We have all experienced times in life when everything seems to easily go well. We get the new job, we graduate, or we work towards achieving some larger goal and things in life support our efforts rather than feeling like the world is conspiring against us. Chinese philosophy would describe this change for the better as the creation of something new. In order to get the new job you have to let go of the old one. In order to get in shape you have to let go of the idea of who you were. When it feels like change is easy, we have strong clean energy running through a series of acupuncture points that run along the front of the body known as the conception vessel.
The Conception Vessel or Ren Mai is a series of 24 acupuncture points running up the center front line of the body from the lower abdomen to the mouth. Also known as the Directing Vessel or Sea of Yin, it is connected to major meridians to balance energy so that efforts can be “directed” towards creative pursuits, personal development, change, or creating anything new.
We all are continually working on something in our jobs, relationships or personal life. And, most of us get there… eventually. However, with a little knowledge about the conception vessel our growth in life can be more enjoyable and even seem easier. Acupuncture can improve the flow of energy through the conception vessel and I suggest you try it out if your life is stagnant. Here I want to share how acupressure, specific movements, and even meditation can enhance the balance that the conception vessel needs to create change or something new for you.
What is the Conception Vessel Meridian and What is its Function?
The word “conception” in English usually refers to giving birth and there is truth that a big part of an acupuncture program addressing fertility issues can include meridian points of the conception vessel. However, if we focus too much on this one idea we miss the bigger picture and also lose out on the value that the conception vessel provides us.
From the root of the word conception we also get “conceive” and “concept.” The idea is that something new is being brought into the world. If we think in terms of change being the ex-change of something old for something new, we get a better sense of how change comes from a sense of balance, not just plodding ahead. This is a very foreign idea for most westerners. Most of us add to our life, we do more, we do better! This does work sometimes but in other cases leads to overwhelm or abandonment of new habits and resolutions. Thinking just in terms of “conception” doesn’t help us understand how powerful the conception vessel really is and what it can do for us. That’s why I think it is also called the Directing Vessel and Sea of Yin to try to get us to a place of fuller understanding.
Ren Mai is also called the Sea of Yin and Directing Vessel
In Chinese, Ren Mai (任脈) is the combination of Ren (任) which translates as “appoint” or “assign” but is also used in words like “office” and “responsibility.” So it gives us the sense that organizing, confidence, or even a more formal leadership is in place. And just how are these orders for change confidently transmitted? The answer can be found in the second character Mai (脉) which means channel but is also used in “pulse” and (mountain) “range.”
To get the full picture, you have to know how the conception vessel fits into the overall “map” of acupuncture points in the body and how this front channel is connected to the back. The conception vessel is one of the eight extraordinary vessels which are meridian pathways throughout the body which store and facilitate the flow of energy to areas of need like deficient organs or injuries. When paired with the governing vessel which runs up the back of the body and over the top of the head, it creates the microcosmic orbit. The governing vessel possesses the stronger energy and is known as the Sea of Yang. Whereas the conception vessel has the softer energy and is known as the Sea of Yin.
So the function of the conception vessel meridian is to ensure a balance exists between:
The energy behind all of our dreams, desires, and motivations to get ahead! Make something new! and become who we think we should be.
The emotions that are attached to the fear of change, the unknown, the gamble of giving up something that might be worse but at least is familiar for something unknown even though it might be better.
When the conception vessel is flowing free, we’re able to make continual, incremental change and we’re happy. When the conception vessel is what acupuncturists would call weak or blocked, our life stays the same, change is difficult, and there is an overall sense that things don’t have to be this hard.
Let’s dive in to the anatomy of where the conception vessel is and what the points are. Then we discuss three additional ways you can move and meditate to support a clean function of your Sea of Yin.
Where Are the Conception Vessel Acupuncture Points?
The conception vessel acupuncture points start at point between your sits bone known as the perineum. This is a very important point because it is the origin of much of our energy because of it’s relationship to our sexual centers. It is a point of relaxation for breathing during meditation, and is also important in relaxing our pelvis and posture in tai chi, yoga, and standing meditation.
As you travel up you can pretty much draw a line up the center of your six-pack abs, follow the full length of the sternum, and then the throat until you arrive at the lower lip. The conception vessel meridian points are a tightly knit group of 24 points that lay on top of your organs, diaphragm, heart, and windpipe. This is why so many acupuncture prescriptions used to improve organ function (tonify) involve many of the CV meridian points.
