Friday, June 14, 2019

Another happy SOFEA seminar day on 9 June

People tell me that I never like to trumpet the successes of what our little band of dedicated five element acupuncturists do to promote the calling that we love.  So this blog is my attempt to make good this fault a little.  It has been promoted by the following two lovely compliments we received from attendees at our London seminar last weekend:

I was truly starving for 5 Element teaching after 10 years not being in the UK for extra courses. So that was why my smile was from ear to ear for most of the day. Tears because of coming home again in this BEAUTIFUL 5 Element world.

I want to wish you (Guy) and Nora all the best and hope to meet you one day again.”
“It was wonderful to be amongst like-minded folk and I really appreciate the feedback on my patients from a ‘fresh pair of eyes’.  I’m sure both patients will continue to do well with their treatments”.
As usual, Guy and I emerged from the day re-inspired from our day-long immersion in the world of the elements with a group of like-minded acupuncturists, acupuncture students and those just keen to learn more about the elements.  This time we saw four patients brought by some of those attending;  we helped with their diagnosis and supervised treatments for each of them.  We were delighted that the group understood that they need not be concerned about “getting the element right”, but instead have learnt to accept that this always takes time, remembering my mantra “Don’t hurry!  Don’t worry!”
We have devised a very useful way of helping with the diagnosis by asking the group whether they feel the patient makes the energy in the room go up, go down or “neither up nor down”, as the good old Duke of York says in the nursery rhyme.  Up is obviously more yang (therefore Wood or Fire), down more yin (therefore Metal or Water) and in-between is more likely to be Earth.  We have found this a surprisingly accurate way of discarding some elements and emphasizing the one or two the patient may be.  Usually the majority in the room, even among the 300 or more in China and the lesser number in this country, experience the same effect of a patient’s energy upon them.  This simple method by itself usually reduces the potential number of elements to choose from five down to two, or at most three, always a helpful way to start our diagnosis.
Our next London seminar on 29 September is now fully booked, with a waiting list, but there are still a few places left for our spring 2020 seminar on Sunday 9 February.  Booking forms can be downloaded from our website:





Saturday, June 8, 2019

My review of Professor Liu Lihong's book: Classical Chinese Medicine

Published by The Chinese University Press
The Chinese University of Hong Kong 2019
I would like to start my review of Liu Lihong’s book with the words with which he ends it:

"Why is this book titled “Contemplating Chinese Medicine” in Chinese? What is it that we are contemplating? It is nothing other than these underlying principles, nothing other than the mysteries of nature and life as deciphered through the orientations of time.”  

Liu Lihong was the person who invited me eight years ago to come to China to give an introductory seminar on five element acupuncture, and has since then steadfastly promoted five element acupuncture as a valid discipline of traditional Chinese medicine.  It was therefore a lovely moment of recognition for these years of my work in China since then to read the following in Heiner Fruehauf’s introduction:
…”Liu Lihong has developed the Institute (for the Clinical Research of Classical Chinese Medicine) into an influential platform that has reintroduced multiple classical lineages to contemporary scholarly discourse, most notably the Fire Spirit School of Sichuan herbalism (huoshen pai), the traditional system of emotional healing synthesized by the Confucian educator Wang Fengyi (1864-1937), and classical five-element-style acupuncture. Each one of these efforts has had a considerable impact on the grassroots momentum of Chinese Medicine education in China.”
Joyful at thus seeing evidence of the importance of my work in China, I was delighted at last to be able to read the book which was the catalyst those eight years ago for Mei Long to write to Liu Lihong, urging him to acquaint himself with this discipline of traditional Chinese medicine, one which she recognized was very close to his own approach.  It has been with much surprise and delight now to receive confirmation that all that I was taught by the great master of five element acupuncture, JR Worsley himself, all that I have since learnt for myself and from my readings of the classics through translations by Father Larre and Elisabeth Rochat, all of this finds strong, almost eerie echoes in what Liu Lihong writes.

