Monday, December 31, 2012

Some thoughts on the history of traditional Chinese medicine in China over the past 50 years or more

To understand the history of traditional Chinese medicine in its modern context better, I have been fortunate to have had recommended to me by a student at the Leamington Acupuncture Academy an excellent book which I have just finished reading with great interest, Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945-63:  A Medicine of Revolution by Kim Taylor (Routledge 2005). This is providing me with great insights into why my advent in China seems to be marking quite a turning-point in China’s own appreciation of its traditional medicine, specifically in relation to acupuncture.  It is certainly helping me understand a little better why what I bring represents a reconnection to an acupuncture tradition in great danger of being lost. 

I would recommend all acupuncturists to read this book.  It confirms many of my long-held beliefs about the problems surrounding modern Chinese acupuncture (TCM), and its insidious spread into the West under the illusion that it somehow represents traditional acupuncture, which it so clearly doesn’t.  Thank goodness that this is at last being recognised, not least in China.  But TCM’s invasion of the West has done much untold harm to the more traditionally based practices of acupuncture, such as five element acupuncture, one such instance being the fact that, for some reason I could never fathom, TCM practitioners always seem to want to undermine the validity of five element acupuncture.  Now, at least, I feel my own stance, staunchly defending the transmission of a long acupuncture lineage, has been vindicated by what is now being revealed about the extreme paucity of any true traditional sources in the acupuncture practised over the past 50 years or more in modern China.

My thoughts have been further strengthened by reading another important and well-researched book by Volker Scheid, Currents of Tradition in Chinese Medicine, 1626 -2006 (Eastland Press 2007).  Although concentrating almost entirely upon herbal acupuncture, with only a handful of references to acupuncture, the picture he paints is of the enormous pressures placed upon Chinese medicine over the past 50 years or more in what can be seen as a fight for its survival against the forces within China supporting the primacy of Western medicine.  Chinese medicine became a pawn in China’s attempts to work out the position it should take in relation to Western medicine, and continues to suffer from this uncertainty, whilst at the same trying to defend the importance of acknowledging its own long medical heritage.

Somehow acupuncture found its own escape route from the political turmoil within China, benefiting from the hounding and expulsion of many of its practitioners.  They took with them, often as the sole inheritors of long traditional medicine lineages, traditional practices frowned upon or misunderstood in mainland China, and were free in the West to pass on their knowledge to those eager to learn.  Amongst these, as we know, were the group in England which included JR Worsley and Dick van Buren.

Ironically, therefore, it is in the West that the precepts of traditional acupuncture found fertile ground upon which to allow its damaged roots to re-plant themselves and grow so prolifically.  It is therefore doubly ironic that it should fall to me, a Western trained five element acupuncturist, to hand the gifts which my practice has given me back to a birthplace which hardly recognises the acupuncture inheritance on which I base this practice.




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My delight in a simple treatment

I always like to write about the satisfaction of doing what I do, and here is another confirmation of how effective a simple treatment can be.  A few needles and a transformation.

I was called to the bedside of a very old friend of mine who I had treated many years ago.  She had recently lost her partner of 50 years, and then had immediately to have surgery on both eyes for a glaucoma-induced condition.  And now she had been diagnosed with severe atrial fibrillation.  The eye surgery had left her with very blurry sight, and she was too giddy to walk by herself.

On the train to see her, I mulled over what treatment I thought I would need to give. The lovely thing about being a five element practitioner is that we have the pillars of five element treatment to call upon whatever the conditions we are faced with.  I already knew her element was Wood.  There had been no evidence of possession when I talked to her at her husband’s funeral, so that left only the AE drain, the possibility of a Husband/Wife imbalance and Entry/Exit blocks to consider.  There proved to be very little AE, just a touch on Heart Protector and Heart, drained in just a few minutes.  But a Husband/Wife imbalance was calling out loudly to me, both in her look of quiet, passive desperation, and in her pulses, which, though low on both sides, felt appreciably stronger on the right side.

There was an immediate change in her once I had cleared the H/W; her colour became less drawn and she said that her palpitations had died won.  She lay back, closed her eyes and looked more at peace.  I searched for other blocks, and found a II/III (SI/Ht) block.  For good measure, I also did a VI/VII (HP/GB) block, even though it was not clear from the pulses.  But the history of trauma surrounding her eye surgery made me think that I should do this, particularly as I never rely solely on my pulse readings to diagnose blocks.

I then needed to do something to strengthen her spirit so that the H/W did not recur, which was possible in view of all that she had to deal with.  I had to decide between Ki 24 (a resuscitation point for the spirit after great trauma) or CV 14 (with its direct effect upon the Heart), and opted for CV 14 to help her Heart.  I finished the treatment with the source points of Wood.  I used no moxa for any of the points, because she has slightly raised BP.  As I left her to sleep, she said, “I feel a lot better, Nora.”

The next day she phoned me to say that she felt completely different, much more optimistic and less despairing.  Her eyesight was clearer, she no longer had palpitations, she had climbed the stairs without becoming breathless, and was steady enough on her feet to go for her first walk unaided.

Here again is the list of points I used:

  • AE drain
  • H/W
  • CV 14
  • II-III block
  • VI-VII block
  • VII 40, VIII 3
All in all I could not ask for more from one treatment.  How I love doing what I do!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five element thought for the day – some pointers I use to help trace an element’s signature

Last week I had a very heartening day up at the Acupuncture Academy, the new college in Leamington, getting my first glimpse of a new group of students there, all eager to learn. 

One of the things I told them was not to worry about feeling that there is any quick way to develop the complex skills required to distinguish those much-emphasized sensory signs the elements imprint on all of us.  When I first started my studies, I think I was very optimistic about how easily I would perceive these, imagining that by the end of our three-year course I would be well on the way to assessing accurately all the four aspects of colour, sound, smell and emotion.  

