Category Archives: Breathing difficulty

Summer Solstice

For our northern hemisphere readers, here’s a link to the previous Winter Solstice article to make you feel hemispherically synched.

Today is the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere, the middle of summer and the point at which the year expands to its limit. It’s as if the Earth has taken a long, deep breath in and can expand no more. After today, the yin half of the year begins, and the long slow exhalation propels us towards the winter solstice in 6 months time.

Correspondingly expansive movements of the body include spreading the arms wide and opening the heart centre to give of ourselves and to receive the world. The Heart is the primary organ of the Fire Element whose summer season this is. The Heart, Emperor of our personal kingdom, beats ceaselessly for our whole life, maintaining the steady drumbeat of our personal world.

Another expansive movement is to raise the arms up and out. You often see this movement at festivals and sporting events where whole stadia of people signal their excitement by raising their arms to the heavens and shouting with joy. Showing their armpits to the world with abandon.

UTMOST SOURCE

Speaking of armpits, I want to spend some time here introducing an important acupoint which lies deep in the armpit, an area rarely exposed but kept protected by our arms at the sides. In the modern world most of us don’t raise our arms up high very often unless it’s in the shower or to reach for something on a high shelf. We rarely climb trees or hang from branches as did our primate ancestors. This point is rather secret and somewhat intimate.

The point is Jiquan Heart 1, known variously as Summit Spring, Utmost Spring and Supreme Spring. But I like Worsley’s translation of Utmost Source, because it echoes the nature of the Heart and its resident spirit the shen. Shen is our connection to utmost heaven, the heavenly light that resides within the heart of each one of us.

The Heart Qi arises from the organ of the Heart, passes through the Lung, and emerges in the armpit at Jiquan like a spring bubbling out of the ground. The Qi then travels along the inside of the arm, heading for the little finger as the Heart channel is mapped out through its 9 points.

When the Heart and its channel are open and balanced, there is connection to our True Nature which doesn’t have to do anything. The Heart’s calling is not to do but to be. In the metaphor of the Emperor, his task is simply to sit on the throne and hold the space from a place of stillness. This is a great teaching for us to emulate in our often turbulent times. Holding space, holding stillness, holding presence. Just being.

Back to the armpits, Heart 1 is a common place for Qi to become blocked. In the Wei Qi cycle of the 12 meridians, the previous point is Dabao, Spleen 21 Great Enveloping. Where a channel of one Element moves into a channel of another Element, there is a greater tendency for Qi to become blocked. These are known as Entry-Exit blocks (though the pedant in me would argue for Exit-Entry blocks). Here, where the Earth energy of Spleen moves to the Fire energy of Heart, we find the most common of the Entry-Exit blocks. These blocks are usually diagnosed on the pulse. In this case an excess Spleen pulse and a deficient Heart pulse would indicate a block. But physical and psycho-emotional symptoms can also point to the possibility of a block.

At the physical level, possible indications of this block include pain or constriction in the lateral ribcage or in the armpit, difficulty raising the shoulder, palpitations and shortness of breath. Surgery or injury to the area can also be a cause. Constriction in the flow of lymph to the lymph nodes in the armpit is another. Recently I’ve had a cluster of cases of severe lymphoedema in the legs, and I’ve found that in most of these cases there was a Spleen-Heart block.

At the psycho-emotional level, this block may stem from difficulty in allowing the nourishment of the Earth Element into the Heart. There may be sadness, anxiety, mental restlessness or disconnection from the joy of life.  It may indicate challenges with intimacy or betrayal that have closed the emotional heart. Eating disorders which stem from deep dissatisfaction with one’s life might also be indicators of this block.

If you suspect there is a block in the Qi flow at Heart 1, hold the point with sustained moderate pressure for a few minutes until you feel the subtle Qi flow and that the point is open. Also hold Spleen 21 in the side of the ribcage until you feel the open flow of the subtle energy there. Treat both sides

In Qi Gong practice and in some meditation practices, practitioners are advised to stand or sit with enough space in the armpit to ‘hold an egg’. This allows free flow of Qi through the armpit and along the Heart meridian of the arm. We can take note of this and avoid long periods of holding the arms tightly to the sides.

Jiquan is a spirit point that connects our consciousness to the universal consciousness; it aligns our personal heart with the heart of the universe; and it promotes emotional warmth and connection to others through the Heart. In this season of celebration and family gatherings, it’s good to keep our hearts open.

All You Need Is Love

As we move fully into the Fire season of summer, here we look at one of Fire’s greatest gifts: love.

Shanzhong – Within the Breast – Conception Vessel 17

4-17Perhaps more words have been written and spoken about love than any other subject. Certainly it is a major focus in books, movies and popular music. There is no simple definition of love because it has different meanings in different contexts. There are many kinds of love.

We can say we love certain foods like ice cream or chocolate, we love our hobbies or our work, we love our pets, we love our neighbours, we love our family, we love our partner, we love the earth, we love God.

Whichever culture or system you look at, there seems to be universal agreement that love is associated with the heart. Whatever kind of love we are talking about, it is a state that is perceived by and expressed through the heart centre. Love is often experienced as a warm or expansive feeling in the chest. This is a direct experience of the fact that the heart is the primary organ of the Fire Element. The extent to which we are able to feel love, receive love, give love or express love will indicate the health of our Fire.

