Season of Summer: Tending our Fire

We experience Fire, one of the elemental powers, most fully in the season of summer, the time when young energy that arose in the spring expands to its maximum potential. We, who are part of Nature just as surely as all that surrounds us, can enhance our own health by understanding the special functions of the hottest of all the seasons. Through this awareness we can help balance our own Fire energy.

When Nature’s energy flourishes and blossoms in the summer, it is time to enjoy the fruit from the seeds we have planted and the visions and plans we have made. If a tree doesn’t flower and bear fruit, there can be no harvest; for us, similarly, if we do not allow ourselves to flower during this season, we will deprive ourselves of a late summer harvest to carry us through the year. Autumn, the season of letting go, will be all the more difficult for us if we haven’t experienced the fruition of our hopes and plans.

Summer's special gift - the energy of Fire - allows us to give and receive warmth. By giving and sharing, we build our own Fire, open our own flower, and bring more of the summer sun to the world.

When Fire is deficient
According to Chinese traditional medicine, the Fire element manifests in our body through the heart, small intestine, pericardium, and the function known as the triple heater,which regulates internal body temperature. Imagine a few of the myriad symptoms that can arise if our inner Fire is deficient: chills and numbness of the extremities, impaired circulation of the blood and bodily fluids, and menstrual, urinary, and sexual dysfunction. The lungs can lose their ability to expand and contract fully and easily, resulting in poor oxygenation of the blood, coughing, and nasal congestion. We may experience sluggish digestion, abdominal pain, and watery diarrhea because the digestive organs lack the heat needed to process and assimilate nourishment.

When Fire is excessive
At the other extreme, excessive heat can result in painful inflammation of the joints, hypersexuality, chronic infections, dryness of the lung, inflamed throat and sinus, burning diarrhea and urination. Excess heat can also dry out the stool and cause constipation. Affecting the heart, an excess of Fire can cause anxiety and sleep disturbance.

Fire affects the amount of fluid in the body: Too much heat dries up our internal reservoirs and waterways, and at the other extreme too little heat can result in an excess of fluid. Menstruation, sexual secretions, lubrication at joints, digestion, and metabolism, to name a few, reflect and depend upon the balance of our Fire element.

Fire at the spirit level
On a deeper level, the Fire element expresses itself as joy and manifests within us as love, laughter, and enthusiasm. During summer, the season of maximum expansion, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest. Drawing on the expansive warmth of Fire we can reach out and relate to the world like a flower opening.

The ancient Chinese recognized the connection among the energetic powers they called Five Elements, and they understood which specific power manifests most strongly in each phase of the cycle of seasons. The special capacity of spring, for example, is the power of birth, as seen in the emergence of new life - the beginning of the growth cycle. Summer holds the power of maturity: In summer, the buds of spring mature into full flowers and now are able to share their pollen to make more flowers. With us, it is the same: Only in the fullness of maturity do we have the inner abundance and self-sufficiency to truly share with others. 

Before maturity we are dependent on others. In the springtime of our lives, we depend on our parents and peers for our survival and a sense of identity. Then as our powers blossom, we move to the next phase of the cycle. As Oscar Ichazo points out in his profound book, Between Metaphysics and Protoanalysis, "Maturity, of course, arrives in our lives when we become self-sufficient, when our identity becomes determined exclusively by ourselves." Within such fullness of maturity we can share love unconditionally. It follows that the well-being of our relationships is very much a function of the health of our Fire: When Fire is balanced within us, we are able to give as well as receive warmth and delight in the company of others. 

When our Fire is low and we experience no inner "blooming," we feel the lack of something to share - joy or compassion, for example. Though we might crave these qualities, our relationships may be fraught with anxiety and fear of rejection. We may be sexually frigid and inhibited, shy, or emotionally cold and easily hurt, or even overly dependent on our partner. Without the knowledge of who we are in the strength of our flowering, we can neither enter into relationships fully nor express our true selves. Instead, we plan and calculate our moves defensively, then present an image of ourselves that isn't truthful, which only perpetuates the fear of eventually being "found out."

At the other extreme, a Fire imbalance can manifest as being stuck in overexpansion like a never-ending summer: too hot, too much, the perpetual clown, always laughing, always joking, always talking, always "on," never allowing a decrease.

How is your Fire?
Just as a healthy plant naturally produces flowers, a healthy person produces a healthy Fire. When our Fire is healthy, it responds appropriately to meet the tasks at hand. Like a thermostat, it knows when and with whom it can be warm and open, and when and with whom it needs to be more protective.

How is your Fire? Is there joy and laughter in your life? Are friendships important to you? Did you grow up in a warm family? Was it cold? Hot and cold? Hardhearted? Brokenhearted? How are love and sex related for you?

Know that in summer the energy of Fire supports you in enriching your enjoyment of life, your relationships, getting closer, opening outward, being receptive to others. Your flowering may not be as bright or as big as you want, but remember that every flower is different and unique, necessary and perfect for where it is. There will be another summer; in the meanwhile we will have many chances to open, to extend compassion, to forgive. While we all need love, the sick need it most - not only the physically ill, but those who are suffering in mind and spirit.

We've looked at the sadness and emptiness of a Fire imbalance, but any of the Five Elements in distress will produce its own brand of suffering. All of us can respond with love: By giving and sharing we build our own Fire, open our own flower, and bring more of the summer sun to the world.

How Acupuncture helps balance our Fire

Classical acupuncture utilizes hundreds of points along the energy pathways of the body to create harmony and balance and generate what is lacking in body, mind, and spirit. Virtually every point has its own unique and profound power, appropriate to a patient at the proper time. I illustrate the following points in the context of the Fire element to which they belong. The point names suggest the special treatment potential in each:

Heart 1, "Utmost Source"
Our flowering as individuals is possible only because we are part of Nature: we are sustained continually by the same immeasurable energy that supports all of creation. If unaware of this essential truth, we can feel isolated and spiritually cut off, uninspired, fearful, empty, and disconnected from life. When the acupuncture point "Utmost Source" is used at the right time, it can reestablish our connection to the Divine and can awaken us to the security provided by the current of love that permeates existence.

Small Intestine 16, "Heavenly Window"
The small intestine in Chinese medicine is termed the sorter of the pure from the impure. Physically, this organ separates nutrients from the waste in the food we eat. Similarly, the enormous amount of mental and emotional input we absorb daily undergoes an "ordeal by fire" that separates what is useful from what is not. Sometimes mental pollution overwhelms us faster than we can process it, and we begin to view the world as negative and hopeless, a despair that then may affect the body. When the "Heavenly Window" is opened, light can enter and dispel that toxicity. We can begin to find within ourselves the clear space to expand into the joy present in every season - but especially so in the summer.

Ways to tend your inner Fire

  • Have fun on a regular basis, even if you have to work at it at first. Make it a priority - schedule your fun, if that's what it takes. Don't compromise. Consider fun as important to your well-being as work or anything else you do.
  • Give of yourself to others. Take the time to listen. Take the risk of dipping into your own heart and finding what you have to give to others unconditionally - then just do it.
  • Live your passion, whether it be the church choir, rollerblading, preserving the environment, or writing poetry. If you don't know what your special passion is, be willing to admit that you don't. Meanwhile, stay amused and don't stop looking. When you find that great interest, dive into it wholeheartedly and enjoy!
  • Get physical. Get into your body and out of your head. Love, exercise, dance, run, play. Get your circulation going.

Copyright 1997 by Neil Gumenick


The Season of Winter - The Water Element

The power of winter is the power of emphasis: it emphasizes the essence of life. Without the external ornamentation of leaves, flowers, and fruits of the growing season, the plant is just bare essence: a seed, with its potential deep inside, or a tree stripped to its core of trunk, branches, and roots. For us, winter is a time of self-recollection, when we can go inside to that place where we are unadorned essence. Water, the element that corresponds to winter, points us to that dark, quiet pool within ourselves where our essential self-identity resides. We can use the energy of this season to more deeply discover the essence of our self.

Winter is for us, as it is for all of nature, a time for internal work: meditation, containment, concentration, and the storing of our energy. We use this season for rest and the filling and maintenance of our reserves, gathering strength for the year ahead. We must be less active in this season, conserving our sexual energy, going to bed early, and sleeping late. Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest with strength if our energy is dispersed or drained. Have you ever lost interest in a project because you told everyone about it too soon? Ever refused to discuss a project prematurely because you might “jinx” it? This may really have been an intuitive awareness that to “sprout the seed” prematurely would rob it of its momentum—its opportunity to gather the strength to develop and grow. It is no surprise that in many mystical traditions, certain rituals and ceremonies are kept secret in order to contain and concentrate the power of the work.

Winter is a time of stillness and quietude, nature’s energy having turned in during this most inward-looking of all the seasons. We call it the most yin of the seasons: trees in winter look skeletal, the sap has sunk, outward signs of life have disappeared, and the landscape is covered with snow. There is work going on, but inside. The energy of winter is latent and potent: in this state of resting deep within, energy is collected and held in reserve; winter is cold and dark, qualities that preserve and store. It is the concentrated, internal force of winter that enables a seed to burst forth in spring growth.

Abundant reserves within give us courage and strength of will. Lacking these reserves, we manifest the emotion that the Chinese for over 5000 years have associated with the Water element: fear. Fear in appropriate amounts is, of course, essential; due care and caution in recognizing our limitations preserves life: we’d neither run in front of an oncoming bus nor challenge Mike Tyson to a fight! More commonly, the emotion of a distressed Water element is fear of not having enough of what it takes to meet the challenge that lies ahead: fear of being unable to complete what we’ve envisioned, fear of being inadequately prepared for what we might have to face. It’s as if we don’t have enough stored away to survive the winter.

The vocal sound associated with water is groaning, the sound we make when we are simply exhausted, with our energy “on the bottom,” with no hint of “rising up” or yang inflection. Diagnostically, in Chinese medicine, the emotional expression and the sound of the voice are two key indicators of the cause of disease.

The kidney and urinary bladder are the organs that belong to the Water element within us. Appropriately, there are acupuncture points along their meridians (pathways of energy) that can be used to fill the reserves and awaken that place in us where our real strength, courage, and wisdom lie. One such point is Kidney 25, located on the chest in the second rib space, between the mid-line of the body and the nipple. It is called Spirit Storehouse, and, when used at the right time in treatment, can literally turn the course of disease. Imagine the thousands of people who have exhausted nearly all their energy facing the demands of life and have been left empty and disillusioned. Imagine those who’ve been wracked by illness and pain, and so discouraged by all manner of doctors that they feel they just don’t have the will to face another day. To fill the spirit storehouse in such people is to open to them a place they have long forgotten: a place of inner fulfillment, peace, strength, and wisdom, a place from which the process of healing can begin.

Allowing ourselves to simply be still and quiet, containing our energy within ourselves, is to stand in the energy of the Water element. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Within nature are already all the answers, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and be empty enough to be filled. T'ai chi master Patrick Watson called this "listening ability" - being so still and empty that we can feel and know directly where balance and imbalance exist and how to respond appropriately. This is the wisdom of water: the effortless response to its environment by taking the exact shape of whatever contains it, filling every hollow, and yielding to every protrusion.

