In my last blog I wrote about the Gall Bladder and its importance when it comes to coping with change. But the Liver is equally as important. Both are related to the Wood element. If you remember from my blog earlier in the year, the Liver represents the warrior within us. It gives us the courage to make changes and to see them through. A healthy Wood element also gives us flexibility. A tree with no water will eventually snap in the wind, or it will simply be uprooted.
Follow this link for a recap of the Liver’s role in the body.
The Liver acts as the General; it needs to be smart and courageous. It is responsible for defending the borders of the Empire and making plans to do so. But in order to do this efficiently, the General needs to be flexible as well as courageous. So just being brave isn’t the only characteristic needed to cope with change, you also need to be flexible. Sometimes retreating, stepping back and assessing the situation, is necessary on the road to victory. Just imagine an army that can only go blindly forward.
So it’s all well and good that a healthy Gall Bladder enables us to make changes, but we also need the courage provided by the Liver.
Change and moving forward – Amanda’s story
Amanda came for acupuncture earlier this year primarily to sort out her sciatica and tight hamstrings. After we talked for a while I began to pick up that she wasn’t particularly happy with certain aspects of her life, and she was quite angry. There was a lot of frustration in her life. Her husband was dragging his heels and procrastinating about agreeing to a divorce. She was bored with her job and she wanted out. And to top it all, she had recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure!
Based on Amanda’s sciatica and high blood pressure, I was pretty sure there could be Gall Bladder and Liver involvement, but after hearing more I was certain. I suggested that perhaps it was time for a change and this was a contributory factor to her health issues. This is a chicken/egg situation. Is her Qi stagnation stopping her from moving on, or is the inability to move on causing the Qi stagnation which is affecting her physically? Well it’s difficult to say, but not that important in the scheme of things. By treating the physical we can also affect the emotional. So that’s what I did.
Amanda didn’t know where to start, plus she was quite fearful of change. Where do you start? She had bills to pay and a son to provide for. No one likes having the boat rocked when you feel like you are barely clinging on. But when I suggested that the problem could be an imbalance, this struck a chord. To make change we not only need to be strong and warrior-like, but we also need to be clever strategists. Just like General Liver.
With Amanda I worked mainly on the Sacrum, an area where lots of channels cross, so it’s prone to stagnation. It is also where the Gall Bladder and Bladder channels intersect. As we know, the Gall Bladder is the decision maker and its paired organ is the Liver, the warrior. The Bladder’s function, on the other hand is to do with sorting waste products – what to hold on to and what to let go of, and its paired organ, the Kidney, controls fear.
Fear balances the warrior and stops us from making hasty decisions, but it can also stop us from making any decisions. We literally freeze in fear. So by working on these channels to release Amanda’s back pain, I was also working on an emotional/spiritual level. First the back issue was resolved. And then one day, after about six sessions, Amanda told me that her husband had agreed to a divorce (with some encouragement from her) and that she had made a stand at work!
So here we are at that really weird time of year when it is neither too hot or too cold. In Chinese Medicine this is the time of year associated with the Earth element. It is a transitional time of year when we benefit from the harvest but also take stock for the coming lean times of the winter months. It is also a time of change.
Change is natural and is the only thing that is certain. But there can be problems if it is resisted, especially if it is forced upon you. Disease or injury are just as much about dealing with change as they are about being ill or in pain. Not being able to work or exercise, or even simply getting up and down the stairs, all test ones ability to deal with change.
Why can change be so difficult?
As you know from my previous blogs, any imbalance of your Qi will affect your health, physically and emotionally. It’s complicated, of course. We are not machines who just need new batteries every now and then. A very fine balance is needed between all the organs in order for there to be good health.
How can Acupuncture and Tui Na help?
The Gall Bladder channel and its points are particularly relevant when it comes to difficulty dealing with change. The channel itself is situated on the side of the body. It starts on the side of the head, travels down the ribs and flanks into the buttock, and then down the side of the leg to the outside of the foot, where it finishes on the inside of the little toe. Perhaps, because of where it’s channel is located, the Gall Bladder is said to control our ability to rotate and turn the body. On an emotional level, a healthy Gall Bladder helps us make decisions and change direction in life.
In my Acupuncture and Tuina practice I find people are often stuck in an old way of thinking, or an old lifestyle pattern, which stops them from moving on. And it’s often these old ways of thinking which got them where they are in the first place. These thought patterns lead to frustration and anger. They ask themselves’ ‘Why me?’. Mixed into this there is also often fear, guilt, regret, self-recrimination, every emotion that goes with a chronic illness/injury etc. And as you know, all emotions, over time, will affect our health.
