridians are the channels or pathways that carry Qi and Blood through the body. … they comprise an invisible lattice that links together all the fundamental textures and Organs..Because the Meridian system unifies all the parts of the body, it is essential for the maintenance of harmonious balance.”

The various aspects of the body, most notably the Organ Systems, need a way to communicate with one another. In addition to systems such as our circulatory, nervous, endocrine, and lymphatic systems, there is an unseen matrix of channels via which this communication takes place. The meridian system circulates and regulates Qi (the vital quality of being and evolving) and other essential substances throughout the body.


The Meridian system is made up of twelve Primary Meridians that correspond to each of the major Yin and Yang Organs. There are also eight Extra Meridians, twelve Divergent Channels, and internal branches that travel from specific locations on the main meridians and extend inward to connect to the internal Organs.

meridians chinese medicine

Each meridian follows a unique route and plays a distinctive role in maintaining health. Like the Organ Systems, Yin meridians are paired with their Yang counterparts, and each meridian on the upper body has a complementary meridian on the lower body.

The Meridians are also connected to one another and the Qi flows through the entire network of twelve according to a particular rhythm. In this cycle, each Primary Meridian has a two hour period each day in which it is most active. For instance, the Qi is most active in the Liver Meridian from the hours of 1-3am, so symptoms that consistently arise during this time might indicate an imbalance in the Liver.

meridians chinese medicine

In the same way we cannot see the energetic channels of connection which allow us to text our friends or call our grandparents, the web of meridians (aka channels) that transport resources and information throughout the body are also invisible to the naked eye. There is, however, an anatomical map that mirrors the trajectory of the meridians: And that map is composed of fascia - the nearly transparent, liquid crystalline matrix of densely woven connective tissue that covers and connects everything in the body. In this model, the connective tissue planes are considered the physiological equivalent to the meridians, and acupuncture points are found at the places where these planes converge.

"Findings suggest that the location of acupuncture points, determined empirically by the ancient Chinese, was based on palpitation of discrete locations or 'holes' where the needle can access greater amounts of connective tissue. Some portions of meridians clearly follow one or more successive connective tissue planes, whereas others appear to simply ‘connect the dots’ between points of interest." (Langevin & Yandow, 2002)


And while most may not be able to perceive the channels outright, we have all experienced the sense of ease or, alternatively, the dis-ease that reflects the state of flow throughout this network. Like stars radiating their energy through the constellation of these channels, acupuncture points are avenues through which we can restore harmony in the currents of circulation. When we needle acupuncture points we are able to tap into and influence the workings of this system. 

meridians chinese medicine

The meridians connect the interior (more essential) part of the body with the exterior (less crucial) part of the body, so what we do to the outside can have a profound impact (via the meridians) on what happens inside. If the Qi flowing through a meridian is disrupted, the internal system it potentiates is compromised, and illness will likely follow. Similarly, when something is awry internally, it can manifest as dysregulation in the associated meridian.

“The Qi courses through the body in perpetual motions similar to water in a riverbed. Like the matrix of waterways that cover the surface of the earth, these channels empty into one another, intersect, and have underground as well as surface streams, connecting the interior with the exterior of the body.”

Most disease involves stagnation. In the same way that the Earth suffers when the flow of energy and essential nutrients in the ecosystem is impeded, our bodies and spirits cannot feel vital and free when flow through the Meridian system is obstructed. Like a river that gets dammed - negatively affecting the river’s ability to sustain life and leading to imbalances in and around the waterways - irregular Qi flow leads to excess in some areas and deficiency in others. 

The insightful stimulation of acupuncture points along the Meridians is intended to dissolve accumulation and cultivate flow. Ultimately, wellbeing follows the free flow of Qi.

Hannah Fries is a California-based licensed acupuncturist and herbalist (L.Ac.), writer, and Integrative Body Psychotherapy allied professional. She seeks to discover & alchemize the psycho-emotional and spiritual roots of disharmony in the physical body to help her clients transform the obstacles that interfere with their innate healing capacity. Find out more about Hannah and her work on her website at https://www.friespirit.com or on Instagram @friespirit.

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