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Secondary Channels of Acupuncture

By Nicholas Sieben, LAc

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Illuminating the Hidden, Freeing the Source

Amongst the Primary Channels, from a classical point of view, the small intestine is perhaps the most important channel to understand. It is one of the least used acupuncture channels in modern acupuncture, yet it within it can be found a wealth of theories from the Ling Shu.

The Ling Shu views the Primary Channels not as segmented entities like we do in TCM or Zang Fu theory, but as a continuum of physiology and pathological progression. Some of the most important theories contained within the Ling Shu are addressed by the small intestine channel.

Chapter 58 of the Ling Shu discusses the concept of "Thieving Wind." This chapter describes a process by which a person's vitality is damaged by a type of pathological qi that resembles our modern concept of latency. Chapter 58 says a type of "humid qi" becomes stored "in the middle of the blood channels and between the divisions of the flesh" which can become "detained for a long time" without leaving. "The sick blood remains inside and does not go," says Chapter 58, which leads to emotional upheavals, unnatural cravings and disturbances in the body's ability to regulate heat and cold. The latency also interferes with immune function, blocking the sweating mechanism of the body and stagnating qi and blood. The chapter also discusses the intermittent, sticky nature of latency: how a person will become symptomatic from time to time and can also experience "rheumatism."

If we look at the acupuncture points along the small intestine channel, we will see that it's the primary channel with the most effect on "freeing" and "quickening" the "connecting vessels." More than half of the points on this channel have this function. The "blood channels" mentioned in Chapter 58 of the Ling Shu are arguably the luo or "connecting" vessels, one of the major collateral systems involved in maintaining latency in the body.

The idea of "thieving wind" has many connotations. It is described as a type of pathological process where something enters the body from the outside or becomes generated internally. The pathogen becomes trapped and begins to "steal" our vitality. The problem can remain hidden, leading to intermittent or strange, mysterious symptoms - both emotional and physical. Chapter 58 says it seems as if the person is possessed by a type of parasite or "ghost." Yet the true cause of the problem is due to unresolved latency. Each Primary Channel tells a story. If we examine the acupuncture points along each channel, they can give us clues as to how a disease was created and also what we need to do to cure it.

The small intestine channel contains many interesting attributes. In addition to its major impact on the luo vessels, it also contains points that effect the Xing: spirit-disposition, which many translate as meaning the personality. It's Luo point, SI-7 Zhi Zheng makes reference to the concept of "upright qi" through its name "Upright Branch:" a reference both to the body's immune function and the ability to remain morally "upright" and free from perversity. The small intestine channel also has one of most intense abilities to induce and clear a "healing crisis," when the body begins releasing latent pathogens. The channel connects to both the inner and outer borders of the eyes, and is the first channel within the primary channel continuum to make connection to the level of the bone, most notably to the "Master Bone," which is described as the cheekbone in Chapter 46 of the Ling Shu.

The small intestine can be seen as a major crossroads within the disease process. It is the stage by which an issue goes from being conscious and present to becoming latent, hidden and repressed. It also suggests latency can have an altering effect on the personality, and disrupt the body's "upright" qi. The term "upright" has both physical and moral implications. Chapter 58 describes "thieving wind" as interrupting the sweating mechanism of the body, as well as inducing strange cravings. Both of these symptoms can relate to the upright qi. Sun Si Miao, in his discussion of the "Ghost Points," describes how a "possession" alters a person's personality and causes them to behave in strange ways. The person loses his ability to discern between that which is "good and bad." Chapter 58 says when a person appears "possessed," it is often due to latency - some form of yin (blood and/or phlegm) stasis that has trapped a pathogen in the body instead of an actual "ghost."

According to Chapter 8 of the Su Wen, the major role of the small intestine organ is the transformation of substances: separation of the pure from the turbid. It is "responsible for receiving and making things thrive," says the Su Wen. The Ling Shu is a Confucian text. It has a somewhat moralistic orientation. Chapter 3 of the Ling Shu says we can become sick from both external pathogens, as well as from our emotions and lifestyles. The text places special emphasis on "moral decline"  as a cause of illness: the inability to choose between good and bad - being lured into "perversity."

