The Luo Channels

The Luo channels are described in Ling Shu chapter 10 following the description of the regular channels. It is implied that the Luo are a visible manifestation of the regular channels which do not go into the major joints and which are affected by excess movement and Heat, as well as Cold. The Ling Shu states that when the Luo appear blue or green it indicates Cold and pain, red indicates Heat, black means chronic rheumatism, green and short is a sign of sparseness of Qi. The Lung Luo also indicates the state of the Stomach, appearing as red if the Stomach is hot and green-blue if there is Cold in the Stomach. The needling method recommended is quick and shallow with blood letting. The Ling Shu then describes the trajectories and pathologies of these channels. The order in which they are described is Arm Yin, Arm Yang, Leg Yang, Leg Yin, the Ren Luo, the Du Luo, and the Great Luo. However, due to their connection to the regular meridians, it makes more sense to associate their time clock with that of the regular meridians (Lung to Liver).

The character Luo indicates that these are channels that create a network of channels, but that each channel goes its own way. It also means an envelope with wrapping with fibers. The 15 Luo together with the 12 regular meridians make 27 channels, that is 3 to the power of 3, with 3 symbolizing the full diffusion of the Qi that commands life.

The trajectories and pathologies of the Luo channels are described in every acupuncture text, conforming to the description in the Ling Shu. Generally we see that the Luo channels flow upwards, from the extremities to the body and head, except for the Lung and G.B. Luo which flow toward the hand and foot. They start above the wrist/ankles (except for the Spleen Luo) and the Luo points are past the Shu-Stream points. The Leg Yang Luo move into the face, representing how we sense the world. The Leg Yin Luo move toward the torso, representing a metabolic area.

The Luo vessels communicate exterior and interior. They are carriers of Ying-Blood, but they appear on the surface, the domain of the exterior and Wei Qi. Thus we can say that the Luo vessels communicate between Wei and Ying Qi. The Shu-Stream points communicate exterior and interior in the meridian, while the Luo communicates exterior and interior with the paired channel. Thus the Luo points occur past the Shu-Stream points. They occur past the ankles and wrists so as to have the ability to communicate with the interior. The Luo points need to be at a place in the channel that is considered to have a deeper flow than on the hands and feet in order to be able to communicate with the interior. Their communication with the exterior is independent of their location on the channel, as this communication is made through their location on the surface. The Spleen Luo is the exception (SP4 – Gong Sun, Grandfather Grandson, is on the foot). Because of the Spleen’s deep connection with Blood, its Luo channel can start at a “shallower” place on the channel and still communicate with the Blood-Ying level.

Using this idea of communicating between Wei and Ying we can start to look at the Luo vessels as buffers of pathogens as they move inwards. The time clock starting with the Lungs and ending with the Liver and then the Great Luo, and the Ren and the DU Luo, conveys the idea something moving into the Blood (the Liver stores the Blood) and the constitution (Ren and Du). The trajectory ends at the genitals (Liver Luo moves into the genitals) an area of Jing, of conflict. Then come the Great Luo (Da Bao) and Ren15 (Jiu Wei), reinforcing the chest and diaphragm, with DU1 (Chang Qiang), again reinforcing the genital region. This, again, represents the idea of conflict being created and held in the diaphragm and genitals, with the diaphragm and genitals being our major obstacles in life.

The Luo vessels all move upwards toward the chest/Pericardium, Ren17. They buffer off pathogens by “supplying it with Blood”. That is they “harmonise” the pathogen, allowing us to live with the pathogen (perhaps in the form of nodules, or otherwise giving it substance, Blood) without it threatening our constitution/existence. The exceptions to this chest-ward motion are the Lung Luo and the G.B. Luo which move downwards. These exceptions are at the front and back ends of the trajectory, and allow passage to vent off the pathogen. The Lung provides passage outwards, while the G.B. provides passage further in towards the constitution (into the Chong via ST42 – Chong Yang, Surging Yang).

The Luo vessels supply a medium for the pathogen, slowing down the internalization of Wei Qi. If we get habituated to these adjustments, the result is Blood Stasis. Thus the Luo vessels are involved with habituation, Qi and Blood Stasis.

Being communicators of Exterior and Interior and having an influence on the chest and diaphragm, we can see the Luo vessels as strongly relating to the Shao Yang state, which is a fluctuation between Exterior and Interior, and in which diaphragmatic constriction is a major symptom.

Because the Luo vessels carry the medium of Blood, they are clearly related to emotional issues, as the Blood carry the Shen/Animation and thus our emotions.

