How acupuncture meridians relate to Tai Chi (Taijiquan)

We’ve all heard of Chinese medicine and acupuncture meridians, but do they really exist? And how do they relate to Tai Chi?

Graham Barlow
Mar 11 · 3 min read
Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

I think that somebody doing some background research into Tai Chi Cuan (Taijiquan) inevitably comes across the acupuncture meridians and starts to wonder how the two things relate to each other.

The meridians are used in traditional Chinese medicine practices like acupuncture, massage, and pulse diagnosis. They tend to be shown running in lines from the fingers to the toes, with a few ones that go in slightly different places, like the belt meridian. The theory of acupuncture is that by inserting needles at specific points on a meridian the flow of “qi” along that meridian can be influenced. Deficiencies can be bolstered and excesses can be drained.

It’s very easy to jump to the conclusion that specific moves in Tai Chi Chuan must, therefore, affect specific acupuncture meridians (since, you know, they’re both of ancient Chinese origin, right?), and indeed a lot of Tai Chi literature will tell you things like this — for example, you’ll see it written that Wave Hands Like Clouds works on the belt meridian or Needle At Sea Bottom works on the bladder meridian.

Do they really?

I remember asking my Tai Chi teacher about this and he just brushed it off as unimportant. He was right, too. The thing is, when you do an opening outwards movement, Qi (in theory) is moving through all the meridians equally in an outward direction, and when you do a closing movement it moves equally through them all in an inward direction.

Wave hands like Clouds may benefit your waist, but that’s probably got more to do with the physical movement exercising that part of the body than anything else.

You don’t need to worry about the acupuncture meridians for practical considerations in Tai Chi. And anyway, yhe meridians are not exactly the same as the muscle tendon sinew channels (Jing Jin) first described in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing) that Tai Chi experts will talk about. The meridians are more recently ‘discovered’, and roughly drawn over the top of the older Jing Jin but they’re more detailed/fiddly, and not as useful for practical work because of that. You need broader brush strokes to work with for Tai Chi.

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

In internal martial arts, you want to develop the connections in the muscle sinew channels so you can actually start to feel them. You’re starting point for developing these connections would be to use opening and closing movements. So (generally) the channels that go up the outside of the legs and up the back of the body (the harder, Yang, parts of the body) are used for ‘opening’ and the channels on the front and insides of the body (the softer, Yin, parts) are for ‘closing’ movements.

Using reverse breathing you try and feel a slight tension on the surface of the body and turn that into an opening outward, or a pulling inward, sensation, matched with the movement. So, for example, I breathe in and try and feel a pull along the yin channels of my arm, and let that lead my movement inwards, towards the body. You need to let this connection become the driver of the movement, taking over from the local muscles. Your shoulders are usually a source of problems, as is relaxing the lower back sufficiently. Remember to drive power (Jin) from the lower body (closest to the ground). Connections start gossamer thin and build up over time.

This sequence of opening moves turning into closing moves, which again turn back into opening moves, and so on, is repeated throughout the Tai Chi Chuan form, and is the key feature of the art, and where it gets its name from — you continually move from Yin to Yang to Yin to Yang, etc… just like the Tai Chi diagram shows.

Once you get a handle on this pattern you can start to think about moving from the dantien as your next step along the path.

Graham Barlow

Written by

Posting articles about Tai Chi (Taijiquan), BJJ and martial arts training.

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