Tag Archives: BL 52

Where there is Will

When intent becomes permanent, we speak of Will. (Neijing)

As we traverse the last weeks of winter, let’s examine again the spirit of Water, Zhi, which is often translated as Will.

Weight lifterSeveral years ago I became quite ill and began working with a naturopath. She prescribed an apothecary of supplements for physical purification and strongly recommended a Vipassana retreat for spiritual purification.

For those who don’t know about Vipassana retreats, they are the black belt, hard-core, take-no-prisoners style of meditation retreats. For 10 days you don’t speak, don’t look anyone in the eye, eat only two meals a day, get up at 4 am and go to bed after 9, meditate for 10 hours a day, often without moving a muscle for an hour at a time. What is more, I did my retreat at the winter solstice in Melbourne where the temperature fell below freezing at night.

I thought at the time that this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It required tremendous willpower and effort to stay the course and not leave after even the first day. Every day, every hour, required me to continually rededicate myself to the practice.

When I was released from prison on the tenth day, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom and great satisfaction at having stayed the course. Unexpectedly, I found that I had much more will. I found I could sit at my desk and write for hours without the usual restlessness. I was able to complete tasks that I would normally put off or do in stages. Somatically, I felt a weighty presence in my belly centre, a bowling ball of will that kept me centred and stable.

These qualities of determination, steadfastness, resilience and power were developed by the initial application of effort, but after a time, the effort was transformed into will. Willpower became true will. Like bending your back to crank the engine until it sparks into life and runs on its own.

These are all resonances of the Water Element, the gifts of Zhi. Here are some suggestions for cultivating Zhi:

  • Do something you’ve never done before
  • Do something for five minutes longer when you’d rather stop
  • Do something very slowly
  • Do something no one would expect you to do
  • Postpone an action you want to do
  • Do something now that you’d prefer to postpone
  • Do a practice every day for a month

For some support in your cultivation of will, hold the acupoint Bladder 52- Zhishi– Residence of the Will which we’ve looked at previously. This point promotes endurance, helps to resolve fear (the emotion of Water), strengthens will, and restores essence (jing). For those who are driven, it softens hard willpower and supports true will.

Ultimately, true will is the will of true nature. As we align our personal will with the will of the universe, all efforting drops away and doing simply happens.

Location of Bladder 52



On the back at the level of the junction of the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae and 3 cun (four fingers width) lateral to the spine. It is approximately at the same level as the navel.

Spirit of Water

Zhishi – Residence of the Will – Bladder 52

SONY DSCZhi is the spirit of the Water Element. The most usual meaning of zhi is will, though it has also been translated as ambition, purpose, determination, knowledge, mind and memory.[i] The will that is referenced here is not that of willpower and effort where there is a forceful pushing and drivenness to achieve goals. Rather, it works independently of a person’s volition, operating virtually below the level of consciousness, a force which moves a person towards his destiny without much conscious thought.[ii]

Kaptchuck describes it as ‘the will that can’t be willed’,[iii] meaning that it is the kind of will that allows the person to move forward without pushing the river. A person with strong Kidneys has a strong Kidney spirit, a drive to be alive; one with less Kidney strength may have a lack of drive but overcompensate by pushing himself.

Underpinning the zhi is the innate power of life itself, life that wants to live, strives to stay alive and survive. It manifests in the human drive to reproduce and thrive, something we have been remarkably successful at as a species.

The classics say that the kidneys house the zhi.[iv] Therefore anything that injures the kidneys will also injure the zhi. Fear that does not flow freely and release from the body will dwell in the kidneys. Chronic fearfulness, trauma, ongoing stress, penetrating cold, addictions, overwork and insufficient sleep will all contribute to draining the Kidney Qi and therefore the zhi. The saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’ is an apt expression of such depletion.

If the zhi is imbalanced, the result is a move to one of two extremes. At one extreme there is a collapse of will, resulting in a lack of drive and determination, listlessness and passivity, weakness, withdrawal and even despair. At the other extreme there is a restless, unrelenting activity that derives from strong ambition and hyper-determination. Put simply, there is either lack of drive or overdrive. Both are symptoms of zhi out of balance.

Other possible outcomes of zhi imbalance are forgetfulness and memory lapses, the overuse of stimulants to provide false fuel for activity, addictive patterns, insomnia, and nervous breakdown.

What does zhi look like when it is in perfect balance? Such a person moves forward without seeming to move, as if propelled by some invisible force. This kind of will is unobtrusive and tends to go unnoticed because it is so natural. It is well expressed in the Chinese concept of wu wei, the action of non-action. Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. ‘It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which, without even trying, we are able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.’[v]

Ultimately the highest form of will arises when the personal will is in alignment with the will of heaven. The will of heaven is stored in our essence (jing) and exists within as a blueprint for our highest development. We must align our personal will with this blueprint if we are to manifest our greater destiny. The situations that life presents us with provide the opportunities for understanding the need for this alignment to occur. The more balanced is our zhi, the more there will be inner knowing of how this alignment can arise.