I was to find that this was far from the case, so far, indeed, that it was only after quite a few years of practice that I at long last began to understand what a rancid smell was, or honed my  assessment of Earth’s colour, yellow.  And just when I thought I had “got” one manifestation, I would find all my previous learning confounded by discovering that my patient’s rather bright red face was nothing at all to do with Fire, but was either Wood or Earth out of balance.  In the case of Wood, I eventually worked out that it was its imbalance which was throwing its child, Fire, out of balance and creating the red colour, and in the case of Earth, the red was coming from problems handed down to it by its mother.  Fire, I have found, never imprints a constant high red colour on those of its element.  Its reddish tinges come and go, as it flickers, but they never remain a constant imprint.

Now that I have recognised for myself how difficult it is accurately to perceive the elements’ sensory signals, I realise how important it is for those new to five element acupuncture not to rely too heavily on sensory impressions which may well be leading them astray.  Instead, I try to emphasize all the many other ways the elements reveal themselves, and share with them the observations I have accumulated over the years to help fill out what I lack in sensory awareness.  For example, I have now developed for myself a list of the small variations in facial expression which help me pinpoint an element more clearly.  I give these below as an aide for others.

Wood:  Look at the eyes (perhaps obviously enough since Wood is to do with vision in every sense).  Its eyes have a direct, often challenging look as though demanding a response from me.  A secondary point may also be very tight neck muscles around the mouth or neck.

Fire:  Look for the smile lines around the eyes. All elements smile when they are happy, or want to pretend they are happy, but only in Fire do the smile lines around the eyes stay in place long after the smile has faded.  I can feel this in myself.  I love warming my own Heart up by smiling, often doing this when I am on my own as my own personal comfort blanket.  I now recognise Fire by those smile lines indicating that a smile is trying to force its way through.

Earth:  The mouth:  often slightly open, or if not open, then looking as if it would like to open, as though appealing for food.

Metal: The eyes, like Wood, but with a completely different look.  They are not trying to set up any relationship with me, as Wood’s eyes try to do, but even when looking at me seem to be looking past me as though into the far distance.

Water:  Again the eyes, but here it is the movement of the eyes which is revealing.  They have nothing like the stillness of Metal’s eyes or the forcefulness behind Wood’s gaze.   Instead they seem to flicker, dart around, as though constantly on the move, ready to perceive danger and avoid it.

If all else fails, and you are not at all sure which element your patient is, then see whether the rather basic signposts I have listed above help you.  I have found them to be a remarkably accurate way of supplementing what my senses are unable to tell me.  And as you move on in your practice, you will also find your own pointers to add to this list – maybe a characteristic way of walking, or talking, holding a hand out for pulses to be taken or settling on the treatment couch.  Since everything we do is the work of the elements within us, every part of body and soul will be showing characteristic pointers to our guardian element.  We just need to be patient enough and give ourselves the time needed to develop our own individual stock of diagnostic pointers.

I still find it fascinating that each patient I see teaches me just a little more about the elements, and this learning will never stop since we are all unique manifestations of the interplay of the elements within us.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Back from China!

I return, humbled.  We take so much for granted in our five element acupuncture in the West. The word “spirit” is so deeply entrenched in our thinking that we can hardly visualize our work without this deep aspect of ourselves imbuing all that we do.  This is so far from the modern Chinese view of acupuncture that it has taken me my three visits to understand the breath of change which I bring with me.  Now, though, it is quite clear to me that what China’s traditional medicine so desperately needs is to regain its spiritual roots, something so sadly suppressed over the past 30 years or more.  And the prime mover in all this is my host, Liu Lihong.  It is for this that they feel that what I have to offer is so badly needed over there.

So I taught and I talked for three weeks.  We supervised the treatment of over 60 patients (this time mainly given by the acupuncturists who had come to our previous seminars rather than by Mei and me).  I then gave two large seminars, one to 250 students at a traditional medicine college in Nanning and another to a large conference in Chengdu in a hall packed with 300 people with another 200 or so watching by video link.  The difference in atmosphere compared with last year’s conference was quite marked.  Then I was talking as a rather lone voice, not exactly in the wilderness, but certainly to an audience many of whom were unfamiliar with any concept of five element acupuncture.  This year, I felt as though I was amongst friends all eager to learn more.

And so many do!  All are asking where they can learn.  And there are so few of us to do the teaching!  This is a challenge indeed, both for my Chinese hosts, who have difficulty in restricting the numbers to a reasonable amount, even to fit into the rooms available, and a great challenge for me, too.  The only way we can see to meet such a demand will be to for me to devise some form of distance-learning based upon the Mandarin version of my Handbook, which was again handed out to everybody in their conference packs.  We will also need to encourage the kind of self-instruction or working together in small groups which the original pioneers of acupuncture in this country in the 1950s had as their only source of tuition.  I told them that JR and his group of fellow explorers had to make do with the few weeks of instruction a year then available to nourish their curiosity, and had to go off afterwards and explore for themselves what they had learnt.  The rest of their learning was up to their own experimentation and determination.  This is, after all, how JR came to develop his own insights into the role of the CF, Dick van Buren his theories about stems and branches and Mary Austin to devise her own five element approach.  I encouraged everybody to be brave enough to act as pioneers for five element acupuncture’s return to China.

Luckily for us they start from so much higher a level of understanding of the concept of the elements than any Western person has to begin with, for the elements are bred into them, as real to them as their life’s blood, and they can quote verbatim and from memory from the Su Wen and the Nei Jing.  The majority of those coming to the seminars are practising, well-qualified acupuncturists, trained to a much higher technical standard, I felt, than many practitioners over here (no need to remind any of them of point positions or point names).  They were therefore much, much quicker at making the slight adaptations to their techniques, such as pulse taking or needling, demanded by changing to a five element approach.

Plans are well in hand already for my return in April, this time accompanied by both Mei Long and Guy Caplan.  The student group will now expand from the 50 we taught this time to a further 50, making 100 students in all.  Of these some of the original group will be ready to start teaching the new learners what they have learnt.  And so the circle widens.

