Friday, February 24, 2012

Using our two hands

I have recently been thinking about the question of why some branches of acupuncture have taught their acupuncturists to use two hands to needle and to take pulses, and why others prefer just one.  In five element acupuncture, or at least certainly how I was taught all those years back at JR Worsley’s college in Leamington, we use both hands in both cases.  Thinking about why this should be so, I decided to observe myself closely during my own practice to see how I felt about what I now do so automatically, and why I find great satisfaction in using both hands.

It isn’t just because this is the way I was taught, although of course the comfort of an old habit is part of this.  The main reason, I think, is because it feels good to me to enclose the needle in both hands as I guide it to the points.  In doing this, I also maintain a comfortable contact with my patient’s body.  In taking pulses, too, both of my hands take my patient’s hand and hold it against my body.  I am using both hands to convey as sensitive and warm a touch as I can.

Pulse-taking and needling done in this way encompass something much more than just making physical contact to obtain some diagnostic information. It is possible to approach the skin with a needle without any of our fingers actually making contact with our patient’s body, and pulses can be taken in a purely physical way, as we know from our visits to a doctor’s surgery.  Here there is no intention to convey anything through touch itself, which is so different from the importance five element acupuncture places on conveying warmth and comfort through our hands.  As I observe the one-handed way of taking pulses or needling it always feels to me as if practitioners are holding the other hand well away from their patient as though to distance themselves from what they are doing.

Our hands can and should be able to convey protection, love or respect, still anger and calm fear, the five dominant emotions our treatments are trying to restore to balance.  And they should continue to do this whenever we touch our patient’s body, whether to take pulses or to needle or simply to make warm contact.

So each time I needle or take a pulse I am offering something which, though apparently purely physical in nature, becomes something much deeper if coming from my heart.  Anybody hoping to make closer contact with the elements in their patients, and at the moment practising one-handed acupuncture, may consider taking their courage literally in both hands, and decide to learn to use both as a further expression of their care for their patients.

At a slightly different level, I shudder internally as I watch people needling a II-III (SI-Bl) block or a X-XI (Co-St) block on points around the eyes without tethering the patient’s head with both hands, and making sure exactly where the eyeball is.  What if the patient jolts their head, I think – and it can happen! And the reason I have heard practitioners give for not needling these points is precisely this fear. Using both hands reassures both patients and practitioners.

We are given two hands with which to embrace people, to cook with, to use a computer with, to drive a car with, why then do we cut ourselves so unnecessarily in half when we needle and take pulses?  

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