By Avi Magidoff
The Sinew meridians are called Jing Jin. The character Jin represents something forceful, bamboo, inside the body. That is it is the power of the muscles, which like bamboo are striated and have regular intervals, knots. The Sinew meridians can be seen as muscles regions which can be tapped into at the knots, just like bamboo can be cut at the knots, and which provide the animation/rhythm of muscular movement.
The Sinew meridians are the conduits of Wei Qi. Wei Qi warms, protects, activates upright posture, and activates movement. Wei Qi issues can involve temperature changes (often related to thyroid conditions), sudden onset of symptoms, acute conditions as in Wind-Cold, Wind-Heat or Wind-Damp, skin conditions (particularly acute dermatological conditions), headaches (as the head is where Wei Qi homes to), muscular problems, conditions where there has been no choice, no preparation, and no control over, leading to the problem. In such cases, the sinews may be called upon for therapy.
Wei Qi corresponds to the spring of disease, the beginning of disease, and it is said that in the spring disease affects the sinews. Although this level is mostly thought of in terms of acute conditions, where the Wei Qi is engaged in battling a pathogen, there are also many chronic conditions that manifest as postural problems. In such cases, one has consciously or subconsciously trapped an attitude within ones posture, thus limiting one’s ability to respond to life. Sinew meridian issues are not just musculoskeletal or sports injury issues, they also represent how we respond to the world.
Wei Qi allows us to respond in a reflexive and spontaneous manner without volition or cognition. It represents our immediate ability to respond to the world and change, and it allows us to survive.
In an acute problem one has not judged, yet, when the problem started, or even where it came from. One simply knows there is a problem, as in waking up in the morning with body aches. The origin of the problem is unpredictable: it arises “spontaneously.”
The Sinews represent our movement towards, or away from, the world. Movement away from the world implies movement toward the self. This is engagement/exploration with either the world or the self, and is substantiated with the Yang Sinews for external engagement and Yin Sinews for internal engagement.
The purpose of Wei Qi is to engage with the world. It is most commonly connoted as “defensive” Qi, but it can be thought of as “offensive” Qi just as appropriately. As humans we do this through our upright posture. We first need to stand up, this allows us to move out into the world. Then we can reach out to the world and make contact. We then bring this experience back to our own domain. Thus the Sinew meridians all move upwards, to support the upright posture and to support the occiput, the base of the brain, where the experience will ultimately be stored.
The trajectories and time-clock
The trajectories and time-clock of the Sinews support engagement with the world through the upright posture, reaching out, and bringing in. The time clock of the Sinews follows the zone divisions as follows
Leg Tai Yang – Urinary Bladder
Leg Shao Yang – Gall Bladder
Leg Yang Ming – Stomach
Arm Tai Yang – Small Intestine
Arm Shao Yang – San Jiao
Arm Yang Ming – Large Intestine
Leg Tai Yin – Spleen
Arm Tai Yin – Lung
Leg Shao Yin – Kidney
Arm Shao Yin – Heart
Leg Jue Yin – Liver
Arm Jue Yin – Pericardium
Within the Yang divisions, the arms and legs are separated and the leg sinews are all articulated first, and only then the arms. This is so that we can stand up first. The leg Yang sinews enable us to stand up on our feet, while the arm Yang sinews allow us to then reach out with our arms. By the time the Yin sinews are articulated, there is no longer the need to separate the arms and legs, and hence the division is articulated fully through both leg and arm. The Yang sinews represent standing, then reaching, and the Yin sinews represent bringing things in. Posturally, one can reach out to stand without activating the arms, and one can reach out with the arms once the legs are activated, but if one moves inwards to the torso, this is done with both arms and legs, though perhaps with more emphasis on either arms or legs.
(The Large Intestine is where Wei Qi changes direction from an outward movement to an inward movement, and hence Large Intestine represents polarity, which is reflected in the Large Intestine meridian crossing over to the other side.)
