Acupressure Treasures - Zu San Li - Stomach 36

Zu San Li (ST 36), a therapeutic point propagated for regular moxibustion by the Japanese physician Dr. Hara Shimetaro (1882-1991) as an effective method to stimulate the immunesystem. From: Saishin kyūryō hōten, Shufu no tomo sha, 1941
By WolfgangMichel (Own work) [ CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Zu San Li - The Rock-Star Of The Meridian System

Perhaps the most heralded of all acupuncture points -- truly the “rock-star” of the meridian system -- is Zu San Li: the 36th point on the Stomach meridian. Zu San Li -- which translates into English as “Leg Three Li” -- derives its name from the legend according to which a weary traveler (during the time when travel was predominantly on foot) who stimulated Zu San Li would then be energized enough to be able easily to journey an additional three li: the equivalent of about a mile.

In Chinese, there’s another “Li” -- a homonym to the first Li, but corresponding to a different character -- whose meaning is “to regulate or rectify.” This points to the capacity of ST36 to regulate the functioning of the Spleen and Stomach organ systems; to regulate Qi and Blood; and to regulate the three dantian (i.e. “three burners”) -- all of which goes far in accounting for the point’s capacity to provide the juice for that additional three li of foot-travel.

Along with the general function of strengthening deficiency conditions -- by regulating the Spleen and Stomach, as well as the Qi and Blood -- Zu San Li is used, more specifically, to alleviate a host of digestive and other maladies, including: gastric pain, vomiting, indigestion, hiccups, abdominal distention, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation, pain in knee joint or leg, asthma, cough, dizziness and insomnia.

Zu San Li is located just below the knee, in the flesh just to the outside of the shinbone, and is very easy to apply acupressure to.

A little trickier is actually locating the point precisely, so we’ll take it step by step.

The official location of ST36 (Leg Three Li) is: three cun below the lower border of the patella (the depression just lateral to the patellar tendon), one finger-breadth lateral to the anterior crest of the tibia.

(Sounds a bit daunting, but not to worry -- after figuring it out for the first time, it’s really quite simple.)

The Cun - Unit Of Measurement

A cun is a unit of measurement used in acupuncture. It’s sometimes translated as an “inch” -- though shouldn’t be taken literally to mean one inch as found, say, on a standard ruler or a tape measure. The precise distance of a “cun” is relative to the body of the person whose acupuncture point is going to be located. In other words, my “cun” and your “cun” will not be exactly the same distance.

The distance of “three cun” (which we need to locate ST36) is the distance, on your body, from the outside of your first finger to the outside of your pinky finger, when the fingers are extended, and pressed gently together. In other words, it’s the distance across your four fingers (minus the thumb) at their middle joint. It’s this distance that is going to function as your tape measure, in order to locate Zu San Li.

How To Locate Zu San Li - ST36

With your knee slightly hinged, and your leg relaxed, locate the lower border of your knee-cap, and in particular the two small “dimples” on either side of the thick central tendon. Our starting point for locating ST36 is going to be the outer of those two dimples -- the one closest to the outer edge of your leg.

Using your four-finger “tape measure” (which equals three cun), place the outer edge of your first finger in that dimple near the bottom edge of your kneecap -- letting the other fingers fold down onto your shin-bone. Notice where the outer edge of your pinky falls, i.e. where the other end of the “tape-measure” falls. Zu San Li is at exactly that level on your leg -- just one finger-breadth lateral to (outside of) the pointy ridge of your shin.

Acupressure At Leg Three Li

Once you’ve located ST36, on one leg or on both legs simultaneously, use whichever finger feels best to apply moderate to deep pressure, in a tiny circular motion, for as long as you would like (start with 2-3 minutes). Notice how you feel. An acupressure protocol which combines Zu San Li ST36 with He Gu LI4 is a wonderful way to fortify and move the Qi of the entire body: a great alternative to that extra cup of midday coffee!