There is another important balancing function of the zhi which can be seen in its Chinese character, part of which represents the Heart. The relationship between the zhi of the Kidney and the shen of the Heart is paramount in maintaining the Water/Fire balance which in turn is central to a person’s yin/yang balance.

This balanced connection allows the will of the Tao to be mediated by and expressed through the human heart. Harmonious action naturally arises as a willing surrender to the dynamic force of the Tao.

A point that deeply supports the zhi is Zhishi – Residence of the Will. It is the outer shu point of the Kidney and lies on the Bladder meridian. At the physical level it treats lumbar pain, incontinence, impotence and infertility. More deeply, as its name suggests, it strengthens the will, allowing access to courage, determination and perseverance. It supports a person who is experiencing chronic fear and anxiety which are detrimental to the kidneys and Kidney Qi. In such cases this point can assuage fear by engendering basic trust in the inherent supportiveness of true nature.



Location of Bladder 52

The point is in the low back at the level of the junction between vertebrae L2 and L3. This is roughly at the level of the navel. BL 52 is 3 cun (four fingers width) outside the spine. If you are working on someone else, have them lie face down and apply direct pressure with your thumbs. If you are working on yourself, lie on your back, make fists and place your knuckles into the points.


[i] Jarrett, L.S. (1998) Nourishing Destiny. Stockbridge MA:Spirit Path Press, p.57.
[ii] Hicks, A., Hicks, J. and Mole, P. (2004) Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, p.163.
[iii] Kaptchuk, T.J. (2000) The web that has no weaver, Chicago:Contemporary Books, p.62.
[iv] Maoshing, N. (trans) (1995) The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Boston: Shambala, p.96.
[v] Reninger, E. (2013) Wu wei the action of non-action, viewed 4 August 2013, <http://taoism.about.com>

This is an extract from ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ by John Kirkwood, to be published by Singing Dragon Press (an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishing) in November 2015.

Low Back Pain and Kidney Qi

Healthy low backHere in southern Australia winter has finally come and the Water Element has spread over the land. The colder weather brings challenges for many people, not least of which is the stress it can place on the low back. I tend to see more low back complaints in my treatment room at this time of year. Why is this?

As I reflected last time, the kidneys are the storehouses of our Qi. When we push our limits by doing too much, not sleeping enough, not staying warm enough, or even having a lot of sex, we can drain our Kidney Qi. If we do these things in the winter, the strain is all the greater. If there is any imbalance in the Water Element, it is more likely to reveal itself in the winter. One of the ways this can show up is in strain, pain and stiffness in the lumbar area.

There are two points in the low back that are very helpful in supporting the Kidney Qi and the Water Element. These lie on the inner and outer lines of the Bladder meridian which run down the back on either side of the spine like sets of railway tracks. These points of the back are called shu points and are found at the vertebral junctions. Each shu point relates to one of the twelve organs. The word shu means transporting, suggesting that the point transports energy directly to the associated organ. The Kidney shu points lie in the lumbar area, on either side of the spine at the level of the navel.

The inner shu point BL 23 (Kidney Shu) directly treats the kidneys themselves and provides access to our deepest reserves of Qi. It also helps with hearing and the ears, the sense organs of the Kidney. Other conditions helped by this point include urination problems, feeling the cold, impotence and infertility. It is the classic point for low back pain and is the focal point for the low back release which I teach in my workshops.

The outer shu point BL 52 (Residence of the Will) also tonifies the kidneys and strengthens the low back. In addition it addresses the psycho-emotional aspects of Water. As its name suggests, it strengthens the will (zhi), allowing access to courage and determination. It supports a person who is experiencing chronic fear and anxiety which are detrimental to the kidneys and Kidney Qi. In such cases this point can assuage fear by providing access to basic trust in the inherent supportiveness of true nature.

Location of BL 23 & 52

BL 23:52These points are in the low back at the level of the junction between vertebrae L2 and L3. This is roughly at the level of the navel. BL23 lies 1.5 cun (two fingers width) outside the spine. BL 52 is 3 cun (four fingers width) outside the spine. If you are working on someone else, have them lie face down and apply direct pressure with your thumbs for 2-3 minutes. If you are working on yourself, lie on your back, make fists and place your knuckles into the points. A quick treatment of these points is to sit in a chair and rub your knuckles up and down across these points. It is a stimulating and warming practice on a cold winter’s day.


Learn the low back and pelvis release patterns. Workshops in Adelaide (August 3rd) and Mount Barker (June 22nd & August 10th). Contact me for more information.