In order to maintain British Acupuncture Council membership all professional Acupuncturists have to undertake CPD (continuing professional development). In my previous life as a lawyer these CPD days were often the bane of my life, often dry and dull and sometimes that even when I was the one providing the training!
Definitely not so as an Acupuncturist. For a start I arranged for it to take place in my home. I then invited Linda Winstaley to lead the day and friends to attend. We had a lovely day exploring Five Element diagnostic techniques, talking over treatments and finding out what we are all doing in our practices around the region.
In our acupuncture circles you not only respect those with more experience but are generous with your own knowledge by sharing it with contemporaries and also mentoring those who follow on. It's a lovely way of working. It deepens our collective understanding of how acupuncture works and definitely improves our individual treatments and help our patients. Linda is an experienced acupuncturist and teacher and adopts wholeheartedly this centuries old tradition. During the day she generously passed on her knowledge to those of us with less experience.
It was also fun. By then end of the day we'd had a few laughs and quite a few exasperated groans, some good food and lots of tea. We all felt enriched by the day..........and Linda was so engaging that, as you can see from the photos, even the cat couldn't stay away.
If you are an Acupuncturist interested in knowing more about Five Element diagnosis please get in touch to join our CPD group for future training days.
A classical Five Element Acupuncturist doesn’t just look at your list of symptoms (tension headaches, fibromyalgia, pain, anxiety etc.) and pick your treatment from and a prescribed list of acupuncture points.
Your symptoms are seen as clues to your underlying dis-ease and the practitioner considers the overall picture of how your body is (or isn’t) working. The Acupuncturist uses all the information gathered to assess which of the Five Elements (and we all have all five) and which of the corresponding channels are the most in need of rebalancing. She then works out an individual treatment plan to alleviating your symptoms.
As an acupuncturist it is a bit like being the Chinese Medicine version of Sherlock Holmes. You follow the clues to find the culprits and then neutralise the 'threat'. It’s a totally fascinating process.
During your session there are many ‘clues’ that the Acupuncturist will be looking for in order to assess the root cause of your problem. Amongst these she will be assessing your colour, sound, odour and emotion. So don’t be surprised if she asks you to attend your appointments without wearing makeup or strong smelling products such as perfume, aftershave or body lotion. She will also be interested in aspects of your work and everyday life that don’t necessarily centre just on how you came by your symptom.
As strange as it seems this idea of using all the senses to diagnose isn't a totally alien concept to Western Medicine. As just two examples, a yellow skin colour (jaundice) is recognised as an indication of possible liver problems and a sweet odour is seen as a possible indication of uncontrolled diabetes. A GP would never ignore these obvious symptoms and your Acupuncturist is just using a more practiced and sensitive sense diagnosis system to help her work out the best treatment for you.
In actual fact diagnosing the root cause of your problem can be a lovely rewarding process for the patient and the Acupuncturist especially when it’s in a calm and relaxing treatment space, with the time you need to explore all the issues together.
So there are no set in stone acupuncture point prescriptions for certain symptoms. Each person is treated as an individual with a unique diagnosis and treatment plan. That doesn’t mean that there are no general rules and order to treatment. As sure as night follows day and Spring follows Winter our bodies change, grow and decline according to patterns set by nature. A Five Element Acupuncturist will just be detecting and rebalancing (via acupuncture points and channels) how you respond to these inevitable changes.
And don't worry, during diagnosis and treatment you are free to talk as much or as little as you want and everything you do say is totally confidential. Making sure your Acupuncturist is a member of The British Acupuncture Council will ensure she is bound by and follows the Code of Professional Conduct and Code of Safe Practice. Further details can be found here at www.acupuncture.org.uk
Lots of patients are suprised by how often their treatments include techniques other than needling. After all a needle is just a tool in the hands of the acupuncturist, a tool to help the patient's body balance it's own energy by redistribute qi and blood in the organs, channels, muscles, tendons and skin.
So what else might your acupuncturist do during treatment?
They might use:
This is a technique where oil is spread on the skin and a gua sha tool (like a small spatula or spoon) is used to stroke and scrap the skin. Not much pressure is used but the stroking brings 'sha' (blood or light petechiae) to the surface. This is a great treatment for muscle tension particularly on the back and shoulders and migraines and tension headaches. It's a gentle technique and doesn't damage the underying tissue but in some people it can produce quite alarmingly red marks. These always fade over a couple of days. Many patients experience almost instant relief from tense muscles.
Cupping (moving and static)
Oil is spread over the skin and a glass cup with a suction device on the top is used to create a vacuuum on the patient's skin. This helps to dispell stagnant blood and lymph and improve the movement of blood and fluids in the body. I generally use this technique on the back and shoulders and it's great for nipping colds in the bud before they really get going, improving lung function and gently relieving aches and pains from tension and overwork. Again the treatment is entirely painless and most people find it very relaxing.
