Where do the Chinese meridians come from? From Taoism to Yin Yoga
This article is a summary of the 20th conference on the philosophy of yoga organized by Yogom. Sebastian and Murielle presented the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM and its link with meridians and Taoism.
In its energetic approachYin Yoga proposes two currents: one based on the tantric system of the chakras, more The first one is based on the classical yoga approach, and the second one on the meridian network in the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach. Yin Yoga brings TCM to the forefront, drawing from its Taoist roots.
WHO ARE SEBASTIAN AND MURIELLE ?
Founders of the yoga school “With Yin Yoga”, they have been teaching Yin Yoga since 2011 in France and around the world.
Trained by the founders of Yin Yoga, the couple continues to study with Paul and Suzee Grilley, who recommend their teaching.
In this article:
- The origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine
- A shocking discovery thanks to the Otzi mummy
- A shamanic origin of Chinese Medicine
- The Golden Age of Chinese Medicine
- From classical Chinese medicine to traditional Chinese medicine
- The 3 treasures of Chinese Medicine
- The 5 elements in Chinese Medicine
- Yin Yoga and the 5 elements
The origins of traditional Chinese medicine
Many people profession in traditional Chinese medicine traditional Chinese medicine or in the energy arts in general, which will include Qi Gongand martial arts, medical knowledge, divinatory knowledge and cosmological as yi king, philosophical knowledge with Taoism, medicinal knowledge with traditional Chinese medicine, pharmacopoeia as well asacupuncture, Tui Na, moxibustion, etc.
It is really a whole part of the Chinese civilization when it was shining and at its peak. There are three major religions that have left their mark on China: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. We can see that these three great philosophical or religious currents (we can consider them as one or the other) overlapped at a given time and gave rise to many different branches, schools and traditions.
In this article, we will look at Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Yin Yoga. The Taoist and TCM approaches are fascinating because of their approach holistic approaches that do not divide or fragment the different aspects of a human being, but rather are concerned with creating a link between the different layers that make up us. That is, the different bodies: physical, astral and causal. It touches on all the facets and complexity of a person. Two fundamental things make up TCM: the network of meridians called JingLuo, and Qi (or Prana in Yoga).
A shocking discovery thanks to the Otzi mummy
We are not sure of the origin of traditional Chinese medicine: we do not know exactly when the knowledge of the meridians of the body and the understanding of the Qi. We are not sure that it is the Chinese who have made these discoveries? This was questioned, mainly in 1991 in Europe, when the oldest mummy in Europe, Ötzi, was discovered. This man was found in the Ötzal Alps, from where his name comes, between Austria and Italy. This mummy was found by chance by two walkers who were looking in a crevasse, and who saw this body coming out of the ice. Science became interested in it and scientists realized that the date of death of Ötzi is very old, even prehistoric: it is a 5000 year old mummy. This one has been extremely well preserved by the ice, and extensive studies have provided a lot of information about the way of life at that time. Scientists in turn have studied Otzi for many years. Otzi represents a mine of information on the way of life of the man (and the woman) of more than 5000 years ago. Among many discoveries, they noticed something very curious: this man had tattoos. This is not strange because ornamental tattoos were already present at that time, except that this one had tattoos in places that were not visible and incongruous, which differed from the other cases: Ötzi had 15 tattoos in the form of lines and crosses along the spine, on the back of the leg, around the wrists and around the ankles. They found that the tattoos matched the meridian network almost 100%. This is the first scientific evidence of meridians in human history which was found in Europe and not in China, which propels the origin of acupuncture 2500 years earlier than they thought (the discoveries on acupuncture are around 2000 BC). Although the Chinese civilization is the main civilization to develop this medicine, this has upset the knowledge on the origin and the exact starting point of acupuncture .
A shamanic origin of Chinese Medicine
In China, the origins of Chinese medicine can be traced back to around 2000 BC, to the Shang dynasty. TCM draws its essence from shamanism, which is the mother of all spiritualities. Shamanism is approximately 40,000 to 100,000 years old. Indeed, elements of shamanism can be found in all civilizations that had developed forms of animism. A shaman is a medium between the visible and the invisible, between the tangible and the intangible. China was no exception to the rule, and therefore had spiritually speaking a shamanic origin. This is where the origin of Chinese medicine takes place. Shamanism includes many rituals, including sacrifices to appease gods and spiritual entities, forms of exorcism to ward off spirits or manipulate them. But also scapulomancy, a divinatory art that allows to read the future in animal bones, and moxibustion (passing heat to certain points of the body through a plant).
