A Scientific Interpretation of the “Meridian Musculature” System

by Ru Kai, School of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine

  Meridian musculatures are accessory structures of the Twelve Regular Channels in the Channel Theory of traditional Chinese medicine. Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu: Meridian Musculatures 13 has recorded the systematic patterns of the start and end points, circulation, and convergence of the Twelve Meridian Musculatures and the commonly-seen clinical diseases of these meridian musculatures. Yi Jin Jing is a traditional exercise based on the “musculatures” and “channels”. It lays great emphasis on the exercise and regulation of the systematic “musculatures”. Therefore a summary of its practical experience and theory will be of great supplementary and referential significance for us to under the “Meridian Musculature” and “Channel” theories of traditional Chinese medicine. Zeng Yan Yi Jin Jing Xi Sui Nei Gong Tu Shuo includes the contents of the Twelve Meridian Musculatures in its Volume II and names it as “Jin Luo”. This indicates that the “Jin Jing” or “Jin Luo” of Yi Jin Jing and the Twelve Meridian Musculatures recorded in Huang Di Nei Jing do have something in common. To sum up, “Meridian Musculatures”, “Jin Jing”, and “Jin Luo” all refer to a network musculature system made up of combined longitudinal and transversal trunks and branches in the human body.

  I. “Musculatures” - a product of the comparison performed by ancient people between their physical experience and anatomic study results

  During their life and exercise, people often feel their “musculatures”. This feeling is actually an empirical experience based on individual consciousness. When many people have the have the same feeling, it will become common empirical knowledge of the population which, in philosophy, is called inter-subjectivity empirical realism. Ancient people’s understanding of blood & Qi, channels, and meridian musculatures was completely based on the dialectical thinking methods of “correspondence between man and universe” and “interior-exterior coreference”. The subjectively-felt images (getting near to learn from the inner world) and the similar phenomena and images (getting far to learn from things of the outside world) were compared (coreference between man and the nature) to conclude their essences and create text names through methods like pictographic characters or pictographs and semasiography. In essence, this is a fundamental and short-cut pattern reference thinking mode based on the structure of conceived phenomena. For example, An Analytical Dictionary of Chinese Characters interprets “Musculature” as “the force of muscles, relating to force, muscle, and bamboo”, indicating that the musculature is shaped like bamboo and is related to the force-generating function of muscles. This means the concept of “Musculature” came from the ancient people’s feeling of the “force” that resided in the human body. In martial arts, it is called “internal strength or internal force”. It feels like “lines” in the microscopic local parts and “nets” in the macroscopic and overall perspective. By referring to the visual findings in human and animal anatomy and investigating tendons, ligaments, fascia, and similar structures that are known to connect the “flesh” and “bones”, we can match the images of musculatures in our mind with the similar substantive patterns like the tendons and ligaments, and thus make the judgment that the images of musculatures in our mind are exactly corresponding to these substances in reality. The same thinking pattern is also reflected in the interpretation of the channel system. The feeling of Qi in the channels (that flows along the channels) is also a linear sense. According to this pattern and referring to the corresponding simple thought, some people believe that the subjectively-felt channels should be a kind of “pipes”. The author of Ling Shu: Jing Shui believes that the Twelve Channels “can be both measured and tracked from the outside and observed through anatomy of the dead body”. To sum up, channels are believed to be observable and investigable material objects. However, this intuitive thought and reasoning are obvious defective from the modern point of view: the simple pattern comparison between the subjective experience and the objective entities is quite vague and the subjective experience cannot be strictly corresponding to the objective entities. Today many objective studies about the objective channels have also revealed the limitations of this thinking method. Many feelings of the channels cannot be matched with strict scientific explanations. Compared with the intangible systems of the channels and air paths, the corresponding musculatures are more substantive and should have been easy to figure out. But the abovementioned differences and contradictions in understanding still occurred during research. It is really necessary to take a look back into the limitations of the simple reduction-based substantive thinking that we used in the past. Systematic, integral, and complex scientific thoughts are applied in the research: to discuss the essences of “Meridian Musculatures” through the composite relationships, functional relationships, and information-perceiving relationships between all component elements of the system. In other words, we need to combine overall consideration with specific analysis in order to find out how the seemingly non-continuously tissues of muscles, tendons, and ligaments cause the feeling of continuous meridian musculatures in the mind.

