Saturday, May 7, 2022

22-21 A Wood practitioner describes how she holds her hands

Catherine from France has sent me this welcome addition to my blog 22-19 of 3rd May: 

She describes the Wood element's way of sitting from a Wood person's perspective:

 "It is always with great pleasure that I read your blogs so I will answer your question about the sitting position of a Wood element, which I am definitely.


I tend to sit straight, sometimes with my feet on tip toes and when on public transport often I have to busy myself either with a book or phone.


My hands seem to find their position palm against palm in between my thighs or my hands are on my knees, but always in an erect position.


I have also noticed this erect position among my Wood patients. As if they are ready to get up to go on a mission and accomplish the tasks they have planned and organised."


Thank you so much, Catherine, for these very interesting insights from within the Wood element.



Wednesday, May 4, 2022

22 - 20 Two important lessons JR Worsley taught me

Two important lessons JR Worsley taught me many years ago have stood me, and all those people I have passed them on to, in good stead.  They are both deceptively simple lessons, but are profound in their reach.


The first was when I had just started my School of Five Element Acupuncture, SOFEA, and was feeling rather overwhelmed by the task I had taken on without thinking through many of its consequences.  I remember telling JR that I thought I had been foolhardy in accepting the responsibility of teaching others when I had only been in practice myself for so few years.  And he said, "Remember, Nora, you know more than they do."  And indeed I must have done, although I hadn't put it to myself in those terms.  After all, I had then had more than 6 years' experience both learning about and practising five element acupuncture, first as a student and then as a practitioner, and the students I was expecting to teach had absolutely none.


So this is the advice I pass on to other prospective teachers.  As long as you never claim to know more than you do, then each person has the right, and, as I often say, the duty, to pass on the little or the great amount of their own learning to those that have less than they do.


I found the second piece of advice  a little more surprising, but it was even more illuminating.  I told JR that I was having problems feeling the pulses and trying to diagnose their relative weaknesses and strengths.  And he said, "I know what you mean;  that happens to me, too.  Perhaps for a month or so I am uncertain of my pulse readings, and then I realise that this is because I've moved up a further level in my pulse diagnosis."  I wasn't convinced that the same applied to me at my much lower level of practice, but it was a comfort to hear JR say that he also had doubts about his own proficiency at various points in his life.


Both these lessons have comforted me throughout the many years of my practice and teaching.  I hope that they encourage others in their practice as they have encouraged me in mine.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

22 - 19 How we hold our hands when we sit - another diagnostic tool to help us

One of the delights of being a five element acupuncturist is realising that every single thing we do, each action we take, each movement we make, each way we talk or smile, each reveals, to a perceptive observer and listener, the element under whose patronage we live our life.  It is as though each of us is a walking, talking example of one element (with, of course, other elements which we call the "elements within" in more humble attendance).

In the past few days I have made another discovery about myself which adds a further diagnostic tool to help us distinguish between the different ways in which the elements manifest themselves.  I have written before about how I see the elements shape our bodies and our movements.  What I have now noticed adds a little more to this.  I made this new observation after looking at how I was sitting during a bus ride here in London.  I noticed that I seemed to be clasping my arms tightly to my body, almost as if in a defensive position. I then went on to observe myself whenever I found myself sitting quietly, and was surprised to find that I always tend to sit with my arms clasped around me, with the right arm over the left arm, and with the fingers of my right had held closely to my body, just below my left breast.  Once I had noticed this posture, I observed myself more closely whenever I was sitting doing nothing.  The moment my body returned to a position of rest, I found that the only comfortable position for my arms was the clasp-around-the-chest position I had noticed during my bus ride.  


Wondering why this should be, I suddenly started to laugh.  Of course, my arms were acting as Heart Protector, carefully surrounding my pericardium and in particular using the fingers of my right hand to close firmly up against where they would feel my heart beat, under my left breast.  In effect, my arms were physically taking on the role of protecting my Heart, as anybody who is Inner Fire, as I am, must do to fulfil its prime function.