Based on the above we can use the Luo vessels in constrained Liver and constrained diaphragm conditions, Blood Stasis conditions (Yang Luo being used for Liver Qi stasis, and Yin Luo for Blood stasis), emotional problems overtaking the person, especially highly-expressed or under-expressed emotions, and Exterior-Interior mixed conditions such as the Shao Yang state.

The Luo Channel System as a Continuum representing our Emotional Life:
When we look at the symptoms ascribed to the Luo vessels, we can begin to this Channel system as a continuum and to see a pattern for the progression of our emotional/mental development. From sensation to feeling, to internalization, judgement, letting go, failure to let go, and hence the pathological states of inability to contain our emotions and allowing them to rule us.

We start with the Lung Luo which represents our engagement with life. Its symptoms are of hot hands, that is hands that are eager to manipulate. In order to have a mental/emotional life, we need to have some involvement: our emotions need to be triggered. This is in the domain of the Lung Luo. Excess in the Lung Luo is described physically as hot palms, this is the desire to engage, an over-eagerness. The Deficiency sign is frequent urination, which is a sign of weakness in the Lower Dan Tian, that is it represents boredom, non-engagement. The L.I. Luo represents perceiving, feeling, and sensing the world, as it goes to the mouth, nose and ear, our sensory organs. N this stage there is no judgement of what is being sensed, we merely perceive. Thus the l.I. Luo represents a stage of sensing with acceptance, not with judgement. Here the symptoms are in the teeth, the teeth representing our ability to sense the world and take it in: it is chewing but not yet digesting. When we feel the world too strongly this is Excess in the L.I. Luo and this shows as Heat destroying the teeth. Deficiency shows as Cold in the teeth, that is an inability to chew.

The Stomach Luo represents digestion, the processing of our feelings, the first passing of judgement. In Excess there is too much emotion without the ability to judge, hence mania: it is an “emotional over-ride.” In Deficiency, there is no interest in processing the feelings, thus we no longer reach out to feel the world: the legs become weak, I have lost the motivation to move out toward the world. A branch of the Stomach Luo goes up the abdomen along the Kidney trajectory (from ST30, to Kid11, to ST11, to U.B.1). This trajectory represents an urgency response where emotions are allowed to override the rational as these emotions move toward taking over the self (Kidney): this is where we might see phobias and paranoia. The Spleen Lou gives the context into which the experience can be imbedded, so that we can now think about our feelings, we can imprint them into ourselves. This is putting our feelings into a context that either nourishes us or one we would/should eliminate. (This context is often based on our societal and cultural understanding.) The Spleen Luo, by providing the context, represents our ability to recall the feeling, its memory, its categorization. Here the Luo moves into the gut, where emotions can be knotted. In Excess there is over-eagerness to process and imbed all feelings and the physical symptom is sharp pain in the abdomen. In Deficiency one is unable to eliminate, and thus there is fullness and distension.

The Heart Luo represents our ability to reevaluate and articulate our feelings. It moves into the tongue and vocal cords, allowing for expression, articulation, and re-evaluation of the context given by the Spleen, a context that may be illusory and cause us suffering. Seeing the Heart Luo as merely articulation of our feelings, we can see its symptoms of Excess, pain and fullness in the chest, as an urgency to control and articulate feelings, and the symptom of Deficiency, loss of voice, as the inability to articulate feelings. However, we can see the Heart Luo not only as a stage for rationalizing our pain and suffering through words, but further as a way to liberate ourselves from the context/constructs given to our feelings by the Spleen. We can see he Heart Luo as the ability (through articulation and evaluation) to let go of our notions.

When looking at the Heart Luo as the conduit of letting go of notions, we can see its trajectory in this manner also. HT5 (Tong Li – Penetrating Miles) tells us that we can penetrate all emotions, as love, the emotion of the Heart, penetrates all. HT1 (Ji Quan – the Supreme Spring) tells us that when we liberate our chest through awareness and love (and love is the product of understanding), we liberate the self. We see this through the connection of this point name to Kid1 (Yong Quan – Bubbling Spring) which represents the self (Kidneys). Next comes LU2 (Yun Men – Cloud Gate), representing the cloud which produces the rain (all of which share the same character that is in Ling – Spirit), that which pours on us, allowing us to live in the present moment, the breath. Thus when we liberate ourselves from constructs that trap our feelings, we can simply live in the present moment, like the cloud or the rain. And once we have let go of notions and live in the present moment we have let go of confinements, and we are now able to see and taste new potentials. And so, the Heart Luo continues its trajectory to the Heart, tongue, and eyes.

