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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 174-178

Professor li ding's experience in applying the theory of meridians and collaterals (经络学说) to Health Preservation (养生)

1 Acupuncture Clinic, Shanghai Shenhong TCM Clinic, Shanghai, China
2 Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai, China

Date of Submission08-Nov-2019
Date of Acceptance08-Nov-2019
Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Chao Zhang
Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Shanghai University of TCM, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_42_19

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Professor Li Ding studied his family knowledge of health preservation with Qigong (气功). And, in his early years, he consulted Mr. Jiang Weiqiao (蒋维乔) on this topic. This article explained the theory of meridian points related to Qigong's theory, such as the location of the Dantian (丹田), the concepts of upper Dantian (上丹田) and lower Dantian (下丹田), the relation between the minor circulation (Xiao Zhou Tian, 小周天) and the conception/governor vessels, as well as the relation between Yin/Yang heel vessels and Qigong. The article also collected one self-composed version health preservation, consisting of four parts of walking, sitting, lying, and rising, which is fit for practical use.

Keywords: Dantian (上丹田), health preservation (养生), meridians and collaterals (经络), Professor Li Ding, Qigong (气功)

How to cite this article:
Chen R, Zhang C. Professor li ding's experience in applying the theory of meridians and collaterals (经络学说) to Health Preservation (养生). Chin Med Cult 2019;2:174-8

How to cite this URL:
Chen R, Zhang C. Professor li ding's experience in applying the theory of meridians and collaterals (经络学说) to Health Preservation (养生). Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 May 8];2:174-8. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/4/174/273896

Professor Li Ding is a doctoral supervisor, a representative inheritor of Project Acupuncture and Moxibustion of National Intangible Cultural Heritage (国家级非物质文化遗产针灸项目代表性传承人), a Shanghai Distinguished Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor (上海名中医), a tenured professor of Shanghai University of TCM, and the editor-in-chief of the fifth and sixth editions of national planning textbook Meridians and Collaterals. It is known that Professor Li has a rich and exhaustive experience in health preservation with Qigong. He has practiced it for many years and created his own health-caring style.

Li Chengzhi, professor Li's father, was originally a Confucianist doctor who practiced Qigong all his life. In the 1940s, he went to Shanghai and worked in the Mingshan Publishing House. It is at this time that Prof. Li went to Shanghai following his father. Dedicating itself to “sorting out national cultural heritage,” the Mingshan Publishing House once published one “Nei Jing Tu” (Illustration of the Internal Meridians 内经图)[1] (also called Nei Jing Tu 内景图Illustration of Interior View) whose date of completion is not clear [Figure 1]. The figure is about the functions and relations of the internal organs, and is one important aid for the practice of Qigong, exercise of minor circulation, and foundation building within 100 days in Taoists (Taoism terminology, in the process of uniting the Taoist Qigong, the first stage is the precondition stage, which is also called “preconditions for 100-day building a foundation” 百日筑基). The purpose of the 100-day laying a foundation is to get through the conception and governor vessel. The figure was copied as a mural exhibiting in the hall of Shanghai Qigong Research Institute, and it is just from the version published by the Mingshan Publishing House.
Figure 1: Illustrations of the internal meridians

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In 1955, Professor Li worked in the Fifth Outpatient Department of Shanghai Public Medical Service. Mr. Xu Fumin (徐福民), the then director, invited Mr. Jiang Weiqiao (1872–1958) [Figure 2], a modern Qigong expert, to provide Qigong direction in the outpatient department. At that time, many senior officials and intellectuals visiting the outpatient department suffered from neurasthenia, and they were treated in the Qigong courses directed by Mr. Jiang. In 1956, director Chen Tao (陈涛) organized the Shanghai Qigong Sanatorium to carry out health recuperation and experiment research of Qigong. He invited Mr. Jiang as a consultant. Jiang Weiqiao, formerly named as Jiang Zhuzhuang (蒋竹庄), was the author of Yinsizi Meditation Methods (因是子静坐法). In his early years, he changed his given name to “Weiqiao,” showing that he opened up not only the conception vessel and governor vessel, but also the link and heel vessels of the eight extraordinary vessels. According to Mr. Jiang's personal experience, there is a close relationship between the theory of eight extraordinary vessels and Qigong practice. Professor Li consulted and discussed with Mr. Jiang in the 1950s and had quite some understanding of the relation between Qigong and the theory of meridians and collaterals. His main viewpoints were expressed in the article “The eight extraordinary vessels and the way of health preservation” in 2012.[2],[3]
Figure 2: Figure of Jiang Weiqiao