As the days become warmer and brighter with the approach of spring, nature opens her eyes from the slumber of winter and looks to the new growth cycle that lies ahead.

If we have followed nature’s way and taken a winter rest, we emerge into spring “rarin’ to go” with restored energy, clear vision, and a sense of purpose.

Suggestions for living in harmony with the winter season

  • Get more rest. 
    This is nature’s season for rest, repair, and regeneration—a phase important for our next cycle of growth. The Nei Ching, oldest-known document of Chinese medicine, advises: “[In Winter], people should retire early at night and rise late in the morning, and they should wait for the rising of the sun.”
  • Schedule more time for your inner life
    Use the energy of the season to discover more about yourself through reflection, reading literature that “restores the spirit,” being more aware of your senses, paying attention to your dreams. The winter season is an especially good time to begin the practice of meditation.
  • Choose more “warming” foods. 
    As the weather cools and the body needs to generate more warmth, include more cooked foods and complex carbohydrates in your meals. Try dishes made with whole grains, squashes, beans, peas, and root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and garlic.
  • “Gather around the hearth” with people who mean the most to you. 
    Winter evenings are an especially good time to rejuvenate and deepen relationships with those closest to you. Keep gatherings simple and relaxed.

Copyright 1997 by Neil Gumenick

The Season of Metal Energy - Lung and Large Intestine

The Work of Autumn: Cleaning Out Old Negativity

In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps, than in any other season. Having provided the harvest, Nature now makes everything bare. In this season Nature lets go of its abundant creation of the past year in a grand final display. Autumn marks the end of the growing season - a turning inward, a falling away of outer-directed energy. Leaves turn color and drop. The old leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the coming of new leaves, a new harvest.

Nature instructs us about our own cycles of creating and letting go: Trees in autumn don't stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year. Yet how many of us defy the cycle and hold onto what we've produced or collected - those decayed leaves, that old negativity? How can we hope for a harvest next year unless we let go of the old and start afresh?

The energy of this season, more than any other, supports our letting go of the waste, the old and stale in our lives, leaving us receptive to the pure and new, granting us a vision of who we are in our essence. Autumn returns us to our essence, moves us to eliminate what we no longer need, reveals again what is most precious in our lives.

In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element. We all experience loss, separation, and “letting go,” and we appropriately feel grief at those times. Grief cleanses us of what is no longer needed in our lives. When the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief likewise becomes imbalanced and inappropriate. It may be excessive and ongoing. Or, in the other extreme, it may be absent, as in those who cannot express their grief.

The Colon and Letting Go

The Colon, one of the two organs in the Metal element, has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our bodies. But we are more than just physical bodies. Think of the daily onslaught of “garbage” directed at our minds and our spirit. We need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish, lest our minds become toxic and constipated, unable to experience the pure and the beautiful that also surround us. The Colon function on the mental and spirit level enables us to let go of all this waste.

The Lungs and Inspiration

There is more to this season than “letting go” - it is also a time to take in the pure. The air in autumn takes on a new crispness. Think of waking up on a brisk fall day and filling your lungs with that clean, cool autumn air. The Lung, the other organ contained within the Metal element, enables us to take in the pure, the new. It grants us the inspiration of a breath of fresh air. In classical Chinese medicine, the Lung is described as “the receiver of the pure Chi from the Heavens.”

The Lung and Colon work together as a team, one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. If these organs failed to do their jobs, imagine what might result - certainly we might experience physical ailments of the Lung and Colon such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain. But what happens to our mind and spirit if waste keeps building up and we are unable to take in purity? How are we apt to feel? Instead of tranquillity and inspiration, spontaneity and freshness, we feel depression, stubbornness (inability to “let go”), isolation, negativity. We see the dark side in everything, all the things that could go wrong. Of course, we would not choose to act and feel that way any more than we would choose to have constipation - but in this condition of imbalance, that is how we must be.

Further, if we view our body as a community of different organs and functions, it is easy to see how any organ could break down if its waste was not carried away and allowed to fester. In this view, we can see how foolish it is to simply treat a symptom. We must find the cause. If the cause is an imbalance in Metal - if the Lung is unable to take in the pure, or the Colon unable to eliminate waste - we must first restore that function. Then the resulting symptoms will improve, regardless of how they manifest.

Just as metals give value to the earth (gold and silver, minerals and trace elements), the Metal element within us gives our sense of self-worth. Each of us is a miracle of creation, more valuable and special than anything we could ever pursue; each of us has a unique and priceless contribution to make. Yet when our Metal energy is imbalanced, we cannot sense our value; so we compensate by seeking what we think will add to our worth: status, money, power, conquest - none of them bad or wrong of themselves, although our pursuit of them can be a symptom. Once we have acquired these things, however, we remain strangely unfulfilled. Persons with a Metal imbalance seek respect, quality, and recognition from the outside because they feel the lack of worth within. These are people who have difficulty “letting go” because they identify their own worth with “things” - achievements, attachments, collections, possessions, attitudes stored in the cluttered attic of the mind.

Restoring our Metal

In the season of autumn, the Metal element is at its peak and particularly amenable to treatment. Fortunately, using the system of Chinese medicine, we can resurrect and rebuild the Metal within us - in its physical expression as well as in mind and spirit. Acupuncturists help restore our Metal using needles and their knowledge of energy. We also can help ourselves by learning about the nature of the season and then acting in harmony with its spirit.

As Nature moves into a period of rest, we too must be cautious not to overexert. The time for “putting it all out there” - the summer - has passed. Now is the time to contain ourselves, acting and speaking only when necessary, behaving with economy, exerting our will quietly and calmly. Those of us in the “autumn of our lives” must protect ourselves from the extremes of hot and cold within this season.