By reevaluating and letting go of the context (confinement) given to our emotions by the Spleen, we can become non-judgmental. It is the Pericardium which produces judgement as a form of “protection” for our Hearts. The connection with the tongue can be seen as non-judgement: I no longer need to exercise my tongue in order to express my feelings because I am liberated from the bad context within which I placed them. Using this idea of liberation for the Heart Luo, we see its symptom of Excess, pain, as being probed into reevaluation, and of Deficiency, loss of voice, as either having arrived at the point of not needing to say anything, or a form of suppression (failure of reevaluation) or lack of reevaluation.

While the Heart Luo allows us to separate from our emotions and to transcend them, the S.I. Luo represents the redefining of the emotional process through feedback such as people’s responses, etc. The S.I. Luo is about reprocessing. It separates the Pure from the Turbid. It is another chance to process which has been previously discarded (by the Stomach and Spleen) and to receive nourishment from it. In Excess there is joint looseness and atony which is the result of too much manipulation, an over-eagerness to re-process. In deficiency, one gets pebble-like stools from not letting go of things fully and attempting to re-process them.

Once we have failed to liberate ourselves from the emotional response or to reprocess it, we arrive at the domain of pathologies from emotional responses. Now there needs to be a limit set on handling the emotion. When the U.B. Luo is in Excess it means that there has been so much stimulation without the ability to process it: I have been unable to set my limits, to establish my emotional threshold and the physical manifestation is nasal congestion and headache. That is I am shutting myself down, I am unable to cope. In Deficiency of the U.B. Luo, one is trying to eliminate and reject everything: nasal discharge and nasal bleeding. Once the threshold of handling emotions has been broken, the emotion will overtake us and override any logical thinking. This is the stage of the Kidney Luo. Here, the emotional stimulus, that has previously been siphoned off to the Kidney part of the Stomach Luo trajectory (the urgency response to stimuli that appear threatening to the self), is now being recalled. At this stage, we have created the context (Spleen) and have failed to liberate ourselves from it. We now recall the emotional response in the worst possible context producing paralyzing fear. We are unable to give the emotion a proper context or to assign it a proper threshold. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is within this domain, one reacts to ordinary stress as if it were an emergency and with a sense of helplessness.) Kidney Luo Excess symptom is the blockage of the two lower orifices (stool and urine), that is I cannot let go of anything, I am in total sympathetic dominance mode. In Kidney Luo Deficiency, one experiences back pain, representing an inability to move forward, it is the state of helplessness.

The Pericardium Luo represents the next stage in which our defense mechanisms come into action. The Heart Protector Luo reinforces our holding patterns, our learned coping mechanisms. These are often related to, and showing in, our musculature patterns. These holding patterns and defense mechanisms obstruct the flow of Wei Qi (instinctual Qi). Ren17 (Tan Zhong – Chest Centre) represents the connection between the Pericardium (the Mu point) and Wei Qi (it is the Influential point of Wei Qi). Thus we see chest pain as a symptom of Pericardium Luo Excess and chest weakness or pessimism in Deficiency. Once the social skills and defense mechanisms have failed to resolve our emotional issue, we attempt to release it by shaking it off. This is the stage represented by the San Jiao Luo which involves signs of elbow spasms and atony (an inability to shake off). If we fail at this stage, the problem will become imbedded into our core as the San Jiao disseminates Yuan Qi.

The G.B. Luo represents our chance to let go of the viscosity of our feelings. By giving up the Dampness we can see the light as represented by G.B.37 (Guang Ming – Illuminating Brightness). My experiences, previously recorded, act as Dampness, a fixation that leads to atony. I need to release my “dogmas”. When I turn on the light (G.B.37), I can surge forward (ST42 – Surging Yang). This is an opportunity to become enlightened out of our emotional experiences by letting go. When I am able to let go off the excess baggage of my emotions, their mishandling, the protective mechanisms, etc., then I can come back to my original and true blueprint, which is the Chong, represented here by ST42 (Chong Yang). If we have the courage to make the changes necessary to transform our feelings and to let go of habitual patterns, we will be able to see new possibilities and new dimensions. G.B. Luo Deficiency is the lack of such courage, physically described as weakness in the lower legs. (Unlike the case of Stomach Luo Deficiency where the weakness is caused by lack of motivation, here the cause is helplessness, hopelessness, and giving into our habit energies and the inability to break them.)