Once I had realised that this was my default position whenever I sit idly, I started to look more closely at the way the other elements sit, and of course used my good friend, Guy (Metal), as the obvious next example.  He and I both noticed that he likes to sit with his hands away from his body, leaving the space Metal always likes to have around it, but with his fingers steepled in front of him. His forefinger forms a V-shape pointing forwards, and he clasps his thumbs together.  In effect, this emphasizes the two digits, the thumb and forefinger, which are what I call Metal's fingers, along which the two Metal meridians run.  The V-shape point can be seen symbolically, too, as Metal's ability to get to the very nub of a problem, to its very essence.


Guy and I only had time to discuss one of the remaining elements, Earth, which we had both observed likes to sit back very comfortably in its chair, with its hands clasped gently together in its lap.  This creates a kind of a circle around the abdomen, a very Earth posture.  


Interestingly, neither he nor I felt easy sitting in any way that differed from the ways we each preferred.  I felt really uncomfortable trying to sit as relaxed as Earth likes to do with my hands in my lap, and could certainly never steeple my fingers as Guy habitually does.  Nor did Guy feel at all happy clasping his arms around his chest as I like to do. 


I haven't yet had an opportunity to observe Wood and Water as closely as the other elements, but will report back when I do.  Perhaps some Wood or Water people can give me their own feedback on this.  As you know, I always welcome input from others to round off my understanding of the different elements.


So if you can't decide on C, S, O or E, then I suggest you look at how your patient is holding their hands.



Saturday, April 30, 2022

22 - 18 Why people seem to be frightened to teach five element acupuncture

I think that one of my current aims is to encourage as many five element acupuncturists to pass on as much of their knowledge to others as they can.  And that means, of course, daring to think of teaching.  I have often said that I am dismayed that so few five element practitioners seem to have the confidence, and therefore the desire, to take on such an essential role for the continuing future of this precious branch of acupuncture.  I have often wondered why this is so, because it is so different from my need to do all I can to help such a pure discipline survive in a world still dominated and controlled by orthodox medicine.


And yet what the world and its many ills and distressed patients want is so much more akin to what we offer our patients, which is the ability to help overcome many of the very profound stresses of modern life at every level of our being.  So what is holding back so many of my fellow practitioners from following in my footsteps, and even when actively encouraged by me, rarely accepting the suggestion to go out and teach?  


I have thought a lot about this over the years, and with only a few notable exceptions, such as my close associate, Guy Caplan and a few others five element practitioners scattered around the world, I see an acupuncture world now mostly deprived of any possibility of studying five element acupuncture in its purest, and often therefore simplest, most authentic form.  It is why I am so delighted that the one exception appears now to be China, with its vast resources in training practitioners of all areas of complementary practice.  It is now supremely able to include five element acupuncture in its huge university faculties devoted to the study of all forms of complementary medicine.  It pleases me greatly that a recent video celebrating my 10 years of teaching in China listed the number of seminars held in cities throughout China as being about 150, at which around 4000 students received their first introduction to five element acupuncture.


But I have just received some good news in a lovely email from Pierre in France.   As he says in his email, he has been on the trail of five element acupuncture for some years, before finally attending one of our seminars, and himself receiving some five element treatment.  Since then, he has been devotedly following a path in his life leading now to the decision to teach five element acupuncture.  Here are his own words:


"I'm announcing to you that I have decided to follow your advice about FEA, and the duty we have as practitioner to try to pass on what we have learnt, and what we know about this specific style of acupuncture, to help it to stay alive, and more important, to help it to spread out. 


Here in France, there is nothing I know about FEA of Worsley's lineage teaching. 


So I would like to start a teaching in the right way of the purest form of FEA, ..... with your allowance and benediction."


I herewith happily encourage him to do this, and send him my blessings.


I do not know what he is intending to do.  Whether it will be by founding his own college or just teaching a few practitioners in the age-old system of master-pupil transmission of knowledge. Maybe he doesn't yet know, but I am delighted that my words of encouragement, repeated endlessly over the years at each of our seminars and in many of my blogs, is bearing this unexpected fruit.  


"Well done, Pierre", and as the French say, "Courage, mon vieux!"  And he will certainly need all the courage he has.  Of course, Guy and I will do everything we can to support him in this exciting new venture.  I am also already gearing myself up to freshen up my somewhat stale spoken French.  Years ago, being a linguist, I could speak it almost like a native, but that skill has faded with many years of disuse.  I must get back to reading more of my French books as a first step in the right direction to helping Pierre, if he decides a visit from us to France would be welcome.


