Friday, May 7, 2021

72. Another lesson about the Earth element

It still surprises me how much I learn each time I'm with another person, particularly if I am paying the kind of concentrated attention I reserve for looking at patients. Yesterday I observed something new about the way the Earth element impacts upon me.  As I watched a video of a Chinese acupuncturist's interaction with one of his patients, I learnt something about this element that I had not seen before.  The description that came to mind was that the patient made me feel surprisingly comfortable.  He was sitting back at ease in his chair with his hands loosely clasped together on his lap, and I could sense myself relaxing in response to him.  There was little of the usual feeling I have come to associate with the presence of Earth, that of something being demanded of me, a need for understanding which may have become the stereotype of my response to this element.  This patient did not make me feel that he was pulling at me in any way, and I decided that he was an example of balanced Earth, with little of the neediness I had come to associate with this element.


I then asked myself how I would be feeling if the patient was one of the other four elements, and I therefore looked at each in turn, starting with Wood.  I asked myself how I would feel if I was facing one of my Wood patients, and was immediately aware that I would have reacted differently, by sitting up a little straighter and leaning forward towards the patient as if to counter a slight obstacle.  This tends to be my reaction to Wood since it always has a slightly challenging effect upon me, as its strong yang energy meets my own Small Intestine's yang energy.  If the patient were Fire, this would also have had a different effect upon me, as our two Fire energies, both in some ways trying to enter into some kind of a relationship with each other, being such a familiar feeling for me, would have left me even more relaxed.


This is quite unlike the effect a Metal patient would have upon me, for Metal, far from wanting to enter a relationship with those it encounters, wants space between it and other people, more than either Wood, Earth or Fire do.  Like all elements, though, it makes its own demands, and when I am with Metal patients I feel that I must work out carefully how to respond in an appropriate manner to what they want of me, otherwise they will withdraw into their shell.  Finally, then, I am left with wondering how I would react if this patient were Water.  I think I would feel slightly apprehensive, this being a reflection of Water's own fear conveying itself almost unconsciously to me, and making me uneasy.  There was no such uneasiness within me as I watched this Earth patient.  


It is by studying carefully the subtle differences in my responses to the different elements in this way that I have learnt to improve my diagnostic skills over the years.  So I have now added this slice of fresh learning to the drawer in my filing cabinet of element examples labelled Earth.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

71. Greater tolerance: one of the gifts of five element acupuncture

Very early on in my study of the elements I realised that I was becoming a much more tolerant person, simply because what I was learning about the elements made me understand, probably for the first time, that there were good reasons why people differed, from one another, and that I should no longer be surprised at these differences.   It was through learning about the different qualities of the elements that this was spelt out so clearly to me. If, as I learned on the first day of my acupuncture course, and believed so utterly from then on, each of us was imprinted with the mark of one of the five elements, then the particular qualities of that element gave all of us something which I like to call our elemental DNA.


We are often reluctant to acknowledge such innate differences, perhaps because it is easier simply to be critical of aspects in other people with which we are not familiar than it is to welcome them as signs of the richness of what we contribute to the human experience.  Even now, after all these years of acquainting myself more closely with the different expressions of the elements, I can still find myself dismissing some opinion contrary to mine as proof of a person's narrow-mindedness or even stupidity, rather than bting a legitimately held view based on another element's approach to life which inevitably differs from mine. 


We are conditioned to see life in all its complexities through the lens of our particular element.  However carefully we may try as five element acupuncturists to discount the distortions to our thinking this inevitably results in, we cannot totally eradicate this tendency.  I cannot stop my own Fire element colouring my interactions with the different elements in the people I meet, and even, though to a slightly lesser extent, in those of my own element.  For in the presence of another Fire person I feel myself relax a little, even if that person is a patient of mine, and this very relaxation may mean that I am not as observant as I should be in all my interactions with my Fire patients.


Understanding how each element shapes all that we do, from the way that we talk, the way that we make judgements, the way that we relate to other people, and even perhaps even to the kind of political party we may tend to belong to, certainly leads all of those with some knowledge of the elements to explore why other people act as they do, and try to find the reasons for this within the circle of the elements.