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Professor Li, indifferent to fame and fortune all his life, is focusing on academic research and clinical practice without being distracted. He practices calligraphy in his spare time for the inner tranquility. In daily life, he lays emphasis on adequate sleep, moderate diet, and regular exercise. These are the bases for his longevity. Here, we describe Mr. Li Ding's theory of health preservation and methods of daily exercise.

  Health-Preserving Qigong Is Closely Related to the Theory of Meridians and Collaterals Top

Mr. Li holds that Acumox and Tuina belong to the external treatment, whereas Qigong (气功) is the internal treatment. The inscriptions on jade in the history of Warring States in the early period of China have the records of Qigong health preservation methods [Figure 3]. Based on the theory of meridians and collaterals and acupoints and the meaning, quoting well-known sentences from Nan Jing (《难经》 Classic of Difficult Issues), and famous doctors such as Li Shizhen (叶天士), and referring to Zhou Yi Can Tong Qi (《周易参同契》), Huang Ting Nei Jing Jing (《黄庭内景经》), Lao Zi (《老子》), and Zhuang Zi (《庄子》), Mr. Li explained some abstract and puzzling descriptions in Qigong theory objectively.
Figure 3: Inscription for Qi Movement on Jade

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Mind concentration on the lower Dantian (omphaloskepsis)

During the Wei and Jin dynasties, there was a book about inner alchemy called Huang Ting Nei Jing Jing. It talks about the activity and movement of “Qi” in the body after vipassana. Before that, there was Zhou Yi Can Tong Qi by Wei Poyang (魏伯阳) of the Eastern Han dynasty. Both books are the classics of inner alchemic exercise. Ancient people comprehended the Qigong theory through the method of “calling in the functions of seeing and hearing” in meditation with closed eyes. Li Shizhen says: “Only those who see inward can clearly observe the inner scene and tunnels.”[4] The “Inner scene” refers to the scene inside the body. What's the meaning of “looking backward and seeing the interior” which was popular in the Han and Wei dynasties. Normally, eyes are looking outward, but in health preservation, it requires concentration and tranquil recuperation. Observing the interior, seeing the interior, and illuminating the interior actually all mean to calm down and close the eyes to perceive the feeling inside the body. To perceive the experience of physiological change, the mind concentration is the first step, and the four main sensory organs of the eye, the ear, the nose, and the mouth should be under control, which is the meaning of the so-called Taoism saying of “four heaven kings ascend to the temple;” “ascend to the temple” means that the sensory organs must report to the heart. The main area to be concentrated is Dantian, which should be corresponding to the point of Shimen (CV5). It is clearly recorded in Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (《针灸甲乙经》 The Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion) that Shimen (CV5) has an alias of Dantian.[5] Shimen is located at 2 cun below the navel, and this seems to be different from the common knowledge that Dantian is 3 cun below the navel. However, in practicing mind concentration of Qigong, Dantian is not one precise point. It can be the area from the upper part of Yinjiao (CV7) which is 1 cun below the navel, Qihai (CV 6) which is 1.5 cun below the navel, and Shimen (CV5) which is 2 cun below the navel to the lower part of Guanyuan (CV4) which is 3 cun below the navel.

