Welcome to this month’s edition of The Meridian Series where we explore the unique properties of each acupuncture channel in East Asian Medicine plus the roles they play in our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. If you are new to this series, or have not heard about the meridians before, here is a little background before we dive into October’s featured channel: the large intestine.
What are the Meridians?
In East Asian Medicine, there are twelve main acupuncture meridians (also known as “channels”) that carry energy aka qi (pronounced “chee”) and blood to provide nourishment throughout the body.
In a healthy person, the flow of these vital substances are freely moving in a state of dynamic equilibrium. However, when the flow of qi or blood becomes blocked in one or more of these channels from emotional stress, an injury, or illness — pain and other symptoms of disharmony manifest in the body.
Each meridian is associated with an organ system as well as a host of other natural phenomena since the foundations of East Asian Medicine were created on the basis of observing the human body as a microcosm of nature — from the elements (Metal, Air, Water, Fire, Earth), climate, shift of seasons and more.
With the daylight waning and the nights growing longer, the shift from fall to winter is both visible and visceral; our bodies register this transition on all levels and seek to process it in order to adapt to live in harmony with the seasons.
As you will read, when it comes to the large intestine organ and meridian, this time of year offers that familiar yet quintessential invitation to let go of what no longer is in alignment with our health or highest good.
When autumn arrives, the trees and fauna shed what is no longer needed to sustain them, relinquishing their vibrant form to return to the Earth in anticipation of their return come Spring. They do not hold on relentlessly to their decomposing parts. Quite the contrary, they allow for their shedding — their elimination of waste which will inevitably become compost for new growth. Rather than stubbornly resisting the tides of change, they surrender to the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. Just as nature creates space for renewal, the large intestine’s connection with the fall reminds us of our innate capacity to do the same.
You might be surprised to know that, oddly enough, the large intestine meridian does not travel over the region of the body where the colon is physically located. Instead, it begins at the hands and ends along the face, allowing licensed acupuncturists to influence the functioning and qi (energy) of this organ from afar.
To orient yourself, this meridian begins at the lower corner of the nail-bed on the radial side of the index finger (the side closest to the thumb). Next it flows between the bones of the first and second fingers, ascending along the lateral aspect of the forearm to the outermost crease of the elbow. It continues along the outside of the upper arm to the depression found at the shoulder joint before tracing the back of the shoulder blade to emerge at a point alongside the neck. The meridian then passes through the cheeks and enters the lower gums, tracing upwards along the side of the lips until it reaches its intentionally named exit point “open fragrance,” which lies next to the nostrils in the groove that become one’s smile or “laugh” lines.
In East Asian Medicine, the role of the large intestine aligns with that of our Western understanding of the organ’s physiology, i.e., its functioning under healthy conditions. It receives the by-product of digested food (whose nutrients have been extracted from the upper GI-tract and small intestine), absorbing any remaining fluid to create stool which (under ideal circumstances) becomes eliminated regularly to rid the body of waste, toxins, and by-products it no longer needs. In this sense, the colon acts like a judge: it controls what stays, what goes, but also the conditions for when (or how frequently) it is time to let go.
The Emotions It Rules
The large intestine is associated with letting go and should not be overlooked as simply cliche because this somatic and energetic connection is ripe with nuances. These differences can lend insight on someone’s personality and relationship with discernment and control — the emotions governed and processed by the large intestine.
In East Asian Medicine, emotions are not deemed “good,” or “bad.” Rather, they are all feedback that relay the state of balance or disharmony in a given organ system.
As for the large intestine, when its qi is flowing smoothly allowing it to perform its bodily functions, it is not uncommon for that person’s disposition to also be easy-going; they are capable of going with the flow. They may be inclined to release their stress through outlets like movement, creative expression; they find value and relief in vocalizing their feelings rather than holding them in. A balanced large intestine can reveal itself in someone who possesses a level of discernment and discretion in their daily choices and dealings with others. They are more inclined to reach a place of surrender in the face of disappointments, upset, and change.
On the other hand, an imbalanced large intestine reveals itself in the need for control to the point where dogmatic thinking, meticulousness, brooding, stubbornness, and an inability to figuratively let go takes its toll. When these controlling and harboring tendencies become excessive, it can be seen in those who are perfectionists, hold grudges, exhibit passive aggressive behavior, or even struggle with hoarding.
This is also why grief is particularly difficult for those with a tendency towards imbalances in the large intestine. Grief is non-linear and epitomizes a lack of control. Given how this organ and meridian are energetically paired with the lungs which govern sadness and grief, it’s common for the large intestine to also become afflicted by loss, entrenching someone in the above behaviors and/or leading to physical — and pathological — dysfunction.
