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Functions of the Meridians and Collaterals

The network of the meridians and collaterals is closely connected with the tissues and organs of the body, and plays an important role in human physiology, pathology, prevention and treatment of ailments.

Transporting qi and blood and regulating yin and yang

Under normal conditions, the system of the meridians and collaterals functions to transport qi and blood and regulate the balance between yin and yang of the whole body. Chapter 47 in Miraculous Pivot says: "The meridians and collaterals transport blood and qi to adjust yin and yang, nourish tendons and bones, and improve joint function." The meridians and collaterals are passages for the circulation of qi and blood. Transversely and longitudinally, they cross with each other in both the interior and exterior of the body.

"Nutrient qi flows inside the meridians and defensive qi runs outside the meridians," thus the interior and the exterior, the upper and lower portions and the left and right sides of the body are kept in a close association, and a relative equilibrium of normal life activities is maintained.

Resisting pathogens and reflecting symptoms and signs

Under pathological conditions, the system of the meridians and collaterals exerts its functions of combatting pathogens and reflecting systemic or local symptoms and signs. Chapter 71 in Miraculous Pivot points out, "When the lung and heart are involved in a pathogenic invasion, the pathogenic qi lingers in both elbows; when the liver is involved, it lingers in both axillae; when the spleen is involved, it stays in both groins; when the kidney is involved, it stays in both popliteal fossae." This classical exposition shows that various symptoms and signs of diseases of the internal organs may find their way to the particular location where the corresponding meridians traverse.

Occasionally, disorders of internal organs may give rise to reactionary signs on the face or in the five sense organs. For instance, flare-up of the heart fire may cause ulceration on the tongue; pervere ascension of the liver fire may lead to congestion and swelling of the eye; deficiency of kidney qi may result in decrease of hearing, etc. Besides, when the antipathogenic qi is deficient and pathogenic qi predominant, the meridians and collaterals may serve as passages for pathogen transmission.

Disorders of meridians and collaterals developing from the exterior may traverse inward to impair the internal organs in the interior. Conversely, diseases of internal organs may affect the meridians and collaterals, as is described in Chapter 22 of Plain Questions, "In a case of liver disease, the pain in both hypochondria may extend to the lower abdomen," and "a patient with a heart disease may have pain in the chest, fullness of the costal region, pain in the hypochondrium, back, shoulder, and even in the medial aspect of both arms."

Transmitting needling sensation and regulating deficiency and excess conditions

In the treatment and prevention of disease, the system of the meridians and collaterals assumes the responsibility of transmitting needling sensation and regulating deficiency or excess conditions. When acumoxibustion therapy is applied, stimulation of the acupoints is transmitted to the relevant zang-fu organs. Consequently, normal free flow of qi and blood is restored, the functions of zang-fu organs regulated, and diseases cured.

It is said in Precious Supplementary Prescriptions that "located on the courses of the meridians and collaterals, acupoints usher qi to the distant sites to achieve curative aims." Chapter 5 in Miraculous Pivot states, "The key point in acupuncture treatment is to know how to regulate yin and yang," meaning that the therapeutic action of acupuncture and moxibustion is realized mainly through the function of meridians and collaterals in regulating yin' and yang.

"The arrival of qi," a phenomenon in acupuncture, is the functional manifestation of the meridians and collaterals in transmitting needling sensation. Therapeutic results are closely related to "the arrival of qi." Therefore, the first chapter in Miraculous Pivot points out, "In acupuncture, the arrival of qi is essential to obtaining therapeutic effects." Chapter 9 in Miracular Pivot says, "Acupuncture treatment must aim at regulating the flow of qi." To induce "the arrival of qi" and to employ the reinforcing and reducing methods in acupuncture are simply for the purpose of regulating the flow of qi, and neither of them can be successful without the transmissive function of the meridians and collaterals.

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