Namely that the status of Chinese medicine has met with many fluctuations through the great Chinese dynasties. There were key points in these dynasties. It was from 220 AD that China really began to develop through Taoism and Confucianism, and later Buddhism which was imported from India. It was here that the clan and feudal structures of China began to change and that Taoism entered Chinese thought. The author of Taoism is said to be Lao Tzu, who is said to have written the Dao de jing, one of the main books of Taoism. But there are other famous philosophers, physicists and cosmologists who have also written about Taoism, such as Zhuangzi or Tchouang-tseu. During this period, they developed a lot of other knowledge about Chinese medicine such as, for example, the measurement of acupuncture points, which are called “cun”. They also developed pulse taking, which is the main tool to diagnose the body, but also surgery and even anesthesia: this was the golden age of Chinese civilization, and it will continue for at least a thousand years.
The golden age of Chinese medicine
The golden age of Chinese Medicine was from 220 BC to 900 AD, through three great dynasties: Xin, Han and Tang. A little later, the Song Dynasty, in about 900 AD, also had a major impact in the dissemination of knowledge in what is now the Chinese Empire, especially with the invention of the printing press. At that time, there were no more clans and China was unified as an Empire. The fact of printing the knowledge allowed to spread this one on a large scale in the vastness of the country, without distorting them by word of mouth. These dynasties developed faculties at the imperial court, where one could follow a curriculum to become a so-called “Chinese physicist”. Physicists had a holistic approach: they not only had knowledge of the medical field, but also of natural phenomena, cosmology, philosophy, etc.
From classical Chinese medicine to traditional Chinese medicine
Medicine in China has experienced many ups and downs through its various dynasties, The emperor played a leading role in determining the direction of the country’s medicine and all other activities of the empire. Until about 1200, this is called classical Chinese medicineand not traditional Chinese medicine. In the 15th century, we see the decline of the Taoist and Chinese civilization, to the benefit of the new industrial era and western science that we know.
The cultural revolution
Let’s take a leap in history, Mao Tse-tung being the most famous of the great reformers of ancient China around 1949, there was a civil war between the Chinese National Party (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and the Chinese Communist Party (led by Mao Tse-tung). The latter won this long civil war and took over China being supported by Stalin and the communist bloc of the USSR. Communism, being atheistic, considered Chinese medicine as folklore and shamanism. The regime that did not support these beliefs started a self-da-fé and thus burned all the written knowledge of Chinese medicine based on the shamanic beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism. They destroyed all effigies of deities, temples and locked up, tortured or murdered all opponents of this regime. Mao Tse-tung has thus totally changed the face of the world. Chinese thought and medicine was not spared by this authoritarian regime. His will was to scientificize and simplify Chinese medicine: he changed the name by calling it the traditional Chinese medicine. However, traditional Chinese medicine is not really traditional because it has been denatured: Mao Tse-tung and his regime took care to remove all the esoteric, shamanic and mystical aspects of Chinese medicine. While the origin of this medicine is precisely esoteric since it links the physical body and the invisible. From 1949 until about 1970, Mao Tse-tung closed the borders of China to conduct his cultural revolution.
Chinese Medicine Denatured
Today, we generally learn a Chinese medicine that has been distorted: what is called traditional Chinese medicine or TCM. But the origin of Chinese medicine still fascinatesThis is what is known as classical Chinese medicine (CCM). The origins of Taoism and Chinese medicine can also be found in martial arts, divinatory arts such as the I Ching, and alchemical arts such as the Nei Jing Tu.
Chinese medicine as we know it today is therefore very different from what it was at the time, but also from what it could have been if there had not been the “Cultural Revolution” in China. The West, which does not believe in the meridians nor the QiIn the absence of scientific evidence, these concepts were considered to be folklore, but he nevertheless became interested in Chinese medicine. Acupuncture has been accepted by Western medicine, taking an unexpected angle, by a branch of acupuncture called Acupuncture Anesthesia AA, which allows anesthesia by implanting needles in the body. This led to a lot of Western interest in TCM and acupuncture in particular. Especially after the publication of an article in 1971 by the New York Times, in fact at the time of Nixon’s visit to China, one of the many journalists had a direct experience of anaesthesia by acupuncture, after an appendectomy. It is interesting to know how China and the West have exchanged their knowledge and how it overlaps, in order to to observe the misunderstandings that exist, due to an important difference in culture.
