Chong Mai, Sea of Blood: Penetrating Vessel

Chong Mo - Chong Mai - Penetrating Vessel
Chong Mo - Chong Mai - Penetrating Vessel - Copyright

Key Learning Points

  • Chong Mai (also called Chong Mo) is one of the so-called ‘Extra’-ordinary meridians or channels
  • Possibly the first channel of them all
  • Makes a mesh of vessels for Blood to fill, a lattice in which the body takes form:  the ‘Sea of Blood’
  • Often plays an important role in fertility, pregnancy and menstrual issues

Chong Mai (same as Chong Mo) may be the very first acupuncture ‘vessel’ to form in the foetus. It’s really important for all things pertaining to Blood.

(You think you know what Blood is? Maybe not! Chinese medicine’s view of Blood contains what Western medicine thinks about blood but with a whole lot more implications for health, also for your personality – indeed, also for your spirit. See Shen Mind: how Chinese medicine regards Personality.)

That includes fertility, pregnancy and personality. So – yes – Important!

Small Note to the curious. This page is a bit more technical than many other pages on this site.  If you’re just starting to read about acupuncture, it could be hard-going! Why not try a somewhat easier page?

Chong Mai and Blood!

To make sense of what follows, at a minimum you’ll need to read my page on Blood.

Otherwise the significance of some of the words used here, especially words with Capital first letters, like Kidneys or Heart, may elude you.  Read those pages too if you can.

You’ll read there how Blood (capital B for Blood, as opposed to blood) is formed, what it does and how symptoms arise when it is weak or deficient. 

There are other, deeper, ways of understanding how Blood forms and how it behaves. One in particular accounts for many disorders, including gynecological problems, various kinds of flesh and muscle disorders and personality disorders, such as some kinds of depression, moodiness and sadness. 

Chong Mai

Chong Mai is one of the ‘extra-ordinary channels‘. (Chong Mai is often also written Chong Mo and at least one major modern author translates this as ‘Penetrating vessel’.) Sometimes you’ll see this word ‘vessel’ used to describe these channels, so in many older books they were called ‘extra-ordinary vessels’. For Chong Mai, in particular, the word ‘vessel’ is probably more appropriate.

There are eight (8) of these ‘extra-ordinary’ channels. Only two have their own acupuncture points, the Governor and Conception vessels. The other six, including Chong Mai, share acupuncture points with the 12 ‘ordinary’ channels, like the SpleenStomach, Pericardium, Kidney etc channels. They don’t have points of their own.

The functions of these extraordinary channels integrate the functions of the 12 ordinary channels. We think that when the foetus forms in the womb, the first channels that form are these extraordinary channels. These gave form and space for the developing body and the lattice of 12 ordinary acupuncture channels that will infuse it.

So, later, when these 12 channels form, they do so on the energetic and physical structure laid down by the extra-ordinary channels.

By the way – are these extra-ordinary channels/vessels Extraordinary, in the sense of being marvellous, bewildering or astonishing?

orange and white plastic egg toy
This is all very odd! Photo by Tengyart

To the ordinary Western scientific mind, all of Chinese medicine is bewildering, not to say astonishing, and is certainly a marvel, even if just ‘a lot of nonsense’!

What about acupuncturists?

But what about acupuncturists initially  trained in the Five Elements, the Eight Principles, the Zang-fu energy organs, the pathways and point locations of the 12 ‘main’ channels? Or who have finally understood at least some of the properties and actions of each of the hundreds of acupuncture points? And what about the Three Burning Spaces, the theory of fluids and so on (and there’s a LOT more in that ‘and so on’)?

For them, to learn that there’s a whole raft of functions at a deeper level can be an eye-rolling moment. It is almost as if the rug has been pulled out from under them.

Of these  extra-ordinary vessels, perhaps the most difficult to get a grip on is Chong Mai! Why? Because it occurs in so many situations. Once you’ve read some of the conditions listed below, you may think you’ve finally got the answer to all your problems.

Don’t be too hasty! In diagnosing a condition then planning its treatment, acupuncturists have to think of many factors. Often there are a number of ways of achieving good results.