The Fire point that lies in the very centre of the chest is Shanzhong – Within the Breast. While it lies on the Ren Mai (Conception Vessel), it is the mu or alarm point for the Heart Protector. This is where the shen, the spirit of the Heart resides. It coincides with the heart chakra or heart centre and is the place where we most feel our heart feelings. It is where we feel the pleasurably warm, glowing feeling when we fall in love and also where the pain is felt when our heart is broken.

Shanzhong is a point that activates the shen. It facilitates the communication of feelings from the Heart to the outside and helps to settle the spirit when the person has been exhausted or betrayed by relationships. When the heart has gone cold, it opens the Heart Protector to new possibilities of engagement with others.

At the physical level, this point strongly activates Qi in the chest, affecting both heart and lungs. It treats tightness in the chest, chronic cough and shortness of breath. Because it quells rebellious Qi in the middle burner, it aids heartburn and acid reflux. It also facilitates lactation and treats mastitis.

While this point won’t guarantee you’ll find the love of your life, it can help you to open the conduit for communication of feelings and for the giving and receiving of love.

Location of Conception Vessel 17

4-18The point is in the centre of the sternum in a shallow hollow. On men it lies between the nipples. It is at the level of the fourth intercostal space which is  located by counting down four rib spaces from the underside of the clavicle. The point can be held with gentle, direct finger pressure, or more gently still by placing the palm on or over the point.

 

This is an extract from The Way of the Five Elements by John Kirkwood, a book that might make a lovely gift for someone you love.

The Spirit of Metal

As autumn enters its final weeks, we examine one of the most powerful points of  Metal, one which reaches into the very spirit of the Element.

Pohu ~ Soul Door ~ Bladder 42

6.19Po is the spirit of the Metal Element. Its character has two parts. The left part is the character for white, which is the colour of the Metal Element. The right part is the character for ghost or earthbound spirit. Po is therefore the spirit which is tied to the earth and the mundane.

The po is the corporeal soul (sometimes translated as animal soul) which enters the body at conception. In the first months after birth, the baby’s whole life revolves around this corporeal soul as it forms the foundation of a healthy body for the life to come. Of the five spirits, it is the only one that disappears when we die. As soon as the lungs exhale for the last time and the body dies, the po exits through the anus and descends to join the earth from which it originated.

During life, the po is utterly tied to the physical body and to time and space. Like animal instinct, it is concerned with immediate reactions to what is happening in each moment. It is about the here and the now. This instinctual part of us lives on its senses, alert to all sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. It is our animal nature.

The po is paired with the hun, the ethereal soul which is the spirit of the Wood Element. While the hun roams the realm between the earth and the heavens, the po provides a counterpoint as the most physical and material part of the human soul. It could be said to be the somatic manifestation of the soul. It provides for clear and sharp sensations and movements and is involved in all physiological processes. Of all these processes it is especially connected to breathing which is its special province. In fact the po resides in the lungs and is particularly affected by sadness and grief which restrict its movement. Constricted breathing, holding of the breath and shallow breathing are all injurious to the Lung and to the po.

While the emotion of grief is the one most closely associated with the po, all emotions are ruled by it. It consists of the seven emotions (fear, anxiety, anger, joy, sorrow, worry and grief) which Jarrett neatly describes as the primal urges that facilitate the grasping of life.

Another function of the po is to anchor the heavenly aspect of our human nature within the density of the body. It may seem something of a paradox that the spirit which relates so much to our instinctual, animal side, is also paramount in connecting us to our spiritual nature. The po is concerned with balancing these aspects of our humanness, supporting us as beings of spirit who inhabit the bodies of animals.

Imbalance in the po produces a marked disparity between the heavenly and earthly aspects of human life. On the one hand there can be an obsessive attachment to material things and the accumulation of possessions, money and fame to the detriment of things spiritual. On the other hand a person may have his head in the clouds and be unable or unwilling to navigate the ordinary world of human existence. There may even be a withdrawal from the world in order to focus on the spiritual search.

Other possible outcomes of po imbalance are ongoing physical pain with no identifiable cause, migrating pain, extreme sensitivity to outside psychic influences and chronic health problems associated with emotions that are stuck.

A point that profoundly contacts and balances the po is the outer shu point of Lung, Pohu – Soul Door, sometimes translated as Door of the Corporeal Soul. It is a point that helps to resolve the spirit/animal paradox. It can access the spirit of Metal at a very deep level and serve to reconnect us with what we value in her life, with the preciousness of life itself and with our authentic being or essence. Moreover it supports us in valuing our essential spiritual nature.

All the longings that we feel are ultimately a desire to be reconnected with spirit, whether or not we are conscious of the underlying nature of our longing. Pohu supports reconnection with spirit, and thus can treat all feelings of longing and desire for spirit.

These attributes of Pohu are particularly helpful in supporting people in their quest to find spiritual meaning in life on Earth. Where depression, long-term sadness, resignation or lack of inspiration derive from loss of contact with spirit, this soul door offers support.

Location of Bladder 42

6.20

 

The outer shu point of the Lung, Pohu is located in the upper back, 3 cun lateral to the junction of T3 and T4. The point lies at the medial border of the scapula.

 

 

This is an extract from my book The Way of the Five Elements. This and its companion volume The Way of the Five Seasons, are now available for purchase. Singing Dragon Press.

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