Friday, November 30, 2018

Unravelling the puzzle of point locations a little

For many years I was completely unaware of the fact that different branches of acupuncture used anatomical locations for some of their points which differed from the ones I had been taught.  The first five or more years of my practice were spent in a complete five element bubble, since at that time JR Worsley’s college at Leamington was the largest college, and many of us who trained there were completely unaware of the existence of other schools of acupuncture.  I know I certainly was, until rumours started to spread around the acupuncture community that acupuncturists who had visited China were bringing back with them another form of acupuncture which appeared not so much to complement what we had learned, but to cast doubt in the minds of some five element acupuncturists about the validity of what they were practising.  This was first brought home to me when standing in a lunch queue at an acupuncture event and being told by a fellow acupuncturist, with some disdain in her voice, “JR has a very odd way with moxibustion”, followed by, “You don’t still only do five element acupuncture, do you?”.

I always find it interesting when I observe how often people are only too happy to grab hold of anything which might seem to undermine some practice or concept which holds a dominant position, almost as though they cannot wait to mock what before they expressed admiration for, or indeed, as in the case of many five element acupuncturists, actually used for years in their practice.  This happens all too often, particularly where somebody has been pre-eminent in one discipline.  Perhaps it is then only natural that those sheltering in the shadow of such a person may start to feel increasingly disempowered, and look for ways of asserting their own independence of thought.  This happened most famously with Carl Jung’s abandonment of his admiration for his mentor, Sigmund Freud, and the same thing happened in this country when JR Worsley’s legacy to acupuncture started being mocked in the way I encountered.

In a very short space of time this was followed by a growing onslaught by the acupuncture world in general, led unfortunately by the British Acupuncture Council, on the right of five element acupuncture to be considered as a stand-alone discipline.  I have written a lot about the difficulties I, as a devoted five element acupuncturist, have encountered in defence of my practice over the years, but in this blog I want to look at how influences from China have apparently changed this country’s approach to the location of certain points, and how far this is still something five element acupuncture needs to take into account.

The subtle undermining of an accepted five element tradition extended also to the area of point location, where people started discussing whether the five element locations used, based on a long-established tradition going back through to JR Worsley’s teachers, Jacques Lavier and Wu Wei Ping, came up against the locations modern Chinese acupuncture was now deciding for us, and which have come to be replaced by many British acupuncture colleges.  I am certainly no historian of acupuncture, nor have I any way of knowing whether the point locations which have gradually superseded some of those used in five element acupuncture have clinical validity or not.  And this is the only factor in the debate about different point locations which I feel needs to be taken into account.  If I needle a point in my well-practised five element location will a point at a slightly different location used in modern Chinese acupuncture, and following hard on its heels, modern British acupuncture, have the same clinical effect?

We sometimes think that acupuncture does not lend itself to “evidence-based research” in quite the same way as scientifically-based therapies, because it does not seem possible in a holistic discipline such as ours, and similarly in any of the different forms of psychotherapy, to obtain sufficient objective evidence of the efficacy of any clinical procedure which cannot be measured by some physical instrument.  But I think my many years of practice have provided me with just as much evidence that the points I use in treatment have actually effected material changes in my patients, and ones which are perceptible to others, provided that their senses are sufficiently honed to perceive sensory and emotional changes.

When a patient says, as one of my patients did yesterday, that “the treatment you gave me a few days ago really made me feel I could face life again,” is that not evidence of the efficacy of the particular treatment, made possible by needling specific acupuncture points?  The problem is that a reader of this blog only has my word for this, and if I were to invite observers into my practice room during the treatment, might the presence of unfamiliar faces affect the patient’s response to the treatment, and perhaps nullify it?  I do, though, have what I like to call one objective proof of the location of one of the disputed locations of an acupuncture point as a result of a moving encounter I had when consulting JR Worsley about one of my patients.