  II. A systematic analysis of the “Jin Luo” phenomena investigated in Yi Jin Jing and their morphological and structure foundations

  Yi Jin Jing is a famous traditional Chinese method used to exercise both the body and the mind. It involves movements of the internal physical system, the bending, stretching, twisting, and turning of the limbs, the pulling and stretching of joints and tendons, and the tensioning and relaxing of the muscles that combine both the body and respiration under the guidance of the consciousness. After a period of training, the exerciser will feel “activated fascia and flexible joints”. Regular exercisers can easily feel the “channel” image feeling of “musculatures” and the transmission of force-like “Qi feeling”.

  Yi Jin Jing Zong Yi says: “Musculatures are channels of the human body. They exist outside joints and inside muscles. They exist everywhere in the body and are always accompanied with channels. They connect various parts of the body and facilitate blood circulation. And they serve as exterior support of the spirit. All the physical movements of the shoulders, hands, feet, and other parts of the body are supported by the musculatures. ”

  From the text above we can see that Yi Yin Jing starts with the feeling of overall and continuous musculatures over the human body during the exercise, refers to the ligaments, tendons, fascia, and other visible funicular entities observed in human and animal anatomy, and constructs the systematic concept and theory of “musculatures” in the mind with the network-like thinking pattern. The description and analysis of the concept of “Musculatures” in Yi Jin Jing Zong Yi are also based on the summarization of macroscopic consciousness and self-experience. But it lacks a systematic description of the specific routes and a detailed analysis of their internal mechanism.

  Ling Shu: Jing Mai says “spirit is first formed in the creation of a life…, bones are the framework, veins are the vessels, musculatures are the links, muscles are the walls; then skin becomes tough and hair begins to grow……” Su Wen: Wei Lun says “all musculatures are used to bond the bones and facilitate the joints”. Both books have vividly indicated that “musculatures” exist in the form of a three-dimensional continuous network structure in the human body and serve as mechanical bonds and controlling links between the joints of the human body.

  Yi Jin Jing Zong Yi says “musculatures are the external support for the spirit”, indicating that the formation of the musculature feeling is related to the muscle spindles and tendon spindles (also known as tendon organs of Golgi) peripheral nerve sensors of the internal force of the human body. In addition, the description of the “musculature” positions “inside muscles” makes me think that they should be “muscle spindles” instead of general deep and superficial fascia. This is because the muscle spindle-which is located in the middle of the muscle belly, has the same length as the muscle belly, and has a parallel relationship with the extra spindle muscle (i.e. the main body of the muscle in modern anatomy)-is an important part for the generation of linear perception information of the muscle length. Deep and superficial fasciae do not generate the clear “cord-like” feeling, while the main body of the muscle spindle exactly leads to the cord-like feeling. In addition, the tendon spindles (Golgi's tendon organs) that provide the perceptible muscle tone in the tendons also bear the cord-like property in terms of its main-body feeling. Therefore the “muscle spindle + tendon” combination exactly constitutes the morphological foundation for the continuous cord-like main body musculature feeling of the muscles. In addition, the muscle spindles play the major role in the formation of the continuous musculature feeling. This is because the extra-spindle muscles are the main body of muscle contraction. Controlled by the centrifugal nerves of the motor center, they contract to produce the main force needed for the motion of the human body and do not provide the proprioceptive function. The proprioceptors in the deep and superficial fasciae among them can detect the compressive “muscle feeling” during contract without generating the “musculature feeling”. When the body is relaxed unconsciously, the vasomotion state of extra-spindle muscles is controlled by the afferent information of the muscle spindles. If the afferent information of the muscle spindles is reduced or the afferent is interrupted, the muscles (extra-spindle muscles) will be slack and paralyzed. If the muscle spindles are stimulated by dragging movements, the pulling force will be increased and the afferent information will be enhanced, causing tension in the muscles (extra-spindle muscles). These are exactly the stretch reflexes or muscular tension reflexes in human neurophysiology. The commonly-seen symptoms of the meridian musculatures, such as “pricking, aching, and spasm” also coincide with the functional disorder symptoms of the structure of muscle spindles.

  This judgment also solves the fundamental problems of the material structure of the meridian musculatures as continuous “tendon structures” as well as the problems with the concept of connections and differences between “musculatures” and “muscles” in the traditional “Meridian Musculature” theory.

  In addition, some tendons and articular capsules also contain similar tension proprioceptors which belong to “tendon-like tissues”. They serve as connectors in the cross-joint continuous meridian musculature system structure composed of the muscle spindles and tendons.

