When East Meets West

I often find myself pondering on the little nuances of my practice. Those little subtleties that signal you to the next revelation or lead you onto another level of awareness.

My recent pondering takes me down both the reflexology and the acupuncture avenues and meets to bring another level or dimension to my understanding.

I have been using the Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) technique a lot lately, and really focussing a lot of attention on this sequence; looking at the particular reflexes and how the areas of the body represented by these points actually function. One of the key points of the RLD sequence is the reflex point for the Subclavian Vein (SV). This point is on the dorsal of both feet and is situated exactly at the same acupoint Liver 3.

The SV is an important point for the RLD sequence, as this is where the lymphatic system, once finished cleaning and transporting lymph through the body, will return it back into the cardiovascular system i.e. the blood. This point gets used A LOT during the RLD sequence; after every sweep and general movement, we ask the body to deposit the lymph back to the cardiovascular system via the techniques of reflexology. It is gently stimulated a minimum of 18 times on each foot, plus additional linking at the end.

From an acupuncture point of view, this point is known as Liver 3. The energy of the Liver is to govern “spreading and draining”. By this we mean that it is responsible for maintaining the free flow of Qi (energy). Liver Qi can be restricted emotionally by anger, and physically by damp-heat. “When Liver Qi stagnates, it gives rise to sensations of pressure, distention and pain”. So these are the same symptoms that we are addressing in the RLD sequence; pressure and distention from oedema, and subsequent pain that this causes. Oedema is a “damp” symptom; fluid starts to stagnate and that is what is known as “damp”. If it stagnates for long enough it can start to warm up which is known as “damp-heat”.

On each acupuncture meridian, there is a principal or “source” point which is known as the most powerful point of that particular channel. Liver 3 is the source point for the Liver channel and it is the main point we would chose to promote free-flowing Qi. In addition, this point (or points if we are thinking bilaterally) combined with Large Intestine 4 (Li4) on the hands, make up the “four gates” which are used for the relief of pain. What is interesting to me is that Li4 is the exact same point we would use for the SV in RLD on the hands!

We might ask what this all means? It just consolidates for me that what we do from either angle, whether its from a western medical viewpoint or whether it is from a Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint, it all slots together. The two approaches fit neatly together side by side. They both make sense.

What are you shouldering?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Large Intestine channel starts at the tip of the radial side (thumb side) of the second finger and runs up along the arm to the elbow crease then up to the anterior (front) shoulder,a cross to the neck and ending at the nose. It is a primary channel to be affected when it comes to shoulder and elbow problems.

I have recently treated many clients with acupoints on the shoulder, elbow and arm. One client in particular presented with debilitating hip and sciatic pain on the left. After assessing her feet for foot-reading and reflexology based markers it was plain to see that the right shoulder was not happy. This reflex point was screaming red and presenting with a lot of heat; it was particularly eye-catching. After discussing my findings we agreed to use acupuncture moving forward. Palpating particular points around the shoulder and into the arm indicated tenderness and a desire to be “worked” and released. After two sessions the client is enjoying significant pain reduction and improved sleep patterns.

Mentally and emotionally we can “shoulder” a lot of emotion, burden and responsibility. If we don’t address this then physical pain can manifest. What I find interesting is that the Large Intestine channel runs along here, and if we consider what it does as a physical functioning organ; to process and eliminate waste, then mentally and emotionally we have to work on “letting go” of the burdens and responsibilities that we unnecessarily place on our (metaphorical) shoulders.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Large Intestine is paired with the Lung. We breathe in new life force (Qi) with the Lungs and eliminate the old (waste) through the Large Intestine. In many clients I have seen with issues affecting the shoulder and/or elbow is that there is often an imbalance in the chest too (smokers, COPD, grief). If we continue to hold on to things that do not serve us, it will start backing up and impacting on how much new energy we can let in.

As a therapist I have experienced my own health issues (and continue to) as well as observed health issues in others. I can help my clients feel better but ultimately it is down to them to go away and do the work. We cannot treat the physical without looking at the mental/emotional aspect too. I share what I learn with them in clinic and through this blog in the hope that I live a life from which others can benefit by realising or recognising aspects in themselves.