Eight Extraordinary Vessels #1 – Introduction



Are you new in a field of extraordinary vessels?

In further articles you can read more about the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, about their characteristics, functions and about how to work with them. This post is dedicated mostly to the readers who are new in the field of Eight Extraordinary vessels. It brings basic information which will make easier for you to read further articles about this (at least for us) incredibly interesting and exciting topic.

Different understandings

Please have in mind that the understanding and interpretation of Eight Extraordinary vessels in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in Qigong (or Nei Gong…) sometimes does not match.


Energy body

Three human “bodies”

In the concept of ancient Daoists human is not merely a physical body, but he exists also as energy body and consciousness body. In their practices they were cultivating all three aspects of human existence.

Researches of energy body

The energy body exists on the level between the physical body and our consciousness and enables their communication and connection of all three bodies. The human energy body is very complex and also very complicated. Although in China (and also in other Eastern countries) they were researching human energy system for thousands of years today we probably know only a part of it.  But with the knowledge that we have it is possible to effectively balance and improve our energy system and influence on our physical body and consciousness.

Energy body can be felt

Today the majority of people (at least in the West) is able to feel only their physical body and if we are sincere also with their physical body they are poorly connected. They don’t feel their energy body as they are not consciously connected with it. Knowing this it is not strange that for Western world is so difficult to accept concepts and practices of working with human energy system or human energy field beyond physical body.

Working with the energy body in Qigong

Anyone who can accept the existence of energy body as something natural, and start some internal practice, is able to learn how to get in contact with energy body and feel it. Some can also start to see it. Then there are also more advanced practices which teach how to regulate your energy system consciously.

In Qigong the work with energy body where you learn how to regulate your energy, Qi, is one of the main goals of training. This field of practice roughly includes maintenance and improvement of Qi circulation, correcting the dysfunctions in Qi flow, building and increasing of Qi, collecting, preserving, transforming, raising Qi… Different styles of Qigong were developed, as they are dedicated to different goals of energy cultivation. There are differences between them but in many things they overlap each other.

Components of human energy body

In Daoist concept the human energy body is composed from immense number of energy channels (meridians) through which the Qi is distributed toward all cells of our body. Meridians can be divided on 12 primary meridians (Jing), innumerous (capillary-like) branches (of primary meridians (Luo) meridian points and Eight extraordinary vessels (Mai).

The next component of energy body is represented by different energy fields which expend beyond the limits of physical body (Guardian Qi or Wei Qi and etheric body or so called aura). The size and also the density of these fields depend on our health and the level of our awareness.

The third part of our energy body is represented by three energy centers, Dan Tians (lower, middle and upper Dan Tian). In Qigong and especially in Nei Gong these three centers are very important and their cultivation is the major part of the practice.

Eight extraordinary vessels

From now on we will focus on the basic characteristics of Eight extraordinary vessels.

Why “extraordinary”?

The Chinese name for Eight extraordinary vessels is Qi Jing Ba Mai. In English is used also a term Eight extraordinary meridians, Congenital meridians…

“Jing” means “meridian or channel”, “Ba” means “eight”, “Mai” means “vessel/reservoir”.  The translation of “Qi” is more complicated and different interpretations exist. One is that the meaning of “Qi” is “extraordinary” to point out that these vessels are not controlled by primary meridians. Another suggests that “Qi” means “odd, strange, mysterious” what would denote the fact that these vessels are different from primary meridians and that they add something to those. Then “odd” could mean also that they simply couldn’t understand them well. The explanation of Chinese doctors was that these vessels are “odd” because only four of them are paired.

Who would know? Maybe all of them are right. These vessels are really something special…

The “history” of extraordinary vessels

We find the first (preserved) mention of Eight extraordinary vessels in book Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (Huangdi Neijing), from Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.).

Some of these vessels were mentioned also in the Classic of Difficulties (Nan Jing) of author Bian Que (late Han dynasty).

The first extensive work about this topic is find only in the 16th century. This is a book Study of the Extraordinary Eight Vessels (Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao) by author Li, Shi Zhen (1518-1593 A.D.).

From that time to our modern age nothing relevant has happened around this topic (so it is said, but who knows…). Nowadays it seems that the interest for Eight extraordinary vessels is slowly increasing and I really appreciate people who are researching these extraordinary stuff and share their new discoveries with other enthusiasts.

Basics about Eight extraordinary vessels

If we simplify, we could say that four of extraordinary vessels are located in the trunk and they are not paired. These are Governing vessel (Du Mai), Conception vessel (Ren Mai), Thrusting vessel (Chong Mai) and Girdle vessel (Dai Mai).

Other four extraordinary vessels are located in the trunk and also in legs. They are paired. These are Yin linking vessel (Yin Wei Mai), Yang linking vessel (Yang Wei Mai), Yin heel vessel (Yin Qiao Mai) and Yang heel vessel (Yin Qiao Mai).

