Clearing Toxic Buildup: Freeing the Back, Joints and Vessels with Acupuncture
Toxic buildup is one of most common causes of recurrent, residual and chronic illness. Chinese medicine discusses toxic buildup in depth in the medical classics Su Wen (Simple Questions) and Ling Shu (the Spiritual Pivot). These are the two books upon which most of Chinese medicine is based.
The “collateral” acupuncture channels, namely the Divergent channels which travel into the joints and the Luo Vessels which travel into the blood vessels, are containers for toxic overload. These collaterals diverge from the main acupuncture channels to translocate and store unresolved toxins and pathogens, shuttling them away from the internal organs and their physiological acupuncture channels.
The role of the collaterals is to prevent major disruption to the body’s physiological function. The joints and blood vessels are relatively safe areas for toxins to be stored. Much safer than storage in vital internal organs like the Heart, Lungs or Kidneys.
However many chronic, degenerative or conditions relating to hypersensitivity are due to toxic overload within the collaterals. Treatment therefore requires clearing of the joints, vessels and areas where the Divergent Channels and Luo Vessels circulate and store.
The major metaphor or image for toxic overload in Chinese medicine is “wind,” usually complicated by “dampness.” My patients often chuckle at my frequent use of the image of wind when discussing their issues. Yet when we look at our bodies, minds and lives, the image seems very appropriate.
Wind is a force that can knock us off balance. It challenges our ability to walk straight and forward. It can throw the regular movement of our energy off course, making it irregular.
Wind is the image for any factor from the external world that challenges the body. This is classified as “external” wind. Weather, viral and bacterial agents and parasites can all be classified as wind.
However, wind can also be generated internally, usually by diet or the emotions. The Wind, or chaotic, irregular movement of energy, is the reaction of our bodies to something it cannot harmonize with.
Wind is a metaphor for change. Any type of change in the environment, external or internal that we cannot adjust to or accommodate can generate wind, which brings about an immune reaction.
When the immune system reacts to change, wind, it generates heat or hyperactivity, or more often hyper-reactivity.
When the body’s immune system fails to mount a strong enough reaction to wind, it will hold onto the challenge or pathogen through dampness. It softens and subdues the challenge, yet fails to fight or eliminate it. This causes the problem to linger and become stored in the body.
Conditions that linger or become residual or intermittent, usually come and go. They appear, then disappear, but never completely resolve. This is dependent on when the body is able to mount a strong enough immune response (heat effusion) to try and eliminate the problem.
If the body still lacks the necessary strength for full catharsis or detoxification, the problem will become dampened again, go into quiet latency and seem to disappear, only to reappear again when the body regathers its strength and will. The condition can go back and forth this way for quite sometime, in a low-grade chronic state.
Treatment for residual, intermittent or latent conditions aims to support the body’s “Yang” immune energy to mount a strong enough response so full catharsis and detox can occur. On an emotional level, this involves strengthening the willpower, building sufficient blood and fluids, and mental-digestive energy for full catharsis, so the latent or lingering emotional experience can be fully processed and/or released.
On a purely physical level, the process is much the same: to build and gather enough energy, blood and fluids to support full elimination through the bowels or the respiratory and sensory systems. Common detoxification methods are sweating and purging. Emotional catharsis, say the ancient medical masters also requires a fluid response, often in the form of crying.
The collaterals of acupuncture are very effective in preparing and facilitating a “healing crisis” or cathartic detoxification.
Suppressive medicine, to eliminate pain and symptoms only works so long. Often it is necessary in the acute stage of a condition, to make it more bearable. Yet, ideally a full cathartic release is desired to fully eliminate the root of the problem.
Many in our culture experience chronic back and shoulder pain. This is very common. It can range from dull, achy, stiffness or even sharp stabbing pain.
Some of the strongest and most effective of the collaterals are the Divergent Channels of the Bladder and Kidneys, which circulate through the back of the body and around the waist.
The Bladder’s Divergent Channel begins on the knees and travels into the sacrum, tailbone, lumbar region, along the entirety of the back and into the occipital region of the head: all common areas of pain, stiffness and degeneration.
The Kidney’s Divergent channel creates a series of rings around the body. The first of which is around the waist, the other around the chest and throat. These are all areas where the body accumulates toxins in the form of belly fat, urogenital or gynecological issues, heart and circulatory problems and throat (thyroid) issues.
For many people, draining the Divergent Bladder and Kidney channels is very effective in decreasing the toxic overload causing their symptoms.
The Bladder’s Divergent channels is one of the most effective methods for treating pain in the back, knees, shoulders and head. The Kidney’s Divergent Channel can be very effective for treating anxiety, depression, panic disorder, psychogenic asthma, throat tension, TMJ, urogenital and menstrual issues.
The blessing of the Divergent channels is the way in which issues are detoxified and cleared. They are often done so through the fluid system, which causes more physical and less conscious emotional release. Sometimes symptoms intensify as they are being gathered and eliminated from the body. The toxins often come out in the form of mild cold or flu symptoms, or through increased urination or defecation. Yet they do so usually in an unconscious, somatic way.
Whereas use of the Luo Vessels, which detoxify the circulatory system, often bring about consciousness awareness or insight into that which we are holding in our bodies. The use of blood as a medium for detoxification is what allows conscious awareness, due to the blood’s strong relationship with the Heart which Chinese medicine sees as the residence of the spirit.
Issues held in the blood often work themselves out through the dream state. They can even attract experiences and people that allow us to recreate, relive, revisit or re-experience unresolved moments from our past.
The Heart is like a magnet that attracts to us people and things that resonate with our own vibration. It is our desire, which is governed by the Heart, that attracts and repels. The Luo Vessels, with their “fulllness” saturation of unresolved issues, and their “emptiness” when the issues become too heavy to hold, express that which we are obsessed, addicted or highly animated by. They also express that which we deny, avoid or feel insecure-insufficient about.
One of the first things patients say they feel after a detoxifying acupuncture treatment using the collaterals is a sense of lightness. Areas that have been congested begin to loosen and open. Rigidity in the mind also starts to soften. We start to see the world, and ourselves differently.
Often it can take a day or two for symptoms to start to diminish. Also, regularity of treatment, continually draining the collaterals and their drainage ditches, is necessary to create lasting effect.