Governing Vessel Meridian Point Locations
|Conception Vessel 1||Meeting of Yin||會陰||Huiyin||Perineum|
|Conception Vessel 2||Crooked Bone||曲骨||Qugu||Lower edge of pubis bone|
|Conception Vessel 3||Central Pole||中極||Zhongji||Above lower edge of pubis bone|
|Conception Vessel 4||Origin Pass||關元||Guanyuan||On front pelvis bone in front of bladder|
|Conception Vessel 5||Stone Gate||石門||Shimen||On front pelvis bone in front of bladder|
|Conception Vessel 6||Sea of Chi||氣海||Qihai||Midway between pubis bone and belly button|
|Conception Vessel 7||Yin Intersection||陰交||Yinjiao||Below belly button|
|Conception Vessel 8||Spirit Palace||神闕||Shenque||Belly button|
|Conception Vessel 9||Water Division||水分||Shuifen||Above belly button|
|Conception Vessel 10||Lower Venting||下脘||Xiawan||In front of stomach|
|Conception Vessel 11||Interior Strengthening||建里||Jianli||Above stomach|
|Conception Vessel 12||Central Venting||中脘||Zhongwan||Midway between belly button and sternum|
|Conception Vessel 13||Upper Venting||上脘||Shangwan||In front of diaphragm|
|Conception Vessel 14||Great Palace||巨闕||Juque||In front of upper esophageal sphincter|
|Conception Vessel 15||Bird Tail||鳩尾||Jiuwei||Below sternum|
|Conception Vessel 16||Central Courtyard||中庭||Zhongting||Lowest sternum point|
|Conception Vessel 17||Middle of the Chest||膻中||Shanzhong||Central between nipples|
|Conception Vessel 18||Jade Hall||玉堂||Yutang||Central above nipples|
|Conception Vessel 19||Violet Palace||紫宮||Zigong||Near central point of sternum|
|Conception Vessel 20||Splendid Cover||華蓋||Huagai||Central below clavicle|
|Conception Vessel 21||Jade Pivot||璇璣||Xuanji||Meeting of clavicle bones|
|Conception Vessel 22||Heaven Projection||天突||Tiantu||Above clavical connectino to sternum|
|Conception Vessel 23||Lateral Spring||廉泉||Lianquan||Hyoid Process (Adam’s Apple)|
|Conception Vessel 24||Saliva Container||承漿||Chengjiang||Below upper lip|
How Does Acupuncture Use the Conception Vessel Meridians?
The relationship between the acupuncture points of the conception vessel and healing are pretty easy to understand because of the proximity of the points to so many organs and processes. As we travel up you can see that fertility issues involve the lower points. Digestive issues are remedied involving points on the stomach. Onwards and upwards we can address reflux, heart issues, and on into breathing issues such as asthma as we get up between the lungs and windpipe.
That is the easy anatomy side to the conception vessel. There are deeper functions at work if you think about how the sexual organs also produce the hormones that cause us to grow and transition between childhood, puberty, on into adulthood, and our declining energy into old age. The conception vessel meridian points can be used when we are having difficulty making transitions through life simply due to physical development issues or the emotional fluctuation that comes with these transitions.
If our smooth, yin energy is strong, we having the glowing look of youth. If our yin energy is low, it can manifest itself in conception vessel blockage symptoms. Some common conception vessel blockage symptoms include: fertility issues, urinary issues, stomach problems, heart irregularities, and breathing difficulties.
Acupuncture has a long history of success with so many health issues and the acupuncture points of the conception vessel play a vital role. But we don’t have to wait until sickness sets in to take advantage of this powerful engine of healing power. There are ways we can press on the CV meridian points, we can move to massage or stretch them out, and we can meditation on a few points to get the same benefit. These not only serve the healthy to keep them healthy but also great activities for people who are getting acupuncture to extend the benefits of acupuncture between and outside of sessions.
Increasing Your Balance and Help Create Change By Applying Acupressure to the Conception Vessel Points
Acupressure is the applying of pressure with the fingers, fists, or elbows to points on the body. This is free, easy, and I guarantee you are already doing this. I want to highlight how acupressure can be applied to the CV meridian points so that you actively use your knowledge to improve your health rather than just doing it subconsciously.
Have you ever made a fist and thumped your chest to cough? Rubbed your belly after eating too much? Pushed below your sternum when you felt reflux setting in? Slapped your clavicle with your fingers and thumb when surprised? Well, you have performed acupressure to meridian points of your conception vessel!
When the conception vessel is flowing properly there is motility of yin energy up and out to the organs and extremities. Thumping massage and pressure on these points helps the energy move along or dispels energy when there is too much and we feel anxious. So keep doing what you are doing without thinking about it but I want to encourage you to strike and massage your front central line to promote health and emotional stability. In addition, there are four very powerful points that you can activate to calm yourself and restore balance:
- Tap below your lower lip with a middle finger several times in a row
- Pinch the muscles to the sides of your windpipe and stretch the skin out
- Tap both clavicles several times in a row with both middle fingers
- Place your hands on top of each other and rub small circles on your stomach below your belly button.
Movements that Activate the Conception Vessel Meridian Points
Anything we can do to open the front of our body promotes health and the proper flow of energy through the conception vessel points. When we are around people we trust and love we are open and even press our directing vessels together when we hug. When we are proud and sure of our actions, our shoulders are back, our chin is up and our conception vessel is fully exposed.