The only vessel which is horizontal is Girdle vessel (Dai Mai), others run through the body vertically.

Four of these vessels are Yin and four are Yang.

The Eight extraordinary vessels are not directly connected with internal organs as is the case of 12 primary meridians.


Eight extraordinary vessels in the analogy of “irrigation system”

In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) they represent the energy system in the human body using a simple analogy of “irrigation system”. The 12 pairs of primary meridians (or organ meridians) have a function of rivers. Countless branches which come out of the primary meridians (rivers) enable the water (Qi) to flow into the landscape and irrigate every part of it (every part, cell of the body). For example, the primary meridian leads Qi into the arm, small  branches then lead the Qi from the primary meridian to the periphery, all the way to the skin and also interiorly, to the bones and marrow bone.

Eight extraordinary vessels represent lakes which accumulate the excess of water (Qi) from the rivers, so that rivers do not flood. When there is scarcity of water (Qi) in the rivers, lakes provide enough water to restore the balance state again.


Functions of Eight extraordinary vessels

Daoist theory sustains that when we are still in the womb the Eight extraordinary vessels together with three Dan Tians are providing us with the energy for development and growth. After the birth the extraordinary vessels start to serve more as vessels/reservoirs of Qi. They are also very important for maintaining balance in the body and regulate different cycles. They are connected also with the strength of Guardian Qi (Wei Qi), they regulate changes of life cycles, they circulate Jing Qi throughout the body etc. More about these functions will be said in the further articles.

The importance of extraordinary vessels in Qigong

The knowledge of Eight extraordinary vessels and work is vital for the practice of Qigong, Taijiquan, Nei Gong and other internal practices. Extraordinary vessels of course influence physical health of human but in Qigong and Nei Gong are even more important for circulation and transmutation of three treasures (Jing/Essence, Qi/Energy and Shen/Spirit). If we want to develop spiritually, the work with eight extraordinary vessels is necessary.

Working with Extraordinary meridians in acupuncture

Acupuncture uses predominantly 12 primary meridians and only two of extraordinary vessels. These vessels are Governing and Conception vessels which have also their own acupuncture points.

Until recently other six vessels were not used a lot in acupuncture. The main reason was that they didn’t understand them so well as other channels and vessels, and all things in medicine need to be rationalized, which can be a little hard in the case of Extraordinary vessels. But things change. Today a lot of acupuncturists are studying and researching extraordinary vessels and they also work with them very successfully.

Opening points for Eight extraordinary vessels

Extraordinary vessels don’t have their own meridian points and in acupuncture they are accessed by using the points on primary meridians, so called “opening (or master) point” and “coupled (or associated) point”.

By using opening/coupled points alone or in combination with other points of primary meridians acupuncturists achieve very good therapeutic results, also in the cases when other methods are not effective.


Possibilities of work with extraordinary meridians

There are different theories and methods which are used when working with extraordinary vessels. One of the very efficient methods that we both like is use of opening and coupled points. Opening point of one vessel is at the same time the coupled point for another vessel. For example opening point for Thrusting vessel is SP-4 (Gongsun) which is also the coupled point for Yin linking vessel. And also vice versa, opening point for Yin linking vessel is PC-6 (Neiguan) is also the coupled point for Thrusting vessel.

In this method you use opening point on the left side of the body and coupled point on the right side of the body for females and for males vice versa. In our case we use for female opening point SP-4 for Thrusting vessel on her left leg and then coupled point PC-6 on her right arm. Let the treatment last approximately 15-20 minutes.


Some more tips

If you like to experiment try the methods described below.

If you work with a new client use above described method of opening/coupled point. But after some time when her/his system is fluid enough, you can use only the opening point of extraordinary vessel.

When you want to balance yin and yang you can work simultaneously with opening points of two related meridians (Directing-Conception vessels, Thrusting-Girdle vessels, Yin and Yang linking vessels, Yin and Yang heel vessels). For example you use opening points for Yin and Yang linking vessels, PC-6 and TW-5.

Use of acupuncture techniques without needles

Acupuncturist of course use needles in their work. If you are not an acupuncturist but you are enough skilled practitioner of Qigong, able to work in the energy field, you can do treatments to yourself and others without using needles. All above described methods can be used without needles if you stimulate the points with fingers (later, with enough practice, only by using your mind) while focusing your awareness to the point and to the extraordinary vessel with which you work. This method requires certain skills of working with energy and practice but it is very effective and pleasant.

May the Qi be with you! Smiljana

Read also:

Eight Extraordinary Vessels #2 in general and Yin and Yang Linking Vessels

Eight extraordinary vessels #3 Yin and Yang Heel vessels and their opening points

Watch the Playlist about the Eight Extraordinary Vessels (9 videos) on our YouTube Channel.


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