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 our next featured channel: The Small Intestine Meridian
What Are The Meridians?
In East Asian Medicine, there are twelve main Meridians (also known as Jing-Luo “channels”) that carry vital substances such as energy (aka Qi pronounced “chee”), Body Fluids (Jin-Ye), Essence (Jing) and Shen (Spirit), and Blood (Xue) to provide nourishment throughout the body.
In a healthy person, these vital substances freely move in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Yet when their flow 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, seasonal shifts and more. After all, we are just as dynamic as these cosmic changes: our internal systems have their own rhythms and are always seeking a return to harmony.
Every meridian’s unique function also conveys the inseparable connection between the mind, body, and spirit. In East Asian Medicine, these facets of existence represent the spectrum of Qi’s manifestations from its most dense, material forms such as the organs while the psyche and spirit are more ethereal extensions of being. As you will find, every meridian is influenced by more than just the physiology of the organ it’s named after. Beyond the surface, they are reservoirs that are the sources of distinct emotions and expressions in someone’s disposition.
Through reading the Meridian Series, my hope is for you to harness a deeper understanding of the capacity for comprehensive, holistic healing contained in each of these ancient vessels.
More Than An Organ
In East Asian Medicine, “Zang Fu” is the concept that describes how organ systems create, store, and regulate the body’s vital substances described above. Rather than Western Medicine’s emphasis on the mechanisms of an organ’s anatomy, each system is regarded for its effects on the entire body–how they communicate with other systems to ensure one’s health.
Organs are categorized into pairs that are either relatively solid hollow (Fu) or (Zang).
Fu Organs Yang in nature: they influence the body’s exterior. As hollow structures, they are responsible for allowing the vital substances to move through them. Fu organs are entrusted with transporting and disposing of impure substances (food/waste) created by the Zang organs. The Stomach, Small & Large Intestines, Gallbladder, and Bladder makeup the six Fu organs.
Zang Organs are Yin in nature: they govern the body’s interior (from its physical, mental, and emotional regulation). Since they are mostly solid structures, they are in charge of storage and transformation of pure substances–acting as reservoirs for the qi, blood, essence, and body’s fluids. The Lungs, Spleen, Kidney, Liver, and Heart comprise the five Zang Organs.
The Small Intestine’s Physical Functions
You can think of the Small Intestine as a master organizer who, when robust, sorts through and refines all it comes in contact with.
As the last organ to receive the foods and drinks once digested by the Spleen and Stomach, the Small Intestine separates the remaining substances into what is clean/reusable from the waste/unusable portions.The reusable fluids are sent back to the Spleen to nourish the body’s tissues. Food waste is sent to the Large Intestine for final nutrient extractions before elimination while the Bladder receives turbid fluids for excretion as urine. In short, the Small Intestine is in charge of separating “the pure from the impure.”
The Channel Itself
The Small Intestine meridian has 19 acupuncture points that run along the side of the arm. You can imagine its pathway by tracing a line that runs from the corner of the pinky finger nail (SI-1), along the outer edge of the hand and wrist, up the side of the arm (along the ulna bone) to the medial aspect of the elbow. From there it ascends the back of the arm then zig-zags along the scapula before eventually entering the neck at the 7th cervical vertebrae. The primary channel descends through the Heart and Stomach before re-emerging at the side of the neck. It finally reaches beneath the lower angle of the jaw before traversing the side of the face, ending at the tragus of the ear (SI-19).
With Acupuncture, this meridian is ideal for treating issues of the ear, cheek, jaw, throat, neck and upper back/shoulder blade, certain manifestations of mental-emotional distress, and pain/disorders along the channel pathway itself.
Factors That Injure It
The Small Intestine is easily injured by the following:
A diet that is too hot or cold
In Chinese Medicine, when these temperatures are mentioned, it is not just a reference to whether you eat something right off the stove or leftovers right from the fridge. In Eastern Dietary Therapy, all foods have an innate temperature that, when ingested, will influence the temperature of the body. For example, hot foods like spicy peppers and even alcohol heat the body up while cold-damp items like raw salad greens, smoothies, plus cold-dairy products (cream cheese, ice cream, yogurt) will cool the body down.
