Saturday, August 13, 2022

22 - 31 Wood's two officials: the Liver and the Gall Bladder

When looking at the yin/yang pairings of the officials within each element, and trying to work out how each expresses this element in its own characteristic way, it is good to visualize the yin official as hidden deep within us, with its yang companion forming a pathway along which the yin official's energy can be drawn up from within the body to the outside.  It is useful here to remember that one of the main reasons why we only tap for Aggressive Energy on the yin AEPs (back shu points) is because the yang officials have this escape route to the outside which allows any Aggressive Energy to be released.  By contrast, AE remains trapped within the yin officials, and needs to be coaxed to the surface through the needles we place on their yin AEPS, since they have no escape route of their own to enable them to get rid of any AE which has accumulated.


It is always good to visualize this difference when thinking of the different qualities which the yin and yang officials give to the element.  The yang officials are much more mobile and active, the yin more static and reflective, a distinction which helps us define their differences a little more closely.  Nowhere is this contrast more obvious than in the relationship of the yin and yang officials within the Wood element.  There is a very obvious difference between how we plan things, which is the Liver's task, and how we then go on to decide which of these plans we will carry out, which is the Gall Bladder's task.  I have always visualized the Liver as taking on the role of a general sitting his tent on the field of action, with his maps spread out in front of him as he makes his plans, whilst the Gall Bladder is the officer in charge of the army deployed on the battlefield, tasked with carrying out the general's instructions.


There is a very clear distinction here between the Liver in his tent and the Gall Bladder actively fulfilling the plans of attack which the Liver has handed over to him.  This is a clear illustration of the yin nature of the Liver compared with the very yang nature of the Gall Bladder.  When we look at our Wood patients, therefore, we may gradually learn to differentiate between these two different qualities, which will eventually help us diagnose our patients as having either the Liver or the Gall Bladder as their particular guardian official. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

22 - 30 The guardian official

It was during a postgraduate seminar at my Leamington college all those years ago that I for the first time dared to share my use of the term "guardian element".  Before that, I used to call it the CF, meaning the Causative Factor of disease, as most people still do.  I have always thought that the term CF has a slightly negative overtone, which JR himself did not seem to agree with.  I remember very clearly him telling us that we should always visualize our patients as expressing the most positive qualities of their element, rather than regarding this element as a symbol of their imbalances.  And I like to hear the echo of the words guardian angel behind my coining of the phrase, because this is how I think of this element.  I see it as a protective force when we live our lives wisely in tune with its demands.


I have now decided to add a companion phrase, and call the yin and yang officials which together create an element our guardian officials.  I am only surprised that it has taken me so many years to think of this.


We know that we are each marked by the characteristics of one element, and that each element is formed of the close association of one yin and one yang official.   These two officials within the element also imprint specific characteristics upon us, making some people of that element have characteristics which are more yin in nature, and others more yang, reflecting the different qualities of their particular dominant official. This distinction further defines who we are, so that a Wood person, for example, will have a closer association with the characteristic qualities of the Liver and another with those of the Gall Bladder, making either the Liver or the Gall Bladder their guardian official.  


It is rarely clinically necessary to diagnose this further level of differentiation.  First of all because it is difficult enough tracking down a patient's element, let alone trying to perceive even more subtle differences within an element, and secondly because we rarely need to move to this deeper level of diagnosis from the point of view of treatment, since we treat both officials equally.  It is, however, interesting to try to recognise the different qualities which one or other official gives us, since this is a way of helping us understand more about the role of the individual officials within the cycle of the elements.


Occasionally, we need to think more closely about this, particularly in the case of Inner Fire and its yang official, the Small Intestine.  This is because we are taught to avoid treating the Heart, the Supreme Controller, more than is necessary.  It is regarded as a sacred organ, and we should where possible avoid interfering in its functioning by treating it.  Instead we should concentrate treatment upon its close yang official, the Small Intestine, making this an exception to the general rule that we treat both official pairings equally.


