This is an article I wrote for the AOBTA, American Organisation for Bodywork therapies of Asia in December 2019. I also did an on line presentation for them. It seems apt to share it now, even though it is Spring, since, due to Covid we are being restricted to our homes and a movement inwards (Yin) . I hope it gives you some ideas of how to nourish yourself and your clients during these times.
Nourishing Yin at its deepest level with the Extraordinary Vessels
As we move deeper into the darkness, the Yin will soon reach its maximum expression. It is the time of year to nourish the Yin: to hibernate and to support ourselves. We know that this is linked with the Water element and the Kidneys. However I want to explore how we can nourish our Yin in an even deeper way: through working with the Extraordinary Vessels, especially the Yin ones. They nourish our deep reservoir of our energy: not only our Qi, but also our Jing (Essence) and our Xue ( Blood) . This deep nourishing quality is linked back to the nourishment we received in the womb. I will explore how the EV’s overlap with each other, while also having specific characteristics and give some ideas of how to work several at a time. I explore in more depth the Yin nourishing quality of the CV, PV, Yin Wei, Qiao and the Yin aspect of the Girdle Vessel. I look forward to discussing them further with you during the Lunch and Learn. .
EV’s: Extraordinary Vessels
CV: Ren or Conception
GV: Du or Governing
PV:Penetrating or Chong
GDV: Girdle or Dai
Many people think of the EV’s as being Extra Vessels, especially since, apart from CV and GV, they share points with the 12 channels. However they are far from extra: they are the base of our energy. If they are weakened then this will affect all other energies.
As we know, they are the first to arise: at conception and even before. From them emerge all other energies. They are the reservoir of Jing and Qi and nourish us on a deep level. I was first drawn to them through my work with pregnant women, back in the 1990’s, when people were not really using them much apart from the CV and GV. Fortunately for me, Maciocia’s book “Obstetrics and Gynecology” came out in 1998 and later I was introduced to Jeffrey Yuen’s work and so I started to develop a map for what I was feeling.
Over the years I have developed my own approach to the EV’s and my understanding of them has grown through my studies in embryology and my work with clients trying to conceive, as well as working with clients at all stages of their lives.
I have a slightly different view from many acupuncturists. I think, working with shiatsu, we are naturally as interested in the areas between the points, as in the points themselves. We also want to understand the quality of the whole of each Vessel and their connections with each other.
I see them as much more interconnected than many acupuncturists do. Indeed the Chinese translation of their name is the network of 8 marvellous/extraordinary channels. They share functions, points and parts of their pathways. They also share 8 organs: the Kidneys, Heart, Brain, Reproductive Organs, Blood vessels, Gall Bladder, Bone and Marrow. Some writers have suggested a one to one link between one of the eight Extraordinary Vessels and one of the 8 organs. This does not make sense to me as I feel them altogether as a network supporting different aspects of these organs. It is true that certain Vessels have more direct relationships with some of these organs. For example the PV is known as the sea of Blood and clearly has a strong relationship with the Blood Vessels and the Heart. However Blood is Yin and also supported by the CV and the Yin Wei and Qiao. Girdle Vessel is closely linked with the movement of Blood in the pelvis. Clearly Girdle Vessel has a less direct relationship with the Brain and a more direct relationship with the Gall Bladder, but it still regulates the Brain through regulating the movement between the upper and lower body.
I often make connections between what I call the Core Four organs: the Kidneys, the Heart, the Brain and the Reproductive Organs, to work with the network of the 8 Extraordinary Vessels. These are simple yet powerful ways to nourish the reservoir of our energy. The energy of all the 8 EV’s is more Yin in nature than that of the 12 channels, because it is slower moving and deeper. All EV’s together are connected to the unfolding of our Jing, which begins at the moment of conception. By working with them we tap into a deeper level of our being, why we are here, and what is our purpose in this life. It is a deeply nourishing energy.
The nourishing qualities of the Extraordinary Vessels in the womb
All 8 EV’s together are the main energies which nourish us in the womb, which is the most Yin time of our lives. We are surrounded by water: first as cells bathed in fluid, and later surrounded and protected by the amniotic sac. We are in a symbiotic relationship with our mother, being nourished by her Xue, Qi and Jing. The quality of the nourishment we receive in the womb will affect the nature of how we are able to receive all kinds of nourishment throughout our lives. The ancient Chinese always emphasised the importance of our time in the womb and now modern epigenetics is validating this.