This point is the one on the Kidney meridian which in the five element point numbering is IV (Ki) 7.  As any five element acupuncturist knows, this is one of the first points in the combination of six points, needled bilaterally, used to clear one of the most serious energy blocks recognized in five element acupuncture, that of a Husband/Wife imbalance.  IV 7 is a tonification point, drawing energy from Water’s mother element, Metal, and in the five element location is at 3 ACI (cun) from the prominence of the medial malleolus.  We were taught to needle all six points before taking the pulses to see whether we had cleared the block, in effect checking whether the patient’s Heart energy - (I (Ht) 7 is the last point in the procedure - was recovering sufficiently to combat the spiritual despair which is one of the main indicators of this block.

I had taken a patient to see JR Worsley, and he had diagnosed this block, leaving me to carry out the treatment.  As this was early on in my acupuncture career, it took me some time to mark up the points, particularly those on the Kidney meridian which require much careful measuring of the leg, so when JR returned I had only had time to needle the first two points, III (Bl) 67 and IV (Ki) 7.  Before I had told him that I had not completed the whole procedure, he took the pulses, nodded at me, and said, “That’s cleared.  Good.”  It was then that I realised that the re-establishment of a strong connection between the Metal and Water elements through the tonification points must have been sufficient to clear the block.  From then on I have always checked the pulses at this early stage in the procedure just to see if this often happens, which I find it does.  Each time, though, I go on to carry out the full procedure because I recognize that needling the remaining points strengthens the connection between the elements which a H/W imbalance shows has been weakened.

From this, and from my own later experiences, corroborated by my years of clearing many H/W blocks, I know that the tonification point on the Kidney meridian is definitely where we locate it in five element acupuncture, at 3 ACI from the level of the medial malleolus.  The Kidney source point, IV (Ki) 3, too, which also forms part of the H/W procedure, is at a different location from the more recently accepted location.  I therefore recommend any practitioner trying to clear a H/W block to adopt the five element anatomical location of these two points.  I like to think that I am stepping in the footsteps of an acupuncture master in using the points exactly where he told us they were, and feel that something of the energy I felt passing from him through to the patients I brought to him for consultation is transferring itself a little to me as I needle the points where he told us to find them.

Friday, November 23, 2018

In praise of youth

The older I get, and I am now surprisingly old I find, the more I seem to be drawn to the young, from the little babies in their prams looking so eagerly around themselves as they enjoy taking possession of a bright new world, to the young students from many different acupuncture colleges in this country and abroad, who crowded into our latest SOFEA clinical seminar last week.  I am no longer in the acupuncture loop which knows how many acupuncture colleges there still are around Britain, but to my knowledge quite a few have had to close, and their replacements seem to be more in the nature of small independent training establishments, even too small to be called colleges or schools, in which a few dedicated acupuncturists endeavour to pass on their knowledge to a few equally dedicated and enthusiastic students.  This is a faint modern imitation of countless years of individual master/pupil transmissions which was considered to be the only acceptable route of transmission in earlier days.

I am always so pleased to see the keenness with which these burgeoning acupuncturists learn to embrace five element acupuncture early on in their careers, because, for obvious reasons, the longer practitioners have to immerse themselves in the profound and, to me, magical world of the elements, the more easily they will find themselves at home within it.  One of the problems for all the many TCM practitioners who have attended what we used to call SOFEA’s five element conversion seminars has always been the need for practitioners new to five element acupuncture to summon up sufficient courage to move to a discipline which cannot be viewed merely as an add-on to what they have studied, but requires them to put aside their previous learning and embrace the new in its entirety.  To do this, when most practitioners are working on their own and haven’t the support network provided by studying at a five element college as I did, requires them to be absolutely convinced of the validity of five element acupuncture as a stand-alone discipline, and the stamina to confront all the inevitable ups and downs which embarking on a new direction to their practice demands of them.

I always admire the way that Mei Long, one of my co-tutors at our Chinese seminars, was so instantly convinced of the truth underlying five element acupuncture that she changed direction from TCM in a single leap of faith, and has never looked back, being now one of the most competent five element practitioners I have been privileged to work with.  She was certainly younger than I was when she encountered it for the first time, for I was all of 45 before I had even seen an acupuncture needle.  But I was fortunate that at that time in the UK five element acupuncture was a dominant influence in the few acupuncture colleges which then existed, and had not yet been undermined by the influx of modern Chinese acupuncture into this country.  I therefore welcome all those young student acupuncturists out there who seem to share so wholeheartedly in my love of the elements, and make running our seminars in this country so worthwhile for Guy and me. 

