What Are Acupuncture Meridians?

In my practice, I commonly get asked the question, “How do you pick the points?” or “Are there specific spots where you put the needles?” In order to answer these questions, you have to understand the meridian system. In Acupuncture, the term Meridian comes from the French translation rather than from the original Chinese writings. The Chinese term more correctly translates into Channel or Vessel; it is the same term used for blood vessel. For the purposes of this article, I will use the term meridian—because as you’ll see in a moment it helps me explain what these things really are.

First let’s start with the usual definition. If you look this up elsewhere on the internet, you’ll find several versions of basically the same definition. The meridians are invisible pathways inside the body where the mystical, magical qi (pronounced chee) flows.

These invisible tubes can become blocked by stress or other invisible forces. You may or may not know this is happening. Acupuncture can remove these blockages, but you probably won’t know if it’s working or not. It will take a Licensed Acupuncturist to decode your pulse for you to know if your qi is now flowing smoothly.

Some other practitioners will probably be highly offended at the last paragraph, because this is exactly what they have been telling their patients for years. I know you hate me! But I must de-mystify this meridian business, so that we can all move into the 21st Century together!

Now let’s talk about some other things that have meridians. Have you ever seen a map? A globe? A nautical chart? All of these devices use the markers of latitude and longitude to show the relationships between locations. Another word for longitude is meridian—as in the Prime Meridian.

Now have you ever been in a plane and looked out the window? Have you ever seen one of these meridians drawn across the Earth? That’s right, NO.

So what does this mean? Does it mean Meridians aren’t real or useful or important? NO!

It means that Meridians are man-made devices, drawn by humans, to help us navigate. They are not an inherent part of the natural world. They are our interpretation of the natural world. And so it is with the Acupuncture Meridians.

The Acupuncture Meridians are lines drawn by humans to explain the relationship between different areas of the body. Different parts on the same Meridian are connected. But it goes further than that, each Meridian has a balancing relationship with specific other Meridians. This balancing relationship determines where to put the needles in order to heal the sick area.

So as an Acupuncturist, I only have to determine three things. First, the diagnosis, in other words which channel is sick and where? Second I need to know which channels will balance that sick channel. And third I choose the channel and area that I’m going to needle to balance the sick channel.

See! It’s not mystical at all! It’s actually quite systematic! So far I haven’t needed to use psychic healing on any one of my patients. The science of Acupuncture works just great!




Thank you so much to Dr. Tan for teaching me this way of seeing our medicine! It has transformed my practice.

See more about his system here in this video: