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Mar 312017
 

 

Spring is a great time to get back into good health.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is a time of stillness, where rapid change may prove disruptive and unsettling to the body. But Spring, when the sap begins to rise in the trees again, when flowers burst out of the ground, and animals emerge from hibernation, is the season of change, flexibility and new life.

Many of us make the mistake of trying to ‘turn over a new leaf’ on January 1st – which is, energetically, still the dead of winter. All too often the stress of trying to change when our bodies just want to quietly persist until the weather warms back up pushes us back into the bad habits, diets, or lack of exercise we were trying to get away from.

But spring is the perfect time to make these changes, and it’s the perfect time to get back into a course of treatments that can help you on your way to optimum wellbeing.

Whether it’s an old back problem that keeps turning up like a bad penny, an injury that never quite went away, symptoms that no-one else has been able to figure out, or just a general sense that things ‘aren’t quite as they should be’, Traditional Chinese Medicine specialises in helping the body find its way back to balance, full functioning and natural good health.

And don’t forget – Traditional Chinese Medicine is also a great preventative treatment, that stops you falling into imbalance and illness in the first place. That burst of Spring energy and happiness is your body’s way of telling you that it matters, and that you should look after it just like it looks after you.

To encourage everyone to ride the wave of this Spring energy, I’m offering 25% off all treatments for the month of April – that’s just £30 for acupuncture, bodywork, stretch therapy, and cranio-sacral work, including first consultations and treatments.

So there’s never been a better time to get in touch!

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 Posted by at 16:45
Aug 262016
 

I’ll be running a Qi Gong workshop at the Oak Room in Tiverton, 10am-1pm on Saturday 27th August.

It’ll be an introductory session very suitable for newcomers – we will cover a few different styles of Qi Gong to give participants a feel for how different forms of movement and breathwork affect the body and the health in different ways.

You can pick tickets up from the Oak Room, book them here – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/qi-gong-workshop-tickets-26681588349 – or just pay on the day.

If there is interest, this may prove the seed for me to start regular Qi Gong classes at the Oak Room, so do come along and see if it is for you!

 Posted by at 19:55
Mar 282016
 

I’ve just discovered that the switch-over of my mobile phone provider last month disabled my answerphone – if you’ve tried to call me in the last few weeks and not been able to leave a message, do try again!

 Posted by at 20:41
Mar 232016
 

Preparations for TCA are proceeding apace! The equipment has been arriving by a dizzying variety of couriers at the farm, and we already have a good few bookings for the first session on Wednesday 30th March.

The feedback from prospective patients has been hearteningly enthusiastic so far, the good folk at The Oak Room have been amazingly supportive during the set-up process, and I’m very excited to be offering this up to the people of Tiverton.

We’ll be in ‘testing phase’ for the first couple of weeks and then our formal launch will be at the Health & Wellbeing Fair on 16th April – check back here for more details closer to the time.

 

 Posted by at 16:42
Apr 222015
 

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A process as described is not the process as it exists;
The terms used to describe it are not the things they describe.
That which evades description is the wholeness of the system;
The act of description is merely a listing of its parts.
Without intentionality, you can experience the whole system;
With intentionality, you can comprehend its effects.
These two approach the same reality in different ways,
And the result appears confusing;
But accepting the apparent confusion
Gives access to the whole system.

Dao De Jing, Chapter 1, trans. John Michael Greer

The term permaculture”, a contraction of “permanent agriculture”, was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to describe the ecological design philosophy they began developing in the 1970s. Permaculture has since grown to become a worldwide movement, with many thousands training in and applying its design principles.

Informed though it is by modern ecology and systems theory, Mollison has also specifically noted the influence of Daoism on its core philosophy; faced with the converging crises of ecological destruction, topsoil erosion, fossil fuel depletion and the unsustainable growth of population and industry on the planet, he sought to develop a form of resilient agriculture that would work “with rather than against nature,” one of “protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems and people in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.”

Like the permaculturist, the traditional acupuncturist works with a complex ecological system – the human body. And, like the permaculturist, the acupuncturist tries to interact with that ecosystem in a way that is more holistic, more responsive and less crudely forceful than is common practice in the industrial world.

Indeed, many of the insights of systems theory – the interdependence of multiple functions and elements, for example, or the importance of recognising emergent whole-system patterns – are already embedded in traditional medical practices, and are second nature to the acupuncturist versed in zang-fu theory and the five phases. Given the shared core of Daoist philosophy at the heart of the two systems, it is not surprising that a comparison of the philosophy and practice of permaculture with that of Traditional East Asian Medicine reveals both familiar patterns and unexpected insights:

Observe and Interact:

In the spirit of Wu Wei, the first job of the permaculturist is to do nothing. By refraining from premature intervention, they gain the opportunity to observe the landscape and learn how it works – where rainfall flows, where the sun and shade fall, what grows well where, and how these factors change through the seasons.

The acupuncturist too makes themself quiet and passive in the initial encounter, trying not to impose their own ideas on the patient, but waiting for the truth of their being to reveal itself – and though they can’t wait for a year to pass before treating, a sensitivity to the temporal is indispensable: the patient will not be treated in the same way in the depths of winter as during a summer heatwave; one seen on a Friday evening not the same as on a Monday morning.

The permaculture principle, of course, is “observe and interact”, for it is in the small initial interactions that the permaculturist learns how the land will respond to larger interventions. In the same way, it is in the first handshake, the greeting, how the patient seats themselves, that the acupuncturist begins to intuit their patterns of flow and stasis; in the microcosm of the pulse-taking that they begin to build up a picture of the macrocosm of the patient’s health.

The Problem is the Solution:

In a complex system, problems do not arise independently, or from a single cause; rather they are the product of multi-factorial imbalances. Responses that simply attempt to suppress the surface manifestation of the imbalance rarely result in whole-system health. The permaculture approach is to recognise that what is seen as a ‘problem’ can be reinterpreted as a valuable source of information about excess and deficient resources in the system – and that the solution is to re-route and repurpose those resources to where they can achieve a productive yield.

This might mean turning ‘weeds’ into dandelion salad and nettle soup, or finding creative outlets for ‘excess’ Wood; recycling food waste by feeding it to the pigs, or encouraging surface heat symptoms to go inwards and nourish the core of the body. As my favourite permaculture aphorism puts it: “There’s no such thing as too many slugs; only not enough ducks.”

Making the least effort for the greatest effect:

In Tai Chi they talk of “four ounces overcoming a thousand pounds”. When the subtle rhythms and interconnections of a complex system are understood, interventions at critical points and times can cause powerful and widespread alterations in the functioning of the whole system. In a sense, acupuncture is already a manifestation of this understanding – the use of a small needle to affect the functioning of entire sub-systems in the body. But we can deepen our understanding by considering how the same idea functions in permaculture.

Rather than trying to force agricultural components into a pre-ordained structure, the permaculturist focuses on directing existing flows of energy and growth in the most productive patterns possible. Often, this requires a recognition that the ecosystem has a will of its own, and that attempting to impose an idealised pattern onto it will be counter-productive.

In temperate climes, for example, the ‘climax ecosystem’ the land naturally moves towards is old-growth forest. Industrial agriculture, in many respects, consists of continual efforts at resisting this movement towards forest; permaculture gracefully accepts it and works to subtly guide and modulate it to the benefit of both forest and human co-habitants. The result is a ‘forest garden’, where the diversity, resilience and efficiency of the forest ecosystem are used to grow high yields of edible plants with the minimum of effort and intervention.

So too, as healers, we must acknowledge that the system we are working with has an evolutionary will of its own. The pattern of integral health towards which it is moving may not match the ideal we have in our head. But in recognising that the human is a part of nature just as much as the forest, and that the same patterns of complex balance and growth occur in the two, we can remind ourselves to trust in nature’s capacity for self-healing and self-organisation.

Our job, lest we forget, is not to chivvy the obstinate patient towards a fixed notion of ‘healthy’ functioning – it is to remove obstacles to the system’s own self-regulation and to assist it in regaining its natural balance, such that it can manifest its own natural pattern of sustainable being.

Use small and slow solutions:

In permaculture terms, increased size and speed require more energy and more intervention. When the whole of the system is considered holistically, it can be seen that conventional agriculture actually reduces the efficiency, productivity and longevity of the ecosystem in exchange for quick, short-term gain.

Large, sudden interventions – like dousing a field in pesticides, or clear-cutting a forest for cattle-grazing – cause disruption to the system as a whole, often producing secondary problems that necessitate further costly fixes. Conversely, reducing things to their smallest and slowest viable form enables an ecosystem to operate more efficiently, and to retain more energy within its nutritive and energetic cycles.

Attempts to scale up permaculture projects to match the size and yield of large agri-business ventures rarely work well. The larger the project, the more the cost of the administrative and technological requirements, and the less capable the permaculturist is of remaining in close and responsive relation with the land and its dynamics.

Equally, acupuncture practices that ‘process’ large numbers of patients often lose touch with each patient’s unique dynamics. The logic of Capitalism exhorts all businesses to seek after continual and unending growth – but when an acupuncture practice grows too big, not only do the treatments suffer, but the simplicity of our practice can easily become entangled in the distractions of data-management systems, ancilliary staff and social media marketing.

Patients are often impatient; used to the industrial medicine model, they expect a ‘quick fix’, and we can sometimes find ourselves apologising for the incremental nature of our treatment. But perhaps we should be embracing this aspect of our practice; just as growing nutritious vegetables or building a house that will last for generations necessarily require a slower, more intensive approach, so too does the acupuncturist seek to enable long-term, sustainable health by making small, slow changes to the system of the body.