Once we have gone past the G.B. Luo, the last chance to let go of our emotional response, the emotional takes over and we have no control over it. This is the Liver Luo stage. We now feel that we are being controlled by something that is not ourselves and we become angry and alienated. Here the symptoms are frequent erections (Excess) which represent an attempt to recreate another self to replace the self which we now hate. In Deficiency there is itching all over, representing the desire to shed this body which I hate.

The next progression is to SP21 (Da Bao – the Great Wrap). Here it is no longer a matter of the original feeling/emotion, but one is upset at everything and anything. My emotional state no longer has boundaries. Here we see pain all over the body (one is unable to grasp stimuli, feelings, information from the world and to give it perspective). Now the Sea of Blood, the container of our emotional life, is being violated, and anxiety and depression take root with loss of appetite, loss of libido, and the loss of the will and ability to grasp life. Physically this is described as sharp abdominal pain (life is extremely painful) for the Ren Luo, and stiffness of the spine and a heavy head (one is totally stagnated by habit energies) for the Du Luo.

The Luo Channel System as Communicating Exterior and Interior:
The Luo vessels serve as a conduit that allows Wei Qi to move in towards the Boold, and the Blood towards the Wei Qi. They are a system that represents the fluctuation between Exterior and Interior. When the Wei Qi moves toward the Blood, and is partially on the Exterior, partially on the Interior, this is the Shao Yang stage, thus we can say that the Luo represent the Shao Yang stage with diaphragmatic constriction. We can further refine our view in accordance with either the Wen Bing school or the Shan Han school and see the Luo system as a continuum representing the penetration of the pathogen.

When we look at Wei Qi as representing Yang, and its penetration inwards as producing Heat, we are looking at the Wen Bing school. Here the Heat enters the Blood and produces fever and irritability, the signs and symptoms generally associated with the Luo. Heat in the Wei level is seen as invasion of the Lung, L.I., Stomach and Spleen Luo. Wind Heat is considered to be more on the Lung and L.I. Luo, while Damp Heat is at the Stomach and Spleen Luo. Heat in the Qi level is in the domain of the Heart, S.I., U.B., and Kidney Luo. When the Heat is trapped in the chest its saturation affects Wei Qi (which homes to the chest at Ren17), producing the Four Bigs (thirst, high fever, large/flooding pulse, and lots of sweating). This is the stage of Heart and S.I. Luo. As the Heat moves into the bowels, we see this blockage in the Kidney Luo (which symptoms are blockage of the bowels). The Ying Level is represented in the Pericardium, San Jiao, G.B. and Liver Luo, by the time the Pericardium and Liver Luo are affected, the issue is a matter of intoxication. Heat in the Blood, in the Luo model is the Great Luo, and the Luo of the Ren and Du, this is where the Heat threatens the constitution.

The Shan Han Lun model can also be seen through the Luo system. This is based on the ideas of Cheng Wu-Ji on how a pathogen is given residency, and the progression is through the zones and their associated Luos. The Tai yang stage is where we get nasal congestion, a U.B. Luo symptom. The upper extremities are stiff (S.I. Luo symptom). As the Tai Yang zone discharges, the symptoms move from Excess to Deficiency: in the U.B. in the form of nasal discharge or bleeding, and in the S.I. through the bowels, pebble-like stool, there is an attempt to discharge through the bowels. The Tai Yang stage represents our refusal to acknowledge and sense (smell) or handle (with our arms) the problem (Excess) and then an attempt to discharge the problem (Deficiency signs).

Now the pathogen turns to Heat in the Yang Ming. The Stomach Luo is where we see the Heat disturbing the Shen and affecting the throat, mouth and eyes, and as it moves to the L.I. we get tooth ache, the first indication it affects the body structure. As it moves further and this zone empties itself (moving towards the Interior) we see the Deficiency symptoms of Coldness of the teeth, or inability to chew (L.I.) and weakness of the lower extremities (Stomach). Here the body is unable to be active, one is unable to move forward (leg atony) and unable to digest information (cold teeth).

When no resolution can be achieved, and all four limbs are affected (upper at the S.I. level, lower at the Stomach level), we see that the pathogen has taken residence, as the four limbs represent the place where the primary meridian system has been affected. The San Jiao Luo symptom of tight and stiff elbow, and the G.B. Luo symptom of tight and stiff lower legs represent the place where Exterior is in communication with the Interior. Now we have come to the place where we have “harmonized” the pathogen, it has become part of our lives, we start to limit our possibilities, and we develop Yin Luo vessels.

In the Tai Yin zone Luo level, we see Heat: in the Spleen Luo we see intestinal problems and discomfort, and as the Heat moves further in it depletes the Yin, and at the level of the Lung Luo we see hot palms, a Yin deficient sign. The “harmonization” of the problem has allowed it to penetrate so that it now starts to “eat” us up: first we get knotted in our abdomen and our ability to digest (that is to take in the world), and then it starts to consume the Yin.