This brings me neatly to another important question, which is how we make our choices about selecting points other than command points, those points which are often called spirit points.  As I have often written, all points should be recognized as having their own spirit, but in general parlance the term appears to be given to any point which is not a command point.  I have often thought that this is perhaps one of the most discussed, but least understood areas of five element practice, precisely because by calling some points spirit points we appear to assume that they have a more profound effect than those that are "merely" command points.  This is a misconception which bedevils five element practice.  In the right hands and with the right understanding command points can effect the most profound treatment of all, whilst spirit points, in the wrong hands and with the wrong understanding, can have very little effect at all.


I see non-command points as being able to offer specific qualities, often associated with the names they have been given over the centuries, which can add to what the officials on whose meridians they lie are there to offer.  Often we may use one point on one of the two guardian officials, rather than choosing points on both, as we do with command points or Associated Effect points, for example.  The selection of non-command points has often come to be regarded as a somewhat mysterious area of expertise, which I think it should not be. Different practitioners will choose different points, often having a long-term preference for a few, usually because they have learnt about them at some point from a more experienced practitioner, as I have done.  Or perhaps a fellow practitioner will tell me about a point they have used, either one I have never used, or, as happens, one I have forgotten about over the years, and I will be glad to welcome such points back into my repertoire of point selections again.  This is, after all, how we widen our range of points, although having observed JR Worsley recommending points for the many hundreds of patients I saw him with I can confirm how beautifully simple were always the treatments he recommended for our patients, suggesting the same small range of points for each element. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

22 - 29 Earth's two officials: the Stomach and the Spleen

The Earth element has a unique quality which helps define its position at the centre of the circle of the elements.  It is the only element whose yin and yang officials are paired so closely together that part of their meridian pathways run almost in parallel to each other over the upper part of the body. The yin and yang pairings of the other elements spread themselves over the outside aspect of one or other limb (the yang official) and the inside aspect of the limb (their yin official).  This holds true for the two Fire yang officials (the Small Intestine and the Three Heater) and the Metal yang official (the Large Intestine) over the outer aspect of the arm, and for the Wood yang official (the Gall Bladder), the Metal yang official (the Bladder) and part of the Earth yang official (the Stomach) over the outer aspect of the leg.


In the case of the Stomach official, however, both Earth's yin and yang officials combine to run closely together up from the lower abdomen to the chest, where surprisingly it is the Stomach which passes over the breast, having a point on the nipple itself (one for obvious reasons not needled, but nonetheless there described in all the point reference charts).  And surely the nipple can be regarded as the most yin aspect of the whole body, for it is there to draw nourishment up from deep within a mother's body to feed a child.


I have always felt that this helps illustrate Earth's rather ambiguous role at the centre, where it is there to give but cannot do this until it has itself received sustenance.  So I regard its two officials as interlocked more tightly together than any of the other yin/yang pairings.  They are both closely associated with the physical processing of food (the Stomach) and passing on the results of this process around the rest of the body (the Spleen), but we may tend to forget the important role they play at the deeper mental and emotional levels of our being. For they are the powerful controllers of our thought processes.


It is no coincidence that one of the important points on the Stomach meridian is St (XI) 8 Head Tied, a lovely point to help the Earth element release all those jumbled thoughts which Earth people often describe as being locked in their heads.  When the Earth element is out of balance, its imbalance often shows itself in its speech, which seem to churn over the same thoughts time and again, as though, as I like to put it, "it can't swallow them".  And this is how I describe this, because I have noticed that when my treatment releases Earth's blocked energy, often by needling XI 9 or unlocking an entry/exit block such as a LI/St (X/XI) block, and allowing it to flow smoothly again, I have seen my Earth patients physically swallow and immediately stop talking, sometimes in mid-sentence.  It is as though at long last their Stomach officials have cleared the blockage and are now able to pass their thoughts on to the Spleen to carry further.

