General Overview – Meridians

One of the foundational teachings in the theoretical framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the meridian system. Together with other TCM concepts, it forms the basis of the practice of equine acupuncture and acupressure.

Channels | Meridians – Jing Luo

Meridians are a network of channels that run throughout the whole body. This channel or meridian system provides a map of the body and is frequently compared with an invisible network of streets or waterways which function by connecting one location with another. Meridians can be imagined as pathways which transport Qi, Xue (blood) and Jin Ye (body fluids) and in which these substances circulate through the body.

This system is considered to be so important that it is stated in the Lingshu (Spiritual Pivot), a classical ancient text, that “it determines life and death, treats all the diseases, and regulates both the deficiency and excess patterns” and that one “has to gain a thorough understanding of it”.

Meridians connect all parts of the organism. Their network connects all body parts and structures physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are closely connected with the tissues and organs of the body and therefore serve as a link between inner organs and the surface of the body. Thus, they play an important role for physiology, pathology, prevention and treatment of equine diseases and conditions.

By transporting Qi, Xue and Jin Ye to all parts of the body, the meridian system nourishes the organs, skin, muscles, tendons, fascia, bones and joints of the horse; the normal functioning of the various organs is ensured; and a healthy balance is maintained. A stagnation of the flow of Qi and Xue in this network (e.g. due to a disharmony, deficiency or excess condition) may result in imbalances and/or pain.

A thorough understanding of the meridian network and its functions is important for the practice and application of equine acupressure and acupuncture.


The meridians’ most important functions are:

This means in further detail:

(1) Movement of Qi, Xue (blood) and Jin Ye (body fluids) through the Body

Qi, Xue and Jin Ye are transported and moved through the body and to all parts of the body via the meridian system. This ensures the supply of nutrients and also warmth that is necessary for metabolic processes.

(2) Balancing Yin & Yang

The meridian system regulates the balance between Yin and Yang in the whole body. Even though Yin and Yang may be described as complementary counterparts, both are aspects of Qi, the foundation of all life. Daytime is considered to be Yang, for example, because it is bright, warmer due to the sun and active, while Yin is associated with the night which is dark, cooler, quieter and less active. Day and night are aspects of a 24-hour cycle in the same way that Yin and Yang are aspects of Qi.

The horse’s body is equally characterised by aspects of Yin and Yang. With regard to the living body, for example, Yin describes an overall condition which is determined by passivity, coolness, humidity, chronic and feminine aspects. Yang describes a condition that is active, hot, dry, acute and masculine. Every horse possesses various amounts of Yin and Yang characteristics. If these Yin and Yang aspects are in balance, Qi will flow gently and harmoniously through the body which results in the health of the horse.

(3) Protection of the Body against exogenous pathogenic Factors (epF)

The meridian system also serves to protect the organism from the invasion of pathogenic factors such as Wind, Cold, Dampness, etc. If the body’s defense mechanisms are weakened or, respectively, the exogenous pathogenic factors are particularly strong, such pathogens may overcome the outer layers of the body and invade the inside of the body which may result in a condition of one or more Zang-Fu organs.

(4) Connection and (nutrient) Supply of all Areas of the Body and Connection of the Individual with his Environment

As mentioned above, the meridian system ensures the supply of the organism with Qi, Xue and Jin Ye. It is like a communication and transport network within the body that allows for an exchange of substances and information. This function is not limited to the body as such but there is also an exchange of information between the body and the environment via the meridians on the surface of the body and their connection to the inside of the body.

Hence, the meridian system is part of physiological and pathological processes of the organ system, while the organism and the environment cannot be seen separately.

(5) Maintaining or Restoring the Harmonious Balance in the Body

The meridian system ensures the maintenance or, respectively, the restoration of the harmonious balance of an individual’s body. If the flow of Qi is blocked, for example due to an invasion of exogenous pathogenic factors such as Wind-Cold into the body, there may be symptoms concerning the Qi flow of the affected meridian. This may result in problems of the associated Zang or Fu organ(s), if the body is unable to defend the attack and the pathogenic factors enter the body.

Jing Mai und Luo Mai

The meridian system comprises 12 Major Meridians, 8 Extraordinary Vessels, Collaterals and Divergent Meridians, 12 Muscle Regions and 12 Cutaneous Regions.

These Jing Luo (channels) are divided into Jing Mai (12 Major Meridians and 8 Extraordinary Vessels) and Luo Mai (Collaterals, Divergents, Muscle Regions and Cutaneous Regions[1]).

The Major Meridians run superficially along the body axis and connect with the associated Zang-Fu organs internally. They also connect with the limbs, joints and other structures externally.

While the eight extraordinary vessels somewhat have a special position, they are closely connected with the meridian system. The Governing Vessel (Du Mai) and the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) are the only extraordinary vessels with their own channel on the surface of the body. The remaining extraordinary vessels use the flow of the Major Meridians and may be addressed with acupuncture and acupressure by working with certain acupoints on the Major Meridians.

Luo Mai connect the paired major meridians (e.g. Fei (Lung) / Da Chang (Large Intestine)) and also provide cross connections and further branches within the body that allow the circulation of Qi, Xue and Jin Ye to every region of the body.