This time-clock is activated upon waking up with the opening of the eyes, the activation of U.B.1. After waking we experience 12 hours of Yang activity followed by 12 hours of Yin, relative rest. If one wishes to utilise the time-clock for diagnosis or treatment in the domain of the sinews, it is important to evaluate the involved channel relative to the time of waking up and not in relationship to 3am (as would be done with the regular meridians).
The sinews allow us to engage with the world in a manner that is reflexive rather than reflective. Moving forward or outwards is engaging Tai Yang, moving inwards is engaging Yang Ming (although the movement is inwards, it is still movement, therefore Yang), while adjusting the movement is Shao Yang.
The trajectories start with the U.B. sinews. When we stand up to move, we activate the lateral edge of the foot. This raises the medial arch, and then the achilles and gastrocnemous are activated and the knee is straightened. The gluteal region is engaged, and now the spine and the muscles supporting it are aroused, supporting the spine and the head. We also need to anchor our shoulders down in order to be able to move in the upright position, and hence the U.B. sinews also circle the shoulder girdle.
This is the process that is activated on a daily bases in order to achieve an upright posture. The original development of the upright posture in the infant is correlated to the articulation of the Du channel first. The infant begins to raise his/her head, activating DU14. Now the infant is able to into the horizon, looking forward to the world: his/her gaze is no longer directed inwards, it is no longer contained. Having “seen the world,” the infant proceeds to reach for it, to push forward, activating the area of DU4, arching the spine, raising the chest, and begins crawling. Once the buttocks gets involved (the U.B. sinews) the infant is able to lift up onto their knees, and eventually stand up. This activation of the Du meridian, while no longer primary in the activation of the upright stance of the adult, once the U.B. sinews take over, is still kept in the body’s memory, and thus people who are hyperactive can easily develop pain in the two areas mentioned above, DU14 and DU4, as each time they mentally move towards a task these areas are unconsciously being activated.
Once we have established Tai Yang, the activation of the upright stance we can move, but movement is not just movement forward (this would be rather spastic), but also movement from one side to the other, changing directions, making decisions. This is the G.B. sinews. G.B. represents fluctuation, the rotation of the knee and then of the hip are what allows us to move to the side (or even in circles): these are the areas articulated by the G.B. sinews which anchor themselves to the central axis of the sacrum. The rotational capacity is concluded with the sinews wrapping over the top of the head to connect to the opposite side: this allows a balance between both sides in rotation like a seesaw.
As one rotates, one side of the body expands while the other contracts: this reflects to some degree throughout the full length of the body. G.B.34 is the area where the fibula moves in order to rotate the knee (and following the knee the rest of the body). Tightness around G.B.34 will be accompanied by tight ankles and hips (rigidity due to inability to move from side to side). The shoulders will compensate for this rigidity, as well as the head, resulting in TMJ. G.B.34 allows for the freedom of the knee, which then releases the hips, and in turn the diaphragm.
We also need the ability to stop movement. This is the Stomach sinews, it is the activation of the pelvis, the quads, the tibialis anterior, that stops the motion.
Now that upright posture and movement has been facilitated, the arm Yang sinews come into play so that one can reach out to the world and grasp it. The Small Intestine sinews support the reaching of the arms away from the torso in order to create contact. The San Jiao sinews allow for the rotation of the wrist and hand, so that we might be able to grasp, and finally the Large Intestine sinews initiate the pulling in through the index finger, completing the Yang sinews’ task of moving towards the world/object.
Now the Yin sinews can come in contact with the world/object and take the information inwards, all the way to the Pericardium where judgement is made as to how to handle the information, how to classify it, detoxify it, how well it suits us, etc., handing over the information to the domain of Ying Qi, the cognitive realm that assesses how to use the stimulus as nourishment.
The Sinew Meetings/Confluences
Each group of sinews has a meeting/confluent point. The leg Yang sinews meet at S.I.18. This point represents the centre of the sensory organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue. Thus standing and reaching is created in response to what we see, hear, smell, taste, so that we can further investigate them. The area around the cheek is an area of arousal of our sensory organs and responding to the stimulation of the world.