It is good to remember that the Earth element's emotion is also described as not only "sympathy", which is our ability to experience others' emotions, but also by the word "thoughtfulness".  Being thoughtful has a very positive connotation, for it not only emphasizes Earth's connection to thinking but also its positive association with looking after another person in a careful and caring way. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

22 - 28 The Two Outer Fire officials

If we now look at the functions of the two Outer Fire officials, they both act as protectors of the Heart in their midst, but each with a different emphasis.  Though obviously closely associated with the Heart, they are the only officials to have functions which extend over the body as a whole, rather than being closely related to a particular organ within that body, as, for example, the Small Intestine is to the Heart.  The Three Heater acts as the body's thermostat, keeping it at an even temperature.  Its presence within the Fire element indicates its importance to the Heart, for its function is to maintain the warmth of the blood at a correct level to enable the Heart to pump it to each cell in the body.  It also works hard at maintaining an even emotional temperature so that we blow neither too hot nor too cold in our relationships to others.


Its sister yin companion, the Heart Protector, is doing what its name suggests, acting as physical protection on the ramparts encircling the Heart at Fire's centre.  I see the Heart Protector as patrolling these ramparts, sword in hand, preventing entry to those it feels might endanger the Heart.  I like to think of the Heart Protector asking the Heart, "Is this person safe for you to love?", whilst the Small Intestine asks, "Is this person the right sort of person for you to love?".


Because the two sides of Fire have such different functions, they find their expression in different characteristics which we can observe in the people around us.  Because all four officials form part of the Fire element, they have the same sensory signatures of colour, sound and smell, but I have come to see that the emotional imprint they give to those under their control differs quite markedly.  When I am with somebody who is Outer Fire I therefore feel different from when I am with those who are Inner Fire.  Perhaps I am particularly aware of this because Inner Fire, and particularly the yin Inner Fire official, the Small Intestine, is where the elements have imprinted me with their signature.  And having observed myself closely for over 40 years, ever since I first encountered the concept of the elements, I know that my approach to life differs greatly from that of my fellow Outer Fire companions.

Since each of us is intimately acquainted with one particular element, our Guardian Element and its two officials, each of us is given the gift of understanding how that element manifests itself at a deep level if we work hard at observing ourselves in our interactions with others.  In my case, I feel that I am fortunate in understanding the workings of the Fire element, and in particular of its Inner Fire aspect, the Small Intestine official, from a deeply personal point of view.  I see it as being one of the reasons why my work as a five element acupuncturist developed in the way it did, particularly in relation to my writings and my teaching.  It is the curiosity which underlies the Small Intestine's approach to life which stimulates all my thoughts, and leaves me dissatisfied until I have worked out to my satisfaction all the often puzzling dilemmas my practice confronts me with.


The Small Intestine's task is to sort through its thoughts and emotions to find solutions which it sees fit to pass through to the Heart.  One of the ways I have therefore learnt to distinguish Inner from Outer Fire is often the puzzled look which I notice on my face, and on other Inner Fire faces, as we try to work out what we should be doing or feeling or saying.  In a way, the whole of life can appear a puzzle to me, something I have all the time to unpick and piece together to make some of a  sense, some kind of a whole.  It is why, when I am writing things, as I am now doing, I am constantly correcting and amending what I have just written, draft after draft, until I am quite happy that my words describe the truth of what I am trying to say.  I go through several handwritten and then typed drafts during this process, each draft the expression of the point at which my thoughts have reached, but each beckoning me to do more, often by cutting out extraneous words, sentences or even whole paragraphs, until I am happy with the final pared-down version.


It is often tiring for those with an Inner Fire person to follow the pattern of their thoughts, as these develop by fits and starts.  For example, I often find myself correcting myself in mid-sentence and appearing to veer off sideways to express another thought.


