Monday, May 2, 2016

A nostalgic trip into the past

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thoughts on my return from my 9th visit to China

This blog is for all the dedicated Chinese five element acupuncturists and budding acupuncturists who came to our seminars and public lectures in Nanning and Beijing on my recent visit to China, some of whom I have taught nine times over the past five years.

So who are they?

Well, there were 35 students in our four-day advanced seminar in Nanning.  Then there were 120 more students and interested observers at a public lecture we gave at the Beijing Traditional Medicine Hospital, plus 350 or so more at a similar lecture for students at the Beijing University of Traditional Medicine.

And finally, at two packed days of clinical seminars at different acupuncture clinics in our last two days in Beijing, there were 50 people on Saturday and 30 on the final Sunday.  So we flew home on the Monday morning having spoken about five element acupuncture to nearly 600 people, as well as treating over 30 patients in front of them on clinical days.  I begin now to understand why so many copies of the Mandarin version of my Handbook have been snapped up in China. 

All in all, a truly prodigious feat for all three of us, Mei Long, Guy Caplan and me. We shared each teaching day, with a surprising level of harmony between us, as well as a surprising degree of agreement about people’s guardian elements.  We have developed into a very cohesive and effective teaching unit, each with our own particular expertise.  Guy concentrates on helping students with what we call their CSOE skills (those of recognizing the colour, sound, smell and emotion of the different elements).  He has developed many interesting and innovative ways of teaching them how to start diagnosing the elements through their senses.  Mei offers both sound clinical skills and the relief for our audiences of not needing to have to wait for each word to be translated into Chinese.  I offer my 35 years’ experience and whatever else is needed, often concentrating on helping students observe me in my interactions with patients as I carry out diagnoses in front of the class. 

All three of us combine well in diagnosing participants’ elements, something eagerly sought by all, and so essential for any five element practitioner.  We have become increasingly skilled now at bringing together our different insights into the elements to form a preliminary diagnosis which is then confirmed or amended as we get to know the participants.  Each person is then given a treatment, starting of course, with an AE (Aggressive Energy) drain, and finishing with the source points of the chosen element.  We are flexible, too, about amending our diagnosis if time with the students leads us to change our minds.

All this helps the students develop their own insights into the elements, as well as confirming the need to ensure that they retain the humility necessary for anyone working with the elements, to allow the elements, those elusive agents of transformation, to teach us and prevent us from becoming too fixed in our ideas about their different qualities.

I started writing this blog at Beijing Airport waiting for the flight back to London, warmed to the heart by the welcome we had received, and by the delight I personally experienced to discover how well the participants had absorbed so much of my teaching over the five years I have been visiting China.  This time, for the first time, I asked those bringing patients to be treated to list the last five treatments they had given, and was pleased to find how well they had taken in all that we had taught them.  This can be summed up in two of my mantras, “The simpler the better” and “Don’t worry, don’t hurry”.  Their treatments were indeed simple, and focused clearly on one element at a time, and they didn’t seem to worry when we changed the elements, nor did they seem to be in any hurry.  Rather, they appeared to have taken to heart the need for flexibility when trying to diagnose the elements, without feeling under too much pressure “to get it right”, which has unnecessarily bedevilled much five element practice in this country.

And now I am just about to finish reading an excellent introduction by Heiner Fruehauf to the long-awaited English translation of Liu Lihong’s book Classical Chinese Medicine, about to be published. His book, which has sold over 400,000 copies in China, has drawn attention to the need to reconnect Chinese medicine to its traditional roots to prevent it from becoming swamped, as it is at present, by the pressures upon it of Western medicine.  I feel much humbled when I realise that my own efforts to return five element acupuncture to its birthplace have joined this growing current which is drawing traditional Chinese acupuncture into the mainstream of medical care in China and on into the world outside.

As part of this trend is the recent inauguration of the Beijing Tongyou Sanhe Traditional Chinese Medicine Development Foundation, under the aegis of Liu Lihong, for which I have received an impressive certificate stating that I am an adviser to the Acupuncture Committee for a period of 5 years.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another example of the healing powers of the moxa stick

I am a great believer in the powers of the moxa stick for all sorts of skin conditions which don’t respond well to other forms of treatment.  Here is another example of this. 

A 14-year old boy had a very nasty large patch of itchy, toughened skin around his knee, about 4-5 inches (10 cms) in diameter, a condition called lichen simplex chronicus, for which the specialist as usual prescribed steroid cream.  I immediately produced a moxa stick, and suggested that this should be used as many times a day as possible by waving it slowly and as closely as possible over the scaley, leathery skin until the whole area was thoroughly warmed up.

Within a day, the itching, which had been unbearable before, had improved, and the skin started to look pinker and healthier.  Today, three days later, I was told that the skin is beginning to look very much like back to normal.  It is lucky that the boy so enjoys using the stick that he sits hunched over his knee four times a day, hence the speed with which the area is starting to regain its normal appearance.