This is why JR Worsley always said that everybody who wanted to study five element acupuncture should be allowed to do so, irrespective of their academic qualifications. Nor did those wanting to study need to have as their aim the desire to practise.  It was simply enough to wish to learn more about a fascinating philosophy of life.  Initially this was my own reason for enrolling in JR Worsley's acupuncture college.  It was only after my first year of study that I realised that I was totally hooked, and began to overcome the doubts I had about my suitability to become a practitioner.  Gradually these gave way to a deep conviction that here at last I had found my true calling, a conviction which only became stronger as the years passed.


Five element acupuncture's ability to help each of us cope better with other people is probably the greatest gift this form of healing offers an increasingly intolerant world which often appears to be tearing itself apart.  So I urge everybody to learn as much as they can about this ancient form of healing, which is so well-suited to the needs of a modern world, for in doing so we help smooth our relationships to all around us.  And that is such a worthy aim. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

70. Updating the procedures for clearing Possession and Aggressive Energy

When teaching students I have always had to draw an imagery line between what I have learnt to do in my practice as an experienced five element practitioner and what it is advisable to tell students to do.  I am sure that many of my fellow five element acupuncturists have over the years also developed their own approaches to their practice.   

I had to consider this when writing my Handbook of Five Element Practice, which is intended for budding five element acupuncturists, and now, in its latest edition, has the addition of a Teach Yourself Manual for all those who are not able to join a college course or train with a five element acupuncturist.  In the original edition, published first more than 15 years ago, I rather blindly copied what I had been taught in my original training at JR Worsley’s Leamington College.  It was only when my own students started pointing out to me some years later that what I was teaching them in class differed in some respects from what I had written that I realised how far in my own practice I must have adapted what I had been taught without realising it.


This has been brought home to me very strongly recently by questions from practitioners on two different and important aspects of five element practice, both relating to clinical procedures.  The first is about the procedure for clearing possession and the second about that for an AE drain.  Both questions have made me think carefully about why I have adapted what I was taught in the way I have, and whether it is appropriate to incorporate these changes into any future teaching that I do.  Alternatively I ask myself whether there will always be some discrepancy of this kind between what an experienced practitioner does compared with what it is advisable for novice practitioners to do.


First, to the procedure for clearing possession.  I have been troubled for some time by the fact that in all the years during which I saw JR Worsley with patients, and he diagnosed many cases of possession, not once did he suggest that we should start treatment with EDs (External Dragons), nor, on the only occasion when he thought IDs (Internal Dragons) had not been successful, did he immediately suggest that I should move on to EDs.  And yet in his Points Book not only are the points for EDs listed, but also two sets of points for IDs, making a total of three sets of possible points.  This has always puzzled me, but I sadly never took the opportunity of my many hours following JR to ask him when we should be thinking of using EDs, nor how we should choose between the two sets of ID points.  We were told to use one set of the ID points listed, those for patients “with depression”.   Like so many things I now wish I had asked him, I wasted that opportunity, and will now never know why all three sets of points were listed.


Of course, other practitioners may have had different experiences when consulting JR, but I have had to base my thoughts on what I personally observed.  So why did we learn in class that if IDs did not clear possession, we should straightaway move on to EDs, when I never saw this happening in practice?


In fact, what I did learn from treating my patients with IDs diagnosed by JR was how quickly possession cleared with ID treatment.  Certainly it never took the 20 minutes’ wait that we had all been told might be necessary, and which I dutifully copied into my Handbook as part of the procedure.


Having over the years therefore observed how quickly possession clears if the needles are inserted correctly, I now tell students to leave them in for a much shorter time, about 5 minutes, if there is no effect, before tonifying the points strongly and removing them.  I find the strong tonification usually does the trick which the initial sedation may not have done, and there is rarely need to repeat the procedure. Even if I feel that sedation has cleared the block I still tonify the needles before removing them, as a fall-back procedure just in case possession is still there.  Better safe than sorry, I think to myself.


So when a practitioner recently pointed out that what I said about possession treatment in a video lesson I gave was different from what I had written in my Handbook, this gave me pause for thought, and made me realise that since my clinical experience had modified the procedure I had been taught as a student, it was sensible to reflect this change to my thinking in future editions of my Handbook, which I am now doing.