While our work in acupuncture and acupressure focuses on the Jing Mai, particularly the 12 Major Meridians, it is important to understand that the network of channels is much wider and provides both connection and nourishment of all tissue and organs of the body.

It is due to these connections between the deepest layers of the body and its surface via the channel system that acupuncture and acupressure can influence the inside of the body.

It is assumed that our current knowledge of channels and meridians stems from century long observations and documentations where it was determined that massage, finger pressure, needling or moxibustion of certain points on the body resulted in the relief of pain and healing. These points were associated with certain characteristics and effects and therefrom the understanding of the flow of the channels developed.

Also, it should be noted that the alphanumerical description of acupoints (e.g. Fei 11 (Lung 11)) originates in the Western world whereas the Chinese have been using a particular name for each acupoint (e.g. Shao-Shang (Minor Merchant) for Fei 11 or Lung 11)

Major Meridians – Jing Mai

The 12 major meridians are found bilaterally on the horse’s body and are distributed symmetrically to the left and right sides of the body.  They flow over the surface of the body and each of them has a connection to a Zang or, respectively, Fu organ via internal branches of the meridians.

On these meridians, there are bundles of energy in the form of acupoints which we can use to influence Qi flow and to resolve imbalances.

The 12 Major Meridians include 6 Yin meridians and 6 Yang meridians which form YinYang-pairs. For example, the Lung meridian (Fei) is a Yin meridian and is connected to its Yang partner, the Large Intestine meridian (Da Chang).

Generally, Yin meridians run along the inner or medial aspect of the horse’s legs and ventral on the body. Yang meridians run along the outer or lateral aspect of the legs and dorsal on the body. There are 6 meridians on the front legs of the horse and 6 on the hind legs. In addition, the Governing Vessel and the Conception Vessel run along the dorsal (topside) and ventral (underside) midlines of the horse’s body.

The meridians which are associated with Zang organs are Yin meridians and the meridians which are associated with Fu organs are Yang meridians. Consequently, the 12 major meridians are named after their respective associated Zang-Fu organ (e.g. Fei (Lung), Xin (Heart), Wei (Stomach)).

The 12 major meridians include…

…the three Yin meridians of the foreleg:

…the 3 Yang meridians of the foreleg:

…the three Yin meridians of the hindlegs:

…the 3 Yang meridians of the hindlegs:

Over the course of a day of 24 hours, Qi runs through the Major Meridians in three so-called cycles. In each cycle, Qi flows through 4 meridians. Qi flow starts with a Yin meridian of the foreleg which starts in the chest area and runs downwards to the hoof where it changes over to a Yang meridian of the foreleg which runs from the hoof to the head. On the head it changes to a Yang meridian of the hindleg which starts at the head and runs over the body and down the hindleg ending at the hoof. Here, it again changes to a Yin meridian of the hindleg starting at the hoof which again runs up the hindleg and further towards the chest area where a new cycle begins.

Each cycle follows the following pattern: Shou Yin à Shou Yang à Zu Yang à Zu Yin.Shou means arm, corresponding to the horse’s foreleg, and Zu means leg, corresponding to the horse’s hindleg.

In detail, the three meridian cycles are as follows:

In this specific order, Qi passes through the meridians throughout the day. At designated times, Qi dominates within certain meridians. This is the circadian rhythm of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, the inner clock of the body. This rhythm can be used to assist with pattern identification and TCM assessment. The cycle begins at 3a.m. with the Lung meridian (Fei) at the chest. The energy dominates in each meridian for two hours before passing on to the next channel. So it remains with the Lung meridian until 5a.m. and then moves to the Large Intestine meridian (Da Chang) at 5a.m. where it remains until 7a.m. Next, the Qi moves to the Stomach meridian from 7a.m. to 9a.m. The Spleen meridian follows from 9a.m. to 11a.m. In this way, the cycle continues as shown in the table above and in the graph below and Qi moves through all Major Meridians within a 24-hour period.

Six Levels

In most literature, the Major Meridians are shown as 12 individual channels. However, it is important to note that these meridians may be seen as 6 meridians each divided in two portions each running over a hindleg or, respectively, a foreleg of a horse. This perspective becomes obvious when we look at the full Chinese description of the meridians which includes:

(1) either the Chinese word for “arm” (Shou) or “leg” (Zu); and

(2) refers to the so called six levels or six layers, i.e. each of the six layers has a corresponding “arm” meridian and “leg” meridian.

For example, the full name of the Lung meridian or Fei meridian is “Shou Tai Yin Fei”. And the corresponding Spleen meridian (Pi) is referred to as “Zu Tai Yin Pi”.

There are three aspects of the meridians which are revealed by their full name:

  • Energetics, i.e. whether it is a Yin or a Yang level;
  • Location and flow, i.e. running over the horse’s hindleg or foreleg;
  • Associated Zang-Fu organ.

For example, the Shou Tai Yin Fei meridian (Lung meridian) is a Yin meridian belonging to the Tai Yin level which runs over the foreleg (Shou) and is associated with the Zang organ Fei (lung).