By contrast, Outer Fire people show none of these hesitations, or stops and re-starts.  Their thinking is not hampered by the need to get things absolutely right for the Heart, for they leave this task to their Inner Fire companions.  Instead, they are much more articulate in expressing their thoughts, and therefore in many ways much easier to listen to, and certainly easier to be with.  They have none of the kind of jitteriness I associate with my own relationships to others.  Having the Three Heater as one of its officials, which has the function of maintaining warmth and harmony for the whole body, Outer Fire when in balance can be a very comfortable companion.  it is eager to put the people it meets at their ease, because maintaining warm relationships is also one of its principal functions. 


When in the presence of Outer Fire, we therefore often feel that we are at a party, happily enjoying ourselves with others.  Inner Fire will express Fire's joy in shorter bursts, interspersed with often anxious moments when it is searching around for clues as to how it should react or what it should be doing.  It is therefore not the easiest aspect of Fire to be in the presence of, often making others uneasy as they try to work out exactly how to react in Inner Fire's presence.


Over the years I have put together these useful pointers to the difference I feel between Inner and Outer Fire that five element acupuncturists may find useful in helping them develop their diagnostic skills.



Friday, July 15, 2022

22 - 27 The four officials of the Fire element: The two Inner Fire officials

In looking at the 12 officials we have to start at the one which is at the centre, the Emperor/Empress of body, mind and spirit, the Heart official.  It is given the number 1 in the numerical order of the officials, extending up to 12, indicating the importance of its role at the centre of the Fire element.  It is the only official not only protected by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, but surrounded by two other officials, the Heart Protector and the Three Heater, which form a protective bodyguard around it.   I call the Heart and Small intestine officials the two Inner Fire officials, and the others the two Outer Fire officials.


The Outer Fire officials are given different names in other branches of acupuncture, but I like to keep to the names which I was taught as a student all those many years ago, the Heart Protector and Three Heater, seeing them as part of a tradition which I feel it is important to pass on.  This is why I insist on continuing to give each official a Roman numeral (from I to XII), which places the Heart, of course, in rightful first place, not, as in other traditions, with the Lung first.


It is important to have a picture in our mind of how the four Fire officials combine their work, before we look at each one in turn.  Together they form an indissoluble unit, each with a very specific, individually defined task, but all working to one end, which is to to protect the Heart and allow it to function as it should.  In physical terms, this is uninterruptedly to pump blood around the body to nourish every cell.  But to do this it not only needs protection to ensure that it never falters, for even the briefest interruption to its work will usher in a speedy death, but that what reaches it, physically in the physical blood, and emotionally in the emotional impulses with which it controls our emotional life, remain as robust as possible.  Here each of the three officials which surround it have their individual part to play. 


It is helpful to think of the two pairs of officials as though linked together in forming the Fire element, and yet in some mysterious and significant way as separate from one another.  One characteristic that they have, which I found slightly odd when I first learned of this, is that, though so closely associated with each other, they remain at a profound level detached from one another.  When studying the concept of energy transfers between elements I learnt that it is theoretically possible to transfer energy between any one yin official and any other around the cycle of the elements, but it cannot be transferred directly within the Fire element between the Inner and Outer Fire yin officials.  It is possible, though, to do this transfer by passing energy from yin to yin of each element around the cycle until it reaches the other side of the Fire element.  In practice I have never seen this done, because the need to take from one aspect of Fire to give to the other aspect is too remote to be contemplated, since both Heart and Heart Protector need to preserve all their energy for the Heart rather than depleting themselves by passing some on.  This does, however, help me to understand that there is a barrier between the two aspects of Fire which acts as a further protection for the Heart.


I have always liked to visualize the Fire element as a fortified castle, with the Heart, a yin official, in splendid isolation at its centre, surrounded closely by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, and the two outer Fire officials manning the castle ramparts, preventing unwelcome approaches to the Heart.  The Outer Fire officials can be seen as forming a protective ring around the Heart and the Small Intestine in their midst.  