The second example of a change in clinical procedure which has been pointed out to me by a student concerns the procedure for an Aggressive Energy drain, and specifically the order in which the needles are inserted.  What I have written in my Handbook is based on what I learnt as a student.  We were told not to insert the needles in the AEPs (back shu points) of the Heart unless there is first erythema around the needles of the two points immediately above them, those of the AEPs of the Heart Protector.  Like the good student I was, I continued to do this until one day, after I had been in practice for quite a while, I thought I would speed the procedure up a little by inserting all six sets of needles including those in the Heart AEPs, which I did very carefully.  Since I noticed no ill-effects from this, I have continued to do this as a matter of course, making sure that I am particularly careful not to insert the needles too deeply into III (Bl) 15.  


To my surprise one day I found that erythema appeared around the Heart AEPs in one patient but not around those of the Heart Protector AEPs, something which seemed at odds with what we had been told.  This was that Aggressive Energy could only reach the Heart AEPs if it was passed through from the Heart Protector.  This made me all the more determined to needle all six sets of points.  I also found that it was only after the AE appeared on the Heart AEPs that erythema gradually emerged around the two Heart Protector needles, almost as though I had summoned Aggressive Energy to emerge by stimulating the Heart AEPs.


The discovery of Aggressive Energy on the Heart but not on the Heart Protector still puzzles me, but I have only found this to happen in very few cases in my many years of practice.  I therefore assume that these were very rare examples of something slightly inexplicable, or perhaps I did not position the needles correctly on the Heart Protector AEPs, and missed detecting the AE that was there.


I still feel it is a safer procedure to defer putting needles into the Heart AEPs until the Heart Protector is given time to reveal whether it has Aggressive Energy or not.  This is particularly the case for novice practitioners whose needling skills may not be sufficiently good to avoid inserting the needles too deeply.  After waiting a little while, it would then be perfectly safe to insert needles very shallowly in the Heart AEPs just to make sure you drain any Aggressive Energy which might happen to be there.


All medical traditions change and develop with time, as they benefit from the experiences of all the many practitioners who have passed through over the years and the centuries.  This is right and proper, otherwise practices would atrophy.  I myself observed the changes JR Worsley made to clinical protocols he developed during my years observing him.  It is therefore always good for practitioners to be prepared to incorporate changes in their practice if they wish to learn from those with greater experience.  The important thing here is that we should make such changes only if we are sure that any new protocols suggested to us are based on the experiences of those with clear clinical expertise.  

I am sure that five element acupuncture will continue to benefit from the adaptations future generations of acupuncturists may feel they should make to today’s practice. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

69. Five element acupuncture treatment of Long Covid symptoms

I am pre-occupied at the moment with thinking of ways in which five element acupuncture can help all those many, many people who have emerged from their bouts of COVID 19 still suffering the side-effects lumped together under the name of Long Covid.  I was prompted to think more about this by an article I have just read in the Guardian newspaper entitled "Don't be fooled.  Covid won't be cured by a wonder drug".  After looking at some traditional herbal remedies, including some from China, it comments very wisely: "It doesn't pay to rule out (remedies) just because there's no clear rationale for how they would do the job."  We could include acupuncture in the list of remedies to be considered when looking at ways of treating Long Covid.  

So how does five element acupuncture approach the treatment of the many Long Covid symptoms?  We know that these range from extreme tiredness, chest pain, heart palpitations to joint pain, nausea and high fever.  One of the things my years as five element acupuncturist has taught me is how effective we can be in treating conditions, such as these, which are described as being non-specific ailments with no obvious aetiology.  In five element terms a variety of symptoms affecting different organs must be caused by some severe attack upon the elements controlling these organs, to the extent that their ability to retain balance has been overwhelmed.  

It is likely that the elements will also have become sufficiently weakened to cause Aggressive Energy to appear, making this obviously the first treatment we should carry out.  We must also consider the possibility of having first to clear IDs, a condition that that might appear when a patient is facing a life-threatening illness.  And then we should look for any of the other major blocks to treatment, such as Husband/Wife, moving on to consider Entry/Exit blocks, starting with the major CV/GV block.  This may occur when severe illness has weakened the elements' connection to their main sources of energy the two great pathways of Conception and Governor Vessels (Ren Mai and Du Mai).  Other Entry/Exit blocks may also need to be cleared, before we move on to treat the patient's element.   I would also always think it advisable to re-check for AE at intervals after this if some of the COVID symptoms persist, because severe illness may have weakened the elements' ability to withstand stress and allow AE to creep in again.


