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內外經絡心包三焦 // Inner and Outer Meridians [Protector of the Heart & the Three that Burn]

Sharing this paper written for a class at the beginning of 2020, a precursor to the next article relating to the Pericardium channel and our connections to the Heavens...


Chinese Medicine is a system of sublime cosmology and interconnectivity that precedes our understanding as humans, in form and formless. It is one of beauty and poetry, nature and harmony. In our modern studies, we are often disconnected from how far this medicine can take us and the story it has to tell. The story is told, not only through their names and meanings, but through their functions and how they exist within the workings of our physical and energetic bodies. We must remember the importance of the micro and macrocosmic existence... of each system, each channel, each point, their names, radicals, and what they represent individually and as a whole.

The Yin-Yang is commonly seen as a simple, two-dimensional sphere–a turning circle that rotates clock-wise or counter-clockwise. By observing the Yin-Yang in the third dimension, we can take this idea further and envision the circle becoming a sphere. When it is brought to the fourth dimension and beyond, it can translate to Newtonian mechanics of centrifugal force—seeing the expansion and contraction of the renowned symbol, it exists as a moving orb.

"A dot in the middle of the circle could be used to illustrate something being born of it. It emerges from the centre of nothingness. The word emptiness is frequently attributed to it, but it is actually unknown if it is in fact void. The same applies to black holes...They call it ‘dark matter’ in science. Maybe it is material or non-material. There is the matter, things with form that people can see and experience, and there is the non-material, the formless matter, which possibly somehow theoretically exists as the opposite of matter, so-called dark matter. According to the same principle there is yin and yang in Daoism."

(Xing De, Five Immortals Temple)


With this idea in mind, we can apply these theories for each point that lives on each meridian. When a point is needled, it creates a whirlwind of recirculated Qi and that force is allowed to transmit and flow to the rest of the body as well as the universe. "In treating illness, it is necessary to examine the entire context, scrutinize the symptoms, observe the emotions and attitudes. If one insists on the presence of ghosts and spirits on cannot speak of therapeutics." (Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor, pg. 78.) Each point serves as a collective meeting junction, that connects each and every one of us through these points. Each point can also be viewed as a portal or “black hole.”

Comparable to this idea of a “wormhole,” the channels do not necessarily begin or end, they are part of a continuum, have an incredible depth and can allow us to heal and travel. There is an importance to these ethereal concepts that help us grasp the limitless qualities that Chinese Medicine has to offer. By examining further into this wave of thought, we can look more specifically at the Zang Fu organs, the ethereal Sanjiao (三焦) and the visceral Pericardium (心包). These two meridians are integral in treating the body and its energetic field, they can only discussed as a pair—as their relationship is inherently, internally and externally, connected.


Being that the Pericardium is attached to the mediastinum, which feels like a metaphor for its roots and strength, and has been revered in history as the Heart Box, it helps protect the heart from external pathogens and emotional trauma and can serve as a gate–deciding what is allowed in and out; regulating blood vessels and circulation, assisting the Heart in housing the mind and shen (神). It is also a well-known in allopathic medicine as an anatomical structure and has a similar function in aiding and protecting the heart, as well as providing lubrication to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body. Alternatively, the San Jiao is a formless organ, one that does not exist in the physical and more in the spatial.

The San Jiao literally translates to the Triple Burner or “Three that Scorch,” which corresponds to each section of the Three Jiaos; the upper, middle and lower. Which is a concept ubiquitous throughout Daoist philosophy of "Heaven, Person, and Earth," the three levels that connect all three realms. The Triple Burner was “discovered” by Western medical science in the Spring of 2018, and is believed to live within the interstitium. In Chinese Medicine, it is deemed as a moving substance, one that is able to travel and treat the whole body:

"Since the 黄帝内经: Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon (c. 200 BCE), Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has held that the san jiao system is the largest anatomical structure in the human body, and that it consists of a network comprising the large cavities in the body trunk and the small interstitial spaces between the tissues and cells throughout the body. More than 2000 years later, and according to recent scientific reports in America, this network of structures has been recognized by modern medicine. The two theories, TCM's San Jiao and its system of spaces (腠 còu), and the recent scientific discovery of an interstitial network in the human body, are quite similar in structure, distribution and function."

(Qu L. Structure and distribution of the San Jiao and You Li - Recognized Interstitium in Human Tissues. Chin Med Cult 2018; 1: 84-7)


