Introduction to the Governing Vessel

Du Meridian chart
Courtesy of AcuPro Academy (

The body’s meridian system—the network through which subtle energy (qi) flows—is comprised of the Twelve Main Meridians and the Eight Extraordinary Meridians.

Among the Eight Extraordinary Meridian, only two—the Du Mai and the Ren Mai—have their own acupuncture points. For this reason, they are sometimes considered part of the main meridian system. (The other six Extraordinary Meridians share points with the main meridian system, including the Ren and Du.) Along with containing powerful acupuncture points, the Du Mai (Governing Vessel) and Ren Mai (Conception Vessel) are central to qigong practice, as the foundation for the Microcosmic Orbit. This essay will introduce the basic characteristics of the Du Meridian.

Pathway of the Governing Vessel

The primary pathway of the Du Meridian has its origin deep within the lower abdomen (i.e. in the area of the lower dantian). It emerges to the surface of the body at DU1 (at the root of the spine, midway between the tip of the coccyx and the anus) and then ascends along the midline of the sacrum and through the interior of the spinal column. At the nape of the neck, one branch enters the brain and emerges at DU20 (Bai Hui, at the crown of the head), and another continues along the back of the skull, reuniting with the first branch at DU20. From the crown of the head, the channel descends along the midline of the forehead and nose to its final point, DU26, at the junction of the upper lip and gum.

As is the case with all of the meridians, the Du Mai has various secondary branches. One of its secondary branches originates in the lower abdomen (as does its primary pathway), circles the external genitalia, then ascends to the navel region, continues to ascend to pass through the heart, circles the mouth and the splits to ascend to the lower border of the two eyes.

Another secondary branch begins at the inner canthus of the eye (BL1), flows up to the crown of the head where it enters the brain and then emerges at the nape of the neck, and then descends on either side and parallel to the spine (along the Bladder Meridian) to then enter the kidneys.

The Governing Vessel (Du Mai) and Qigong Practice

In relation to qigong practice, the trajectory of the Du Meridian is interesting on several accounts, which I’ll just point to briefly here:

(1) While its main pathway ascends within the spinal column, one of its secondary branches ascends along the front of the torso, on a trajectory quite similar to that of the Ren Meridian—illustrating the principle of yin-within-yang and flirting already with the circular flow of the Microcosmic Orbit.

(2) The channel enters both the Heart and the Brain, thus establishing a pathway link between the two main organs understood as the residence of spirit (which are functionally merged within the notion of HeartMind).

(3) The branches of the Du Mai enter both the heart—associated with the fire element—and the kidneys—associated with the water element. The heart/kidney fire/water axis is a central one, in qigong as well as acupuncture practice, e.g. in Kan & Li practices.

Though the Du Meridian is considered the most yang of meridians, and the Ren Meridian the most yin of meridians, if we take into account not only their main pathways but also their various branches, we find that, already, the two meridians—in their balanced, healthy states—are functioning in a way quite similar to the interpenetrating and cyclic flowing of the Microcosmic Orbit.

As the great 16th-century Chinese acupuncturist/herbalist Li Shi-Zhen writes:

”The Conception and Governing vessels are like midnight and midday, they are the polar axis of the body ... there is one source and two branches, one goes to the front and the other to the back of the body ... When we try to divide these, we see that yin and yang are inseparable. When we try to see them as one, we see that it is an indivisible whole.”

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Your Citation
Reninger, Elizabeth. "Introduction to the Governing Vessel." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Reninger, Elizabeth. (2023, April 5). Introduction to the Governing Vessel. Retrieved from Reninger, Elizabeth. "Introduction to the Governing Vessel." Learn Religions. (accessed May 29, 2023).