I would love us to be able to offer this treatment to as many sufferers of Long Covid as we can, if only the conventional medical world would learn to accept the fundamental validity of what five element acupuncture can do.  But until this happens, all we can do is treat those patients who find their way to us, and hope that these people will spread the word to their fellow sufferers.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

68. The Water element: 3

 A practitioner asked me to look at one of her patients 0ne day, and I found it interesting afterwards to think through what had gone on in the practice room which eventually led me on to my diagnosis of Water and away from the other elements. 

I met the patient in the reception room for a brief exchange of greetings, and observed a quickness of movement, a rapid shake of the head, and an equally rapid dart into the practice room ahead of me.  As she went to lie down, I mulled over whether this had taught me anything.  I did not feel that she had looked at me at all, and this made me put both Wood and Metal at the bottom of my pile of elements.  Wood, I felt, would have made direct eye contact with me, and Metal would have given me a feeling of somebody sharper, more defined, certainly more likely to observe me, rather than of somebody wanting to escape from my presence.  So that left Earth, Water and Fire.   


When she was lying on the couch I noticed that she shifted quickly away from me as I sat down next to her, and withdrew her hand as I put mine on hers.  By now, I thought, Earth would have snuggled into the couch, and would be holding my hand tightly as though drawing me towards her.  There was none of that feeling here. So what about Fire or Water?  She smiled warmly, laughed quite a lot, perhaps a little too much, but failed to continue to warm me after the smiling stopped, as I would have felt with Fire. 


So now I was left with one element, Water, and at last I could feel things falling into place.  I observed my own reactions, and noticed that I was surprisingly unsure of myself, as if I didn’t know quite what to ask and what approach to take, a sign of the nervousness Water tends to make  me feel, as a projection of its own anxiety.  Added to this, I could see signs of fear in the rapid eye movements as she glanced quickly at me and away again.  And, finally, I thought that I could smell something wet in the room, which is my own way of experiencing Water’s smell.  On colour and sound I got no particular feedback to help me.


So with Water we started our treatment.  What I suggested was very simple, but as always, profound, because I had first to clear a Husband/Wife imbalance.  Then I ended with the source points of Water.  She looked different as she left, showing that indefinable difference which is often the only evidence we may have at the end of treatment that a patient’s guardian element is revelling in receiving the treatment it needs.  


Sunday, December 27, 2020

67. The Water element: 2

Water people tend to make us feel uneasy, even if they themselves look quite calm.  They can have a kind of frozen stillness, which can change into a leap into action if they feel threatened, as when something unexpected happens.  Then their eyes are the give-away.  Water eyes are always wary, watching everything carefully, and ready to swivel away to look at anything unexpected which might be happening to the side or behind them.  They can then suddenly look startled, even though the rest of their face can remain surprisingly still.

I see Water’s colour as being of two kinds.  There can be a very dark shadow over the whole face, in men often accompanied by the typical blue shadow around the beard area which Richard Nixon showed, particularly when he was under threat politically.  You can then think of the whole face as being dark, even though when you look closely you wonder why you think that it looks so dark.  Then there is the other kind of Water colour, when it has a kind of translucence, so that other colours show through it.  I like to think that the dark-bluish colour is the Kidney, the more hidden, deep yin aspect of Water, whilst the translucent, lighter colour is the Bladder, its more outward-facing, flowing yang aspect.  Those who have the Kidney as their guardian official give the impression of being much like still waters, which run slowly and deep, whilst Bladder people are much more like quicksilver in their movements and thoughts.

The Water element’s yang official, the Bladder, has the widest reach of any meridian, even dividing into two parallel pathways as it spreads over the back, and having the greatest number of acupuncture points, 67 in total.  Its function is that of being in charge of the storage of water, whilst the Kidney, its yin companion, is more simply called the controller of water, with a mere 27 points.  But even this number is the most of any other yin official.  Merely by adding together the total of Water points we are made aware of Water’s importance to the whole energy network, understandable, when we remember that our bodies are composed of more than 80% water.

I have grown increasingly better at detecting a Water smell.  It can be very obvious if there is great imbalance, when the smell of stagnant urine can be quite clear.  At a more balanced level, I have found that when I am standing by the couch, what comes up to me is a feeling that there is some dampness around, as though I am near a pond or a bath full of water.  This is when the smell just wafts upwards to my nose.  This is certainly not an unpleasant smell at all, which the word “putrid” seems to indicate, but instead just a rather pleasant dampish smell.

