Saturday, May 21, 2016

Example of why it is so satisfying teaching my Chinese students

Here is an email I have just received from one of my acupuncturist students in China, who brought several of her patients to our recent seminar for us to help diagnose and treat:

"Thank you so much for what you did to help me to diagnose my patients' elements in Nanning and Beijing.  When I came back home I treated them.  Almost everyone feels well, and I also see the changes in them, especially in my mother-in law.  I treated her on the Metal element. She knows that she should let go more, and she is softer as a person.  So now I can get on well with her.”

It is so pleasing for me to receive such strong confirmation that what we have been teaching over in China for the past five years is falling on such productive ground.  I’m so glad that this particular student of ours is now getting on better with her mother-in-law, with whom she lives.  It shows how important for our relationships it can be if we work out what the elements of our nearest and dearest are.  We can then allow them to express themselves in the way they need to, rather than bemoaning the fact that they don’t behave as we would like them to do.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The power of releasing blocked energy

I love clearing what we call energy blocks, a technique which really forms the bedrock of five element practice.  All illness can be described as being caused by different forms of blocked energy, being the result of some impairment of the balanced flow of energy from element to element round the five element circle.  The most common form of block, and one we address at a patient’s first treatment, is that which leads to the presence of Aggressive Energy, an AE block, where one element in distress passes its disturbed energy on along the cycle, not to its child element but to its grandchild, throwing it across the circle “like some hot potato”, we were told.

It always amazes me how many physical complaints can disappear simply by expelling this negative energy from body and soul, and how often it will occur as a result of some mental or physical trauma.   Any form of surgery, for example, life-saving though it may sometimes be, must always be viewed as traumatic for the body (and soul), and therefore benefits from checking for the presence of AE afterwards.  It may well be there, and will hinder recovery if left to fester for too long.  In a fairly healthy person I assume that AE will gradually seep from the body without treatment, otherwise nobody would recover from surgery or other traumas, which of course they do, but recovery will be speeded up if this simple treatment is done as a matter of course.

Then of course there are all the frequent day-to-day blocks we encounter, which we call Entry/Exit blocks, blocks which occur at the exit point of one meridian and the entry point of another.  These lead to localized areas of pain and discomfort, which can speedily be dispelled by the needling of just a few points.    Finally, there is the most powerful Entry/Exit block of all, that between Conception Vessel and Governor Vessel, a CV/GV (Ren Mai/Du Mai) block. 

I remember JR Worsley telling us that we would do the points for a CV/GV block on every patient if only they were on the hand.  I recall laughing at the time, but I have since realised how true this would be because of the wondrous power this releases at the deepest level.  I suspect many of us choose not to detect this block from a natural reluctance to needle what is the most intimate part of a person’s body.  To help our students at SOFEA overcome their inhibitions, we always made sure that they had marked up these points on both men and women as part of their training.  (And here I will pass on a tip I have learnt from Chinese acupuncturists, who are much less reluctant to needle these points than the more inhibited English.  Turn a patient on their side with their knees bent, rather than, as we were taught, needling the points with the patient lying on their back, a more vulnerable position, certainly for women.)

A patient on whom I have just needled a CV/GV block told me that she felt very different immediately after the treatment.  “I feel more centred, more grounded, more upright.”

See also my Handbook of Five Element Practice for more on all kinds of blocks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nostalgic memories

It is strange to become aware of social change happening before my eyes as happened today.  I was reading an excellent book about Shakespeare’s life by James Shapiro, called 1606 – Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.  Shakespeare wrote Lear around the time of the Gunpowder Plot, with Guy Fawkes one of the conspirators.  For the next 400 years this day has been remembered by the fireworks displays we hold on 5 November.

But I now realise that things have changed almost without my noticing it.  It must be many years since I last passed a few ragamuffins on the street pushing along an old pram in which they had stuffed a hastily-dressed puppet, and calling out to me as I pass, “A penny for the guy?”  We still celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks, but children no longer re-enact the event symbolically by wheeling a model of Guy Fawkes around in an old pram.  Are there indeed still any shabby old prams out there suitable for this, rather than the huge modern contraptions blocking our pavements?  And pennies have long since disappeared.   But I was pleased when my colleague, Guy, told me that he remembers as a child dressing his teddy bear up in old clothes, propping him up in the street and begging passers-by for pennies.

Another nod to our past has thus gone almost without our noticing it.  Just as I can’t remember how many years it is since I last heard groups of carol singers knocking on doors up and down the street before Christmas, although maybe this still happens in small rural communities where people know their neighbours.  Some of the carol singers would gather in groups and collect for a charity, but often we would open our door to two or three young children, who would launch into feebly singing a few odd bars of “Good King Wenceslas”, before grinding to a halt because they didn’t know the words.   Perhaps nowadays, too, it would be considered too risky for young children to knock on doors on their own in the evening, another sad indictment of the times.