Now I need to get over my jet lag and start working on a more schematized distance-learning approach which will eventually be available for downloading by those in China.  Quite a stimulating project to come back to!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Off to China again!

In a few days I will be flying out with Mei Long on my third teaching trip to China , first to Chengdu and then on to Nanning where a group of 50 or more acupuncturists are waiting for us to induct them into the mysterious world of the elements.  Of these, 30 are people new to five element acupuncture;  the remainder are part of the group of students we have been teaching for the past year.

It seems strange to me that it was only a year ago almost to the day that I first met what have become my Chinese friends.  This year has been such a profound exploration for me that it seems that all I have learnt could not possibly be contained within the space of a year – half a lifetime, yes, but not a mere 365 days.  It is interesting how time expands and contracts in this way, one day sometimes seeming so brief and a year, as here, so long.

I will be away for three weeks this time, with a weekend’s break in the middle during which, I gather, we will be taken on a mystery trip to somewhere beautiful near the Vietnamese border.  Then back to Chengdu for the final week to give seminars at the large traditional medicine conference there.

I will return, as usual, very changed, and, as usual, too, stimulated by the excitement our work there arouses.  I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to continue my work so productively and in such a welcoming environment.  With all the slaps life can deliver, it does indeed often give us the most surprising and unexpected gifts.  This is one for which I offer up thanks each day (but not yet in Mandarin, though my studies are going on apace!).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Whole-family treatment

I often say to patients who come with apparently intractable family problems that it is not selfish for them to concentrate on getting themselves into balance, because the changes in them will inevitably have a ripple-on effect on all the people around them.  Often I see quite amazing improvements in the dynamics of a family as a result of the treatment of one of its members.

I witnessed one such change this week, when a patient, who had spent the past 20 or so years of her life trying to cope with the trying demands of her close-knit family, told me that over the past six months things had changed to such an extent that the entangled relationships which had so far made her feel so trapped were slowly resolving themselves.  She is now strong enough to demand that instead of bowing to her family’s needs they must now take her needs into account.  As a result, there has been a change in all her relationships to her parents and siblings;  with some she now feels much closer, with others she has learnt to keep her distance. And their relationships with each other also appear to have changed for the better.

In effect, we could say that our work makes us into family therapists.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Plans for a new blog

I am planning to start a new blog which I think I will call “The Coffee Shops of London Town”.  For the background to this, you can read a blog I wrote on 14 March 2010 called “Coffee shops I have known” about my love of doing much of my writing in coffee shops, including the first drafts of these blogs.  My friends know of my delight in discovering new cafés, and some have suggested that I should write a blog about this.  Having discovered two new places this past week, I now think it is time to do this. 

I want to use this blog as work in progress when attending a Blogging for Beginners (and Improvers) Workshop I am going to next week run by Emily Benet who has turned her own blog into a book.  Since I, too, am planning to draw together into a book those parts of my blogs which are of interest to acupuncturists, I hope that this workshop will help me do this, and also make my current blogs more interesting to look at (and perhaps even to read!).

So, as they say, watch this space!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Insights into a Water person's relationship to the elements

I have just received the following comments all the way from India from a young Indian friend of mine written after she had read my blog of 30 September 2012:  My relationship to Metal: another new insight”.  Her guardian element is Water.  She is not an acupuncturist, but has been treated with five element acupuncture and as a result has developed a great interest in our approach.

“I read your last blog with great interest as I could almost visualise the nature of the conversations.

Conversations are one important way I try and look for elements as I am not often able to sense the colours or smell or sound (sometimes I can).  More than the exact words, I often focus on how the conversation proceeds, how the other person talks and what I feel.

I don't think a lot of what you have described rests upon your needs or temperament in the clinic (except perhaps how you might judge the net result of a conversation) because I have very similar feelings while dealing with the elements, coloured of course by my own element.

What I mean is: Initially I always had a difficult time with Metal because it was hard to sustain a conversation. I always felt they were judging me and I was not holding their interest sufficiently.  I also tend to talk more under these circumstances (sometimes I clam up but that depends on whether I am trying to reach out or whether I don't want to have anything to do with the person).  However, I suppose my kind of talk in this case would be different from a Fire person's.  I just talk about whatever I can manage to think up every moment; it is sometimes fruitful and informative (as Metal people carry a lot of information with them) but not a relaxed kind of conversation.

I also have a problem with Earth because of the tendency of Earth people to direct the conversation so strongly and too easily (and illogically) overrule things that I might mutter or mumble (and I would only say those things once before retreating and letting Earth take its course).  Earth is such a strong element in its manifestation- I feel they have a strong maternal aspect radiating from them but this is not something that draws me to them or that warms me.  It is based somehow more on their needs rather than on being sensitive to mine though they may be well intentioned.

Fire is the element I am most comfortable with.  I am not always relaxed in their presence but I don't need to worry about taking charge of conversation and I know that many Fire people will actually want to listen to what I say.  Even though they are doing a lot of talking, they are good listeners.

Wood is hard again and even when Wood is not pushy, there is always a latent tension inside me hoping that the push will not come suddenly and unexpectedly.

Water - I find it hard to recognize many Water people!  I do recognize some and in those instances, even if external appearances of the element are different from mine, I can understand their behaviour.  I find (especially lately) my voice certainly has a droning tendency and I do sometimes interrupt people in the middle of what they are saying (and I am trying not to do this because people naturally do not like this!)  I think it is sometimes because I am afraid that I will not be able to express myself on some matter (i.e. the conversation may drift to something else or people may not hear me) and sometimes the desire to share something is so strong that I impulsively chime in.  I think these are two different- (positive and negative or yin and yang or however one may describe them) aspects of water that motivate me to react in a seemingly similar way but with different reasons, during conversations.”