I find the sound of a Water voice is rather tiring to listen to for a long time.  It has a droning sound, which seems to drill into me, but in a more hidden, less direct way than the force in Wood’s voice.  Listen to Bob Geldof or David Beckham talking (extracts on YouTube are an excellent way of doing this), and this drone, like a bee buzzing away at us, becomes very clear.

But, above all, we need to examine how we feel in the presence of a person, and ask ourselves whether it is we who are experiencing a kind of uneasy fear, and, if so, whether this is the fear in the other person, well-hidden.  It is important to remember that Water will always try to hide its fear, transferring it instead on to us.  Water is therefore often misdiagnosed, as it is very adept at hiding itself behind other elements.  When I think I can see many different elements in one of my patients, then I have found it is often Water that is the element underlying them all.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

66. Showing patients that we really care

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is said to have replied to a reporter who, seeing her looking exhausted, asked her simply, “Are you OK?”, by saying, “Thank you for asking.  Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”  She then went on to say that the new normal, with masks concealing faces, was forcing people to look into each other’s eyes, adding, “For the first time in a long time, as human beings we are really seeing one another.  Are we OK?  We will be.”

In this short exchange of words, she pinpointed two very significant areas of interest for five element acupuncturists.  She emphasized the importance of giving another person the chance to say honestly how they are feeling, and she is aware of how important eye contact is for every human interaction.  By chance this second point also illustrates what I wrote in my recent blog about the Metal element “Are we living in an age of Metal?    Both these examples illustrate something which should remain constantly at the forefront of our minds in our dealings with our patients, which is the importance of showing them that we are genuinely concerned to find out how they really feel.

Obviously Meghan Markle’s comments hit a nerve, because I have just read a reader’s letter in a newspaper in which the writer says, “Can I suggest that when you meet people who are grieving, you ask, “How are you today?”  My husband, who died from motor neurone disease in 2017, said this acknowledged that some days were better than others.”

In this context, I often recall the many times a health worker, be it a doctor, a nurse or a dentist, has offered me the standard greeting of “How are you?”, which I never know how to reply to.  Does he or she really want to know how I am, as I walk into the consulting room, and well before I have seated myself?   Are they, or are they not, expecting me to answer this question truthfully?  Surely not.  And yet the conventional greeting has already opened up a slight gulf between us, making it more difficult for me to say what I had come to say.  Every time I am greeted in this way I feel a tiny stab of disappointment, because I would like to answer genuinely, but realise that an honest answer is not being expected of me.  I only remember one occasion, which stood out so sharply because of its rarity, when a nurse unexpectedly said, “You hate being here, don’t you?”  This was a really welcome moment of appreciation of how acutely she had been observing me, and I can still recall the relief I felt at realising that at last somebody was interested enough in me to see beyond the conventional mask we all put on.  I always emphasize to my acupuncture students how important it is not to engage in this kind of idle chat as they greet their patients, but wait until they have settled themselves down and are composed enough to answer such a question honestly.  

We always say that the purpose of a good five element diagnosis is to help patients feel safe enough to remove their mask, and it is our eyes, those windows of the soul, which show our true selves the most clearly.  At this time of COVID 19,when the physical masks we all now have to wear hide all but our eyes, we are given a wealth of opportunity as we walk past people in the street to catch glimpses of the real people through their eyes.  We should take every opportunity to use these brief interactions to try and help us diagnose the messages the different elements are sending us, for each element will look out at the world in a different way.  Each encounter can then become a useful diagnostic lesson if we choose to use it for this.

What distinguishes a merely competent practitioner from a really good practitioner is the degree to which they are genuinely curious about every aspect of their patients’ lives.  I think that having a good memory is a blessing for any therapist, because our interest in building up a complex picture of our patients’ lives helps us establish close and lasting relationships to them, to the extent that not long ago I happened to meet a patient in the street after many years had passed, and could immediately recall that she had problems with one of her children.  It was fortunate for my future calling as five element acupuncturist that since childhood I have always been fascinated by human interactions, enjoying watching groups of people wherever they gather, so that although my memory for facts is not very good I can build up very clear pictures of my patients’ lives which stay with me for years.  That is a skill we could all usefully develop if we wish to help our patients.