revolved side angle

Originally uploaded by Arielinha

The Maine coast is one of my favorite places in the country. I make my home here. This past winter seemed to last forever, giving pause to our devotion to this spit of earth. However, winter finally gave way to a stunningly beautiful spring and summer. Our devotion was renewed. Sometime in July, after a string of hot, dry days I noticed a sensation of heat in my lungs that came and went. Every once in awhile it seemed hard to draw a deep breath. The tip of my tongue was suddenly home to a cluster of red dots, the sign in Chinese Medicine of some lingering pathogen in the lung. I started to draw a connection between the poor air quality here (due to the winds of the Midwest carrying coal plant emissions and other pollutants our way), ozone warnings and the seeming surge of subtle lung issues in clients visiting for other, non-lung-related reasons, and the shadow of lung-heat I discovered in myself. I started asking myself the same question for every client who came through my door: How are her lungs? Is there a subtle sun-burn of the lungs (the American Lung Association description of ozone damage), a sub-clinical, incomplete murkiness to the exchange of gases that happens with every respiration in a toxic world?

At the ocean’s edge one day, my breath immediately deepened by the lap-lapping of the waves upon the sand, I closed my eyes and began a mental inventory of the acupuncture points on my upper torso. My mind was drawn to several points that were tense, rigid or gummy. As my mental eye probed the points, the rhythmic sounds of the tidal waters resonated within my body. If you’ve ever heard someone tune a guitar string using harmonics you’ve experienced the musical relief that arrives when a harmonic overtone slides into place and two strings reach a harmonic resonance. The ocean acted as my harmonic mentor, and I could feel the alignment of my internal waters with the ocean’s intelligent tone as I sat upon that lap of beach. Stretching began from somewhere deep inside me, a longing in the channels to be freed from the interference of stress and toxin (from which no one is exempt in this highly chemicalized culture).

When I moved into a stretch that was just right to expose the murky waters of an acupuncture point, I used my fingers and my breath to open the portal and release the stagnant flow. Lung 1, Gallbladder 21 and 24, Small Intestine 13. Spleen 21. A day at the water, a day at the office, a day at the water, a day at the office. Such is the rhythm of my summer.

I carried the rhythm of the ocean with me when I returned to the office the next day. I could not help but feel the pulses of my clients as manifestations of this oceanic fluid, and to navigate across the terrain of their meridians like a sailor or surfer looking for the best configuration of forces to access the heartbeat of the ocean that lives inside each person. As Emilie Conrad says in Life on Land, and I paraphrase,

We are water made flesh.

Consider these three examples of fluid resonance in the upper torso that has been unduly restricted by the compressing, rigidifying and gummy influences of stress, toxins or grief.

Pamela. I felt her meridians as if feeling for the rising and falling tide within a single drop of water. Where does the crest of her wave pattern reside in this moment, where the receding ebb? Her tissue felt nonfluid to the extreme. There was a tightness in the entire liver meridian from foot to rib. And the rib cage itself all the way to the clavicle seemed immobile. She is a breastfeeding mother, with a small, healthy preemie daughter. She nurses amid much scrutiny from self, doctors, and others of the child’s daily intake. They are all a-swirl in questions…how much did she get?….is that enough?….what if she doesn’t grow? Preemie culture is like a higher anxiety version of the already high intensity environment of any new family in a medi-technical landscape.

The constant scrutiny and attention to minute details (while in a blood deficient state post-partum) has dessicated her liver meridian and the entire rib cage which sits upon it like a stick-figure rider upon a wooden horse. My goal during treatment is to find the minute oceanic, tidal resonance that flows inside her thoracic cavity, to open the dams that are starving the rib-cage and making the job of milk-production so much more difficult than it need be for this stressed-out breast-feeding momma.

Gertrude. a 65 year old woman with Environmental Illness. She has a metallic taste in her mouth, burning in her head and sinuses, and floating stools. She lost everything, including community as she left her mold-infested home and began wandering in search of a clean environment and detoxifying treatments. She must remain isolated as much as possible from the onslaught of fragrances and chemicals that are found in any human company. She sniffed out my office before setting up her first appointment.