At first glance, there are several obvious differences between the Pericardium and San Jiao channels. One is distinctly adhered to the chest and maintains qi flow within this space, the Pericardium distributes Qi down to the Stomach and Diaphragm and assists in Heart-Kidney communication. The other (Triple Burner) is more fluid and comparable to flowing water that integrates Qi throughout the body, head, neck, and sides of the body. It aids in metabolic and water functions of the Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys, treats Shaoyang disease, manages the body temperature, and also assists in Heart-Kidney communication. The Pericardium has nine points, whereas the Sanjiao has twenty three. They are on opposing sides of the arm, the Pericardium (Jueyin 手厥陰) ends on the tip of the fourth metacarpal and the Sanjiao (Shaoyang (手少陽) begins on the ulnar aspect of the nail. The (formless) primary Pericardium channel hits all three burners, from the first point (天池 Tianchi (PC 1) Heavenly Pool — Meeting Point of Pericardium, Gall Bladder, Liver, San Jiao and a Window of Heaven Point), it goes to the Pericardium and down the upper, middle, and finally lower jiao. One format of the three Jiaos has three different processes; the upper governs respiration, middle governs digestion, and the lower governs reproduction and elimination. The more classical interpretations follow aspects of nature, “the Upper Burner is a mist,” (see cit. 14). A mist is pervasive, and traditionally this would correspond to the vaporized Water in the Lungs that is later disseminated throughout the body. “The Middle Burner is a foam.” (see cit. 13). This is traditionally interpreted as referring to the digestive churnings of the Stomach and Spleen. “The lower Burner is a swamp.” (see cit. 12). It is in charge of excreting impure substances. The reference here is primarily to the Kidneys, Large and Small Intestines, and the Bladder.

In modern medicine terminology, the San Jiao regulates the lymphatic and endocrine system and regulates the circulation of body fluid, which also deals with regulating the heartbeat and function via the autonomic nervous system. It is also known that the Triple Burner aids in balancing, harmonizing, and stabilizing both left and right sides of the brain and is keeping the body temperature regulated. “In the Nan Jing (“Difficulty 31”), the Triple Burner is called the “road for nutrition” and is referred to as “the beginning and end of Qi.” (Kaptchuk, pg.76) This is related to an excerpt from, Zhang Jie-bing’s Lei Jing: Classic of Categories, discussion on the Huang Di Nei Jing, “[The Triple Burner is] the commander-in-chief of all the Qi of the various Organs, the Protective Qi, Nutritive Qi, and the Meridian Qi of the Interior and Exterior, right and left, upper and lower is responsible for communication among the different parts of the body. (Zhang Jie-bing, pg. 121). The Pericardium distributes Qi and regulates the vessels and blood circulation. It also regulates the stomach and diaphragm, in by doing so, the levels of control over breath and oxygen that is generated to the Lungs, influences the bloodstream through the four chambers of the heart. By using different body fluids to facilitate movement, both meridians have the function of allowing circulation and flow throughout.


The image here shows the human body as a landscape and complete microcosmic environment. The Mingmen is located in between the Kidneys, where the Yinyang symbol with fires blazing in each of the four directions.
內經圖 // Inner Classic Map

After stating the tangible functions of the Pericardium and San Jiao, one can take a deeper look into where these actions originate. The Inner Classic Map (Nei Jing Tu 內經圖), shows the essential workings of life source that begin at the lifegate (命门 mingmen). Mingmen is where the ministerial fire burns and evaporates the water that rules the Kidneys, and is located in between them, level with L1 and L2 vertebrae. From here, the Sanjiao is able to disperse source qi, and is directly associated with the Kidneys and Liver as well as the Heart.

"The Nanjing commentaries described the lifegate and heart protector’s functional relationships. The sanjiao arises from the lifegate in the lower jiao. It disseminates the kidney-lifegate’s source qi and yin-fluids, and the lifegate fire powers their movement and transformations. In the upper jiao, the sanjiao connects with the qi structures enveloping the heart, the heart protector."

(Emotions, Desires, and Physiological Fire in Chinese Medicine, Part One: The Pericardium and Lifegate. Emotions, Desires and Physiological Fire in Chinese Medicine, Part One: The Pericardium and Lifegate. Mary Garvey PhD University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Australian Journal of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. VOLUME 7 ISSUE 1. 2012.)

The Sanjiao is able to reach many parts of the body, including some of the extraordinary organs, These connections show how water is heated by the Mingmen fire, creating steam and permeating throughout. The parallels in how our biological life evolved is palpable, the first hints of organisms were birthed from the heating of primordial fluid, the purest water. Similarly to how we have developed in modern society, we disperse and are our own organisms that can reach all corners of the body and the universe via this interstitial fluid (“dark matter”), eventually nourishing and treating all.

The Kidneys + Ming Men (Ministerial Fire)

"The sanjiao and channel system arising from the lifegate extends its influences to the brain and bone marrow, to the limbs and the body surface, warming the skin and the tissue spaces and textures (腠理 couli), steaming the three jiao, guiding and maintaining correct qi physiology. (see cit. 5 & 7) The shaoyin (heart-kidney), the sanjiao-pericardium-lifegate associations, and the uterine network channels help transmit kidney jing-essence (water), and minister and sovereign (fire) influences between the upper and lower body. These connections ensure communication of the physiological fire of the sovereign and minister, and the mixing of water and fire in the sanjiao allows life to develop." (see cit. 9 & 10)

It seems that the Pericardium is rooted in physicality, an organ that lives in this reality, processing emotions–whereas the Triple Burner filters sensory experience, from eyes and ears, aiding the Pericardium to only encounter the simplified version of our experiences. It keeps us warm and gives way to speak one’s truth by way of the tongue, the manifestation of the Heart.