Though the book includes much detailed discussion of herbal remedies, since Liu Lihong is a herbalist, I have come to regard it much more as a profound philosophical exposition of Chinese thought, and it could well have been entitled Classical Chinese Philosophy.  Certainly the profound insights about Dao, yin yang and the five elements, which are the main emphasis of the book, also form the bedrock of my five element practice.  In particular, he emphasizes, as JR Worsley always did, the importance of regarding ourselves as embedded in nature.  As he says:

“When discussing Chinese Medicine, the backdrop of the natural world cannot be forgotten. If you have a thorough understanding of the natural world, your foundation in Chinese Medicine will be sound and your understanding can progress.”(p. 375)

Of the many insights I gained from my reading of this book, none impressed me more than the clarity with which he compares traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medicine, clearly seeing that they spring from different approaches which cannot be melded together into one system as so many people now attempt to do.  Instead he regards them as complementing each other, provided that their fundamental differences are acknowledged.  For instance he writes:

“Western Medicine is clearly biased towards objectivity rather than subjectivity…..Chinese Medicine is vastly different in this respect and places great emphasis on the subjective experience.” (p.262)

I also find the humility he shows in relation to his own understanding of his discipline quite startling and very impressive, such is his respect for his masters whose influence on his development he acknowledges.  I always feel that teachers who are not afraid to know that they have more to learn are the ones I can truly learn from.

And here I encounter a slight problem, for though, quite rightly, he claims that the best, if not the only true way of learning is to sit at the feet of an acknowledged master of whatever discipline we wish to practice (and did I not do exactly that when I was fortunate enough to find my way to JR Worsley?), how are we to find such masters in a world, as he says, where institutionalized classroom learning is valued more highly than the kind of personal transmission from master to pupil?  And even more pertinently, where are the great clinical teachers without which there can be no transmission of such profound age-old disciplines?  Liu Lihong, too, is also deeply concerned about the increasing depletion in the number of those who have sufficient clinical experience to warrant being given the name of masters of their discipline, whilst there are ever-increasing numbers of those eager to learn from such masters.

This is something I have had to struggle with during my time in China, for I often ask myself how can I and my small cohort of two other five element teachers, Guy Caplan and Mei Long, alone pass on as much as we can in the form of personal transmission through our seminars to as many people as we can.  It is with great relief, therefore, that, thanks to Liu Lihong’s efforts and that of those working at his Tong You San He foundation, I can at last be reassured that there is an ever-larger group of Chinese five element teachers who can now pass on their understanding of five element practice to others.

The world needs people of vision, such as Liu Lihong, and I am honoured to have been able to work with and for him.  I am profoundly grateful that my efforts to re-introduce five element acupuncture to the country of its birth have been recognized by him as making a significant contribution to his work in so firmly and courageously ensuring that classical Chinese medicine, including five element acupuncture, now takes its rightful place at the forefront of modern medicine as a profound medical discipline in its own right.

Finally, I want to express my admiration for the team of translators, led by the book’s editor, Heiner Fruehauf, who have made such a tremendous job of creating an English version which reads so beautifully and eloquently.  As a former translator in another life, and still a translator from French into English of Elisabeth Rochat’s work, I appreciate from a very personal point of view the many hours, days and weeks of hard work such an excellent translation would have demanded.



Thursday, May 16, 2019

More on Entry/Exit blocks

I do not myself rely only on my pulse-taking to help me diagnose a block of any kind. As I have said on many occasions, pulse-taking is a very complex art, much more complex than I think we like to admit to ourselves.  In effect we are attempting to read the state of the five different elements and their 12 officials with what I always like to think of as the rather blunt instruments of our finger-tips.  Of course we get more adept at doing this as the years pass, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned comparing JR Worsley’s pulse-readings with my own, even after I had been more than 3 years in practice (plus 3 undergraduate years training myself to read thousands of pulses). 

He would tell me one of my patients had an Entry/Exit block or a Husband/Wife block when I simply could not feel this.  Conversely, what I rather simplistically thought to be some kind of a block would turn out not to be that.  In other words the delicate art of accurate pulse-reading was something I realised would take me many years to learn.  And in the meantime I realised that I had to look for other indications in patients which would help me suspect the presence of a block.  It is always good to remember, too, that it never matters if we try to clear a block of any kind, from Possession to a simple Entry/Exit block, if the block is not there.  It is then only like trying to open a door which is already open.  So it is better to err on the side of treating for a block even if unsure of its presence, rather than ignoring what might be a block.   

Since I am always somewhat suspicious of the accuracy of my pulse readings, I like to supplement what I think they are telling me with what I see as corroborating physical or other evidence of a block’s presence.  If energy is blocked, such blocks can occur at any level of body, mind or spirit.  In the case of a Husband/Wife block, for example, we must never forget that this represents an attack upon the Heart, and a patient must be showing signs of some desperation, of almost wanting to give up.  They may not articulate this in words, and some may like to hide their despair, but as good five element acupuncturists we should always be looking below the surface to see what is really going on deep inside a patient.  Unexpected outbursts of anger or irritation, too, are therefore as much pointers to a block involving the Wood element, as feeling that there is excess or lack of energy in the Wood pulses.  Over the years I have observed many physical and emotional indicators which may suggest the presence of an Entry/Exit block to help me supplement what the pulses tell me.  You can read more fully about these in my Handbook of Five Element Practice.

