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Cancer: the ‘Western’ Disease?

One in two people will develop cancer at one point in their lifetime.  That sounds pretty terrifying, doesn’t it?  Before I begin then, let’s get some perspective; not everyone who gets cancer dies of cancer.  Cancer treatments have come a long way in recent years, especially if they are identified early.    It is now possible to identify a cancer in its very early stages and remove it completely, therefore curing it.  Today you are likely to live nearly 6 times longer after a cancer diagnosis than you were 40 years ago.   You are 95% more likely to survive bowel cancer than you were only 15 years ago.

Is Cancer becoming more common?

The simple answer is yes, cancer is more common today.  This is mainly because we are living longer, but also because we live in a very different world now.  Traditionally we lived as part of the land, in harmony, taking what we needed and not destroying it.  Now we are far removed from the lands where are foods are grown.  Being separate from the world is like separating Yin from Yang; one cannot exist without the other.  However, is seems that the more advanced we become, the further we seem to move away from nature.

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Ill health of the planet can only result in ill health of its inhabitants, which ultimately means disease and extinction.  What happens in the macrocosm is also happening in the microcosm, including the human body.

No longer simply a disease of aging.

Breast cancer is now much more common in younger women, even in their 20s.  Childhood leukemias are occurring more frequently.  Testicular cancer, a disease of younger men, wasn’t even mentioned in the 1960s because it was so rare.

Our environment is now awash with carcinogenic chemicals.  Solvents, plasticizers, cosmetics, fire retardants, fertilizers, medicines, herbicides, and pesticides, are in our food, what we wear and what we sit on.  It’s everywhere.  Today there are over 100,000 new chemicals on the earth, never before seen by living beings.  Approximately 33,000 of them are in daily use and, of those, only about 1500 have been studied for human health effects.  No time at all for the complicated human immune system to evolve and adapt to cope.

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Even if a chemical is banned it doesn’t make much of a difference, as once in the earth, their effects can persist for thousands of years.  DDT, (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) for instance, was banned in many countries in the early 1970s, but it is still found in the environment and in the breast tissue of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.  And even today, it isn’t banned in all countries.  In fact, it is being actively promoted by the World Health Organisation to fight malaria in Africa.  (It’s complicated, of course; killing the mosquitos that spread malaria saves the lifes of millions, but at a cost.  It’s a toss-up between which one kills the least).

Cancer and Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medical theory is holistic, whereas the modern western world is predominantly reductionist.  Reductionism breaks everything down to explain it in the simplest terms, separating the many from the whole.  This is all well and good, but when it comes to explaining very complicated things like nature or the human body, it is woefully inadequate.  Holism, on the other hand, takes into consideration how one thing (or many things) affects everything else.

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Greenhouses covering 64,000 acres in Almeria, Spain.

Reductionism is a way of thinking that separates us from our world.  The Heart and the Mind are no longer connected, that is why we can so easily allow damaging industrial practices to continue.  We no longer live in our bodies except from the head up.  What gets our attention is usually some sort of dysfunction, and the resulting symptoms are usually an indication that a long-term process has been in place.

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Factory farming abomination

Western Disease

In Chinese Medicine we believe that the root of all illness is from an external factor or an internal factor, or both.  External factors include the weather, the environment and pollution, what we eat and put into our bodies, and trauma.   Internal factors are our emotions, such as anger, fear and worry.  And of course, external factors will also cause or aggravate internal factors; ever felt angry on a windy day?

The Causes of Disease

Climatic: Wind, Cold, Summer-Heat, Dampness, Dryness, Fire

Other: Weak Constitution, Over-Exertion, Excessive Sexual Activity, Bad Diet, Trauma, Parasites and   Poisons, Wrong Treatment.

Emotional: Anger, Joy, Worry, Pensiveness, Sadness, Fear, Shock.

You will recall from my earlier blogs that each organ has an associated emotion.  For example, grieving and sadness not expressed and resolved will affect the Lung.  This may lead to shallow breathing and the suppression of breathing, which can lead to a lower level of oxygenation and can contribute to the oppression and stasis of Qi in the chest and then in the body overall.

