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Five Turnings

heaven and earth Five Turnings: 五 運 wu yun.  Equivalent term for 五 行 wu xing — “five walkings” — the five phases or five movements of classical Chinese medicine and physics.  Wu xing and wu yun appear equally as often in the Huangdi Neijing Suwen, the seminal text of classical Chinese medicine; in one instance a composite term, 五 運 行 wu yun xing, reinforces the intended meaning.
Image and text © 2009, 2016 Kim Bonsteel

Curious about cupping?

fire cuppingSwimmer Michael Phelps brought cupping to the attention of the world during the recent Olympic Games.  He used it to help his muscles recover between events, because it invigorates the circulation.  That effect gives cupping many related uses.  Far from a new fad, cupping is ancient medicine around the world.

The Egyptians knew it well, as written in the Ebers Papyrus of 1550 BCE.  Cupping was used by the father of Western medicine, the Greek physician, Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BCE).  In China’s Spring and Autumn period, the philosopher-physician Ge Hong originated the popular aphorism, “Acupuncture and cupping — half of all illnesses cured.”  Cupping followed trade routes such as the northern and southern silk roads, spreading all over Asia and Europe.  The Arabs carried it everywhere they traded; Muhammad spoke highly of it, and it was used in Jewish medicine also.

Even here in the southern Appalachians, the mountaineers, descended from Scots-Irish, English, and German settlers, knew how to do cupping, and in the recent past it was done with jelly jars.  So cupping became not just a tool of physicians, but entered the realm of popular folk medicine everywhere.  Many families in East and Southeast Asia know how to use it, and it is taken for granted, like band-aids or aspirin.  But there are cautions and contraindications, and no one should try to use it without knowing what they are doing.  Practitioners of Chinese medicine have lots of training and experience in cupping.  There is an art to using the right amount, in the right places, at the right time.  Fire-cupping is traditional, but cupping with a vacuum pump also works well.

In Chinese medicine, cupping of specific places in the upper back is well-known to help lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the common cold.  We also use it for pain that involves blood stasis or stagnation.  The vacuum of the cups lifts the tissues away from the bone, pulling stagnant blood toward the surface so that fresh new blood can come in from underneath.  Mechanically, it loosens muscles that are stuck together, and frees restrictions in the connective tissue.  In many cases the pain relief is dramatic and immediate.

The dark purple marks you saw on Michael Phelps do not always happen, but when they do, it is taken as a sign that cupping was needed.  If strong cupping leaves no marks, then stagnation was not present at that location.  In any case, the marks are usually gone in a week.  Mild cupping (with low suction) typically doesn’t leave marks, and is used to tonify or strengthen weakness, rather than relieve pain or expel pathogens.

Skeptics will want to know the “science” behind it, but does it matter how it works?  Thousands of years of experience are enough science to show that cupping can be very helpful in treating a variety of conditions.

And most people find that cupping just feels good, once they get past the thought of it, and the strangeness of it.  It can be a very relaxing experience.  It’s like the muscles are breathing a sigh of relief.

Change of the Seasons

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This is a great time of year for an herbal consultation or acupuncture visit.  The Chinese way of looking at the seasons puts solar events, the solstices and equinoxes, in the middle of each season instead of the beginning. The transition from summer to fall is about to begin; August 7th is the beginning of “late summer,” and September 7th is the beginning of fall, by traditional Chinese reckoning. The change of the seasons is considered ideal to visit your herbalist and acupuncturist. Because of the extra season, late summer, any time from now until the middle of September is ideal; a visit now helps you better adapt to the seasonal changes and keep your immune system ready to defend you.  It’s wise to take the opportunity and invest in your health!

If you have chronic, long-term health concerns, or more recent, acute conditions, this is also a very good time to undertake a course of treatment.  To help you find a new balance and harmony in your body, we can enlist the changing Qi of the seasons to encourage movement in a good direction.

The 2,300 year old classic of medicine called Simple Questions discusses being in harmony with the seasons, the climate and weather, the whole environment you live in, as well as being in harmony with your family, community, and society.  Then you are a force of nature yourself.

Why choose an acupuncturist .  .  .

. . . instead of getting needled by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or medical doctor?*

The number one reason is safety, and number two is long-term outcome.  Both depend upon training.  Under-trained people have caused serious injury, such as puncturing a lung.

Physical therapists are doing “dry needling” after 58 hours of training — three weekend workshops!  Results don’t last, and safety is a concern.  Medical doctors and chiropractors also get temporary relief of pain with acupuncture, which is good, but without theory of Chinese medicine, cannot remove the underlying causes of the condition, for lasting relief, and cannot use acupuncture to treat the full range of human ailments.  Pain is a very small part of our scope of practice.

Hours of Acupuncture Training
↓ type of training ↓ acupuncturist medical doctor chiropractor physical therapist
(“dry needling”)
theory of
Chinese medicine
600 01 01 0
point location, safety,
clinical skills
600 200-300 100-200 582
supervised acupuncture internship 6003 0 0 0
continuing education
each two years
40 0 0 0
* I know a few chiropractors, physical therapists, and medical doctors who completed four years of acupuncture school so they could really understand the medicine.  Bravo.

1 But in general, if medical doctors and chiropractors get a cursory introduction to Chinese medicine, it is included in the total hours listed above. That means fewer hours of training in point location, safety, and needling skills.

2 Do you really want someone needling you with only 58 hours of training?

3 Only the licensed acupuncturist has 600 hours of clinical internship, treating actual patients with acupuncture for all kinds of health problems, under supervision by experienced practitioners.