Background and Functions


Ocean Tornado
Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay


Chong Mai has many functions. They all revolve around the fact that it is seen as the ‘ocean’, the ‘Sea of Blood’, from which everything else emerged and then developed. Another name is ‘Sea of the 5 Yin and 6 Yang Organs’. Yet another is ‘Sea of the 12 channels’.  From this you may appreciate that it is like the sea from which all life emerged. That lack of differentiation makes it hard sometimes to decide when it’s not relevant to use! 

In practice, most acupuncturists draw on it only with some respect! The little word ‘qi’ denotes life itself, and that life appears first in Blood. So we’re not talking about some airy-fairy theoretical concept, but how we come into existence and stay alive.

Like a sea, it is nourishing and supportive

Anyone familiar with the ocean will know that it is seldom deficient – there always seems to be enough water! – but can certainly overflow and be uncontrollable. It can be cold in one place and hot in another.

When it is stormy (‘rebellious’ is the word used in Chinese medicine) it can block the normal flow of traffic and cause damage. It is changeable. Without it there would be no life.

In the body it manifests mainly in Blood, including how Blood is made and supplied to different parts of the body. Consequently it has a particularly strong relationship with the Kidneys, the Stomach, the Spleen and the Heart. That is because in Chinese medicine each of these is deeply implicated in the production of Blood.

The word ‘Chong’ turns up in the Chinese name of a number of acupuncture points. Many of them relate in some way to the function of Chong Mai and are used to help it function smoothly.

From the point of view of Blood, it looks after many aspects and functions of the abdomen. From the moment the newly-fertilised egg attaches itself to the wall of the mother’s womb, through what becomes its umbilicus flows the sustaining life-blood from the mother.

It is arguable that Chong Mai is the very first ‘channel’ to form. That’s because it’s not so much a channel as an arrangement of membranes and fascia inside and through which the organs (kidneys, intestines, heart, etc) will grow.

Changes in Meaning?

Translating the word ‘Chong ‘ into English is quite difficult, because it carries so many different meanings in Chinese. It has an element of urgency about it, but also the idea of streets and passageways.

Translating old texts is difficult. Photo by Edurne Chopeitia

There’s always a problem when translating from the ancient Chinese language because meanings have changed so much.


If you don’t believe me, just look at how word meanings change quickly in English. The word ‘gay’ today has an entirely different meaning to what it had even just 60 years ago in the 1960s.


How English is spoken in different parts of the world today shows how fast, in hardly a generation, its use is altering, including its pronunciation.


How much more, therefore, may there have been changes in meaning and interpretation of the Chinese medical classics over the thousands of years!?

An Underlying Structure

The urgent need is to establish a grid or lattice-like structure or ‘vessel’ for life to manifest in the growing cells. Along the interstices of that lattice will flow the mother’s blood, nourishing and sustaining the newly created egg.

If those avenues are not put in place, then the mother’s blood won’t be able properly to nourish the egg, which may mal-form or die.

Later, points along other ‘ordinary’ channels find their place in the growing body. Some of those points are particularly effective at influencing how Chong Mai functions, so are said also to lie along the Chong Mai channel too. They include points along the Kidney, Stomach and Conception channels for example – see below. (The Chinese name for the Conception Vessel/Channel is Ren Mai or Ren Mo.)

That makes it seem as if the Chong mai points were added later whereas the theory of Chinese medicine suggests it came first and all the others grew out of it. Anyway, those first points are important, though not always much used.

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Pathway of Chong Mai

Much of the Chong Mai pathway is deep inside the body, or uses other channels, so it doesn’t have any surface acupuncture points of its own.

Bear in mind that the people who put down their thoughts on Chong Mai were and remain today highly respected. Even if they lived several thousand years ago!

We pay attention to what they said because if an acupuncturist recognises a syndrome of the Chong Mai and then does what was recommended 1500 – 2500 years ago, and the patient gets better, we have to accept that that ancient individual knew what he was talking about.

So when they talk about the pathway and functions of Chong Mai, even though it is hard to understand how they could have discovered it, we accept their wisdom. That doesn’t stop us re-considering what they said, but their ideas usually turn out to have been correct!

Knowing the Chong Mai pathway helps us recognise its syndromes.

So, where does Chong Mai go?

Chong Mai starts in the abdomen and has just about the most complicated pathways of all the channels.