This is why understanding our emotional landscape in East Asian Medicine is just as essential as optimizing our physical well-being because when any emotion is experienced repeatedly (or willfully repressed), the body attempts to process it by creating physical manifestations of that emotion in the form of symptoms.
Whether this organ-meridian becomes distressed from emotional causes, processed foods, or even something as simple as chronic dehydration, the symptoms can range in severity from constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, and diarrhea to colitis, diverticulitis, and prolapse — even cancer.
Because of the large intestine’s relationship with the lungs which both “vent” to the skin, a disharmony in the colon can also be an underlying cause for skin disorders such as acne, psoriasis, petechiae and purpura (a rash from small blood vessels that leak at the surface leaving red dots). These conditions can imply an issue with the integrity of the colon’s membranes, aka increased permeability from internal fissures or chronic inflammation.
However, skin issues can also be traced back to the reabsorption of fluids (and in turn, the waste it contains) that occurs when elimination is irregular. Skin eruptions, especially along the arms, lower cheeks, jawline, and beside the nose (where the meridian lies) are common areas where poor elimination will make itself known. This is why many women who struggle with hormonal acne, especially prior to the start of their period, notice a benefit from increasing hydration, foods high in fatty-acids (like avocados), and fiber-rich vegetables — all of which promote lubrication of the intestines for waste removal and excess hormones.
A lesser-known indication or “wake-up call” that your colon might be trying to get your attention is by waking between the hours of 5-7 am, the time attributed to the large intestine according to the Chinese medicine body clock. Waking at this time unintentionally with an urgent need to eliminate or not can signal that this organ is overburdened physically and/or emotionally. As you have read, the culprits are typically both. If this happens to you, are there buried feelings of grief or sadness that haven’t been processed yet? Is there a situation you are stressed about? Are you stuck ruminating on a perceived injustice or wanting a scenario to have a certain outcome? If not, let’s turn to hydration and diet — what changes can you make to support this organ’s qi?
For ideas on how you can support this system holistically, consider these tips below…
Ways To Support the Large Intestine
- Make sure you are drinking plenty of water since it’s essential to support peristalsis so waste can move rhythmically (and completely) out of your system. If you are wondering what “plenty” is, a wise general recommendation is half of your body weight in ounces a day! As basic as this suggestion is, it is a bodily necessity too often neglected, causing constipation which, when it becomes chronic, can lead to an array of other GI-issues that are more serious like the ones mentioned above.
- Aside from eating more natural fiber from vegetables and dark leafy greens, in Eastern Dietary Therapy, it is just as important to avoid eating too many cold and raw foods (including iced drinks) which constrict the intestines and inevitably slow gastric motility. If you love a smoothie or shake, try skipping the ice. Used to eating salads? Add a cooked grain or protein to balance the cold-raw nature of the greens which will make digestion and elimination easier. You might be surprised by the impact such a small shift can make.
- In East Asian Medicine, internal stagnation can be caused (and mirrored back) from blockages in our external world like one’s work environment to the spaces in their home. Clearing clutter in the places you occupy can mentally clear clutter from the psyche while energetically encouraging release on a somatic level. Focus on one corner, cabinet, or room — with some good music and focused intention. Whatever no longer serves a purpose, donate or sell to keep your spaces and body from being stifled by excess.
- To cleanse the psyche, take time to reflect on any grudges, limiting beliefs, regrets, resentments, and prejudices that you may be holding onto. Are there ways you can seek expression and potential resolution for these? If not with the person in question, how about a trusted counselor? Another option is releasing these thoughts on paper. Then, choose your releasing method of choice: burn or tear them up. If after ensuring all pieces are small enough, you can literally and symbolically flush them down the toilet instead.
- If you are struggling with irregular elimination or even headaches, try acupressure on the point large intestine 4, located along the mid-point of the bone between the index finger and thumb. Press and hold with a firm pressure for a few deep breaths; on the inhale you can additionally think of what you have been harboring with the intention to release it on a prolonged exhale. NOTE: This point is contraindicated during pregnancy.
May this season and beyond bring you the trust to surrender to change and shed what is no longer aligned with your path, authenticity, and health. Stay tuned for next month’s meridian feature for more!
Dr. Lauren Renee Dyer is the Founder of Rune Acupuncture in New Gloucester, Maine where her approach to care can best be described as a merging of medicine and mysticism. Dr. Dyer addresses her client’s needs with a holistic and integrative approach. Her specialty lies in offering Acupuncture for emotional health and pain management, guiding patients towards a state where the body and mind are re-integrated, allowing one to reclaim the essence of who they are, as well as a more harmonized state of health. Book a session with Dr. Lauren through Rune Acupuncture or follow her on the ’gram for daily inspiration and wisdom.