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Yul Grinner

A healthy Liver allows for the free-flow of Qi and blood, and so is affected by suppressed emotions, such as anger.  Liver energy can be stifled or frustrated by life itself, for instance unlived dreams and unfulfillment.

A healthy Spleen enables us to nourish and parent ourselves adequately, so a Spleen out of balance can lead to choosing improper relationships, eating the wrong foods, and not knowing how to love oneselve without feeling selfish.  The central isles in the supermarket are full of the expression of this imbalance.

Bearing all this in mind then, I don’t think it is implausible to suggest that suppressed emotions, unhappiness, and lack of fulfilment are the true underlying causes of ‘Western diseases’.  We call it ‘stress’ and ‘depression’.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.


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Springtime and Emerging from Lockdown

What does Spring mean to you?  Traditionally it is a time of new beginnings, a time when we burst forth with renewed vigour after a long winter of rest and recovery.  As we slowly emerge from Lockdown (again), this all sounds quite relevant.

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Gulag COVID 19

One of the things I’ve been hearing my patients complain of lately, especially over the last few months, is  a feeling of oppression (and depression).  While we’ve all been staying at home, nature has been quietly stirring, readying itself for the Spring.  And we’ve obviously been very aware of that, if not consciously, certainly subconsciously.  Afterall, locking people up is a punishment; that’s why prisons exist. So we’re all gagging to get out in the open again, see friends and family, eat out and just be outdoors in general.  But why does it feel like we’re out on parole?

The Liver and Accepting Change

To me, Spring is not only about new growth and expansion, but it’s also about flexibility and the ability to make changes.  Those of us who were unable to adapt and change direction in a short space of time, were hit the hardest by the Lockdown.

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The damage is done when nature is suppressed.  In the West we have this obsession with covering everything with concrete and tarmac.  If you walk down the road it is difficult to spot anywhere that hasn’t been covered.  Every garden, every park, is trimmed back and cosmetically altered to within an inch of its life, just like a member of TOWIE.  But you’ve only got to look at somewhere like Chernobyl to see what happens when man’s intervention is taken away; nature returns quickly, and in abundance (even though it’s still so radioactive that man cannot return there for hundreds of years).  If you’ve ever had vine weed in your garden, you know that there is no holding it back.

You only have to look at your own health to see what happens when your true nature is suppressed; it makes you ill.  If you are in a job you hate or in a relationship where you can’t be yourself, you will soon start to feel the effects of suppressing your emotions.  This might be an extreme reaction like going ‘postal’, or more subdued like simply becoming depressed.  A study in the USA showed that people with anxiety/depression died 7.9 years earlier than other persons.

The gall(bladder) of it!

In Chinese medicine it is the Wood element that is associated with the Springtime.  But that doesn’t mean that the Wood is only important in Spring (or even the Springtime of life, which is childhood).  We need the flexibility and resilience of the Wood element to not only move forward in life, but also to withstand life’s rigours.  In Chinese Medicine the Liver and Gallbladder are the Wood organs, and it is the health of these organs that enables us to cope with life’s twists and turns.  This applies to our emotional and spiritual states, as well as the physical.  The Liver is the warrior: it enables you to make plans, expand and strive forward.  The Gallbladder is the decision maker: it supports the Liver in its military endeavours.

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You only have to look at an old or dying tree to see what happens when the Wood element is unhealthy.  It will snap or be uprooted by even the lightest of winds.  Another good example is the Marijuana smoker.  Energetically, Marijuana is a Wood herb which invigorates the Liver but suppresses the Gallbladder.  That’s why spliff-heads have amazing ideas but lack the drive to actually do anything!

Liver Qi Stagnation

On the other hand, when the Liver is stagnant, it constrains the qi.  This can mean heat and pain in the chest and ribs, distention (which in the west we call bloating), constipation and IBS, headaches or emotional problems (usually related to anger, frustration and resentment).  And if there is any pain, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be Liver involvement.  For instance, Liver qi stagnation can stop periods or cause period pain.