I like to call the Small Intestine the Heart's secretary, with a wastepaper basket at its feet, rather than the weapons I visualize the two Outer Fire officials holding in their hands to protect the Heart.  Its principal function is to select only what is appropriate to pass through to the Heart, and to discard the inappropriate by passing it on to the Large Intestine to expel from the body.  In physical terms it does this through its work upon the blood, but in five element acupuncture it also has what we can consider an even more important role, which is to sift for any impurities at the deeper levels of mind and spirit.  This makes it one of the busiest, if not the busiest, official of all, since it must work tirelessly at every moment of the day and night to prevent what might have passed unchallenged through the outer defences of the Heart Protector and the Three Heater from gaining direct access to the the Heart.


22 - 26 The Twelve Officials

There is one important aspect of five element acupuncture which distinguishes it from other branches of traditional acupuncture, and that is the importance it places not only upon understanding the qualities of the different elements at all levels of the human being, but also those of the organs which together create the energies of these elements.  We call these the 12 officials;  they carry out the instructions of the elements of which they form a part, always one yang and one official to each element.  The Fire element is the exception here, its dual function giving it two yang and two yin officials.  Each official has a specific function, and together they cover the complete range of human experience.  They therefore not only represent the physical organs familiar from any conventional medical textbook, but, appropriately for a system of medicine which claims to treat the whole person, they each also have additional qualities which extend to the deeper areas of human existence.  Each physical organ, as well as having its familiar physical function, also has a specific association with the different mental and emotional aspects of life represented by the element of which it forms part. 


This is something that needs to be emphasized, because it is easy to think only of an organ's physical function.  In five element acupuncture we give each official a much more important role in maintaining health than simply treating physical symptoms.  Each treatment is potentially a way of restoring physical, mental and emotional health at one and the same time, something which anybody wishing to practise five element acupuncture needs to understand.  This branch of acupuncture is one of the few systems of medicine which combines an ability to restore health to the physical body whilst at the same time addressing problems which have their cause at the deeper levels of human life.  It is, of course, possible to use acupuncture as a purely physical system of medicine, but if we do so we are doing it a disservice by ignoring its potential to help restore emotional balance.  It is surprising how easy it may be to concentrate only on the physical attributes of organs whilst forgetting that it is often their deeper functions which lead to all manner of imbalances. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

22 - 25 Are there coincidences in life?

One of my next writing projects is to add something about the 12 officials to what I have written about the elements in my Handbook of Five Element Practice.  I have been asked to do this by one of my five element students in China, who is now teaching her own students and tells me that they seem to find it difficult visualizing the 12 officials as anything apart from as organs of the body.  So I am now thinking more carefully about expanding my ideas on the elements to cover the officials in more detail.  This morning, therefore, I had just written a few paragraphs about the Fire element's four officials, emphasizing the central role of the Heart, and put down my pen to do what I always do, which is to pick up a book I'm reading to give my thoughts a little rest.  Imagine my surprise, then when I experienced this lovely serendipitous (beautiful word!) moment, when the first words I read were the following:


"Zen said his piece and left as soon as he could, fearful and depressed at this reminder of the primitive, messy plumbing on which all their lives ultimately depended.  It didn't seem remotely surprising that it should break down without warning.  On the contrary, the miracle was that it ever functioned in the first place.  In growing panic he listened to the thudding of his heart, felt the blood coursing about the system, imagined the organs going about their mysterious, secretive business.  It was like being trapped aboard an airplane piloted by an on-board computer.  All you could do was sit there until the fuel ran out, or one of the incomprehensibly complex and delicate systems on which your life depended suddenly failed."    (From:  Michael Dibdin: Cabal, an Aurelio Zen Mystery)


What a lovely coincidence, if coincidence it is, that I just came across this the moment I laid down my pen.  I think our bodies are indeed "incomprehensibly complex and delicate systems", for this describes beautifully how we should look at the work our officials are faced with at every moment of the day.   


I always think it is a miracle that this body of ours, a miracle of evolutionary development, functions at all, for it is always at terrible risk of breaking down by reason of its very complexity.  it is fortunate that we have devised many ways of helping us maintain as great a balance as possible so that we can live good and fruitful lives, none more so, I am glad to say, than by turning for help to five element acupuncture.    