It is very rewarding for me to see how an understanding of the elements can help a person in their interactions with other people in their daily life.  Thank you, Sujata, for your insights. 

(And anybody interested in getting a real flavour of life in India today may like to look at her excellent blog


Sunday, September 30, 2012

My relationship to Metal: another new insight

I learnt something new about my relationship to the Metal element this week as a result of treating one of my Metal patients.  At one point during the treatment I found that I was talking too much, and noticed that my patient only seemed to talk after prompting from me.  The two-way communication I was engaged in appeared to be heavily weighted towards one side, where I was doing the talking, whilst the other side, my patient, was mostly doing the listening.

This set me wondering afterwards how far this was in general true of my interaction with Metal, and I decided that it was.  I then looked at my interactions with all Metal people, and found that as a general rule it is as though Metal needs to wait to hear what I have to say before entering the conversation.  I interpret this as a sign that Metal wants to assess the quality of what I am saying before deciding whether and how to take part in a dialogue with me.

I have now gone on to look at where my interaction with Metal might differ from those with patients of the other elements.  The most obvious difference here is in the case of Fire, because, unlike Metal, it is generally unhappy with the kind of silence Metal feels at home in.  A Fire patient is likely to be the one to start talking even as they come into the practice room, although, being a Fire practitioner myself, the chances are that they will have to be very quick of tongue to outpace my own need to speak to them!

Earth, too, is one of the elements most consistently engaged in speech, a sign of its need to make the listener understand what is going on for them.  Conversations with Earth patients may sometime be more in the nature of a monologue than a dialogue, unless the practitioner steers the talk carefully.  Wood may also need no prompting to talk if it has something it needs to say, and wants to make sure the practitioner is listening to what they are being told.  Again, here, speech can descend into a monologue if the practitioner loses control.

Finally, my verbal interactions with Water patients always seem to have a very distinctive character of their own, which makes of them not so much a dialogue where one person talks, then listens whilst the other person talks, but a conversation where both talk at the same time in a kind of concerted murmur.  It is as though the sound of the words, rather than the meaning of the words, is more important, offering the kind of reassurance that Water is not alone which it craves in order to still its fear.

Of course, all these observations are based on the fact that my reaction to everybody I come into contact with will be strongly coloured by my Fire element.  In trying to look at their experiences with patients, each practitioner must therefore take into account how far their own guardian element shapes the way they interact with their patients and their patients interact with them. 

I am now determined to watch myself more closely to see whether my own talking in the practice room is an appropriate response to the needs of my patient rather than an inappropriate response to my own needs.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts on another difficult practice situation

Please note here that I do not say “how to deal with a difficult patient”.  It is not that patients are simply difficult in themselves, but that we as people find them difficult to deal with.  For practitioners, that is a crucial difference.  As Shakespeare might have said, “the fault lies not in our stars (or in this case our patients) but in ourselves…”

So here goes about this particular difficult situation.  The patient was one who came for treatment as part of a clinical day I spent helping another practitioner with his patients.  She is a woman of 35 and moves around in a wheelchair.  Her medical notes show that she was diagnosed as autistic and with attention deficit problems as a child.  She has a long list of other medical conditions, the main being a spinal accident which left her confined to bed for a year when she was 8 and meningitis when she was 10.

What interested me was noting that she appeared to be quite capable of moving without help from the wheelchair to the treatment couch, nor did she have any difficulty in turning over on the couch.  Her legs, too, did not have the look of ones where the muscles have atrophied from little use.  She was wearing very heavy short boots, much like men’s army boots, which looked incongruous on a wheelchair-bound person by reason of their sheer weight alone.  She brought with her a little doll, the kind a five-year old child might have, which she insisted on tucking next to her on the couch. I also noticed other disconcertingly odd things which made me question how far she was actually incapacitated. 

Having expected from the notes that contact with her might be difficult because of her autism, I was surprised to see how easily she seemed to relate to us, and in particular noticed that she was darting hidden glances at me when she thought I wasn’t watching.

The practitioner is also her medical practitioner, and had started his five element treatment by relying only on her medical diagnosis rather than on a much more extensive five element diagnosis which would not have concentrated so exclusively on her physical conditions.  The distinction between his role as her physician and as her acupuncturist had become understandably blurred.  Initally, I, too, made the mistake of going along with this.  

The practitioner and I therefore assumed all sorts of things about her condition, basing ourselves on very little information about her current medical condition.  Did she in fact need a wheelchair at all, and could she be described as still being “autistic”?   

As is obvious to any five element acupuncturist from what I have written, we decided to treat her with Internal Dragons.  We followed this with an Aggressive Energy drain and the source points of her element which I thought was Fire.  I had a question mark around Inner Fire (Small Intestine), something to do with the quickness of her understanding (even though she didn’t like to show that she did understand) and the sharpness of her glance! 

I felt surprisingly angry at the end of the treatment, as though she had got under my skin and had outmanoeuvred us.  And I went so far as to tell the practitioner that I wasn’t sure there was any point in continuing treating her with acupuncture because she appeared to be manipulating the situation in a way that made treatment impossible.

It was my anger which brought me to my senses, and I told the practitioner later that I did not think I had dealt properly with the situation.  I had failed to take the right steps to get her treatment back in the correct five element groove.  We should have done a proper Traditional Diagnosis after the treatment in whatever time we had available, to be continued at the next treatment.  She should be asked to demonstrate how far she can stand and walk by herself, and the practitioner should get some answers to more detailed questions about her life.  We were not even clear about her living situation.  Does she live alone or with her family?  Does she have friends?  What does she do with her time?    

But all is not lost.  I have suggested to the practitioner that he should now start as though from scratch, trying to forget the wheelchair and the label of autism. Nor must he allow himself to be manipulated back into the old relationship where she appeared to be dictating how she wanted him to treat her.  My mistake was to allow her to do the same to me.