This is also a good time to tell you that we are running two further five element clinical seminars in London in 2019, the first on Friday 8 February 2019, and the second on Sunday 9 June 2019, both at Neal’s Yard Therapy Rooms in Covent Garden.  The February seminar is now almost fully booked and has a waiting list, but there are still places available in June.  Details of both seminars can be downloaded from our website 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Emerging from another productive five element seminar

It always takes me a few days to come down from the high I finish on at the end of each of our five element seminars.  Having just finished our latest two-day event, I still wake with a smile on my face, one that has been there from the moment Guy and I opened the doors to our first arrivals on Monday 12 November, and stayed there for the whole two days of the seminar, until it was temporarily replaced by a few tears as we hugged each other and bid each other good and satisfying times in our practice until we meet again in February.

It is such a delight for me to have such welcome confirmation of five element acupuncture’s firm hold on the hearts of many of what I call the “original” JR-trained practitioners, as well as now, happily, the many acupuncture students finding their way to us to reinforce their five element understanding.  It is probably no coincidence that this upturn in the interest in this branch of acupuncture is occurring at the same time as, or I suspect as a direct result of, the enormous interest Chinese acupuncturists are showing in learning from both my writings and the seminars Mei, Guy and I run twice-yearly in Beijing.  I laugh as I look at the photo of us with our 275 Chinese students (posted on Facebook for all to see), and compare it to the photo of the initially small group of under 20 practitioners with which we started our adventures in China 8 years ago.  I have often been asked whether I will frame this latest photo, but answer by saying that our next seminar in April 2019 will expand to more than 300 practitioners, so I’ll need an even larger frame and a bigger wall space on which to hang the photos each time I go.

Guy and I have already planned our next London clinical seminar which will be on Friday 8 February 2019.  Details and a booking form can now be downloaded from our website  Since we are holding this seminar at a smaller venue in Neal’s Yard, we are now already half-booked, so applications will have to be made promptly if you want to join us.

Friday, November 2, 2018

A plea for tolerance: how a knowledge of the qualities of the five elements can help all of us understand each other better

I was reminded of one of the most rewarding aspects of my five element practice during a conversation I had with a Chinese psychotherapist during our latest seminar in Beijing.  This illustrated very neatly something I have consistently emphasized over the years.  Very soon after I started my five element studies all those many years ago, I realised that my understanding of the elements was shaping my approach not only to health and ill-health, which was my original reason for embarking on these studies, but also, at the deepest level, to how I related to other people.  My study of the elements helped me to a greater acceptance of the incredible diversity of human reactions, and this was making me more tolerant of those who differed from me.

The Chinese psychotherapist I spoke to specializes in family therapy, and told me how coming to my five element seminars and reading my books was proving very helpful in his own practice.  He asked my permission to quote from my books in his teaching, permission I was only too happy to give him.  I am always glad that my descriptions of the elements are useful not only to acupuncturists but to people of other therapies, as a way of helping them understand human interactions better. 

I have often said that I love the old English saying, “All the world is odd, except thou and me, and even thou art a little odd,” because it so accurately and neatly describes a common human failing, which we are all guilty of.  We tend to judge other people from the standpoint of our own prejudices, our own likes and dislikes, rather than seeing them as having equally valid, though often very different and conflicting views to our own.  We all have a common human tendency to judge others as though inadequate in some way if they act or think differently from us.  A knowledge of the elements therefore teaches us greater humility, and leads to greater tolerance, something this increasingly intolerant world of ours so badly needs..




Wood: the element of future potential

I have a lovely quote by a Wood friend of mine which I would like to share.  She is planning to make many changes in her life at the moment, and as she left the coffee house where we were meeting, she called out from the door: “I’m always looking at possibilities.”

I can’t think of a neater description of one of the Wood element’s most important qualities, that of giving itself, and others, hope for the future.