Thursday, March 30, 2017

Publication of the second book of my blogs

I have just signed an agreement with Singing Dragon Press to publish a second book of my blogs, following on from my first book On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist.  The new book covers my blogs from January 2014 to the present.  We are calling it Blogging a Five Element Life.
I hope it will be published by the time of the BAcC Annual Conference in September, where I will be giving a talk on Saturday 23 September on the challenges and rewards of introducing Chinese acupuncturists to the practice of five element acupuncture.
I am also adding a note here to help those who come to our seminars and want to learn more about a five element approach to treatment.   At our seminars many questions are always asked about point selection.  I realise that some of you may not know that I revised and updated the second edition of my Handbook of Five Element Practice to include what I consider to be a more comprehensive discussion of the way in which we use point selection in five element acupuncture.  In particular, I added a surprisingly short list of the points I like to use.  It would be helpful for anybody trying to understand the principles behind five element point selection to familiarize themselves with the relevant chapters in this new edition of the Handbook (to be obtained from Singing Dragon Press).
At each seminar I also always emphasize my beloved mantra: “Think elements not points”, to help those who find difficulty in understanding the five element approach to point selection.
I hope everybody will have a good Easter break, and that spring will bring with it a bit more of Wood’s optimism.  


The tale of a learning support dog

This article in the Guardian made me smile, because here for once was a very cheery story on the education pages to offset the normal gloomy discussions on deficiencies in our educational system.  I learnt that “more and more schools now employ waggy-tailed staff to soothe students and even help teach them to read aloud.”

The dogs are trained by an organization called Dogs Helping Kids (DHK ) before they are handed over to a school.  Apparently the effect on children’s behaviour and learning is quite marked.  “Classroom dogs not only improve literacy skills but also have a calming effect.”  The dog “just goes to sleep and the children don’t want to wake him so they are really quiet – and these are children that do have a tendency to get a bit excited.”

One particular dog is learning how to become a “listening dog” who will help children read aloud.  “He will put his head in their lap and listen, prompting them to turn a page with his paw.”  As a result, children increase their reading levels. 

A dog’s presence in school also reduces truancy.  Children who have a poor record of attendance are allowed to take a dog for a walk with a teacher at break time.  “It makes (the children) feel quite special and their attendance has improved massively”.

What a heartening story!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Discovery of a little gem of a cake shop behind Oxford Street

One of the delights of London is how many coffee shops there are, and how often I have managed to find a new one.  As everybody who reads my blog knows, it is in coffee-shops that I do most of my writing.  To think my thoughts I need the peace of being in my own little world, with no distractions of phone or email to disturb me.  If the music is too loud, which unfortunately it often is now, one of the benefits of being hard of hearing and having to wear hearing-aids is that at a turn of a little switch I can shut all sound away, and stay cocooned in blissful silence for as long as I want.

So today I found yet another little coffee shop, or more correctly a little cake shop.  It is called The Sicilian Collection, and is at 51-51A Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JH, email 

It is run by a young Sicilian woman, Emilia Strazzanti, who has been trained in cake-making by a five-star Michelin chef.  Her beautiful cakes are certainly proof of that.  I have rarely tasted cakes which are so light to the palette, rich in taste and utterly fresh. 

At the moment the shop is tiny, with just room for a couple of people to sit inside and drink her delicious, freshly made coffee and eat a slice of her cake, and with a bench outside for when the weather gets warmer.  She told me, however, that she will soon be extending the shop to the back of the premises, where there will be tables for lunch as well as coffee and cakes.

After enjoying two cups of excellent coffee with a slice of one of her cakes, I asked for a selection of three different cakes to take away as a treat for myself.  Emilia told me they were slices of:
1.      A Sicilian hazelnut and chocolate cake, made from hazelnuts from the north of Catania
2.      A Sicilian pistachio and lemon cake with crema di pistachio from Bronte
3.      A Sicilian almond cake with almonds from Val di Noto
I left her little shop with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Article for Chinese Culture Research Society of Singapore

Below is an article about five element acupuncture which an acupuncturist who comes to my seminars in China has asked me to write for the Chinese Culture Research Society of Singapore.  I am happy to include it in my blog as it provides a very general overview of my thinking about five element acupuncture.

