Each acupuncture channel system resonates with a different aspect of human form and function. The Luo Vessels for example are conduits of ying qi. As we approach getting to know the Luo Vessels, we must explore what is ying qi.Chapters 16 and 18 of the Ling Shu discuss ying qi. On a very physical level, it is the fluid aspect of the body: blood and body fluids. On a more subtle level, ying qi has a relationship to consciousness: the mind and emotions (the Shen). It"s important to ask ourselves: how are we experiencing our patients? Do we mostly focus on their pathology? Do we only see the mess? Or do we see the innate "light" within them?
It"s interesting to note that many of the master healers I most admire, within the fields of Chinese medicine and Shamanism (amongst others), have become more focused on working with "health" rather than illness. Teachers who for years have been instructing about pathological process, detox strategies and "evil" pestilent energy are now only teaching about working with a patient"s own internal "light" and "power." The healing process becomes less about giving the patient something they lack, and more about redirecting their consciousness back to what they already have: light, life and innate power. We can help others redirect their consciousness by focusing our own. We train ourselves be able to see the light in others. To do this, obviously we must learn to see the light in ourselves first.
The term "light" is very vague. Within Chinese medical terms, we could call this Shen: the animating force. But it"s more than that. It is also the power we possess to manifest potential into form: the Jing Shen. We all possess magical capacity to create. Is it not a type of "magic" when we put something like an apple or piece of celery into our mouths and several hours later it is transformed into blood or body fluids? What we put into our bodies becomes ying qi, which the ancient Chinese say is the mediumship of consciousness.
We need not always think in terms of pathology, even though the collaterals of the body are most often discussed in this way. Releasing the Luo Vessels can be like "opening the portals" of perception: promoting greater perspective, vision, awareness and consciousness. They open the mind. Because they work so strongly with blood, the Luo possess great power. Many South American Shamanic traditions say we "dream our lives into being." To work with the blood empowers our capacity to change "the dream," which in turn can change the reality we are living.
It can be a challenge to focus on our own power. Pain and suffering can be very distracting. There"s a (thousand-year old) revolutionary concept that says we age and degenerate not because of weakness, but because of blockage, especially that of the mind. One of the major ways we become stuck is when our "portals" become blocked: our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, as well as our lower orifices of elimination. The Nan Jing discusses this as a very serious situation. We lose the capacity to welcome anything new into ourselves, and/or lose full elimination capacity to rid ourselves of the old. One of the main issues Luo Vessels deal with is Bi-obstruction: symptoms coming from stagnation of blood. Luo Vessels also deal with that which results from Bi obstruction: Rebellious qi - energy that moves in erratic ways.
Our minds can become fixated on things that bother us. We become stuck and suffer as a result. Our reactivity to obstacles within or around us can cause us to behave in rebellious, defensive or offensive ways. This is one of the ways we become disempowered. We forget about our creative power of transformation. Our Stomach and Intestines become knotted up, trying to hold onto or transform something that perhaps we shouldn"t be engaged with at all. The trajectories of the Luo Vessels, as described in Chapter 10 of the Ling Shu illustrate this. There are only three Luo Vessel trajectories that make contact with the internal organs: the Heart Luo, the Pericardium Luo and the Spleen Luo. The Heart and Pericardium connect with the Heart; the Spleen connects with the Stomach and Intestines. This is significant, suggesting that Shen stagnation originates chiefly in the chest and the abdomen. It affects the blood and the organs that distribute the blood.
According to 19th century clinician Wang Qing Ren, the Heart is responsible for the peripheral circulation of blood, while the Pericardium controls internal circulation. The Jia Yu Jing says the stomach is what controls the blood, while the intestines control the Ye-thick (endocrine) and Jin-thin (exocrine) fluids of the body. The Ling Shu also makes the connection between the intestines and blood by designating the lower he-sea points of the two intestine as Shu-transport points for the Sea of Blood.
The blood, thick and thin fluids are very important to the sensory organs. Pathology that affects the Ying fluid aspect of the body has a strong impact on the sensory organs, which the Nan Jing emphasize as the outlets of the internal organs. To maintain the health of the internal organs, the Ying level of the body, especially in relation to the sensory organs, must be maintained. Even though the Sinew Channels make a more obvious connection to the sensory organs, it"s the Luo that impact the fluid that nourishes and activates the senses.
The Luo also has a strong impact on the lower orifices, as seen through the pathology of the Kidney and Small Intestine Luo Vessels (as presenting in Chapter 10 of the Ling Shu), which can manifest as insufficient bowel output or total blockage of the lower orifices. It is interesting to note that Wang Qing Ren discovered a strong relationship between brain atrophy and blockages in the circulatory system, further establishing connection between consciousness and blood circulation.
The Luo Vessels are about how we move our blood: how we move our minds. The Luo "connect to the source." This statement is validated by various examples. Wang Qing Ren"s recognition of the relationship between the blood (the Luo) and the brain (the source) is one example.
Many Luo points have been designated "opening" points to activate the Eight Extraordinary Vessels - the pathways associated with the source. Two of the most famous of these opening points are PC-6 Nei Guan and TH-5 Wei Guan. Guan is an interesting term. It means a gate, but it can also mean a barrier or obstacle. The fact that these two Luo points were chosen as the opening points for the (Yin and Yang) Wei Vessels makes an interesting statement. When there is a blockage in the level of the Luo (the blood and the mind), this can create a barrier, blocking access to the resources of our source qi. The Nan Jing says the Extraordinary Vessels are like reservoirs that support the Primary Channels. The Wei Vessels in particular are said to maintain the yin and yang of the body, making sure the Primary Channels perform effectively. A guan suggests access to these wells of resource has become closed.