Any emotion where clear thought is interrupted
The Small Intestine is the Yang-organ pair to the Heart, who, as the “monarch” of the body governs our conscious awareness and psyche through its spirit, The Shen. So any emotion that disturbs the Shen will weaken the Small Intestine’s ability to discern what is nourishing enough to remain and what needs to move through without being absorbed. Worry, gripping sadness, and anger/resentment are often emotions that elicit a Small Intestine disturbance.
Small Intestine Symptoms
Small Intestine symptoms can vary depending on the other organ systems contributing to its disturbance however, some tell-tale ones of an issue in organ itself (vs. the channel) include:
Twisting pain in the lower abdomen*
- Bowel & Bladder issues
- Borborygmi & Flatulence
- Poor Mental Clarity
- Irritability (if Liver involved)
- Anxiety (if Spleen involved)
- Tongue Ulcers & Insomnia (if Heart involved)
*In males this pain can extend to testes Abdominal Pain
Metaphysical Functions: Clarity & Discernment
Just as the Small Intestine works judiciously to separate “the pure from the impure” so our bodies can retain only what is most nourishing, this function is mirrored in how it offers the gift of discernment, good judgment, and mental clarity.
It refines our perspective to give us a clear picture of what is true, pure, nourishing, and worthy of entering our heart space, and what is not. If something is not aligned with our values, the Small Intestine will uphold its duty as the guard at the doorway to the monarch’s chamber and keep it separate, and, at best, ensure it is escorted beyond the kingdom’s premises.
When it comes to decision-making, the Small Intestine shares a unique relationship with the Gallbladder who is known as the organ that gives us the initiative and courage to make those determinations. In order for the Gallbladder to be as decisive as it should be (when healthy), The Small Intestine is the organ that cuts through the noise while extracting the most pertinent information to present the Gallbladder with paths to choose from. Essentially, the Small Intestine decides what is relevant and what is not.
If the Small Intestine is deficient, a person will have a hard time making a decision not because they lack courage, but because they are overwhelmed (with information, emotion, or both) they cannot clearly distinguish what their options are or what the consequences might even be.
Likewise, when the Small Intestine cannot perform its sorting powers, this imbalance can energetically show up in situations where distinguishing between one’s self and another come into play as seen in relationships where codependency or enmeshment are at play.
The spirit of the Small Intestine asks: “Is this for me or not for me?”
Tips For A Healthy Small Intestine
Somatic Journaling Reflection
Spend some time reflecting on areas in your life where you feel inundated by the presence of people or situations where you might be taking on too much — whether it is a sense of responsibility to solve their conflicts, or energetically as in feeling confused by where their emotions end and your begin. If you can identify some scenarios, perhaps your Small Intestine can use some support by placing some boundaries to create healthy separation.
What are you consuming energetically from others (this could be in-person or through screens) that needs refinement? If you are someone who struggles with boundaries, try journaling somatically through the scenario with the goal of clarifying: How would it feel to be more discerning with what has access to my innermost world, energy, and heart? What would I reclaim as a result? What does your heart want? What sensations and emotions arise as you write? Notice the messages emanating from your heart-space and elsewhere.
Acupressure on Small Intestine 19 — Ting Gong — Palace of Hearing
Small Intestine 19 is a wonderful point for benefitting the ears in the case of deafness, tinnitus, or excess ear discharge as well as toothache. However, this point also calms the Spirit when there is fullness in the Heart leading to vexation of the Shen where it feels overloaded with “noise” or information irrelevant to your being (because the Small Intestine was weakened creating too much permeability to the Heart chamber). Integrate this point with the above exercise so you can move forward with greater clarity and discernment.
To find Small Intestine 19, locate the tragus of your ear: the little piece of cartilage that creates a boundary before the entrance to your ear canal. Now if you open your mouth while pressing the middle of the tragus, you will feel a depression open up between the upper tip of the jaw bone. It is in this hollow that SI hides. You can press this point bilaterally with your jaw open or closed with a firm amount of pressure to elicit tenderness. As you press this, focus on what noises surround you, however loud or faint. Then allow your awareness to refine its focus on one sound…then another. As you narrow your hearing, you integrate the Small Intestine and Heart-Shen and welcome yourself to the gift of deeper listening.
Dr. Lauren Favreau 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. Favreau 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.