Coming into being: our development in the womb and the Extraordinary Vessels

In March, I will be running a week long residential workshop with Diego Sanchez in Uruguay exploring the theme of “Coming into being”. This exploration raises questions such as:

When do we begin our life?

How do we take on our physical form?

How does energy relate to physical form?

How aware is the baby during their time in the womb?

How does the soul come into being?

How do we change in our nature as we move from the watery environment of the womb to the earth outside? .

How is exploring these questions relevant for us in our present moment?

For me, the answers are very much linked to understanding both our embryological development and the meridians of Chinese medicine, particularly the Extraordinary Vessels. These vessels are a fundamental yet often neglected aspect of the meridian system or “channels of acupuncture”. Diego will be relating his explorations of physical and energetic form to the Chakras and looking at how these relate to the meridians. We will be exploring the answers through physical exercises, breathing and meditations, connecting with nature, as well as working with shiatsu. We will connect with key phases of our development from pre conception to the first year of our life, understanding how to use this knowledge for ourselves and in our work.

I have been fortunate from the early days of Well Mother, to be able to work with many women during their first trimester. This is when the baby is forming all their systems, but is not yet physically palpable to the mother or practitioner. I wanted to be able to understand how to include an awareness of the baby in my work in order to be able to support their being as well as the mother’s. I also wanted to support the mother’s and partner’s relationship (where possible) with this miraculous new life they are creating.

Over the years, this has led me to explore the nature of the Extraordinary Vessels, which I now regard as such a fundamental part of shiatsu, that shiatsu no longer has sense for me if it only includes work with the 12 meridians.

The 12 meridians relate are energy channels which relate to the 24 hour cycle of Qi (energy) in our body. They derive their energy from breathing (Air Qi) and eating (Food Qi). Their energy can therefore be renewed on a daily basis. They regulate how we transform Food and Air Qi into Blood and then how we eliminate what we don’t need. Each of these 12 relate to one specific organ, with the exception of the Three Burners, which is slightly more complex.

The 8 Extraordinary Vessels, by contrast, derive their energy from Original Qi and the Jing or Essence which is transmitted to us at the moment of conception: we could say these form our energetic DNA. They therefore cannot be replenished directly, although they can be supported by the 12 meridians.

The Extraordinary Vessels – which circulate in 7 year cycles for women and 8 years for men – support our growth, development, capacity to reproduce and our ageing process. They are therefore essential when working with pregnant women. Unlike the 12 meridians they do not simply relate to one organ each, but share the three fundamental organs of the Brain, Kidneys and Reproductive Organs. The Brain and the Reproductive Organs do not feature in the 12 meridian system; they are so fundamental to our being that they have their own special meridians: the Extraordinary Vessels. Some of the Extraordinary Vessels, especially the Penetrating Vessel, relate directly to the Heart as well.  Since these vessels share organs, they are more interconnected than the 12 meridians and they overlap their pathways, in ways which the 12 meridians do not.

I call Governing, Conception, Penetrating and Girdle Vessel, the “Core Four”  since they have the most direct relationship with the Reproductive Organs and the Kidneys and all circulate through the physical midline of the body. All of these 4, except for Conception, pass through Ming Men (gate of Vitality, Governing Vessel 4) a point which lies between the second and third lumbar (lower) vertebrae. This point is one of the most important in the body and considered the origin of all energy.

The 8 Extraordinary Vessels are also much broader than simply a line connecting up points, which is how the 12 meridians express themselves. In this respect, I feel that all the pictures so far drawn of them are inaccurate and I am encouraging my students to help me draw new pictures of them. However, to give some idea, here are the points and pathways of the Core Four, but do try to imagine the lines more as broader bands

Governing, Conception, Penetrating and Girdle Vessel

Core Four: from “Shiatsu for Midwives” and “Pregnancy and Childbirth: a holistic approach to Massage and Bodywork” by Suzanne Yates

Since they come into physical being at the moment of conception, before we take on our embryological form, they regulate deeper underlying patterns and offer a way to connect back with our earliest origins in a way in which the 12 meridians do not. They are the channels which are regulating our energy flow in the womb, as during this time we do not have a direct connection to the Food Qi and Air Qi. The 12 meridians do start coming into being as we start to form the 12 organs which they relate to, but this is only from the fourth week: a long time in embryological development. The 12 meridians become more activated and more important once we are born and take our first breath (Air Qi) but for babies who are breastfed, the Food QI still comes from the mother. This provides an important transition from our dependence on the Extraordinary Vessels until we can gradually take more of our nourishment from the earth, during our first year.

This time in the womb is called by the Chinese, our Pre Heaven time, when we are dependent on the Jing of the mother and when Water (the element of the Kidneys) is dominant. In order to deepen my understanding of this time, I have been drawn to studying embryology and have realised how it helps us to understand not only the development, nature and function of the Extraordinary Vessels, but how the whole energy system comes into being.

Over the past 25 years, much has developed about our understanding of our time in the womb and the importance of it. (see the Blogs I wrote on David Chamberlain and William Emerson) Epigenetics  Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief offers an accessible understanding of it) has helped us also understand how the nature of our environment affects our development. There is a brief summary of epigenetics on Wikipedia and Bruce Lipton’s book “The Biology of Belief “ provides an accessible understanding of it. DNA is not fixed as genes can be turned on and off, depending on the environment. Since our first environment is the womb of our mother and this is when we take on our physical form, this time is vital for our development.

The next most fundamental environment is where we spend the first 7 – 8 years of our life, especially the first year. We know that a lot of who we are and how we relate to the world is formed during this time. Understanding it better, and more importantly going back to its fluid nature, can help open up our fluid nature once more, so that even as adults we can be more open and present in each moment and less bound by our early experiences. This for me is the gift of working with the Extraordinary Vessels: they offer a chance to tap back into our potential, before it became so fixed.

Over the next few weeks I am going to write some more blogs taking a look at some of the different phases in this amazing journey which we make from pre conception through the first year of our life, and offer some insights as to how connecting with these phases can help us open up more in the present moment.

The key phases are:

Pre conception and connecting to the whole (Tao)

The first four weeks after conception: these are fascinating and fundamental and are characterised by huge changes which are important to understand in detail.

  • The first week from the moment of conception: joining of Yin and Yang, to the journey down the fallopian tube, spiralling self-contained and dividing, to implant in the womb
  • The second week when our future body is a flat disc and our support structures, umbilical cord, placenta amniotic sac are taking form
  • The third week when we become a trilaminar disc and start to form our nervous system from the midline and our heart starts beating
  • The fourth week when our organs start to take their final places as we fold over into the embryological position.

The rest of the pregnancy: this is much more stable

Birth: an important journey from the watery phase of the womb to be on earth for the first time

Our first year:  the fascinating journey of unfolding from the fetal position back into the flat line we were at two weeks in the womb and the changes which now take place primarily in the 12 meridians which both support and direct this process.

Meanwhile if you have any feedback, or anything is unclear in this blog, please let me know.

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8 comments

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  5. Pingback: Pre-conception: the Dao and Jing expressed in our body | Well Mother

  6. Me too! So sad not to make it to Uruguay, it sounds amazing Suzanne, I hope you have a wonderful experience. A am looking forward to reading the forthcoming blogs too.

  7. I read this blog with great interest as I will soon be birthing my first baby :)

  8. Brilliantly written and wonderfully explained as usual, intriguing too… now I wish I was going to be in Uruguay in March!

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