I’ll be back
It’s all these additional emotions that can make change so difficult. Which is ironic really when you think that as physical beings we are constantly changing. However, the belief that the body regenerates itself every seven years is actually a myth. In actual fact, although some cells die and are lost forever, some are able to rejuvenate. Brain cells are precious; we lose thousands daily and they do not return. The Liver, on the other hand, is like the Terminator, it just keeps on coming back. But given enough abuse and it will eventually pack up. Unfortunately, it is so tough that there are no symptoms of damage until it’s too late!
Bones take up to 10 years to regenerate, whereas skin only two weeks! The cells of the heart also have the potential for regeneration, as do finger tips and toes, the endometrium, the kidneys and the vas deferens (testicular tubes). Other areas of the body such as the bladder, lung, penis, vagina and spinal nerves also have the potential for regeneration, but only with the intervention of stem cells or in a laboratory. Pretty amazing stuff. But don’t chop anything off if you can help it, it might not work every time.
It only seems like yesterday that I was writing about how it feels like the summer is coming. After the last sunny weekend it looks like summer is on it’s way out. It’s actually sunny as I write this, although it has been raining for much of the week and there’s more to come.
We need the Sun to survive. If the Sun were to be suddenly extinguished we would know about it in about 6 and half minutes, which is the time it takes for light to travel the distance from the Sun to Earth, 149.6 million km. Photosynthesis would stop immediately, so food would run out pretty quickly. And it would get cold pretty quickly too; the earth’s average surface temperature would drop below freezing after just a week.
There would be some light as there would still be some electricity, but that’s the least of our problems. The Sun is the dominant gravitational force in the universe, so without it all the planets that orbit it would just spin off into space.
Cold is for dead people!
Heat Is really important in Chinese Medicine and I use it all the time in my Acupuncture and Tui Na practice. I generally use moxibustion and my hands to generate heat, but I also have an infrared heat lamp. The body needs heat to function, just as all living things do. Without it the organs would cease operating and all bodily functions would stop. Luckily for us the body can generate and preserve heat whether it is summer or not.
That’s why a zombie apocalypse could never happen. With no circulatory system (and therefore no heat) the zombie would be unable to move. They might be able to drag themselves around for a few minutes, but that would be about it. Like a dead person, which is exactly what they are! So don’t fear the living dead, fear global warming, that is actually happening! It might be summer every day soon.
When the heat is on.
The body needs heat to function, 37 degrees Celsius in fact. It needs heat to keep the organs functioning, the blood fluid, the muscles and tendons flexible. But that is a healthy heat. In Chinese Medicine there is also a less desirable heat associated with illness. This type of heat is often called pathogenic heat. You might have experienced this when you have a cold, or if you have a swollen joint. Some women also experience heat during their period or during the menopause. Healthy heat is the product of a well balanced yin and yang. In biomedicine this is called homeostasis. Pathogenic heat is therefore a product of an imbalance of yin and yang. We call this either full heat or empty heat.
- Full Heat is caused by too much yang energy, typically caused by some sort of stagnation. The root of stagnation can be emotional strain or something more physical, e.g. irregular eating, excessive physical work or lack of exercise.
- Empty Heat, on the other hand, is caused by a yin depletion. As the yin depletes, its cooling nature can no longer contain the heating aspect of yang. In the West the main cause of yin becoming depleted is over work.
Feeling the cold.
On the other hand, if you are simply cold and feel no heat, this could be due to a general depletion of yin and yang. Yin is substance, without which there can be no action/movement, which is heat.
Having a healthy balance between your yin and yang depends on may things – what you eat, what you think, and how you rest and play. As I’ve said before, life is a balancing act; a series of ups and downs. The trick is to make sure you are not on a rollercoaster.
More next week.
One of the things that I love about being an Acupuncturist and Tui Na practitioner is that I never stop learning. Unlike Western medicine where new research and evidence supersedes the old, in Chinese medicine new information is often simply added to the existing canon. So that means not only studying the classics, but also keeping up to date with current research. Western medicine is entirely evidence based, although if you think about procedures like Blood letting by applying leeches, the actual evidence is debatable. But although controversial, leeches are still used by doctors today. Some things just work; being able to show how they work, well that’s another matter.
Creating space for a positive experience
Last week I was busy honing my acupuncture and Tui Na skills in London, on a course called Supporting Women through the Menopause as a Fundamental Doorway of Life. Menopause in the West is in may ways still a taboo subject. Many of the rituals that traditionally helped us through important life changing events, such as entry into manhood/womanhood, menage and menopause, have been lost, leaving us unable to move through the passage of life smoothly.
The menopause, ‘the great cleanse’, the end of menstruation when the blood retreats, a powerful rite of passage for women. This course looked at how Chinese Medicine can provide space, solitude and quietude – all the things Western society doesn’t allow for – to allow women to have a positive experience.
