Category Archives: Immune system

Wood Work

Spring is here again. I know this not just from the calendar, the change in temperature, the blossoms on trees, lambs frolicking and all that. I know it from my bodymind.

To start with, I feel an irresistible urge to tend to my compost pile which has been languishing, cold and stagnant over winter. Yesterday I dug out tools from the shed and turned it all over into the sunshine to dry out and aerate. Getting into the mood, I weeded and fertilised the peas and garlic. Before long I’d lost track of time as I cheerfully tended to tasks I’d been shirking all winter. What was happening? Spring’s Wood energy was rising up my body, fuelling action.

Another way I know it’s spring is that my liver and gall bladder are talking to me again. I feel a slight pressure in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, my liver reminding me that I ate too much gluten and dairy when I travelled interstate last week. Chiming in is gall bladder, giving the occasional squeak as it squirts bile into the duodenum. These are the organs of Wood which can manifest symptoms when this Element isn’t balanced. For someone of a Wood constitution like me, these organs are particularly susceptible. They are a source of information for monitoring my health.

At a recent course I taught, one of the students was having a challenging time around these organs. During several treatments, he experienced a strong vibrating sensation in the upper right quadrant which we tracked to the acupoint Liver 13. This is the alarm point for Spleen but it also reflects the Liver itself. The student revealed that he was going through a significant stage, one requiring a pivotal decision about the fundamental direction of his work life. He also noticed that working on Liver points on another person triggered these same sensations in his own body. And when it came time to make a firm decision in the days after the course, the sensations became extreme.

The capacities of planning and decision making are the province of the Liver and Gall Bladder Officials respectively. This person’s physical symptoms were reflecting what was happening at the psycho-emotional level. And all of this was arising in the springtime when Wood energy is at its highest. There is a long tide which moves around the Five Element Cycle over the course of a year, the high tide passing through the corresponding Element of the season and pushing up against anything that isn’t harmonised. Like a high tide that strains boats whose anchors are too tightly set.

There are a number of other signals that can indicate that Wood is out of balance. These derive from the resonances of the Element. The following table shows some of these resonances of the Wood Element.

Season Spring
Climate Wind
Colour Green
Sound Shouting
Odour Rancid
Emotion Anger
Taste Sour
Sense Vision
Sense Organ Eyes
Yin Organ Liver
Yang Organ Gall Bladder
Tissue Tendons/Ligaments

These resonances are vibrations. For example, spring is the Wood Element vibrating as a season while anger is Wood vibrating as an emotion. When our Wood is out of balance, we may find that our bodymind shows the imbalance through these resonances. Here are some ways this might be revealed:

• Getting sick at the start of spring
• A strong dislike of wind
• Feelings of irritability or outbursts of anger
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Difficulty making plans
• Difficulty making decisions
• Aversion to or craving for sour foods
• Visual disturbances or other eye problems
• Easily nauseated by fatty food
• Congestion in the upper right of the abdomen
• Headaches, especially at the back of the head
• Neck and shoulder stiffness or pain
• Hip and outer leg pain
• Tight tendons
• Stiff joints
• Restlessness, can’t keep still

If you find that you have several of these conditions, your bodymind may be showing you that Wood is calling for attention. These symptoms can appear at any time, but they are more likely to show up in spring when the high tide of the Wood phase pushes up against things that are out of balance. The good news is that by addressing them in the spring, you will have the support of the ambient energy of nature. Here are some ways to work with your Wood.

Add more green foods to your diet: kale and other leafy greens, broccoli, peas and so on. The darker green the better. Eat more foods that are sour in taste: lemon, lime, grapefruit, sauerkraut and other fermented food.

Detoxify. The liver is responsible for cleansing the body of toxins. Doing a liver cleanse by eating simple foods and taking cleansing herbs will be well supported in the springtime. If you’ve been thinking of doing a gall bladder flush, then spring is the best time to do it.

Move. Wood likes to move so get plenty of movement. Walk, hike, run, jump, skip, ride, row, garden, build… whatever makes you feel good in your body. Make sure to stretch before leaping into action.

Shout! Sometimes when Wood is stuck, movement is not enough to dislodge the congestion. Shouting can discharge the energy that has been suppressed. Shout into the wind or in your car on the freeway. Don’t shout at others.

Explore your anger. Most of us learn from an early age that anger is a bad thing because it hurts others. But suppressed anger becomes stored in the body, specifically in the liver, and then starts to hurt us. Anger is seen as bad because it is equated with violence. But anger is not violence. It is the frustration that can arise from operating in a world of limits and boundaries. Try to understand why you are angry. Feel that anger without suppressing it and without venting it. The energy that you get in touch with can be powerful fuel for action.