Skin and muscles are massaged, pushed, lifted, rolled, pressed, brushed. shaken or rubbed. This can be a gentle technique or can be more vigorous depending on the needs of the patient. It can be used for chronic and acute musculoarskeletal problems and is a great treatment for older people and children. Tui na performed on a child's back can help relive asthma and cold symptoms and on an older person it can relieve chronic headaches and neck pain. Animals always generally respond calmly to tui na and my poor cat who had a narrow escape with a car couldn't get enough of it to relieve her sore muscles and straighten her skeleton.
Press Tacks and Ear Seeds
These are very small plasters that have a seed from the vaccaria plant or small metal ball or micro needle in the middle. They are placed on the skin over an area of tenderness or an acupuncture point to improve circulation of qi and blood. They are often used in the ear but can be used on any part of the body. They have a huge amount of uses including helping with pain, anxiety, hot flushes, nausea....the list goes on.
All of these techniques when performed properly by a professional trained practitioner are safe and virtually risk free.
So don't be suprised if your acupuncturist doesn't just insert a needle into your skin. She has many more tools at her disposal to make your body relax, release tension and disipate dis-ease
Most acupuncturists are also moxabustionists but it's just too long a title to use every day. Most people know that acupuncture treatments involve the use of very fine needles either inserted just into the skin or resting on the surface. What comes as a suprise to virtually all new patients is that the use of moxa is as important a tool as a needle. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years and in fact, the actual Chinese character for acupuncture actually means 'acupuncture-moxibustion.'
What does moxabustion involve?
Treatment with moxibustion involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing.
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect.
In direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupuncture point and lit. It's removed before it burns down and reaches the skin. The patient feels a lovely warming sensation that penetrates the skin and muscle. It's never left long enough to burn or mark the skin.
In indirect moxibustion, one end of a moxa stick is lit (it's roughly the shape and size of a cigar) and it is held close to the area being treated until the area becomes heated.
So what does moxabustion do for you?
The purpose of moxibustion is to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and thereby maintain general health. Moxa is particularly good for cold or stagnant condition as it is believed to expel cold and nourish and warm the body. This leads to a smoother flow of blood and qi in the skin, muscles and organs.
It has also been shown that moxabustion can stimulate the immune system, promote blood clotting and the regeneration of tissues. In effect it can help improve the quality of the blood by helping to regulate the production of white and red blood cells, platelets and improvr blood calcium levels.
What conditions can it help?
There are very few patients who can't be helped by the use of moxa. I've used it on patients with muscle tension, back and knee pain, to help recover from the side effects of cancer treatmments, blood disorders such as aplastic anemia, arthritis, fertility issues, chronic or acute coughs and colds and the list goes on.
I love using moxa to help my patients and virtually all my patients appreciate the benefits of a moxa treatment once they get over the strangeness of the idea of this wonderfull burning herb.
It feels like Spring or at least that it's just around the corner. One day it's bright, sunny and warmish and the next there's frost on the plants and we are expecting snow. It's the time of year when Winter and Spring are playing a game of tag.
Westerners think of the Spring Equinox (this year the 20th March) as the start of the new season but according to the Chinese solar calendar Spring started on the 3rd February which is midway between the the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
So what you might ask, we still need the central heating on and we still have to scrape the car before setting out. But if you carefully watch the plants, birds and animals in your garden or parks you see the unstoppable pushing, expanding energy and vitality of Spring growth. In the Nei Jing Spring is called 'the period of the beginning and development of life when the breaths of Heaven and Earth are preparing to give birth' and even in the centre of the city of Birmingham the plants, birds and animals know it.
But we as people know that it's never a smooth trajectory from one season to another and at the moment it does feel that the season is unpredictable. The stop start feeling of our UK Spring can cause all sorts of issues in the smooth flow of a person’s energy and Five Element and Toyohari acupuncturist all around the country are treating their patients with this in mind.
None of our patients come in to our clinics and tell us that they are having a difficult transition from Winter to Spring. What they do tell us is that their aches and pains have intensified, that their chronic conditions such as arthritis or migraines have got worse, that their partners/kids/colleagues are out of sorts, they are getting road raged more or they themselves are lacking their usual patience. They tell us that they can't seem to decide how to move forward, that they feel depressed, blocked, confused and feel unaccountably angry or frustrated and irritable.
All these and many more issues are signs that the inevitable change that comes with the cycle of the year is being blocked and the expanding Spring energy is having difficulty getting going. This isn't just happening in in nature around us but also in us, the urban living humans who make up our cities, neighbourhoods and workplaces.
So what can you do to make the transition from Winter to Spring smoother for yourself and those around you?
