Almost every goal we want to accomplish and everything about our health that we want to improve comes down to getting more or better energy. It could be getting past being run down or getting over allergies or a cold. You may also have enough energy but want really clean, clear, thinking energy to be really productive. Most of us accomplish this with food, sleep, medicine, or exercise, and coffee helps too! But there is a better way, or at least an additional way to get more or better energy to do whatever you want to do. And that’s by relying on the body’s high-energy highway called the governing vessel.
The Governing Vessel or Du Mai is a series of 28 acupuncture points running from the base of the spine, up the back, over the head, and ending inside the mouth. Also called Sea of Yang, it is connected to all yang meridians and thereby “governs” the energy of the body and supplies energy to deficient meridians, organs, or body parts.
We will always need to feed, rest, and exercise our body into better shape. But, there are also four main ways to directly influence the governing vessel meridians to add to what you are doing or catapult you into better or even supreme health. Let’s lay the groundwork by talking about what the governing vessel is and then touch on acupuncture as a way to improve your energy. Then, you will also be excited to know that there are three other ways to positively increase your energy on your own through acupressure, movement such as tai chi, and even meditation.
Pro-tip: Learning about acupressure and meridian points can benefit your practice and can best be absorbed through continual learning on the topic over a period of time. Check out books and resources on Amazon that help expand your understanding and knowledge.
What is the Governing Vessel and Why is it So Important?
To understand the importance of the governing vessel and what role it plays in the body’s energy system we first need to look at the name. In Chinese, Du Mai (督脉) is the combination of Du (督) which translates as govern, supervise, or oversee. This might lead you to ask:”So what are we overseeing or governing?” The body’s energy. Big job don’t you think? Which leads us to question: “Just how does it do this?” That answer comes from the second character Mai (脉) which here means channel but is also used in “pulse” and (mountain) “range.”
The second thing we need to know about the governing vessel is that it is considered one of the most important 8 extraordinary vessels. It regulates or “governs” the level of yang energy throughout the body to nourish organs like the kidneys, the nervous system, or deficient meridians.
Putting all of this together, the governing vessel runs through the body intersecting with the major meridians that provide energy to the body and organs. It is able to not only transfer energy from one place to another but also has the ability to store energy which can be used to transfer to needed, low energy areas of the body or places that require a higher amount of energy to take care of processes like healing.
Where Are the Governing Vessel Acupuncture Points?
As a whole, the governing vessel is is considered the Back Channel because it runs along the spine and up over the top of the head. This is true and that’s where you will find the 28 acupuncture points of the governing vessel but there are a couple really important points that most people miss. These are really important when it comes to meditation, moving and stretching to increase your energy or heal.
Let’s take a trip!
- The governing vessel originates in the lower abdomen before looping down through the perineum and coming out to the surface at GV 1 on the tailbone.
- The center lower abdomen (dantian) is the storehouse for a great deal of energy that the GV accesses to transport throughout the body. A lot of people miss this point when meditating or stretching and they start at the tailbone. This doesn’t give you the needed fuel to prime the pumps up the governing vessel.
- It rises straight up the spine in 16 acupuncture points that connect to parallel or perpendicular meridians.
- At the base of the skull (GV 16) you have two options. Come up over the top of the head or shoot straight through into the brain! This is another important point when people are learning to meditate (we will cover this below) this point is very hard to move past because you need a lot of energy stored in the spine to have it rise to the head. Traveling with your mind straight into the brain can provide clear thinking. Traveling over the top of the head to the crown can clear your mind of all thinking. Both lovely feelings but two totally different goals.
- Lastly it comes to the hairline, between the eyebrows, and ends between the upper teeth and the nose.
What’s important about knowing where the GV meridian points is that it gives you a roadmap of places to focus on as your energy develops enough to connect the points into one moving channel. This is really advanced when thinking about acupuncture and very advanced when practicing meditation. But as you will see below, knowing these points also enables us to increase our energy with acupressure and movement.