Context:

As the philosopher Ken Wilber said: “Everything is contextual – and there is no end of contexts”. “Permaculture” started out meaning “permanent agriculture”, but was later re-coined as “permanent culture”, as its practitioners began to realise that their agricultural philosophy could not be separated out from the social, the cultural and the political. Many people have since applied permaculture principles (which can be seen, after all, as a restatement of the universal patterns of the Dao) to businesses, relationships, communities and societies.

In the same way, it is easy for an acupuncturist operating in the industrial West to allow themselves to be restricted to being a mere needle-technician, whose therapeutic intervention begins and ends at the clinic door. But the holistic systems-thinking at the core of our practice makes it impossible to ignore the fact that every part of a patient’s life is implicated in their ‘condition’, and that the changes we make in the clinic can easily be overridden by lifestyle, work, relationship problems or a pathogenic environment.

Clearly, we need to be careful about our professional boundaries – we are not (most of us) trained nutritionists, ergonomicists or psychotherapists, and we should not assert ourselves beyond the limits of our competence. But nor should we allow ourselves to be overly influenced by the ruling ideology of specialisation and segregation, which is a product of the same linear, fragmental thinking that resulted in the mechanistic excesses and chemical reliances of Western biomedicine and industrial agriculture. Under its influence, many of our patients have lost touch with their innate capacity for holistic, whole-system pattern-recognition – but permaculture principles can be applied to their lives just as effectively as to a farm or a forest.

Zoning:

To take just one example of this: many patients need to do more exercise, or perhaps just some stretching in the morning; but the gym is on the far side of town, or their bedroom floor too cluttered to lie on, and so more often than not they end up just skipping it. Permaculture organises agricultural land into 5 concentric zones centred around the core living space, and advises that the jobs that need doing most frequently be located closest to the core; if the patients can be encouraged to organise their lives along these lines, so that distance and inconvenience no longer sabotage their plans, they might just manage to jog round the garden, or to roll out of bed onto that clear patch of floor and do their stretches.

In a more abstract sense, zoning is about efficient energy-management. Perhaps there is a particular relationship that is only marginally important to a person, but uses up a lot of their time and energy. Perhaps there are resources in a person’s life – people, activities, opportunities – that are ‘right under their nose’; easily accessible, but largely overlooked. If we are serious about helping a patient organise their energy in the most productive patterns they can, it makes no sense to just needle ST-36 every week while ignoring the energy-sinks in their wider life that are draining them on a daily basis.

Edges:

Finally, one of the most intriguing ideas in permaculture is the maximisation of edges. Recognising that diversity and fertility are highest in ecological transition zones like coastlines, tidal estuaries and the borders of forest and grassland, permaculture looks for opportunities to maximise these edge-areas on their own land.

This can be as simple as giving a pond a scalloped rather than a straight edge, or interspersing orchard trees with pasture land instead of keeping them in separate blocks; it can also mean valuing the fuzzy boundaries between concepts – between ‘crop’ and ‘weed’, for example – or seeking to retain the ‘edgy’ creativity of rundown neighbourhoods on the margins of cities.

There are many edges in the therapeutic encounter – how the patient enters and leaves the treatment space, the beginning and end of the treatment, the first contact of pulse diagnosis, the moment when the needle makes contact with the skin. Beyond the treatment room, there are the boundaries of how our practice interacts with other practitioners, with our local community, with the wider world, and how our professional role interacts with our ‘off-duty’ lives.

All too often we ignore these transitional spaces and focus on the more obvious blocks of space and activity. But by paying more attention to the edges of our practice, we might begin to see hidden opportunities, or allow our treatments to become more alive and responsive; we might enable our careers to support and be nourished by the rest of our lives, and our clinics to become more connected to the wider world.

For more information on permaculture principles, see: http://permacultureprinciples.com/

 Posted by at 14:42
Dec 152013
 

Next Saturday being the winter solstice, I invite you all to join me for a relaxed and informal day sharing traditional Chinese health practices. These are individual practices involving breath, movement and sound to stimulate organ function, improve blood circulation and deal with bodily tensions.

These practices originate in the Yin style Ba Gua medical system, which I learned from Andrew Nugent-Head with the condition that I pass this knowledge on to other people. You may be familiar with some of this as Chi Gong but we will also do some stretching and ‘patting’ (a method involving gently slapping your body). It won’t all be funny noises and slapping yourself, though! There’ll be plenty of time to absorb the information, ask questions and engage in discussion. At the end of the day those who would like to are welcome to stay, share some food, and celebrate the solstice together.