If you know anything about the pathways of the Governing and Conception Channels you’ll know that they originate from the same area.

In fact, it is thought that they both  emerge and grow from from the ‘primeval’ Chong Mai that was first created as soon as possible after the newly fertilised egg attached itself to the wall of the mother’s womb.


Apple on Abdomen
© Szabolcs Stieber – Dreamstime


The following is a summary.

If you want to know exactly where the pathway goes, and who originally described it and its functions, you need to read some of the many excellent textbooks on acupuncture theory.

Area of Origin of Chong Mai: between the kidneys. This is reckoned to be the source point of all life in the body. The Kidneys store the Essence (Jing) that manifests as life as body and mind grow.

Your umbilicus is more or less directly opposite a point midway between your kidneys, not far off from your centre of gravity. 

It is as if life and blood from your mother poured into your early cells behind your umbilicus there, so that would have been where Chong Mai first laid out the ‘vessel’ you needed to grow into. 

Internal Branch: flows through the uterus (probably the prostate gland in men) and emerges on the perineum at acupuncture point Conception Vessel 1 Qichong, Rushing Qi.

Spinal branch: from Conception Vessel 1 it travels up the front, or inside, of the spine to the small of the back. However, combining with the Conception channel it continues on up the front of the spine to the head.

Abdominal branch of Chong Mo

This also emerges from acupuncture point Stomach 30 (Qichong) and then joins the Kidney channel between acupuncture points Kidney 11 and Kidney 21.

This means it covers the front (and inside) of the abdomen to a point just below the ribs.

From Kidney 21 it ‘disperses‘ into the chest, including the heart, breasts and lungs. This can make Juque Ren 14 and Jiuwei Ren 15 important points when using Chong Mai for the abdomen and, especially, the chest.

Disperses into the chest‘ means to me that it spreads out over and within the chest cavity, with no particular acupuncture points, just the whole space.


Chong Mai spreads from the abdomen over and within the chest.
Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash


Throat and Head branch: it passes up beside the throat, goes round the chin and lips and ends just below the eyes: this branch it shares with the Conception Vessel and points along the Stomach channel.

Lower branch of Chong mai

Starting from Stomach 30 it travels down the medial aspect of the thigh and leg. On its way down the leg it connects with the three Leg Yin channels of the Spleen, Kidney and Liver. When it gets to the inner malleolus at the ankle, it splits into two branches.

Here one part goes through the arch of the foot in connection with the Kidney channel there, the other goes over the dorsum of the foot to the area of Liver 3 (Taichong). It is arguable that this ‘lower’ branch is actually an aspect of the Kidney channel. Along it Chong mai takes Qi and Blood downwards, contrary to the usual flow along the Kidney Channel which is upwards. (So, sometimes Chong Mai problems lead to coldness in your feet – read more about this in our page on Cold Feet).

Notice that both Stomach 30 (Qi Chong) and Liver 3 (Tai Chong) both have ‘chong’ in their names. Stomach 30, Ren 1 and the Kidneys seem to be the first external ‘stake-outs’ put in place by Chong Mai as it establishes a vessel for the body to grow in.

Other descriptions of Chong Mai

This vessel has other names, which help one understand its importance. As mentioned, most acupuncturists don’t learn about it until after they’ve learned the 12 ‘ordinary’ acupuncture channels.

One of the great texts of Chinese medicine is the Huang Di Nei Jing. It says that below the umbilicus and between the kidneys is an individual’s original living ‘moving’ qi. This is described as the


From this you realise how the ancient Chinese viewed it. It really is the ocean in which everything else comes into being and lives. So we can view it as the origin of everything else in the body. 

  • As the body grows in the womb, it lays down the ‘mesh’.  As mentioned above, it is as if all the other parts of the body grow into or through this, including the energy organs (zangfu) and channels.


In particular, the ancient Chinese described something we now recognise as being the membranes and fascia. These were not just in the abdomen, although commencing there. These fascia wrap around, support and protect the internal organs. They thought Chong Mai’s first action was to put all these in place so that the body could get on with its growth.

Many acupuncturists think that these fascia are where acupuncture channels can be found. Probably when these fascia have problems it is down to Chong Mai not being able to nourish them.