Governing Vessel Meridian Point Locations Chart
|Governing Vessel 1||Long Strong||長強||Changqiang||Coccyx|
|Governing Vessel 2||Low Back Transporter||腰俞||Yaoshu||Between coccyx and sacrum|
|Governing Vessel 3||Lumbar Yang Gate||腰陽關||yaoyangguan||4th lumbar|
|Governing Vessel 4||Gate of Life||命門||Mingmen||Between 2nd and 3rd lumbar|
|Governing Vessel 5||Suspended Pivot||懸樞||Xuanshu||1st lumbar|
|Governing Vessel 6||Spine Center||脊中||Jizhong||11th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 7||Central Pivot||中樞||Zhongshu||10th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 8||Sinew Contraction||筋縮||Jinsuo||9th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 9||Reaching Yang||至陽||Zhiyang||7th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 10||Spirit Tower||霊台||Lingtai||6th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 11||Path of Spirit||神道||Shendao||5th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 12||Body Pillar||身柱||Shenzhu||3th thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 13||Pot Path||陶道||Taodao||1st thoracic|
|Governing Vessel 14||Great Hammer||大椎||Dazhui||7th cervical|
|Governing Vessel 15||Gate of the Mute||瘂門||Yamen||Below 1st cervical|
|Governing Vessel 16||Wind Palace||風府||Fengfu||Below Occipital Protuberance|
|Governing Vessel 17||Mind’s Door||腦戶||Naohu||Lowest back point on skull|
|Governing Vessel 18||Unyielding Space||強間||Qiangjian||Back of head|
|Governing Vessel 19||Behind the Vertex||後頂||Houding||Rising between back of head and crown|
|Governing Vessel 20||Hundred Convergences|
|Baihui||Crown of head|
|Governing Vessel 21||Before the Vertex||前頂||Qianding||In front of crown of head|
|Governing Vessel 22||Fontanel Meeting||囟會||Xinhui||Between hairline and crown|
|Governing Vessel 23||Upper Star||上星||Shangxing||Behind hairline|
|Governing Vessel 24||Spirit Court|
|Shenting||Hairline central above forehead|
|Governing Vessel 25||White Bone-Hole||素髎||Suliao||Point of Nose|
|Governing Vessel 26||Water Trough||人中||Shuigou||Cupid’s bow (philtrum)|
|Governing Vessel 27||Extremity Exchange||兌端||Dui Duan||Where philtrum meets lip|
|Governing Vessel 28||Gum Union||齦交||Yinjiao||Gums above teeth|
How Does Acupuncture Use the Governing Vessel Meridians?
I am going to oversimplify the entire science of acupuncture here by saying that acupuncture unblocks, decreases, or increases energy traveling to affected areas. This can manifest itself by reducing localized pain or can be more global like improving fatigue or allergies. It only makes sense that the “sea of yang” be part of many acupuncture prescriptions to be able to increase or decrease energy.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to describe acupuncture governing vessel processes but know that acupuncture is a proven way to improve energy that is safe, inexpensive, and enjoyable to many. Let’s spend our time here talking about acupressure, movement, and meditation because these are three ways you can PERSONALLY use your new knowledge of the governing vessel acupuncture points to increase your energy.
Increasing Your Energy By Applying Acupressure to the Governing Vessel Points
Acupressure or tui na 推拿 is tapping or applying pressure to acupuncture meridian points to release energy using fingers, elbows or tools like wooden dowels. Here’s the funny and difficult part; the governing vessel runs along your back so you would probably look like you are wrestling yourself if you try to apply pressure to all of them. So for obvious reasons we want to focus on the back of the neck top of the head and forehead.
Acupressure Points of the Head
There are three main points on the back of your neck and head that are great to massage, tap, or push on to stimulate overall energy. As soon as I tell you about them, you are going to notice that people push on these points subconsciously when they are tired or trying to think clearly.