Any prospective five element teachers can also take heart from the examples of Guy and me.  We never claim to "do a JR", and within a few minutes state categorically what a patient's element is. Instead, we are are humble enough to insist that our first attempt at a diagnosis is only a hypothesis, a preliminary diagnosis, to be confirmed subsequently by evidence from the effects of treatment.  None of our many Chinese students are therefore remotely concerned when we do change our diagnosis.


Monday, April 18, 2022

22-17 Doors closing and doors opening

There is a common saying that when one door closes another opens, and I have found in my life that that does seem to be true.  The almost two years of Covid-lockdown did at times feel like a door firmly shut in my face, the obvious effect from a professional point of view being that I did not go on my twice-yearly visits to China or hold any seminars in this country.  The door, or doors, that opened have, however made up for this, if only partially, but in their own way quite dramatically.  For it gave me time to contemplate my life as a five element acupuncturist, and consider what, at my ripe old age, I still hoped to achieve, and this has led me, much to my surprise in quite new directions.


I have already blogged about my learning to teach in different ways (see my blog of 27 February 2022), through discovering the skill of learning to record myself on video.  In this way I used my new skill to record more than 100 short videos which continued my five element teaching for my Chinese students.  This new departure in my teaching life has now moved on a little more, and is spreading itself away from China into the English-speaking world, where some of these same videos will soon form part of an online five element teaching programme available outside China, as they could not be before.  The hands that opened that particular door for me are those of Gye Bennetts in Australia, who has taken from me all the load of setting up this online platform so that all I have to do now is some lightweight editing of what he is so ably putting together.


And another door has opened in relation to our seminar work in the UK.  Where Guy Caplan and I used together to organize our clinical seminars here in London, we have now become a trio.  With great joy we have welcomed Teresa Redding, one of my SOFEA graduates, to form part of our team.  She is proving incredibly efficient at taking on most of the administrative work from Guy's and my shoulders.


For anybody who has not yet received notification of our summer seminar on the Fire element on Monday 22 June, details can be downloaded from our website:, or by emailing Teresa at 


No doubt there are other doors still to be opened before I come to the end of my five element activities, and I await them with great anticipation.  Not least there will be the publication of the autobiography of my life as a five element acupuncturist, which my Chinese publisher is happy to publish both in an English and a Mandarin version, whenever I have completed it. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

22-16 To China and beyond

These past two years have found me stuck to my sofa, repeatedly recording myself talking about five element acupuncture on video to my students in far-away China, as Covid has prevented all travel and deprived us of the chance of my regular face-to-face seminars.  As of spring 2022, it does not look as though my visits to China will re-start before next year at the earliest, so in the meantime I am helping a good Australian five-element friend work out the format for putting these same sets of videos online for the English-speaking world through an international online platform.  This means that I am re-visiting some of the videos, looking at them with fresh eyes, and eyes now more suited to a Western audience, which is less steeped in the world of the elements than the Chinese are.

This also gives me the opportunity to look again at what I have left to do to promote five element acupuncture, and that has meant re-starting our regular five element seminars in London in the summer.  The first of this year's seminars will be on

Monday 20 June, and an application form can be downloaded from the SOFEA website, or by emailing


And there is my writing to think of.  I like to call what I am now putting into words my Autobiography of a Five Element Acupuncturist.  I am not interested in writing about my life as a whole, only in those areas which have led up to, and then sustained, my five element life.  I've never been interested in exploring the details of my personal life, as some conventional autobiographies do, not least because I don't think it is right to expose my family to the gaze of the world in general.


