The Detox Process: Transforming Perception with Acupuncture
As I witness change occurring in the lives of my patients, friends and within myself, lately much of my writing has been focused on this topic. My last several articles have talked about ways to work with our emotional reaction to change: the anxiety, uneasiness or resistance to it. As well as the many physical manifestations that come from the stress of being forced to change.
In this article I’d like to explore what happens when we begin to work with change: the detox process and stages of letting go.
Two of my past articles talked about ancient Taoist acupuncture strategies for working with change as a transformational process. The acupuncture channel suggested by certain ancient Taoist doctors when working with change was the Gallbladder channel.
The first acupuncture formula I discussed (http://nicholassieben.com/coursing-the-wind-using-acupuncture-to-navigate-chaotic-times/) focused on “coursing the wind.” “Wind” is the standard metaphor for change in Chinese medicine, as it is for many neurological and psychological states.
To “Course the Wind” means to acclimate the body to the changing circumstances both inside and outside the body. It promotes greater relaxation and movement in the body and mind, so we can begin to use the “Wind” (change) to motivate us into clearing old worn out physical and mental material from our bodies and minds.
The second acupuncture formula I discussed (http://nicholassieben.com/coursing-the-wind-part-2-acupuncture-support-for-navigating-chaotic-times/) focused on “Expelling Wind,” forcing us to begin making choices and letting go. This is when things can get messy.
Healing and transformation often involve a “healing crisis” or detox period. This can manifests in the form of a common cold. However it can also manifest recurrent injuries from the past that never fully healed.
I’ve been performing the Taoist Gallbladder “Wind” acupuncture treatments on myself and recently went through a major clearing detox. I had what looked like a respiratory cold. However it didn’t feel quite like a standard cold that came from something I “caught” from someone else. My energy felt fine. I actually felt quite strong. Yet my lungs and sinus purged themselves of a tremendous amount of phlegm and heat.
Chinese medicine views phlegm as that which keeps conditions chronic, lurking and recurrent. It is also a substance that promotes suppression and repression of mental-emotional material. Phlegm can contain subconscious psychological experiences and beliefs that haunt us, influencing our behavior without cognitive awareness. It is very important to get rid of lurking phlegm: it is the major factor that leads to chronic degenerative conditions and mental illness.
Phlegm traps inflammation in the body. The immune system tries to fight that which phlegm is suppressing, which creates pressure and heat. This “damp-heat” can burn the tissues of body, consuming both the form as well as the functional energy of the body.
I try to teach people that a “healing crisis” or detox, while being annoying and uncomfortable, is actually a cause for celebration! It is a health promoting event. After a detoxifying cold I often feel refurbished and renewed.
The way I knew my cold was a healing crisis and not something contracted was the way it came on. One afternoon I experienced what felt like a fire of emotion come up from the gut into my chest and throat. This emotion didn’t have a storyline to it, rather it felt like raw anger, frustration, despair and victimization. My chest felt like it was filled with smoke: full and hot and very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until the next day that the phlegm arrived. Throughout the next few days my nose started dripping and I began coughing out very thick, profuse phlegm. As this was happening, I began having memories of loss and grief.
Physically, areas along the intercostal muscles of my chest began aching. I palpated these areas to see which acupuncture channels and points were trying to get my attention. The achy points were along the Stomach’s acupuncture channel, which are not commonly used in modern acupuncture. This led me to inquire into the “spirit” of these points, illuminating what my healing crisis was really about.
The tender area on my chest was located between the clavicle into the lower border of the pectoral muscles. The points that really spoke to me were located along the vertical axis in line with the nipple. These are the acupuncture points of the Stomach’s acupuncture channel: ST-13 to ST-18 (ST is the abbreviation for Stomach acupuncture channel followed by the numerical point designation). Each acupuncture point has a “spirit” to it: a personality related to its physical and mental-emotional actions and abilities. When an area of the body sends us messages, either through pain, spasm, swelling or changes in color, it can be illuminating to look up the acupuncture point located in the area. It can provide potential insight into what the body may be trying to communicate through its symptoms.
Chinese Medicine views the body in terms of energetic layers. This is how an acupuncturist diagnoses and treats: through the energetic layers of the body. There are three main energy layers in the physical body: surface energy that interacts with the external world, called “wei”; the internal energy layer of the body that deals with functions like digestion, the mind and the emotions: called “ying”; finally there is a third energy level – the deepest in the body, called “yuan” which contains the constitution of the body, our “nature,” destiny and DNA.
When the body is having a release of some type it’s important to understand which energy layer the detox expression is coming from. In my case, the release was coming from the internal “ying” level of my body: from my emotions. However the release was of a sort that felt like pure emotion accompanied by a physical body response rather than a mental “story.”