Friday, June 24, 2022

22 - 24 Each acupuncture point is a spirit point

One of the important early lessons in five element acupuncture which has stayed with me throughout the years is my memory of JR Worsley drawing three small parallel lines one above the other on the classroom blackboard.  He pointed to the line at the top, and said, "This is the physical level", to the line in the middle and said, "This is the mental level," and, his voice dropping almost to a whisper, pointed to the bottom line, and said, "This is the level of the spirit."  He would then ask us to take a pencil and press it down on our desks, saying, "This is treating at the physical level." Then he would ask us to press it down a little more, saying, "This is treating with the mind", before finally asking us to touch our pencil gently and carefully down on our desks, telling us, "And this is treating with the spirit."  He would ask us if we felt the difference in ourselves with each touch of the desk.  I still remember quite clearly experiencing a feeling of wonder that it did feel quite different to me.  I could feel something inside me responding at a deep level when I thought of the action of the pencil at the deepest level, as it reflected what I was asked to think of, which I thought of as being both my patient's spirit and my own spirit.


I have never forgotten the feeling of awe inside me as I realised that something deep within me, which I would now call my spirit, was affecting the action of the pencil/needle that my hand was holding.  I understood for the first time that how I approached the treatment of my patients could determine how my patients would experience their treatment.  Accepting that five element acupuncture can affect all levels of the human being, body, mind and spirit, at one and the same time is therefore one of the first lessons that those wanting to practise it need to learn.


So I always feel sad when I hear practitioners talk about spirit points as though these form a quite separate category from what I assume they regard as "ordinary" points, points such as command points.  Each point has its own spirit, its own potential to add something to the patient at the level of the spirit.  And simply by understanding that this is so adds to the action of the needle in the practitioner's hand something the practitioner themselves brings to this action, which is his/her own spirit.  A practitioner who understands how profoundly the action of a needle can affect a patient's spirit adds some of their own spirit to that needle's action.  A point needled in this way then contains something within it of both the practitioner's spirit and the spirit the point itself imparts.  


I like to think that the treatment then has the potential to reach the patient's spirit, surely the ultimate purpose of any five element treatment.


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

22 - 23 A Water practitioner describes how he holds his hands


Finally, here is a Water practitioner's very detailed comments about how he holds his hands and moves his body.  This rounds off the observations relating to all five elements.


Thank you, Pierre, for finding the time to send me your very interesting observations.


 "The more I am in distress or under stress the more I move my hands but I tend to hide that with patients: I do a lot of different things like touching my nails, or rubbing my hands in a slow movement.  I can identify that other parts of my body are moving too; I move my toes in my shoes, I can move my legs too (more when I'm standing up) and I change my sitting position regularly if I am not at ease and am finding it better to face somebody.  I very often move a part of my body I realize, like if I was uncomfortable within. That's always accompanied with a heart beating stronger and a little sensation of a global vibration in the body (adrenaline or cortisol?)". 


This is a very good description of the sense of movement and flow in all that Water does, but we must never forget that it can also freeze and become immobile if it feels under threat. 




Sunday, May 22, 2022

22 - 22 Treating one person is treating the whole family

One of the pleasures of my contacts with China during Covid lockdowns has been my discovery of all the different online methods of communication which have sprung up in great numbers.  I am almost overwhelmed by the information pouring towards me across the internet on any subject under the sun.  I, too, have added to this stream of information winging its way through the ether across oceans and continents, and one of the channels of communication which I had the idea to set up is what I call my "Five Element Thought for the Day".


This is a pale imitation of the BBC's Thought for the Day, because I don't write it every day, far from it, but I try to encapsulate something I have been thinking about in as few words as possible to set Chinese five element acupuncturists thinking.  So here is today's thought, my 26th:


"To treat one person is to treat the whole family


When we treat one person in the family with five element acupuncture we are treating the whole family.