The aim of the session is to give you techniques which you can take away and use yourself, fitting into your own health routine in the comfort of your own home. If you’ve never done anything like this before, this is a good place to start – these techniques are practical and straightforward. Conversely, if you already practice meditation, yoga or energy work you will find engaging at this more physical level an excellent complement to your practices.

We will either secure a venue, or maybe just do it outdoors if it looks like the weather will be OK – the practices will keep you warm. If the venue involves a cost then we will split it equally amongst participants. Beyond that, the day will be free.

Please wear loose comfortable clothing. You may wish to bring a change of T-shirt and refreshments.

Email me at steve@whiteoakhealth.co.uk for more details and updates!

 Posted by at 10:33
Aug 092013
 

One of the entertaining things about being an acupuncturist is when you mention what you do to someone and they say: “Oh, I’ve had acupuncture – from my physiotherapist.” At this point, there are a number of options. I like to think I mostly just smile politely and ask if it helped with their problem.

On the one hand, I’m glad that people are receiving an effective treatment for musculo-skeletal problems, and receiving it from skilled professionals with a good reputation. This helps to spread the word about the effectiveness of acupuncture and to embed it as a practice in the health culture of this country.

On the other hand, though, as someone who has spent 5 years training in Traditional Oriental theory, diagnosis and in the subtler skills of needling, it can seem a little strange to me that we use the same word to describe what I do and what people working within an entirely Western scientific paradigm do, people who have had perhaps a weekend or two of training in the practice.

And of course, the suspicion occasionally arises that providing people with ‘acupuncture’ for free on the NHS is not actually all that likely to encourage people to seek out a private practitioner for the traditional version (although by ‘for free’ we mean, of course, ‘paying for it via taxation rather than directly’).

This is an issue that arises every time traditional acupuncturists attempt to get some kind of official recognition for their skills – in pursuing statutory regulation in 2009 and again with the application for a Royal Charter in 2011, the fact that there are many more registered physiotherapists and doctors practicing forms of needling than there are members of the British Acupuncture Council practicing traditional acupuncture inevitably impacts on the politics of the situation.

In general, I find the best approach is not to cultivate vineyards of sour grapes in relation to our fellow health practitioners, but simply try to offer my services with sincerity and skill, and trust that word of the benefits of traditional acupuncture, embedded within the complex diagnostics and understanding of Oriental Medical theory, will spread of its own accord.

However, I recently came across an intriguing article by an MD and licensed acupuncturist in the US, arguing that we actually have a responsibility to our patients to make the distinction clearer, and to push for official regulations to achieve the same:

“I am a scientist at heart, and this is the finest science that I have encountered” she says. “As a physician who has gone through Western medical training and now training in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, I assure you that abbreviated courses in acupuncture for physicians pose a serious problem.”

She argues that those working “in the acupuncture field are at a crossroads. We can condone physicians doing acupuncture under-trained, unsupervised, unevaluated in terms of competency, or we can strive to raise the standard.”

Rather than simply a matter of professional status and protection of title, she believes that this is a public health issue; “that allowing medical doctors with minimal training & without oversight by a non-professional organization is a dangerous and foolhardy policy. I’d like to respectfully remind you that we are talking here about a healthcare profession; we are talking about peoples’ health & well-being; we cannot afford to have a double standard. The general public deserves parity in licensing so that competency can be maintained.”

The way forward, she suggests, has been shown by the state of Hawaii, which decided in 2003 that ‘medical acupuncturists’ should be held to the same standards of competency and training as licensed traditional acupuncturists.

The regulatory situation in the States is slightly different – all acupuncturists must be licensed at the state level by passing the NCCAOM exams. But I certainly found her line of argument – that traditional acupuncturists ought to fight harder against the dilution of the term ‘acupuncture’, not simply to protect their own livelihoods, but to protect the interests and wellbeing of the public – a thought-provoking addition to the debate.

Perhaps next time I’m at a party and someone tells me they’ve had acupuncture from a non-acupuncturist, I should do more than just smile politely and nod: perhaps I’ll be a little more forthright in explaining the different kinds of acupuncture that are available; or maybe I should just hand them my business card and say “give me a call if you ever want to try the real thing”!

 Posted by at 14:52
May 072013
 

I just happened across this great account, dating from 2000, about how Traditional Chinese Medicine is integrated into the Cuban Healthcare system. I believe the situation has changed somewhat in the last 13 years – generic pharmaceuticals are more easily available now, for example – but Chinese Medicine continues to play a major role in the healthcare system there.

The blog it’s posted on has lots more interesting material on it, too – it looks like Didi Pershouse is doing some great work over in Vermont with community acupuncture, holistic health education and spreading the word about the need to start developing post-industrial approaches to health care. All long-term ambitions here at White Oak! However: “wisely and slow – they stumble that run fast,” as the Good Friar said…

 Posted by at 12:12