Category Archives: Pain Relief

My illness is my friend

rock-hole-blue-lakeYesterday I received the news that one of my most influential teachers, Bob Duggan, has passed away. Bob was an acupuncturist but he was also a wellness visionary, seeing ways of bringing health and healing outside the treatment room.

In 1991 I was fortunate to be part of a group of 20 who made up the SOPHIA training in San Francisco. Bob, along with Diane Connelly, Julia Measures and John Sullivan, made seasonal trips from Maryland to teach us about using the wisdom of the Five Elements to support change and healing in all areas of life, not just in the treatment room. My own path owes a great deal to this training. My acupressure courses, my books and my direction in life were profoundly influenced by Bob’s view of the world.

When I received the news about Bob’s change of vibration, I went Googling and found a short interview with him from 2009 which I recommend to you. In it he tells this story:

I’ve practised acupuncture for 35 years now and some 30 years ago a man came back into me and he said, “I never thought asthma would be my friend.” I said, “Charlie what are you talking about, asthma is your friend?” And he said, “Well before I came to you I was in and out of the emergency room, I was constantly on prednisone. Now I pick up the wheezing about three days earlier and if I pay attention I realise I’m overtired, I’ve had too much caffeine, I’m having a fight with my wife. And if I change the life circumstances I don’t ever get an asthmatic attack.” That story has stayed with me. I’ve told it to virtually every patient since then and found that people say to me, “My body’s very smart.”

This reminds me of what I already know but try to forget. My headaches are my friends, my neck stiffness is my friend, my insomnia is my friend. These symptoms are kindly pointing out the ways that my life is out of balance. I just need to investigate and find out what needs to change, whether it is what I’m eating, what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. Or not feeling.

As a practitioner it reminds me that my role is to support my clients to discover these things for themselves. And that if I simply “fix” their problems and nothing more, then I am doing them a great disservice. If I help them to turn off the fire alarm without finding the fire that triggered the alarm, then the change that the alarm is suggesting will not happen.

Thank you Bob Duggan for your wisdom and guidance. Thea Elijah called you a radical healing provocateur. I hope that you continue to provoke healing in whichever dimension you inhabit.


Neck Release

Fengchi – Wind Pond – Gall Bladder 20

3.7I spend more time holding this point on my clients than any other and I use it in most sessions. This is partly because in my early training I learned a neck release that concluded with this point. In doing thousands of neck releases over the years, I have come to see how helpful it is for most people to have the upper cervical region released. Most people relax, some even fall asleep with this point. It is a great boon in our modern, stress-filled world.

What makes this such a significant point is that it is not only a Gall Bladder point, but also a meeting point with the Triple Heater meridian, Yang Motility Vessel and Yang Linking Vessel. By affecting two meridians and two vessels at the same time, this point has wide-ranging effects.

Its name Fengchi – Wind Pond tells us two things. Firstly it is like a pond or pool, lying as it does in the little hollow between the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid attachments at the occipital bone. Treating this point releases tension in these two important muscles of the neck, taking pressure off the cervical spine

Secondly, we learn that it is a pond that accumulates wind, the climatic condition of the Wood Element. Wind can penetrate the body from the outside as a pathogenic factor, collecting here before invading the body more deeply. This includes strong winds in nature but also draughts, especially from air conditioning. The most common symptoms of wind invasion are stiff neck and headache, but it can also cause sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, fever, aching joints and facial paralysis. Fengchi treats these symptoms by driving out the wind from the place where it entered.

Wind can also develop internally as a result of disharmony in the Liver, producing symptoms such as tremors, tics, convulsions, severe dizziness and numbness. Fengchi also treats these conditions

More generally, it is perhaps the best point for clearing the head because of its effect on the sensory orifices, especially the eyes. It treats vision and eye disorders, dizziness, vertigo, deafness, tinnitus and sinusitis. It relieves pain in the head, neck and shoulders, particularly occipital headache.

The head is said to be the residence of the yang. Because GB 20 is a point of the Yang Linking Vessel which unites all six yang meridians and the Governing Vessel, it has a profound influence on rising yang. It causes any pathological Qi to descend and is therefore the preeminent point for headaches of all kinds and dizziness of any origin.