The 3 treasures of Chinese medicine
One of the most important concepts of TCM is what is called the San Bao. This could be translated as “the 3 treasures”. San Bao can be found in energy arts (martial arts), alchemy and medicine. It is an approach energetic and alchemical understanding of the human being. These three treasures are : Jing, Qi, Shen. These are three aspects of the energy of the human being, and its relationship to the environment, whether local or cosmic. Chinese thought is greatly influenced by Taoist thought, which considers the individual as the bridge between heaven and earth: between the electromagnetic field of the Earth and that of the Cosmos.
The Jing would be the material basis of the physical body It is a material and immaterial substance found in the kidneys. Indeed, before birth, when the fetus is formed, we receive an energy influx from our parents: what we call the Innate Jing. This is our energy assetsThis is partly comparable to DNA: our Jing is our own. It is the energetic heritage that is passed on from generation to generation. It is also called the Prenatal Jing or the anterior sky. This is what will define our constitution, our physiology, our morphology, our appetites, our psychological inclinations, etc. This innate Jing is obtained by finite quantity Some people have a lot of Jing, others have little, and the quality of the Jing will differ from one person to another. It is said in the Huangdi Nei Jing (or Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor), one of the oldest official work on Chinese medicine, that the Jing circulates in the body in cycles of 8 years for men, and every 7 years for women. This means that at each change of cycle, Jing is released in our body to go to the next cycle. It also means that little by little, the reserves of Jing are diminishing The less Jing we have, the less time we have to live this physical life. When there is no more Jing, there is no more physical life. There is also a Jing acquiredalso called Postnatal Jing or posterior sky. The acquired Jing is the energy that we acquire mainly through our diet, breathing, and rest. This will partially replace the innate Jing that we have lost, but never completely. By living a healthy life, we can increase our physical life span, and age better by conserving and preserving our Jing. Jing would be more material and could thus be considered closer to earth energy.
Qi is quite difficult to translate, it is often translated as vital energy or more precisely vital breath. When the word Qi is pronounced in Chinese, we never speak of energy to designate Qi, we speak rather of breath (in the spiritual sense). Qi is not not a mechanical energy It is something that we cannot observe with our five senses. Science in the West is an empirical science based on what is measurable and quantifiable, but Chinese knowledge went beyond the five senses by modified consciousness explorationsHe had access to all the bodies of the human being (physical, astral and causal), the last 2 being not observable with the five senses conventional. This is why in the Western understanding, Qi is considered as an energy, while in the ancient Chinese understanding, Qi is rather a spirit, an entity, or a consciousness. Once again, we return to the roots of the shamanism. Qi is not simply energy to be circulated mechanically, it is an entity with which one must communicate. The Qi is in constant motion This is its main quality. It can contract, expand, to condense, transmute,… It changes all the time according to its location and its role to fulfill. This is why Qi is difficult to explain by science: science sometimes explains Qi as the calorific fluctuations in the body, or electrical impulses, or electromagnetic radiation, etc. But all these measurable elements are only consequences of the movements of Qi, but not its essence. The Qi is not mechanical but living, changing, and adaptable with its intelligence. To summarize, Qi allows the body to think and move: it is the basis of all transformation, and would be a component of the mutable consciousness of the man.
The Shen is the organizing consciousness behind these energy fluctuations. Shen could be translated as our mind, our psyche or even our soul. The whole spiritual aspect of man will be governed and organized by a consciousness called Shen (or Ben-Shen). It is what presides over emotions and virtues. We observe that the Chinese are very pragmatic and orderly, and that each emotion is classified in relation to an element, an organ with specific virtues (spiritual, psychic, and psychological qualities). The shen has a more celestial and etheric nature, and is closer to the cosmos.
Jing, Qi and Shen are therefore the three energetic treasures of the human being in its context, whether local (the environment) or cosmic. Chinese medicine considers the human being as a whole, and a bridge between Heaven and Earth. allowing man to travel between these two dimensions, through the Qi manipulation.
The 5 elements in Chinese medicine
In Chinese medicine, the five elements are Wu Xing :
- the fire,
- the earth,
They are often called the five elements but if we wanted to be more precise, we would call them the 5 phases, or the 5 movements. Originally, Wu Xing comes from cosmology, then was used in medicine through our relationship to the cosmos (always this concern of the relationship we have with the universe that surrounds us). We can therefore speak of microcosm with medicine, and macrocosm for cosmology. The five elements or Wu-Xing are often compared to the five elements of Ayurveda (mahabhutas) or Samkhya philosophy, but it is not relevant to compare them because the approach is not the same. The mahabhutas (the five great elements in Sanskrit) were originally developed from the Samkhya philosophy that has affected Ayurvedic medicine. The five Ayurvedic elements are: earth, water, fire, air and space (or ether). These are not the same elements as in Chinese medicine, since the Samkhya philosophy describes these elements as the genesis of all physical phenomena, which are considered as an aggregate of elements, and according to the ratio of these elements, we have different physical manifestations.