The arm Yang sinews all meet at G.B.13 (or ST8). This represents the cusp of internalization of Wei Qi. G.B.13 is Ben Shen (Spirit Root). If too much Wei Qi is “grabbed” from the outside world and is not harmoniously internalised, neurological syndromes will result, as this creates Internal Wind disrupting the Shen. ST8 is the point where the Stomach channel has gathered the influences of all the sensory organs to be mobilised into the brain, in effect serving a parallel idea to Spirit Root, G.B.13, a place where Wei wind moves into the brain. Hence G.B.13 and ST8 are points to be used in Internal Wind conditions with too much Yang activity rushing up to the brain/marrow.
Wei Qi moving inwards creates the action of internal muscles: peristalsis and cardiac activity. These muscles are activated spontaneously, without conscious control and hence fall within the domain of Wei Qi and the sinew meridians. The leg Yin sinews gather at Ren3, this is where we fold in when we sit, that is coming in from the upright position. Lack of Wei Qi moving inwards will result in reduced peristalsis, and Ren3 can therefore benefit constipation.
The arm Yin sinews gather at G.B.22 which represents the place where Wei Qi enters the chest to affect the heart and diaphragm. If there is an over-surge of Wei here, the result will be palpitations, frantic dreaming, and instability of the diaphragm (as in shaking when breathing). The arm Yin sinews bring in the experience of the world into the chest. They allow one to manipulate the world without having to go out towards it.
(The diaphragm represents a muscle that is normally not under our conscious control, yet can be controlled through awareness, at least to some degree. Thus it represents another cusp bridging between Wei Qi and Ying Qi.)
The Emotional and Postural Components of the Sinews
Within the emotional domain, Wei Qi corresponds to a mood. It is when one feels a certain way but does not know why, and the feeling has no target. For example, one is irritated in the general sense, without knowing why, as opposed to being angry at a specific person or event.
Our posture, which reflects the state of Wei Qi, is supported by our emotions. Posture can reflect or create the way one conveys oneself through the musculature. The Tai Yang posture is one where one is constantly moving out towards the exterior always reaching out for new experiences, new goals. This can involve contraction along the Tai Yang zone: sway back, stiff neck, para-vertebreal tension. The person will have a tendency to stand on the outside edge of the foot, with the toes pointing outwards. This is the extrovert. Tai Yang posture dislikes cold and invites heat. The common complaint of this person would be back pain.
The Yang Ming posture is a sunken one, collapsing inwards with caving in of the chest, and tension along the front of the body, collapsing onto, and tensing, the abdomen and pelvis (psoas). The toes might be pointing inwards with the weight on the medial arch of the foot (collapsed). This is the introvert. Yang Ming posture dislikes heat and creates cold. Loss or grief can contribute, or even create, a Yang Ming posture. This posture can be a cofactor in respiratory, digestive, and pelvic/gynecological diseases, as those are the areas that are held in tension and are thus congested.
The Shao Yang posture is of tilting the body, swinging the hips, standing on one foot with, possibly, the hip sticking out. This is the person who is unsure of themselves, who hesitates, and as a result adopts a posture that has an exterior of being “cool.” This is Dampness, it is the person who fluctuates between Tai Yang and Yang Ming. Here the symptoms can be migraines, TMJ, weak ankles, and symptoms that manifest on one side only.
Diagnosing and Treating through the Sinews
In muscular problems, one can evaluate the zone where the problem resides functionally:
- Tai Yang is involved when there is pain extending the limb away from the centre line, extending the arm back or up, or pushing the leg out.
- Shao Yang is involved when there is pain on rotation.
- Yang Ming is involved when there is pain bringing the limb back towards the body (centre line)
These are all evaluated with the arm/leg straight.