This is the only way in which we can help this patient.  And we should try to do that, rather than walk away.  She is really crying out for help, and has probably been crying out for this help all her life in the only way she knows how.   

It may be helpful to read this blog in conjunction with my blogs of 13 September 2011 “Losing control in the practice room” and of 9 October 2011 “Regaining control in the practice room”, which complement this blog and deal with other problems in the practice room. 

And so my learning continues!


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The pluses and minuses of life

It’s funny how often I come across some quotation which seems particularly relevant.  A few days ago, I read the following in, of all things, a detective story: “Things always have to even themselves out between plus and minus.  Between going forward and going back.  That’s the only way to live.”

I like the to think that life has to balance itself between pluses and minuses (acupuncturists would say, between yin and yang).  We tend to hope, unrealistically, that somehow the life we live should always be lived on the plus side.  Far better to accept that every plus needs its minus, for this brings the necessary tension which moves us towards change.  Time always hustles us along despite ourselves, jolting us out of complacency, as a minus does its companion plus and plus its minus, and as yin does its yang and yang its yin.

Interesting to find such a potentially deep thought tucked away between the covers of a simple detective story.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Preparing for my next visit to China

My flight to China on November 9th has now been booked.  Mei and I will be over there for 3 weeks and return on December 2nd.  We will spend the first two weeks at the Tong You San He Centre of Chinese Medicine in Nanning, where I will be concentrating on helping my dedicated group of five element practitioners.  We will also be expanding this group to include some of the many other practitioners clamouring to learn.    

We then fly to Chengdu for the final days, where I will be giving another seminar at a conference similar to the one I attended last November in Beijing.  The title of my talk this year will be “The Significance of Five Element Acupuncture for life in the 21st century”.

I now have to think carefully about what I see as the stresses of modern life which are common to all of us, and whether these are the same for people living in the East as they are for us in the West.  Some interesting thoughts here for me to explore.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hidden delights of London: Phantom Railings

If you walk from Gower Street to the back of the British Museum, at the corner where Keppel Street meets Malet Street you will find the most delightful sound installation called ‘Phantom Railings : an interactive sound sculpture’.  The old iron railings along a high wall surrounding the gardens at the back of Gower Street were removed during the Second World War to be used for the war effort, as all railings were, and for some reason have not been replaced.  You can still see the metal stumps left behind.  As I walked past, my walk was interrupted by loud plinking and plonking noises.  I stopped and looked around to see where they were coming from, only for the noises to stop, too.  When I started walking again, the noises started up again, and I realised they were being controlled by the pace of my steps.  By this time I had reached the large gates to the garden, which displayed a notice explaining that this was an installation “to evoke the phantom of a lost iron fence”.  The footsteps of passers-by recreate the sound of somebody running a stick along metal railings. 

Delighted with this unexpected source of art displayed so discreetly in quite a hidden corner of Malet Street, I walked up and down several times, changing the speed of my steps and creating my own tiny symphony of sound. 

And to round off my morning, I settled down to an Espresso at a little café round the corner, only to be charged £1.00 for it, the cheapest in London yet right in the centre of town.  And it was served with a smile and piping hot, just as I like it! 

What pleasures we come across in such unexpected places! 




Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plans for the autumn

It was dark and murky outside, a damp, almost autumnal feel to the day, when I first wrote this blog.  We have hardly had any summer at all in this country.  To relieve the gloom of the day I am looking ahead, and drawing up a summary of my plans and projects for the autumn, a form of taking stock which we should all do before the year closes down fully.

So here goes:

1.  A series of SOFEA seminars, two in September and two in October (see SOFEA website for details);

2.  Two trips to Europe in September (to Holland and Switzerland) for clinical work with practitioners, then a gap in October, before my third trip to China in November;

3.  Preparing my books for publication in e-format (the Keepers of the Soul is already available in e-format);

4.  Completing my translation for Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée of her 101 Key Concepts of Chinese Medicine, which Monkey Press will be publishing  (nearly done!);

5.  Reviewing my translations of some of Elisabeth Rochat’s very detailed work on point names.  I’m at the moment looking at Heart Protector (Heart Master) Points 1 - 9, and Lung Points 1 - 9;   

6.  Trying yet again to find a publisher for my translation of one of Jacques Lavier’s books, this time in America. Has anybody reading this got any contacts with publishers who might be interested in publishing this very important book which provides one of the key links in the route of transmission from East to West?

7.  A French translation of my Keepers of the Soul has been commissioned, and a Mandarin translation of The Simple Guide is at this moment winging its way to China. It will be interesting to see if they want to publish this in addition to the Mandarin version of my Handbook of Five Element Practice which is now well into its second edition of 5000 copies over there.

So that makes for a very five-element orientated autumn!  And today the sun is shining again, so thoughts of autumn have receded. 




Saturday, August 11, 2012

Usain Bolt Part 2: A further lesson on the Fire element from the Olympics

I have been watching Usain Bolt very carefully, trying to work out whether he is Outer or Inner Fire.  And I think now that he is Inner Fire, or, as we five element acupuncturists say, a II CF, with the Small Intestine as his dominant official.

Watching him has made me look again at the differences between these two sides of Fire.  And there are great differences.  I remember saying to JR Worsley that I thought there were really 6 CFs, not just 5, because Fire could be considered to consist of two, and he nodded.

So here is what my observation of Usain Bolt tells me about what I see as being typical of the Small Intestine:

1  He is able to multi-task in a way very familiar to me from my own Inner Fire abilities, and in a way no Outer Fire person would do.  I realised this when I saw him chatting happily to one of the stadium volunteers standing behind him just before the 200 metre final only a minute before settling down in his blocks.  He is obviously able to switch quickly from one task to the next without apparently any loss of focus.  This may even be his way of concentrating more on the next thing, even if that is an Olympics Final.

