Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year’s greetings to all who read this blog

I always like to take stock as the year ends and we turn towards the future. And I am doing this here for that part of my life which revolves around acupuncture.

There has, unhappily, been much to be saddened by in the acupuncture world in this country in the past few months, the saddest of all for me being the impending closure of my own college in Warwickshire, and the sudden disappearance, as though overnight, of two other colleges. Happily, though, there is much else to carry forward into the New Year;   amongst these things, to my increasing surprise, there is my blog.

Being new to the world of blogging, Youtube, Twitter and such-like before I started, I suppose I am more surprised than others might be at how far into the distant reaches of the world my blog has penetrated. At the latest count it has spread to more than 50 countries, and I still find it exciting when I see that somebody from Ghana, Guadeloupe or Kazakhstan has tapped into their computer and found me. What, I ask myself, has made them interested enough in five element acupuncture to home in on what I write? Not only does this stimulate me in sending out my thoughts, but the interest shown gives me daily confirmation that in writing about the elements I am speaking in a universal language understood by all.

And through this blog I am also seeing that more and more individual seekers after five element knowledge, a rare and growing breed, are prepared to search out teachers who answer their needs, and are finding their way to me and other five element teachers. This is the kind of teaching I love, to people who are prepared to study hard, often on their own and in their own time, to explore the elements and learn how to use this knowledge to help others. I am aware that there are many people out there who have no chance at all of finding a five element acupuncturist, let alone a training college, in their country (or even on their continent!). These are the pioneers of the future, just as JR Worsley and his many teachers before him were the pioneers of old. I hope they have the courage to explore and innovate, as he did, and I hope, too, that the people who need to will find their way to me and to other five element teachers and will ask us for whatever we can offer. I and others have plans for setting up another five element centre in addition to that in London, this time on the South Coast. I can see these becoming an increasingly important resource which all those interested in developing their five element skills can draw upon in the future.

Finally there is the excitement of seeing five element acupuncture on its journey back to China through the efforts of Mei Long and the translation of my Handbook. I will end with a lovely message Liu Lihong sent me from China. He hopes the translation of my book will get published soon, which he thinks is the most important thing of all for promoting five element acupuncture in China, and he finishes by saying, “Imagine 10,000 people out there will read this book. Even if only one of them finds the truth there it is still good news. With 20,000 readers we will at least get 2 people who want to practise it. This will be a good start already.” So I greet in my thoughts all those 20,000 people out there waiting to read my book, and I look forward to welcoming the two who Liu Lihong predicts will practise what is in it.

A Happy New Year to all my readers in all the 50 countries around the globe. Amongst the many of those in China reading this there may (who knows?) already be Liu Lihong’s two!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A labour of love completed

I have just finished translating one of Elisabeth Rochat’s works in which she examines what is written in the Chinese classics about the different meridians and their points. This time I worked on the 9 points of what she calls Heart Master (called variously also Pericardium, Circulation-Sex or, which I have always liked, Heart Protector). I have translated other things for Elisabeth to include in her Monkey Press books, but this points notebook has been the most difficult by far. First I have had to learn to understand what are very complex concepts, expressed in that most poetic of all languages, French, and then, once understood, work out a way of expressing them in the much more practical language of English. This has involved thinking myself into another idiom and another mode of thought.

Having battled with these difficulties (and at times battle was not too strong a word), I developed a kind of flow, steeping myself happily in this pool of classical thought. And then the translation went more quickly, Points 1 -3 taking what I felt was forever, whilst I seemed to race through Points 4 – 9.  I have now sent the files off to Elisabeth for her to make of them what she will. The translation is eventually going to find its way to the States, where I understand an editor and a publisher are waiting. So my work is done.

One unexpected bonus of doing this translation is that I allowed it to serve as an excuse to join the London Library, claiming to myself that I needed its vast hoard of reference books and dictionaries to complete this work, but in fact just for the pleasure of walking through stack upon stack of books which I am allowed to borrow for as long as I like. For me a luxury indeed, and my own present to myself for having helped, in my own way, to give the English-speaking world greater access to more of Elisabeth’s thoughts.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Preface to the Chinese edition of my Handbook of Five Element Practice

The translation of my Handbook is now complete, and I have been asked to write a preface for it for Chinese readers.  I give it below:

"I am very happy that this Chinese translation of my Handbook of Five Element Practice will now be available to Chinese readers.

I am particularly honoured that Master Liu has encouraged this translation, and has given this book his special blessing by offering to write an introduction.