- Tai Yin is involved when there is pain moving the limb in (with bent knee/elbow)
- Shao Yin is involved when there is pain moving the limb out (with bent knee/elbow)
- Jue Yin is involved when there is lack of movement or paralysis.
These are all regardless of location of pain, and hence give us another option of working with the sinews aside from allocating a specific zone where there is muscular tension (often musculoskeletal issues involve more than one zone, and the above method allows one to narrow the problem down to one zone, lending itself to treatment).
Through the pulse one can determine which position has a floating quality, and this can correspond as to which zone(s) are active at that point. One can further confirm this by looking for tension along the chosen zone, and releasing such tension.
The only points on the sinew meridians are the Jing-Well points. In fact the whole area around the nail can be considered to be related to Wei Qi. In treating the sinews, one can release the muscle tension, and use the Jing-Well point of the involved zone. For more chronic issues, the confluences (S.I.18, G.B.13, Ren3, G.B.22) should be added, especially when dealing with postural issues.
In treating locally, the tense, painful, areas, one can use cupping, scraping, as well as needling and warming techniques, all of which resonate with Wei Qi. Jeffrey does not recommend long term use of ice as ice will stimulate Wei Qi for a short period of time, but after that it will inhibit Wei Qi, if used for long periods. Thus the recommended method for applying ice is to apply it for a minute or so at a time.
One can activate Wei Qi by activating, with needles, moxa or massage, the areas that are associated with Wei Qi:
- The fingers and toes – represent what we interact with the world with
- The eyes – that which initiates our contact with the world
- The navel – this is the area of original trauma, original assault when we encountered the world. From a circulation point of view, the navel is similar to the extremities in that it is further down the arteries than other parts. Unsurprisingly, most people with allergies, especially nasal allergies show tightness around the navel, and needling the navel resolves allergies.
- The back – where movement is initiated. Here we see the bone structures as obstacles that can trap Wei Qi, hence the connection of iliac crest pain and scapular spine pain with weak immunity.
In children one can see mental retardation as the child refusing to engage with the world, moving inwardly, becoming Yin, and not engaging the Yang sinews. Activating the Yang sinews can activate the brain, and improve mental function in such cases.
Resolving a postural habit can be done through awareness to the posture, teaching the person a new posture, and by needling the zones and confluences involved. One can only say that posture and muscular holding patterns correlate with emotional attitudes. It is not a matter of one necessarily causing the other, but of each reflecting the other. Thus, it is not possible to assume that resolving muscular tension or holding patterns will release the emotional state. It is, however, reasonable to assume that resolving the postural habit will induce the person to change through awareness of a new postural possibility, and can allow the space for the other problem to be resolved.
Although not all problems are on the Wei Qi level, most people have habituated a posture/attitude on this level preventing their ability to respond to the world spontaneously. This is easily demonstrated, by assuming a Tai Chi posture with bent knees and toes pointing straight away. This is a posture that takes one away from the Tai Yang posture, disengages us from reacting to the world. It stops the postural habits, and as a result one’s knees begin to shake, muscles twitch, pain arises, etc. These are the signs of Internal Wind: wind which is no longer “handled” by our postural habits.
We are very grateful to Avi for generously offering so many valuable and informative articles to all practitioners, as well as to the Jade Institute for this newsletter. We encourage you to go to his website where he shares an abundance of information, thoughtful perspectives, and experience.
Avi Magidoff L.Ac. has been practicing acupuncture for some 25 years first in San Francisco, where he has established a number of community clinics including one at St. Luke’s hospital, and now in Portsmouth NH. Avi is a second generation practitioner and from an early age has been exposed to the Alexander Technique, dance and movement, Tai Chi, Yoga, and Buddhist meditation, all of which have shaped his understanding of the human body and mind. He is a well known teacher of the Nagano style of acupuncture and is highly regarded in the community for his classes and publications, his understanding of Chinese medicine, and his generous sharing of information and support of other acupuncturists as mentor and consultant.