Tag Archives: digestion

Calm Perspetive

Rest and be Thankful, Argyll, Scotland

It’s been a strange summer in Australia. La Nina has given us more rain and lower temperatures than usual such that it seems summer has hardly started. So it might come as a surprise to hear that summer is drawing to a close. February 4th, midway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, will be the start of Autumn, so we are already in the Late Summer season. I should by rights be writing about Earth points. But I too have been caught unawares of the lateness of the season.

Last time we looked at the xi-cleft points of the “Outer Fire” functions of Triple Heater and Heart Protector. Now we turn our attention to the “Inner Fire”, the actual organs of the Fire Element, Small Intestine and Heart. Xi-cleft points are typically used for acute conditions, blood conditions and for emotional overwhelm. Yet as we shall see, the use of the points extends wider than that frame.

Small Intestine 6 ~Yanglao ~ Support the Aged

The name of this point is intriguing. The left-hand character yang is composed of a sheep seen from behind together with spoons of boiled rice. The overall sense is one of gentle nurturing. Meanwhile the right-hand character lao depicts a 70 year-old man whose hair and beard have turned white. Yanglao can therefore be variously interpreted as Support the Old, Nourishing the Aged, or even Debra Katz’s elegant rendering, “The Nourishment and Cultivation of the Elders”. As a whitebeard approaching 70 myself, I find some affinity with these characters.

The organ of the small intestine is indeed devoted to the extraction of nourishment from food. However, the significance of the name lies in the fact that Small intestine 6 treats a range of conditions that tend to be experienced by the elderly: lower back pain, stiff and painful wrists, shoulder pain, joint pain, poor eyesight, deafness, toxicity, confusion and digestive problems. Many of these conditions lie along the pathway of the Small Intestine channel which travels from the little finger, up the side of the arm to the back of the shoulder, through the neck and finishes at the ear.

Yanglao therefore treats pain along the channel, especially in the shoulder and arm, pain so severe is feels as if there is fracture or dislocation.  It also treats lumbar pain with difficulty sitting and getting up, and foot pain with difficulty flexing and extending the foot. The channel connects with the outer and inner edges of the eye, so is known for eye problems, especially blurring and dimness of vision. It is believed to strengthen the constitution and help long standing conditions.

The yang xi-cleft points are known to work at the emotional level. The emotion of the Fire Element is joy, so in cases where there is a lack of joy, an absence of joi de vivre, Yanglao is good for raising the spirit. It is particularly called for when cynicism, sarcasm and bitterness from past experiences have replaced joy.

A psychological function of the Small Intestine is sorting. Just as the organ itself sorts the components of our food, absorbing that which is nourishing and passing out that which is not, our mind also sorts out the good from the bad experiences of life. When we are weighed down by the negative and have difficulty seeing the positive, Support the Aged can benefit us, no matter how old we are.

Heart 6 ~ Yinxi ~ Yin Cleft

We now reach the fourth of the Fire xi-cleft points. I’ve left this point until last because the Heart is the most delicate, most precious of all the organ-channels and must be approached with care and sensitivity. The ancient classic, the Ling Shu, (chapter 71) tells us that the Heart is the shelter of seminal essence and spirit and any appearance of injury there causes the spirit to depart. Injury therefore appears in the Heart Protector and it is that which must be treated. Some practitioners take this teaching to heart and do not use points of the Heart channel at all. I do treat Heart points, but I do so with the care and sensitivity they require.

Because xi-cleft points treat acute conditions, Heart 6 can be used to address heart pain, stabbing pain in the heart region, chest fullness, palpitations, racing heart from fright, epilepsy and loss of voice. Blood diseases are typically treated using the yin xi-cleft points. However for Blood conditions of the Heart, it is the Heart Protector that is better treated for reasons discussed above. It does however treat night sweats, dry mouth, insomnia and anxiety.

When a person has depleted their inner resources and there is a feeling of “running on empty”, Heart 6 is called for. The original meaning of the word yin was “the shady side of a mountain”. Yinxi can provide a cool and shady respite from the agitated mind, a calm space in which to rest, restore and find a new sense of perspective.

Location of Small Intestine 6

With the hand resting palm downwards, place a finger on the styloid process of the ulna, the large bump on the back of the wrist towards the little finger side. Now bring the hand so the palm is resting on the chest. Your finger will now be in a hollow on the radial (towards the thumb) side of the styloid process. This is Small Intestine 6.

Location of Heart 6

Find Heart 7 on the inner wrist crease, between two tendons and about a quarter of the way across the wrist from the ulnar (little finger) side. Heart 6 is half a cun (about the thickness of the little finger) proximal to (above) Heart 7.