Acupuncturists often use the following four points located on the Lung and Colon meridians (energy pathways) when treating the energy of the Metal element. Each of these points has a spirit and purpose, as do all of the more than 300 acupuncture points on the body. When used at the right time, a point's effect is profound.

Lung 1: Middle Palace.
This point can take patients to the very core of quality within themselves. Its name evokes the image of the emperor's palace. The Chinese considered their emperor to be divinely inspired, an enlightened representative of Heaven on earth. He dwelled in a palace of unsurpassed beauty, richness, and quality. The Middle Palace is the innermost core of that breathtaking richness. We all have such a place within ourselves. At the right moment in the treatment process, this point can take patients to that deep place. In some circumstances, the experience can literally transform a life.

Lung 9: Very Great Abyss.
In the course of our lives, we may become polluted-bodily, mentally, and spiritually. Many of us, for example, have been told from childhood that we were "bad," that we were failures, disappointments, losers, not good enough. Such negativity may come in faster than we can eliminate it, and everything new we take in becomes tainted by the poison within us. We may feel we're in a rut, with garbage piled everywhere. We can't find a way out, nor barely see for the darkness that surrounds us. For an acupuncturist to take us into the "Middle Palace" at this stage would be foolish, overwhelming. First, we must be taken out of this toxic pit-this very great abyss.

Colon 18: Support and Rush Out.
For a patient who has been unable to "let go" for a long time, it feels almost normal to collect more and more garbage. To let go is a frightening prospect-what will be left? But when the trees let go of the past year's leaves, nature has something new in store. The end of one cycle gives rise to the next. As we let go of what we thought was ourself-physical waste, old habits, beliefs, assumptions, and identifications-we are supported by a new vision of who we are without all that old "stuff." Sometimes we can't let go little by little. We may be too stuck. We may need to let it rush out, supported by a new and clearer vision of our true selves, the inner treasure. At the right time, then, this acupuncture point, "Support and Rush Out," and no other, may be the one to turn the course of disease.

Colon 20: Welcome Fragrance.
The Colon meridian ends just to the side of the nose with this point. Having let go of the old and stale, our first breath of pure new inspiration will be a welcome fragrance. When our Lungs and Colon function as nature ordained they should in our body/mind/spirit, then simply living our lives through the highs and lows, through sunshine and dark clouds-every moment, every new experience-can in its own way be a treasure, a Welcome Fragrance.

Welcome Autumn!

Suggestions for living in harmony with the autumn season:

Go through your closet, desk, garage, medicine cabinet - any cluttered storage area-and discard what you no longer need. Then donate, sell, or otherwise circulate what might be of value to others.

Do a mental inventory: Examine attitudes (prejudices, envies, hatreds, jealousies, resentments) stored within your psyche. When possible, contact those with whom you harbor old "stuff." Attempt to resolve the hurtful old issues, and then let them go.

For issues you cannot resolve directly with others, or for old issues with yourself, write them on paper, being as specific as possible. Then burn the paper, symbolically releasing the content.

Take time each day to breathe slowly and deeply. As you inhale the clean autumn air, feel yourself energized and purified. Feel the old negativity, impurity, and pain leave your body and psyche. Then contemplate briefly who you are without these identifications.

Copyright 1997 by Neil Gumenick


Essential Oils - Aroma Acupoint Therapy

Aroma Acupoint Therapy, or AAT (as we like to call it) is a gentle, completely safe and yet profoundly effective treatment modality that utilizes the energetic potential locked within pure essential oils. Treatment involves placing particular oils on specific acupoints or reflex zones on the body in order to trigger energetic changes in the individual that will bring her back to a state of balance. Aroma Acupoint Therapy works on the basis of mutual resonance through the systematic and intentional combination of essential oils and acupoints, resulting in a more significant clinical effect than using either of these treatment methods alone.

How Aroma Acupoint Therapy Works

How does Aroma Acupoint Therapy work? The basic premise is that essential oils, being energetically just as active as acupuncture points, have the ability to stimulate the points in a similar way as needles. However, the difference between them lies in the fact that unlike acupuncture needles, essential oils are also able to provide a content of information to the point that will suggest a particular type of therapeutic action. The basic aim is always to select an oil that possesses the same function as an acupoint; an oil that will activate a particular point function. So Geranium oil (Pelargonim x asperum), for instance, is a female hormonal regulator in women with reproductive weakness that is a perfect match for points such as SP-6 and CV-4, as these poins have the same function. However, Geranium is also a mucostatic agent that has the effect of helping dry up vaginal discharges, and as such is appropriate for application onto points such as CV-6 and SP-10 in women with a damp or congestive condition in the pelvis.

Conversely, because each acupoint has more than one action, there a several oils that could potentially be used with it, as the situation would demand it. An important acupoint such as CV-17 at the center of the chest can be oiled with a nervous sedative oil such as Marjoram (Origanum maiorana) or Helichrysum (Helichrysum angustifolium), as this point has a good calming effect on the whole system. It is often used in states of acute anxiety and agitation, especially when there is an emotional component present. Equally however, CV-17 can be oiled with respiratory restoratives and stimulants such as Siberian fir (Abies sibirica) and Black spruce (Picea mariana) to enhance the point’s excellent tonifying and strengthening effect on the lungs and bronchi. This type of combination is highly beneficial, for instance, in individuals with constitutional lung weakness, in chronic respiratory infections or for states of grief; these are all conditions where lung energy is weakened and will benefit from this powerful oil-point synergy. In all these cases, the essential oil is able to effectively and safely engage and amplify a particular acupoint function.