I like her immensely. She’s an archetypal cowboy. In another life we could have ridden horses into the Western frontier, slept under the stars, foraged and hunted for our food, and protected one another from unscrupulous men. The intercostal tissues of her ribcage are also too hard, condensed. Where is the buoyancy of breathing flesh? How can the lymphatic system do it’s job in this environment? It’s like trying to run sap through a particle board instead of a living maple. I work on the same goal, loosening the energetic stillness of the ribcage. Opening the lungs, the heart, the lymphatic system, making space for the body’s fluids to resonate with the ocean’s cleansing biorhythms. I know a deep grief lies buried here.

Maya, a 62 year old woman whose healthy, vibrant partner died unexpectedly two years ago in a winter accident involving cold Michigan waters and thin ice. She described the fear of grief at work in her body, tightening her breath, her shoulders, lodging in the once flexible joints of her knees with wisdom and self-acceptance. She described the busy-ness she worked at for the last two years as a means of staving off the sense of her own drowning, her psychic parallel to the physical experience of her beloved.  She proclaimed her readiness to stop the busies. She radiates peace, a beautiful woman steeped in love like a good cup of tea is steeped in the finest leaves. Her love story continues in the patience she has given herself to heal slowly and at her own pace.

As I suspected the pulse of her lung was depressed, and the gall bladder meridian had a strangle hold on her torso. The meridian system is brilliant. When grief threatened the lungs, the gallbladder and liver meridians battened down the hatches, and kept determined, wooden eyes on the rigors of the daily schedule, freeing the body to go on living, in the comfort of the known and recurring obligations of job and chores. This wise woman has more than survived a tragic love story.  She has gestated herself for two years and now stands poised for birth, with a glad heart to welcome the butterfly she is becoming.

There are many acupuncture points both distally and locally that open the chest, nourish the lungs, clear heat and toxins, disentangle Qi from grief’s constraint, and engender fluid. I don’t think of these actions as attributes of points on paper, but as attributes of the living flesh. One must touch the points, feel their resiliency or lack there of and choose the points that are appropriate at that time. The point that feels wooden needs nourishment and a wood point on the same meridian will help as well. The point that feels dessicated needs nourishment as well, and perhaps the water point on the same meridian will show it’s own degree of need. Common local points that if constrained will impair lymphatic flow and respiration are Lung 1, Gallbladder 21, all the intercostal Kidney points, Liver 14, Gallbladder 24, Pericardium 1, Spleen 21. Distal points are so diverse as to be difficult to narrow down for the purposes of discussion, but certainly points on the arms and wrists, and lower legs corresponding to or in relationship with the meridians to which the active local points belong.

As I immerse myself in this work over the course of a hot, muggy, summer with ozone warnings as prevalent as the sun, I am aware of the synchronicity of both illness and healing that occurs in my office. If someone new comes through my door this summer without these subtle challenges to the lungs, I would be surprised. It is not an encouraging sign that one of our most tree-filled states in the country is unable to detoxify the chemical products circulating world-wide, released into the air by industrial processes and our dependence on fossil fuels. I am ending this summer by reading the book by Jared Diamond called Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. We as a society have not yet chosen to succeed. How much more time do we have?

A few reflections on the practices that influence my practice of acupuncture…

Before I was 30 I loved spinning kicks. It was the loss of vision, I think, the inability to track my movement through space with my eyes that I liked so much. Without clear vision there is nothing so clear as the sense perception that rises from the belly like a cyclone. With the extension of a side-kick added to that spinning momentum the boundaries between self and target find each other effortlessly, like rain finding a puddle.

To create the same sensation my dojo friends and I would play a game we called ‘drunken monkey.’ Two of us would stand facing one another, and we would begin turning around, faster, and faster. Someone would call the count,

One, two, three, go!”

(in Japanese, ichi, ni, san, hut!”). On the word go we would stop spinning and move drunkenly towards one another, blurry-eyed and low in our stances, and we would spar. We’d get in a few moves in that altered state before our eyes would dominate again and our vision would climb at least in part out of the belly and into the head. We would try not to lose the sense of moving from our center, following the inevitability of our movements and of our partner’s movements. Sometimes we’d get in the zone and continue sparring with eyes that were clear but not dominant. When we could sustain it, it was a real high. That state of being in which eyes are open but not dominant is a state of heightened awareness. We called it ‘soft focus.’

