Anatomy can actually be very helpful in locating meridians. Do you sometimes wish you knew for sure if you are really on the meridians? Do you wish you felt secure enough in your hand’s sensitivity to trust that you found the point? Do you wish there was another way to learn meridian and point locations besides memorizing anatomical landmarks?

While memorizing may not be much fun for some people (I am among them), anatomy, on the other hand, is really cool. After all, it is what gives the defining shape to every species on our planet – and the defining shape of every individual within their species. Pretty awesome!

That said, I do not love memorizing. I love knowing, but memorizing can sometimes get in the way of knowing. What I really crave is understanding. If I am considering the movement of a foot, I want to know that it can swing from side to side. I want to know it can point up and down. If I am doing a shiatsu treatment on the foot, it is important to understand that that movement comes from the ankle. I should also understand how the ankle works and what its purpose is.

The same is true of the meridians. I may have received a meridian diagnosis of Large Intestine. I may, therefore, be considering the elimination function or the emotional process of grieving. It is important to understand the purpose of the Large Intestine meridian if I want to treat it. And, I need to know exactly where it is in order to address it. Meridian location is important.

Blending Meridian Diagnosis And Location With Client Goals

If my client wants to feel more spring in his step, it helps to know a few things:

  • That I will have to work on the ankle, more than on the foot
  • Where the ankle is and  how to move it
  • With his meridian diagnosis as Large Intestine, where the LI extension is located in his foot 
  • How I can use the extension to move his ankle

But I don’t particularly have to remember that the movements I will use are called dorsiflexion and eversion [though it will probably impress my client if I do :-)]. I can do an effective treatment, regardless. I DO have to find the foot, the ankle and the LI meridian, at the very least.

One of the things I found most disconcerting about learning meridian locations was that the texts did not always agree with what my Japanese teachers had shown me. Fortunately for me, I never doubted my teachers. I never thought I had to change my thinking about where the meridian “really” was. My faith in them allowed me to continue working “true” to the teachings. I remained open to figuring out why the texts disagreed.

Why Meridian Anatomy Varies

It was not until I taught in acupuncture colleges that I discovered why. What I found out was that the anatomical descriptions given in acupuncture texts for locating points did not include the angle of needle insertion. Angle of insertion is taught in the classroom. It is more of a “lab” course – and it makes a huge difference.

I realized that:

  • Although the point of the needle may touch the outside of the skin when it starts out (which is where the textbook indicates), it often ends up in quite a different area inside the body once the insertion is complete
  • It might be impossible for my hand/thumb/finger to start out where the text indicates, and end up where the needle ends up
  • If I started from a slightly different place with a different angle, I would end up in the same place as the needle did – the right place, the place where the energy gets stimulated.

“Oh!” I thought. “That’s why my teachers said the meridian was here instead of there!”

So when I teach meridian location, I like to use bony landmarks, especially at joints. They are SO helpful in delineating a meridian pathway. And I will use every anatomical name I remember. It is a great refresher for students to hear that language. However, I may not remember some of the anatomical language. I may not remember the name of the stylus or head or process [of a bone] that I am touching. When that happens, I may ask the class what it is called . . . because it is a good refresher for me to hear that language. 😀

But what’s more important is that I feel the meridian. That I know it. And the more I feel and know it, the better I understand it. And that’s what I like to pass along to students. I want to help them feel it. I want them to have confidence that they are in a meridian because they recognize the feel of it. That offers the opportunity to be aware of when they lose that feeling. It’s just like walking on a trail in the forest reserve. You’ve got your map, and you could swear you were following it. But you know you must have missed something because you sense that the sun would be in a different place if you were walking in the right direction. That understanding allows you to re-orient and right your course.

From my point of view, I presume the texts may be right for points and needles, but not necessarily for meridians and hands. Not to mention that exact anatomical descriptions for point locations differ slightly from textbook to textbook. Or that one person’s meridian may vary slightly in location from another’s.

If that should happen, don’t feel confused. It ‘s no more bothersome than one person’s forehead being higher or lower than another’s. It’s still in the right place so you can still locate it. If you try to touch the forehead and you get eyes, you know you just have to move up a little . . . because you felt it! That’s what I like to teach – what it feels like. If it doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to, you just change your angle or move your finger a little, and you’re back on it.

What you feel is what makes the difference in a shiatsu treatment. It’s how you get a good effect and longer lasting results for your clients.