The mechanism of action at work here is unproven, as Aroma Acupoint Therapy is a very new treatment modality. Still, there are several theories that would help explain the bodymind’s often immediate response to oil-point treatment as well as this therapy’s longterm effectiveness. One is that the oils are able to activate peptides connected with the points that through the meridian energy pathways transmit the suggested action to specific target tissues, organs, and so on. The simplest explanation, however, is the universal principle of reciprocal resonance. Oils and points possessing a similar quality and function will energetically resonate with each other and create a particular sonic vibration. This would be the same as the sound created when a peptide docks into a receptor site. This is essentially how a therapeutic effect is achieved.

The Aroma Energetics of Esssential Oils

The basic framework for the use of essential oils in Aroma Acupoint Therapy is a clinical, empirical model of the energetic properties of essential oils based on their aromatic or fragrance qualities. The oils are broadly divided into high, middle and base tones, corresponding to their rising, circulating and sinking energetic movements, respectively. Within these lie the specific categories of their aroma qualities, such as Pungent-Fresh, Pungent-Spicy, Green-Sweet, Green-Lemony, and so on. So Rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis), for instance, is a Fresh-Pungent oil with secondary Sweet and Green qualities. Every aroma category has specific energetic and functional properties that all oils belonging to it have in common. So Fresh-Pungent oils are generally stimulating, energizing, uplifting, awakening and warming. They are used in weak, cold and damp conditions with their typical symptoms of fatigue, cold extremities, etc. (see also below). Roman camomile (Anthemis nobilis), for another example, belongs to the Green-Sweet oil aroma category and is usually chosen for its cooling, relaxing, pain-relieving and centering effects that are typical of this category. Within an oil’s group function then lies its own separate functions, which span specific physiological actions, psychological functions through to spiritual functions. Any of these may be engaged during treatment. 

The Treatment Sequences

Aroma Acupoint treatment consists of just one or two drops of an essential oil being lightly applied to the acupoint with a finger or cotton swab and held in place for a short amount of time. The practitioner will select one or more treatment sequences or patterns that typically involve activating between three and eight points. In the context of bodywork, this may be followed and/or introduced by massage, deep tissue work, etc. In the context of acupuncture, this may be optionally followed by needling the points. Although Aroma Acupoint Therapy lends itself beautifully to being used alongside these other types of treatment, it does not rely on these for its effectiveness and successfully stands alone as a method of treatment. The practitioner will choose to perform one or more treatment sequence per session. These are named after the most prominent symptom in the pattern, e.g. Racing Mind, Neck and Shoulder Tension, PMS with Heat, Emotional Withdrawal, and so on. They are organized according to an underlying syndrome of energetic or functional imbalance. The treatment sequences are specific to modern-day patients, their health concerns and their frank disorders. They are particular to what we actually see in the Western clinic day in and day out. Once the practitioner gains greater experience and comfort levels with the treament patterns, she will know when to modify the pattern to give a more individualized, client-tailored treatment. On the basis of increased knowledge of the oils on one hand and the acupoints on the other, she may select other point-oil combinations appropriate to the treatment. 

Evaluating the symptoms the client presents is performed using the Six Condition diagnostic assessment, a user-friendly diagnostic system that Peter again developed over many years of practice and research into the diagnostics of traditional Chinese, Greek and Ayurvedic medicine – the three extant world systems of energetic medicine. The symptoms may be mental, emotional or purely physical and form syndromes of energetic imbalance. The main axis of imbalance seen in our society is the axis of the Tense-Weak conditions, which is based on hyper- and hypo- functioning of the nervous system, respectively. Commonly seen as well, however, are symptoms of imbalance between the Hot-Cold axis, based on hyper- and hypo- functioning of the body’s warmth-circulatory system; and the Dry-Damp axis, based on tissue hydration and fluid balance. 

The symptom evaluation itself includes not only what the client reports but also an assessment of her facial complexion, skin quality, muscle tone, breathing, voice, pulse quality, physical movement, likes and dislikes as regards food, drink, climate, and so on. These all together tell the practitioner the nature of the imbalance in terms of the Six Conditions and will point to possible treatment patterns. Once treatment is underway, the practitioner will monitor its effectiveness by looking for positive signs of change in the client’s complexion, their brightness of the eyes, sound of the voice and improvement of the pulse quality, as well as improvement of actual symptoms. It is not unusual to find improvement in all of these diagnostic parameters by the end of a successful treatment and, in some cases, very soon after all the oils have been placed. The pulse in particular can respond very quickly to the rebalancing effect of oils applied to a judicious selection of points. This is because the pulse registers the functional changes taking place in the vascular autonomic system.

Aroma Acupoint TherapyTM © Peter Holmes & Tiffany Pollard 2011


Benefits of Five Element Acupuncture

Acupuncture is often effective with a wide range of complaints, including chronic fatigue, depression, back pain, joint pain, infertility, asthma, addictions, and stress. Acupuncture is also helpful for many chronic illnesses and health concerns that have no clear origin or cause. Patients committed to a healthy lifestyle who receive ongoing acupuncture treatment for maintenance and health promotion often experience:

  • Being sick less often and recovering more quickly  
  • Improvement of vitality and stamina  
  • Being able to take care of their own health  
  • Relationships with others deepening and becoming more harmonious  
  • Reductions in long term health care costs  

A survey of people who receive acupuncture, conducted by Claire Cassidy, Ph.D., indicates that they see their physicians less frequently and use fewer medications. In addition, over two thirds of those surveyed reported having avoided recommended surgery.