                                   What is five element acupuncture?
Five element acupuncture is a branch of traditional acupuncture which is based on an understanding of the five elements contained in the Nei Jing and handed down over the centuries.  It recognizes that the five elements shape each human being, putting the stamp of one of them in particular on each of us.  I call this the guardian element.  It also goes by the name of the constitutional element.   I see it as protecting us when we are in balance, but can cause imbalance when it is under stress from some physical illness or emotional disturbance.

This element is regarded as the dominant element out of the five.  It dictates how we look, giving us a colour on our skin (not a racial colour), how we talk, giving us the sound of our voice, how we smell, giving our skin a certain smell, and the emotion which rules our life, such as joy or anger.  All these qualities of the elements are those listed in the Nei Jing and are still relevant today. In five element acupuncture they are used diagnostically to help us treat a patient and restore them to health.

A five element diagnosis is therefore based on what our senses can perceive:  the patient’s colour, smell, sound of voice and emotion.  Students spend a great deal of time developing these skills by training their senses.  We know that babies are born with very sensitive senses, but as we grow older we lose much of this sensitivity because we do not practise using our senses.  Some of these senses therefore become less acute over time through lack of use, and we forget to pay attention to what they are telling us.  We put perfume on our bodies to hide our natural smell, and put make-up on to hide our natural skin colour.  Some people can, however, continue to develop very great sensitivity to one sense or another.  For example, I have a nearly blind patient who tells me that she knows by a person’s smell whether that person is friendly to her or not.  A singing teacher will obviously have a highly developed appreciation of the quality of a person’s voice.
We obviously use our emotions every day, but because we are social creatures and have had to learn to live among many other people with their own needs and desires, we have learnt to suppress many of our natural emotional responses.  Society is also uncomfortable if emotions are expressed too openly.  For example, children are often told by their parents to be friendly and kind to other children, and they soon learn to be careful to suppress their natural anger, and not hit another child if it takes their toys.  In fact, children are often told not to express any emotion too strongly.  This means that some of these emotions are not allowed their natural outlet, and are forced to stay hidden inside us.
Some of this suppression of our emotions is a natural result of having to live in harmony with our fellow human beings, but if emotions are suppressed too much or for too long they can put great pressure upon us, and in particular upon the guardian element.  And this is where the five element acupuncturist, trained to observe changes in the sensory signals from the patient, will assess how far what he/she observes reflects a particular element in balance or out of balance.  These changes can be very subtle to start with.  That is why a five element practitioner takes time getting to know their patients, asking them about all the stresses in their life, both in the past and in the present, and through this questioning tries to work out which element of the five is the dominant element.
The understanding in five element acupuncture is that it is weaknesses in this element which lead to the appearance of physical and emotional problems.  Treatment directed at strengthening the element will give renewed strength and balance, and help the patient deal with the stresses which have led to imbalance.  We therefore place great importance on the relationship between the patient and the practitioner, because it is by establishing a good relationship that the patient will feel safe enough with us to take off the social mask we all have to put on in our everyday lives, and show the real nature of who they are and what their problems really are.  And it is by allowing the patient to relax with us that the guardian element shows itself most clearly.  Then the practitioner can judge from the sensory signals which this element is sending out what treatment the patient needs.  For example, a Fire patient’s face may be too red, or a Metal patient may appear to be excessively sad.

Treatment is always focussed on strengthening the guardian element.  It takes time, however, to confirm whether the element we have chosen is the correct one.  It is only by assessing the results of treatment, particularly patients’ own judgement as to whether their emotional and physical health is improving, that the practitioner can be sure that the diagnosis is correct.  It therefore takes courage to be a five element acupuncturist, because no textbook can tell you which element you need to treat.  The important thing I always tell students is “Don’t hurry. Don’t worry”.  Practitioners need to give themselves time to make the correct diagnosis.

Anybody interested in learning more about five element acupuncture will find it helpful to read my Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture and my Handbook of Five Element Practice, both of which books are now available in a Chinese edition.  My other three books are available only in English, but are being translated at the moment, and will soon also be published in China.

My great acupuncture master, Professor J R Worsley, always told us that everybody should study the elements, and start to learn to recognize them in all the people around them.  Understanding the different qualities of the elements helps us become more tolerant of each other, and makes the world a happier place.  For me it is one of the delights of being a five element practitioner that I can help people to a greater understanding of others, and thus make their lives and the lives of their family members and friends more contented.




Monday, March 13, 2017

Oh dear! Oh dear! I find that I am addicted!

I am reading a fascinating book by Adam Alter:  Irresistible: Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching, about our obsession with our smartphones, our emails, our endless Twitter twittering and our fascination with Youtube. 