- Jade Pillow – Occipital (bone) Point: Where the scull meets the neck the governing vessel meridian has to curve back to be able to run around the back of the head. There is also a separate channel that leaves near this point and goes directly to the center of the brain. Massage the jade pillow with two thumbs, press with one thumb, or tap the area with your three middle fingers held together.
- Hundred Convergences – Crown Point: Am I allowed to have a favorite acupressure point? This is it! I love it because it helps me stop my mind from racing. Push up into good posture and pretend you are trying to touch a short ceiling with your the crown of your head. Keep your thinking right on this point for as long as you can without thinking of something else. Tap it with both middle fingers. Also, put your elbows on your desk and press on this point with your middle fingers while you massage your scalp.
- Third Eye – Mid-Eyebrow Point: In the center between your eyebrows you can tap with a middle finger. You can also put your elbows on your desk, push here or hook your thumbs right on the inside edge of your eye socket. Let the weight of the head push down on your thumbs.
Who hasn’t rubbed the back of their neck at the base of the scull when feeling stressed? Who hasn’t put their elbows on their desk and pressed on their eyebrows when thinking deeply? Who hasn’t smacked the top of their head when they remembered something they forgot to do? We are using the points of the governing vessel unconsciously already. With this new knowledge and a little more focus we actively increase our energy on purpose.
Movements that Activate the Governing Vessel Meridian Points
This is the easiest point to make because you already do what I am about to describe. With the governing vessel acupuncture points traveling mainly along the spine, it goes without saying that stretching and twisting are great ways to apply pressure and stretch
What do you see people do after sitting too long? After sleeping? When they are yawning? Chances are they are standing up, stretching the arms out, and twisting. How many of you rub your head when you are tired? We are subconsciously programmed to stimulate the governing vessel acupuncture points to increase our energy.
Now, I just want you to do it more consciously. With the knowledge that you learned above, see that any way that you can stretch or massage the line running from your tailbone over the top of your head is going to increase your energy and wake you up. Here are specific, intentional stretches to increase your energy because they activate the meridian points along the governing vessel.
Stretches and Movements to Increase Your Energy
- Squat on your heels and lean onto your hands
- Put your palms on your kidneys and lean the head forward
- Massage the kidneys with your knuckles
- Roll your shoulders
- Rub the back of your neck
- Massage and scratch your scalp
- “Ring the bell” This is an exercise where you twist with the arms swinging freely. Make soft fists and let the hands simultaneously slap the ribs and opposite kidney.
- And the grand-daddy of all meridian function movements? You guessed it: tai chi. The movements of tai chi have a lot of knowledge baked into them that expand and contract the meridians of the body.
Do not confuse this with just “taking a break.” There is great research showing that taking breaks throughout the day can increase productivity and improve your mood. But there is just as much research showing that the wrong type of break such as with social media can actually increase anxiety and depress your mood.
Using Meditation to Increase Your Energy – A Case Study
Acupuncture can be gotten in almost every part of the world these days. Additionally, the acupressure and movements described above could be done before you even finish this article. So for new practitioners or if you are tired or ill, this is the place to start. For those of you that meditate or are hoping to deepen your meditation, some of the meridian points of the governing vessel can be used to profoundly feel what is going on in your body and drive you energy in positive directions.
I am going to share my experience here when I learned the Microcosmic Orbit which relies on several meridian points to circle energy through your body. In the beginning, you just focus on that point on the body for a while, then move on to the next. At first you feel nothing, then something, then you are able to connect the feeling and have it circle through the body. So this case study will go apology – hope – promise – apology – promise.
Accessing, feeling, and using the energy that runs up and down your spine takes time and there is NO WAY to speed it up. You are building an electrical current. Your body won’t let you do this too quickly so it takes a bit of time where you don’t actually feel anything, and then – it is palpable – and exciting – and a bit scary.