My martial arts practice made me feel like a kid in a new world. Even training full-out for 10 years, obtaining black belts in two styles, and teaching others did nothing to change that feeling of exhilaration, awe and appreciation for something beautiful and larger than me. I may have been strong, flexible, eager and possessed of a fighting spirit, but still I gawked at the edges of this world aware of how little I understood it. What if I walked around every day with my mind in my abdomen, with the heightened kinesthetic knowing of a ‘drunken monkey?’ I did not then nor do I now glamorize blindness as some sort of guaranteed entrance to higher perception. But there’s a fine line between using one’s visual abilities to one’s benefit and becoming stuck in the way one sees. Drunken monkey was the 2nd experience in my life to teach me that my eyes (read ‘way of seeing’) could actually lessen my access to energetic intelligence.

The first experience was when I was in high school and I had a recurring dream that I could not open my eyes. I would strain to get my lids to open but as I did so my eyeballs would roll back in their sockets making it impossible for me to see anything, and causing me to strain even harder. These dreams left me with a strong sensory-memory of the physical struggle I engaged in while I slept.

A good friend of mine, June Wolfman ( may God bless you, wherever you are) suggested that we go up to the cliffs. They were rocky precipices on the Hudson River with a view of the George Washington Bridge. There was a good bit of woods between the road and the cliffs. She offered to blindfold me up there and lead me through the woods. Kind of her, eh? In fact it was brilliant. The point was for me to let go of my panic around not seeing, to give into the blindness, to retrain the sensory-memory from one of physical struggle to one of relaxed acceptance. It worked. Something new opened in me. In some ways puberty had turned me into a removed observer rather than a participant in my own life. After walking blindfolded in the woods I embarked on a long journey home to myself.

The process of discernment which led me to study the traditional healing arts of Chinese Medicine was tied up in my martial arts practice, went further back to the blindfolded walk in the woods, and those things carried me through the years of overwork and over-study that characterize medical school . ( I’m amazed at the intelligent reflections of my friend Eric Grey who is in his last year at NCNM and blogs at Deepest Health. I am only now, 10 years out of school, able to reflect on my evolution as an acupuncturist and to write about this magnificent medicine).

Some of the things I bring from the martial arts to the acupuncture table (literally) are stance, breath, soft focus, and that kinesthetic abdomen-driven falling into the point like rain into a puddle (or spinning side-kick to its target).

I don’t kick anymore. Nor do I spar. But I still practice soft focus away from the office in two forms of movement practice. In the first, I practice belly rolls, undulations and circles, hip drops and shimmies. I follow my belly’s movement to it’s inevitable resolution into a flow of more movements, letting the belly lead, not the mind. I’m older, wiser and fleshier. Belly dancing suits me now more than sparring.

Rosina-Fawzia-Al-Rawi, in her book Grandmother’s Secrets, wrote,

We dance to become one with a rhythm that was here before us and will remain after we are gone.”

It stands to reason that dancing makes me a better acupuncturist. The most profound difference between Chinese Medicine and Western medicine is that Western medicine has not evolved a theory of health, or a way of identifying parameters of wellness, except in terms of absence of disease. On the other hand, Chinese medicine from the start has had a theoretical understanding of health as a balance of energetic forces, and a methodology to gauge minute alterations in that balance. I believe that the balance we know as health is

…a rhythm that was here before us and [that] will remain after we are gone.”

If we are lucky–if we are healthy–we get to ride that wave. It almost makes me want to take up surfing. From spinning kicks to belly rolls to riding under the breaking curl of a wave…What do you think? As for my old bones braving the cold Maine waters, that’s why they make wet suits, eh?

The 2nd movement practice I engage in to heighten the sense of moving with a soft focus from the center of my being is harder to describe because it is something new and experimental and collaborative. It involves a collaborative listening, following, leading, empty space, a group of people, martial arts and dance. Our focus most recently has gone so soft that we are motionless, but we wait. We wait for the pulse, for the rhythm, the knowing to take hold of one of us, or all of us, which will move us to the next level of understanding. We are patient, aware of an abundance of time in which to let the underbelly of our undertaking to surface. It feels luxurious to be in this place. We have watched our weekly meetings focused on collaborative movement (drawing on martial arts, dance, and spiritual practices) devolve into motionless stillness. A pregnant pause. We have no idea how our shared intention will evolve. I only know that this practice, even as it seems to have ceased to be, is evolving, and that the stillness in its wake is part of my evolution as an acupuncturist.

In my martial arts training I learned that allowing the energy of my opponent to move to it’s natural conclusion, and utilizing the momentum thus generated while redirecting the flow to protect me and/or to unbalance the opponent is one-thousand times more powerful than using brute strength to stop an attack. Lucky thing for anyone, male or female, who is smaller or not as physically strong as her opponent.