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Yul Grinner

Liver qi stagnation is caused by stress, emotional tension and disruption of internal cycles and circadian rhythms by shift work, all the things that have been part of Lockdown and the COVID pandemic.   And to top it all off, any Liver disharmony also has a significant likelihood of causing knots in the muscles of the upper back and neck due to the muscle tightness and spasm characteristic of qi constraint.

Become a tree-hugger

Now the weather is changing and we are filled with renewed vigour after the Lockdown, get outside and allow your Liver qi to move and expand.  If you live near the sea, take a walk along the shoreline and take in the expanse; nourish your lungs and your eyes.  If you live more inland, get out of the town and into the countryside; hug a tree and become the Wood element!

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If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.


Supporting Local Business

Over the Lockdown local businessman Dave McNeilly has been interviewing other local businesses who have stayed open during the pandemic.

Here I am talking to Dave about who I am and what I do.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.


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The Yin and Yang of Snow

No matter how much of a pain the snow can be (disrupting travel, closing schools (if they weren’t closed already)), it still sparks that childhood joy in me.  My heart still leaps when I wake up on a winter’s morning to find that is has snowed over night.  And although I no longer rush out to meet my mates for snowball fights and sledging, I still can’t wait to just walk in it.  Luckily, we don’t have months of it like they do in other countries.  In the UK it’s rather fleeting, so all the more reason to get out there and experience it before it’s gone.

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Take a moment for yourself

To me snow means a break from the norm.  An opportunity to stop and feel like I’m somewhere different from the mundane, the world of work and bills and queuing up at the supermarket.  It’s too dangerous to go cycling or running, and I haven’t even bothered to drive my car over the last few days, I’ve just been walking everywhere.  Snow days become a problem when you just try to carry on as normal, instead of just stopping for a day.  It’s a good excuse to just have a day of peace.

Contemplating the snow

It’s snowing quite heavily as I write this. I find my gaze is drawn to the snow falling.  There is something quite primal sitting in a warm room watching the snow silently fall.  I can imagine people being exactly the same way thousands of years ago.  There’s not much else to do, other than contemplate the stillness.  Although it is undoubtedly less fun if you are cold, scared and hungry.  It’s funny how when we are children we want to just rush out and be in the snow, but now I’m quite happy being in a warm shelter just simply watching it.

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There’s no mediation like a snow meditation

To me, snow exemplifies the Yin aspect of nature.  All is still; there is just the gentle fall of snow.  It cushions everything.  All noise is dampened; it seems to suck in all the surrounding sounds.  It’s like being in a bell-jar.  When I’m out walking in snow, it totally dominates my attention.  It’s a walking meditation; my attention is 100 percent on where I place my feet for fear of slipping.  All I hear is the soft crunch of the snow beneath my feet and my breath as I breathe in the cool, clean air (the air feels cleaner anyway).

Walking in the snow and ice is the ultimately mindfulness.  It takes up your entire attention.  After walking to and from work in the snow and ice, my hips and lower back are aching.  I was obviously walking in an entirely different way in order to avoid slipping over.  And, of course, it’s so unusual to walk in the snow (for us in the South anyway), that’s why it feels so novel, I guess.

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The Yin and Yang of Snow

Snow exemplifies the Yin and Yang.  Yang is energy and action; Yin is stillness and peace.  Yet the two cannot exist without each other.  I may be just sitting here, being peaceful and contemplative, but my heart still pumps, my blood rushes through my arteries, digestion and peristalsis continues, chemicals and hormones are still triggered.  A Snowflake itself is just frozen water molecules bound together.  They are cold and immobile, extremely Yin.   But not entirely.  The whiteness of snow and its lightness is in fact a very Yang trait.  And like anything involving water, if you get enough of it together it can be a powerful force.  Think of tidal-waves and avalanches; they are unstoppable and deadly.  Or the seemly unperceptive flow of glaciers, forming mountain ranges over thousands of years.

