Archive for the ‘Introductory’ Category

Organs and Channels

Monday, September 24th, 2007

If someone has heard of acupuncture there are probably two things they know.  Firstly, that it involves having pins stuck in you.  Secondly, that it has something to do with lines that go all over the body.  These are both entirely correct.

Those lines illustrate what are called meridians or channels.  I prefer to call  them channels.  Firstly, because we don’t use ‘meridian’ in normal conversation and so few people know what it means.  Secondly, because ‘channel’ gives a pretty good idea of what they are thought of as doing in acupuncture.  As the irrigation channels on a farm supply water to different parts of the farm; so the channels in our bodies supply vital fluids to the parts of our bodies.  We will go into these vital fluids in great detail later (the one that people who have heard of acupuncture will have heard of is called ‘qi’ – or ‘chi’.  There are five in total: qi, blood, jing, shen, jin-ye).

What is less known is that acupuncture also, like western medicine, has names for the different organs in our bodies (heart, liver and so on).

In acupuncture there are twelve organs and two channels associated with each organ.  These channels travel the same route on the left and right hand sides of the body (they are symmetrical).


Most of the acupuncture organs share the same names as the western body structures.  These are:

large intestine
small intestine
pericardium (sort of)
spleen (sort of)

The acupuncture organ the spleen probably includes what western medicine calls the pancreas (in some texts you will find it called the spleen-pancreas).  The pericardium in acupuncture surrounds and protects the heart.  In western medicine the heart is surround by the pericardiac sac but this has nothing like the importance of the organ in acunpuncture.

There is one acupuncture organ which has no equivalent in western medicine:

the Triple Heater (sometimes called the Triple Burner, Triple Warmer or the Three Burning Spaces).

Where acupuncture is vastly different to western medicine is in what the organs do.  We will go into this in detail as we go through each organ in turn.  However, one way in which all the organs in acupuncture are different to their western functions is that they are associated with an emotion.  This is without parallel in modern western medicine (though there are similar ideas in some kinds of bodywork and psychotherapy).  Another major difference is that the yin organs (kidney. liver, heart, spleen and lung) are said to store or regulate the vital fluids.  This too is unparalleled in modern western medicine.


The channels carry the vital fluids to different parts of the body.  It is along different points on the channels that the acupuncture pins are put.

In my opinion we are a long way from understanding how it is that acupuncture works.  We are fortunate that in the last couple of decades technology has reached the stage where we can watch the body’s functions in real time – through various types of scanners.  This technology is just beginning to be used to study how acupuncture works.  (Most acupuncture research is still just devoted to comparing outcomes of acupuncture with other forms of treatment.  This amounts to my pin versus your pill.  Not exactly exciting or laying the foundations for extending the effectiveness of acupuncture).
It is very likely that our nerves are involved in how acupuncture works – the channels mostly follow the same pathways as the major western nerve pathways.  (However, some of the major points do not lie on these pathways.)  An idea of my own is that acupuncture probably involves what western medicine calls the hormones as well.  (This is just my idea.)

If you learn shiatsu, especially zen shiatsu you will learn to fell these channels and whether they are full or empty.  This is an excellent way to learn where they are and is a wonderful way of treatment too.  (Unfortunately the zen shiatsu channels are somewhat different to the acupuncture channels.)

The channel is named after the organ where it begins.

Acupuncture and Me #2

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Part Two: Developing my own approach.

As a result of my very unsatisfactory experience at this college, I devised my own approach to acupuncture. I had been frustrated by all the details that seemed to have no organisation. So after one of the outrageous classes I went home and said to myself, “There’s got to be a better way! So what’s acupuncture about?” The answer that came to me was: the channels the fluids and what gets in the way of their working. But what did this mean as far as choosing points and putting in the pins mean? It meant a different approach to choosing points. My approach would be to find what the points were used for and to choose them on this basis.