One of the major strategies for healing as presented in the Ling Shu involves opening "the portals" - making sure the lower orifices of elimination are able to adequately rid the body of turbidity. Opening the lower orifices is the first step towards opening the upper portals on the head: strategies shown to be very important in the elimination of latency by the other major channel system that deals with hidden pathogens: the Divergent Channels. Opening of the upper portals is vital for the cathartic expression of the emotions - the chief internal pathogenic challenges to the body. According to the Ling Shu, expression of the emotions via the upper senses is one of the major ways the internal organs are able to cultivate the virtues associated with the state of completion relating to Chapter 54's definition of "Shen." The eyes are especially emphasized in many chapters in the Ling Shu, most notably in Chapter 22 which discusses Dian Kuang, a form of mental illness.

Within the Primary Channel continuum, the small intestine channel follows the heart. One of the major focuses in the Ling Shu is the disruption of the spirit that occurs during the disease process. Chapter 34 describes that when pathology affects the chest, depression will set in. Chest depression will manifest in the four cardinal signs of Shen disturbance as described in Chapter 80: fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and uncertainty. The text describes this as both an emotional as well as physical state. The limbs of the body become weak, peristalsis slows and the head becomes blocked.

Understanding the luo vessels are especially helpful to illuminate the small intestine primary channel. The luo vessels are presented alongside the primary channels in Chapter 10 of the Ling Shu. The luo vessels are a study of how pathology locks up circulation in the chest, and subsequently in the rest of the body as well. Theoretically, as a channel system, the luo vessels develop after the sinew channels have failed to adequately deal with pathological challenges. Chapter 5 of the Ling Shu presents the theory of the "terminations" of the body: the way pathology finds its way into the center of the body and becomes stagnated. The first area that becomes blocked is the head, followed by the throat, chest and abdomen. We see this progression occur throughout the first four primary channels: the lung, large intestine, stomach and spleen.

When the pathological process reaches the heart is when depression occurs, as well as the other Shen disturbance symptoms mentioned in the Ling Shu. Movement into the small intestine manifests as damage to blood circulation. The abundance of points along the small intestine that "quicken" the luo vessels suggests damage to the blood has occurred. At the level of SI-12 Bing Feng "Grasping the Wind" and SI-18 Quan Liao "Cheekbone Liao" the channel has the ability to deposit pathology deeper in the body, into the level of the bone.

The small intestine channel is interesting in that it makes reference to the latency process in relation to both the luo vessels as well as the divergent channels. Both of these channel systems relate to latency going into the level of the blood vessels and bones respectively.

After latency has been induced at the scapula, the small intestine channel travels through the neck into the "Master Bone" on the cheek. The cheekbone is called "the root of the bones" by the Ling Shu; SI-18 is a Liao point, which indicates a hole in the bone where pathology can be deposited into. The channel finishes by going into another Liao point on the outer border of the eyes: GB-1 Tong Zi Liao before traveling into the ears.

The small intestine channel travels to both the inner and outer borders of the eyes: into BL-1 Jing Ming and GB-1, suggesting it has the capacity to deposit latency into both the fluid system of the body as represented by the Bladder as well as into the blood system of the body as represented by gallbladder. Movement into the ears further suggests the depositing of pathology into the constitution.

The small intestine channel details how to deal with latency and resolve depression. In modern acupuncture treatment, we are often called upon to help treat mysterious conditions that Western medicine has not successfully addressed. We are also called upon to support the mental health of our patients. Amongst the primary channels, the small intestine has great importance in resolving issues that seem mysterious or hidden. Understanding this stage in the disease process is vital to helping our patients bring the dark, hidden areas of their bodies into the light. The small intestine teaches us that healing is a spiritual process. It illuminates many of the most inspiring passages from the Ling Shu that emphasize the importance of the Shen-spirit in our health and healing.

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