Of course, in looking back at my five element life, which now covers half of all my long years of life, this brings up a host of memories, some lovely, but unhappily quite a few which are painful, if not downright traumatic.  I realise now that there was no point during the 12 years of my college SOFEA's existence when I was not forced to face a high degree of antipathy from fellow acupuncturists towards what I was attempting to do.  All I was intending to do was simply to help maintain the tradition of five element acupuncture teaching which so brilliantly formed the training JR Worsley had introduced in his Leamington College.  I was just attempting to reproduce in my own school what I had been taught as a student, since I could not fault the instruction I had received.  Even now I am at a loss to understand what drove some of JR's devoted former students so vehemently to deny that part of their inheritance which had formed such an integral aspect of their own training.  So that when I came forward with my own plans to found a five element college devoted to this tradition I was treated to an often almost intolerable series of attacks from some of these former students of his who had moved away from the Leamington College to develop their own somewhat different style of teaching.  The very aggressive attempts to close my school down during most of the years of its existence persisted to the extent that students of ours who had attended introductory days at another college were warned off coming to SOFEA because they were told we would never receive the necessary accreditation, something which proved completely untrue.


It is to me odd now, from the viewpoint of my 10 years of visits to China, that the almost equivalent span of teaching at SOFEA should have included so many difficult episodes which threatened SOFEA's very existence.  By contrast, these last 10 years I have spent introducing five element acupuncture to the Chinese world have included hardly a moment of discord.  This has a lot to do with the Chinese reverence for learning in any form, as well as that for the life experiences of their teachers.  Put more crudely, the older I have become each year I visit China, the more my visits appear to be appreciated.  I think that the opposite could be said to hold true in the West, which is why so many experienced staff are relieved of their posts in favour of younger colleagues.  Years ago, professors were always senior members of staff.  Now I notice how often what I would still call young people, well under 40 years of age, are the ones promoted to professorships.  This may, of course, be because universities save money by pensioning of their older staff and employing the younger ones in their place, but this is not, I think, the only reason.


This brings me neatly to something that has happened so to hearten me that it has dispelled many of the negative feelings which have found expression in this blog.  To my utter astonishment, I have just received the most heart-warming email from a five element practitioner which contained so many echoes of what I had myself had to experience as I attempted to do all I could to keep alive the traditions of five element acupuncture practice which I had inherited.   Here, in this email which winged its way to me from the United States, were described so many of the obstacles I had myself encountered in this country.  Additionally, to my delight, my correspondent expressed understanding and admiration for my own struggles, having witnessed them from afar over many years, both in my books and my blogs, and obviously appreciated how much this had all cost me.


It is rare to receive such unexpected recognition of the hurdles that I have had to overcome over the years, showing a true understanding of what they have cost me in sleepless nights and wasted hours.  It puts the many years of struggle in perspective, and gives me even more encouragement to continue doing what I have always tried to do, just pass on my love of five element acupuncture as widely as possible and to as many people as possible.


Thursday, March 31, 2022

22-15 Sujata's take on Water's way of thinking

Here is my Water friend's answer to my question about how Water does its thinking. This follows on directly from the end of my last blog (22-14):


Thank you for asking me to write a bit about how Water expresses itself.  I have been thinking of getting back to writing for some time but nothing was flowing.  This will be a good beginning and I'm happy and grateful that you thought of me.  I am writing mostly about myself (and a few other Water people I know but I don't know how general this information will be).


Water, when unimpeded, flows.  It moves in an instinctive manner, not always logical, but usually by feeling its way - sending out sensors to the environment and modulating its response according to what it finds (or feels) is present around it.  Therefore, the way a Water person expresses himself (or herself) depends on how the Water person is feeling at the time and on who he (or she) is interacting with.  Water, in its comfort zone (as it often is with Fire), attempts to express its soul, or sometimes just bubbles along contentedly.  With Metal, Water tends to be more guarded, a bit on edge due to Metal's brevity and conciseness.  With Earth, Water can be very comfortable, but often slips into the mode of a listener, not revealing much of itself.  With Wood (depending on the intensity the Wood person displays), Water often has a disconnect, feeling sometimes unnerved by the push that Wood sends out.  Given a chance, Water would not try to push back (though if it gathers its resources, it probably can), but to bide its time and take a different direction at the earliest possible opportunity.  This is how Water functions when it is close to equilibrium or its natural state.  In times of stress, Water can be greatly affected by fear, reducing its natural flow to a frozen state, but Water, with its resilience, often finds a way to overcome this and continues moving on.

Thank you, Sujata, for these very illuminating descriptions about the way that you think.