What are the ‘channels’ in Chinese medicine?
Ancient Chinese doctors had no modern technology, so developed simple techniques to read what was happening inside the body via external changes, such as changes in the pulse, skin, muscles, temperature, emotions and so on. They noticed how changes in each organ affect certain external areas more strongly than others, and mapped these channels across the whole body. This understanding was developed until the channels connected the whole body in a flowing circulatory network, linking the internal organs to the external tissues and limbs; this is the channel network that we use in traditional acupuncture and tui na massage.
Early doctors used the analogy of wells, streams, rivers, lakes and seas for many of the important acupuncture points, each having a different quality and use in treatment. This idea of flow is intrinsic to health and balance in Chinese medicine.
Much as we are often not aware of being well, but are all too aware of the state of illness, channels only tend to become significant in imbalance; for example, stagnation might show up as bumpiness, cold or heat, but if there is no imbalance the channel will likely not be apparent.
Chinese medicine practitioners can use clues like changes in colour, texture, heat or cold in channels to gain an understanding of internal and external physiological processes, and how they are interacting. We can use the same channels to alter any imbalances in the flow via acupuncture, massage or recommending exercises, encouraging flow towards tissues that feel undersupplied, or away from an area of excess.
Because of the way the channels connect the body, it is possible for example to use acupuncture points in the legs and arms to have an effect on the whole body, or in the hands or feet to affect the head. Traditional practitioners often use points that are not solely in the area of any pain you might be experiencing. This is because of the understanding of the channels connecting your whole body.
When a Chinese medicine practitioner meets a patient we can often see the strongest elements, via the sound of someone’s voice, their emotions, body shape, whether someone is boisterous or subdued and so on; everything is a clue to possible imbalance. The principles of yin and yang and the five elements are apparent in everything we do. They are a way of seeing reflections of the natural world within; our channels, our internal organs, the way we manifest in the world; these are all mirrors of the world and the part we have chosen in it. With the right understanding, they can all become part of healing any imbalances from within or from without.