Would you have it any other way? Yes, it takes a bit of time but thousands have gone before you and have provided us an easy to follow framework to feel it ourselves. And, feeling it is only the beginning. Then you get to increase it, connect it throughout your body, and share it with others.
You don’t need any special abilities to increase your energy except the ability to be consistent. Every day adds to your pool of available energy that slowly rises. While acupuncture addresses
Stop trying and you will stop the flow. Like priming a pump, you take a day off and it sinks back down to the level needed to keep you alive and breathing. You have to begin building it again.
So here is my promise: I will try to make this as relative and interesting as I can by walking through the points of the Microcosmic Orbit (Front + Back Channels) as I experienced it. If you read Mantak Chia’s book or take a course on it, you will be able to raise energy up your spine, bring it through your head, and back down your front. Once it is connected you can complete this loop several times in just a few minutes.
Let’s start with the back channel that runs up the spine.
Meditating on the Meridian Points of the Back Channel – Governing Vessel
Luckily for us, for meditation’s sake we only need to concern ourselves with about 11/28 of the governing vessel acupuncture points As a novice meditator I made my first real gains by reading Mantak Chia’s Awaken Healing Energy Through The Tao. I worked around the points of the back channel which I will share below, concentrating on each point independently.
When I clearly meditated on each point and had a sense of where they were, they eventually connected and I could move energy around the microcosmic orbit. I wrote a separate essay on the microcosmic orbit here.
1 – Dan Tien – Sea of Chi entered through Shen Que – Spirit tower – the Umbilicus-Belly Button Point
In truth, the Shen Que is on the front channel but this is where our journey begins so that you can enter your center and get to the dantian. You can read more about The Three Dantians and our obsession over how to find the dantian but I want to focus on getting us all to interact with it correctly.
The Dantian goes from being a big void to being a bowl of potential energy. I have heard practitioners relate to it as light, a heaviness, a fluidness a churning feeling, energy in a caffeine kind of way… My opinion is that none of these are wrong. Your job is to sense it and concentrate on it which has the effect of increasing its presence. t. You then get the palpable sense that you can do something with this. That it is about to overflow, or can expand, or radiate out. At this point a person is ready to get up and make the move south.
Here is where I think much of the literature is difficult to understand. They describe the dan tien as a thing – but it is more like a room. What is a room? Seriously, what is a room? You are probably thinking that it is a space with 4 walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Do you see how you described it based on what surrounds it but not what it is? Now take a look at this anatomy picture. This looks like a bathroom sink where your muscles and walls are the porcelain. When you move your stomach muscles or push on your organs, you are manipulating this space. Dead center in this space is your dantien. So yes it is a thing, but in the same sense that a room is a thing. Feel the whole structure and then bring your focus to the middle.
2 – Jing Gong – The Sexual Energy Center – The ‘Sperm and Ovarian Palaces’
Nice name right? The 12-year-old boy in me came out when I first learned about the Sperm and Ovarian Palaces. Get out the giggles and then prepare to think about this in a very profound way. Most people have pretty good success imagining or feeling energy in the Dan Tian behind and below their belly button. But moving it down towards their groin and using it is a different story.
Here is what is important about this point. The Daoists rightfully consider sexual energy to be life producing. However, after we pass the age or point of procreation, this energy is largely wasted as it is depleted and expelled from the body. Meditation and concentration on this point is intended to draw this energy back into the body to be used to keep us young and provide clear thought.
This is a powerful point so you don’t need to hang out here too long or the mind tends to wander… Drop your energy towards the public bone and move it back and down to the perineum.
3 – The Hui Yin – Convergence of all the Yin Meridians – ‘The ‘Gate of Life and Death’ – the Perineum
Practitioners of martial arts are familiar with the Hui Yin because this is the point we draw up on as we simultaneously push up through the crown of our head to keep the back straight.