If we were not adequately nourished in the womb, either physically or emotionally, then this will affect our capacity to nourish ourselves throughout our lives. As the Chinese wrote, although we can not increase the quality of our Jing, we can affect its quality. It takes longer to do this, but by working with the EV’s we enable people to connect with their connection with the whole universe and not be limited by the quality of their time in the womb.
It is important to recognise, that we always have the capacity to nourish ourselves independently of the situation around us. This is a quality of all the EV’s together and we see this expressed during the first week or so after conception. During this time we are spiralling down the fallopian tubes (or perhaps these days in a laboratory) to arrive in the womb of our mother. Our cells are dividing but we do not grow in size and we nourish ourselves from within. These dividing cells until the 8 cell stage are called totipotent cells. They are almost identical to each other and each can become any part of what will become our physical body and what will become our placenta and support structures. This, for me, explains the interconnected quality of the 8 EV’s . They regulate everything in our physical body. They also regulate the defensive Qi (Wei Qi) which for me is not only how we protect ourselves, but how we connect to the spaces around us.
After the 8 cell stage the cells start to differentiate into those which can only become our body and those which can only become our support structures. Those of the inner body are called pluripotent cells, which means that they can become anything in our physical body. It is not until 2 weeks after conception (ie about a week after implantation) that the inner body develops a front and back and top and bottom (bilaminar disc) and there is a specialisation in the cells. We could see this as the physical appearance of the CV and GV. At 3 weeks the PV emerges as the mesoderm between the endoderm (CV) and ectoderm (GV). These are the 3 germ cell layers (trilaminar disc) which give rise to all the different structures within the body. These structures correspond closely to the functions of the CV, PV and GV.
The physical appearance of the Girdle Vessel is less directly linked to one of the germ cell layers, but I feel it arises along with PV and is the connection around the trilaminar disc which also, like the PV, helps connect the inner body with the outer body. The Qiao and the Wei start to arise later on still, along with the development of the hand and foot plates from the future shoulder and hip at around 4 weeks.
The outer body is closely related to the placenta but the yolk sac and amniotic sac arise more from the inner body. There is a complex interplay between the two as we fold into the fetal position from 4 to 8 weeks. Some of what was on the outside gets absorbed inside and this gives rise to the complexity of the movement we can feel with the EV’s. It is not linear but more spirallic. It is both deep within the body and in the spaces around the body. It nourishes and supports us from within and without, connecting us both to the deepest aspects of ourselves, but also enabling us to access support from outside.
Through working with any of the EV’s we can access a deep capacity for nourishment but I want to describe a little more the slightly different aspects of nourishment we can access when working with the CV and the PV.
The Chinese character for CV is the image of a human and a bamboo pole with a load hanging at each end (for eg a bucket of water). This is about being able to endure the burden of being human in the sense of how we are able to adapt to each different stage of human life. It is how we nourish the essence of life itself .
CV regulates the Yin and all the Yin channels. There is a lot of overlap between CV and PV, like with all the EV’s. This is why I often work several EV’s together. However CV is the central aspect of Yin and Yin in its more ethereal form. CV is more related to Yin Qi and PV more to Blood. Qi is less material than Blood. CV is only in the Yin midline of the body and its regulating point is Lung 7 signifies more of a connection to space and the Heaven. CV connects us to the Yin of the Universe and why we are here. If we can connect back to this initial resource we can feel safe and supported whatever is going on outside. Unlike PV, CV has no branches in the legs, and so is less about the tangible aspects of bonding to earth. It needs the anchoring quality of the PV to support it.
The yolk sac (vitellin sac) develops after implantation from the Yin midline of the body and helps support our nourishment, before the placenta is fully developed. The cells for the yolk sac come from the fertilised egg, not from our mother. It is part of us, our original connection to the universe. Eventually the yolk sac disappears: part of it being absorbed into our digestive system and part of it into the umbilical cord. CV regulates our digestive system and our midline but it contains the memory of the yolk sac. I feel that that CV is about how we are able to nourish ourselves, even when the world outside us it hostile. If our mother is not able to nourish us, we can draw on the resources of our CV. If later in life, we are living in a hostile world, we can draw on this capacity of the CV which comes from our inner resources. It is our capacity to be self sufficient emotionally and not be dependant on our relationships with others, but able to nourish ourselves through our relationship with ourselves.