It makes for a sobering read, none more so than when we are told that leaving a very young child unsupervised in front of those children’s gadgets which transfix a child’s eyes for hours, but deprive it all too quickly of the ability to look people in the eye, actually damages their little brains.  Even something so harmless as talking to a child on Skype reduces the importance of eye-to-eye contact because the child cannot apparently pitch its eyes at the right level on the screen to evoke the kind of immediate response it looks for in the presence of another person.

Not being a two-year old, why did I come to the depressing conclusion that I, too, was addicted, but what to?  Of course it is to my emails, the only bit of electronic equipment I use.  I have, reluctantly, accepted the need for a Facebook account to pass on my blogs to a wider audience;   I can go for days without looking at it.  But I am, I now realise, hooked on checking to see if any new emails have arrived, so worried I apparently am with the need to answer them immediately, as though not doing so is impolite.

From reading this book I gather that this is a definite sign of an addiction.  I don’t have a smartphone so I can only check up on my emails when I am physically sitting in front of my computer, ready to tap away on a large keyboard with an old-fashioned mouse to hand.  Having now counted up how often I find myself returning to the computer when I am at home, and realising that my first action on coming back home is always to hurry to turn it back on again, I acknowledge that I do have as much a problem as if I had immediately to grab a glass of wine if I was a heavy drinker.  It may not be as harmful to my health as drinking too much, but it is probably as harmful to my peace of mind in its own way, because each email demands something of me, and often these demands are worrying or disturbing.  I am as much in thrall to this wretchedly addictive piece of equipment as anyone hooked to chatting endlessly on Twitter.

Of course, it is not only me, but all those countless others I see in the street or in cafes, their fingers twitching away at their smart phones, their eyes unable to look away to see the world around them, so busy are they scrolling up and down looking for God knows what.

I know that those emailing me can wait a few more hours or even a few more days for an answer from me, so I am resolved to watch myself now and reduce those compulsive excursions of mine to sit in front of the computer.  Let’s see whether I can manage this!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The effect of clearing a CV/GV (Ren Mai/Du Mai) block

I love hearing patients’ descriptions of how specific treatments make them feel.  Here is a lovely testimonial to the power of clearing a CV/GV block:

I feel that this experience has allowed the real essence of who I am to emerge.  For the first time in my life I feel that the real me has arrived.”

I don’t think you can have a more powerful statement explaining the effect of removing this major block to the healthy flow of the elements.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Something new I have just learnt about the Small Intestine

A patient whose guardian element is Inner Fire (Small Intestine) delighted me this week when she said, rather sadly:  “I run on my thoughts.  Other people seem to run on their emotions.”

Cars run on petrol, lorries on diesel, and she recognizes that she “runs on thoughts”. 

Yes, I thought to myself, that is an excellent description of what powers the Small Intestine.  It always has to think everything through, sorting and sorting its thoughts out to make sure that its companion official, the Heart, receives good advice.  I have described the Small Intestine official as acting as the Heart’s secretary, often doing its deep thinking for it, and then passing on what it hopes are only pure thoughts to the master of all, the Heart.

This is how I have learnt to distinguish Inner from Outer Fire, which is never an easy distinction to make.  If you think a patient is Fire, ask them some rather complicated question, and watch how they try to answer it.  Inner Fire often looks slightly puzzled, frowning a little as it tries first to take in what you are asking, and then start sorting out its reply to your question.  There will always be signs of a kind of slight hesitation, as if the answer is not easy to find, and the reply may sound slightly confusing, as though the patient is still sorting out what to say as they talk. 

Outer Fire, on the other hand, will tend to give a more straightforward answer, and one which is much less involved in its own thought processes.
Being an Inner Fire person myself, I have often said that I sort my thoughts out as I talk.  And now, hearing what my patient said, I agree that I, too, run on my thoughts.



