During my last trip to China, I had the opportunity to visit Wu Zhen, a ancient canal village dubbed “Water Town,” as one of our day excursions from Hang Zhou. We walked through a series of houses that have been transformed into miniature museums with attractions like ancient, intricate beds and the popular blue and white fabric that this area is know for. But the main reason for visiting Wu Zhen is to observe the ancient canals. We finished our trip here with a boat ride down the canal for the full experience. It was easy to feel as if you had stepped back in time and I could sense how important these waterways were for the health and prosperity of this town.
In the early days of Chinese medicine (circa 3000 BC) – before medical imaging, clinical trials, and the electron microscope – healers observed their environment in an attempt to better understand themselves. The lay of the land, weather patterns, and even social politics of the times became metaphors for the inner workings of the human body. They understood that the rivers were necessary for transportation of people and goods, production of rice and other crops, and connecting the vast regions of China. The ancient philosophers and medics likened those rivers and their tributaries and streams to pathways or channels in our own bodies that transport vital substances throughout the body, maintain the human frame, and construct a comprehensive communicative network.
The “rivers” and”waterways” of the body are the acupuncture channels and their branches. There are 12 major channels and additional subsets of channels that cover the entire human form. They transport qi, blood, and fluids from the tips of your fingers and toes to your deep internal organs and vice-verse. They create a web of communication, both physical and emotional, to unify body, mind, and spirit. They harbor change and imbalance to protect the body and are therefore the first places to suffer from disease.
Acupuncture affects these rivers – and the rest of the body in turn – by supplementing areas of weakness, dispersing areas of excess, and removing “dams” in the system to reinstate free-flow. We prevent illness from setting in to the depths of the bodies by clearing these channels and filling them with healthy, plentiful qi. With healthy rivers, our “earthly” flesh is nourished and our muscles and sinews can grow strong like trees. What the Chinese theorized years ago, and what seemed so evident in that ancient town of Wu Zhen, still holds true today – our bodies are miniature blueprints of the world around us, molded rivers.