Well you can take regular gentle exercise such as walking, dancing, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. You can keep your body nice and warm by eating simple nourishing, unprocessed foods and not taking off your winter jumper and scarf too soon. And of course you can have good acupuncture from a qualified acupuncturist to help your body and mind transition smoothly.
We all love the lighter evenings and in this way you can make the most of the longer days and snatches of bright sunshine without leaving yourself vulnerable to the chills, winds, pains and frustrations of early Spring.
I’ve just spent a lovely few days with friends in West Cork and as usual overindulged in the fabulous food and drink available there. Time to get back to more moderate eating. But that doesn’t mean boring.
This morning’s smoothie is a bit more fruity than usual as I wanted to use up the fruit left over from last week so added a ripe pear and wrinkly little apple to my usual blueberries and raspberries. Here’s the recipe
A few raspberries and blueberries
A small apple
A small pear
1 desertspoon or chia seeds
2 desertspoons of oats
1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
1 desertspoon of supper sprout mix
Topped up with coconut water
Whizz up and drink slowly. Yum. Sweet but nutritious as it’s of magnesium, protein, slow release carbohydrates and vitamins.
Acupuncture can help keep a woman healthy but good organic home made food fuels the system too.
So many people are put off using acupuncture by their fear of needles and as a professional acupuncturist I hate causing unnecessary anxiety or pain. So in order to improve the well-being of my patients and my own skills I’ve enrolled on the first ever year long Toyohari course to be held in the U.K.
Being an acupuncturist is a way of living and life long learning is one of the most wonderful aspects of that. Meeting other professionals from all around the world to learn and swap ideas is so wonderful.
Acupuncture arrived in Japan from China and Korea via Buddhist monks in the sixth century. In the mid 1600s, a blind Japanese acupuncturist named Waichi Sugiyama started to develop a technique that reduced the discomfort of treatment. Even now 30% of Acupuncturist in Japan are blind and the Toyohari Meridian Therapy Association is spreading the practice of Toyohari to sighted acupuncturist worldwide.
Toyohari can enhance acupuncturists' ability to feel qi and improve their clinical skills through gentle, nonstimulatory and effective treatment methods to regulate and harmonize qi. Like all acupuncture skills it takes time, effort and the help of master practitioners to improve. We had the benefit of 2 such practitioners this weekend including Stephen Birch who has written about and practiced Toyohari for over 30 years.
feel so lucky to be able to continue my journey into acupuncture on this UK course.
A deep understanding of colour, sound, odour and emotion is at the heart of Five Element acupuncture.
This 1 day course is open to all acupuncturist of any tradition who wish to build upon their diagnostic experience gained in practice,
Linda Winstanley has been practising the Five Element Acupuncture Tradition full time since 1994. For thirteen years she was member of faculty at the College of Traditional Acupuncture having taught and managed each of the three years of the BA (Hons) course. She has taught and run numerous post-graduate workshops and she now teaches at The Acupuncture Academy on their degree level Licencate programme
Monday 22nd January 2018
9.30am until 5pm
A simple vegetarian lunch will be provided
To book your place contact Gaynor on
or text on 07971853015
Grace (I’ve changed her name to protect patient confidentiality) came for acupuncture treatment a few weeks ago because she was anxious and couldn’t sleep. When she was 12 years old she underwent a shockingly painful and hugely traumatic medical procedure. It wasn’t a necessary operation in that it didn’t save her life or make her more comfortable but it was required for all girls in her culture, to make her marriageable and clean. It was an operation that has had long term physical and emotional consequences for her.
Grace told me she is now 33 years old and she hasn’t slept through the night since. In fact she woke up every hour. Understandably she was generally exhausted, anxious and depressed. She relied on medications to keep the physical pain and the emotional turmoil manageable but nothing was allowing her to sleep well.
As usual for the first acupuncture appointment we sat and chatted about her medical history, her life then and now, her hopes and fears, her understanding of what Five Element Acupuncture (5EA) could do for her and how we might achieve that.
I then did what I do with all patients. I looked at her tongue, I took her pulses in both wrists, I lightly palpate around her belly button and I lightly pressed certain acupuncture points called Mu points. All the time we chatted and Grace gave me feedback on how things felt as I lightly palpated her acupuncture points and channels. I started to get to know her and how her body and Qi were working and she got to know me and how I worked in the treatment room.
I’ve probably met dozens of women who have undergone the various procedures encompassed by FGM (female genital mutilation) after all I was a family lawer in the West Midlands for many years and I’ve treated many other Muslim women with 5EA. But I’ve never met a patient who has so obviously suffered so devestatingly from the consequences and at first I was unsure what to do and what should we tackle first.
But in the end I did what I always try to do, I ask myself what my patient’s priorities are for improvements in the quality of their lives over the timescale they identify and then treat what I see.