In my clinical experience practicing acupuncture for over a decade now, I have learned that the energy of every client’s disease or problematic symptom also has it’s natural conclusion and has within it a great deal of momentum. Acupuncture does not use brute strength to block the problem. That is what pharmaceutical drugs and surgery do. They are the big guns. Acupuncture, in contrast, allows for, honors, and redirects the client’s current energetic patterns. I believe acupuncture’s power to initiate and support deeply-rooted change is therefore one-thousand times stronger than the use of those big guns alone.

I invite you to think about what it would mean for you today if you were to approach your everyday problems with an intent to allow and redirect. Allow and redirect. Even better than thinking about it–try it: Get into where you are. Feel the mood, the groove and the momentum of your energy and then redirect it. If you don’t know how to be self-aware and intentional, you’re probably reading a blog about Paris Hilton right now instead of this one. If you want a really outstanding way to increase awareness and intentionality in your life, I recommend two things: learning something that requires intense physical and mental focus, such as martial arts or dance, and learning to meditate.

I am lucky enough to be one of 5 people, women and men, living in coastal Maine who happen to be experiencing a moment of synchronicity, in which our individual interests and goals have suggested to each of us the benefits of working together on specific professional projects.

What a wonderful feeling it is to be in a state of synchronous excitation among friends. But in our case, it was the result of some very specific steps that some of us took which invited the moment as surely as I am now inviting you. I invite you to look into your own lives and hearts and discover what threads of meaning and connectivity may be dangling there, awaiting your conscious participation in creating something meaningful to you and others. Here are 5 Steps you can take towards discovering that happy, happy feeling of being a part of a motivated and highly functional team based on shared values, and/or passions.

1. Look Inside…then Write Down one or two of your Values or Passions.
What makes you smile? What and who do you care about? Where is your passion? What do you do well, and enjoy? It won’t do you any good to find other people interested in taxodermy if you’re a vegan animal rights activist who won’t wear leather. So the first step in your discovery (and many of you have taken this one already) is to know what you know about yourself. Be bold but be honest. Taking risks here is OK– you can write down that you love speaking even if speaking in front of more than a few friendly faces makes your armpits sweat rivers. But don’t go so far out in right field that you are no longer talking about yourself but about someone else you’d rather wish you were. Synchronicity is easiser to find if you have adequate self-esteem and understand that you are one unique and precious soul, here to fulfill some unique and precious work on this broken planet of ours.

2. List Friends, Family, Coworkers and Acquantainces who just might share your joy.
Start with minimum censors on. So what if you’ve never said two words to someone on your list. If that’s the case, you may want to make a parenthetical note next to that person’s name of a mutual friend if you have one. After your minimally-censored list is done, feel free to go over it again–but just once–to take off someone who you feel iffy about including. But before you remove their name, remember that sometimes mild feelings of discomfort come from fear rather than spot-on wisdom. Making a list of people who could possibly co-create your dreams with you, might (if you are human) engender any number of the following: anxiety, depression, self-defeating behaviour, drunkenness, binge-eating or obsessive consumption of TV dramas and sitcoms or other avoidant behavior. So, the prospect of initiating a team scares you? Do it anyway.

3. Invite Your People Over…with a Loose Agenda. You could say something like this: “I’m having a few people over (or meeting at….) to explore the possibility of teamwork based on our shared interest in… . We’ll socialize a little and then do some smart exercises to build our ability to listen and respond to one another on a deep level.” Keep the event simple and short. Set the end time. That way, if one of your people can’t stop talking about their Aunt Hilda’s broken Windsor Chimes it won’t cause the whole group to swear silently never to return to one of these gatherings again. Instead, start with a short social period of unstructured greetings, and then, with a discreet number of minutes (60-90) left of your first gathering, take a leadership role. Start with a short introduction to your own experience or interest in the topic at hand and then invite others to go around the room and share their own. It may help to allot a certain number of minutes to this activity and to divide the time into the appropriate segments, giving each person an equal time to share. Appoint a timekeeper to gently remind a chatter to wrap it up.

