I found it extremely difficult to learn the acupuncture points and channels despite the expert instruction I received from Jim Cleaver, LAc. When I reach a difficult point in learning a subject, I have a simple strategy I use to break through the wall. I find a way to engage all of my senses, including the more subtle energetic senses.
This strategy, combined with some of the methods I learned from professors, really helped me in learning the points and hopefully it will help you to either learn them for the first time or to deepen your current understanding. I have shared my technique for learning points and channels with both students and practitioners, and everyone has found it to be a valuable addition to their repertoire – so it made sense to share it here.
I should say that none of the methods below would have worked if I wasn’t also using basic memorization methods on top of plenty of out-of-class reading and paying close attention in class. The methods below simply helped stabilize those pillars and make it far more likely that I would retain the material as well as giving me a more visceral understanding of the channels and their points.
This is surely the most powerful method of learning the channels and points. At school we were encouraged by practically every teacher to use our sense of touch in our study. One of the simplest things to do is simply to trace the channel on your body with your finger – over and over again. Start at the beginning, go through the channel and then reverse. You can go deeper and palpate the channel with several fingers or your whole hand, seeing how the channels actually has a seemingly physical space that it runs through.
Try to remember the anatomical markers you have learned, conceptualize where channels meet one another. You can do the same thing for individual points, run your finger lightly along the channel – focusing on points this time. You will feel a definite hole, dent, cleft or other physical marker – it may be small, but it will be there. Take some time to stay on this point, feel its energy and simply sit with the experience.
These methods can, and should, be employed on willing subjects other than yourself. My partner, child and several friends have been kind enough to be point models for me – enduring poking, prodding, marker, stickers and plenty of “do you feel that?” The more bodies you get your hands on, the better of you will be when you start needling. Bodies are VERY different and an anatomical marker on one body that gave you an exact location may be of little use on another body!
Obviously, because the points and channels are not something that can be readily tasted, smelled, or listened to some creative thinking was in order to engage these senses in my study. I decided to use the five element phase correspondences of each channel to assist my learning process. To do this I used:
- Herb samples used in my study of single herbs (taste): I picked out an herb that I felt most closely represented the five phase taste for the channel I was studying. For example, when studying the Heart channel – fire element – I used Huang Lian, one of the most mind blowingly bitter herbs I know. I made a simple decoction, fairly dilute, and sipped it while studying the channel.
- Various food items from my house (smell): This tactic is similar to the one listed for taste. I used foods instead of herbs because the dried herb samples frequently don’t have as strong a smell as fresh foods do. Using fire as an example again, I actually scorched rice in a pan over a hot flame and smelled it now and again during my study. You may be able to find incense for this purpose as well.
- Yi Ch/Jing Music For Health CDs (hearing) – I can’t recommend these CDs enough. I listen to them for various reasons, but they really seemed to help when I was studying the channels. I would just play the CD corresponding to the element of the channel I was studying. It helped soothe me as well as, I think, filling me full of the elemental phase energy of the channel, helping me to come into resonance with it. The CDs are also available and at Pettygrove Classical Chinese Medicinary in Portland, OR.
There are many easily available visual aids for learning channels and points. I have used acupuncture charts, acupuncture models and of course various books on the subject – my preferred being the excellent Deadman’s Manual of Acupuncture
just republished in a Second Edition.
However, a set of washable markers and a package of 1/4 inch sticky round labels are almost more useful – given that they combine the senses of sight and touch. First, find the points using whatever method you have learned at school. Palpate them until you are sure you’ve found them. Mark the location with a sticky dot. After you have found all the points on the channel, or all the points in a given section (for the longer channels) just connect-the-dots to see the channel on a living, breathing human being. Beats a plastic model any day.
Using your more Subtle faculties
What really drilled the channels and points into my sometimes thick head was the use of simple Qigong during memorization activities. In the school of Qigong I practice, each session is preceded by a full-body shaking with various visualizations to increase energy flow throughout the body. Other schools may have similar activities, I don’t know. But even jogging, bike riding, or any other rhythmic activity that requires little thought will work.
When I use this method (I still use it for review) I simply start at the beginning of a channel and as I shake I try to feel where the channel runs and where specific points are located. If I’m just doing a single relatively short channel, I might take 20 minutes to do it and really spend time with each point feeling its quality and trying to understand its actions. A few times I have started at the beginning of the energy cycle and gone through to the end – quite an undertaking, but so valuable!
What methods have helped you to learn the points and channels? We are all waiting for your tips in the comments.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Community Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.