It is very rare to find an Entry/Exit block between the two paired officials within an element.  In all the many years in which I observed JR Worsley taking pulses, I never once heard him say that he had found such a block.  In fact, I remember quite clearly his telling us that the yin and yang officials try as hard as possible to share their energy in order to bring harmony to their element.  This is why he said we should always start by treating both yin and yang officials equally within any treatment.  Even when he diagnosed a patient as having the Gall Bladder rather than the Liver as their Guardian Official, we should not neglect the Liver.  And as I am still not sure of my ability to diagnose which official is the dominant one, I therefore continue to treat both yin and yang officials.

The only exception is when I diagnose Inner Fire, and specifically therefore the Small Intestine, where I try as far as possible to concentrate treatment upon the many Small Intestine points, having been told early on in my training that the Heart is considered a sacred meridian, and therefore should always be approached with care.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

An amazing response to simple Inner Fire treatment

Occasionally the treatment we give can have what are to me even now quite startling results.  One such outcome occurred during my last seminar in Beijing.  A young man of 18, who by chance happened to have been educated up to the age of 11 in England, and therefore spoke excellent English, came for treatment.  He was finding life very difficult, probably because of his difficulty in integrating himself into the Chinese educational system after all those years in England in a very different kind of a school.  Because his knowledge of written Chinese was very limited, he had been placed in a class which was 2 years behind his age group, a difficult thing for any child to cope with, and this, I think, had caused him most of his problems.

I diagnosed him as Fire, and he responded to me in a way which I felt was very characteristic of Inner Fire.  He had had some previous treatment on Fire early on his treatment some months back so I felt that we did not need to give him the four treatments on Outer Fire first, as we should always do before turning to Inner Fire.  (The reasoning for this is that we need to strengthen Fire’s outer defences before addressing its very heart).  I therefore thought it was reasonable simply to do the source points of Outer Fire, and then move on in the same treatment to Inner Fire, again with its source points.  We therefore needled a total of only 4 points.

I thought he looked and felt very different as soon as we treated the Inner Fire points, but I was not expecting what he said, as he walked towards me after the treatment.  This was:  “I feel as though I’ve just come out of a coma.”

No wonder I love what I do!


Friday, May 3, 2019

Procedure for diagnosing 130 budding five element acupuncturists in one day

I am often asked how on earth we have attempted to offer a five element diagnosis to the many hundreds of acupuncturists in China who have come to our seminars over the past eight years.  I am just returning from another week’s seminar in Beijing where we have tried yet again to do just that, so I would like to describe the procedure we have worked on over the years to do this.

Of the 300 or so practitioners who attended, some 130 were new to us.  All these had previously attended one of the many preliminary five element courses in many towns all over China organized by the more experienced of our five element group of practitioners, now promoted to the role of five element teachers.  By the time Mei, Guy and I arrive at a seminar all those attending will have been given a provisional diagnosis of their element as a starting point from which we work.

In China, nobody seems to worry at all when I explain that all diagnoses we make are only a first attempt at finding their element.  They are very unconcerned when we change these preliminary diagnoses, and may change them again during the week of our seminar.  This is probably because I always emphasize that none of us can ever truly “know” the guardian element until treatment has confirmed that we are on the right track.   

As encouragement for myself, and for others, I always like to remember JR Worsley telling us when we were students that we would all be able to diagnose as quickly as he did when we had as much experience as he had after his 45 years of practice.  I have now had 30 or more years of five element practice to help me, and if I add these years to those of Guy and Mei, I like to think that together we reach JR’s total of years.  Certainly to my surprise, every time to we return to China  the three of us are getting better and better at our diagnoses, and quicker and quicker at making them, too.  And we work together very well as a team.

So here I will describe the procedure for carrying out these multiple diagnoses which we have developed to cope with the ever-increasing number of those attending our seminars who wish to have some idea of their own element.  As we know, all five element acupuncturists should as far as possible be sure of their own element as an essential pre-requisite for their practice, for without this we do not know what shadow our own element unconsciously casts over our patients.  And all those attending quite rightly crave a diagnosis from the most experienced five element practitioners they can find.  I therefore think we have a duty to offer them our expertise in diagnosing the elements, with the proviso that we make these diagnoses in a rather idiosyncratic way to take account of the sheer numbers involved.  The Chinese, bless their hearts, willingly accept this without complaint.