The quality of the Hui Yin is very different. Mantak Chia aptly describes it as a temperature change. You feel the hot energy of the Sperm/Ovarian Palace which grows cool to cold as you draw it back to the perineum.
It is the last of the points that we can physically manipulate so meditate on this point for several days if needed because you need a strong sense of the energy to push up the spine.
4 – Chang Chiang – The Base of the Spine (coccyx) – Sacral Opening and the bottom ‘energy pump’
This is the first of two pumps. They are called pumps (I believe) because a lot of energy and sensation is needed to drive past thick bone or a curve. They also are right before a long distance so we need a bunch of energy to make the next distance up the spine.
I think everyone easily feels the perineum so the trick is to put your intention there and then move forward and up. It is kind of like when you are about to burp but don’t. You can physically move your body parts to get this sensation but then imagine it without moving your belly or perineum. Imagine that you are coming up and around your big thick tailbone and then pull in with your belly so that your energy (focus) is forced into the vertebrae right between the kidneys.
5 – Ming Men – The ‘Door of Life’ the Kidney Energy Center
If I had a favorite point, the Ming Men is it! I know that qualifies me as a total nerd but it cleans all of your energy and concentrating on it can put you to sleep at night. Too much to write about here but I wrote a separate essay exclusively on the Ming Men.
Imagine trying to touch your lower back to a chair. That’s it! Here is another trick: Sit in a regular chair to meditate. Put your hands on the chair at the back seat by your rump and push your back up the chair. Hook your back fat over the top of the chair and then slide back down to sit. This anchors your lower back in an open position. Then just push back a bit and up through the crown of the head to maintain it.
6 – Chi-Ching – Adrenal Gland Center – T 11 – Middle Energy Pump
I remember Chi-Ching because it sounds like you’re making money – Cha-ching! Think of it as a savings account where you save energy until you have enough to push all the way up into the head. It is important that you know that it is right where the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae meet. It is a natural transition where your back starts to bend back and sweep out.
This point needs a lot of focus up and backwards. To me it feels like the motion you do right before you are about to slam the trunk of a car. You pull up and back with your whole frame. In this case, we aren’t actually moving the body but can pull up and back with the belly to get to right point. Rather than coming back down like we are slamming then trunk, the energy will continue to travel north.
The next two points are lesser centers. They are important for a few reasons but I personally don’t stop and meditate here or have a strong relationship to them. Maybe my opinion will change with more development but I am several years in and this is my current experience.
7 – Gia Pe – Point opposite the Heart, the ‘Wing Point’
The point right opposite your heart is called Gia Pe. It is more important for what it is not. Hang with me for a second. This back channel is considered yang-hot. It is easier to feel than the front pathway which we will get to in the next post. The front heart-point is cool/cold. So Gia Pe helps us find the front point by sensing how different the front feels from the back. Secondly, it has to be opened and when you feel it too much it can be because it is constricted or closed. This is true of many men at first (me included) that this point is dialed shut.
This and the next point are more difficult to sense. In the beginning, work from point 6 to point 9 and just cross through these points. If you find yourself stuck here and not able to progress upwards you can work on this point by pushing forward and back parallel to the ground. Assume a front stance, push both palms forward imagining that you are pushing from the Gia Pe through the heart and out. Then, turn your palms towards your body and bring the energy into your heart and try to penetrate back through to the Gia Pe. Even if you sense very little, it will at least give you a sense for where it is.
8 – Ta Chui – C-7 – Base-of-the-neck – Arm connection point
Another lesser point, Ta Chui comes into play in advanced Qi Gongs like Bone-Marrow Cleansing where you are bringing energy in through the hands and feet and having them travel to the spine to meet here at C-7. C-7 – is the 7th and last cervical spinal vertebrae. Are you seeing a pattern here? There is an acupuncture point every time the anatomy of the spine changes from sacral, to thoracic, to cervical.