Internal Flow of the Major Meridians

Besides the flow on the surface of the body with its acupoints, the Major Meridians also have an internal connection to the associated Zang or Fu organ. These internal branches provide the connection to the organs as well as other tissue and structures. The effectiveness of certain acupoints can be explained via these inner routes of the meridians. Therefore, it is useful to be aware of the inner routes for assessment and session work.

The Lingshu (Spiritual Pivot) states that “twelve regular Channels are connected with the Zang-Fu organs internally and with the joints, limbs, and body surfaces externally.”

It is due to this connection, that the work on superficial meridians with acupuncture and acupressure is effective and can influence the inside of the body.

Zang-Fu Organs

As mentioned above, there is one Zang-Fu organ connected with each of the 12 Major Meridians. The Zang-Fu organ system is not to be equated with our western understanding of the organs. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the ‘organs’ have more extensive functions and associations that go beyond our physiological and anatomical understanding of them. Therefore, the common usage of the English terms describing the organ may regularly cause confusion. If we, for example, assess a horse and reach the conclusion that he has a Liver Qi stagnation (Gan Qi stagnation), we tend to think of a problem of the anatomical organ that is the liver. However, this is not necessarily the case because the assessment from a Chinese perspective involves further aspects related to the functions of the Liver meridian and organ system. In our work with TCM, we need to step away from our western anatomical and functional understanding and thought model of the organs in order to actually grasp the understanding of the organ system from a Chinese perspective. To support this, I have added the Chinese terms in this course to clarify and to remind us that it is not the exact equivalent.

As stated above, the TCM Zang-Fu organ system does not limit organs to the anatomical and functional understanding of our western way of thinking, but always includes somatic, psychological and mental associations and their effects on the well-being of the animal.

With the Zang-Fu system, functional relationships in the body are also created. Thus, the Zang-Fu organs relate to other areas such as body structures, sensory organs and emotions. The Zang-Fu system is a network of relationships that must be untangled and untied in order to be able to use it successfully.

Some of the main functions of the internal organs are the production, maintenance, replenishment, transformation and transport of the vital substances: Qi, Xue (blood), Jing (essence), Jin Ye (body fluids) and Shen* (spirit). Each substance is associated with one or more organs.

The Zang organs (storage organs) store the vital substances and have a slightly higher status than the Fu organs.

The Zang store pure, refined vital substances that they receive from the Fu organs after transformation.

The Fu organs (hollow organs) transform food and fluids and are involved in the production of Qi and Xue. They are constantly being replenished and emptied. Both organ systems work closely together, the Zang organs are essentially Yin and the Fu organs are more Yang in nature.

An exception of this is the Gall Bladder which is a Fu organ despite its function of storing bile[2].

Another special aspect in respect of the Gall Bladder is that we work with the Fu-organ system of the Gall Bladder in TCM, while the horse does not have a physical gall bladder. Here, the different perspective on the organ system becomes particularly clear, since the functions of the Gall Bladder (Dan) with its associations and correspondences are present in the horse and are therefore also important in TCM practice despite the lack of the anatomical organ.

The 12 Major Meridians are named according to the 12 Zang-Fu organs. The meridian referred to as Lung (Fei) connects with the Fu organ Lung internally; the meridian referred to as Heart (Xin) connects with the Fu organ Heart internally, and the meridian referred to as Liver (Gan) connects with the Fu organ Liver internally, and so on. If we stimulate acupressure points along the Lung meridian, we influence the harmonious flow of Qi and the energetic balance of Yin and Yang of both the Lung organ and the meridian itself. Problems and imbalances of the associated Zang-Fu organ can be identified via the meridian. Further, we may address problems locally via acupoints on meridians flowing through such area. If, for example, one stimulates the acupoint Lung 7 (Lu 7 / Fei 7), which is at the level of the distal border of the chestnut cranial to the cephalic vein on the medial side of the foreleg, this would have both energetic benefits to support the lungs with respiratory problems and would also be useful in the event of an injury or pain in this local area of ​​the front leg, e.g. of the carpus. Another example would be to work with acupoint Stomach 36 (St 36 / Wei 36) that supports both the immune system as well as problems of the gastrointestinal tract or pain in the area of ​​its localisation, i.e. tibia, fibula, patella.

Each of the Zang-Fu organs forms a pair with the correspondingly paired sister organ (as listed in the table above). The Zang / Yin organ stores the vital substance while the Fu / Yang organ transports it so that the substance can fulfill its role within the body. They work as a team or as an individual unit so that the function of the entire body is not impaired. The balance of Yin and Yang between the paired Zang-Fu organs is of great importance both energetically and functionally. Any existing imbalances can be addressed through the acupoint selection for an acupressure sessions. In the following modules, we take a deeper look at the Major Meridians and associated Zang-Fu organs and their importance for the practice of equine acupressure and acupuncture.

In the following modules, we take a deeper look at the Major Meridians and associated Zang-Fu organs and their importance for the practice of equine acupressure and acupuncture.

[1] Note: some authors assign the Muscle and Cutaneous Regions to the Jing Mai.

[2] In the case of humans and animals with a gall bladder. In horses, the liver undertakes the function of producing and storing bile.