September Equinox

Today is the September Equinox. Here in the southern hemisphere it is the Spring Equinox, the middle of our journey through the Wood Element; while in the northern hemisphere it is the Autumn Equinox within the Metal Element. For everyone all over the world, the nights and days are of equal length. The difference is that in the southern part of the globe, our days are getting longer and temperatures warmer, while for those of you in the top bit, your days are growing shorter and colder. But for one brief day, we meet in the middle. It makes me think of children on a see saw where one goes up as the other goes down, but they meet in the middle as the positions change. Today is literally a pivotal day in our passage between the Great Yin and Great Yang of the winter and summer solstices.

Lord of the Rings fans will be well aware that this is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, though they never grow older than their 111 and 33 when they first entered the mind of JRR Tolkein. Happy Birthday Bagginses!

In something of a departure from the usual, in this blog I am republishing my review of Lorie Dechar’s new book Kigo which had it’s publication date of September 21st. It’s a wonderful addition to the library of Five Elements books and I’m delighted to recommend it. This review was first published in Pointers, Journal of the Shiatsu Therapists Association of Australia, Spring 2020 edition.

KIGO
Exploring the Spiritual Essence of Acupuncture Points Through the Changing Seasons
LORIE DECHAR ILLUSTRATED BY LORELEI CHANG

In Kigo, Lorie Dechar gifts us her poetic vision of the spirit of Chinese medicine. Nature and spirit are ravelled through this beautiful work and Lorie is our perceptive guide through the seasons. She unfolds the Chinese characters to pluck wisdom from their embedded symbols, inspiring practitioners to draw on their own inner resources to match the majesty of the points.

The Japanese word kigo means “season word”, very appropriate to the spirit of Five Element Acupuncture. Japanese haiku poets use such words to evoke the “Ah!-ness” of things. Dechar calls on the power of the kigo to remind us of the Ah!-ness of the healing encounter and to re-enliven our spiritual connection to the points.

As Dechar points out, “This book is not meant to be a how-to manual but something more like a letter of introduction to some of my most beloved friends, a series of meditations on time and place and the mysterious healing of the soul.” This perspective sets her book apart from many others which are oriented towards the treatment of conditions. Hers is first and foremost a work of the spirit of the points.

While the book is slanted towards acupuncture, an appendix details other ways of treating the points including flower essences and essential oils. Dechar also weaves Taoist, Western Classical and Jungian archetypes into the work, and incorporates the mythology of the Taoist spirit animals.

The names of her 52 beloved friends are paramount: “In order to grasp the spirit-level meaning of the point names, I find that it is important to meditate not only their poetry but also on the wisdom contained in the graphic design and energetics of the original Chinese characters.” To this end the characters are displayed as clear graphics within the text, a riddle to be deciphered, a message in a bottle that has been waiting thousands of years to be opened.

Dechar unpacks the subtle meanings of the characters, not only of the points, but also those of the elements, organs, colours, spirits, directions and other resonances, making for an easy way into Classical Chinese for the newcomer. Standing firmly in the Five Element Acupuncture tradition, Dechar chooses points that are particular to spirit. The selections often surprise, as she includes points that might be overlooked in a more mechanical approach to treatment.

Her personal relationship to the points is evidenced by prefacing them with her own haiku, each an homage to the spirit of the point.  In fact, prose poetry is woven through the text which makes the book such a delight to read.

Dechar’s  52 “friends” are divided among the five elements. While it is impossible to find just one to reflect the richness of her tapestry, I’ve chosen an example that is appropriate to our southern spring.

Gall Bladder 24 – Sun and Moon – Ri Yue

日月

Spring equinox. Twilight.
The sun dips down behind my back
as I greet the rising moon.

The haiku provides a prologue to an exploration of the balance of yin and yang, inner and outer as they manifest both at the equinox and within ourselves. Then follows an unpicking of the characters of Ri Yue which illuminates the philosophical and spiritual implications of the Gall Bladder’s capacity for wise judgement, standing one’s ground, and the balance between extroversion and introversion, action and receptivity, speech and silence. Dechar then explores a clinical case of a woman whose hip surgery (which cut through Gall Bladder 30) leads to insights about her anxiety at the uncertainty of her plans. She takes us through the conversation of honouring both inner and outer, as if placing her hand on the door before inserting the needle that will open it.

The treatment of the points, however, is not formulaic and the structure of each varies. She offers needle techniques, treatment strategies, the use of words, touch, oils and flower essences to “open others and ourselves to these transcendent realms.”

Acupuncturists will find much to engage with in terms of needle technique and the incorporation of the whole practitioner into clinical practice. But equally practitioners of other modalities as well as patients and the interested layperson will find Kigo a fascinating tour of the seasons, the elements, and the points that are the vehicles for transforming body, psyche and spirit.