2  He likes to include everybody in his joy, chatting to all his fellow competitors after the race, addressing the camera, running up to the crowd and talking to everybody there.  Remember that the Small Intestine is the closest official to the Heart, and it wants to help the Heart express joy, particularly at these very intense moments.  Contrast this with Jessica Innes drawing her joy back into herself when she won, and her quiet self-absorption throughout the heptathlon.  (I think she is probably Metal, so quiet and self-contained.)

3  He has great awareness of what is going on all around him, seeing exactly which camera is on him, responding quickly with a joke and a smile when he knows the world is looking at him.  He watches everybody and everything all the time, as though using his Small Intestine’s ability to sort so that it can send the right information on to the Heart.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Usain Bolt - Fire!

You can’t have a better example of Fire than Usain Bolt.  Anybody who can make a whole stadium of people smile, let alone the billions watching on TV, must be Fire.  And he loves acting the clown.

Apart from enjoying the Olympics, which have lit up this country with a very English kind of enjoyment, I love watching how the different athletes respond to the stresses and joys of competition from a five element point of view.  It’s fascinating seeing all the different expressions of the elements so clearly visible, and there’s no better way of adding to our knowledge of the elements than watching people under stress.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Treating children with five element acupuncture

I love passing on heartening news about the results of simple five element treatments.  And this latest anecdote, from the practice of a friend of mine, encouraged me to think a little more about our approach to treating children.

An 11-year old girl suffering from severe migraine came for treatment.  The practitioner felt that her element was Fire, and this is the first treatment she was given:

AE drain (great deal of AE on Lung, Heart Protector and Heart)
Source points of Outer Fire, VI (TH) 4 and V (HP) 7

The migraines stopped completely the day after treatment, and have not recurred since.  She will be given one more treatment in a few weeks’ time (summer seasonal:  VI 6 (TH 6) and V 8 (HP 8)), and will come back for occasional top-up treatment if necessary.

The migraines started after she moved school, leaving many of her close friends behind.  She was also now being bullied by another child.  All this meant that her Fire element was suddenly placed under a great deal of stress with which it could not cope.  Hence the migraines and hence, too, the Aggressive Energy.

This made me think about the treatment I have given children, and why I have always, without exception, found Aggressive Energy to be there, and often a surprising amount of it for such young children.  This then set me thinking about AE in general, and what its presence signifies.  So why so much AE in children, when very sick adults may not have any?

I like to think that this may be because in children the imbalances are usually still at a fairly superficial stage, and have not had time to infiltrate deep within the elements.  We were always told that AE was the result of one element under stress flinging the negative energy which is weakening it across the K’o (Ke) cycle to its grandchild element in an attempt to avoid harming its own child element.  If the element under stress (which does not need to be the guardian element) has sufficient energy to get rid of negative energy in this way, it is still strong enough to maintain a good level of energy.  An AE drain may therefore help to deal with the first attack on the elements, and it may be that it is only when elements are deeply weakened that more sustained treatment at a deeper level is required.

When we treat children, we use exactly the same five element protocols as for adults, but we use less of them and treat far less often.  We don’t need to treat children more frequently than once in two weeks, even at the start of treatment, and then only for a few treatments, spreading treatments out more quickly than for adults.  We also use less moxa on the points (though children will be fascinated by moxa if you show a cone being heated on yourself first to calm them).  We also needle on one side of the body only, to reduce the stress for a child, except in the case of the AE drain and Entry/Exit blocks.

We also have to get used to needling a struggling child!  I use short needles, and always hold the needles carefully covered by my hand so that the child doesn’t see them.  It is important to needle quickly, and not delay things by trying to talk a child through its fear, as you would with an adult.  With the AE drain, if the child is young enough I ask the parent to take the child on their lap, and hold the child very firmly as I insert the needles.  The needles often fall out when the child struggles, so have a good supply to hand. 

And pulse-taking in these circumstances is also quite difficult!  So we do our best with whatever information we have.  Obviously, too, we have to learn about the child not only by observing it ourselves for as long as we can, but by talking to the parent(s)/guardian.  Again, obviously, this should if possible be done when the child is not present.  A phone call or meeting before the first treatment, in which we ask the parent/guardian the kind of questions we would ask an adult at the TD (Traditional Diagnosis) is essential to give us a picture of what is going on with the child and the family’s approach to this.

What is interesting, though, is that children themselves respond very quickly to the effects of treatment.  Though they may shriek or struggle a bit, the little child who makes a terrible fuss about the actual needling will often be the one who rushes into the practice room and greets me with a kiss, as though it knows I have helped them. 

The important thing is always to bear in mind that the reason why a child needs treatment is, as we know, not simply because of something physical, but, as with any patient we treat, inevitably has a deeper emotional cause.  All those terrible cortisone inhalers now lined up on primary school shelves which the young children are told to take for their asthmas could be thrown away if only people realized the stress their children’s Metal elements are placed under in this modern world.  When we are asked to treat children, therefore, we must always look beyond the child first to the parent(s), and then beyond the parent to the world in which the child lives. 

Usually, unfortunately, we are not asked to treat the parent, although we can clearly see that this is where the trouble lies.  In the case of this young girl, it seems that her parents may not appreciate how much the change of school and the bullying is affecting their child, and are not acting to support the child’s Heart Protector in a way that will help it protect itself from the bullying.  As we know, bullies always pick on a child which shows weakness, so the stronger her Heart Protector becomes, the more it will be able to stand up for itself.

Social networking among cows

It isn’t even April 1st, but a few days ago I heard on the BBC that a university somewhere is doing research into this very subject.  Apparently cows are being fitted with some kind of device which will help researchers find out how much cows like to chew the cud together.  They will monitor how far the milk yield goes up if cows are allowed to stay with their group, or down if they are separated from them. 

