Some Reflections on Acupuncture

Most of us have been trained in one or more styles of acupuncture. Whether we have been trained in TCM style acupuncture of Meridian style, we all have learned a certain set of protocols. Of course in the beginning these approaches can be useful, since they help you to navigate through a treatment process, but at the same time it puts many limits on your possibilities. In Engaging Vitality , an approach that was developed by Charles Chace and Dan Bensky, you are challenged to leave all protocols behind, navigate in unknown territory and build confidence in what you feel. Instead of following a fixed sequence or protocol, you respond at the qi of the patient. Whatever appears has to be addressed.

This deserves of course a sound ability in your palpation techniques and all your other diagnostic skills, at least enough to be able to trust what you feel. I have to admit that this is not an easy road, and it took me several years to feel anything well. But after you have internalized these palpation skills, a whole new world opens up. It enables you to become aware of so many details we otherwise might miss. I can only encourage students to practice intensively, always improving your palpation skills and gain confidence in your ability to feel. If you are able to communicate with the qi of the patient, like when you dance with a partner, the qi will lead you to what is important at that moment. We can feel whether we need to do more, or maybe just do less, whether we have to move straightforward or need a circumventing movement. It is like a battle (therefore we all should study the Art of War from Sunzi), we need to know the propensity (Shi 勢 )and the dynamic (Ji 機), if we can anticipate on that, we can obtain marvelous results. Of course not all the time, and we are all sometimes lost , but in many cases we can find the right effortless action at the right moment at the right place. Then we can also be able to initiate the self reorganizing príncipe in the body. We just facilitate this process. Being able to discern the propensity and the dynamic though is crucial for a good treatment, this makes it all the more important that we are able to listen from a state of open awareness and quietude.

We don’t need to be all great meditators, but we need to be able to listen with our hands. So next to cultivating the practice of palpation we need some cultivation of our nature to be able to be receptive. In the Neidan (Internal Alchemy) tradition there are good examples of the importance of this state of stillness and openness, it is conceived that we can only open the channels and let the elixer circulate when we are in such a state. We might need at certain points some effort, but the premise is always that state of quietude and emptiness. We can apply this approach to the so called “firing process” in Neidan also to our acupuncture practice. When you read to the classics, like the Ling Shu, this state is actually very clearly expressed. It is clear that texts like the Ling Shu mirror early internal cultivation methods and clearly a lot of emphasis was put on that state of the practitioner. In modern day acupuncture this important aspect is sadly often lost and the result is a much more mechanical approach. Of course you can have results in this way too, but if we are able to truly listen, we arrive at a whole other level and our clinical practice becomes ever more beautiful. Only can encourage all our students and friends to keep on practicing and refining your skills.

Qi Jing Ba Mai

The Qi Jing Ba Mai 奇經八脈, often referred to as the 8 Extraordinary Vessels or Wonder Vessels, are indeed marvelous . When we are able to integrate the knowledge from the ancients, the great adepts of Neidan (Internal Alchemy) and Medicine we can have a more profound understanding of these Vessels. This initiative was taken by Li Shi-Zhen , one of the greatest scholar physicians of Chinese history. His Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao integrates Neidan literature including the Eight Vessel Scripture (which today only exists partly in this work) into medical thinking. By bridging internal alchemy and medical views we can obtain a deeper understanding and more profound engagement with the Qi Jing Ba Mai. When we engage with the Qi Jing Ba Mai, we need to be aware that they are Jing 經(channels ) and Mai 脈 (Vessels) at the same time. They can be conceived as eight and and one at the same time. Scholars like Li Shi-Zhen , Yu Chang , Ye Tianshi , Shen Jin-Ao and Luo Dong-Yi developed also new approaches to the Qi Jing Ba Mai. We see a shift in thinking and the Qi Jing Ba Mai are often more related to deep underlying deficiency patterns, of course they still can have excess manifestations but the majority of Extraordinary Vessel Pathologies are deep deficiencies, especially when it is related to Du, Ren and Chong. Especially those 3 are narrowly related to the Yuan Qi 元氣 (Primal Qi , not to be confused with the other Yuan Qi 原氣 being acquired Qi, or Source Qi ). When we engage with the Extraordinary Vessels we need to have a clear picture what is going on, therefore the more diagnostic tools we have, the more we can do.

Often we see a combination of Extraordinary Vessels involved, sometimes they can manifest in the form as the pairs we are often taught about in terms of master and couple points, but quite often we see different combinations. When we are treating the Extraordinary Vessels we need to realize that they may be Eight, they are one at the same time, and whether we use acupuncture or herbs we need to treat them as a unity. We might bring our focus to one or more of the vessels, we should always keep the view that they work in union. We should also be aware that they are in fact a big network 絡(luo). Also when we turn to needling, it is important not to focus only on the master couple points, but use also the trajectory and connected points. It is interesting that a great scholar like Li Shi-Zhen doesn’t even mention the master couple points in the Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao, though he must have known about them , since they were known in his time (end of Ming dynasty). There are ways also how to find out which points are the most opportune , an approach that has been developed by Charles Chace who meticulously has translated the Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao (with Miki Shima) and Dan Bensky, called Manual Thermal Diagnose (originally developed by Jean Pierre Barral an Osteopath ).

In Engaging Vitality we teach different methods to engage with the Qi Jing Ba Mai. In the New Year I will present some advanced classes which delve more deeply in this material together with my friend and colleague Rayén Anton in The Netherlands, Germany and probably also in Barcelona. We wil go ever more deeply into the Extraordinary Vessels, their relation to the fluids, the relation to the Mid Space or Central Channel, next to that I will also give a class in Pathodynamics of the Qi Jing Ba Mai and will also focus more on the different diagnostic approaches. So for those who want to join this deep dive in this endless Ocean, there might be possibility’s.

Can you remain aligned and still
Can you be open and aware
In the midst of a busy clinic
With ever talking patients
And a rattling monkey mind
Can you be the extension of the needle
Can you be the Divine Pivot
Centre of stillness
Axis of Nothingness
The challenges are manifold
But the way is to follow the ancients advice
Do not pay too much attention to mechanics
But be aware of the Dynamic
Engage with the Qi
From a state of openness
Be like a dancer
And respond to the subtle movements
Be like a musician
And attune the Qi in your patients
When you go along the great Thoroughfare
When you resonate with the pivot of Nothingness
Incredible things are possible
Don’t fall in the trap that it is you doing something
All we do is facilitating that wondrous process
The self reorganization of the body’s own intelligence

Although we might stumble every day
And are drawn in our mind processes
Bring yourself back to that source
Every time , again and again

When our listening transcends all borders
When we can become one with Qi
The miraculous works of the Dao
Enfold in an effortless Way