Hold some acupressure points. Any points that relate to the Liver (LV) and Gall Bladder (GB) will be useful and are more powerful at this time of year. Here are links to some good points discussed in previous blogs:

Acupoint Some Uses
LV 1 Calms restlessness, agitation. The Wood point, it deeply supports the Element.
LV 3 Treats allergies, fatigue, nausea, eyes, irritability. Supports immune system.
LV 13 Promotes smooth flow of Liver Qi, relieves abdominal distension.
LV 14 For vomiting, rib pain, depression, hopelessness.
GB 1 Treats eye pain, migraines, lack of clarity.
GB 15 Treats headache, eye pain, confusion, lack of perspective. Eliminates wind.
GB 20 Treats headache, neck pain, irritability. Eliminates wind.
GB 21 Treats anxiety, irritability, hypertension, headaches, shoulder stiffness.
GB 30 For lower back and hip problems, sciatica, stiff joints, irritability, frustration.
GB 34 Master point for tendons and ligaments. Timidity, headache, hypertension.
GB 41 Relieves headache, sciatica, frustration, indecision.
BL 47 Supports psycho-emotional and spiritual aspects of Wood.
GV 16 Eliminates wind, treats headache, stiff neck, colds and flu, fever.

And finally, use the uprising energy of the Wood season to make plans for the future. See where you are going, map out your path, plan the stages of the journey, decide how to get there and take the first step. Your inner Wood will provide you with the gifts of imagination, creativity, vision, wise judgement, and motivation to help you on your path.

Go boldly!

For more suggestions on working with your Wood, see that chapter of my book
The Way of the Five Seasons.

Acupressure Work with Cancer Patients

This year it is expected that there will be about 140,000 new cancer diagnoses among Australians, representing about 0.6% of the population. As we age, the chances of being diagnosed go up, and for those of us who reach the age of 85, fully half will have been diagnosed with some form of cancer.

For healthcare practitioners, this means that some of the clients we see will be either living with cancer or in remission from it. The most common forms of cancer are prostate, breast, bowel, melanoma and lung. These five forms account for 60% of all cases.

For all of us, contact with someone living with cancer is common. Who has not had a friend or family member touched by cancer?

Western medicine has a system of treatments for cancer that usually involve surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are saving and extending lives. However these treatments impose great strains upon the body, particularly on the immune system. Complementary therapies are well placed to assist these treatments by supporting the immune system, detoxifying the body, and accelerating the healing processes.

Acupressure is one of form of complementary therapy that can provide powerful support to those living with cancer. It addresses the energy system that underlies all organs, systems and functions in the body as well as the emotional, psychological and spiritual levels of human life.

My senior students and I are currently engaged in a program at the Cancer Care Centre in Adelaide in which we are working with clients who are currently living with or are in remission from cancer. Some of these people are in the final stages of their lives. It is a great privilege to work with people who are facing this most challenging of life experiences.

In preparing for this program, I wrote a short paper suggesting some of the ways we can work with such clients. I include a modified version of these notes here so that others can make use of this powerful energy work to support their clients, friends and loved ones.

Where acupoints are noted, there are links to previous blogs where available. Where there is no link, you can find point locations with an internet search.

Contraindications

Acupressure is a very gentle modality and there are few contraindications. But we need to check first if there are any tumours, sites of recent surgery, radiation burns or other conditions that mean we can’t touch a certain area. Before you put your hands on your client, find out if there are any such areas of the body that need to be avoided, or where work is not wanted.

Gentleness

This style of work lends itself to working lightly. A light touch is the first place to begin. It may become clear that a firmer pressure is appropriate, but begin lightly. In areas where there are tumours or there has been surgery, it may be better to avoid touch at all and work above the body with the open palm over the point. Since the meridians are bilateral, you can always work on the opposite side of the body to affect an area which you can’t touch.

Kindness and empathy

Someone who is or has been living with cancer faces a challenging future. Try to imagine how that might be. All kinds of emotional responses might arise: fear, anger, regret and so on. Work from your heart as much as you can.

Listening

Listen carefully to your client. Follow any requests for something to be done or not to be done. Try to listen from your heart rather than your head. While we might think of a great treatment pattern, a simple touch of a single point may feel like the right thing.

Meridians that may need work

Anyone who has undergone or is undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy will have a challenged immune system. Triple Heater work can help to strengthen the defensive Qi, especially TH 5, CV 5 and BL 22. Kidney will also need lots of attention, including BL 23, GB 25 and KI 3. Spleen is also involved in immunity, so consider SP 3, SP 4, SP 6, SP 21, BL 20 and LV 13. Liver work will help with detoxification, especially LV 3. For the nausea associated with chemotherapy, HP 6 is the classic point.

Another approach might be to work with the Extraordinary Vessels via their master points. These vessels act as reservoirs of Qi, linking the meridian pathways into a large web-like system. Choose vessels based on their trajectories in relation to the location of cancers.

