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Restored Connection to the Source: What to Do When Acupuncture Treatments Don’t Work

Restored Connection to the Source: What to Do When Acupuncture Treatments Don’t Work

What do we do when acupuncture treatment isn’t working? There are many instances clinically where treatments either don’t hold or don’t yield desired results. It’s often baffling as to why this happens – for both patient and practitioner.

Obviously we must first assess that the diagnosis is correct and the treatment fulfills the needs of the diagnosis. Yet if the patient still doesn’t feel the effects or is not able to hold onto the effects, we need to look at other possible problems.

I’m often faced with these issues in my ongoing work with a patient. I’ve treated him for several years. Treatments I give him sometimes don’t hold or don’t cause the desired effect. This patient has taught me a great deal about why this happens and how to fix it.

In the Chinese medical view the reason treatments don’t hold is usually due to dysfunction in the “belt channels” of the body. The most famous acupuncture channels are those that travel horizontally from head to limb, named after the internal organs. However there are two important vertical acupuncture channels whose job it is to “leash” the other channels together.

The first belt channel is called “Dai Mai” which means “belt vessel.” It travels around the waist leashing together many of the channels, most importantly those that represent the matrix of the body: the Extraordinary Vessels.

The other belt channel is called “Da Bao” or the “Great Wrap.” This channel wraps the chest.

These two belt channels are joined together by a third vessel called “Bao Mai.” This is perhaps one of the most fascinating of all acupuncture channels as it holds answers to many questions. To understand Bao Mai is to more fully understand how the body works. It also explains why certain treatments may not be working.

Bao Mai connects the two tailbones of the body: the tailbone of the spine and the tail of the ribs at the xiphoid process. The acupuncture points located at these tailbones are CV-15 “Turtle Dove Tail” and GV-1 “Long and Strong.” Not only are these two points some of the most powerful in the body, they are also designated as Luo points on two of the most important Extraordinary Vessels. Luo points excel at re-establishing communication when it has been disrupted by blockages. CV-15 and GV-1 therefore help clear blockages disrupting the communication of Yin and Yang, since the channels they are located upon are seen as the Seas or reservoirs of Yin and Yang in the body. Yin and Yang are collectively seen as the source energy of the body: that which empowers all body function and form at the deepest level possible.

Bao Mai is often overlooked. Is the great connecting channel between the upper and lower regions of the body. Physically we can understand why good communication between upper and lower is important, but psychologically it is also vital. The chest holds the Heart and Lungs, but also the Shen, which is translated as the “animation spirit,” referring to a person’s enthusiasm and joy, while the lower abdomen holds the intestines, kidneys and bladder as well as the Zhi-willpower. Connection between these two regions is seen as the basis of  physical as well as mental-emotional health and wellbeing. Use of Bao Mai reestablishes connection between these two regions when they are mis-communicating.

When a treatment is not holding, Bao Mai is the one of the first places I adjust. I either “tighten the belt” to restore proper alignment between the upper and lower belt channels. Or I may loosen the belt to ensure smoother flow between the two regions. One of my pieces of shorthand with my patient when he tells me something is not holding is “tighten the belt!”

Bao Mai and the belt channels are not the only common areas responsible for treatments not working. There is another channel that is maybe even more mysterious that also needs consideration. The Triple Heater is another often overlooked mechanism in the energetic body that explains much and often holds the key to why treatments aren’t working. The Triple Heater doesn’t hold things in place like the Belt channels do; it is the process by which the essence  (source qi) energy is distributed into the internal organs. It is said to originate in the lower back between the two kidneys (where the body’s essence is believed to be stored, and irrigated into the internal organs along the spine.

When there is a blockage in the Triple Heater, then the organs (and their associated acupuncture channels) will fail to receive proper nourishment from the body’s source energy. This is like appliances failing to receive electricity, as if they’ve been unplugged. Or a faucet when the water has been shut off. The acupuncture channels and acupuncture points will fail to have the electrical current to perform their actions. This is often why acupuncture points fail to work as expected.

My patient would sometimes tell me certain acupuncture points “felt dead” when we were stimulation them, as if they had no life to them. I realized I needed to unblock the Triple Heater mechanism so the channels could become reconnected to their electrical (Yang) current, located in the Governor Vessel: the Sea or “reservoir” of Yang energy. This process is achieved by working with the acupuncture points on the back which make direct connection to the internal organs.

It is interesting to note that Chinese medicine emphasizes two “organ” systems that have no Western equivalent. They are called the Pericardium/Heart Protector and the Triple Heater/San Jiao. The Pericardium is most closely related to Bao Mai, and Triple Heater has already been discussed. Both of these “organs” are actually more mechanisms or processes that create connection between different regions or levels of the body. I’ve come to see that they are also the channels I use most when other treatments are not working. My understanding of the Pericardium and Triple Heater has given me a deeper respect for the role of blockage causing miscommunication between regions and levels of the body. They are my “go-to” channels (and “organs”) when treatments are either not holding, or not working as expected. 

The Pericardium (or Heart Protector as it’s sometimes called) is seen as an assistant to the heart, in that it absorbs the insults (usually inflammation) from the heart organ. But it is more than that. It is seen as the greater circulatory system, which Chinese medicine acknowledges as a place where nutrients and information are distributed but also where pathology can be stored. This organ is sometimes also called the “heart director” or “heart master,” as it maintains the relationship between the Heart (chest and Spirit) and the Kidneys (the lower abdomen/low back and willpower), often through Bao Mai.

