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.
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.