This is what we do:  To help us, we are given photographs of the new practitioners grouped together according to the element to which they have been assigned in the introductory seminars.  We then count the total number for each element.  This seminar (April 2019) the numbers were:

Wood: 17,  Fire: 10,  Earth: 32,  Metal: 21, Water: 42, plus 11 still left undiagnosed.   

From experience we know that if we work quickly, we can get through this large number in a day, divided into a morning section from 8.30 – 12, a long lunch-break of 2 ½ hours from 12 to 2.30 (the Chinese always take a nap after lunch), and an afternoon session from 1.30 – 5.30.  Five chairs are placed on the raised platform at the front of the large seminar room, and Mei, Guy and I sit in the front row of the audience group, with many people sitting on the floor all around us, and everybody else seated behind us.  There is always a scramble for people to get as close to us as possible, because they want to hear the discussions we carry on between us. 

This time we started with one of the larger groups (when our minds were fresh!), choosing Earth first, because starting with the largest group, Water, was likely to give the room a more uneasy feel (Water’s fear showing itself as it is asked to talk in front of such a large group of people).  An Earth group is much more at ease, and this helps to settle the room down nicely at the start.

Five of the each group sit down in turn on the platform in front of us, and we look at this small group as a whole to see how far they seem at ease with each other (or not), and whether any particular person stands out from the group in some way.  Then each of the five is asked to talk a little about anything they want, as we listen to their voices (the audience group is told to do this with closed eyes for part of the time), and observe them closely.  Over the years everybody coming to our seminars has got much better at spotting the odd person who doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the group.  This may be the one who sits forward whilst the others sit back, the one who turns to look at the person talking, whilst the others look straight ahead, or is constantly moving whilst the others remain still.  We have found that the audience as a whole has become surprisingly good at pointing out any significant differences.

Mei, Guy and I then put our heads together and decide whether or not we agree with the provisional diagnoses.  We discuss quite openly where we have doubts and why this is so and which element group we think a person should be re-allocated to. 

When we have gone through an element group as a whole, we ask all those we still think are that element to stand together on the platform for us to take a look at the group as a whole.  And here we may change our diagnosis again, because in the large element group, one or two will now stand out as feeling different.  These we then re-allocate to join another element grouping during the day.

At previous seminars Guy had the bright idea of providing coloured stickers in the five element colours, which we would put on those we had diagnosed so that everybody could see from a distance which element we had provisionally allocated to those attending.  This time, instead of a coloured sticker, each person was given a much more visible ribbon to wear around their neck, the colour of which could be spotted a long way away to help us if we decided to change a diagnosis.

After this seminar I totted up how many changes we made for each element. For Wood it was 5 out of 17, for Fire it was only 1 out of 10, for Earth it was 17 out of 32, for Metal 8 out of 21 and for Water 8 out of 42.  From this random survey we could conclude that the Chinese five element acupuncturists running the preliminary seminars are better at diagnosing Fire (nearly 100% right), than Earth (only about 50% right)!  For some reason there are always a large number of Water people at our seminars, and practitioners over there therefore have a lot of practice in diagnosing this element.

This may seem a rather complicated procedure, but it works surprisingly well, and is an excellent way of helping a large group of practitioners learn more about diagnosing the elements in one day than they will learn from seeing only a few patients at a time.  We do the diagnoses at the start of a five-day seminar, which leaves us nearly four days in which to change our minds.  When you are sitting in front of a roomful of people, all wearing very visible coloured ribbons around their necks, it becomes surprisingly easy to see those who respond to what is going on in an expected way and those who don’t.  I was delighted that the last thing I did as I left the platform on our last afternoon was ceremonially to remove the red ribbon around a young man’s neck and replace it with a yellow ribbon to great applause in the room.  I had been talking about the Fire element, and in my usual Fire way had stoked up a lot of laughter in the room, except in this young man who only looked puzzled.  “He looks worried as though trying to process something, and isn’t his colour yellow?” I asked myself.  “He must surely be Earth, not Fire”.  He himself was delighted at the change, as he had felt that he didn’t really fit in amongst his fellow Fire practitioners.