My own journey into five element acupuncture began when I met an acupuncturist at a party in London nearly 30 years ago. I experienced so many profound changes in myself as a result of my own treatment that I decided that I wanted to study it, and was fortunate to be able to study under a great master of acupuncture, J R Worsley. And now that I have studied it and practised it for all the years since then, I have great joy in offering what I have learnt to others through my teaching. For 12 years I was the Principal of the School of Five Element Acupuncture in London, and am now continuing my work in helping others to deepen their own practice. For me, the concepts underlying my practice represent a profound understanding of the soul within each of us, and recognise how that soul influences how we cope with life and what illnesses we allow to attack us.

This Handbook is intended as a working textbook for those wishing to study and practise five element acupuncture, and who want to understand the principles upon which it is based. These principles reflect all the traditional values set out in the great classical medical and philosophical texts such as the Neijing and the Lingshu. They recognise that each one of us is a microcosm of the great Dao, and that disease of body or soul only creeps in when we do not live in accordance with the natural order.

Traditional Chinese medicine made its way to the West through many different routes, and is now flourishing over here. It is lovely to think that its journey from East to West is now coming full circle, as it travels back to its homeland, China. I am proud that this Handbook is one further step on this journey home. Let us hope that what I have written finds its way into the hearts of all those dedicating their lives to helping their patients through a deep understanding of the elements which create all living things.

I would like to congratulate Mei Long on completing the task of translating this book so quickly and so competently. I would also like to acknowledge how much five element acupuncture owes to her enthusiasm in embracing it on her arrival in Europe, and then having the courage to approach Master Liu in her desire to encourage the practice of a true form of traditional Chinese medicine in China."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do seasonal influences play their part in Entry/Exit blocks?

A student sent me the following queries about seasonal treatment to help her in her interesting research topic. I give it below, followed by my answer to it.

“I am doing some research into Entry/Exit Blocks and in particular whether there is any link between unseasonal or changeable weather patterns in nature and the appearance of these blocks in patients. I have only a very small amount of data so far, and one or two published articles from practitioners who note that in their practice Entry/Exit blocks tend to appear in clusters at the change of season or during unseasonable or changeable weather (though not exclusively of course).

My data does actually point to a link between the two but (being a beginner in 5 Element Acupuncture) I am struggling a little to understand whether there may be a link or if it is just coincidence.

I was wondering if you had noticed any similar patterns in your own practice over the years and if so, why is this and do you have any examples? I am looking at some of the classics with regard to Wei Qi (as this is where the Blocks are felt) and how its movement is linked to nature, and to me at least it seems fairly obvious that the movement of Qi within us could be affected and "blocked" by external (macrocosmic) qi movement which goes against the normal flow of seasonal movement of Qi from Spring through the Seasons to Winter

I did ask Neil Gumenick directly, by email, about this, and he said there was absolutely no seasonal connection, but as I said earlier, in practice, it does seem to occur. Other authors I have looked at, including Jarrett, do not include seasonal change as one of the causes of Entry/Exit Blocks.”

Here is my reply:

"You’ve posed an interesting question about Entry/Exit blocks. So here are my thoughts on this, although I had not until now really considered this question in any detail, so it has set me thinking!

When I find an E/E block, as well as clearing it I always think which officials are in trouble and why this might be. Sometimes we simply don’t know, but in most cases I can work out why this particular block may have occurred at this time. I tend to think more of the psychological or physical reasons, rather than seasonal reasons, although I have thought of these, particularly if the block relates to the patient’s guardian element. For example, one of the most frequent blocks is Co/St (Co 20, St 1). If it is a Metal patient who is blocked in this way, I think of what the patient can’t let go of, or if it is an Earth patient, what the patient can’t stop thinking about or transport. But I have only thought about a seasonal connection if the patient is in their element’s season, i.e., Metal in autumn or Earth in late summer. It might cross my mind that the block has been exacerbated by the season, but I don’t tend to think of the season as causing the block. I will not think about the season at all if I find a block in a season not related to that patient’s element, i.e., a Co/St block for a Fire patient in autumn (but perhaps I should!).

But, and it’s a big but, I am sure that the extra inflow of energy to any particular element from a seasonal influence must affect in some way how those elements manifest in us, since each element will receive the influence of its particular season, just as it receives the influence of its particular time of day. That’s, after all, why we do horary and seasonal treatments. I am not sure, though, how obviously the subtle changes in the balance of the elements as they move from season to season can be detected on the pulses, for example, or even how far they will lead to an E/E block. An E/E block is a sign of a great build-up of energy in one meridian which is unable to discharge it to the next along the Wei cycle. As felt on the pulses, it is a strong build-up, and therefore it seems to me unlikely that a simple change from one season to the next will affect this enough on its own (otherwise we would have E/E blocks all round the year as season changes to season!).