There is another point called the upper Dantian (上丹田). When the eyes close to see the interior, the eyes should slightly draw close to the superomedial direction, and this will induce a heavy and tight feeling, which can help mind concentration. The upper Dantian locates at the root of the nose between the two eyes, generally called Shan Gen (山根 mountain root), also called E'Zhong (頞中 – nasal root) in ancient times. The foot yangming meridian of the stomach “originates from the nose and intersects with the meridian of the other side at the E'zhong,” where it also meets with the foot taiyang meridian of bladder which originates from the inner canthus. Hence, E'zhong is a very important position. Above E'Zhong, it is Yintang (GV 29) located between the two eyebrows. In Bao Pu Zi (《抱朴子》), it is named as Ming Tang (明堂) and “upper Dantian,”[6] indicating that the area between Yintang and the “mountain root” is an important position of the governor vessel – the upper Dantian. There is the so-called term of “seven holes and eight orifices.” It is clear that seven holes refer to those of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. There is an orifice communicating internally to the brain, and this is the eighth orifice, which is a key one. Sometimes, there is a term of the ancestral orifice, and it just refers to this upper Dantian. In mind meditation, it is required that “the eyes view the nose,” meaning that the eyes see the tip of the nose; “the nose views the heart,” referring to internal mind focusing, as the nose is directly above the heart and Dantian. The nasal root in the upper part is the orifice to enter, whereas the point to initialize the inner elixir is the lower Dantian.

Some say that the upper Dantian controls “nature,” whereas the lower Dantian controls “life.” For the two points for focusing mind, the upper Dantian belongs to the governor vessel and the lower Dantian belongs to the conception vessel. The lower Dantian is the main one of the two, and it is the location of the “dynamic Qi located between the kidneys below the navel,”[7] as mentioned in The Classic of Questioning. Later on, books on Qigong compared the lower Dantian to “the Xuanpin gate” mentioned in Laozi, which says “The Xuanpin (玄牝) gate is the root of heaven and earth. It never dies and it's never being exhausted.”[8] This seems to be a kind of Qigong state of mind focusing on the Dantian. Xuanpin (玄牝) can either refer to the lower Dantian, or Xuan (玄), to the upper and Pin (牝) the lower, respectively, which is one Yang (阳) and one Yin (阳), being the root of heaven and earth, respectively.

Moving through the minor circulation, and opening up the governor and conception vessels

After focusing mind on the Dantian for a long time in Qigong's meditation, there will be a warm feeling in the lower abdomen. The warm Qi can be gradually guided downward to pass through Changqiang (GV 1) of the sacrococcygeal region (尾闾关 coccyx pass, seen in The Illustration of the Internal Meridians, the same below), and then go to the area at the lumbar spine of the back where Mingmen (GV 4) (夹脊关 spine side pass) locates, and then go to Fengfu (GV 15) (玉枕关 jade pillow pass) at the nape, finally to go upward and reach the brain. This is called “getting through the three passes” by ensuing generations. The method is actually the reversed process of “down to the nape, along the spine, and into the sacral”[9] described in the circulation of Ying Qi (营气), and it shows that the reversed route of Qigong is along the governor vessel. Later, this was called the minor circulation[10] (小周天 Xiao Zhou Tian) [Figure 4]. Exercises with upward running against the direction of the governor vessel lay stress on the rising and reversing function. In the normal circulation of Ying Qi, the governor vessel is from the top down, whereas the conception vessel is from the bottom up. Qigong has a reversed way. There is a saying that “Following the law of nature, a normal person will come into being; Being against it, an immortal will come into being,” which means that through the transformation of “training essence into qi and training qi into Shen (阴),” one can achieve longevity.
Figure 4: Major and minor circulation