At the level of the Shao Yin we see that the peripheral circulation is being affected, putting strain on the Heart and the Kidneys. The Heart symptom being chest pain, and the Kidney symptoms are an inability to let go of things at the level of the Lower Jiao. At this level there is an accumulation of pressure on the inside without communicating and venting off to the outside of the body.

Finally at the Jue Yin level of the Luo, we see the chest and pelvis being affected. The Pericardium symptom being stabbing pain in the chest (as in a heart attack), and the Liver symptom of itching genitalia. The pathogen has invaded the center of our emotional lives and our reproductive lives. The Heat has burnt and depleted the Blood.

The Luo Vessels representing Unacknowledged Emotions:
The Luo vessels, as carriers of Blood, represent our emotional life. However, as they also serve to buffer between Wei Qi and Ying Qi, we can take the view point that Luo vessels serve to buffer and protect the Blood level from emotions. In this case we see emotions as if they were an external pathogen moving from the Wei level to the Ying level, and on to the Yuan level. We look at the Luo vessels as a mechanism to protect or divert those emotions away so that they do not become acknowledged, in other words a mechanism to protect the Ying level, the level of cognition. Unacknowledged emotions come in three forms: moods, suppressed feelings, and repressed feeling.

A mood is and emotion that is somewhat undefined, it has no direction, for example, one can be in an angry mood, not being angry at any particular thing or person but just in a “pissed-off” mood, undirected. This is considered to be in the Wei level domain, as the emotion/mood is a way of dealing with the world, it is not controlled (that is there is no Ying Qi involvement), and it has not been internalized yet.

A suppressed emotion is an emotion that one has recognized, internalized and has made a conscious decision to put not express and put away. This is on the level of Ying Qi. Here cognition has been exercised (though the person may no longer be aware of it). We usually suppress our emotional responses in order to conform to societal dictates: here the emotion might well be felt, but the response suppressed.

Repression occurs not out of cognition or will, but as a necessary step to survive. This is beyond suppression: the emotion is being put away, not just the emotional response. Repressed emotions are on the level of the Yuan Qi for two reasons, that is the level which they threaten, and also because that is the level on which they are affecting.

One can also look at these same stages of Wei to Ying, to Yuan, as the way in which a mood turns into an emotion, and then into a psychosis.

Jeffrey Yuan suggests the use of the Luo points for the level of the emotion in conjunction with the Yang Luo of the element associated with the emotion.

The level of the emotion is represented as Wei (mood), Ying (suppression, or expressed emotion), and Yuan. Those correspond to LU7 and Liv5 for the Wei level, HT5, P.6, and SP4 for the Ying level, and Kid4 and S.J.5 for the Yuan level. The element associated with the emotion is Gall Bladder for anger, Bladder for fear, Stomach for pensiveness and worry, Small Intestine for joy, and Large Intestine for sadness and grief. Thus in treating an angry mood one might bleed (using a seven-star needle to plum-blossom) LU7 and Liv5 (to release the mood which is on the Wei level) as well as G.B.37 (the Luo of the G.B., to let go of the anger).

Diagnosis and Treatment of the Luo Channels:
The diagnosis of a particular Luo vessel is done through the symptoms presented, especially when the emotional component is predominant, and the practitioner’s understanding of the level of the problem being is predominant, and the practitioner’s understanding of the level of the problem being within the domain of the Ying Qi (cognition) being confronted/penetrated by the Wei Qi. This understanding, of course, is subjective and is obviously open to other interpretations. The Luo channels represent one model within a myriad of models. Physically, the discoloration of the veins is a key symptom: any veins which show up on the skin level along the path of a particular Luo vessel, implicate that vessel. There are no specific pulses indicative of a Luo level problem. However, Jeffrey Yuan uses the Luo points in order to communicate between organs, or to allow venting off of energy from a particular organ as determined from pulse diagnosis.

The treatment of the Luo points is traditionally bleeding. Jeffrey Yuan prefers the use of the 7-star needle rather than a lancet. When one sees blood vessels expressed on the skin, these should be plum-blossomed also. Direct moxa can also be applied on the Luo points, when the particular channel is in the Deficiency stage. The moxa is applied in order to recall the Yang Qi back to that level, and move it outwards. An example of this would be the application of direct moxa on LU7 for frequent yawning or frequent urination, signs of the Lung Luo having emptied itself.