Kigo publication date 21 September 2020, Singing Dragon Press

WinterSpring

I love words. I love playing with them and I love to explore their origins or etymologies. So when it came to writing once again about the season of Spring, which is beginning to burst around us in the southern hemisphere, I became curious about the origins of the word. The French word for spring is printemps which derives from Latin and means first time. Italians and Spanish call it primavera, meaning first spring, derived from the Latin primus ver. Germans use the word frühling meaning earlyness. All of these words are based on the view that spring is the first season of the year, a new beginning, a birth.

In medieval England the season was called Lent, the same as the Christian observance of the 40 days prior to Easter Sunday. Yet the word Lent is itself a shortened form of the Old English word lencten meaning spring season. It wasn’t until the 14th century that it began to be referred to as “springing time”, a reference to plants springing up from the soil. In the 15th century this became shortened to springtime and later simply spring. The word spring, both as a verb and a noun, is very descriptive of the conditions in nature in this first season of the year. It can refer to movements such as jumping, bounding and moving rapidly. It can also mean to originate as in where did you spring from? The bubbling up of water from the ground is a spring, and things can spring a leak. A coiled wire that powers mechanical devices is also a spring. All of these connotations evoke uprising power and movement.

These characteristics are the same as the resonances of Wood which is the Element of the spring season. Which brings us to the Chinese word for spring, chūn 春.

The Chinese language doesn’t have the same kind of etymology as the Indo-European languages but we can examine the nuances within the strokes of the character itself. The lower part of the character is the radical 日 which represents the sun, something that is vital for the photosynthesis that fuels plant growth. The upper portion chūn looks like sprouts growing into plants. The interpretation of the character is that spring is the season of increasing sunshine which makes crops grow.

Let’s take our word study further and look at some acupoint names that are imbued with these Woody characteristics. One of the most important qualities of the Wood Element is that it loves to move. Movement is inherent to it.

GB 9 Heavenly Rushing
GB 30 Jumping Circle
GB 34 Yang Mound Spring
LV 2 Moving Between
LV 3 Great Rushing

I’ve chosen points of the Gall Bladder and Liver channels which are those of the Wood Element. At this time of year when the deep, quiet energies of the Water Element are transitioning to the rapid upward-moving energies of the Wood Element, things can be a bit jerky. This might show up as strained tendons and ligaments in the body. Or it could be that you can’t get motivated and feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It might also emerge at the emotional level as frustration and even anger. Many people find they are more easily irritated in springtime, especially at the beginning when the energies of the new season first appear. Let’s look briefly at five points whose names imply movement and which can help to smooth the transition between winter and spring.

Gall Bladder 9 – Tianchong – Heavenly Rushing

Rising Wood energy can sometimes feel like a rush to the head which can produce headaches and visual distortions. Gall Bladder 9, located in a depression 1 cun above and 0.5 cun behind the apex of the ear can be useful in treating imbalances between the head and the body. It can encourage the excess Wood energy in the head to descend into the body.

Gall Bladder 30 – Huantiao – Jumping Circle

When this point in the hips is open, it allows for freedom of movement and provides the capacity to jump into action. If you have pelvic constriction, difficulty turning the body from side to side, or suffer from sciatica, Jumping Circle can be useful. Or if you are challenged in moving forward, this point can be helpful in taking that first step. You can read a fuller description of this point in an earlier article.

Gall Bladder 34 – Yanglingquan -Yang Mound Spring

This point at the knee is known as a master point for the tendons and ligaments which connect muscles and bones to produce movement. Yang Mound Spring treats tight tendons and ligament strains, or alternatively loose connective tissue that causes joints to slide out of alignment. As the Earth point on a Wood meridian, it helps us to move from a grounded place. See more on the point in this previous blogpost.

Liver 2 – Xingjian – Moving Between

Xingjian lies in the webbing between the first and second toes and the big toe plays a significant role in walking, implying that this point is a big mover. More than that, it is the Fire point of Liver which moves Qi from Wood to Fire, thereby sedating Liver when it is in excess. When Liver Qi is rising rapidly up the body it can produce symptoms in the head such as headaches, dizziness, dry eyes and throat, as well as difficulty breathing, and genital and menstrual disorders. Liver 2 smooths uncontrolled Liver Qi. See more on this point here.

Liver 3 – Taichong – Great Rushing

This is a classic tonic point of the body that supports the many functions of the Liver. It is located just superior to Liver 2 and like that point, it helps to smooth unruly Liver Qi. Taichong is also the source point of Liver and serves to balance conditions of both excess and deficiency. Therefore it can mobilise Qi and motivate us to action if there is deficiency. It helps with vision, both outer and inner, allowing us to see more clearly where we want to move to. For more detail see my original article on this Top Ten point.