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The taking of "selfies"

The following is a quotation from a book I am reading at the moment.  It is a detective story, and its author has many interesting insights into life.  The book is called Death in the Tuscan Hills by Marco Vichi.  Here he is describing somebody who is leafing through a photo album.
He retired to the kitchen with a box of old family photos…..Photos were ruthless.  They showed moments lost for ever, people long since dead.  They were an attempt to cheat death, a painful illusion, and looking at them made one more aware than ever that time was a mystery.
After looking at them all one by one, he closed the box of memories with a sigh.”
Perhaps, indeed, people’s recent mania for the constant taking of photos, usually of themselves, rather than giving themselves time to observe life at first-hand through their own eyes, is part of an attempt to ”cheat death”, to re-assure ourselves that we are alive.  I observe with some incredulity and much sadness this endless taking of photos, the living of life at one remove which this represents.  So many pieces of electronic equipment, such as smart phones with their numerous gadgets, now put a barrier up between people and the world around them.  I wonder what effect this is having on our personal relationships.
I was also saddened recently to hear that, far from connecting people to one another, as Facebook is intended to do, it can have just the opposite effect, that of isolating people.  I have been told that young girls can now spend hours alone in their rooms taking photo upon photo of themselves until they are satisfied with the one they eventually feel is good enough to send out to the world as their image of themselves.  This is more a case of a disconnect from the world rather than a closer connection to it.



Friday, January 20, 2017

Being incurably curious

I have just passed a lovely sign on the outside of the Wellcome Collection in the Marylebone Road here in London.  Appropriately for its name and for what the Wellcome Collection does, which is focused on medicine and helping the ill, it says in bold letters “Welcome to the Incurably Curious”.  On the bus ride back home I decided that it would be good to adopt this as my own catchphrase, but with a slight modification.  I would amend it slightly to read “Welcome to the Curably Curious”, in honour of my calling as an acupuncturist, because it is our curiosity, in five element terms, which, far from “killing the cat” as the saying goes, helps us to cure.

And curiosity is what we need, an infinite dose of it throughout every minute of our working lives to help us understand our patients better and through this understanding restore them to good health.

I have always been incurably curious, from childhood onwards, staring unashamedly at people to try and fathom what makes them tick and how they relate to others.  I think people have always at some level puzzled me, challenging my Small Intestine to understand what is going on in another person at every new encounter.  I suppose it was therefore only natural that I would eventually gravitate towards a calling which feeds my desire to explore the intricacies of human relationships, however late in my life this was, for I only started practising acupuncture in my mid-40’s, exactly at the midpoint of my life when viewed from my present standpoint.  I am a living example of the dictum that it is never too late to change the direction of one’s life, and that it is often only by passing through the dark days that light begins to shine through.

For I came across acupuncture, or as I like to think somewhat fancifully, acupuncture found me, at a crossroads in my life, with the early part of my adult life, that of being wife and mother, almost behind me, and the next part hidden behind what seemed to me to be an impenetrable fog.  So the moment when I encountered acupuncture for the first time surprised me with its rightness;  it opened a door wide on to a completely new vision of life which has fascinated me, occupied me and preoccupied me ever since.

As a coda to this blog, I have just read the following passage in a book by Barney Norris called Five Rivers meet on a Wooded Plain (a lovely title in itself). This seems to me to describe very acutely what intrigues me so much about encountering other people:

“So I love watching the way another person holds themselves when they are alone and thinking.  Their actions and postures are windows into the vast and secret worlds below the surface of the day around me, the lives of others.” 

I love the thought of those “vast and secret worlds” which surround me.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An interesting treatment

A question:  if you are a five element acupuncturist and a patient comes to you with the following medical history, how would you start your treatment, particularly if the timescale is very short?  My patient was only in this country for a further week, was then flying to France for two more weeks, followed by another stay of a few weeks in London before finally returning to her home country at the other end of the world, with no five element acupuncturist within living distance.  

Here first is my patient’s medical history, which she has given me permission to write about.  She is a 70 year old woman, who had breast cancer 20 years ago, and had her left breast removed.  She refused to have chemo- or radiotherapy at the time, but has done other kinds of more natural treatments which she feels have helped her.  She developed cancer of the uterus and stomach about 10 years ago, had a full hysterectomy and was given 6 months to live.

Her most severe current problem is a blocked artery under the left arm.  She has been told that she is now at very high risk of a stroke. Her left arm swells up badly very frequently.  She also has very severe constipation, vertigo and panic attacks.

What do we do if we only have such a short time in which to treat?  We all learnt as students that we should gradually build up our patients’ energy by slow and steady treatment on what we have diagnosed as the guardian element.  That means an average of about 6 – 10 weekly treatments to start with.  This gives us time not only to get to know the patient but to assess whether the element we have chosen to treat is effecting the required level of change which confirms our diagnosis.  Should we then accept to help a patient when we have only a much reduced timescale to work with?