We have also added another simple diagnostic technique to our teaching, which is to ask the group whether they feel a patient coming before the class makes the room feel “up” or “down” (i.e., yang or yin).  If “up”, then it is likely to be either Wood or Fire, if “down” then Metal or Water, with Earth “neither up nor down”, or “both up and down”.  This is again a surprisingly simple way of helping those new to five element acupuncture start examining the feelings different elements evoke in them.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Two prime examples of the Wood element out of balance (2)

Instead of the constant mantra-like repetitions of key phrases, which are one of the hallmarks of Theresa May’s speeches, we have instead in Donald Trump a different kind of example of the Wood element out of balance.  His Wood element appears as though trapped eternally in a kind of infantile world, with bursts of often incoherent words babbling forth in uninhibited tweets, much like a child enjoying itself with a new toy.  He combines this with a need to make a stream of off-the-cuff decisions without apparently giving any thought to their consequences.  I see this as the Wood element, the element of spring, growing innumerable little buds and shoots without worrying about which of these will develop into full-grown plants, instead just taking pleasure in all this activity for activity’s sake.  

I like to think of each element as having its particular place along the cycle which represents our lifetime.  According to this, Wood represents our childhood, Fire our youth and early maturity, Earth our full maturity, Metal the time of late adulthood and early old age, and Water, that mysterious time  which represents both the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next, offering us the seeds of the future.  Being the child element, Wood people therefore express much of the joyousness of the young.  But as with all children, this sense of uninhibited enjoyment can reveal its imbalance in different ways;  it can become suppressed, or it can become exaggerated.  Theresa May and Donald Trump are two very clear, and contrasting, examples of this.

It was significant that when asked to describe an incident when she had been a naughty child, the only one Theresa May could recall (or the only one she wanted to share) was a rather harmless time when she ran into a field of growing corn.  By any standards this could hardly be considered a very wicked thing for a young child to do, but it was significant that she regarded it as such.  Her feelings of guilt about this seemed to me to show evidence of some suppression of Wood’s natural exuberance rather than enjoyment of it.  From then on I began to regard her as a very good example of inhibited Wood, the suppressed emotion associated with this being what we call a lack of anger. 

Trump, on the other hand, shows signs of quite the reverse.  His Wood element is not only not suppressed as May’s appears to be, but is allowed much too much freedom to express itself in a totally uninhibited and inappropriate way.  The emotion he shows is therefore what we could call an excess of anger.  The pointed finger, one of the characteristic Wood gestures, as he furiously jabs the air as though attacking those he is arguing against, is also evidence of this.  Suppressed anger and excess anger are the two sides of the Wood element out of balance.  Neither can be said to be an appropriate emotion to be displayed by the leader of a country.  This can be contrasted to their detriment, and often is, with Barack Obama’s more mature and more balanced emotional expression, which I interpret as being that of a thoughtful Metal element, a much more appropriate emotion for one who is asked to lead his country.

The only signs of the Wood element that I could observe from looking at clips on TV or social media were those associated with sound and emotion, since I could obviously not observe colour clearly or sense smell.  Their voices both bear the hallmark of Wood’s distinctive forcefulness. Trump’s is a more overtly shouting voice, whilst May’s has a much more controlled tone.  Their way of walking, too, expresses the two very different sides of Wood very clearly.  Trump stomps along with heavy feet, and sits forward almost aggressively in a clear attempt to control whoever he is sitting next to, whilst May’s body and facial movements are more tightly controlled.  In fact, a New York Times article on May has just described her, appropriately, as “famously wooden”.  Her jaw is clenched, with tight neck muscles, always a sign of the Wood element under stress, and she now walks in an increasingly hunched position, with bent shoulders.  All these are signs of Wood’s control over our tendons and ligaments showing its stress.

Interestingly, both Theresa May and Donald Trump like to surround themselves with a very close band of advisers, chosen not for their expertise but because they apparently don’t feel threatened by them.  They are both reluctant to appoint experienced people with a proven record of expertise in a given field, relying instead on hand-picked advisers, often friends, whom they catapult into jobs for which they are completely unqualified.  Or, in the case of Theresa May, not only friends.  Think of her surprising appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, a man totally unsuited to the delicate negotiations required, but nonetheless appointed in the hope that such a dangerous opponent of hers would have to show apparent loyalty to her in his new position.  This was another example of an extremely unwise, ill thought-out decision.

Neither May nor Trump appears to have the emotional depth necessary to show empathy of any kind with their fellow human beings in distress.  We should think here of Theresa May’s unwillingness to visit the Grenfell tower block until a few days after the fire, and Trump’s equally unfeeling approach to locking young children up in cages on the Mexican border. 

To end this blog on a happier note, it is useful to contrast what I have written with a shining example of an appropriate human reaction to tragic events which was that of Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, whose response to the shootings in the Christchurch Mosques could not be faulted.  It helps, of course, that she is Fire, I believe, which is the element most capable of showing its emotions, “wearing its heart on its sleeve”, as we say.  It may always be more difficult for Wood to show a similar level of empathy however balanced it is, but certainly not the complete lack shown by these two leaders.