Classical Five Element Acupuncture

Classical Five Element Acupuncture

The Earth Element - Spleen and Stomach

"The Spleen: The Official of Transportation and Distribution"

Professor Neil R. Gumenick, M.Ac. (UK), C.T. (Adv.), L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.

The Spleen, with its paired Official, the Stomach, represents the Earth Element within us. Earth, in the cycle of the five seasons, is associated with the Late Summer – harvest time. While each season has its unique and irreplaceable purpose, the promise of a harvest is the culmination of all. What had been once a seed, has come to fruition. 

The Earth generously provides the nourishment we need to live and thrive. The Officials of Earth within us receive the drink and food we consume, make it into a proper digestive mixture, and transport its essence to fuel every organ, function, and system. 

Professor J.R. Worsley likened the Stomach Official to a bakery. It receives the various ingredients and, if blended and baked properly, will make a delicious cake. The Spleen is likened to a fleet of trucks, working 24/7, that transport the cakes to the consumers. Within us, the Spleen Official transports and distributes the proper amount of nourishment to every cell and every level – physical and non-physical. We can well imagine what would happen if the truck driver failed to show up for work or got lost making deliveries. Regardless of the quality and quantity of the food itself, if the transporter failed to deliver, some people would still starve, while others might be stuffed with far more than they need. 

The Physical Level

The Spleen is an organ in the upper left part of the abdomen, to the left of the Stomach. It is fist-shaped and about 4 inches long. It acts as a blood filter and is the largest lymphatic organ of the body. Old red blood cells are recycled in the Spleen. Platelets and white blood cells are stored there. The white cells – lymphocytes –defend against invading bacteria and viruses by producing antibodies to kill foreign microorganisms and stop infection. 

The Spleen is not vital to survival and it is possible to live without the physical organ, although its energetic meridian and functions remain, even if the organ is removed. Without the Spleen, other organs in the body can adapt and increase their ability to fight infection and remove old red blood cells. 

The Spleen is called the Official of Transportation and Distribution. Everything that moves in the body does so by the grace of this Official. Any organ, function, or system will suffer if it is deprived of nourishment. 

A healthy Spleen keeps the blood properly circulating in the vessels. It rules the muscles by transporting blood and energy to the flesh and limbs. It lifts the Ch'i, keeping our organs in place, preventing prolapse, holding and supporting everything in its proper position. It grants us a healthy sense of taste, allowing us to savor all five tastes. 

If the Spleen is imbalanced, there may be cold hands and feet, as energy is not sufficiently distributed to the extremities. As the muscles are not receiving the essence of food, there may be weakness and fatigue. Problems with movement of fluids and other substances can result in thickening, coagulation, and stagnation, as the flow becomes impaired. Mucous accumulates; there may be swelling, fibroid tumors, stones, constipation, a feeling of heaviness, even paralysis. Some parts of the body may be edematous while other parts may be withered and emaciated. As the movement of blood is impaired, there may be varicose veins, hemorrhoids, masses, and menstrual problems such as amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, and menorrhagia. 

In Chinese medicine, the function of the Spleen also includes the Pancreas and is often named the Spleen/Pancreas Official. The Pancreas is a pear-shaped gland, located behind the Stomach in the upper left abdomen. A healthy Pancreas produces the chemicals, in just the right amounts to digest the foods we eat. It has two basic functions: one exocrine and the other endocrine. 

The exocrine tissue produces pancreatic enzymes, released when food enters the stomach and into the duodenum, to aid digestion of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The remaining tissue consists of endocrine cells called Islets of Langerhans. These cells produce the hormones insulin and glucagon that are transported throughout the bloodstream to maintain the right balance of blood sugar. 

The Mental Level 

Just as we need proper fluidity, transport, and delivery at the physical level, the mind also needs to be fluid and agile - able to receive experience, hold and contain it in the storehouse of memory, retrieve it as needed, and easily transmit thoughts outwardly. The proper dispatching of nourishment to every corner of the mind gives a sense of mental peace and safety, with the security of having access to our harvest of experience. 

With a Spleen/Pancreas imbalance, the mind can become unable to focus, concentrate, remember, or study, as thoughts cannot be held in their proper place. The mind may simply race uncontrollably from one random thought to another. Contrarily, it can become stuck and immobile, rigid and stubborn. Obsessional thinking, incessant worry, frustration, anxiety, and depression are expressions of stagnancy just as surely as phlegm in the physical body. The colloquial expression "venting the spleen" means giving expression (movement) to pent up anger. There are few causes of anxiety and frustration greater than being unable to remember, feeling lost and confused. It is as if the storehouse of memory is unavailable. Like the food and drink we consume, experience is virtually useless if we cannot digest it, glean its wisdom, and put it to use. 

The Spirit Level 

When we speak of treating the spirit, we must remember that the spirit itself – pure consciousness - is indivisible and cannot be compromised or corrupted. Composed of nothing but itself, it has no parts to treat - to balance or imbalance. However, our perception of spirit can indeed be compromised. Like dark clouds obscuring a clear blue sky beyond, our perception of the blue sky is compromised. Thus, we speak of treating the spirit level, not the spirit itself. In spiritual health, we can feel at home anywhere, as we can digest all experience. With gratitude, we can perceive the abundance that is ever-present. These are spiritual gifts of the Earth Element. Both pleasant and unpleasant experiences contribute to our storehouse of wisdom. 

