When we think of a vessel, usually what springs to mind is a vehicle in which something is carried or transferred from one area to another.Though the role of vessels, extraordinary vessels, in acupuncture isn’t entirely different, it is more complex than what we might commonly think, especially because the extraordinary vessels, of which there are eight, are less often talked about as part of acupuncture treatment because their roles are like those of supporting actors in a production in which qi, yin, yang, and meridians play a more substantial part.
Before understanding the role of these vital vessels, it is necessary to understand that yin and yang are two entities which are part of one body, not two separate entities in two different bodies. There is, in each human being, according to TCM, a yin and a yang, two forces which, when balanced by the energy flow (qi), create mental and physical harmony.
In regards to balance, although the 12 meridians of acupuncture are not to be outdone, at least not entirely, the extraordinary vessels are significant to the overall stability of the body, as well as to the performance of the yin and yang, and the functionality of qi. As far as connectivity, the meridians rely on the vessels, whose corresponding points have far-reaching effects on the body’s balancing act.
Each of the vessels –Conception (Ren Mai), Governing (Du Mai), Yin Motility (Yin Qiao Mai), Yang Motility (Yang Qiao Mai), Penetrating/Surging (Chong Mai), Girdling/Belt (Dai Mai), Yin Linking (Yin Wei Mai), and Yang Linking (Yang Wei Mai) – to be exact – have master and coupled points, as well as intersection points, denoting where they connect with, or around, the meridians. Each vessel is also paired with a particular meridian, to achieve a proper balance in the body.
The Conception (Ren Mai) and Governing (Du Mai) Vessels, are two of the highest performing vessels, of the extraordinary four. Similar to the other vessels, Conception and Governing work, synergistically with one another, like yin and yang – balance being the ultimate goal, however, these two vessels are the more prominent of the half-dozen because of the areas of the body and the symptoms that they treat.
Integral to treating symptoms associated with the gastrointestinal area (i.e. digestion), kidneys and lungs, as well as symptoms which have to do with the genitalia (i.e., reproduction, impotence, women’s cycles, etc.), the Conception Vessel’s purpose is to regulate the area of its paired meridian, Yin Qiao Mai, from the originating master pointof Ren Mai, to its final point, by applying a needling technique to the meridian. “It arises in the uterus or lower abdomen and emerges from the body at the perenium, then rises to just below the lips..exert[ing] a powerful influence over the Yin of the entire body,” states an article on Extraordinary Master-Coupled Theory and Applications from theory.yinyanghouse.com. The Conception Vessel’s complexities are immense and, because of its range, “relates to responsibility for, or fostering of, the process of birth, whether it be that of a child, a creative idea, or an endeavor,” writes Mary Elizabeth Wakefield in The Eight Extraordinary Meridians: Our Genetic Imprinting. “The Ren receives and transports the qi of all the yin meridians, and therefore, regulates the uterus, menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, etc.”
Essentially, depending on the meridian which makes up the pairing of each vessel, the context of the symptoms of the ailment or ailments, associated with each vessel, is treated with an extremely precise and carefully applied needling technique, based on the properties of yin and yang in the patient’s body. In combination with points and pairings, needling is applied as a treatment to the coupled point. “For males it is common to needle the master point on the left side and the coupled point on the right. For women it is common to needle the master point on the right side and the coupled point on the left,” according to theory.yinyanghouse.com. All about balancing the yin and yang, the pairings, according to TCM, are what make each vessel even more extraordinary. (Think relationships and matches vs. ideal matches.)
For males it is common to needle the master point on the left side and the coupled point on the right. For women it is common to needle the master point on the right side and the coupled point on the left.
By contrast, the Governing Vessel, paired with the Yang Qiao Mai meridian, aids in treating, as a TCM alternative, symptoms associated with muscular and nervous system damage (i.e. headaches, migraines, inflammation, stroke, mental illnesses, etc.).
The Governing Vessel has two branches – the Du Mai (the back of the body), which is reinforced by the Ren Mai (the front of the body), whose originating point are the kidneys (kidney yin, female; kidney yang, male). The exit, or final point of the first branch of the vessel is the eyes.
The points associated with this vessel “releas[e] heat and wind pathogens from the body…for strengthening the basic energy of the body and dispelling cold,” writes Eric Grey in an article inchinesemedicinecentral.com.
The second branch associated with this vessel begins at the pelvic cavity, before travelling along the back, in an upward movement. The Du Mai aids in treating dizziness, headaches, and musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain. The Governing Vessel’s final point is past the brain, at the frenulum of the upper lip.
So, before you plan a visit to a professional such as Jennifer Redding, owner and acupuncturist of Ave-Dav’s AcuFx Health and Wellness Clinic, it wouldn’t hurt to familiarise yourself with your yin and yang, and the Conception and Governing Vessels. If you’re unsure of their roles in balancing the body, don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s always an answer!
ANASTASIA SILVA is the entrepreneur and director of production, design and brand enterprise at The New Romantic Renaissance (by AVS). While she works towards the official launch of her firm, she is thoroughly enjoying her job as a copy editor and sometime writer at VL. www.thenewromanticrenaissance.com