We hope our treatment will make our patient feel happier and more balanced.  And when they see life in a more balanced way, they will be more likely to be kinder to their family and friends, and more tolerant of any differences."


I have just sent this over to China for inclusion in one of the many five element websites and chatrooms that have grown up over there.  


This thought has prompted me to write a longer piece for this blog, because it describes one of the heartening effects of good five element practice, which is perhaps not sufficiently understood and therefore often underrated.


Often patients would come to me concerned about some profound problems in their relationships with their family or friends, and what I have noticed is that, as treatment gradually started to bring their lives to a greater degree of balance, the problems which so dominated their lives when they first came to see me seemed to recede in importance, if not disappear altogether.  Once I became aware of this, I would enquire how things were now between my patients and those around them, and would find that often patients were themselves surprised to register how much things had improved, sometimes to the point of almost denying that the problems had originally been so bad.


I learnt to interpret this change as being the result of good treatment which helped bring a patient's guardian element to a better state of balance so that the demands they place upon others through their own imbalances were corresponding less.  This in turn helps explain the improvement in their family relationships.  I learnt to tell patients early on that this might be one of the benefits of treatment, so that concentrating upon restoring themselves to health was the most unselfish thing for them to do because they were in effect indirectly treating their whole family.


I remember quite clearly the day that I became aware of this in relation to my own family. I realised that my treatment had somehow helped the elements within me understand why I was having so much trouble relating to a family member.  The more my treatment helped me understand my own needs better, the less I seemed to demand of my relationships with others, particularly of course my family, and the more I was able to accept others as they were, rather than demand that they change their behaviour to adapt to my needs.


Treating one person is a way of treating a whole family.  And nothing in all my years of practice has made me see things differently.


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.

22-14 How different elements express their thoughts

I have been thinking about how each element has its own way of expressing its thoughts, since I have noticed that their thought processes are so different.  This is very much in my mind at the moment because Covid lockdowns, whilst restricting my physical movements, seem to have accentuated my mental agility.  My element is Fire, the inner aspect of Fire, with the Small Intestine being what I call my guardian official.  The Small Intestine does the most sorting of its ideas of all the officials, and it likes to communicate the thoughts its very active mind is working upon.  I have often said that I think as I speak, sorting my thoughts out through the act of speaking. This can sometimes be confusing for the listener, for as I sift what I am thinking through, I may alter what I am saying, often in mid-speech, as my mind changes what I started to say.  It needs this form of communication, for in communicating with another person it is doing what all Fire people need to do, which is to set up a relationship with whomever it is with.  And what simpler relationship is there than the act of smiling at another person, one of the signature features of Fire people, and addressing words to another person.  Doing both at the same time is what makes my Fire element the happiest.  Smiles and words reach across the divide between one human being and another, bridging the gap in the quickest way possible, and thereby enabling a relationship to be set up between me and the other person.  


It is interesting to look at how the thought processes of the other elements manifest themselves, as far as I understand them.  The element I have always been most aware of, based on my close acquaintance with family members and friends, is the Metal element.  I always think of it as being almost the diametric opposite of my Fire, and have often envied it the kind of detachment it demands, which I can never achieve.  Its way of thinking illustrates this sense of distance between us.  Its thought processes reflect this, for it can stand back, look almost dispassionately at what it is considering as though from a distance, and then draw its conclusions before expressing them succinctly in very few words.  I have a Metal son who can be guaranteed to give me excellent advice about anything I ask him, and does this surprisingly quickly, as though he can think his way rapidly to the heart of the problem, see the solution and express it in the least number of words possible.  I may be talking through a problem to him for some time, going through all the ins and outs as I see them, and he will interrupt me in mid-speech, saying simply, "Just do this", or "Do that", and that is for him the end of the matter.  Metal's thinking is hidden, not out in the open as mine is, but this tends to make it all the more acute and to the point.