So in theory it is likely that there may be a subtle influence of the season on the energies of the different elements, but in practice, in my view, it is only likely to add to an E/E block if there is already a block building up. Unfortunately for your research I don’t think we have the means of assessing whether this is so or not, so I think this may always remain a theoretical discussion, without practical proof.

I hope this explanation helps.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Did points come before meridians, or meridians before points?

I find it is interesting to speculate whether the concept of meridians came first, and then the points, as it were, popped up along them afterwards, or whether it was the other way around. Were the points there first and somebody (who?) joined them up, like some dot-to-dot picture our children trace? Historically, as I know from my translations of Elisabeth Rochat de la VallĂ©e’s work on the points, there is disagreement as to which meridians certain points were allocated to, and uncertainty as to the lines of the meridians, which were not as firmly fixed as they are now. This would appear to indicate that points came before meridians, but there is obviously no clear answer to any of this. Speculation about this is, however, worthwhile because it prevents us from being too rigid in our thinking, and encourages us to look at things from a different angle, always a good idea if our thoughts are not to atrophy.

Points as sites of access to the deep within us

We must not think of points as they can appear on our charts, as something stuck on to the body like pins in a pin-cushion. They must be seen as sites of access to the energy along a meridian, which in turn creates the pathway which eventually passes deep inside us or comes up from deep inside from the organ in question. A point is therefore part of the structure which creates the body (and soul) over which it lies. It provides a point of entry to it and thus allows us, through the needle, to alter the structure of the body (and soul) in some way. Since all is interconnected, we must remember that no point has an intrinsic value all its own, isolated from that of the meridian from which it emerges. The power of a meridian does not therefore lie in its individual points, but in the energy relating to that meridian to which these points form different kinds of access.

Any place on our body, when pressed, stimulated or manipulated in some way, in the case of acupuncture with a needle, will produce some local effect, akin to that of our scratching an itch or rubbing a painful area, but such an effect will remain restricted to that one small site, unless it somehow taps into the larger area to which a meridian has access. Each meridian reaches down into the innermost workings of an organ and from there spreads up and out back to the surface, where we meet it at the acupuncture point we decide to needle. Each time we needle the surface in this way, then, we must remember what lies beneath, and remain aware of how deeply we can influence these depths by this action on the surface, and how the energies lying hidden in the depths can propel themselves to the surface through stimulation by the needle.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The body as map

I like to think of the body as a kind of map with the meridians as its roads. The individual acupuncture points are the landmarks placed at varying intervals along these roads, some close together, others more widely spaced apart. Some of the areas of the body more crowded with points can be regarded as our body’s villages and towns. These are the energetically bustling areas of the lower arms and lower legs, whilst those expanses punctuated only rarely by points, such as parts of the back, upper arm and upper thigh, represent the energetic equivalent of the sparsely inhabited areas of the earth, such as the deserts of Africa or the mountains of the Himalayas. To select points buried within the contours of such a widely varied landscape of the body is then the equivalent of trying to plot a course through the different regions of the globe. It is good to think of treatment and the individual point selections which go to form a treatment schedule in this way, for it is by keeping in mind the landscape of what we can regard as the human globe that we retain that sense of the whole which is essential to good practice.

Perhaps we could go further and think of each element as being one of the five continents on the human globe, with its two yin and yang officials as two countries on this continent. The routes connecting all the continents together are then formed by the meridian network, with its acupuncture points representing staging posts of various importance and size along what are effectively trade routes, the trading of different sources of energy from one area of the energy network to another. This helps us remember that any action anywhere on our body can never be regarded as an isolated action restricted to that one site of the body, but must be seen as having a domino effect, just as a single domino can topple the whole line as it responds to a knock.

