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Although called the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai), this 'extraordinary' meridian is much more than just the power behind reproduction.
(Small reminder! This page explains aspects of Chinese medicine and how it views health and treats disease. This view is very different from that of Western science and medicine which often has little time for an ancient understanding of life and health that it doesn't understand.)
In fact, although the Conception Vessel is important for and during pregnancy, I don't think of it primarily for that purpose at all, unless a woman is trying to get pregnant and wants to receive acupuncture.
However, it is hugely influential in treating problems in puberty, menstrual irregularities, pmt, during birthing and at the menopause and lots of problems connected with any of these: and for much else which you'll read about below.
I use it much more to influence Qi in managing Yin - which will make more sense as you read on.
If you want to read about specific points on the channel, click here.
If you're more interested in the effects on fertility of birth control, click birth control pill.
Another name for it is the 'Sea of Yin' channels, so let's start there, because it makes more sense when we get to talking about the Vessel itself. (By the way, another translation by an eminent modern authority is 'Directing' vessel.)
First of all, Yin and Yang are a unity in Chinese thought: two sides of the same thing, like two sides of the same coin, or the North and South poles of a magnet.
Each depends on the other: in this case the other half is the Governing meridian.
Whereas the Governing meridian runs from the tailbone upwards along the midline of the back through the vertebrae to the head, Ren Mai runs up the anterior of the body, from the pubic area to the mouth.
There it joins the Governing meridian, which has come over the top of the head through the crown and nose. Both originate in an area between the kidneys. Don't try to locate this precisely in your body - Chinese medicine is frequently a bit vague about such matters!
So it lies in the middle of the front: the part we open up or expose only when it's warm or we're in company we like. The area we hide or protect if attacked: if it’s cold we hunch up into a ball, protecting the front.
If we can't hide or protect it, we tighten it up, either voluntarily by tensing the muscles, or involuntarily as with cramps, spasms or symptoms like those of irritable bowel syndrome.
The more confident we are, or the more we want to attract attention, the more likely we are to expose this area - especially the upper part.
But when attacked, we turn our Yang side, our back, on our attackers either physically (when perhaps we run away) or symbolically, by ignoring them. The organs immediately behind the front centre line include the mouth, throat and oesophagus leading to the stomach, the heart and aorta, the womb and bladder and the sexual organs.
So you can see that the use of the Conception vessel is wide, covering:
Of these only the bladder isn't directly connected with nourishing the body. And even the Bladder, in Chinese medicine, is more like an energy reserve.
Both Yin and Yang energies are creative, but Yin energy is nourishing, moistening, feeding and growth-orientated whereas Yang energy is warming and moving and protecting.
From the above list, which isn't comprehensive, you can see how the Conception Vessel is intimately involved in the working and integration of the vital Yin organs and fluids of the body.
However, in practice, it is often used with the Governor vessel which runs down the back. Together with Chong Mo, they often work as one.
The conception vessel is also very important in helping people through difficult phases in their lives. The old texts talk about how children grow up towards puberty, achieving their full maturity, theoretically, for women at 28 and men at 32: yes, they even realised that girls mature earlier than boys!
As life proceeds, people have babies, and eventually their reproductive powers diminish and women reach the menopause.
The conception vessel can help their bodies adjust to each new phase, male and female.
If our Yin energies are working fine, then we are stable, well-nourished and rested, our skin glows with colour and moisture, our eyes are steady, we have great reserves of perseverance and patience, we have retentive memories and our bodies are well-formed and can easily be made strong if we work at it: not necessarily fat but tending that way if under-exercised.
We cope with warmth well though we don't like over-exercising or getting too hot. We like three meals a day and a steady life-style: we don't like sudden changes of plan though we can accommodate them if necessary. We are not adventurous and once we’ve made up our minds about something, whether it's our opinion or our course of action, we’re hard to shift.
Whether male or female we are fertile both mentally and physically, and we have a healthy appetite for sex. We meditate easily but regard a good sleep as just as beneficial. We tend to be a bit self-satisfied. Others look to us to be the anchor in their lives.
If our Yin energy is not working properly or we don't have enough of it, then we are unstable, can't rest properly and tend to tire easily.
Our skins are dry, rough or itchy, our eyes look weary and we feel put-upon. So we are easily irritated, lack endurance, can't concentrate or remember things we've learned. Our bodies lack nourishment: even if well-muscled we'll be scraggy.
If we don't exercise, we’ll lack strength. We may find that we heat up too easily on very little exercise and sweating irritates our skin, making it itch and preventing refreshing sleep.
We have many fears, are jumpy and easily rattled by events or sudden changes. We think we like change but we don't cope well with it. We eat hurriedly, don't chew properly, and never feel satisfied. We are unhappy about ourselves.
We tend to be less fertile, and if we have ideas - which we may - they tend to be haphazard and wasteful.