Acupuncturists also receive 600 hours of training in biomedicine (anatomy & physiology, pathophysiology, palpatory anatomy, physical examination & history-taking, drug actions), not included in the table above, since the other professions are also trained in these areas, and the table focuses on acupuncture training.

In North Carolina now, physical therapists who do “dry needling” of trigger points are practicing acupuncture without a license, illegally, as determined by the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board and the Rules Committee of the state legislature, in consultation with the Attorney General.

Studies have shown that a series of dry needling treatments as done by physical therapists brings at most 1-3 months of relief.  After that, the trigger points typically return in the same places.  This is because dry needling by itself is an incomplete form of acupuncture treatment.

Chinese medicine has been using “dry needling” for thousands of years, but in the context of a larger treatment strategy that removes the underlying causes of the condition, to bring lasting relief.  The literature of Chinese medicine is full of warnings about incomplete and incorrect treatment harming the patient.

© 2016 Kim Bonsteel

“Easy” meditation

People with health problems in our culture have often been conditioned to want a drug or a surgical procedure that instantly and magically relieves the symptoms.  (Never mind that new symptoms appear as a result.)  But as more and more people find conventional care to be lacking something, they are increasingly turning to alternative medicine in various forms, with varying success.

The hardest thing for people to understand and accept is that the body-mind has a built-in wisdom for healing itself.  Instead of the approach of attacking an enemy — which is the Western medical model — the guiding principle is strengthen the normal.   (The Chinese term translates “tonify the righteous Qi.”)  When the normal Qi is weakened, and the person is not in harmony, disease processes can manifest.

Another barrier to understanding is that we are conditioned to believe the solution to a problem is doing something.  We are always doing, pushing, striving, making an effort.  But finding harmony, and the healthy ability to adapt to change, sometimes depends more on what we don’t do.  It turns out that one of the best ways of dealing with the effects of stress is to sit still, shut up, and do nothing.  This is meditation, the kind that stills the mind and calms the spirit.  Meditation without an object will engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms everything, slows the heart rate, deepens respiration, and benefits digestion.  It is the antidote to the fight-or-flight response, our continual push to action, when a lack of true energy is made up for by our adrenal hormones.  We have to learn how to truly relax.

One of the easiest ways to begin is to meditate on the breath.

  • Find pleasant surroundings that are not too distracting.
  • Many people find it helpful to do some yoga stretches before meditation, or to walk for a while before sitting.
  • Sit comfortably and sit up straight.  You can sit in a firm chair, or on the floor or ground, with a cushion or folded blanket.  Do not sit in soft furniture, which isn’t conducive to good posture.  Sit right on your sit bones with a firm seat.
  • Feel as though a string is attached to the top of your head, lifting you up and lengthening your spine.
  • Tuck your chin slightly, and half-close your eyes.
  • Simply “watch” your breath.  You can be aware of the movement in the belly, or you can feel the sensation at the rims of the nostrils.  Watching the belly has the advantage of getting you out of your head, and into your body.
  • Thoughts will come and go.  Do not attach to them, and do not push them away.  Suzuki-roshi gave a lovely image: your thoughts are “like clouds in a boundless sky.”  Clouds come, clouds go, but the sky remains.
  • When you catch yourself not watching the breath, gently come back.
  • Begin with just five or ten minutes each day, and gradually lengthen your meditation time.  Set a goal and sit that long.  One traditional way of timing your meditation is to burn a certain length of incense stick.  When it finishes burning, you are done.
  • At first you will experience great effort to sit straight and watch the breath.  If you continue in your practice, you will learn how to “do nothing.”

© 2016 Kim Bonsteel

What is a human being?

Western medicine seems to think that people are only collections of biochemical processes.  It ignores certain questions as unanswerable — “What makes a body alive? How does life happen to be?”  Reductionist materialism is the sacred cow of Western science, as though the so-called scientific method, based on Greek philosophy, is somehow the immutable, absolute, and only yardstick for truth.

The result of this reductionist materialism, in medicine, is the use of chemicals to alter biological processes in the human body.  This proceeds from several irrational assumptions: (1) When pathological biochemical processes happen in the body, we have an enemy to fight from the outside in.  (2) The aberrant biochemistry shows that we can’t trust the body’s own intelligence to handle things.  (3) Altering those processes by using pharmaceuticals provides a benefit that outweighs the risks.  (4) “Alternative medicine” can’t be shown to be effective by the “scientific method,” and therefore is quackery.

All of these assumptions can be shown to be fallacious, in light of facts and inquiry.  Human beings are not statistics.  Materialistic medical science, out of linear, causal analysis, produces barbaric methods in comparison to the holistic paradigm based on spherical synthesis and dependent co-arising.  Drugs terribly tax the liver and kidneys and the very systems needed for health and healing, and the negative consequences are often insidious, taking years or decades to slowly kill the victims, with nowhere obvious to put the blame — except that with the diagnostic tools of Chinese medicine, we can see it happening, qualitatively, in real time, even if we can’t stop the madness.  Only realize Hippocrates’ dictum, vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature.  Nourish your body-mind.  Stop attacking the body’s own intelligence.  Understand why it does what it does.  Give it what it needs to heal.  Abandon the chemical madness.

Nearly all people taking daily pharmaceutical medication for years ultimately die of kidney failure — but the cause of death is usually listed as something else, as though the kidney failure is incidental.

Human beings are alive, which is a mystery.  Part of the mystery is the self-healing ability inherent to being alive.  Modern medicine doesn’t trust the body to heal itself.  There is an enemy to attack, and the enemy is our own biochemistry, as though the doctors have more wisdom than the living body.  It’s a type of monkey-mind: we have the power to mess with it, which is really cool, so let’s mess with it.

© 2009, 2016 Kim Bonsteel