When customs such as these which have persisted for centuries lose their relevance, dwindle and die out, a little fabric of our social history is torn away with them.  Now all the new customs are created, not on the streets but at one remove on social media through our mobile phones.


One of the many challenges of being a five element acupuncturist

We must never be too quick to say “I know this patient’s element is obviously Fire (or Wood or Earth or Metal or Water)”.  There is nothing “obvious” at all about the way in which an element presents itself to us.  We may learn to recognize its presence more and more clearly with time, but we should always leave a healthy small (or large) question-mark hanging over it reminding us that elements can hide themselves so subtly behind manifestations of other elements that they still have the power to surprise us, as they do me even after all these years.

If the presence of an element were so simple to detect, we would all be brilliant five element acupuncturists early on in our career, but human beings are much more complex than we think.  So we should never underestimate the time it will take us to find the one element buried deep within the circle of all the elements which gives each of us our individual stamp of uniqueness.

Pride, as they say, comes before a fall, and never is this truer when trying to diagnose an element.  We risk much if we think our understanding of the elements is greater than it truly is.

In any case, the secret of good five element acupuncture is not simply managing to diagnose the right element, despite this being what many practitioners think.  Instead it is learning to respond appropriately to that particular element’s needs.  Even if we diagnose the right element, do we know how to respond to its needs in a way which makes the patient feel that they have been heard as they want to be heard?  If that understanding is not there, treatment will rest on fallow ground, however much it may be focused upon the right element.

Supposing, for example, that we diagnose a patient’s element, correctly, as Metal, but respond to it in a way which would be more appropriate to an Earth patient, offering a kind of “Oh dear, Oh dear, you poor thing” kind of response, we will find that our Metal patient soon backs away and decides not to continue treatment.  Our element may be Earth and it may be natural for us, mistakenly, to offer to all our patients what we ourselves feel most comfortable with.  Unfortunately, however, we have to learn to make ourselves at ease in the company of elements not our own.  To surround Metal, for example, with a kind of enveloping sympathy is not what it wants.  It will feel suffocated by it, its Lung unable to breathe.  Instead we must learn to offer the space it always wants to place between itself and others.

And the same holds true for how we need to approach our interactions with the other elements.  As far as possible, then, we must learn to suppress the needs of our own element and think ourselves into those of the element we have chosen to treat.  This is not an easy task, and one that it takes some skill and much practice to acquire.

Another beautiful quotation

I love unexpectedly coming across beautiful writing.  The quote below is from a book by Alexandra Fuller, who writes about her life in Africa.  All her books are worth reading, not only for what they tell us about a life lived through some of the turmoil of African independence wars, but also for the beauty of the words she uses to describe this life.

Here is a little gem which makes me understand, once again, why books are so important to me, and how they have the ability to transport me, as here, into the mysteries of the universe.

The lion lay next to Mapenga, contentedly licking fish flesh off the edge of Mapenga’s plate, and we talked softly about other nights when we had sat around fires in Africa – with different people – listening to wild lions, or hyenas, or to the deep, singing, anonymous night.  Above us the sky tore back in violent, endless beauty, mysterious and unattainable.  There is no lid to this earth and there is nothing much fettering us to the ground.  Eventually we will die and be wafted back into the universe.  Bones to dust.  Flesh to ashes.  Soul into that infinite mystery.”

Alexandra Fuller:  Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, p. 232



Monday, May 2, 2016

A nostalgic trip into the past

I am reading a rather delightful book I picked up by chance in the library.  It is the diary by somebody called Kathleen Hey who was a shop assistant in Yorkshire during the Second World War.  It brings back very clear memories of my own childhood, particularly the four-year period we spent escaping the London Blitz to Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District.  Opposite the small house at the lakeside, a former cafĂ©, into which we crammed our large family of relatives and friends who had escaped to England from Nazi-occupied Austria, was a small, derelict refreshment kiosk to which we as children would press our noses because, displayed on its dust-covered shelves, were cardboard replicas of the sweet and chocolates now no longer available in the wartime shops.

I was reminded of the feelings of longing I had each time I passed the kiosk by what I have just read in Kathleen Hey’s diary, as she describes a few days’ holiday in Blackpool:

“There were queues at all food shops, some serving customers (residents) at one counter and visitors at another.  By the time a woman on holiday has shopped for her family the morning will be gone.  There are no cigs, sweets or matches though many of the windows are attractively dressed with dummy boxes.”

I still have some of this longing for chocolate which must have been sparked by the dummy boxes in the empty kiosk all those years ago.  Give me a box of chocolates now and I am hard put not to finish it at one go. 

Thus are we all conditioned by what happens to us in our childhood.