  By summing up these detections, we believe that the “Meridian Musculatures” or “channels” in Huang Di Nei Jing and Yi Jin Jing are actually made up of connected linear tissues that provide tension proprioception, such as muscle spindles, tendons, and ligamentous joint capsules. They are tissues of the human organic system that integrate morphological, functional, and perceptive information.

  III. Summary and analysis of the structure of nervous control system of meridian musculatures and channels

  The relevant tissues in the muscle spindles, tendons, ligaments, and articular capsules that compose meridian musculatures or channels show mutually continuous functions and perceptions under the control of the nervous system. Nerves are not the morphological structural foundation of the meridian musculature system but the structural foundation for the perception and regulation of the status information of meridian musculatures. Although nerves also have morphological structures, their functions are focused on information transmission and control and cannot replace the functions of meridian musculatures, muscles, or any other specific peripheral systems of the human body. From the aspects of perception and response, we can come to the following conclusion: Under the regulation and control by the nervous system of the body, the meridian musculatures and muscles form two interconnected but different systems. The meridian musculatures are a mechanical perceptive subsystem in the peripheral body structure with specific perceptive continuity, while muscles are an exercise effect system that attach to the musculatures. Their contractive force is transmitted along the musculatures and first felt by the musculatures.

  Both the muscle spindles and tendons transmit the deep sensation of the body to the center. The non-conscious afferent information of the body posture proprioceptive sensation formed by the muscle spindles and tendons ascends along the dorsal funiculus of the spinal cord and enters the cerebellum through the direct cerebellar tract to adjust the balance of the body posture. And the conscious afferent impulse goes through the medial lemniscus and cerebral ganglion and reaches the cerebral cortex (the proprioceptive musculature sensation of the head and face goes through the trigeminal nerves and lemniscus trigeminalis), and thus generate the conscious sensory information of the “meridian musculatures”.

  But there are certain conditions and rules for the generation of the continuous sensation of “meridian musculatures”, which is the result of the connections between the specific postures or functions of the peripheral musculatures and channels-all sections of the pulling force are connected or linked in the peripherals. Their structures and functional status are closely related to human health.

  The “Meridian Musculatures” of the human body are often discontinued or afflicted by physiological or pathological causes, as described in Yi Jin Jing Zong Yi: “the musculatures and bones of the human body originate from the fetus. They may develop flaccidity, spasm, waste, feebleness, and contraction-flaccidity will lead to diseases, spasm will lead to emaciation, waste will lead to paralysis, and feebleness will lead to slackness.” On the contrary, health and continuous musculatures are “strong, relaxed, tenacious, and harmonious-strong musculatures are powerful, relaxed musculatures are long, tenacious musculatures are firm, and harmonious musculatures are healthy.””

  Modern human physiology has revealed that the balance regulation and stability maintenance of the normal postures of the human body are dependent on the afferent information of the proprioceptors as well as the posture information sensed by the vestibular organs and visual organs. The information about body balance and head position in the vestibular organs and visual organs are integrated into the proprioceptive information of the meridian musculatures of the entire body in the brain, which sends out control information to regulate the tensioning forces and posture status of all muscles of the human body and regulate the overall balance and coordination of the body posture. They are the systematic foundation for the posture control of the human body. The tensile force information is transmitted in the meridian musculature of Jin Luo system. The proprioceptive information is an important information source used by the nervous center to control the body posture and movements. This explains why Yi Jin Jing Zong Yi says “musculatures” are “external support for the spirit”: The interactions between the physiological status of musculatures and the nervous center of the human body through the perceptive and sensory nervous information are an important mechanism for the unity between the peripherals and the center of the human body. The conscious state of the mind also performs active and passive two-way regulation of the stillness of the body and the overall status in movements through the meridian musculature system. Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Shang Gu Tian Zhen Lun mentioned “tendons and muscles are a unity”. According to the modern systematic analysis of the mechanism, a better expression should be “musculatures and muscles are a unity”.

  To sum up, meridian musculatures are systematic tissues used by the nervous center to regulate and integrate the internal forces of the body structure and provide continuous network functional structures. They are an important structural foundation for the information interactions between form and spirit and between body and mind.

  These systematic rules are exactly applied in Yi Jin Jing in a subconscious way. It is an exercise that combines the interior and exterior and unites the form and spirit under the guidance of the subjective consciousness of the human body. Descriptions about the circulating structure and functional rules of the meridian channels in Huang Di Nei Jing should also be the systematic rules concluded by ancient people from their feelings in exercise under the guidance of subjective consciousness.