Once we implant we begin to take in nourishment through our outer body making connections to blood cells in our mother’s womb. We need nourishment in order to grow. Eventually where we implant will form the placenta, which, as we saw, is linked with all 8 Extraordinary Vessels and shows their interconnectedness and their connection to structures which eventually disappear.
However, PV is an important part of this connection since it is closely related to Blood and our connection with the outer world. This is reflected in its eventual pathway which moves away from the midline outwards through the legs and through the breasts. A strong quality of the PV is a sense of settling and being able to draw energy from the outer world and a strong connection to our mother. Sometimes when I work the PV, I feel the energy of implantation: which embryologists sometimes call “nidation”: making a nest. It is therefore not by chance that its main regulating point is SP4, a point which is on the foot, linked to the earth and Yin. Many texts include ST points on the legs, which also connect to Food and the earth.
The character for PV illustrates this. The Chinese character for “Chong” has two parts. The outer part (radical) is a symbol which is split in two parts to the left and right side of the centre. This outer part represents the left and right foot in a walking movement. It also means to circulate. This expresses the importance of the leg branch of the PV and its connection to the earth and outer world. It also expresses its important role in the circulation of Blood and Qi in the body.
The inner part of the Chong represents a person repeatedly trying to raise a heavy weight up from the earth. This represents power. We could see this as representing our potential to become stronger through our relationship with the outer world.
The whole character includes the idea of the PV being a meeting place: a route with lots of crossings and tributaries where people can meet and continue walking. This shows how we can be enriched in our life through our interaction with other people. The character suggests that this route is powerful. In the Daoist texts this indicates the transformational nature of the Chong. By being able to draw nourishment from the outer world and link many different energies together, we can transform ourselves.
PV is therefore more dependent on and closely connected with the earth, the outer world, than CV. Our first outer world is our mother, both in the womb and the early period after birth. After birth we are, hopefully, held Yin to Yin and both PV and CV are being nourished. However for me, unlike some other writers, PV is the Vessel which is the most closely connected with bonding with the mother. PV has important branches in the breast which start from the Kidney points in the chest and fan out to connect with the Heart organ and the first point on the Heart channel. Connecting with our mother’s breasts, through breastfeeding or being held against her body after birth, is an important stage of finding a new way of being nourished, emotionally and physically.
How Yin energies overlap at the navel:
CV, PV are supported by the Yin Wei, Yin Qiao and the Girdle Vessel (GDV)
You can see in reality how difficult it is to separate PV from CV and we often need to work them together. There are in fact many overlaps between the EV’s both in their function and where they are in the body. Since I am discussing how to support nourishment and the Yin, I want to consider a vital area where Yin energies overlap: the navel and the abdominal/pelvic area. I want to give you some idea how you could also include the Yin Wei and the Girdle along with the PV and CV so that you can begin to understand the interconnections between the EV’s. Another area where the EV’s intersect is the mouth: also vital for taking in nourishment.
As we know sometimes the navel is sensitive (often due to the way we separated from our umbilical cord at birth). We may not always be able to work here directly. This is when we can use the regulating points of the EV’s, which are on the hands or feet, or perhaps the organ connections, as I described above. As we know CV8 is the centre point on the CV. Its name “spirit gateway” indicates its connection with the energies not only of our mother but also of our ancestral line and indeed why we have chosen to incarnate in our particular body at this time and place in the history of the world. It is also about how we separate from our mother at birth and start to find our unique path through life and our own sense of nourishment. Although it is not given as a specific point on the Dai it is contained within it. The Girdle needs to join at the front, along the CV line from CV16 (Central Courtyard) to CV2 (Curved bone: pubic bone).
I also include CV1 as part of the Girdle Vessel since, for it to fulfil all the functions described of it, (for eg supporting the organs of the pelvis, especially the reproductive organs) it needs to link in with the perineum. CV1 is another point shared by all of the EVs. Its name is the meeting of the Yin and it is the Yin aspect of the GV as well as the GDV. Obviously we do not work directly with it in shiatsu, but we can support our clients to connect with it through breath. I sometimes do this while I am giving them shiatsu. I hold CV2 and GV2 and get the client to draw up their perineum on the outbreath. This is a powerful way to reach the energy here and support this most Yin part of the CV, GDV and GV. It is important to include because the perineum nourishes and supports us on a deep level.