This meant setting aside many philosophical approaches and most of the currently accepted ways of choosing the points. It was replacing these philosophical approaches with one based on clinical experience. So how could I know I wasn’t just being crazy? I decided to check the major existing texts. I went through the texts noting every acupuncture point they used and what it was used for. I found that they mostly agreed with each other. They all used the same points for the same things. I also found that not even the most extensive texts used anything like all the points. Even, of the points that were used, there were some points that were used very much more often and some This is a huge simplification and meant that if you chose the points on this basis that you would be choosing effective points. I was extremely pleased with this result. My approach checked out with the existing reference books. This had all taken weeks of very intense work and I was quite tired.

From this I wrote up my own approach to acupuncture. It forms the basis of this blog. I was so excited that I had found a quicker and simpler way to teach acupuncture! It was, needless to say, resolutely ignored by almost everyone. Why would colleges want a shorter course? It would mean less money for them. And the associations were pushing for higher qualifications that would take more time to do. No one wanted to know. I find this situation scandalous. (I’m not questioningindividual’s intentions; but this does mean that acupuncture is made less accessible; at the time when we desperately need ways to respond to the crisis in health funding). This situation, once again I emphasise the situation not the individuals, is ethically unacceptable. My response is to make the learning of acupuncture as widely available as possible, as cheaply as possible. That is what this blog is.

To get from what I had written to this blog took a few years. Partly because I was waiting to have illustration done to accompany the text. Partly too because I lacked confidence. And because there wasn’t a way to get this information out widely to lots of people without spending lots of money (I am fairly poor). Since then blogs have come along as a way to get information out to lots of people quite cheaply. I now have a friend doing illustrations for the text and, I have got frustrated enough and angry enough to just do it and see what happens.

This is my story. This blog is an experiment in taking acupuncture to the world. I think we need an acupuncturist in every street – who is at least good enough to treat every day sort of things and who knows to refer for more difficult stuff. And acupuncture can be quick and easy to learn. I invite you to join in the adventure.

Acupuncture and Me #1

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Part One: How I got to study acupuncture.

These are long posts. They explain how I found acupuncture and how I developed my own approach to it.

During my 20’s I worked for a Christian youth and community work organisation called Fusion Australia. Around the end of my time with them I was doing office work and feeling that I wanted to do something with my hands. I started watching TV shows about craftspeople, doing an aerobics class, reading bodywork books and thinking about what a Christian physical spirituality would look like. During this time I enrolled in a Swedish Massage class in a local community college that used a school after hours.

Massage I found really enjoyable. It intrigued massage and other physical activity (like aerobics) made a difference to us. Thinking about this I formulated a question: if aerobics gives us more ability to handle everyday stresses, helps us be more patient – then what physical action would help us develop compassion? At this time I also discovered a body movement system invented by a Japanese christian,Hiroyki Aoki, called Shintaido (

It was by following my interest in massage that I eventually ended up at acupuncture. From Swedish Massage I tried out other types of massage. One course that was fabulous was run by FrancoisNovi and was called “Massage and Bodywork”. This combined western massage with eastern awareness of moving from our centre. I also tried Deep Tissue massage, eventually deciding that the sort I was taught was too much about enduring pain and so unhealthy. I eventually ended up studying Zen Shiatsu. The results from this were far in advance of what I had found with western massage.

At this point I moved from Sydney to Brisbane. My interests were clearly diverging from Fusion’s (by some people in Fusion they were regarded with suspicion) and I had fallen in love. In Brisbane through a friend I ended up being involved in organising a course inAmma massage. The person teaching the theory content of the course also taught an acupuncture course. His name was Geoff Wilson (, who now, like me once again, lives in Sydney.

Geoffrey taught an acupuncture course that had classes twice a week for a year. He had been trained by a Barefoot Doctor and so the course was practical and contained nothing we didn’t need. (This was before the government had started controlling training and the association had started their attempts to control the field.)