There is much research about how to treat sleep disorders with acupuncture. You can read about a recent example in Sleep Medicine Volume 37, September 2017, Pages 193-200. Although I always take on board the most up to date research, I consider each person I treat individually and then I decide what treatment is best just for them. In Grace’s case we kept it simple.
And these first few simple 5EA treatments have made such a difference. After the first treatment Grace reported sleeping through the night for the first time since she was 12 years old. After a few more treatments anxiety, muscle tension, niggly aches and pains, stomach and period pains have all reduced and Grace says she feels ‘relieved’ and ‘unblocked’ in her body and her mind.
Nothing will reverse the trauma Grace has experienced but she is now sleeping through the night for the first time since she was 12 years old, She has amazingly healthy genes (from a Chinese medicine perspective she has strong Jing), her mother is 85 and her Gran 104 years young. Living a good, long life as healthily as possible both physically and mentally is a priority for her. Hopefully her acupuncture treatments and her newly acquired sleep pattern have helped with that.
Anyone who knows me will know how fond I am of my morning green smoothie. So how happy was I when I came across a little bar in Fagada in the mountains of Gran Canaria where I could have a green smoothie with a view.
In Chinese medicine (CM) food and eating really is seen as medicine which can improve your life. This view on food can seem a bit complicated at first but once you have the hang of it it's pretty straight forward and eminently adaptable.
In CM food is a big, big subject but in a nutshell to have good digestion and make the most of the food we eat we need to consider 3 general area. Obviously there's the what of eating, familiar to anyone who's ever been on any sort of calorie controlled diet. But CM also concentrated on when of eating and how of eating too and those two issues can have a big impact on how well you digest your food.
So what's in my green smoothie?
At home in England I follow a versions of this
1 large handful of spinach or kale
Half a yellow or red pepper
Piece of cucumber (thumb length)
4 or 5 sprigs of fresh parsley or coriander
1 desert spoon of chia seeds
I teaspoon of wheatgrass/ barley grass powder
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh ginger (1/2 my thumb size)
Chop up the ingredients and place in a Nutribullet. Whizz till smooth.
Feel free to experiment. I try not to eat much sugar so I often don't add fruit to my smoothies. It's an acquired taste and if you like things sweet you could add apple, dried dates or agarve to yummie things up a bit. This green concoction will gives lots of the vitamins and minerals that are needed each day and all in one hit (vitamin Bs, A, C, E, K, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium).
Energetically (and CM is all about how the food effects the energy in your body) a green smoothie is quite cooling to the gut. Great on a hot day in Gran Canaria but not so good for a cold damp morning in the British Isles. The ginger in this smoothie is warming but a good general rule in the UK is to eat all your chilled food and drinks at room temperature. I often put all the ingredients together the night before and store it in the fridge ready for a quick whizz when I get up but I still try to leave it at room temperature for a while so it's not such a shock to my digestion. This gives my digestion a head start at extracting all those lovely nutrients.
The protein in the chia seeds helps keep me going for a while which brings me onto the second issue of when to eat.
CM has always worked on the basis that your body organs are more active at certain times of the day (and Western Medicine has now caught up with that....see my previous blog on Sleep). The digestive organs including your Stomach and Spleen work best in the morning between 7am and 11am so it really is best, as the old saying goes, to breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and eat dinner like a pauper. Not easy I know but maybe a good reason to have a second nutritional breakfast later in the morning, eat a good lunch and just a light dinner if you can.
And the final issue in CM is the how of eating. This is virtually never addressed in the West although I do remember being told by my Grandma to chew each mouthful 50 times before I swallowed......at 5 years old that seemed like a very sad waste of time when there was fun to be had away from the table.
But we should try to follow a few simple bits of CM advice
- eat slowly and stop when you're still a bit hungry and not totally pogged. It takes time for your head to catch up with your tum and for you to know you're had enough)
- chew as my Gran said (mixing the food with saliva is the first stage of how your body digests)
- don't eat whilst distracted, upset or angry. Your body needs to do one thing at a time, digesting is hard work and if you're studying, screaming at the kids or frustrated by your toddler's eating issues your stomach won't do its job properly.
- for similar reasons don't finish eating and immediately rush off to your next task. Sit for a time to digest.
- if you can, eat with others and eat mindfully. Good company and good food is precious enough to be savoured. Being sociable and enjoying each and every mouthful really does, as the song says, make the medicine go down in the most delightful way.
So this brings me back to today's smoothie. As I sat contemplating the view I decided that I should include the where of eating too. Eating with a wonderful view has become the norm this holiday and it really has made very simple Canarian food soothing for the digestion and the soul.
Gaynor Hollis is a Classical Five Element Acupuncturist with a thriving practice in Birmingham. She is interested in all things healthy and life style related not just Chinese and Japanese acupuncture.