I imagine the answer will be the obvious one, particularly to a five element acupuncturist.  Presumably a happy cow will produce more milk than an unhappy cow, just as a happy person will lead a more productive life than an unhappy person.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A review of my book "Keepers of the Soul"

I have taken the plunge (see my blog More about books of 1 July), and now one of my books, Keepers of the Soul, can be downloaded on to Kindle.  Confirmation that it was good that I have done this has just come through a lovely email I received yesterday from China.  The writer, Feng, studied acupuncture in Chengdu, but did not complete her studies because she did not like the approach she was being taught.  She moved to Europe, and then, quite by chance (if there is such a thing!), made contact recently after many years with my friend Mei, with whom she studied in Chengdu.  She is now so enthused by five element acupuncture that she will be coming to my seminars in the autumn, and wishes to become a five element acupuncturist.  

As you can see from her email, she has bought one of my books in its e-book version, and has sent me the following review.  I pass it on to you in her words:

“Dear Nora,

I downloaded from Amazon Keepers of the Soul to my Kindle one week ago and now I just finished it and want to tell you how I feel about it. I would put my thoughts together in the way as if I were telling a friend about this book and I apologize for my gerglish.

At the beginning what touched me most is the utmost sincerity of the author. As I started the reading I had the feeling as if I were watching the author explore the elements, she was a little bit tense and me too, she tried to convey to me the whole dimension of her interaction with the elements and sometimes she succeeded and sometimes left me try hard to figure out what she was confronting at that moment. I have never experienced this kind of approach the author has to TCM,  honest, sensible, totally unassuming, open, and by a highly cultivated western mind (?!). Reading the book brought some subtle awareness to my inner world and I had the feeling I could even make correction to some minor disorders inside myself without intervention of needles. This led me to imagine what the intervention of a needle would do to me! As the reading processed, the author becomes more and more relaxed and as it comes to the description of the elements with example of prominent people it is getting even entertaining. It is a book that opens and I would recommend it to everyone without restraint.

Greetings from the summer of Chengdu,

Thank you, Feng, for these interesting comments.  I particularly appreciate your words:  “It is a book that opens.”  That is what all books should do – they should open something new inside us so that we see the world and ourselves in a slightly different way.

I also like the comment that you felt “I was a little bit tense” at the start of the book.  I probably was, as I was trying to encapsulate in words all my feelings about the elements.  Whenever I write, I always feel the difficulty of capturing feelings within the sometimes clumsy and inadequate framework of words.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dispelling a myth about moxa

It’s lovely to get feedback from patients about successful treatments we have done.  So here is something I can share with you.

A long-standing patient of mine told me that she had been suffering for some time from persistent menopausal hot flushes.   Her element is Earth, and this is the treatment I gave her:

CV (RM) 12
III (Bl 38) (or 43 – if you prefer, which I don’t!)
XI (St) 41, XII (Sp) 2

All the points were tonified and moxibustion on each point was added to the treatment.  

My patient was amazed by the effect of the treatment.  The hot flushes stopped that night, and she hasn’t experienced any since. 

I hope this goes some way to dispel the widespread myth that moxa should never be used on patients suffering from hot flushes.  The opposite is true.  Whilst hot flushes make people feel very hot on the outside, they can remain very cold on the inside.  Indeed I suspect that the inner cold may be the reason why the Three Heater is working overtime trying to provide heat, but in the wrong place.  Moxa helps correct this imbalance by sending warmth deep within the body (and soul!) to the meridian network.  

This is called treating fire with fire.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The dark days are over!

Over the past years I have experienced many dark days when I despaired for the future of five element acupuncture.  Now, I can say with heartfelt relief, no longer.  It is not only that the whole of China appears to have opened up to welcome it back to its heart after many decades of absence, but in this country, too, maybe perhaps partly as a result of this or because the spirit of the age demands it, five element acupuncture appears to have regained its soul.  I see evidence of this all around me, and am deeply encouraged by it to continue my work in promoting it.

One small, but significant, evidence for this found its way round the world to me by a circuitous route, which illustrates how the world is now indeed one.  Mei Long, my young Chinese student and friend, translates part of my blog into Mandarin for her own mini-blog (called a weibo), which then speeds on its way round China and to any Mandarin-speaker elsewhere in the world, where it apparently attaches itself in some form to Liu Lihong’s blog which is read by a vast readership in China.  A reader of this blog is a young Chinese girl living in London who came to one of my seminars, decided to experience five element acupuncture for herself and now wants to study it. 

Things do indeed come full circle if we wait long enough.


Points are messengers, not the message

Some of you may have been surprised when I wrote that I dislike books which list the function of points in my blog of 17 June, The Simpler the Better (last paragraph).  So here are my reasons.

We should always remember that points provide access to the meridians on which they lie, and through this to the elements deep within, each point a tiny opening through which external energies can be drawn in and down and internal energies drawn up and out.   We sometimes forget this, because as acupuncturists we only work on the surface of the body, and our concept of the meridian network is often modelled too closely on the two-dimensional charts hanging on our walls.  But though we use the points as places where we needle, their function is to convey the messages our needles are attempting to send down to the elements upon whose meridians they lie.  They are therefore always messengers, never the message itself.

Books listing the various functions of individual points can confuse the unwary.  If used carefully such books may well add to our understanding of the points, though I myself doubt much that is written in them, wondering upon how much actual clinical experience they are based as opposed to theoretical musings about the ancient Chinese meaning buried in their names.  What worries me is that relying on these books for our point selection, which so many acupuncturists sadly tend to do, inevitably weakens the awareness of the link between point and element, and potentially makes a knowledge of the element secondary to the apparent function of a particular point.  As five element acupuncturists, we are on a slippery slope once we begin to think of the point as having a function all its own quite distinct from that of the element which gives it that function. 

We must never confuse the messenger with the message.  And if our treatment is getting nowhere, we should not shoot the messenger (the points we have used), but look to change the message (the element on which they lie)!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I think the following is a beautiful description of the loneliness of grief, the feeling of isolation we all feel when we experience loss. It comes from a book by the American writer, Francine Prose, called Goldengrove, which is all about how a young girl copes with the death of her sister.