After this I studied a government approved course. It took more than twice as long and we didn’t learn as much as I had from Geoff. This was partly because so much that was irrelevant was taught. (There are colleges in Australia where the bulk of the “acupuncture” course is western.) It was also because some of the teaching was so bad. One teacher simply read a textbook out to us (Macioccia’s for those who know about acupuncture textbooks) and this was the course for that term. She did noting else! And we were paying for this! That this should pass for teaching, and that we were expected to pay for it outraged me. There was however one teacher who genuinely cared about teaching, students and acupuncture, Patsy Wilcox. We are still good friends. She runs an acupuncture and qi gong practise in Brisbane.

Acupuncture’s Philosophy

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

The philosophy underlying acupuncture is not terribly difficult. 

There are relatively few concepts to be understood.  Their power and usefulness comes from how they refer to key parts of our experience and how these terms are related to each other.

There are two main concepts that underlie acupuncture:
yin and yang, and
the five elements (sometimes called the five phases).
Here I’ll give a brief introduction to each.

1. yin and yang

yin and yang are the complementary opposites that make up the whole.  Any whole can be seen to be made up of yin and yang aspects.  Thus one day is made up of day and night, humanity consists of male and female, a book consists of paper and ink.  The subtlety of this way of thinking is that yin always contains a little yang and yang a hint of yin.  (This is pictured in the diagram of ‘the fish in the circle’, the ‘eyes of the fish’ being the opposite colour to the body of the fish.)  Thus there is some light (yang) at night (yin) and some shadow (yin) during the day (yang); each man (yang) has softness (yin) and each woman (yin) has resoluteness (yang), the ink (yin) contains some of the paper (yang) and the paper (yang) contains the ink (yin).

A good place to begin to understand yin and yang is the chinese characters.

The characters for yin and yang are of the shady and sunny sides of a hill. 

Yang is the sunny side and yin is the shady side.  So yin can mean: cooler, darker, rest.  Yang by contrast is warmer, lighter, active.

These characters are also a reminder that the same side of the hill can be sunny or shady depending on the time of day.  A person is more yin when resting or sleeping and more yang when awake and active. 

In our human experience the terms are usually relative
– something is more or less yin rather than absolutely yin or yang.
(Absolute yang is heaven and absolute yin is earth, while alive we are a mix of these two – the breath and the earth in the biblical image.)

This quickly becomes complex because each quality or part of a person or object can be classified into yin and yang also.  Thus a bodily organ like our heart has its structure (the muscles and so on which are yin) relative to its function (pumping the blood and so on) which is yang.

I hope this gives some idea of how these simple terms can be used in a subtle and diverse way.

2. the five elements

The five elements are:

  • water
  • wood
  • fire
  • earth
  • metal

These elements are used to classify just about anything, the seasons, animals, parts of our body and much else.

These elements can also symbolise the phases in a process of transformation.  Water symbolises the ability to adapt, and stillness.  Wood symbolises growth.  Fire symbolises full development.  Earth ripeness and metal contraction.  The cycle then begins at water once more.

When the elements are used as a classification system.
Different parts of our body are classified according to the elements.  Examples are: our kidneys belong to the water element, our liver to the wood element, our heart to the fire element, our stomach to the earth element and our lungs to the metal element.

These two systems – one a phase in a process and the other a classification of things – are used side by side.  They are somewhat different.  There is no idea that our kidneys will transform into our liver for instance.  However the flow of energy between these parts of our body does follow this cycle.  The kidney energy (something like libido) supports us taking initiative (wood energy) which leads us to activity (fire energy) which may lead to reflection and learning (earth energy) and then finishing with this experience (metal energy).  This is the cycle of nourishment and growth.

There is another cycle into which the elements are arranged, this is the cycle of control.  In this cycle the elements are arranged in the order:

  • water
  • fire
  • metal
  • wood
  • earth

Thus water controls fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, wood holds earth and earth channels water.  Thus our stillness (water energy) stops our activity becoming manic (fire energy), our activity (fire energy) stops our firmness becoming overly rigid (metal energy), staying firm (metal energy) will stop us taking too many initiatives (wood energy), our initiating (wood energy) will stop us getting stuck in reflection (earth energy) and our reflection will guide libido (water energy).