Let me know how you feel about snow, even if you don’t enjoy it.  And of course, if this weather has isolated you even more, feel free to call me.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.


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The Heart Speaks and the Kidneys Listen

Since the Lockdown I’ve been seeing more and more people who are suffering with anxiety and depression.  Recently I resumed my work at Macmillan and, although my first client was booked in for 45 minutes, we ended up chatting for the whole treatment.  For my client it was invigorating to simply get out of his house and be able to talk to someone different for a change.  I could see his spirits lifting without me even having to put a needle in (Don’t worry, he did get some acupuncture too). You could see that much of the anxiety that he was suffering from was due to lack of human contact.

And now many of us must endure another Lockdown.

Barbaric treatment of the Elderly & Vulnerable

Sadly, it’s the ones who need contact with their loved ones the most who are being locked away.  Many of the elderly, with dementia and other serious conditions, are simply fading away because they are being isolated ‘for their own good’.  My own Grandmother died last week in a home for the elderly.  She was 99 with advanced vascular dementia and she died on her own.  We were one of the ‘lucky’ families however, as she was allowed one visitor for a few hours a week…in the garden.  On the day she died my mother was allowed into her room for one hour in the morning.

Nan died that same day at 9pm, alone.  Is this the world we want to live in, a world where we simply shut people away until the problem disappears with a magic pill?

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Louise Hayward 1921 – 2020

Living in fear destroys joy

We need to be able to express ourselves to have a health existence, without that we just wither and die.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it’s all about the Heart and Kidney.  The emotions associated with the Heart are Love and Joy, while for the Kidneys it is Fear.  So lack of love and joy will affect the health of the Heart, and living in isolation and a state of fear weakens the Kidneys.  Seeing as many of us have been living in isolation and fear for the best part of a year…well, you don’t need me to tell you it isn’t good.

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The relationship between the Heart and Kidneys is a crucial one; the Fire element of the Heart controls the Water element of the kidneys, and vice versa.   The Water stops the Fire from becoming a blaze, while the Fire warms the Kidneys preventing them from becoming to cool.  So, from an energetic point of view, this year has effectively done everything it can to extinguish our passion for life.  It also feels like we are in a permanent state of stagnation, which stops our energy from moving, which affects all the organs.

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The Gate of Life

In TCM it is also said that a fire is borne between the Kidneys, known as the Ming Men Fire or Gate of Life (or vitality).  This fire acts like a cauldron, boiling up all the waste and fluids in the lower aspect of the body, separating the good from the bad,  but also creating a steam that rises up and moistens the organs, keeping the sinews flexible and the Mind clear.  And although the Heart has a fire of its own, it is supported by the heat generated by the Ming Men.  So if the Kidneys are weakened (by fear for instance), then so too is the Ming Men fire.  And when the Ming Men goes cold, the fire leaves you and you are no more.

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The Heart speaks and the Kidneys listen

In TCM it is said that the Heart opens at the tongue, so the state of your heart\fire is reflected in the condition of your tongue. The health of your Heart also affects speech and any abnormalities may cause stuttering or aphasia (inability to comprehend or formulate language).  Apart from speech difficulties themselves, the Heart also influences talking and laughing. Often a disharmony of the Heart can cause a person to talk incessantly or laugh inappropriately, like that person who tells you a sad story and then laughs at the end.

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Can you hear me?

Speaking is important but it is nothing without someone to listen back.  Good hearing depends on healthy kidneys.  The kidneys open into the ears; if the kidneys are healthy the ears can hear the five sounds.  Weak Kidneys may impair hearing and also lead to tinnitus.  Hearing can deteriorate with age, which corresponds with the weakening of the Kidneys as we get older.  This is nature.  As we grow older the yin depletes and so does the yang in turn.  One cannot exist without the other.  Which again takes us back to the relationship between the Heart and Kidneys – fire and water = Yin and Yang.