Master Point Vessel Trajectory
SI 3 Governor On the midline, up the back and over the head
LU 7 Conception On the midline from the chin to the perineum
BL 62 Yang Motility Outer sides of body, shoulders, neck and head
KI 6 Yin Motility Inside of leg, abdomen and chest
TH 5 Yang Linking Outer sides of body, shoulders, neck and head
HP 6 Yin Linking Inside of leg, abdomen and chest
GB 41 Girdling Around the waist
SP 4 Penetrating Abdomen and chest including all internal organs

Specific kinds of cancer

Breast cancer is common. Points that may serve include KI 22 and HP 2 (exit/entry points), Stomach and Kidney points of the chest, CV 17 and LU 1. If there has been removal of lymph nodes, then Spleen points will be helpful.

For other organs, use source, mu and shu points of the related organs. For locations of these points, see my article Addressing Emotions in Clinical Practice. Also consider the paired organ. For example for colon cancer, include Large Intestine and Lung points.

Working above and below site

The presence of cancer in the body is an indication of a block in the flow of Qi in the body. One way of working is to choose acupoints that are above and below the site (or former site) of a tumour. Look for acupuncture point charts and hold the points that are immediately above and below the site. This will encourage the normal flow of Qi through the area. This technique can also be used where there has been surgery.

Emotional connections

Use your knowledge of the Five Element emotions to make point choices that relate to the emotional state of your client. For example, help to settle fear with BL 23, BL 52 and KI 3. For depression, consider working with Liver points especially LV 14 and BL 47.

Also consider the emotion that relates to the affected organ. With someone who is suffering from lung or colon cancer, you might check out whether grief, loss or regret are a significant part of the person’s affect, in which case BL 42 with LU 1 would be helpful. Breast cancer is often associated with absence of love, or experience of betrayal. BL 43, HP 7 and CV 17 are useful in these cases.

Self-work

If you yourself are the client, you can work on yourself. While it is better if someone else works on you, you can still get good benefits from self-acupressure. See my previous blog How Effective is Self-Acupressure?

Start anywhere

As soon as we begin to make an intervention into the energetic field, changes begin to happen as the client’s own inner doctor responds. While an accurate assessment and a targeted treatment will be of greater benefit, holding any point, if done with the overarching intention of healing, will be of great service.

 

Just Right

 Sanjiaoshu – Triple Heater Shu – Bladder 22

Porridge 1To start the new year I thought I’d tell you a story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Actually you’ve probably heard it. It’s the one about the young girl who breaks into an unoccupied house in the woods, jumps all over the furniture and eats breakfast before being sprung by the ursine owners. Goldilocks was searching for everything that was just right. Not too hot or cold; not too hard or soft; and not too large or small. This notion of finding a balance between two extremes has become known as the Goldilocks principle.

In Chinese medicine, the “organ” that is most responsible for keeping the systems of the bodymind in the Goldilocks zone, or homeostasis, is the Sanjiao or Triple Heater. It does this by mobilising the Original Qi (Yuan Qi) and separating it into its different functions as it operates through the other 11 organ meridians. In this way it acts as a harmoniser of the whole energy body.

An important acupoint that can activate this mobilising and harmonising force is Sanjiaoshu, Bladder 22, the back shu point of Triple Heater. The back shu points, which relate to all the organ meridians, are hosted by the Bladder meridian. They lie on its inside track, 1.5 cun lateral to the midline of the spine, a line which follows the erector spinae muscle bundle. Massage therapists commonly perform a stroke which takes in all these points of the back, thereby influencing all of the organs.

Giovanni Maciocia, a leading authority on Chinese medicine, wrote about the back shu points in a recent blog. He strongly emphasised the importance of these points in treating chronic disease. The word shu means to transport. By treating a shu point, a wave of Qi is transported along the meridian until it reaches the corresponding organ.

In the case of Triple Heater, the “organ” is more of a function which harmonises all of the organs. If there is a location of this function it is in the three burning spaces of the torso where all the organs are located. The upper burner is the chest cavity above the diaphragm; the middle burner is between the diaphragm and the navel; and the lower burner lies below the navel. The Triple Heater harmonises these three areas and in doing so brings harmony to all the organs. (See previous blogpost for a Triple Heater visualisation practice.)

From all of this you can see that the acupoint Sanjiaoshu is really useful. It helps to redress any imbalance in heat and cold in the body so is good for things like fever, chills, heat stroke and cold extremities. It aids in cases of oedema and difficult urination because of Triple Heater’s capacity to move fluids. The point also treats digestive disorders because of its influence over the middle burner; and issues of the Bladder and Kidneys through its influence over the lower burner. Locally it helps with lower back pain and stiffness.

Bladder 22 can be used in conjunction with other shu points to support the transportation of Qi to other organs. It is also very effective when combined with points along the Triple Heater meridian, in particular TH 5.

So if you’re feeling too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, try Sanjiaoshu and feel just right!

Porridge 2

 

 

BL 22Location of Bladder 22

In the lower back, 1.5 cun (4 fingers width) lateral to the spine at the level of the junction of the 1st and 2nd lumbar vertebrae. This is about 1 cun above the level of the navel. Use firm,  direct pressure with the thumb. If working on yourself, make fists and place your knuckles at the points, leaning back into a chair to increase the pressure.