I have always said that every home should have a moxa stick in its own moxa holder (a small candlestick of the right size can be used for this), ready to be used whenever the skin is affected in any way.   Boils, cuts, psoriasis, and all conditions affecting the skin can be miraculously healed in a surprisingly short time.  I used it on somebody with a very large weeping blister on one of my walking tours, and was known ever after as “the lady with the magic stick”, when, even to my surprise, the blister healed sufficiently to make walking possible the next day.

It is also excellent for bed sores in bed-bound people, although hospitals are unlikely to allow it for fear of setting off the fire alarms.  One very ill patient of mine, though, insisted on asking for her very painful bed-sores to be treated with the stick.  Surprisingly the hospital agreed to this, perhaps because she was very close to the end of her life, and she told me triumphantly how much it had helped reduce the pain, to the nursing staff's surprise.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

The effect of needling a Window of the Sky: Heavenly Pillar

A patient gave me this lovely description immediately after I had needled Heavenly Pillar, III (Bl) 10, the Water element’s Window of the Sky:

“That was a big point.  It felt like there was a trickling all the way down my spin.  It was like listening to music.”

So here is proof, if proof is needed, that a Window does indeed open our spirits up to what lies beyond us.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Who would have the imagination to invent that?"

There was an interesting discussion by an award-winning Harvard mathematician on yesterday’s BBC Today programme.  He was talking about the work of a mathematician from an obscure town in India, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who is the subject of a film I want to see, almost for its title alone, called “The Man Who Knew Infinity”.  The person being interviewed said of Ramanujan’s work that “it must be true because who would have the imagination to invent that”.  I found that a very profound thought.

“Infinity”, which is in the name of the film, is another word for what we call the Dao, the All, that which lies behind and beyond all that is known, but which encompasses everything.  I am always heartened when I hear of creative people who live their lives in some way constantly in touch with infinity.  They are found in all areas of life, from art, to literature, to music, to theatre and film, and also, much in my mind at the moment, to architecture, now so sadly deprived of one of its most shining jewels, Zaha Hadid.

I realise that the words I heard on the radio which referred to the sphere of mathematics also in some way apply to what I do.  Perhaps we “know infinity” each day as acupuncturists when we work with the elements, and through them attempt to reach the deepest part of what it is to be human.  When I feel my treatment has achieved what I want it to, I can indeed feel that the fundamental truth embodied in acupuncture must be valid because “who would have the imagination to invent it?”.



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Preparation for my ninth visit to China

I am off to China with Mei Long and Guy Caplan on 14 April, first to give a seminar in Nanning in the South and then on to Beijing, where we will be going to the practices of several five element practitioners, as well as giving a lecture at the Beijing University of Traditional Medicine.

This time we will be focusing on helping the more advanced five element practitioners who have previously come to some of our seminars.  What these need is more guidance for their point selection.  I have therefore written a handout for them (given below) referring them to the relevant chapters in my Handbook.  In China we will give the page numbers from the Mandarin version.  The aim is to encourage participants to have the courage to enjoy the fact that there is always a personal approach to point selection. 

"One of the most important lessons all five element practitioners have to learn is how gradually to feel more confident in their point selection.  This is why I included some guidelines in the new edition of my Handbook of Five Element Practice.  The two important chapters to look at are Chapters 6 (pages 83 - 90 onwards) and Chapter 10 (pages 123 – 140).

Chapter 6 lists the different groups of points, such as command points or Windows of the Sky.  Chapter 10 is intended to help you select additional points for each element (pages 123 – 139), and gives you guidelines about how you should approach the first four treatments (pages 139 – 140).  In particular, you should read the introduction to these two chapters (pages 83 - 84 and 123 – 124).
The important thing you need to remember is that nobody can say exactly which points should be used to treat a patient for any particular treatment.  There are, of course, certain rules for point selection which are important to understand, such as always finishing each treatment on a command point of the guardian element.  But apart from these rules, point selection is always a personal decision by the practitioner.  
Nobody can therefore say whether one selection of points is better than another.  We must have the courage to accept this, and not be frightened by this." 
Having just heard that nearly 20,000 (twenty thousand!) copies of the Handbook have been sold in China, I am assuming that each person coming to the seminar will bring a copy with them from which to work as we go through the points to help treat the patients coming to the seminars.



Friday, April 1, 2016

Designer bicycles

We seem to have entered the age of the “designer” everything.  There are, I am told, designer prams, much admired and sought after by the rich, with names such as a Ferrari or a Mercedes pram, and thus presumably designed by these car manufacturers like racing cars.  Not only these, but today I noticed a snazzy bike at the front of the shop window of an upmarket handbag shop.  Presumably designer bikes will soon be, or are already, the next must-have for those with too much money to spend.