I think this metaphor of the body as globe is a true one, for it not only emphasizes the interconnectedness of everything that happens on the surface of the body and deep within, but it is, importantly, also an appropriate representation of the circle of the Dao which encompasses all that is, and of the unbroken circling of the meridian network within us. Somehow the charts of the body with their seductively straight meridian lines make us forget the circular picture which is in truth how we should regard the body. The energies of the five elements do not so much weave us into the straight horizontal and vertical lines of the meridians our charts show, as draw every part of us into a circular movement, much like the 24 hours of day and night draw time into an ever-revolving circle of minutes, hours, days and years. If we can keep this sense of the circling of energy in our mind when working out our treatment protocols, this will prevent us from falling into the error of seeing treatment as forming a straight line, with only one way of getting from a to b. Rather, it should be seen as a circular action into which different practitioners will draw different treatments at different stages, but all supporting the circle of energy as a whole. Regarding treatment as something cyclical rather than linear supports my conviction that the order of point selections is not as important in the overall success of treatment as the boost to the energy given by a succession of treatments.

It is useful for each of us to develop a map of the body which is personally significant to us, and learn to accept that the selection of points we feel at ease with will always be personal to us, and need not, indeed should not, mimic another practitioner’s. We must not be frightened to own what we do in the practice room, each treatment decision we take, each way in which we treat our patients, all must have our personal stamp upon them because they arise from insights we have ourselves gained. This being so, I will be sharing with you in these blogs some of my thoughts about my own personal body map which I have developed over the years and which I hang metaphorically on the wall of my practice room to help me get my bearings.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Circles of energy

We know that the elements describe a circle creating all things, including the human body, the energies of one element feeding the next and so on in a never-ending cycle. In the body we usually see this as one over-arching circle linking one element to another in the familiar sequence of Wood-Fire-Earth-Metal-Water and back again. We know this sequence as the Sheng (Shen) cycle, the cycle of production. Within this cycle there is a further cycle which has its own sequence, that of mother to grandchild, the Ke (K’o) cycle, in the sequence of Wood-Earth-Water-Fire-Metal and back again.

Here, then, are two circles of energy within us. There is also a further circle, a smaller reflection of this five element circle, which we often forget about and therefore tend to be much less familiar with. This occurs in the order of the grouping of points we call in five element acupuncture command points, which forms one of the most important, if not the most important, group of points. Command points are on the extremities, between the elbows and fingers on the hand, and the knees and toes on the feet. They lie on the meridians of each of the 12 officials, in a specific order, one for the six yin officials and another for the six yang. Most, but not all, command points are what we call element points; this means that they have a specific relationship with one of the five elements. On each meridian there is, therefore, what is called a Wood point, a Fire point, an Earth point, a Metal point and a Water point. In addition to the element points, the command points include what is perhaps the most important point of all, those we call the source points (yuan points). Of all the command points it is the source point which offers the most central reinforcement for other treatment.

If we trace the sequence of the element points, we can see that in both yin and yang officials they follow the order of the elements, but with different starting and end points. If we move up from the extremities, all yin officials have a Wood point as their nail points and progress through the cycle of the elements to finish at a Water point at elbow and knee, whilst all the yang officials start with a Metal point and finish with an Earth point. The actual distribution of the points along the meridians between the element points differs slightly from meridian to meridian, with a few of what are called non-command points lying interspersed at differing intervals between the command points, depending on the meridian involved. This apparently random distribution of the non-command points is yet another proof of the unpredictability of anything to do with acupuncture, each meridian having a unique sequence of command and non-command points, as though deliberately designed to trip up poor students as they try to memorise them. Even now, I sometimes have to refer to my charts to remind myself of a particular order of points.

To see the line of the command points as ending at elbow and knee, with the line continuing along the meridian with non-command points as though we are tracing the meridian from its extremities up the body or from the body down to its extremities, runs counter to our view of the continuous circling of energy from element to element. Instead, it is appropriate to see a kind of connecting link drawing the energy flowing as far as the elbow and knee back round out again to the nail points and on up again following the sequence of the elements, to form a continuous cycle. Thus the Earth and Water points at elbow and knee can be considered as connecting up again with the next points along the cycle, the Metal and Wood points at fingertips and toes. We can therefore envisage all these element points as creating another unbroken circle of energy, a further but smaller circle of energy within the larger, overall circle formed by the meridian network as a whole.

There is something uniquely symbolic about this reflection of the five element circle on our limbs. No other grouping of points elsewhere on the body has such a similarly fundamental relationship to the five element circle in all its mutually supportive power, as one element follows the other in a mimicry of the larger productive five element circle. Even the Associated Effect Points (back shu points), which have a specific relationship to one element each, do not lie along the back in the five element sequence, being linked in a much weaker way with the points of the other elements, since the ones lying above and below them do not follow the five element order. This helps us understand the importance of the command points in connecting our energies to the cycle of the elements. When using a command point of one element we should therefore remember that we are, in effect, drawing to some extent upon energy flowing within a complete cycle of the elements.