On the other hand, we can see Earth's thought processes in action quite openly, for it likes to think its thoughts through, often as part of a quite laborious process, going round and round a problem, like a cement-mixer churning things over, drawing the listener into this in its need to share its thoughts.  One of the burdens of being an unbalanced Earth person is therefore their inability to move their thinking on, as though they are a record stuck in the same groove, repeating the same words over and over again.  As practitioners we therefore have to learn ways of interrupting an Earth patient to prevent them from continuously working through the same thoughts in the same words time after time.  Here that lovely point St 9, Head Tied, comes to a practitioner's rescue.  I treasure the time when the moment I needled this point, my Earth patient, in the middle of telling me something, suddenly fell silent, as though he had literally at last been able to swallow his thoughts.  In balance, on the other hand, Earth will be very good at thinking problems through very thoroughly. 


Then we come to Wood, another quick-witted element, like Fire, its yang companion, but with none of the need to set up the relationships Fire looks for.  Instead, its thoughts are directed more upon action, ensuring that things are done properly and constructively, that the right structures are put in place to allow things to move forward.  It may send its thoughts out into the world almost in the form of orders (hence the shouting voice), dictated by its need to ensure that everything proceeds in good order.  A Wood friend told me that she thinks of her way of thinking as being like sending out branches from the trunk of a tree in many directions.  It does not matter to her if a branch gets broken off at some point, but each must first be firmly attached to its trunk within her.


Finally, I come to Water, and how often I realise that I delay writing about Water until the last, for I see it as the most mysterious of all elements, and even after all these many years of thinking and writing about the elements, at some level Water still remains a mystery to me.  So how do I envisage its way of thinking?  Perhaps its thoughts could be described as being much less clearly defined for me than those of the other elements, but nonetheless they often have the potential to surprise me.  For Water is a deep-feeling element, probably the one that can feel the most, just as the waters of the oceans hide more secrets in their depths than there are on land. 


Perhaps I should leave it to Water people themselves to describe their own thought processes for me, since these, much like what Water always does, puzzle me a little.   I have therefore decided that I will send this blog to a young Water friend of mine in India, who always gives me interesting insights into her element.  Perhaps she will be able to add something to my understanding of the way Water thinks. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

22-13 Do I think our guardian element changes during our lifetime?

Many people ask themselves whether our guardian element (CF or dominant element) changes during our lifetime.  I, too, have thought carefully about this for many years, as I have noticed that people, particularly acupuncturists, seem to like to change their own element for another one, often perhaps because they may think it has a better press.  As with all my thoughts about the elements, I always start with myself, because that's the person I know best, having had a lifetime in which to study my own particular element.  

I have often thought how fortunate it was for the direction of that part of my life which was spurred into activity when I encountered the elements for the first time that whatever power or force which controls our individual destinies should have placed me firmly into the little corner of the five element circle housing the Heart and the Small Intestine, and in particular into the welcoming arms of the Small Intestine.  For it is this official, with its intense, unending curiosity and inability to be satisfied with anything until it has probed it to its very core, which made it inevitable that I would never allow my thoughts about the elements to harden into fixed ideas.  Instead, I like to ferret away at every new idea I have, and amend it or discard it if my ever-inquisitive mind feels that is necessary.


Looking back at the whole of my now very long life, I can never remember a time when I was not trying to sort out the world and its people, particularly my family in my early years.  In fact they would joke that I was always telling them, "Don't you think you ought to....", as I tried to direct their behaviour in a direction I thought was best for them.  And that is still my first reaction to any situation, as my Small Intestine very quickly (and it is probably the quickest thinker of all the officials) decides what it thinks should be done, and immediately wants to put this into action.   


From the evidence of my own life, therefore, I can see no change in how I have approached my life from my earliest days to now in my ripe old age which would indicate that the Small Intestine is not my spiritual home.  Nor have I seen any sign of any similar changes in all the hundreds if not thousands of patients who I have treated or observed over nearly half a century of practice.  


Do I therefore think our element changes during our lifetime?  To this I give an emphatic answer, "No, I don't."


But then other people may well disagree with me - which is fine.