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The opening up of the governor and conception vessels is related to Qigong exercises. The intercommunication between the governor and conception vessels mobilizes the functions of the heart, brain, and kidney. During the Qigong meditation, the lower limbs will have the Qi feeling movement go from the foot shaoyin meridian of kidney to the kidney, whereas in the upper back, the feeling will go from the foot taiyang meridian downward to the kidney. Moreover, the kidney is the key position connecting the upper and the lower parts. The boundaries of the governor vessel and the conception vessel include the mouth in the upper part and the anus in the lower part. During the Qigong meditation, it is requested to close the mouth and contract the anus. In Zhouyi Cantiongqi, it says: “ Introspect the body and block the hole (兑 Dui).”[11] The hole (兑 Dui) refers to the mouth. There is a point named Duiduan (GV 27) locating at the tip of the upper lip. Now, take a look at the position of Yinjiao (GV 25) in the middle of the upper gingiva. It is directly opposite to Renzhong (GV 26), which means that Renzhong is in the exterior and Yinjiao (GV 25) is in its corresponding position which is on the top of the gingiva in the inner side of the upper lip. There is a key movement requirement in Qigong called “building magpie bridge,” which means that the tip of the tongue is touching the gingival junction of the palate so that the governor vessel is connected with the conception vessel. After the step of magpie bridge building, the jin-fluid under the tongue comes out, which shows the subtlety of “bridge-building transition.”

Deep and submerging breath

Practicing Qigong in Taoism is in particular about breath, deep breath, and submerging breath. One breath consists of one inhalation and one exhalation. In Zhuang Zi, it says, “The immortal breathes through the heel, and the normal breathes through the throat.”[12] Deep breathing through the heel means that the mind and Qi reach the heel, where it can be connected with the originating area of the Yin heel vessel and Yang heel vessel. During the meditation, or before sleep, we can close eyes to calm the heart, with mind focusing on Yongquan (涌泉 KI 1) or the heel, and send Qi to the sole of the foot during the inhalation. Focusing the mind is not necessary during exhalation. The breathing method from the eyes to the heel is to guide Qi downward and have the function of communicating the Yin and Yang heel vessels, calming Shen (神) and regulating Qi. This is the basic ability before opening up the governor vessel and the conception vessel.

  Placing the Extraordinary in the Normal and Featuring in Regulating Qi and Governing Spirit Top

Mr. Li has more than 60 years of clinic experience. In clinical treatment with acupuncture and moxibustion therapy, he primarily treats Shen (神), and his health-preserving method primarily focuses on cultivating Shen, too. He once wrote in calligraphy: “There're three kinds of top medicine: Shen, Qi, and essence” [Figure 5]. He is busy with teaching and research, having a long-term sedentary working, or bending over to treat the patients with acupuncture and moxibustion in clinical outpatients. Learning from the physical exercises of the ancient people, he developed his own style of physical exercises after his routine job. It includes a set of simple trunk and limb stretching and patting, which can achieve the health-caring effect of regulating Qi during activity, storing essence in the Dantian during breathing in meditation, and controlling heart heart Shen when one lies down. The exercise is a combination of static and dynamic exercises but mainly static ones. At the age of nearly 90, he was gray haired but with good complexion, ears, and eyes as well as an active mind. At the request of his students, Mr. Li wrote easy-to-read and practical verses to describe the normal health preservation exercises based on the theory of meridians and collaterals as well as Qigong. The verses are as follows.
Figure 5: Three kinds of top medicine

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Verses of health preservation

Walking, sitting, lying and rising, these are all about general caring. The elderly should be moderate and not hasty in activities. While walking on the flat ground, the first thing is to keep safe. Stand up straight, pat and hit the body with the fist or palm and pat the waist and hips, shrug and move the shoulders and arms. Please flex and extend the joints of limbs, activate fingers.

After walking, you need rest in an upright sitting position.

With the chest forward and the back straight, adjusting the breath,

Straighten the spine, more extending than bending.

Rub the face, scratch the head, knead and pinch the Fengchi point.

Pat the opposite shoulder with a single hand, from the left to the right alternately.

After sitting, lying on the back, loosen the waist and spine,

Push the heel out, stretch the tendons and extend the knees,

Rub the abdomen to normalize the intestines, lift and contract the anus.

This makes the diaphragm and omentum ascend and descend, to achieve free Qi moving in the Triple Energizer.

