I am shortly to be heading off to a Fun Day in Canon’s Park where I will be giving 10 minute tui na massage (or sorry, “acupressure massage” as tui na is not on their list of officially offered therapies) to people in support of the Disability Foundation where I work on Fridays. My appearances there are becoming quite popular with my bookings getting filled up so quickly I have had to arrange to come in early to fit an extra one in! The way I practice acupuncture, combined with manual techniques (again I am not “officially” practising tui na, it is subsumed under acupuncture in that instance) along with my incorporation of collateral meridian protocols and modern interpretations is striking a chord with a few of the clients. In particular I have seen a lot of chronic degenerative conditions referred from the hospital for treatment which have given me the perfect opportunity to consider divergent meridian protocols about which I am going to put my thoughts in order today.
Divergent meridians are said to be a means by which the body throws a pathogen off course from attacking the organs and instead holds it in latency. It is said to hold it in the joints leading to chronic conditions such as arthritis of the major joints, or diseases that follow chronic intermittent patterns. This statement confused me at first: The only disease I can think of where the body may have fought an infection and is then followed by inflammation of the joints is rheumatoid arthritis but the divergent pattern specifies one-sided and rheumatoid arthritis is generally bilateral. Then I decided I was thinking too much in terms of western definitions of pathogens and so a return to basic Chinese anatomy and pathogenesis is necessary.
In classical Chinese anatomy the body is an outer covering for the spirit. At its core lies the spirit, followed by the organs and then the musculoskeletal system and cutaneous regions at the most external. These are represented by the various levels of the meridian systems with the sinew meridians, used mainly for external conditions like infections and minor injuries, sprains and spontaneous aches, being the outermost. Psychologically they are implicated in unconscious body language and the fluctuations of mood that may affect us day to day, often on a pre-conscious level, such as the proverbial “getting out of the wrong side of the bed” and similar fleeting feelings that lack a known root cause. The primary meridians lie under those affecting organ function and communicating between all the layers. These are the most commonly used meridians whose effects in modern terms would be on lowering stress levels to improve bodily functions. We are usually aware of the stresses that are affecting this level and are able to express them as a named emotion with a known cause. The extraordinary meridians meanwhile, dealing with deep spiritual changes, lie at the deepest level and equate to something closer to ritual healing where the points are not seen to have actions in themselves but rather present a symbolic knock on the door of the person’s core, allowing them to respond if they are in a place to do so. These deal with issues that may be constitutional and unchangeable, in which case we can only seek a greater understanding of why we have been assigned this fate, or so deeply ingrained that we do not see them or see the possibility of their changing without a fundamental shift in our mode of being. In modern terms I have argued that these treatments are perhaps more like intense psychotherapy, involving the induction of a trance state similar to hypnosis or meditation where the patient can reflect on their life, directed by the therapist’s selection of points.
Pathogenesis in Chinese medicine is somewhat different to western in that disease is fundamentally an attack on the spirit at the innermost core. The causes of disease could be external climactic factors and infectious disease, but also damaging stimuli, over-taxation or more internally, persistent emotional states. The channel system is a way for the body to prevent these factors from reaching our innermost levels and disrupting vital processes by providing blockages where harmful influences could be ejected and when this did not work by providing divergences where it could be held until a later date. This is where the divergences begun to make sense: if disease is an attack on our mind/spirit by external stimuli and is held in the sinews first as an expression of unconscious body language, then what happens when that becomes a regular event? The body adjusts and we stop noticing it as anything unusual but obviously still hold that tension in our musculoskeletal anatomy. Over time that will cause certain joints to become worn before others leading to osteoarthritis in some joints before others. The crucial point is that the pathogen is not necessarily a disease in western terms. It is just as likely, or more likely, to be an emotional state that the body has had to get used to and pushed into the unconscious where it affects the levels of our constitution and personality, reflected outward in habitual postural patterns, which will eventually lead to chronic joint problems in the regions that are continually taking the most strain. Overwork which will lead to compensatory behaviours that enable us to function in the short term but eventually become habit leading to the degeneration of the joints over a period of time are another example. In both cases it is about a compensatory mechanism becoming habituated and causing gradual chronic damage instead of actually resolving and balancing the issue in its infancy.
Obviously acupuncture cannot reverse this damage but once it has been identified it can help by relieving pain and improving movement in the sinews, as well as perhaps bringing our attention the areas where tension is being unconsciously held so that we might invite the person to change their habits and prevent further degeneration. The two levels the divergent meridians are said to traverse are the wei, the level of the sinews involved in pain and mobility, and the yuan, the source, the level of the constitution and our innermost selves, bypassing the middle, conscious level of the primary meridians. This is because they are dealing with habituation and posture, the superficial expression of deeply held patterns. Acupuncture protocols for this type of condition reflect these two extremes with the needles stimulating the superficial layers, then driving the defensive energies of the external meridians to the deepest level the point will allow, and then drawing the needle back up, as if snatching the pathology from the source and drawing it to the surface for expulsion. I often think that a good bit of tui na afterwards, to ensure the sinews are thoroughly released, is never a bad choice either. This gives it the symbolic aspect of the yuan source level, inviting deeper change, while also addressing the musculoskeletal pains at the level of the sinews.
The second part of divergent meridians is in chronic intermittent and degenerative diseases. These are implied in conditions where there is a cycle of relapse and remission and the aim is to put the condition back into remission and extend the periods it stays there by shoring up the resources. I am still straightening out my understanding of this but acupuncture, being well known for its effects on the way the body handles stress, and many chronic diseases being stress related, I can certainly see a potential mechanism for assisting someone to return to a state of remission and keeping them there. That seems like a good place to start but as with any discussion on stress its is a rather nebulous term in western medicine, usually written as a cause of almost all diseases, while in Chinese literature the discussion on stress is quite detailed and specific. As my current reading material is the transcript of Jeffrey Yuen’s Divergent Meridians lecture and a western medical book on psychoneuroimmunology, or how social and psychological stressors have been shown to affect our neurology, which affects our endocrine system, which in turn affects our immune system, I should hopefully be in a good position to write about that soon.
More on that later. A Fun Day beckons…