Healing Through Shifting Consciousness
Working with consciousness is one of the most interesting aspects of Chinese medicine. When most people begin their healing journey, it is often something physical they focus on. But as the healing process progresses, consciousness (the way they think and feel) starts to be a major focus. I see this time and again with my patients.
Shoulder pain or digestive troubles, for example, might be symptoms that bring the patient to me initially for acupuncture and healing. However, changing the thinking and feeling patterns that underlie these symptoms are usually what keep them coming back.
Many people discover they can change more than just their physical experience. They can change their mental-emotional experience of life.
Years ago, this is exactly what hooked me on acupuncture treatment. I initially went for treatment of chronic asthma and digestive issues. After these physical symptoms improved, I noticed my thinking and feeling states were different too. I was less anxious and depressed. I was more focused and calm. I was happier, began to like myself more, and started feeling more comfortable in the world with other people. My physical health improved, but also did my overall life experience. Acupuncture felt like transformational therapy – for body, mind, spirit – and life!
As I decided to pursue a career as an acupuncturist, consciousness became my focus. Since I experienced such powerful effects on my own psychological and emotional state through acupuncture treatment, I became very interested in the use of acupuncture for psychological and mental health treatment.
My interest was expanded into exploring how our thoughts, emotions, traumas and histories effect our physical bodies. This is called psychosomatics in modern psychology. But in Chinese medicine, it is just part of the normal holistic mind-body mechanism.
There are many branches to psychological acupuncture: changing thought patterns, healing emotional trauma, strengthening cognitive capacity; treating personality disorders, mood disorders, addictions, obsessive compulsive states. This often involves rectifying our relationship to ourselves and others: self and the world.
There are two major acupuncture channels that govern our relationships (including the thoughts and feelings related to them). They are called the Qiao Vessels. These channels begin at the ankles, ascend the legs, into the torso, head and brain. Qiao means “Stance.” My longtime teacher would often say the Qiao Vessels reflect how we “stand up” to or relate with ourselves and the world.
Qiao also means “portals of perception”: the way we sense the world – both inner and outer, referring to the eyes, ears, nose and mouth – as mediated by the brain.
The Qiao are vessels that deal with thought, feeling and action. They also deal with the posture that’s created as a result of how we feel and think.
Our posture is always a reflection of how we feel, think and act. To change our posture requires changing the way we perceive the world (and ourselves). Alternatively to change our posture can effect how we think and feel – they go hand in hand. Posture is reflective of thought that has become habitual and unconscious. We no longer question it, but embody it. To change our posture is to change the way we experience the world, and vice versa.
To work with the Qiao Vessels can therefore alter not only our thinking and feeling states, but also our physical posture in relation to ourselves and others.
I’ve worked with patients in many ways over the years. Some patients come to resolve a specific issue. They come for a limited number of sessions, until symptoms have resolved, then they finish. Others come to me for an extended period of time, as they would a psychotherapist. These people are usually looking for a deeper transformation within themselves, often involving their psychology. They want to change something more fundamental in themselves, and therefore wish to have ongoing support and interaction – on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. This type of treatment is alchemical in nature – transformational, and well-suited for the Qiao Vessels.
Alchemy is the process of transforming something heavy into something light. Using something that seems worthless or burdensome and polishing it, revealing it as precious. It is a shamanic process, helping us reclaim our internal power from what we’ve experienced as trauma or pain. It can be a type of soul-retrieval or shamanic journey: a spiritual process of self-discovery where we go into the hidden, “shadow” parts of ourselves to reclaim our strength and animation.
To work with the Qiao Vessels is to work with the endocrine (hormonal) system as well as immunity. As said before, the Qiao also work on structure (musculo-skeletal) and the sensory organs.
The Qiao Vessels, because they enter into the brain, collect impressions and experiences which create our perception. We see the the world as we see ourselves due to our nature, but also to our conditioning and experiences. Some of us see through the eyes of our traumas and disappointments. Others through our personalities. To be able to see beyond these limitations is the realm of the mystic, where all possibilities and potentials exist.
In Chinese medical language, to work with the Qiao Vessels is to detox the body and mind from the accumulated “damp” material we’ve become tainted or corrupted with. We detox as we nurture and cleanse the essential self: the primal “Yin” and “Yang” of the body: the root of all vitality – our DNA in modern language.