Sea of Blood, separated into compartments, meshed from Chong Mai.
Layers of Fascia, holding and separating. Photo by Jan Kopřiva

Pleurisy – sometimes an example of Chong Mai ‘failing’

For instance, pleurisy occurs when the membranes surrounding the lungs become inflamed. They start to create friction with the membrane lining the inside of the chest cavity. This makes it very painful to breathe. These membranes rely on Blood to nourish them. Fundamentally this is due to Chong Mai failing to disperse properly into the chest cavity. However, there are other factors involved too.

The abdomen, where these Seas originate, is a vital place for diagnosing and treating many diseases. Japanese acupuncture traditions often use abdominal palpation. This provides insight to many problems and immediate feedback when the right treatment is done.


What happens when it goes wrong?

Well, ‘goes wrong’ isn’t correct terminology! If it goes wrong, if you’ve understood me so far, life either won’t start or will be short.

But it can malfunction to a certain extent. That leads to problems in several areas. Though I’ve divided them into discrete headings, that’s only to help appreciate them. In fact, they are all interconnected. Problems can arise under several of the headings at the same time.

In fact, you can’t really diagnose Chong Mai as being involved unless you get symptoms in a number of different areas.

Mostly, its syndromes are those of excess, or ‘rebellion’, or heat or imbalance between above and below.

This is like the ocean tides. Normally they flow in and out, nourishing and moistening everywhere. Sometimes, however, when this natural process breaks down, you get too much pushing in or up.  This is mostly rather like that when Chong Mai goes awry.

NB Any one of the symptoms mentioned below could be due to something else in Chinese medicine. Chong mai is not always the answer.


Excess Sea - Chong Mai symptoms?
Tsunami – Photo by Bechir Kaddech

Thinking more about Chong Mai problems…

A Sea …

Thinking of what the Sea might do if in excess or deficiency …

  • Panic! If you’re on, in or under the sea, and it disappears, I think you’d panic.
  • Panic! Also panic if there’s too much sea, as in a tsunami!
  • Flow of Breast Milk. Breast milk is how the mother’s Sea (her Blood) supplies her baby’s blood. Problems with this, excess or deficiency, may involve Chong Mai.
  • Breast lumps may involve Chong Mai.
  • Menstrual blood flow problems (too much, too little) but there are many other causes of this too.
  • Connective tissue problems: mentioned above are pleura, but in theory the cavity of the abdomen, and more generally, cavities at joints and encapsulating muscle sheafs all contain connective tissue to contain and protect.



  • Heart – circulation – problems sometimes occur because the Sea of Blood is not flowing smoothly.
  • Cold lower extremities ie cold legs and feet, are sometimes due to Chong Mai. Remember, Chong Mai is the Sea and you can’t sink lower than the bottom of the sea! Associate that ‘bottom of the sea’ with the lower parts of the body, inferior to the umbilicus, and the lower parts of the limbs, the feet, and you may see the connection. But having cold feet could be from other causes, including Qi Deficiency, Yang deficiency, Qi Stagnation stress, Liver Blood Deficiency and Blood Stasis, and (now I come to think about it) quite a few other things too! For more, read our page on Cold Feet.
  • For men, when sexually aroused, Blood should fill the penis. If not, one – of a number of different possibilities, the most common being Qi Stgnation – may derive from Chong Mai. Read more under Sexual Impotence. However, this process of blood engorgement applies to women too – it’s just very noticeable with men if not working properly! This process is deeply embedded in our genes, see next:
  • Inherited problems involving the oldest, deepest so-called ‘reptilian’ part of the brain, laid down early in our genetic development, now so deep that we seldom are aware of it, except perhaps in unbridled terrors – see above under Panic!, or when our bodies can’t access those old templates for health laid down over millions of years.


Are you now seeking Chong Mai treatment?

Before demanding Chong Mai treatment, please realise that most health problems don’t come from the Chong Mai.

There are lots of other reasons for them and often better ways of dealing with them.

Taking an analogy, if your car goes wrong (puncture, low oil level, accident, flat battery, broken light-bulb, empty fuel tank, noisy wheel bearings, black smoke from exhaust, brake pads, starter motor …) you would seldom take it back to the original designers and factory.

You need a car mechanic with requisite skills, not the original architect!

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