Tag Archives: Low back pain

Deep Resources

Winter is here in South Australia with some frosts and very cold nights. And I’m peeing more. Sorry to be so personal, but it happens to most of us in the winter. Turns out that because we sweat less in cold weather, the body has to find alternative ways of disposing of fluids. It does that by sending more fluid to the kidneys to be processed which is then passed on to the bladder to be peed out.

People who already have issues of the urinary system are more challenged in the winter because of the effect of the cold. This aligns with the Chinese medicine view of Cold as an external pathogen that enters the body and affects the organs of the Water Element, namely the Bladder and Kidneys.

Last time I foreshadowed that I would be examining the xi-cleft points (also known as the accumulation points) in the coming year, each of them in its related season. First out of the blocks is the xi-cleft point of the Bladder meridian, the yang organ of the Water Element. Remember, these points are known best for treating acute conditions and for pain.

Bladder 63 ~ Jinmen ~ Golden Gate

One of the conditions I frequently encounter in clinic, especially in my older clients, is muscle cramping in the backs of the legs, in the hamstrings or calves. Bladder 63 addresses this given that it treats acute pain along the channel. The Bladder channel has a very long pathway of 67 points, starting at the eyes, moving over the top of the head, down the back of the neck, all the way down the back parallel to the spine, through the sacrum and buttocks, then down the back of the leg through the hamstrings and calves before slipping sideways in the lower leg, under the outer ankle bone, and along the side of the foot to the little toe.

Given the length of the pathway, there are plenty of places where acute pain can arise and be treated with this point. It is particularly well known for treating pain in the low back, knees, legs and ankles.

One interesting note in the classics is that it treats White Tiger joint disease which is said to produce pain like a tiger gnawing on one’s toes. Thankfully, I’ve never encountered a tiger in this way, but it certainly sounds excruciating. We now know that this was the ancient name for gout, and was associated with an attack of pathogenic Wind, Cold, Damp or Heat, producing pain and heaviness in muscles and tendons, and constriction in the joints.

The xi-cleft points tend to have a direct effect on acute conditions of their corresponding organs. This point has a less powerful effect on the Bladder than other xi-cleft points do, but it can be used to treat urinary issues including difficult or painful urination. It regulates the flow of water in the body.

The point also pacifies Wind, thereby treating shaking conditions such as shivering, epilepsy and malaria.

Some modern sources recommend the xi-cleft points in cases where the associated emotion has become overwhelming. In this case it is the emotion of fear. When we are overwhelmed with responsibilities and fearful that we don’t have enough in reserve to cope, Golden Gate can be opened to gain access to the resources of Water. When we are frozen with fear, Bladder 63 supports us to let go and to surrender into the flow of our life.

These psycho-emotional connotations of Jinmen are reinforced by the fact that it is an important point of the Yang Wei Mai or Yang Linking Vessel, one of the Eight Extraordinary Vessels. Yang Wei is related to issues of moving forward in the world, using the resources of the Du Mai or Governor Vessel to take action in life. It relates to how we manage emotion to become effective social beings. And it is about how we individuate to become our unique expression of True Nature in the world.

Golden Gate is indeed a doorway to our inner riches.

Location of Bladder 63

The point is located on the side of the foot in a depression of the cuboid bone, posterior to the tuberosity of the 5th metatarsal. Slide your finger up the side of the foot from the little toe until you find the large bump in the middle of the foot. Go over that to the other side and up a little until your finger fits into a small hollow. Hold for about 3 minutes on each foot.

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.