The Earth Element is connected to the archetypical figure of the mother, our first source of nourishment. The love of the mother instills in us the ability to care for or "mother" ourselves, and ultimately care for others. If we perceived, as children, that our mother (or mother figure) was unloving, uncaring, unable or unwilling to feed and nurture us, we may go through life seeking to fill the void, searching for the absent mother. Our internal refrain becomes one of "Feed me; nourish me; understand me." This is essentially a cry for sympathy, the emotion associated with the Earth Element, and is a key diagnostic indicator of a primary imbalance in the Earth. The Earth imbalanced person may require sympathy from others excessively, or may tend to smother others with the emotion – over-mothering, endeavoring to "fix" everyone else, ignoring his/her own needs, and becoming an exhausted martyr. In some cases, the person may be so distrustful of the motives of others that he or she may reject sympathy entirely. 

As relates to the Spleen specifically, the patient may be stuck in self pity, may lack the ability and motivation to move toward goals, may feel ungrounded, uncentered, uncomfortable in his own skin, disjointed, isolated, unsatisfied, jealous that others are being cared about, but not him. 

While all human beings want to be understood and sympathized with, or proffer sympathy, in a given set of circumstances, Earth imbalanced patients want it, or want to give it, beyond what is appropriate. The voice takes on a sound we call "singing". It is natural and appropriate to make this sound when offering comfort and caring, like soothing a little child to sleep, or soothing its tears when in distress. It is a sound we welcome when we are sick or hurting and need to know that someone cares. The Earth imbalanced patient will tend to make this sound virtually all the time – regardless of whether the circumstances are appropriate for sympathy or not. 

These two diagnostic indicators: emotion and sound, combined with a yellow skin color (most easily observed lateral to the eyes), and a fragrant odor will confirm Earth as the primary elemental imbalance (AKA Causative Factor). In Classical Five-Element Acupuncture, the thrust of our treatment is to support, balance, and harmonize the Causative Factor Element, which is the origin of imbalance that ultimately spreads throughout the system. 

The Points 

Each of the 21 points on the Spleen meridian serves to help this Official achieve health and harmony in performing its vital functions. Each has a name, translated from the Chinese characters, which suggests the unique gifts it can bring to the patient in need. The following are examples. 

Spleen 8 - Earth Motivator 

This point is used to break up hard, inert, and unresponsive Earth. The Earth is like concrete – dried, stuck, tired, and weak – lacking the motivation to move. Spleen 8 is akin to bulldozing the earth before planting – breaking it up into small pieces that can receive warmth, water, and into which seeds can penetrate, sprout and extend roots. When the transporter gets stuck – this point gets it started. The Earth imbalanced patient in need of this point may be physically inert, exhausted, lazy, and unmotivated, but may as well be mentally stuck, stubborn, obstinate, and immovable. Spiritually, he/she may lack a sense of contentment and being at home, or may feel imprisoned, without motivation or possibility of forward movement. 

Spleen 21 – Great Enveloping 

This point is a grand leveler that promotes flow and ensures that every organ and function – down to the cellular level receives a fair and appropriate share of nourishment. It is known as the Master Junction (AKA Luo Connecting) Point, as it can energetically balance paired Officials within any of the elements so that they share the available energy equally. At the mental and spiritual levels, Earth imbalanced patients needing this point may have lost touch with the great enveloping embrace of Mother Nature that is ever-present. It opens the realization that the bounty of heaven is spread out upon the Earth. It is just that the imbalanced patient does not perceive it. This point opens perception, allowing a person to savor the harvest within and without. 

The Questions 

The following questions are useful for self-observation and can be appropriately modified to inquire as to the state of a patient's Spleen/Pancreas Official. While any symptom can come from a primary imbalance in any element, as imbalance spreads from one Element to the next, if you suspect a problem in a patient's Earth element and specifically with the Spleen/Pancreas Official, here are some questions to consider in assessing its state: 

  1. When have you been unable to commit something to memory?
  2. When have you gone blank during a test, a presentation, or performance?
  3. When have you felt stuffed after eating?
  4. When have you been obsessed with worry?
  5. When have you felt too weak to do anything?
  6. When have you felt that no one cared about you?
  7. How did your mother (or mother figure) take care of you?
  8. When have you eaten sweets as a self-medication for stress?
  9. What experiences could you simply not digest?
  10. When have you felt gratitude for what you learned from an unpleasant experience?

Nourishing Life: The Concept of Yang Sheng

Yang Sheng may be the most important concept in Chinese Medicine and Chinese health culture. The Chinese word Yang means to nurture, take care of, and nourish; Sheng means life, birth, and vitality. Together Yang Sheng means to nurture or nourish life fostering health and well being by nurturing body, mind and spirit in harmony with the natural rhythms, and with universal laws. Sometimes Yang Sheng is also translated as health preservation, life cultivation, or life nourishment.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) defines Yang-Sheng as Daoist practices, especially through breathing and directing the breath to prolong life and attain immortality. This definition reflects the fact that many books about and techniques of Yang Sheng have roots in Daoist philosophy or practice. However, Yang Sheng is not just practiced by Daoism, but by many different schools of health, such as Confucianism, Buddhism and martial-arts traditions. More importantly, some of the oldest classic works on Yang Sheng, such as Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic, appeared before Daoism was formed, representing the general wisdom of Chinese health. So Yang Sheng can not be simply labeled as Daoist practice.

Yang Sheng as a health discipline is taught in most Chinese Medicine schools in China. According to the definition in a recent textbook of Life-nurturing Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yang Sheng is the type of subjective and objective behaviors with which people take care of their life consciously through various means and methods, which is the reappearance or application of their deep understanding of the laws of entire life developments. It is also a mind-body health activity achieved through material and spiritual unification.

Life is about balance and harmony. Yang Sheng is a common accessible practice for ordinary people to cultivate health and harmony through daily activities. Rather than treating disease, the focus is on maintaining balance through an awareness of our connection to nature, to our own bodies, and to the spirit.