As we move further into Spring, I suggest you pay attention to the uprising quality of the season and tap into that energy which is all around. If you catch this wave in early spring, it can empower your plans and fuel your forward movement.

Midwinter Warming

The winter solstice is a big deal. Many people are not even aware of this momentous annual event. Yet together the two solstices of midsummer and midwinter provide an existential manifestation of a fundamental principle of our world, namely the polarity of yin and yang. In the southern hemisphere today we are witness to the primacy of yin, while people in the northern hemisphere are experiencing the primacy of yang. I say primacy because, depending where you are located, yin or yang  is at its deepest or highest, but nothing in existence is ever entirely one of the other. If we look at the taiji, the well-known yin/yang symbol, we see that there is always a dot of yin within the yang and there is always a dot of yang within the yin.

Indeed we naturally seek to find aspects of one to balance the other. Here in the Adelaide Hills it is currently very cold. Last week my village experienced 5 nights in a row at or below freezing. Instinctively we look to find warmth within the cold: heating up the bedroom, luxuriating in hot baths, making hot soups, enjoying hot chocolate on a rainy winter afternoon.

The midwinter solstice is not a day. Certainly it falls on a particular day, and that day will be the shortest of year and when the sun will be at its lowest elevation in the sky. But it is actually the precise moment when (in our case) the Earth’s southern pole has its maximum tilt away from the sun. This year that moment is 7.13 am on Sunday June 21st. That’s if you’re in Adelaide. Adjust your celebrations to your own time zone! It’ll be about the time I’ll be stumbling out of bed, fumbling for warm slippers and brewing hot tea ahead of a breakfast of steaming porridge. I’ll be doing everything I can to bring some yang to the most yin of days.

So far I’ve been talking about the cold/hot version of the yin/yang polarity. But there are other ways of viewing it. We could see it as the polarity of darkness and brightness, low and high, within and without, deep and superficial. In Chinese medicine another view is of the Kidney and Heart which are the organs of the Water-Fire axis. This is arguably the most significant organ relationship of all of the deep organs. It represents the relationship of Water and Fire across the Ke or control cycle. The Kidney must be strong and resilient or else the Fire will fail to be controlled, a situation that might produce feverish conditions, a chaotic mind or manic behaviour. Conversely if the Water is so strong that it overpowers the Fire, it might result in cold extremities, lack of joy or interest in life, the spark of the Heart dimmed.

There is a tendency in our modern, fast-paced, demanding world to deplete the Kidney energy by overtaxing ourselves. Doing too much in the winter is like pushing against the river. It takes more effort to achieve things when the ambient energy of nature is pulling us within. So doing less and resting more will recharge the batteries that are our Kidney Qi.

Here are a few suggestions as to how you might support your Kidney Qi in this deepest part of winter.

Warming Foods

Warm food and drinks are key. Nourishing soups, stews and broths are an excellent way to restore Kidney Qi. If you don’t eat meat, beans are a great food for winter. Even their shape is a clue: they look like kidneys. Kidney beans and black beans are especially recommended. As are pulses like lentils and buckwheat, nuts and yang grains such as millet. Salty foods like sea vegetables and tamari are helpful. Garlic, chilli and ginger are warming as is ginseng. Fried foods are more appropriate in winter as this makes the food more yang. This method of cooking transforms yin foods such as tofu and tempeh. And remember to keep hydrated. It is sometimes harder in winter to drink enough fluids as we may not get as thirsty. Herbal infusions such as peppermint or  ginger tea are great.

Warm the kidneys

Tuck your shirt in. (Your mother was right after all.) Wear extra layers around the lower back. The Japanese have a wonderful garment called a haramaki (this is not sushi) which is like a turtleneck for the low back.

Massage your low back with your knuckles. Up and down the erector muscles, and side to side at the level of the waist. With this latter you will be stimulating Governor Vessel 4, Bladder 23 and Bladder 52. These techniques are deeply warming and restorative to the kidneys.

Massage Kidneys and Reach for the Feet. This is the 6th movement of the Eight Strands of Brocade Qi Gong series and can be practised on its own to strengthen Kidney Qi. Look online for some of the thousands of variations, but here is one that I like by Master Zhong. This movement starts at 7:30 minutes in.

If you’ve been struggling with the winter so far, be encouraged by the fact that from Sunday morning onwards, the days will be getting longer, the angle of the sun will be rising, and soon the temperatures will also be rising. In short, the yin half of the year is ending and the yang half of the year is beginning.

I’ll be writing again in 6 weeks when we arrive at the next cross quarter day which marks the beginning of spring. In the meantime, you could treat yourself to a hot chocolate and a ginger biscuit or two.