The acupuncture channels are organized according to which energetic layer of the body they resonate with. This is where acupuncture gets complex. There’s many ways of viewing the body and its functions. There are six major acupuncture channel systems that work with various energetic layers and combinations of energy layers. Within each channel system are a collection of 8-15 individual acupuncture channels. The art of acupuncture is in choosing a combination of acupuncture channels and points that resonate as closely as possible to the exact energetic state of the patient at a specific moment in time. It is a healing system that relies on “resonance.” When acupuncture is at its most powerful, it can connect to the exact energetic formation of a person and either strengthen it or change it. This is how seemingly miraculous transformation can occur. And it does! Not all the time, but with proper resonance and preparation, it becomes more and more likely. Much of the treatment process within acupuncture lies in preparing the body and cultivating resonance for transformation to occur.
Diagnosing my own detox process, I had been performing acupuncture on myself for several weeks. In addition to the “Wind” treatments I was doing on myself using the Gallbladder channel, I also used a set of acupuncture channels called the Divergent Channels. The Divergent Channels excel at releasing deep hidden pathology from the body. I chose the Divergent Channels because for weeks I’d been having problems with my sinus, throat and eyes – unrelenting allergy symptoms, alternating with occasional digestive sensitivity.
Acupuncture channel systems can often translocate pathology amongst themselves. They way the body releases pathology can show the pathway disease has taken within the body as it becomes stuck and hidden. The way my condition released was in stages. I used the Divergent Channels to break up and uncover deep hidden pathology. Once this was “unearthed,” pathology translocated into more surface, “conscious” acupuncture channel systems – but all within the realm of the Stomach.
The sudden release of emotion was due to the Stomach’s “Luo Vessel” – a collateral of the main Stomach acupuncture channel. The classic symptom of the Stomach’s Luo Vessel is a strong surge of emotion that overwhelms the mind. It can often manifest as a temper tantrum, manic episode or just pure release of strong emotion. The Stomach’s Luo Vessel travels from the lower leg into the abdomen, chest, throat and head. I actually felt the surge of energy travel along the pathway of this vessel as it was releasing – a very fascinating experience for an acupuncturist to feel!
The symptoms that came after the sudden emotional release of the Luo Vessel was the release of the Stomach’s primary acupuncture channel through the surface sinews and sensory organs. I think it very impressive the way Chinese medicine was able to map the pathways by which physiology and pathology travels in the body. I’m still in awe of the ancients and their insight into the human body.
Despite the myriad of symptoms I experienced during my healing crisis, my attention was constantly being brought back to the Stomach acupuncture points on my chest.
My teacher has said the Stomach acupuncture points on the chest represent “the space to allow us to look from the inside out: to deal with external elements.” The Stomach channel, like all acupuncture channels has many psychological and philosophical implications.
The points on the chest have interesting names: “door,” “window,” “room screen.” Many Stomach points have names that relate to images of constructing a home. The Stomach is the channel and organ that continually rebuilds the body through its processing of nutrients. However, the Stomach also has a major impact on the way we construct our conscious mental and emotional reality, especially in relation to the external world.
The Luo Vessel of the Stomach, located on the lower leg, beginning at the acupuncture point ST-40 is called the “Abundant Bulge.” Its reaction – the manic, temper tantrum release of emotional energy, acts like a strong reaction to external events. It is like the body has had enough of having to put up with something and just explodes!
However, to get to a place where we become so overwhelmed with having to “stomach” external material that might “make us sick” or give us “heartburn” relates to the way we view the external world and its challenges.
The first two points on the chest ST-13 “Qi Door” and ST-14 “Storeroom” open and unbind the chest: within these functions they help the body get rid of phlegm. Phlegm is created from the tension that occurs when the chest is bound up. This can occur due to guilt, confusion, frustration or denial.
ST-13 “Qi Door” also descends energy that is moving counterflow causing wheeze, cough, reflux and burping – all of which can be psychosomatic reactions to some type of external stressor. The spirit of ST-13 is a mental-emotion situation where the “door” to the self never shuts. The person maybe always available, never saying no to external demands. This point is very effective in clearing heat that has built up as a result of the pressure and exertion that occurs when we are constantly going beyond our own limits – in terms of work, compassion and availability.
ST-14 “Storeroom” also descends rebellious energy. But it has a stronger “rectification” effect: helping the mind to work through a sense of guilt. When it is tender it often relates to sadness or stress coming from an emotional shock. It treats worry, preoccupation and obsessive thinking. The guilt related to this point and the Stomach channel in general often involves social order. When we feel we’ve violated the social code or when we feel we’ve failed in behaving according to appropriate social rules, there can be uneasiness in the mind that causes our chests to become tight and our digestive and respiratory systems to become rebellious.