Health preservation (instead of disease treatment) is a central feature of Chinese Medicine practice, and is significantly different from western medicine, which focuses on disease, illness, and dysfunction.

Yang Sheng is a way of life for all people at all times. It is a powerful practice that can preserve and improve health when engaged in daily.

Kevin W Chen, MPH, PH.D.



As the days become warmer and brighter, nature rouses from her winter slumber and looks ahead to the new growth of spring. The Wood, which has been at rest, storing and concentrating its energy under a winter blanket, now bursts forth with new buds, new life piercing Earth's crust. The swelling Wood of spring initiates rebirth - a surge of rising energy, like the young lamb staggering up to nurse, like the dandelion whose growing edge can burst through concrete if it must. Wood is the energy of youth and growth: a new beginning, a vision of a whole new cycle. The Wood energy of spring is an expression of life at its strongest.

If we have followed nature's way and taken a winter rest, we too emerge into spring “raring to go,” with clear vision and a sense of purpose. This is the season to plant seeds for a future harvest, to look ahead and make new plans, formulate new ideas, make decisions, and determine our direction for the coming year - and to take action.

Spring's increasing warmth encourages us to stay outside more than we did in the winter. Warmth comes not only from physical heat, but also from the interaction of friendships and relationships. In this season, we want especially to take advantage of opportunities for growth through the observations and insights that come from others as well as from ourselves. It can be painful to see ourselves through different, and perhaps clearer eyes, particularly aspects of ourselves that we are unaware of. Similarly, it can be difficult to convey an unpalatable truth to others. While the energy of spring supports and challenges us to grow and change, we may feel discomfort from these processes. We can temper our pangs with the warmth of friendship, as well as with the recognition that we all experience growing pains in the process of realizing our potential.

After a winter rest, the power of springtime surges through nature - through us

Springtime is associated with the element Wood. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Wood element represents the liver and the gall bladder. The liver function is called the Official of Strategic Planning, the grand architect for our vision of the future; this official sees the directions we must take to live our lives in harmony with nature. Its companion, the Gall Bladder Official, gives the ability to make decisions and judge wisely. Making a decision is not a matter of choosing between equal alternatives. Through these officials we can see both new possibilities and the wisdom of the past, and thus see the clear and appropriate course to take. Without Wood's vision and plan, decision and direction, no movement is possible - there is only frustration.

The Wood element within us governs our sense of vision, the emotion of anger, and the sound of shouting. When vision is stifled, we feel anger: we've made our plan, decided to act, taken aim, and suddenly our plans are thwarted. We're told: “No, you can't!” Everything that said “Go” is now blocked. At times like this, we commonly feel anger and frustration and want to shout - but then we can level out. If our Wood is healthy, we can readjust and begin again.

What of people whose Wood is chronically imbalanced, who can't level out? Aside from the many problems that can arise in relationship to the liver and gall bladder, imagine the perpetual anger and frustration of those who feel blocked in all directions, to whom every interaction is a confrontation. Such people are unable to experience growth and rebirth - unable to experience springtime within; they sense growth and change happening all around them, yet are stuck inside themselves, their lives so chaotic they can't see a direction, a plan, or even how to begin. Or imagine how it is for the person who can't see the forest for the trees, who is so fastidious that nothing ever gets started because it's never quite right? It's not that one would choose to be this way; but for a person in a state of Wood imbalance, there seems only one choice - this is how it must be.

To help unblock stuck energy, acupuncturists choose among hundreds of acupuncture points, each with its own special quality, each uniquely appropriate for a patient at the right time in treatment. As patients, we can learn about a point's special energy and “spirit” and use that insight to help nature do its healing work. Here, for example, are descriptions of two points on the Wood meridians:

Gall Bladder 24, "Sun and Moon"
Located in the seventh rib space in line with the nipple, and called “Sun and Moon ” The Gall Bladder Official requires clear vision in order to decide on a course of action. All possibilities must be seen and considered. When we are out of balance, we identify with only one position and become attached to it; in so doing, we lose our wise judgment. We see things as either black or white, dark or light. This acupuncture point creates a balance that enables us to see both sides impartially - to see by both the “light of the sun” and the “light of the moon.” From clarity, we can take action with certainty and strength.

Liver 1, “Great Esteem”
Located near the lateral corner of the nail bed of the big toe. This is the first point on the Liver meridian - the beginning of spring growth: the energy is present, the plan formulated, the way clear. Any new undertaking is accompanied by uncertainties and risks, but they must not thwart us in reaching our goal. It is in our nature to grow, to begin anew and take our first steps. “Great Esteem” grants us the confidence to surge forth with the power of springtime - to push ahead, give birth, and grow.

Welcome, spring! Go for it!

Suggestions for living in harmony with the spring season

  • Begin your day early, with a brisk walk. 
  • Feel the sunshine pull you up and out, like the plants and animals. Watch buds rush into leaf, often doubling their size in a day. Look for birds' nests - you'll find them everywhere, even on top of air conditioners. Feel the life within you, like that outdoors, thrust up out of darkness into new possibilities. Make a garden. Eat greens.
  • Begin new things - at home, in your work, and in yourself. 
  • In this season when nature reinvents itself, we too can see people and situations with new eyes. Let new tissue grow over old hurts, and take fresh hope. 
  • Be creative. Make things, do things. Begin!
  • Consider how you wish to make ready for your summer harvest. 
  • Spring does not last forever. Use its bountiful energy wisely, so that the crops you sow - again, in yourself, in your work, and in your life - are those you wish to harvest. 
  • The energy of spring brings vision.

Copyright 1997 by Neil Gumenick