Tag Archives: Low back pain

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.

In the Flow

Pangguangshu – Bladder Shu – Bladder 28

River FlowWinter usually brings a wave of Water related conditions and issues into the  treatment room. As the high tide of the year moves through the Water Element, it puts pressure on any existing imbalances in Water. This can include lower back pain and stiffness, cold invading the body, urinary system dysfunction, problems with the bladder, kidneys, ears and bones, fears and phobias, and reduced perseverance.

As we age, the lifelong decline in our Kidney Qi begins to affect all of these resonances of the Water Element. And the cold of the winter creates added pressure on our declining resources. This inspires some to migrate to warmer climate zones such as Queensland.

An acupoint that offers support for conditions of the waterworks is Pangguangshu, Bladder 28. This is the shu point of Bladder and treats that organ directly. The shu points are particularly useful in treating chronic conditions, those that have become entrenched for some time.

Bladder shu is used to treat difficult, painful, hesitant and frequent urination. These symptoms are associated with an enlarged prostate, and so the point is very helpful for treating the prostate conditions which afflict many older men. It is also used to treat cystitis which is an inflammation of the urinary tract, usually caused by infection. The effect of Pangguangshu also extends to the genitals, treating such conditions as swelling, pain or itching of the external genitals.

Bladder 28 is also useful in treating lower back pain as well as pain or stiffness in the sacrum, coccyx and buttocks. It has an influence over the Kidneys and can be used in combination with the Kidney shu point, Bladder 23. (See article here.) Because of its influence over the lower burner, it can be used to treat lower abdominal pain and fullness, and constipation caused by Qi stagnation.

At the psycho-emotional level, stagnation in the Bladder expresses as difficulty managing one’s resources and reserves. This can produce a sense of urgency and anxiety about life, leading to a tendency to use effort and willpower to push through obstacles in the way. There is an apt expression for this, ‘pushing the river’, which suggests using draining effort rather than going with the flow.

Zhi is the spirit of Water. It is often translated as will. When our Water Element is in balance and harmony, the power that fuels action arises naturally and spontaneously from true will that is not dependent on a pushing, urgent, straining effort. Pangguangshu can help to keep us in the flow.


Location of Bladder 28

BL 28

 

The point is 1.5 cun lateral to the midline at the level of the second sacral foramen (hollow). Find the top of the sacrum and go two fingers width below this and two fingers width lateral to find the point.

Healthy Bones

Shugu – Bone Binder – Bladder 65

10 Bones copyThough we are still in winter, spring is just around the corner. So I decided to choose an acupoint that will help us to make the transition between these seasons. Shugu is the Wood point on a Water meridian and so serves this purpose nicely.

In Five Element Acupuncture and Acupressure, we pay a lot of attention to the different Element points on the meridians. Every meridian has the five Element points on its pathway. These points are found between the fingers and elbows, and between the toes and knees. These points, sometimes called command points, are tools for moving Qi from one Element to another. Shugu is one such point. As the Wood point on a Water meridian, it moves Qi from Water to Wood. Specifically it moves Qi from Bladder to Gall Bladder, thereby sedating Bladder and tonifying Gall Bladder.

In doing so, this point harmonises the relationship between Water and Wood. We might use the metaphor of a tree whose deep roots are able to access the water and nutrients in the soil in order to grow and stay healthy. Shugu likewise enables us as humans to make wise use of our inner resources for optimum growth. It allows us to utilise these resources in service of our vision for the future. It is like hooking up the driveshaft (Water) to the wheels (Wood) so we can go somewhere. When there is drive without vision, will without plans, seed without growth, this point will serve.

As a distal point on the Bladder meridian, Shugu can treat problems of the urinary bladder such as difficult urination and cystitis. Jarrett points to its use in helping kidney stones to smoothly exit the body. The point also treats conditions along the pathway of Bladder, including lumbar pain, neck pain, headache and sore, painful eyes. Furthermore, it helps clear heat from the body, including fever and the heat-related condition of haemorrhoids.

But what of the reference to bones? The bones are governed by the Water Element because they are the tissues that are deepest in the body. As the Wood point of Bladder, Shugu encourages the healthy growth of bones and supports the healing of fractures, hence the name Bone Binder.

In the Chinese Tongshu calendar, spring begins at the point midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. For us here in the southern hemisphere, that means August 7th. You might try holding this bony point to smooth your passage into springtime.

Location of Bladder 65

BL65

 

On the outside of the foot in a depression posterior and inferior to the head of the 5th metatarsal. Run your finger up the side of your foot from the little toe until you find the large bony prominence half way along. Now go back towards the toe until your finger falls into a depression.