I often see use of the Pericardium through Bao Mai as re-establishing connection with the Conception Vessel: the Sea or “reservoir” of Yin energy, much like the Triple Heater does with Yang energy. 

My patient and I now have a shorthand language that we use when treatments are not working. We discuss, is the problem due to the belt not holding or is it due to the channels being cut off from the body’s “source” reservoir? The problem usually requires use of either the Pericardium or the Triple Heater. He often asks me: is this a case where we need to “tighten the belt” or “work with the reservoir?”

The Extraordinary Vessels are the reservoirs of the body, with the Conception Vessel being a reservoir for Yin and the Governing Vessel a reservoir for Yang. These two channels are aspects of a deeper vessel called Chong Mai which my teacher likes to call the “blueprint” of the body. Tapping into this channel is like using stem cells to remind the body of its original design. This is the essential concept of Yin and Yang: they are not only the empowering force, but also contain the original directions for the body’s blood and qi (functional energy). Contained within the Yin and Yang is the code for how the body can rebuilt itself and restore functionality within the entire system.

The Chong Mai is the reservoir for the Jing-Essence: the collective term for Yin and Yang, or source energy, in its raw form before its been differentiated. Chong is aided by its two assistants: the Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel, which hold the Yin and Yang in its differentiated form. There is much Taoist numerology in this philosophy. The Taoists see the body mirroring the cosmos. Within the ancient text Tao Te Jing there is the philosophy that “the one gave birth to the two.” From that came “the myriad of things.”

The Conception Vessel is called the “sea of Yin”; the Governor Vessel is the “sea of Yang.” These are the reservoirs I speak to my patient about. Yin is often seen as form, while Yang is function. When my patient and I speak of the acupuncture channels losing access to the reservoirs this is what we are referring to. We assess: has he lost contact with the Yin or the Yang reservoir? Or is the problem one in which the Yin and the Yang have lost contact with one another. Usually in this case we work directly with the Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel instead of Triple Heater and Pericardium/Bao Mai. If a problem is even deeper, in the case of something congenital this is where the Chong Mai might be worked with. 

Chong Mai is arguably only reachable through meditation and alchemical practice. The Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel are the more assessable channels with acupuncture points of their own. Therefore when correcting a problem related to the reservoirs we more commonly use these. 

I recall my first acupuncture mentor often used points along the Conception Vessel and Governing Vessel within her treatments. She used these points to empower (via either Yin or Yang energy) the acupuncture channels she was using. She didn’t use them all of the time. I was always curious why she’d use these special points. I now see she was insuring there was sufficient support from the “source” via the reservoirs to empower the functions of the acupuncture points she’d chosen when I was in a deficient state, cut off from my reservoirs. Through my work in my own clinical practice I now understand the need for this. 

It seem from what I’ve seen in clinical practice, a person’s illness is more often due to lack of access to their own internal energy than a true deficiency. Blockage is the most common cause of disease. From blockage comes deficiency. But true deficiency is rare. Many times deficiency issues are due to the channels losing sufficient connection to their internal reservoirs.

My patient has very serious chronic autoimmunity. He has been a fascinating and very instructive person to work with and learn from. He appears strong and vibrant, yet has frequent bouts of debilitating pain, fatigue and inflammatory crises. Years ago he asked me to help him rebalance his energy during moments of crisis. At the time I didn’t realize how often these crises occurred. I came to see that his internal energy would frequently knot itself, which could usually be corrected through getting his energy and blood moving again.

However, at times nothing seemed to help. None of the acupuncture points I would give him would unknot and get his energy moving again. I learned that these were moments where blockage was causing his acupuncture channels to become cut off from his reservoirs of Yin and Yang. He’d often tell me the points felt “dead” when I was activating them. That there was no energy in them. Only when I opened the blockage and restored connection to his “source” energy did the points become activated again, able to perform the actions I asked from them in restoring him to balanced vitality.

There’s a set of acupuncture channels I use very often for chronic, autoimmune or degenerative conditions. They are called the Divergent Channels, named as such due to their role in diverting disease into deep hiding areas within the body where they can be held in relatively quiet latency. Holding disease in latency may keep symptoms quiet, but it does stress the body, eventually disrupting normal function.

Use of the Divergent Channels is often utilized to slowly release latent pathology, but they can also be used to adjust physiological function being disrupted by something lurking in the body. The lurking factor may be something the patient is not yet ready or willing to face, resolve or release. Therefore it’s necessary to adjust the energy within these channels. I see this in much the same way as arranging a kitchen cabinet. The cabinet may be filled and messy, causing the kitchen to be untidy and disordered. This will disrupt the cooking and functioning of the kitchen. To adjust the Divergent channels is like tidying up the cabinet. Maybe I take out a bit of the mess in the cabinet, but don’t completely clear it out. I just tidy it up so the kitchen can function better.

Material being held latent in the Divergent Channels are notorious for causing blockage in connections between the acupuncture channels and the source reservoirs. I often use these channels when I recognize the patient has a chronic condition due to latent material lurking in the body. These channels can often release blockage and restore physiological flow, as well as vent a bit of the latent material.

The Divergent Channels access both the deep source-level of the Extraordinary Vessels as well as the most superficial physiological channels They are channels indicated for restoring connection between the reservoirs and the daily-use acupuncture channels.

Treatment of complicated cases, like that of my patient require understanding of the depth of the blockages at any given moment. This is arguably the reason why an acupuncturist who uses and understands all of the five acupuncture channel systems and their 61 channels and 365 points often has such good results. Or when a treatment fails to give good results, it is possible to go deeper into the energetic matrix of the body and locate the dysfunction.

Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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