“So many of (those trying to offer comfort) said the same things that I might have thought that there was common ground, if I hadn’t known that I was alone on an iceberg split off from a glacier….. When they wept, I cried, too, and for a moment I almost believed that my iceberg might have room for another person.”

More about books

I have now put my Keepers of the Soul into e-format, and could sell it like that on Amazon for the Kindle.  And yet I have been surprisingly hesitant to take the last step, put off by the amazingly complex charging arrangements Amazon have devised, but more importantly by my reluctance to see my words encased, not in the enticing pages of book, but on a flat, metal (or is it plastic?) screen. 

The writer Julian Barnes has now helped me understand my reluctance a little better. This is from an article of his on his love of books in the Guardian yesterday:

“Every book feels and looks different in your hands, every Kindle download feels and looks exactly the same…..I have no luddite prejudice against new technology;  it’s just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A view from inside the Water element

I have just received some very illuminating insights into the Water element sent to me all the way from India by a friend of mine whose guardian element is Water.  She wrote this after reading my blog on Walking in the Street (24 June).

“I read your recent blog, which was interesting. These short, simple observations of each element in a particular situation are very easy to remember and think about. It's also certainly a fact that on the street, I would look at people but immediately look away! I think it is because I don't want them to know that I am looking at them unless they want to initiate contact. If they smile, for example, I would spontaneously smile back and maintain contact for a short while before looking around. It's as if I feel I am transparent and everyone is always able to see through me (literally I mean) and that everyone is trying to read my mind and judge me. And I need to distract most people (except those I am very comfortable with) from something I may have been focussing on by looking here and there, away from what originally caught my attention. I think this is what partly causes the jerkiness that is experienced by others in Water. It's also as if I need to constantly check the environment to condition my own response or state of being to it, perhaps a bit like water which changes its state so often. This takes up a lot of physical and mental energy unconsciously in its own way (as Fire does in its attempt to reach out and every other element in their individual ways).”

And I would direct anybody interested in reading about India to Sujata’s own beautifully written blog about her life in India:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Walking in the street: a lesson in the elements

I have learnt something more about the Fire element and about myself this week.  It seems that I need to interact with everybody I pass in the street, as though apparently trying to set up a fleeting relationship with those walking towards me.  I can even find myself on the tip of talking to them (about the weather, or the state of the pavement, or whatever), and have to hold myself back.  I am amazed at just how much effort I seem to be expending on these tiny, second-long interactions.  What I am doing is trying to look into people's eyes, if they will let me, in an attempt to evoke a response from them.  And because I have been observing myself closely as I pass people, I am also observing them as they pass me.  I have been passed by those who, like me, look me straight in the eye, by people who don’t seem to notice I am there, but obviously must because they don’t bump into me, by people completely absorbed in their own thoughts, by people careful to let me pass and by people simply brushing me aside.

Since Fire is the only element which needs to set up relationships wherever it finds itself, this has been the easiest element for me to carry out my mini-diagnoses on.  The other elements are more difficult to detect in those few seconds of our encounter, but I have discovered all kinds of pointers in the way they notice or don’t seem to notice me.  So here are just a few rules-of-thumb (what an odd expression that is!*) when next you are out in the street:

Fire looks into your eyes
Wood hurries to get past you
Earth is absorbed in their own thoughts
Metal looks through you
Water may glance at you but also all around you (as usual Water is the most difficult to pin down in this as in everything else it does)

Of course, all of us can do all these things, whatever our element, but these tiny pointers can be surprisingly useful in helping us understand the elements a little better.

Finally, none of the above holds true for those walking and talking on their mobile phones, in which case the Metal element will reveal itself in all of us whatever our element.  We hold a metal object, the phone, and listen to words coming to us from the far-distant ether and send our own words back out there into distant space.  No doubt in doing this we will all take on that Metal look of appearing to look through everybody we pass!

(*Just looked this up in Wikipedia:  “The term is thought to originate with wood workers who used the width of their thumbs (i.e., inches) rather than rulers for measuring things, cementing its modern use as an imprecise yet reliable and convenient standard”)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

More about silence

I have just started to translate the section on sounds and tones in Elisabeth Rochat’s book 101 Key Concepts of Chinese Medicine.  This, taken together with the subject of my other blog today, The Simpler the Better, has set me thinking more deeply about sound and its hidden companion, silence.  

The words for sound and tone in French, “son” and “ton”, are so similar to each other, and much more so than in English, that I found that I was quite often using them interchangeably.  We know that each element imprints a particular sound upon our voice, but what Elisabeth Rochat has helped me understand is that the tone of a voice expresses something deeper and more individual than the sound itself, for it conveys the way in which the sound is being made, and the particular emotional intensity it reveals.  If I return to my analogy of music, as I did in my last blog, it is as though sounds are what are made if I were to strike different piano keys, but tones are what a pianist can draw from these same keys when interpreting Mozart’s music.

I was also reminded of one my favourite quotations: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinies m’effrayent (the eternal silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me)”, which the 16th C French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote after contemplating the night sky overhead.  To human ears, the universe beyond us does indeed seem as silent as Pascal felt it to be, but modern instruments have replaced Pascal’s silence with extraordinary outpourings of sounds streaming towards us from the most distant edges of space.  Perhaps Pascal would have found this eternal noise just as terrifying as the silence he heard.

The thought that the whole universe is resonating to some frequency of sound adds a further layer to what I do.  For if each of us can be seen to have our own tiny frequency of vibration, its tones must ring true if we are in harmony within ourselves and ring false if we are not.  The acupuncturist’s needle can then be seen to act like a tuning fork, adjusting the frequencies at which the elements vibrate within us.  Our skill lies in learning to judge when it is time to put our needles aside once we feel that these vibrations ring to a true tone. 

And then indeed we should say, “And the rest is silence.”