To each side of the navel are the two KD16 points which are also deep nourishing Yin points. They are called the “Vital membranes” and nourish the Jing, Gate of Vitality and Source Qi, the Heart, Yin and the lower burner. You may know that the Kidney channel from KD11 at the level of the pubic bone, to KD27 under the clavicle is part of the PV pathway in the torso. In the abdomen KD/PV runs along the medial border of the recti muscles. The Chinese called the recti muscles the ancestral muscle. They link with perineum and support the reproductive organs.
Further out to each side of the navel are the two SP 15 points: the Great Horizontal. These are points on the Yin Wei and are on the lateral border of recti muscles. The Wei and the Qiao, which physically arise later in the womb, are more connected to the shoulders/arms and hips/feet and the day to day rhythms of the earth (as opposed to our mother). The difference between the Wei/Qiao and the PV is that postnatally they are more connected with drawing energy from the earth and outer world and bringing it back to the centre centre. The CV and PV are more about the movement from the centre out towards the earth. The Yin Wei supports the PV to develop its connection with the outer world and brings the outer world back into PV to be modified in the core of the body. It is not surprising that its regulating point (HP6) is the paired point of the PV. SP15 also links with the Girdle Vessel by being within its pathways because GDV is main regulator of horizontal energy in the body: being the only channel which runs horizontally.
The Yin Qiao also passes through the abdomen bringing Yin and Yang energy from the earth to the centre through the movement of stepping on the earth and its many connections through points on the Kidney and Bladder (water and Yin) although there it has no points here.
Practical ideas to work with the Yin Vessels in the abdomen to deeply nourish our body
Since there are so many overlaps it can be helpful to link all these different Yin nourishing energies together. I begin by placing my mother hand over GV4 (Ming Men: from where all the 8 EV’s arise and to which they return) and make a broad connection with my other hand over the whole abdominal area, from under the ribs to the pubic bone. Then I work with the Yin Wei, the most outer border of the recti muscles, with my thumb on one side and my fingers on the other (if I can reach!). I gather along the edge of the muscles towards the midline (CV). In this way I am gathering all the SP energies together, not only SP15. I then do the same for the medial border of the recti muscle, drawing all the KD/PV energies together. Then I might finish with a connection along CV. I may have already integrated some work with the regulating points of some of these Vessels before I do this, or I may finish with some of the regulating points or connections with the Core Four Organs.
Of course we have to be sensitive to the power of this work. If the person is ready it may bring to the surface deep memories of the past. However, if they are not, then it supports them to feel how they can resource themselves: come back to their centre and connect with their capacity to nourish themselves. This will then enable them to take the nourishment they need in this moment. You may now be considering using the EV’s with clients who have issues with food, perhaps even anorexia or bulimia, or deep issues with their relationships with their mother which you have not been able to support by only working with the 12 channels.
How do we decide when to use the EV’s as well as or instead of the 12 channels?
It is always important to support flow within the 12 channels in order to support the current moment relationship with the outer world. The EV’s should not be used as a substitute for our daily interaction with the Qi. If we use them in this way, then we may drain our deep reservoir. However the reason we may have eating issues or issues with our mother, may go back to our time in the womb or our early life, and unless at some point we are able to access this level of our client’s being then the same patterns will keep repeating. In any one session then, I usually include some work with the EV’s and the 12 channels, although depending on the client and situation, the balance between the 2 may vary.
I hope this begins to give you an idea of the flavour of how we can access the deep nourishing qualities of the 8 EV’s. They are a whole other layer of working with the body and it is important to understand the characteristics of each as well as the links between them all. Enjoy exploring them deeper, especially in this Yin time of reflection. Begin by trying some of these connections with yourself, so that you understand them in your own body before working with clients.
The Eight Extraordinary Vessels Elizabeth Rochat de la Valle and Claude Larre : for the underlying meaning of the characters. Monkey Press 1997
Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese medicine, Maciocia G: Churchill Livingstone 1998
Channels of acupuncture, Maciocia G: Churchill Livingstone 2006
The Eight Extraordinary Vessels, Jeffrey Yuen lecture notes New England School of Acupuncture 2005
Larsen’s Human Embryology 5th edition 2012, Elsevier
Suzanne’s books which mention the Extraordinary Vessels are Shiatsu for Midwives (2003) and Pregnancy and Childbirth (2010)