The Nan Jing speaks about the concepts of "closure" and "resistance" in great detail. These are states where the internal and external aspects of the body lose capacity to communicate and exchange. The text infers that this is a process that promotes quick degeneration of the body, and early death. When the Wei Vessels become diseased, the Nan Jing says a person feels as if they are losing their minds, experience heart ache and immune weaknesses. They can"t seem to get the various aspects of their internal power to "link up," which is essentially what the term "Wei" means. The Wei Mai are linking vessels. "Closure" arguably begins with the Luo Vessels, suggesting it is foremost a closure of the mind that promotes these pathological occurrences.
Closure of the mind is also inferred by the Su Wen as an etiology associated with Wei Atrophy Syndrome: conditions characterized by numbness and atrophy of body tissue. Chapter 44 of the Su Wen says Wei Atrophy can occur when the mind is unsettled or distracted, making the Luo Vessels ideal candidates for addressing degenerative conditions.
The idea of Wei Atrophy is associated with pathology of the Luo Vessels in Chapter 10 of the Ling Shu. Symptoms of the Small Intestine and Triple Heater Luo Vessels involve weakness and atrophy of the elbow, while the Stomach and Gallbladder Luo Vessels are associated with weakness and paralysis of the legs.
Chapter 10 of the Ling Shu is a philosophical statement about circulation. The chapter discusses trajectories and symptoms associated with the Luo Vessels, creating a story in the process. When circulation of blood in the chest becomes blocked, this creates an inability to manipulate the limbs. Eventually the chest Bi moves into the abdomen and lumbar spine, further weakening the body"s physiological capacity.
The story of the Luo is one of gradual loss of power resulting from stagnation of the mind (and emotions), rooted in the chest. Loss of strength in the limbs limits the way we are able to move in the world. We can no longer reach for what we want, or walk where we want to go. Eventually the stagnation evolves into weakness in the creative-transformative process itself as it moves into the abdomen, lumbar and genital regions.
The basis of all power in the body is Yang Qi, which is rooted in the lumbar spine and genital regions of the body. Yang is the root of all transformative capacity. The Su Wen speaks repeatedly about protecting the Yang. However most classical strategies speak of the Yang as something that needs to be freed and promoted rather than tonified. Working with the Yang involves eliminating any factors that may be blocking it, such as cold or dampness. This also includes making sure the pathways for the Yang are open and unobstructed.
The theory of the Luo Vessels shows the way blood Bi obstruction closes off the regions of the body, blocking Yang qi from circulating. To free the Yang Qi requires opening the genital, lumbar, abdominal and chest regions: the "terminations" of the body as discussed by the Ling Shu. If we think of the Luo Vessels as a progression of Bi obstruction in the circulatory system, the Wai Ke school of Chinese Medicine is an ideal place to obtain treatment strategies for resolution.
The Wai Ke school emphasizes the importance of "opening the portals" as a major treatment strategy in working with Bi obstruction. Wai Ke teaches that in order to release any blockage in the body, the head/throat and intestines must be opened. This is often physically illustrated as opening the sinus, which is represented by the Yang Ming "zone" of the head, and opening the calves which has a strong impact on the intestines. The calves are represented by the Tai Yang "zone" of the body. Within the theory of the "six divisions" Tai Yang is the most external aspect of the body where things can become fully eliminated. Yang Ming is where things internalize, transforming into pathological heat which will consume the blood, qi and fluids of the body. Shao Yang is the stage where things become stuck: halfway between the internal and external. Therapeutic emphasis on Tai Yang and Yang Ming suggests the importance of ensuring the body has the capacity to eliminate from both the internal and external levels of the body.
The Wai Ke theory could easily have been influenced by the Luo Vessels. The Luo points for the Stomach and Gallbladder ST-40 and GB-37 are points whose classical symptoms are associated with Wei atrophy: "weakness and paralysis" of the lower limbs. The symptoms of the Bladder Luo BL-58, which is located on the calves is associated with sinus symptoms. The Spleen"s Luo SP-4 deals with the intestines. The Tai Yang (Bladder) point makes reference to both the regions of the sinus and calves. While the Shao Yang (Gallbladder) and Yang Ming (Stomach) points suggest weaknesses. GB-37 is associated with the symptom of "deficiencies," while both GB-37 and ST-40 are associated with symptoms of Wei Atrophy.
The concept of Wei Atrophy is first presented in Chapter 44 of the Su Wen. Bi obstruction occurs when the Tai Yang level of the body is unable to discharge "wind" and "cold." The obstruction generates dampness (Shao Yang) and transforms into heat (Yang Ming) which consumes qi, blood and fluids (Tai Yin), creating degeneration and weakness in the structures of the body. Once the consumption reaches the Shao Yin and Jue Yin levels of the body, there"s consumption of yin and yang, which can create paralysis or collapse.
The exciting thing about Chinese medicine and the Chinese medical classics are we can think of physiological and pathological concepts on multiple levels simultaneously. We can view the channel systems as stories of pathological development, physiological function or as transcendent healing processes. I often think of opening the portals as helping to show a person who they are- to help them reconnect with their innate power. It"s like providing some space, so they can decide what"s worth holding onto and what is best eliminated. Ideally, at the root of it all, we are trying to help people to see themselves: to regain their power to create the world anew and the space to feel free. Helping to open someone up is not about giving them something, it"s more about helping them to see what they already have. This is one of the gifts of the Luo Vessels.
Click here for more information about Nicholas Sieben, LAc.