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Massage Today
March, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 03

Using the Six Divisions

By Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc

The last article I wrote for Massage Today ( was a fairly simple explanation of differentiating and treating headaches using the six divisions.

I actually don't think there is an emphasis on the six divisions in many bodywork programs. It would be useful to take a look at them. It's relatively easy to incorporate their principles into your practice. Their connection is one of similarity, rather than yin/yang opposites.

I really like that the Chinese are always figuring out ways of connecting things together, rather than separating them. There has been an emphasis in dissection in the West, so much so that I believe our culture suffers from "over-separation." The mind has been separated from the body; the interchangeable parts of the body are separated from the whole, and the pathology is taken from the larger picture of the disease process. The influence of Chinese medicine and philosophy today has been to reconnect us within our bodies, with each other and with the universe as a whole.

Because of the emphasis in Chinese medicine on making "connections," we find an enormous array of paradigms, all operating at the same time. Plus, the Chinese don't like to throw anything away if it works. They just kept piling many different theories up on top of each other, using whichever theory seems to fit best. This can be incredibly frustrating to Western students, who would like everything to be in black and white.

The yin/yang paradigm is a way of categorizing opposing forces. Yin and yang may be opposites, but they also control one another; are contained in each other; and are supported by and transform into one another. Even though it is common to think of men as yang and women as yin, each gender has a balance of both aspects of yin and yang in them.

The most commonly used meridian pairs in the West are yin/yang. For example, the Gall Bladder (GB) and Liver (Liv) meridians are opposite from each other on the body, and they flow one into the other using yin/yang principles. The GB is the middle aspect of the leg. The end of the GB meridian on the lateral side of the fourth toe connects and transforms into the Liv meridian with an internal pathway to the lateral aspect of the big toe. The GB organ itself is yang meridian, on the outside/yang aspect of the leg. The Liv is, for the most part, the middle yin meridian on the inside/yinyang by the fact that it is simple and hollow; the Liv organ is yin because it is complex and solid.

This is very useful in our practices because we know that, because of the Liv and GB's strong yin/yang relationship, they exert a tremendous influence on one another. Going back to my previous article, using the example of a shaoyang headache in the temple region of the head (GB and TH meridians), we also know that the Liv meridian is involved because of its strong relationship with the GB.

Illustration showing the Triple Heater (Burner) and Gall Bladder Meridians. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Shaoyang Meridians: Triple Heater (Burner) and Gall Bladder

I had a Chinese teacher who would anthropomorphize the meridian yin/yang pairs by calling them "couples." The GB and Liv meridians have a very close relationship: they go everywhere together. You wouldn't think of having a party and inviting GB but not Liv. They seem quite harmonious together and often share chores, like headaches!

I like to take that analogy one step further and look at the six divisions as "couples" as well. The Heart (HT) and Small Intestine (SI) meridians form a pair, but frankly, I don't think they do much for each other. They are rarely involved in the same pathology, and they don't seem to have a very strong relationship at all. They may help each other out in a pinch, but to be honest with you, if the SI meridian has a problem, the Bladder (BL) is where it's going to go for help. The strength of the six divisions lies in their similarity. The SI/BL are a pair, very much a couple. They both are on the aspect of the back of our bodies. The bladder provides our armor down our backs; the SI gives us a similar protection in the back of our shoulders. The BL is on the, posterior lateral aspect of our leg; the SI is on the , posterior lateral aspect of our arm. Their function is also both in that they create our structure and move us forward. We saw in the last article that a headache is located in the back of the neck, so we work on both SI and BL points to treat it. This principle can also work for problems further along the meridian. When a client comes to me with knots between the shoulder blades (BL meridian points), I hold the most painful point () that feels like a "Gummy Bear," then palpate the SI meridian starting at SI 15 and working against the flow all the way to the little finger, SI 1. By the time I finish, the painful knot has usually melted away! We also saw in my previous article that a headache (located on the side of the head) can be treated with the GB and Triple Heater (TH) meridians. They have a relationship. The GB meridian is the middle meridian on the outside of the leg; the TH meridian is the middle meridian on the outside of the arm. They are both on the side of the body, and they move us from side to side. helps us differentiate, "Should I go here or there?"

Taiyang Meridians: Small Intestine and Bladder - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Taiyang Meridians: Small Intestine and Bladder

As you might suspect, pain even further down the GB meridian, such as in the rib area, can also be relieved by palpating the TH meridian, particularly TH 5 and TH 6. When my mother had shingles, pressing TH points offered her a wonderful reprieve from the pain. These points were also much easier for her to do herself, rather than GB points on her feet.

The meridians connection, Large Intestine (LI) and Stomach (ST), is one of similarities as well, being located on the anterior lateral/ aspects of our arms and legs, respectively. is responsible for the action of reaching out to grasp. You'll remember that you this principle one step further in the example of treating constipation. You would think first of the LI meridian for this problem, but vigorously pressing sore/ points on the stomach meridian, particularly between the knee and ankle, tend to be even more effective for constipation.

Yangming Meridians: Stomach and Large Intestine - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Yangming Meridians: Stomach and Large Intestine

When you are exploring the body, any connection can be useful, or, as folk singer Ani Difranco says, "There is strength in our differences and comfort where we overlap." We see in any relationship, a balance of commonalities and differences that compliment each other. This goes beyond gender and traditional roles. We also see a balance of similarities and polarities in both meridian pair models as well. Yin/yang meridian pairs are opposite but grouped under the same element. Six division pairs also have polarity, in the fact that one is always yin or yang in relationship to the other. For example, in taiyang, SI is fire, which is yang in relationship to the bladder, which is water. Of course, each meridian has a balance of yin, yang and the five elements within, much as we do as individuals.

There are of course three yin/yin meridian pairs that are also useful, not so much for superficial pain but for deeper, emotional or organ-related issues. There is a psychological aspect of the six division meridian pairs that could be the topic of a whole other article, if not an entire book. There is also an application of the six divisions in treating febrile disease. This is just a taste. Learn more.

Click here for previous articles by Barbra Esher, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), LAc.


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