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Massage Today
June, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 06

Road Maps of Our Lives: Navigating the Eight Extraordinary Vessels

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

More than pathways of qi, meridians are said to be roadmaps leading us to our destiny. The meridian/collateral system, called the jingluo, includes the major highways, which are the 12 main meridians you are familiar with from charts.

Then there are the luo vessels, the lesser-traveled blue highways, which transversely connect the main roads, sometimes paralleling them. The detours are the divergent meridians, keeping pathogens from going deeper into the organs by rerouting them into the joints, thus manifesting as pathologies such as arthritis. There are also cutaneous regions and sinew meridians, connecting in same polarity yin/yin, yang/yang pairs.

Today I will discuss the Indian trails, which are there before any other roads, influencing how the whole system eventually develops. These are the eight extraordinary vessels (EEVs), our original blueprint formed in utero. These vessels circulate essence/jing, our potential. This essence includes not only our genetic make-up, but also the possibilities in our lives on a metaphysical level - namely, what we can be!


The essence contained in the eight extraordinary vessels is the precursor and generator of qi. Qi circulates in a daily rhythm, whereas essence moves much more slowly in cycles of 7-8 years, depending on gender. These cycles mark development points in our lives, such as puberty and the best time to bear children. Thus, essence controls our growth, development and reproduction.

The potential that essence contains can be compared to the packed, dense energy found in a sunflower seed. All of the possibilities, such as that big tall plant and huge beautiful flower, are all there contained in that seed. Just like us, that potential needs to be realized, cultivated and nurtured.

Since they also connect the main meridians, the extraordinary vessels also serve as a bridge between pre-natal and postnatal qi. As the root of yin and yang, essence transforms into qi and blood, which will anchor and support the shen or spirit. Intrinsic in the transmutation from essence to spirit is the knowing that all possibilities do in fact occur.


The extraordinary vessels are formed before any other part of the jingluo network. It is theorized that the Ren and the Du Mai evolve from the first split of the zygote (cell created from egg and sperm), creating the central axis and midline of the body on the front and back. The Chong Mai and the Dai Mai are formed when the cells split into 4. The Chong makes the internal vertical axis and the Dai forms an external, horizontal axis circling around the waist like a belt. When the cells of the embryo split into eight, then 16, the Yang Wei/YinWei Mai are formed, controlling the pathways traveling back and forth interiorly/exteriorly. The Yin Ciao/Yang Ciao Mai are formed at the same time, moving qi in an upward and downward direction.

The eight extraordinary vessels work together as form paired sets, as shown:

Paired Vessels Master Points Regions Affected When Paired
Ren Mai
Yin Ciao Mai
Lu 7
Ki 6
Abdomen, chest, lungs, throat, face
Du Mai
Yang Ciao Mai
SI 3
Bl 62
Back of legs, back, spine, neck, head, eyes, brain
Chong Mai
Yin Wei Mai
Sp 4
Pc 6
Inner leg, abdomen, chest, heart, stomach
Dai Mai
Yang Wei Mai
GB 41
TH 5
Outer leg, sides of body, shoulders, sides of neck


There are many different ways of treating the extraordinary vessels, but the most popular is to use the master/couple point combinations presented above. It is interesting to note that accessing them in this way is a relatively modern technique, originating in the Ming Dynasty. (1500s) Previously, it was thought that these vessels were inaccessible.* I personally would not recommend using them in this way until a certain amount of rapport is developed with your client and clarity has been cultivated in attention and presence. I also have a respect for these meridians and don't haphazardly call on their "special powers," unless the condition is serious and long standing.

(*Jeffrey Yuen, lectures from 1994-2001.)

Since you can't hold all four points bilaterally (unless you are Shiva) I recommend holding the master point of the meridian you would like to affect (beginning on the right for women and on the left for men) with the master point of the couple vessel on the opposite side. Then hold the two coupled points, then the opposite master/ couple, then the two masters, ending with the original pair, each time holding for about a minute until you feel a pulse. So for the Ren Mai, use this sequence on a woman:

  1. right Lu 7/ left Ki 6 (master for Ren Mai/Yin Ciao Mai)
  2. both Ki 6's (left and right master Ren Mai points)
  3. left Lu 7/ right Ki 6
  4. both Lu 7's (left and right master Yin Ciao Mai points)
  5. right Lu 7/ left Ki 6

Using this pattern of an infinity sign has a profoundly balancing affect on the meridian without depleting it. This is something you have to be particularly sensitive to with the EEVs because of the difficulty in replenishing our core essence.

Development and Clinical Uses

When clients come to us with congenital or childhood issues, these are the meridians we want to address. You will notice that Ren, Du and Chong Mai are the first to be activated, as the baby will bond to his or her mother along the path of the Ren Mai. The baby connects first with his or her eyes to Mom's eyes, mouth to Mom's nipples and chest/abdomen to Mom's. Pathologies along the Ren can manifest later in life depending on that initial bond. If the mother was "smothering" this is often seen resulting in asthma, commonly treated with the Ren Mai master point, and the coupled point which helps activate it. (Lu 7/Ki 6) If there was little or no bond, the person might spend their whole life trying to re-create it by nurturing and "treating" that pathway by connecting with others, over and over, from their lips down to their genitals.

The Du Mai becomes more activated when the baby lifts his or her head to look at the world, then moves towards stimuli. A lack of development of that channel will result in someone who, since childhood, holds themselves back, lacking the yang motivation to look around the world and move forward. There can also be an imbalance in the other direction, in someone who is more comfortable "doing" rather then "being." Yang propels them through this world at such a dizzying rate that the thought of stopping, even for a moment, is the most terrifying notion imaginable. Du Mai disorders are commonly treated with the SI 3/ Bl 62 combination.

I have to credit Jeffrey with love and gratitude, for much of what I teach and practice concerning the EEVs. Kiiko Matsumoto and Alex Tiberi have also contributed to this article through their lectures. Circling the waist, the Dai Mai is the "closet" of the body. That's where the injustices of our lives are stuffed until they can be dealt with later. Unfortunately, when the closet starts to bulge from being over full, the channel starts to expand as well, until we deal with the issues that are being kept there. This may manifest as a disproportionately large waistline or as "leaks" oozing dampness such as leukorrea. Treating GB 41/TH 5 helps open that closet and clean it out.

The Yang Wei/Yin Wei Mai link the different milestones in our lives. You may see clients that are investing a lot of energy in re-living those moments or living a fantasy of the future. Being out of the moment can be deeply depleting.

The Yang Ciao/Yin Ciao Mai create our stance in the world. If your client is not clear about where they stand or even worse, would rather be someone else rather than who they are, you may want to address these meridians. Jin ShinDo®

Another way to learn more and work with the extraordinary vessels is to study Jin Shin Do® Bodymind Acupressure. Because the intention is to release armoring, thereby opening blockages of qi, rather than to tap into or direct the jing (essence), there is not nearly as great a risk of exhausting these vessels with JSD. One of the functions of the EEVs is to balance the qi in the meridians. JSD uses local points in the areas of chronic tension with distal points along the related EEV. As the emotional holding patterns release, the EEVs carry the qi that was bound in that chronic tension back into the "natural" flow. By allowing the body to do what it needs to do, we can return to our original nature.

Learn More! For a list of schools that offer programs in ABT, go to For information on the national ABT exam, go to

Author's Note: the five-element chart that appeared in my previous article (May 2001 Massage Today) was reproduced from the Acu-Coloring Book with the permission from Loren Nelson, (619)280.7786.

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


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