Shoot on by this point and get some momentum to roll past that weird round part at the base of our skull to land in the “Jade Pillow.” Ta Chui will come into play if and when you work on the Macrocosmic Orbit which includes the arms and legs. You have to complete the Microcosmic Orbit first though.
9 – Jade Pillow – C-1 – Occipital (bone) Point
Woo Whoo! You made it to the head! Going around the microcosmic orbit and focusing on points can be learned quickly. This lays the groundwork to connect them. If you successfully drove energy from your dan tien up into your noggin you are in the minority. This can take 1-2 months of work.
Now, possibly on to some tough work. The Jade Pillow is basically holding your brains and head up. That means that the cranium is connected here. Without getting too far into the anatomy, a ton of spinal and spinal accessory nerves pass through here, and it is the seat of the lower brain. Headaches, tension, sore neck and shoulders, all contribute to the Jade Pillow being closed. From extreme to less extreme, some people benefit from cranial-sacral therapy, chiropractics, acupuncture, massage, and stretching to loosen this up and pass into the head.
One trick brought over from Chen Tai Chi is to try to lay your ear on your shoulder and listen with the upper ear. Let the weight of your head stretch your neck and occipital area and then turn your head the other way.
Most everyone struggles with this point. When I got through it and moved chi into my head I thought I was pretty hot stuff but didn’t realize how limited my energy flow was until I had it fully opened unintentionally during a chiropractic session. The payoff for working at this is HUGE! When I opened this point I immediately knew when I was getting tension there. This leads to having a lot less stress injuries and headaches because I am stretching and treating the area before anything really severe happens.
10 – Bai Hui – Hundred Convergences – The Crown Point
The Bai Hui is where the esoteric meets reality. You can find tons of mamsy-pamsy writings about connecting our chi with heavenly chi. It’s really obvious who is talking about it and who is describing what they have experienced. It is treated with acupuncture to clear the senses or “calm the spirit.” And as hard as it is to watch someone stick a needle in the top of someone’s head, if you have had it done it turns you to mush.
To me this feels like I am listening with the top of my head. Eventually, after going around the microcosmic orbit 3 times you can move your chi right out the top of your head and make your mind go blank. Let me share a couple asides. I am no longer religious but after experiencing the Bai Hui I took interest again in the historical aspects of religion. I don’t know this to be a fact but the Bai Hui could be what they were talking about when they painted halos on Christian figures and flames and sprinkler looking things above Buddha. That’s what it feels like.
11 – ‘Yin Tang’ the ‘Third Eye,’ Mid-Eyebrow Point – Cavity of the Spirit
I will spend less time here as many practioners have more experience with this point. It is considered the home of our spirit and corresponds with the upper of the three dantiens. Back on earth, it also happens right in front of the thalamus and hypothalamus glands which link the nervous systems to the endocrine system. Think calmness. Think health. If this interests you read: Energy Centers of the Body
To me this feels like there is air inside my skull that I can push out a pencil-sized hole between my eye brows. It is really warm and causes acute attention.
Where to go from here?
Before I finish I want to share something that caused me a lot of problems and delayed my progress for several months. (For me), it was incredible difficult to get through my palate and connect my back channel to my front channel and get back down the front of my body. I drove a lot of hot energy into my head which made me quite jumpy and stopped me from sleeping well so I had to abandon the practice. I was then instructed to move the energy back down the Governing Vessel and push it out the Ming Men. When I did this I build a very strong current in my Governing Vessel and chipped away at my palate as though it were made of ice. Eventually I crossed through the palate and into the front Conception Vessel.
When you connect both channels into the orbit they can be used independently. Or, you can go forward and backward depending on whether you want to energize or calm down. You can learn how to do this by reading an old but still one of the best texts on how to meditate: Mantak Chia’s Awaken Healing Energy Through The Tao
Let’s move on to the points of the Conception Vessel which runs down the front of you!