Location of Small Intestine 6
Location of Heart 7

Taste of Earth

The arrival of the Late Summer season has me thinking of food. To be honest, I think about food in every season and several times a day. But the Earth season is particularly evocative of the sense of taste. Just look at all the wonderful harvest of fruit that appears in the markets at this time of year. Cherries, nectarines, peaches, melons, berries, apples, pears and more. A cornucopia of soft, sweet yumminess. To say nothing of the groaning tables of fresh vegetables at the Farmers Markets. Just thinking of it has me salivating.

While filming for the Earth video recently, I took a tour of the Adelaide Farmers Market and sampled all of the many different flavours on offer, thinking while tasting of the associations of each of the Elements. As I bit into a juicy Kalamata olive, the salty flavour evoked the Water Element of the sea from which our distant ancestors emerged. The sour taste of a grapefruit evoked the sharpness and directness of the Wood Element. The bitter flavour of dark chocolate gave a taste of the Fire Element as well as a caffeine charge to fuel its activity. The sweetness of all the fruits brought a roundness to the mouth that captured the Earth Element’s sweet character. And the pungent flavour of a spicy pie brought forth the Metal Element’s characteristics of concentration and distillation.

Much Asian cooking pays close attention to the balance of these five flavours in a meal. When the five flavours are in balance and harmony, we are accessing the very nature of the Five Elements and the harmonious interplay of their vibrations.

We can use this information about the five tastes in a number of ways.

You can begin by examining your food choices to see if any of the flavours are missing from your diet. If you notice, say, that you don’t have much sour food in your diet, you could start adding cider vinegar to soups or salad dressings,  putting a spoonful of sauerkraut on the side, taking lemon juice in water or adding slices of lime to drinks.

Notice if you have an aversion to a particular flavour which you exclude from your diet altogether. This may indicate an imbalance in the corresponding Element. For example an aversion to bitter foods may be telling you that your Fire Element is out of balance. Perhaps find some bitter foods that can be added to your food so you are not overwhelmed by the flavour on its own.

Also notice if there is a flavour which you crave. There is a clinical anecdote of a Polish man who habitually added a whole cup of vinegar to a bowl borscht soup, clearly signalling an imbalance in his Wood. Many people are addicted to sugar which is highly detrimental to the Spleen organ of the Earth Element. If this is you, try to substitute refined sugars with naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits and vegetables.

For me, the coolest use of the five tastes is found in the operation of the Five Element control (ke) cycle. In this cycle, each Element controls or restrains the Element that is the grandson, i.e. two positions ahead. Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, Metal controls Wood, Wood controls Earth and Earth controls Metal. If we look at the corresponding tastes, we find that the same principle applies in a very practical culinary way. Salt will control bitter in the way that the bitterness of eggplant is removed by rubbing salt into it. A bitter food will tame a dish that is too spicy. If your curry is too hot, grate some dark chocolate into it. A pungent herb or spice will control the tartness of sour tastes like citrus or vinegar. In turn, a sour flavour will make palatable a food that is sickly sweet. And finally a sweet flavour will overcome too much salt. This is a well-known strategy of food processors who use salt to preserve the food, then sugar to mask the salty flavour.

Next time you find that your pot of soup, stir-fry or other meal has one flavour that is overpowering the others, while you can’t remove the flavour, you can add another flavour to control it. Try it!

Check this table which lists some of the foods that correspond to each of the five tastes.

Salty Water Sea salt, miso, soy sauce, tamari, seaweed, dulse, arame
Sour Wood Citrus, cider vinegar, pickled/fermented vegetables, sauerkraut
Bitter Fire Cos lettuce, bitter greens, chicory, dandelion, citrus peel, dark unsweetened chocolate, tonic water, coffee
Sweet Earth Most fruits, pumpkin, carrot, sweet corn, rice, potato, cabbage, tomato, beets, almonds, walnuts, chicken
Pungent Metal Garlic, onion, spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, chilli; strong herbs such as rosemary, basil, fennel

One final use of the control cycle is in the case of overconsumption of certain flavours. When an excess of a flavour is consumed, it impacts upon the organ of the Element it controls, namely its grandson:

Too much salt injures the Heart.

Too much bitterness injures the Lung

Too much pungency injures the Liver

Too much sourness injures the Spleen

Too much sweetness injures the Kidney

Therefore be balanced in all of your consumption. The Elements and organs of your bodymind will sing harmoniously in gratitude.

Bon appétit.