I’m currently working with a man who has severe autoimmunity. He is highly reactive to his environment, on both a physical as well as mental-emotional level. Foods, air quality, allergens, stress – they all have a very strong effect on his body, causing extreme inflammation as well as respiratory and digestive reactions. He’s also very sensitive to the energy of others, often having an allergic immune reaction to conflict and overwhelm.
One of the most frequent acupuncture channels we use is the Yang Qiao Vessel, which governs relationship with the world. In his case, he becomes “exuberant” in his reactivity to the world, which generates much inflammation (heat) and neurological and psychological reactivity (wind). In our dialogue with one another, he and I often talk in terms of excessive “heat” and “wind” being generated in his body. We use the Yang Qiao Vessel to clear the heat and “extinguish the wind,” to calm his symptoms.
Other times his Yang Qiao Vessel becomes depleted. This is a vicious cycle. He often begins with the exuberance of heat and wind which will tax his system to cause depletion of energy that leaves him achy and fatigued. We use the same Yang Qiao Vessel for treatment, but strengthen it instead of clear it.
The most common points we use in treatment are those around the outer ankle and lower leg: some of the most powerful acupuncture points on the body.
The acupuncture points Bladder-62 (BL-62) called “the Extending Vessel,” Bladder-61 “Servants Assistance,” and Bladder-59 “Instep Yang” are extremely powerful and effective.
BL-62 excels in calming the mind and nervous system. It is a very stabilizing point for both the physical body and the mind. It has a strong effect on soothing and relaxing the muscles and clearing from the body any immune reactivity that may result in flu-like symptoms, pain or fever. It also calms “wind” – neurological agitation.
BL-61 is a very powerful pain relieving point that also treats swelling.
BL-59 is especially strong in relieving pain, especially that which is achy, affecting the joints and muscles.
I am working with another patient who’s endocrine issues are related to a difficult relationship with herself. Based on past trauma, feeling like an outsider for much of her life, she developed a habitually negative self-image. She never felt good enough. This has generated autoimmune reactivity as well as hormonal issues.
The major channel I use with this patient is the Yin Qiao Vessel, especially the acupuncture points Kidney-6 (KI-6) “Illuminating Sea,” Kidney-8 (KI-8) “Exchange of Faith” and Kidney-2 (KI-2) “Blazing Valley.”
The Yin Qiao Vessel is also important for treating addictions and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. It is the channel for treatment of “hungry ghosts,” which can manifest themselves in negative self-talk, and self-abuse. I use this channel to address many types of personality disorders, when a person is unable to be their own “best friend.”
KI-6 is a harmonizing point for the internal energy which governs digestion, but also the emotions. It also “clears” agitation affecting the personality, usually in the form of heat-inflammation. It is a point that opens the throat to promote better expression. This is a necessary action in treating OCD.
KI-8 is a strengthening point that focuses the willpower, directing it towards acting in our best interest. It also has a regulating effect on the hormones. The name of this point: “Exchange of Faith,” means the way in which we continually transform experiences into fuel for our own self-esteem. The more we know and do, the better we should feel about ourselves. We learn, through experience to trust ourselves, having faith that we are good and capable and worthy.
KI-2 has a very strong effect on digestion and metabolism. It also helps bring a person out of introversion and depression.
The two Qiao Vessels (Yin and Yang) meet at two acupuncture points on the head: Bladder-1 (BL-1)” Bright Eyes” and Gallbadder-20 (GB-20) “Wind Pool.” These points “expel wind,” which means anything that challenges our sense of stability and clarity. The “wind” may be due to internal emotions or hyper-sensitivity – to food or our internal lives. Or, it can be due to our reactivity to the external environment.
Therapeutically, the more we can strengthen our essence – our willpower and basic self-love: i.e. our Yin and Yang (root primal, vital energy) – the easier it is to “Expel Wind” i.e. rid ourselves of distractions and parasitic elements. We also become better suited to deal with the challenges of life. We become stronger, more resilient and able to let things go. We don’t get as distracted by external factors. We are able to remain grounded and stable and strong. This is the true gift of the Qiao Vessels – they ground our stance, much like a martial artist learns to withstand any blow from an opponent.