We regularly try new fads to get healthier, whether in the form of exercise or dietary supplements and our minds are easily changed. We find meditation beneficial if we can stick at it, but other matters easily occupy our thoughts.
Sexually we lack stamina. We live a somewhat dissatisfied life. We look to others for stability and support.
However, the above descriptions of Plentiful Yin and Lack of Yin depend on a steady Yang or Governing vessel.
Yin normal, Yang deficient
If your yin energies are fine but your yang energy is deficient, you'll feel tired, slow and cold, and easily catch colds and other bugs.
Yin and Yang deficient
If your yin energy is deficient and your yang energy also deficient, you will all too easily feel weak, helpless, angry, victimised, and susceptible to colds and bugs.
Yin normal, Yang excessive
If your yin energy is good, and your yang energy excessive, you'll be somewhat hyper and hot. Others may find you overwhelming.
Yin excessive, Yang normal
If your yin energy is excessive though your yang energy is adequate, you’ll feel slow and lethargic, probably a bit cold, not very interested in food and not very thirsty – although you’ll prefer warmth in what you eat or drink.
You’ll feel dull and boring, perhaps heavy and swollen, possibly
immobile, even crampy and with spasms. Your stools may be loose but they
are hard to shift. You may find that you pee less than you drink. You
are hard to persuade that you might be wrong about anything. (Girls! You could be pregnant, if affairs so conspired!)
Yin deficient, Yang excessive
If your yin energy is deficient and your yang energy excessive, you'll not only be hot and hyper but restless, alternating with feeling exhausted, low and depressed.
You can perhaps see how many disease patterns fall under these descriptions. (See also, Balancing Yin and Yang.)
Although we could say much more about the mental and physical aspects of Yin energy and the lack of Yin, you can see that if you want to be fertile and have the physique for making families, anything that provides you with abundant Yin energy will be highly conducive.
However, if you don't have abundant Yin energy, actually becoming pregnant - if it's a healthy pregnancy - can stimulate your body to increase its yin energy.
After all, if you are pregnant, nature's programming over millions of years will probably kick it in to action: in making a new life it forces your body to make more Yin.
So some women feel absolutely wonderful when pregnant, but out of sorts otherwise. Women such as these probably started with yin-deficient bodies.
Of course, if your body doesn't or can't switch into its yin-enhancing mode during pregnancy, you'll have a less desirable pregnancy, which probably leaves you tired, restless, irritable, weepy and put-upon.
Here you need support and encouragement, good food and rest, light exercise and love - all of them yin qualities to compensate for your shortage of them.
This is used in Chinese medicine and with acupuncture to help your body improve its Yin qualities.
It's not just a meridian. Its name and the word 'vessel' suggests that it is also a reservoir - for yin.
Cases of Excess Yin
In particular, the Conception vessel, being the sea of yin, has the capacity to absorb excess yin energy. Because its pair is the Governing vessel, very often both are needed when either yin or yang is in excess.
But the more common use of the Conception Vessel is to enhance Yin qualities to enable pregnancy to occur.
How is this done?
Not So Fast!
Although the Conception Vessel is the Sea of Yin, it doesn’t make Yin itself, though it can nourish it. It’s like a powerful influence in the background for keeping Yin in balance.
Also, Yin energy doesn’t come on its own. It always come from Yang energy or with Yang energy or at the cost of Yang energy. Actions to increase one will always affect the other.
Suppose you want to increase Yin energy?
Perhaps you have some of the characteristics described above under deficiency of Yin. What you do to improve the Conception Vessel’s influence will have spin-offs in other directions, including improving your Yang energy.
A suggestion: by all means make an appointment with your acupuncturist, but if you aren’t going to do anything to help yourself, you may be wasting your time and money.
Anything your acupuncturist does could be quickly diminished or undone by your own (non-conducive) actions.
So, if you are yin deficient:
But acupuncture isn’t magic. It takes what you’ve got and applies it. So if you aren’t giving it the means to make more yin, it can’t do it, or not for long.
Anyhow, you’ve arrived at your acupuncturist. Perhaps you’re looking to become a steadier person, or perhaps to enhance your fertility, or to improve your memory and concentration for a new job or some exams. Or just to see if treating your Conception Vessel will change your life. What will your acupuncturist do?
Well, after the consultation and examination – during which she’ll take your pulses, look at your tongue, probably examine your abdomen (a very yin place on your body) and so on - if she agrees with your diagnosis, she’ll probably make suggestions along the lines above.
Then, assuming you want to go ahead, she’ll pull out her needles and insert them.
In her diagnosis, which was probably a bit more comprehensive than yours, she may have realised that – for example
What you’ve demanded is more yin, because you read it here.
She’s got to get your system going again and you've decided you want your Conception Vessel 'sorted'.
'You’ve got to do what she says': (eat more regularly, take more time to sleep, regulate your recreations ...).
Together it can work.