4. After Introductions, Make use of the 2 Ms: Meditation and Movement… and then talk about it.
Sound strange for a group discussing gluten-free cooking or vintage Mustangs? Maybe. But both shared meditation and shared movement are powerful medicine for developing the ability to work (move) together and to listen (meditate) together. Listening together includes listening to one another but it also means listening to yourself and others simultaneously, while also hearing the extraneous sounds of the world around you (and letting them go). I’ll have more posts on movement and meditation to follow, or shoot me an email if you have a specific question and can’t wait. For now, and always, keep it simple. Don’t choreograph a break-dance popping routine and expect people to learn it (or want to learn it), even if that is your shared passion. Because the point of M and M is to learn to be a team of collaborators, not a posse of followers under a single leader. Teamwork will always involve stronger players in certain capacities, but the best teams have strong players who can also follow and followers who can also lead. Try one or more of these simple and smart exercises designed to get you thinking and working as a team:

1. Initiate/Flow: Make two lines, and stand in pairs, back to back. Each pair designates one person to ‘initiate intent,’ and the other person to ‘go with the flow.’ The idea is for the person with intent to move slowly (no talking or verbal cues) and for the person with flow to follow, while maintaining body contact. The idea is not for the person with intent to trick or out-move their partner. Remember, the goal of all these exercises is to help you begin to think and work like a team. Be sure to switch roles. Leaders must follow and followers must lead.

2. Mannequin: In pairs one person is the sculptor and one is the mannequin. Again, each person should experience both roles. The sculptor simply moves the mannequin at will and the mannequin keeps the pose. Nothing lude here, folks. Keep it nice and simple, i.e. left arm up, right arm on hip, turn head right, etc. The goal here is not to create a difficult to hold pose but to create the experience of being led and of leading, two things necessary for a group to function well. Remember everyone should practice doing both roles. As the mannequin see if you can feel the difference between using muscle strength to hold a pose and using the entire matrix of your connective tissue and your own intent to hold a pose. The latter is much easier, but if you have no idea what I’m talking about you may need some more guidance before you will get it.

After you’ve moved, talk about it. Sample questions to ponder are:

1. Was it easier for you to be the initiator or the follower? It’s important as a team member to know where your natural inclinations lie, and to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone–not entirely–because you need your strengths, but sometimes. Natural leaders will emerge and should be encouraged, but the language, knowledge and experience of the follower is invaluable to good leadership, so it behooves everyone to experience both.

2. If you worked with more than one partner, note the changes in dynamics which inevitably occur with different partners. If your group has both women and men, notice your comfort levels working with the same and opposite genders. In my experience doing community-building work of this sort it was crucial for the group to stay aware of the variety of experiences that can emerge for people around the presence (or lack) of sexual tension while being in physical touch with others. If you are clear about your boundaries and conscious about your choices this work will bring you into closer touch with your self. If you are not clear about your boundaries and you are not making conscious decisions, it is possible that group interactions such as these will challenge you to get clear and conscious. This work changes people.

3. When you were “listening” with your body to the initiation of your partner, where was your focus/energy? Does somatic listening have a center? Where is that center?
4. When you were initiating someone else’s movement, were you also listening to them? How could you deepen your listening while also initiating?

For the meditation part of your gathering, in which you practice as a group listening to the matrix in which you work, and letting go of what comes through your own mind as thought, feeling or reflection, keep it simple. Lie on your backs or sit in your chairs. Close your eyes or lower them. Relax your hands, your face, your buttocks, your shoulders, and all the other places you tend to tighten. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, making gentle but audible (to you) breath sounds. This conscious breathing will help ready you for the silence that will follow, that will be different than any solo meditating you may have done. Feel it and let it go. If you practice a particular form of meditation, go for it. If not, try initiating what Herbert Benson, MD. called the Relaxation Response, by repeating one word in your mind, over and again. Choose a word that feels peaceful to you (i.e. not “Traffic” or “Late”), or that reflects your spiritual or religious beliefs. If you choose this method you will notice that you cannot keep that one word in mind for long. When you notice that it is gone and you are thinking about your grocery shopping-list instead, no worries, simply take another deep breath and bring the word back with your breath. It will come and go and that is OK. Just bring it back when you notice it is gone, again and again.

Meditation can be a good way to open and/or close a meeting.

5. Make a Follow-Up Plan.
How and in what capacity a group will work together is not usually something decided in a few meetings. It took a group of 3 of us (and the departure of a 4th member) over one year of weekly meetings to understand the direction of our collaboration and to move away from the exploratory weekly meetings into the professional projects we are now focusing on. So don’t leave your first meeting without a plan to meet again, preferably soon. Chances are a smaller group than you began with will be interested in this experimental approach to building an interest-specific or value-based community.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!