Measurements of long-lived trace gases (SF.sub.6, CFC-11, CFC-12, HCFC-22, CCl.sub.4, N.sub.2 O, CH.sub.4, H.sub.2 O, and CO) performed with the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) have been used to infer the stratospheric and mesospheric meridional circulation. The MIPAS data set covers the time period from July 2002 to April 2012. The method used for this purpose was the direct inversion of the two-dimensional continuity equation for the concentrations of trace gases and air density. This inversion predicts an "effective velocity" that gives the best fit for the evolution of the concentrations on the assumption that an explicit treatment of Fickian diffusion can be neglected. These effective velocity fields are used to characterize the mean meridional circulation. Multiannual monthly mean effective velocity fields are presented, along with their variabilities. According to this measure, the stratospheric circulation is found to be highly variable over the year, with a quite robust annual cycle. The new method allows us to track the evolution of various circulation patterns over the year in more detail than before. According to the effective velocity characterization of the circulation, the deep branch of the Brewer-Dobson circulation and the mesospheric overturning pole-to-pole circulation are not separate but intertwined phenomena. The latitude of stratospheric uplift in the middle and upper stratosphere is found to be quite variable and is not always found at equatorial latitudes. The usual schematic of stratospheric circulation with the deep and the shallow branch of the Brewer-Dobson circulation and the mesospheric overturning circulation is an idealization which best describes the observed atmosphere around equinox. Sudden stratospheric warmings and the quasi-biennial oscillation cause a pronounced year-to-year variability of the meridional circulation.