To be frank, I’ve no idea because you’ll be different to patients with those syndromes that I’ve treated. But I can tell you where she might put the needles. But don’t insist on these acupuncture points because you read them here: if she’s any good, she’ll have a very clear idea of what suits you best.
Insisting she does something else won’t help.
Probably, assuming you’ve stopped smoking, she’ll want to get your Lung energy working properly first.
Your Lung and Liver energies have a balancing but sometimes combative effect on one another, and since your Liver energy is stagnant, she may use a point (Taichong) on your foot to calm your Liver and a point (Lieque) on your wrist to help your Lung energy clear phlegm.
The Liver point moves Qi, nourishes yin and calms yang: the wrist point clears excess yin and balances yin and yang.
Two points – perhaps your right foot and your left wrist. Two points only? Don’t feel short-changed! That could be a really powerful first treatment.
Lieque is the 'opening' or 'master' point for the Conception vessel. It is not actually one of the acupuncture points on your Conception Vessel, but it opens it for business and can have a major effect on how well it functions.
By using one point on the right foot and the other on the left wrist, circulation of qi empowers the treatment. (Take my word for it.)
After it, assuming those were the right points for you, you’d start to feel less chesty, calmer, and less inclined to smoke, to rush, to snatch meals and so on.
But nothing can stop you returning to your previous ways if you decide you want to: it’s up to you. If you rush back to your former behavioural patterns, you'll get back to where you were before.
In later sessions, perhaps she’ll stimulate your Stomach and Spleen qi to enhance your ability to absorb food and energy then, having got that working better, pass on to strengthen your Kidney energy: all of which will help your Yin energy, creating a bigger reservoir.
What’s her purpose? If she’s been successful with your Liver and Lung energies, your Spleen and Stomach energies and your Kidney energy, your Yin and Yang energies will already be working better together. So now may be the time to treat your Conception Vessel directly, by using some of the points lying along it if she hasn’t already done so.
If by now you are already pregnant, (if getting pregnant was why you first looked at this page) there are some points on the Conception Vessel on your abdomen that she won’t want to use acupuncture on because they might just jeopardise the pregnancy – even though her previous treatments may have so enhanced your health that you got pregnant anyway.
If not pregnant, your abdominal points along the Conception Vessel will be very important in helping to nourish your Yin energy. The area the Conception vessel covers isn’t purely on the midline however: it also governs an area on either side of the midline, several inches wide, and in a broader sense, the whole of the front of your body.
There are points on acupuncture channels running adjacent to and parallel with the Conception Vessel, such as the Kidney and Stomach meridians, which have important roles in enhancing various aspects of fertility. Your acupuncturist can still be treating your Conception Vessel without actually inserting needles into points along it.
And she might treat points on your back, opposite your abdomen, because there are points there, more connected with your Governing vessel and the Bladder channel (remember the bladder? It lies behind your Conception Vessel in your abdomen but its channel path takes it up your back) that can strengthen Yang energy to increase Yin.
Another advantage of treating your Conception Vessel this way is that as your Yin qualities improve, your eyesight will improve along with your skin and because the Extraordinary meridians work to spread your Kidney essence energy in the space between muscles and skin, you’ll find you catch less coughs and colds.
This is where it can all get a little confusing.
Your abdomen is amongst the most Yin places in your body. Your upper back is amongst the most Yang areas. They balance one another. Even more specifically there are points on your upper left back between your shoulder-blade (scapula) and your spine that can relate to points on your right lower abdomen, and so on.
If you can accept some of this, then it shouldn’t surprise you that some of your most deeply energetic points are in the abdomen inferior to your umbilicus (not all on the Conception Vessel), and some of the points best at clearing yang and invasive qi are on your upper back.
You also have what is called a Sea of Qi which is to some extent ruled by your Conception Vessel. The Sea of Qi is in your chest and when it’s blocked or full, you get breathlessness and fullness there.
Guess which point is one of the best at dealing with this? Lieque, the Lung channel point on your wrist that also opens up the Conception Vessel.
So, your acupuncturist thinks on a number of different levels when treating you. There’s your lifestyle and its factors that keep you from health. There’s where you want to go in life, what you want to achieve. There’s your classification in 5 Element theory, which I haven’t covered here but is dealt with on another page of this site.
There are the particular syndromes representing the conditions you presented her with. There are the different places in your body where you have excesses or deficiencies. There are the enormous range of acupuncture points and combinations of points that she can use to achieve the balance you want.
And if she can, she’ll use the minimum number of points to produce the results she wants. That makes it more intellectually stimulating for her, less of a burden for your body, and ultimately more economical, elegant and effective as a treatment.
Give your acupuncturist the credit she deserves: she’s a very skilled and thoughtful person whose help may enhance your life!
If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.
If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
3000 years of Chinese being stressed, and at last, here's a book showing how all that experience can help you!
By the author of this website, it explains in simple English how to use stress to improve and enhance your life.
NB You can also order 'Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress' from your bookseller.
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