Meridians and Qi

In the oriental tradition the world is described in terms of energy. All things are considered to be manifestations of a vital universal force called ‘Ki’ in Japanese, ‘Qi’ in Chinese and ‘Prana’ in India. Ki flows throughout the body like a system of rivers and canals. Things may happen to upset the smooth flow of Ki, causing blockages or dams in some areas and weaknesses or stagnant pools in others. These blockages or weaknesses in turn may lead to physical symptoms, to psychological or emotional disturbances, or simply to a feeling that things are just not quite right.

Ki moves throughout the whole body but in certain defined pathways it flows in a more concentrated manner. These pathways are known as meridians. The meridians form a continuous circuit of channels that allow the flow of different aspects of Ki all over the body. Each meridian is named after a physical organ, for example, the Heart meridian, Lung meridian and Bladder meridian. Very often, a Shiatsu practitioner will see that the energy along one or more meridians is blocked, such that there is an excess of energy at some points (manifested as tension, tightness or fullness) and a depletion at others (weakness or emptiness). They will work with the energy in these meridians to try to rebalance it. Most acupuncture points lie on meridians, and Shiatsu practitioners will sometimes work on specific points by pressing or holding them. However, Shiatsu differs from acupuncture (and acupressure) in that it is more usual to work on the meridian as a whole rather than isolated points.

In Zen Shiatsu there are 12 main meridians. The meridians are named after the physical organs in the body. However, the meridian does not just relate to the physical organ, but encompasses a whole constellation of meanings based around a particular function. These functions and associations of a meridian are generally much broader than those of the organ it is named after. So, for example, if your Shiatsu practitioner tells you after a treatment that your Heart meridian needed attention, this does not imply that there is anything wrong with your physical heart organ. In Shiatsu terms, it is much more likely to mean that you need emotional support.