This is a dilemma which many of us have to learn to face, particularly in such a frenzied world where our patients are often away on business flying from country to country.  There will be many other reasons, too, why patients are unable to grant themselves the luxury of having the regular treatments needed.  So what do we do?  The simplest thing for me might have been to say I could not help  the patient because there was not enough time to treat her properly.  Experience has however taught me how effective a simple AE drain can be, even if there is little time to do much more.  Often I have found a surprising improvement in pulse qualities after removing the AE needles, even when I have found no AE. I see this as the elements giving a sigh of relief at being addressed, as though they know that help is on its way.

This was true for this particular patient, too.  She had no AE, somewhat surprisingly I felt after all the major surgical procedures she had undergone, but her pulses changed quite dramatically.  From feeling very uneven and jerky to me, they stabilized themselves before I did any other treatment.

If there is nobody apart from us who can offer the five element treatment which a patient asks us for, and that patient is in great need of help, as my patient is, then I think we have to tell ourselves that surely some treatment, however little, is better than none.  We have to be brave enough, as well, to adapt our treatment protocols which we learnt as students, and do whatever we think it is safe to do in the little time granted to us.  In other words, we have to take some short-cuts, something that is only advisable in these kind of cases.  This has to be done on the understanding that we must not be lulled into introducing similar short-cuts into our everyday practice, a temptation we might feel because we may think that we can speed up treatment in this way.  All of us in the world today, patients and practitioners alike, are always in a hurry and like to cut corners unless we take care not to.

Treatment given:
I am listing the following treatments with the above strict proviso.  These are the two treatments I was able to give my patient before she left London yesterday (all points with moxibustion and all tonified, except, of course, the AE needles).  She did not want me to needle her on her left arm, so all points on the arm were only needled on the right side.
Based on meeting her socially on a few occasions before she came for treatment, my diagnosis was that she was Outer Fire (Heart Protector and Three Heater).
Treatment 1:  Checked for IDs.  No treatment for this needed
                      Checked for AE:  None          
                      IV (Ki) 24  (I would not normally do this point at the first treatment, but she had gone through so much over the years, that I thought she needed this kind of spiritual resurrection which the point offers)
VI (TH) 4, V (HP) 7:  Source points, with moxa. (We were told by JR Worsley that we could use moxa on these points only after 2 years in practice. He said that novice acupuncturists have a tendency to leave the moxa burning for too long on the cones, which is dangerous over an artery)

Treatment 2:  Patient told me that she had felt very good indeed on the day of the treatment, and had had a surprising amount of energy the next day.

No blocks found (no H/W, no E/E blocks)
III (Bl) 38 (43): A point which reaches every cell in the body
III (Bl) 22, 14 (Normally we would wait a little longer to needle the AEPs (back shu points), and simply do III 38 at this treatment)  
VI (TH) 3 (tonification point)

* Patient suddenly said that she was experiencing one of her panic
attacks, and had to rush off to open her bowels. I talked gently to her to calm her down, and asked what she felt she was most frightened of.  She said that it was fearing that her partner might die before she did.  She had witnessed the death of a close member of the family at first-hand a few years earlier, and could not forget the trauma of this. 

I then needled I (Ht) 7 as a first-aid point, to help calm the Heart.  She recovered quickly and was happy for me to continue treatment.  I finished by needling the remaining tonification point on the Heart Protector:

V (HP) 9

She looked very peaceful as she left, and phoned me the next day before going to the airport.  She had slept for a full 10 hours after the treatment, and felt totally refreshed.

Treatment 3 will be in a few weeks’ time.  My suggestions to myself for the next treatment are:

Checking for blocks (of course!)
CV 8 or 14 (CV 14 addresses greater deficiency of the spirit than does CV 8.  Which point I choose will depend on how she is when I see her next)
VI (TH) 6, V (HP) 8 (horary points at horary time), or if that time is not possible, then:
VI (TH) 10, V (HP) 7.  I always remember JR saying that VI 10 Heavenly Well is a “much under-used point”, which is why I like to use it.  And which Fire person would not like to take a dip in a Heavenly Well? 

I think this sequence of two treatments is a good example of my dictum:  “The simpler the better”.  Just because somebody has been very ill, and even now is not out of danger does not mean that we should forget the basic rule of our practice, which is to do as little as possible, and give the elements the chance to do their work without too much interference from us.

(With apologies for the formatting errors in this blog.  My computer seems to have developed a mind of its own, and I don't want to waste any more time trying to correct things.)