Keep a regular daily activity and rest in walking, sitting, lying, and rising.

The verses contain four activities: walking, sitting, lying, and rising. The four procedures are used for general care.

Walking – Walk slowly on the flat ground. The elderly should move slowly according to their physical strength, and safety is the priority. While walking, facing forward, you make loose fists or use palm to pat both sides of the thighs, waist, and hip to activate Qi and blood of the lower limbs. Next, you shrug and move the shoulders and arms, the movement of the upper limbs should be in coordination with walking. “Shrug” means to dangle the arm, move the shoulder joints forward and backward as if drawing a circle. After shrugging, flex and extend the joints of limbs, lift and abduct both arms, rotate the elbow as if drawing a circle to put the shoulder joint in motion, and then flex and extend the upper arm, move the wrist as if drawing a circle, and flex and extend the fingers to exercise the small joints.

Sitting – Rest in an upright sitting position, take a chest-out posture, the back is supported by a backrest. Relax the lumbar muscles, straighten the spine, and draw the scapulas close to the spine in the middle without bending. Adjust the breathing, with the mind focusing on Dantian and deep or submerging breath method mentioned above. Rub the face after rubbing the hands till they become warm, extend five fingers to press, rub the scalp like combing, and press and knead the Fengchi (GB20) point with the thumb. Pat the right shoulder with the left hand and pat the left shoulder with the right hand in combination with twisting the upper body to exercise the flanks simultaneously.

Lying – When lying flat, loosen the lumbar spine, extend the leg, and kick the heel out, the left and the right alternately. This is to stretch the knee. Put one palm on the other to rub around the navel, or use one palm to rub the abdomen of the same side, drawing a circle clockwise. Lift the anus during inhalation to control the primary Qi. Apply abdominal respiration to make the diaphragm go up and down so as to free the Qi activity.

Rising – It is required to have regular daily work and rest, by rising and sleeping regularly, and have three meals regularly. This set of exercises embodies the theory of the circulation of meridians and collaterals, Qi and blood, and breathing regulation. The movements are simple and easy to imitate, and each step can either be performed independently or performed with others as a whole. People can do the exercise in daily walking or other activities, or slight movements while waiting for the bus and around bed time. Without any particular endeavors, extend the limbs and activate Qi and blood. Or during quiet reading or desk working, deep and submerging breath can be performed to fully develop the internal breath.

When we leave after the visit to Mr. Li, he always walks us out to the elevator. In such a short distance, Mr. Li is always seen patting the waist, shrugging, and kicking the legs and so on. When being asked abruptly whether he has practiced any Qigong for health preservation, Mr. Li always smiles but says nothing. This reminds me of “useless use” in Zhuang Zi. It turns out that great use lies in something seemingly simple and useless. At the age of 90, Mr. Li continues to compose poems, write articles, and practice calligraphy diligently and tries his best to share his knowledge with others. It is said in Zhuang Zi that “The Classic of Poem is to show the ambition, the Classic of Shangshu is for the record, the Classic of Courtesy is for the behavior…, and Yi Jing (《易经》 The Book of Changes) is to show yin and yang (阴阳).”[13] These words are indeed the true portrayal of Mr. Li's life.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Cheng ZL, He ZZ, Liu CH. Illustration of the Internal Meridians and its health preservation meaning and values. Chin J Tradit Chin Med 2012;27:1196-200.  Back to cited text no. 1
Li D. The eight extraordinary vessels and the method of health preservation – The origin of the theory of Qigong. Chin Med Cult 2012;7:32-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
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Wei PY. The Kinship of the Three, According to the Book of Changes. Hunan: Hunan Education Publishing House; 1988. p. 38.  Back to cited text no. 11
Zhuang Z. Zhuang Zi. Jiangxi: 21st Century Press; 2014. p. 57.  Back to cited text no. 12
Zhuang Z. Zhuang Zi. Jiangxi: 21st Century Press; 2014. p. 344.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]


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