This is only a very brief introduction to this part of acupuncture’s philosophy.  There is a great wealth of material on the elements and how they apply to all aspects of life (food, exercise and interior decoration to name only three).  But I hope this has been enough to give you an idea of how these simple ideas can be used with great subtlety and power.

Introduction to this Blog.

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Acupuncture – it’s strengths and weaknesses and what I am doing with this blog.

This blog is about acupuncture.  There are some things I obviously can’t do online – like show you how to put in an acupuncture needle.  So this blog is about the theory of acupuncture.

However the best way to learn anything is to experience it.

So, this blog will guide you to experience what acupuncture theory is about.  This means that you will be doing most of the work.  You can read what is here for interest but the full benefit will only be gained by experiencing what acupuncture is all about.

Acupuncture is important.  Acupuncture can make an important contribution to solving our health funding crisis.  This is because the technology (an acupuncture needle) is very cheap.  A big contributor, if not the major cause, of the health funding crisis is the cost of technology (this includes the pills as well as the machines).  Acupuncture widely used could bring down the cost of health care dramatically.  This is a major concern for all of us.

Acupuncture can’t do everything.

Acupuncture grew up in the context of the village, while western medicine grew up on the battlefield.  So the western genius for medicine to my way of thinking is shown in surgery.  Acupuncture (and the rest of Traditional Chinese Medicine) grew up in the village and so it is especially good at the normal everyday problems, the chronic health problems and the problems of aging.  As it happens these problems (chronic health problems and the problems of aging) are the problems that we in our aging societies are going to have to cope with.

Acupuncture also isn’t the way to maintain your health.  Good food and exercise, maintaining the sense that you can make a difference in your own life and having good friends, are the foundation of good health.  Chinese Medicine also has much wisdom to offer on food and movement (qi gong).  Acupuncture’s value is as a therapy when we get sick.  It sits between everyday health and the kind of emergency medicine that is practiced with brilliance in operating theatres throughout the world.

Acupuncture isn’t community health (yet).

The other great gift of the West to health (apart from surgery) is public health.  Sewerage, immunisation and so forth are what has created the longer lives that we wealthy westerners now enjoy.  Acupuncture is practised byindividuals on individuals, it lacks this community dimension.

An advantage of acupuncture is that the emotions are integrated into it.  (This can happen in western medicine but is quite rare.)  To my way of thinking this needs to be altered slightly: it is my opinion (which most acupuncturists disagree with) that the emotions are seen as a problem in acupuncture theory.

So acupuncture is not surgery and its not public health.  Acupuncture is an individualised treatment that excels at treating the everyday, the chronic and the problems of aging.

To address our health funding crisis with acupuncture will mean many, many people practising it.  My contribution is to put out as much information as possible in public so that others can learn and take it up.  That is the purpose of this blog.

Later, if there is demand I will run some courses that will teach acupuncture quickly and effectively.

If you wish to know about a particular aspect of acupuncture theory please let me know.  If I know something of value I will do a post about it, if not I’ll try and find a useful link for you.

This blog is a series of exercises – they guide you to reflect on your experience in the light of acupuncture theory.  So, this blog is mostly a series of instructions and questions – you will be doing the work.  With the limits of theinternet this is all that is possible and I hope you understand and can bear with these limitations.  I will do my best to give clear instructions and ask useful questions.  If you are willing to put in the complementary effort of self-examination you will achieve a whole new way of viewing your health.

My way of speaking of the different aspects of our lives is: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  This is entirely my own way of speaking.  It does not come in any way from Chinese Medicine.  It is simply the most convenient way I know to pay attention to parts of our experience and not have to talk about everything at once, which can become very complicated (either being very abstract – ‘my self in metal phase’ etc – or very convoluted – ‘when I am angry-blood-flow-increased-focused’).

Wishing you a new world of health as you learn acupuncture.  Evan