Energy changes in the universe:
The 5 elements in Chinese medicine speak to us more about energetic changes of the universeand not their composition. This means that the Jing Qi Shen described above is actually part of a single Qi. The 5 elements of Chinese medicine explain the energetic diversity of the Universe, and the energetic relationship they have between them. The concept of Qi is not specific to China, and is found in many different civilizations and cultures (Prana, Pneuma, Great Spirit, Manas, Ka etc.): it is a transversal concept that has been revealed in certain traditions.
A deductive and inductive system
To return to the 5 elements of Chinese medicine (water, wood, fire, earth, metal), they form a reading grid for the energetic changes of all the phenomena that we can meet. It is an inclusive system that was taken up mainly by the philosopher and cosmologist Zhou Yen around 300 AD. Namely, the Dao of jing and the concept of Yin and Yang predate these discoveries. This is important because it is during this period that we begin to classify and order the knowledge that until then was more at the stage of intuitions, perceptions and visions. So they started to develop a deductive and inductive systemThe first naturalist schools appeared. It was classified according to the cosmic levels (Heaven, Man and Earth), the 4 seasons, the 5 elements, the 6 climates, the 5 viscera Yin, the 6 Yang viscera, etc. We have therefore constituted reading grids that can be taught, and not only based on intuition and visions. Among these systems, the 5 elements system stands out because it is central.
Yin Yoga and the 5 elements
To make the link with Yin Yoga the latter is often associated with the 5 elements system. We will develop Yin yoga classes for each of the elements. Each element has a specificity and will touch the human being on its different layers (physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual). Hence the interest of to know the element, to apprehend it, to communicate with it, since it reveals its secrets to us and also aspects of our person/being. For example, the element of water will be linked to the kidney and the urinary bladder, and therefore associated with two meridians (one Yang and one Yin). This element of water is important because it is related to the Jing that is stored in the kidneys.
When we do a Yin Yoga pose, we will first target a muscle group. It is through a muscle group and its fascias that envelop this muscle that the meridian will pass. This is how we can coupling a postural practice with an energy system. For example, as soon as we do a forward bend, we will be in the water element, since we will be soliciting the hamstrings and erectors of the spine. These are the main gateways to the water element.
YIN YOGA AND THE MERIDIANS
In the understanding of the Chinese energy network, there are often mistakes that are made, especially in relation to Yin Yoga. We have all seen a poster that describes the meridian lines on the human body. However, this information is not complete because the approach of the Chinese energy network is multidimensional : it is based on 3 layers, 3 depths of analysis. It is a mistake to retain only that the line (meridian) which is on the surface when associated with an asana (posture). Because the line that is on the surface is what we call the primary meridian, also called dermalon which acupuncture is performed. This meridian can be stimulated through pressure, Tui Na or Shiatsu massage, or through the application of acupuncture needles, but not through yoga postures. If we want to stimulate the Chinese energy network through the yoga posturesit is not only necessary to place one’s intention on the primary meridian (dermal) meridianbut also on the layer underneath: the so-called muscular muscular, musculo-tendinous, or myofascial meridian. In Yin Yoga, we stretch the muscles and connective tissues: we come to touch this second depth called musculo-tendinous meridians or myofascial meridians. The third layer consists of the divergent or visceral meridians. The divergent meridian is a branch of this network that goes directly to the organ and nourishes the organ energetically. But the organs are rather difficult to access and difficult to isolate.
CONCLUSION ON MERIDIANS AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
In yoga, we are interested in the second layer: the musculo-tendinous meridian. However, the nomenclature of the second layer is different from that of the first layer. To take the example of the Kidney meridian, it expresses itself more at the back of the body and is located along the spine, and no at the front of the body as the first layer described on the acupuncture charts. It is important to approach the theory of meridians in a holistic way due to the multidimensional nature of this energy network in order to avoid confusion and mistakes, there are many misconceptions and misinterpretations when the practice of postural yoga is associated with TCM.
Sebastian and Murielle offer trainings of 50h, 7 days in immersion with a complete program on the association of Yin Yoga and Chinese medicine through Taoist thought.
Find the dates of the next Yin Yoga Module 2: Meridians, Chinese Medicine and Taoism trainings which will take place in Paris and in Aix en Provence.
Discover also the article on the functional approach in Yin Yoga where Sébastien and Murielle explain their point of view on the anatomical particularities in Yin Yoga and notably the skeletal variation.