It has a powerful effect on the brain, bringing clarity to the eye and mind and enabling a clearer view of the world. It clears confusion, strengthens concentration, aids memory and supports the making of good judgements and decisions. If you can’t see the wood for the trees, Wind Pond will help to broaden your perspective.

Location of Gall Bladder 20

3.8Below the occiput (the ridge at the back of the skull) and midway between the midline and the mastoid process. The point lies in the hollow formed by the origins of the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles, approximately 1.5 cun lateral the occipital hollow (GV 16). Apply direct pressure or angle towards the opposite eye. An effective method is to cradle the person’s head in your hands and apply pressure with the middle fingers to both points simultaneously. This has the effect of applying a gentle stretch to the neck and has a relaxing effect upon the whole spine.




This is an extract from the forthcoming book ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ by John Kirkwood, Singing Dragon Press. Publication date November 21st, 2015. You can now pre-order this book at Fishpond, Book Depository and other online booksellers. (48  days to go!)

Keep Your Shoulder Well

Spring is springing in South Australia, propelled by the rising energy of the Wood Element. Recently I’ve been waking up at 2 am and getting headaches, reminding me that my spring Wood treatment with my acupuncturist is due. Here’s the first Wood point of the season to help you navigate the rapids of the season.

Jianjing – Shoulder Well – Gall Bladder 21

                   (Caution during pregnancy)

3.5I had my first experience of acupressure 30 years ago when I attended a talk. As part of his demonstration, the teacher pressed his thumbs into the tops of my shoulders, causing a release of energy that bolted through my whole body. It really got my attention. I later discovered that he was working a point on the Gall Bladder meridian, Jianjing – Shoulder Well. The reason that it was such a powerful point for me was that I had spent the previous seven years teaching in high schools and had accumulated more than a little tension in my shoulders. Layers of frustration and anger had been tightly controlled by fear of prosecution should I let it out on my students.

Many of the stresses of modern living find their way into the shoulders. The responsibilities of life can seem to weigh on the shoulders like the straps of a heavy backpack. Most people have some tension in these points which is why a shoulder massage usually feels so good.

Tightness in the shoulders affects the smooth flow of Qi along the Gall Bladder meridian. It limits the range of neck movement and so constrains clear vision and perspective. Likewise it inhibits the free movement of the arms which are the means of taking action in the world.

The official of Gall Bladder is sometimes referred to as the Chief of Staff. While the Liver official, the General, is responsible for planning and strategy, the Gall Bladder official carries out the plans, riding hither and yon to oversee their implementation. If we live a busy life, we are constantly multitasking and keeping all the balls in the air. When we live a life of doing and lose touch with being, congestion in the Gall Bladder channel can result. The tops of the shoulders have a particular tendency to become congested.

Jianjing is a meeting point with the Stomach and Triple Heater meridians and the Yang Linking Vessel, making for a deep concentration of meridian Qi at this point. It has a strong descending action, drawing congested energy down the body. For this reason it is not recommended during pregnancy, though useful to assist labour and promote lactation. It is also supportive after a miscarriage.

When there is ongoing frustration, anger, resentment and rigidity, these emotions can become stuck in the neck and shoulders. The whole neck can become rigid from these bottled-up feelings. Shoulder Well can relieve such a bottleneck of energy, especially when combined with GB 20 at the top of the neck. It eases neck stiffness, treats shoulder and upper back pain, and helps to lower blood pressure.

When the tension in your life is creating boulders on your shoulders, take your bucket to the Shoulder Well.


Location of Gall Bladder 21

3.6The point is on the crest of the shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the tip of the shoulder (acromion). Reach up and press your middle finger into the tightest part of the trapezius muscle on your opposite shoulder. It is difficult to apply deep pressure yourself, so get a friend to press his thumbs into the points while you are sitting or lying down. Apply firm, downward pressure. In cases of extreme tightness, you can rub or knead the muscle first before applying static pressure. For self-help, there are cane-shaped tools available which allow you to apply leveraged pressure.

This is an extract from the forthcoming book ‘The Way of the Five Elements’ by John Kirkwood, Singing Dragon Press. Publication date November 21st, 2015. You can now pre-order this book at Fishpond, Book Depository and other online booksellers. (94 days to go!)