I remember the days when we wheeled our children in easy-foldable pushchairs which did not clutter up shops or buses as today’s indecently cumbersome prams with their large wheels do.  This was before the time when prams, and now bicycles apparently, demanded the attention of special designers to attract customers.  I don’t always think back nostalgically to the old days, but some things really did feel simpler then.  Perhaps we were still so shell-shocked from the war that we were delighted just with the simple possessions available after a time of great deprivation.  We certainly felt it was wrong to spend money on useless luxuries, even if these were available to us.  It is these that now fill our shops.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A hidden London garden

Some days the unexpected happens, which always delights me.  I had one of those days a little while ago.  A bus I was on stopped unexpectedly at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road, so I had to continue on foot, taking a small side passage leading to the back of Shaftesbury Avenue.  As I turned the corner behind St Giles Church I found myself walking along the pavement by the side of a small garden, closely surrounded on all sides by buildings.  I had been there before, and remembered being so happy to see a community garden tucked away here, obviously well-cared for by those who used it.  It's called the Phoenix Garden, an appropriate name, for it seems to be rising continuously from the ashes as a living symbol of nature striving to exist amongst all the new anonymous high-rise office blocks surrounding it.

I always feared for this garden, as it seemed just the sort of place in Central London which would entice developers.  But to my delight, not only is the garden still there, but it is being renovated at this moment.  Looking at its website when I got back home  ( ) I was happy to see that the building work going on at the moment inside it (ominously I first thought) is only to build something to replace an old shed.

But apart from relief that the garden was still there, I suddenly saw something new, for on its side wall, the wall abutting the church, there had now appeared a large wall painting by a street artist I have great admiration for, who calls himself Stik. (Look him up on Wikipedia The photo above shows this particular graffiti embraced by the branches of the trees in the garden.   Stik paints these beautiful stick-like figures (hence his pseudonym, presumably) on walls in places which are under threat from developers, not only in this country but around the world.  You can't really call them graffiti, because they are much larger and more expressive than that, but that is what they really are. A patient of mine told me he had seen one of his large paintings on a wall facing his hotel room in the States.  If you want to see more of his work, look at his website which shows some beautiful photos of his work from many countries.  And Penguins have published a lovely book, too, just called Stik.

Seeing these little people there on the wall cheered me up enormously on a day when I felt burdened by the dreadful news pouring in from around the world.  How good it is to know that there are people like Stik around who use their art to fight injustice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Each of our lives should make a difference

I love coming across inspiring words.  The ones I have just read are from an interview with Bianca Jagger in today’s Guardian newspaper.  And if you want a good example of the Metal element, then you can also learn more about this element by looking at her photo (and presumably catch up with her on Youtube).

She has always been a great fighter against injustices wherever she finds them, a woman really to be admired.  The article finishes with these words from her:  “”Sometimes I say I work too much, I travel too much, I need a rest.  But I’m glad that I’m doing this.  I don’t think I would be happy to have a life of leisure.”

The interviewer then asks her what she hopes her legacy will be.  When she speaks, her eyes start to well up.  “I hope I was able to make a difference.  That’s all we can hope for.  That I can look back and say I tried.”

We should all emulate Bianca Jagger in ensuring that some aspect of our life “has made a difference”.  This does not mean it has to make a huge, or a public difference, as her life has done in many areas.  The importance is for each life to have had its own moments of significance, of having made some slight difference to the world, of having changed something, however small, for the better.  This is what I hope from my own life.



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Theory versus practice

I have just spent a morning listening in admiration to Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée talking about the points I love, the Windows of the Sky.  She said that these could also be called Windows of Heaven, since the character is really that of heaven, and this added another layer of meaning to the use of these points.   Her knowledge of Chinese and of the ancient texts, both medical and philosophical, is very profound, probably the most profound of anybody in the world at the moment.  At a theoretical, abstract level, what I learnt is fascinating, but, as always, I find that I have difficulty applying to my practice what I have been told about the symptomatic application of the various acupuncture points discussed.  So much of what I learned today therefore interested me from a theoretical rather than a practical point of view.

And this is how I have tended to view what I learn from those books which list points in terms of their symptomatic importance.  I always like to ask myself whether those whose texts we are referring to, both those coming from the far-distant past as well as those recently published, were or are experienced acupuncturists.  What has always been a sticking point for me is how far we are able to accept that what is told us can be shown to be soundly based on practice, rather than just being anecdotal.  Being the kind of person who needs to assess how far I trust the experience of those teaching me, and thus remaining sceptical until proven otherwise, I treat such recommendations with caution.  It is only once I feel that somebody is basing what they are saying upon deeply felt conviction and personal experience, and shows the kind of human empathy and kindness I expect of those helping their fellow human beings, that I can add what I am being told to my own practice. 

Of course, this means that there are not many people who can convince me of the validity of their level of practical experience.  I have, though, been fortunate in having met some few people with deep enough experience and understanding to illuminate my path, foremost among them, of course, my teacher, JR Worsley.

In the field of acupuncture, one area which Elisabeth Rochat represents at the highest level is that which relates to pure scholarship – the ability to study an ancient language and reveal what it is telling us as accurately as possible.  Quite another area is that which deals with our practice – the ability to translate what has been learnt based upon having treated a sufficiently large number of patients to pass this learning on to other practitioners.  These two areas demand quite different skills, and must not be confused.  A scholar steeped in ancient Chinese cannot teach me what I feel confident enough to incorporate into my daily practice, but can deepen a different level of my understanding of what I do.  An experienced acupuncturist who I respect can teach me much that will help me in my daily practice.

I think people often confuse the two.