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I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have someone to speak to, and more than one person preferably.  We are social beings.  This is our evolution.  The fire is hugely significant to us as humans.  Without the discovery of fire, we would still be crawling around in the primordial soup.  Fire enabled us to keep warm and ward off wild animals.  It allowed us to cook food making it more digestible.  It allowed us to bend metals to create weapons for hunting and defence.  And where would be without water?

So, if you need to chat, about anything, or you just would like someone to listen to you, give me a call.  My door is always open.

Much love.



If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.


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Autumn is here…nearly!

Just when we thought it was Autumn the sun has decided to give us one more blast of warmth!  Strictly speaking, of course, it’s the tilt of the planet and the southerly winds that dictate when it is warm in the UK.  The sun doesn’t really care.  It just shines on regardless, 24/7 all year round, hopefully for the next 5 billion years before it finally dies.

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Earth Phase = late summer

Autumn isn’t due until the equinox on 22nd September of course, so at the moment it’s still summer, albeit barely hanging on by its fingertips.  According to the Five Elements system in Chinese philosophy, we are actually in the Earth phase, a pivotal time of year between the Yang and Yin when the summer is waning.  It is the last days of the harvest; the final crops are being brought in and fruits are at their ripest and sweetest.

It is also the Earth phase that connects all the elements to each other.   The Earth in our bodies is represented by the functions of the Stomach and Spleen (or the digestive system), and so the centre of the human anatomy, so pretty important to the whole of the body.  The harvest is also pretty important.  Without a good harvest the winter will be pretty grim, which will have a knock on effect for the seasons to follow.

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Living according to the Seasons

The same applies to us too.  In this context a good harvest might mean a good salary, enough to perhaps invest and build up a pension pot for our autumn years.  It might also mean living a healthy lifestyle and keeping fit throughout our summer years (in this context meaning one’s 30s and 40s) in order to enjoy our retirement years.

The Autumn should be a time of withdrawing from outside involvement and looking for meaning within. It is a time of ‘letting go’, just as the trees let go of their leaves.  If you find it difficult to let go, then you may find it difficult facing the end of life.  And if your harvest is poor, you may find yourself working later on in life when you should be having a gin and tonic at the bowls club.

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Hello Yul

Skinny jeans

So what happens if we don’t (or can’t) let go? Well, if we don’t let go of the summer and continue to wear less, stay up late and eat summer foods, we are more susceptible to viruses and the cold. Or, put another way, if we are not in tune with the changing of the seasons (or nature), our Qi may be weakened and therefore our defences are down.

This can mean poor health too, or even an early death.  Again, using our own life phases as an example, when you are entering the Autumn time of life it becomes increasingly difficult doing the things you were able to do quite easily when you were 30.  It might not be a matter of having the energy, but rather being older and wiser, ‘been there and done that’.  Plus skinny jeans look better on youngsters.

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This is the natural cycle of life, something the ancient Chinese not only noticed acutely, but studied and mapped out extensively by way of the 5 element system.  In the Spring everything is bursting with energy, nature flourishes and there is renewed vigour.  This leads to Summer, when the sun is high and growth is in full swing and settling into itself, followed by the late summer, the time of maturation and harvest.  Then comes Autumn, the time of letting go and inward reflection, preparing for the long Winter months of isolation and recovery.

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Out of sync with Nature

This is in an ideal world of course.  Now we find this natural order being affected by global warming, a manmade affliction.  The ice caps are melting, bushfires rage across America, diseases cross the species barrier.  And, of course, Man does not live separate to Nature; we are part of Nature, so in turn our own natural rhythms and health is out of balance too.  Obesity rates in the uk have quadrupled in the last 25 years, which means more diabetes, cancer, and many other comorbidities.  Depression and mental health issues can be found in all sections of society and all age groups.  World fertility rates are on the decline year on and year out.

As I’ve said lots of times in my blog, we need to tune into how we are feeling in order to change our health, and perhaps that means tuning into how the planet is feeling too.  So lots of Qi Gong Earth postures!

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.