These first two points show the complexities of dealing with social life. They relate to how we are able to construct boundaries in the face of demands coming from the external world. They also relate to our sense of guilt or worry relating to pressure to adhere to social norms and rules.
Anything that “binds” the chest prevents our spirit from feeling free. Constriction in the chest, whether it comes from invasion of an external pathogen like a virus or bacteria, or from our reaction to social pressure or self-criticism will generate phlegm and create energy rebellion in the various systems of the body.
The way to cultivate and heal a weakness in the Stomach is to reconnect it to the supportive connection with the Kidneys so it has the proper energy and “spiritual code” to know how to transform and transport according to one’s own nature and physical limits.
Within the Kidney system is contained the “destiny” or code of one’s nature (Xing). The social world can be quite a bully in dictating what is proper and what is not. However strong Kidney connection to the Stomach helps us recognize that each of has our own limits and personal pathway in life that sometimes cannot follow the particular social order expected of us. To connect the Kidneys to the Stomach is to empower our ability to act according to our nature within the demanding social world.
ST-15 is a point that continues our cultivation of living in the social world. It’s name is often translated as “room screen” or “roof.” It is an effective point to treat itching. It’s psychological implication is protective. It acts much like a famous Chinese herbal formula called the “Jade Windscreen powder.” Contained within this herbal formula are herbs that support the immune system along with an herb that helps prevent catching opportunistic infections like viral and bacterial agents. The combination of these herbs creates a type of energetic “screen” around the body much like a mosquito net in the tropics – to keep pestilent factors from invading. ST-15 has a soothing quality to it. It builds the body’s capacity to live in the world, with all of its challenges, parasitic elements and inconsistencies, yet to also stay calm, feel safe and protected.
ST-16, ST-17 and ST-18 all relate to the breasts. ST-17 is located right on the nipple. It is a point that is forbidden to needle, even though some people modernly pierce the nipple – many of which only instinctively understanding that they are treating themselves via a form of self-administered acupuncture relating to the Stomach channel.
ST-16 and ST-18 both help resolve depression which can occur when the circulatory channels around the breast become congested. There is an important acupuncture channel that circulates around the chest called “Da Bao” – the great wrapping. This is an important channel, named the “Great Luo Vessel” of the body. It is the depository for all the issues the other Luo Vessels have been unable to resolve. To review, Luo Vessels are the specific aspects of the acupuncture channels that contend with stresses confronting the body and mind. There is a sense of defeat and overwhelm when the Great Luo around the chest becomes “full.” ST-16 treats swelling that occurs around the region of the breasts. ST-18 has an effect on opening the milk ducts of the breast.
ST-16 is called “Chest Window,” giving the image of constraint. While the upper Stomach chest points give the image of vulnerability and excess exposure to the external world, the lower Stomach channel chest points show the effects of becoming buried within oneself in a state of depression: feeling cut off. When the chest is unable to deal with a problem, it will move deeper into the body: into the abdomen.
The first Stomach channel point on the abdomen, ST-19 is a powerful “alchemical” point used by the famous ancient Taoist alchemist Ge Hong. He used this point in his “9 Flower” treatment for transformation. ST-19 represented the conflicts in life that we could not resolve – a type of “stubborn phlegm” that is ever-present in our life, constantly haunting us.
ST-19 is a point located along the diaphragm – the muscle that divides the internal and external aspects of the body. When ST-19 is diseased, the diaphragm is stuck and the Great Luo is full, there is no way we can transform our external reality. We will keep seeing the world in a way that keeps things the same. It is a common Taoist teaching that we can change our sense or reality and the way we experience life by changing our perception of ourselves and the world. This is what the Stomach channel is able to do. When it is strongly connected to the Kidneys, it possesses the power to break through mental patterns that cause us to experience the world in a certain way. The Stomach is the acupuncture channel that feeds the sensory organs of the face with the fluids necessary for perception. To work with the Stomach channel allows us to transform our experience of the world, ideally to live a more authentic, empowered life.
What I love most about acupuncture is its capacity to turn any illness or condition into a type of heroic journey. Coming from a different perspective, I could have become very angry and depressed by my phlegmatic week. I could’ve seen it as a punishment or a major downer, preventing me from having fun and getting on with my daily tasks. Instead, mostly through my understanding of the acupuncture channels and especially through the points that were communicating with me, I saw my healing crisis as a cleansing allowing me to let go of guilt, social pressure, depression and defeat. By clearing the phlegm lingering in my body, I knew I was freeing my “sensory portals” so I could experience the world in a more empowered, easeful way.