And what about when we are embarrassed or afraid? We close our front down. We hunch over when our stomach hurts. We cross our arms when near people we don’t like and when in complete fear turn our yang side to a person and run away. We naturally close down our front in many negative situations but when we hang onto the experience mentally or emotionally we don’t always open back up after the event. With this in mind, hopefully it is obvious to you that we can stretch and move to open things back up.
Stretches that directly target conception vessel blockage:
- Stretch the arms up and back
- Look up at the sky
- Stretch the arms out to the side, palms facing forward
- Smile and raise your chin
- Role your shoulders back, pausing at the furthest point back
- Massage your organs
- Rub your belly
- And the grand daddy of them all? Tai chi has the knowledge of expanding the conception vessel baked right in.
Using Meditation to Rebalance Your Emotions and Your Energy – A Case Study
Meditating on ALL the points of the front channel would be mind-boggling and as Mantak Chia shared in The Microcosmic Orbit, even high-level meditators do not differentiate between all the points. In truth, there are five points along Ren Mai that are points of focus during seated meditation but I want to share my experience with three of them.
I spent over a year thinking that the meridian points and specifically my heart point was unresponsive or closed. Eventually what I figured out was that I thought the front should feel just like the back but it wasn’t true. The Conception Vessel has a cooler and wider energy. When you move down the front channel it is like you took a big breath, let out a nice “ahhhh,” and relaxed.
1 – Hsuan Chi – Throat Center
The throat center is located right in front of your thyroid gland and lots of things responsible for reacting to foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. On the back channel that we do not concentrate on the points opposite of the throat and the heart. This is partially because it could potentially pull energy away from these two centers. Likewise, we want to “smile into the throat center” as we pass but not be too demanding of its time and energy.
I had zero sensitivity to the throat center. I felt like I could have hit it with a bat and not felt much. Then I talked to a physiotherapist friend who introduced me to the throat center by interacting with other people.
When you come across someone at a party who is introverted or who is not sharing, chances are they have closed their throat down. When we are depressed or scared, we lower our chin to protect the throat and close off access to it. Conversely, if we present our throat to a person, we appear brave and open. This is kind of what it feels like.
Try this at work, a party, or an interview: When you are addressing someone, don’t do it with your face or eyes like we normally do. Lift your posture proudly and pretend like you are opening-exposing your throat to them. I find that it relaxes people and they are attentive.
2- Shan Chuang – Heart Center – Rejuvenation Center
The heart center is located at the center of the chest and corresponds to not only the heart but also your lungs, and thymus gland. It is most closely tied to emotions and we feel a physical constriction here when things are out of balance. The Indian systems do a lot of work here relating a “closed heart chakra” to emotional troubles, difficulty interacting with others, and negativity.
A lot of these things are difficult to diagnose and ferret out, but this is one thing that I love about the microcosmic orbit and the Daoist system: if we focus on passing clean, light (not-heavy) energy through the center of chest we don’t have to diagnose our troubles but will benefit by experiencing less of them. No matter which way you lean, we can all agree that we benefit from expanded breath a calm and properly beating heart, balanced emotions, and being open to others and new ideas.
I am continually joked with for being overly optimistic and “light-hearted.” Sometimes this even gets confused with not caring enough. To me this feels like the sensation when I pass through the heart. It is wide, clean, and cool. It descends to the solar plexus like a long draw off a swig of iced tea in the summertime.
3 – Chung Wan – Solar Plexus – Middle Palace
The Solar Plexus is the last stop off point of hard bone before you head down to the navel and enter into the dan tian. It is that brick-paved train platform that you push off of to get on the next departing train. The Chinese system believes that we have 3 dantians or major energy centers. One is in the belly, one is in the third eye, and the Middle Dantian is near here. It is a powerful place because the lower half can energize and care for the digestive system and organs. The upper half is nested under the heart and lungs. So I think of it as a central powerplant for all things healthy. In esoteric lingo, the Taoists would describe the lower dantian as the place where energies of the body are stored and transformed to chi. Chi is brought up to the Middle Dantian and is transformed to shen or spirit chi and sent on to the upper dantian in the head.
My experience with the Chung Wan is that if feels really comfortable and when I leave that point I exhale down and my intention follows the drop of the belly as I head back towards the lower dan tian. My traveling metaphor works well because the chakra system considers the solar plexus the 3rd chakra and without it being balanced a person would experience lack of direction or purpose.
I feel that this is one of the few places during the Microcosmic Orbit Meditation where less is better. If you have a true, strong sense of your energy in the solar plexus, just let go, exhale, and jump on the slide that leads back south to the dantian. Your belly will naturally relax and direct you back in the direction you should be going.
This is one of four articles which will complete the picture for you if you are looking to improve your meditation, form, or health. Read on here: