Category Archives: Immune system

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Triple Heater Visualisation

Burning manIn this final blog for 2015, I’m taking a slight detour from our road trip through the Fire points to introduce you to a practice that helps to balance the three burning spaces of the torso. These spaces are three interconnected chambers that together comprise the Chinese medicine concept of the Triple Heater (Sanjiao). This Fire “organ” is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout all of the meridians, acting as a harmoniser of the energy system. It governs the defensive Qi of the body, therefore supporting the immune system. It is also responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, keeping  it in the Goldilocks zone, neither too hot nor too cold.

The Visualistion Practice

The Triple Heater Visualisation is helpful in balancing the three burners and supporting the Triple Heater Official in harmonising all of the organs and meridians. It can be done sitting in a chair or on a cushion, or lying down. Whichever position you are in, just be relaxed and comfortable.

Begin by placing your right hand over your lower abdomen at a place about two fingers width below your navel. Then place your left hand over your right. Just tune into that centre, which we call the lower burner. Notice the sensations and energies, or lack of energy.

You are going to set up an imaginary windmill in your lower burner. This is an energetic wheel that turns around the point below your navel. The wheel can be any size and move at any speed that feels right for you. It turns in a clockwise direction, like a fan stirring the air. Notice if anything changes as the fan turns the energies in your lower burner.

Allow that wheel to continue to turn on its own as you bring your attention to the middle burner. Move your hands upwards to a place midway between your navel and your sternum, the solar plexus. Notice what is happening there. Are the energies moving or not? Now, imagine another wheel the same size and turning at the same speed as the wheel in the lower burner, like a fan gently turning the air. Notice what happens as that wheel turns.

Now there are two wheels in motion that continue to turn as you bring your attention to the upper burner. Move your hands to the centre of your chest. Notice what is happening there. Are the energies moving or not? Now imagine a third wheel, the same size and turning at the same speed as the other two. Like a fan turning the air, this wheel turns the energies in the upper burner.

Leave your right hand on the upper burner and move your left hand down to the lower burner. What do you notice as you hold the two spaces together? Is one more energised than the other? Does one have more heat? As you hold that combination, you may find that the two begin to equalise and resonate together.

Now move your left hand to the middle burner in the solar plexus. The right hand remains on the upper burner. Notice how these two burners feel in comparison. Are they similar or different in temperature and activity? Once again, as you hold this combination, you may find an equalisation taking place as the two burners resonate together.

Now move your left hand back to the lower burner and move your right hand to the middle burner. Notice how these two burners are in relationship with each other. Notice if anything changes as you continue to hold this combination.

Finally, bring your hands to rest in your lap and tune in to the three wheels turning together. Notice what has changed since you began, and what has remained the same. What has changed in each of the burning spaces and what has changed in the whole of you?

Book cover


This is an extract from my second book ‘The Way of the Five Seasons’, due for publication by Singing Dragon Press in March 2016.

The book launch for both books is set for the afternoon of  May 1st 2016 at the Ngeringa Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills. Mark your calendar for this free event.