Acupuncture and Tui Na for the Menopause
Acupuncture nd Tui Na can help with all the symptoms associated with the menopause (including drug-induced menopause):
Hot flushes and sweating
Symptoms of dryness
Emotional symptoms (adrenaline, anxiety, easily stressed, feelings of loss, grief)
Digestive problems (reflux, oesophagitis and epigastric discomfort)
Aches & Pains (joint and muscular aches, feelings of weakness, plantar fasciitis)
Pain in the lower back/sacrum/pelvis/hips
Pain in the neck/nape/shoulders
Head symptoms (headaches and migraines)
Practicing Qi Gong is just as much about how you view the world as it is about simply exercising. It is about understanding our connection to the Earth and the Universe, and also to ones self. As one of the main branches of Chinese Medicine, the practice of Qi Gong is based on the philosophy of Qi: the movement of Qi and how it affects our health, mentally and physically. So, over the next few weeks I will be exploring what this actually means.
Qi is everything
Everything affects our Qi. What you eat, who you speak to, the air you breathe. In Qi Gong philosophy (there are many schools but it is all basically Chinese Medicine) we say there are five aspects of life that need to be balanced for optimal health (but not in any particular order):
Exercise – how we move our Qi
Environment – where we live/work
Breath – how we breathe and what we breathe
Diet – what we eat and how we eat
Mind – what we think and how we think
Qi Gong is not just exercise.
Unlike sport, which is often ultimately about competing (against others or the clock), Qi gong is about finding balance within, but with your health in mind. It is about being able to tune in to what you need. Let’s take exercise as an example – how many of us really know how much we need? We usually only stop when we’re exhausted or we’ve run out of time. And if you recall from my previous blog, we’re riddled with guilt if we dare to take a day off!
So, do you need to move your Qi? Or do you need to rest? Most of us sleep when we need rest, but simply sleeping doesn’t address the real problems underlying tiredness. Tiredness is often the result of years of working too hard, or poor diet, or worrying. Take your pick. Some people get no rest when they sleep. They toss and turn all night and wake up feeling just as exhausted as they were when they got into bed. We take drugs to relax, or watch TV or the internet, but this is not resting, it’s escaping. They do not help you connect to your inner self. They take you somewhere else, anywhere but within.
Chinese Medicine says that our health is affected by either internal or external factors. Let us first look at some of the external factors. I’ve written a lot about exercise over my last few blogs, so this week I’ll look at how our environment affects our Qi and health.
Qi is affected by your Environment.
What I mean by environment is:
- Where you live and who you live with
- What job you do where you do it
- Where you practice Qi Gong.
Where you live
Where we live is hugely important to our health, so it’s crucial that we care not just for the planet, but also for our immediate surroundings. The two go hand in hand I guess. Its no surprise that the health of the planet is suffering when you think how easy it is to neglect your own personal environment.
Living in a room on the High Street will affect your energy in a different way to living next to a gently running brook in a forest. The urban environment takes us further and further away from nature, which ultimately means further away from ones self. It’s good practice to avoid pollution, including noise, traffic and mobile masts, all of which affect our Qi. Of course, it’s pretty difficult to avoid any of these things nowadays, but practicing Qi Gong will help protect you by strengthen your Qi. Who you live with will also affect your Qi. Living in a state of fear, stress or misery, or even boredom, will slowly wear you down.
Where you work
This applies equally to the job you do and where you work. If the job you do is stressing you out, this will have an impact on your health. I worked in the City for 17 years and it was the boredom that nearly did me in! There is a lot to be said for the old adage ‘do a job you love and you will never have to work again’.
Where you practice Qi Gong
Just as where you live and work is important to your health, It’s important where you practice your Qi Gong. Finding somewhere to practice outdoors is preferable but this is not always practical. If you can’t get out into the countryside or your back garden, maybe then find a quiet space in your home. Avoid rooms where there is a lot of people traffic. Don’t do it in a busy living room or while listening to the radio or watching the tv. If you live with other people let them know you are practicing and don’t want to be disturbed…‘No, I don’t want a cup of tea!’
So following on from my previous blog where I focussed mainly on running and endurance sport, this week I’m looking at a more holistic approach to exercise, Qi Gong.
No Pain No Gain
In the West we generally believe that doing lots of physical exercise is good for us and it will help us live longer. But I think we just made this up in our heads; there is no actual evidence that body builders or athletes live any longer than the average human. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite. These days fitness is gauged on how you look, so it’s all about six-packs and ‘just doing it’, and if social media is anything to go by (which it isn’t) they all look great and live perfect lives. But I doubt they are any more healthy than the average person who just does a little exercise and eats and rests well.. So is being fit the same as being healthy? No, it isn’t. Looking great isn’t necessarily the same as feeling great.
Moderation is the key
As I mentioned in my last blog, moderate exercise is good for you. But how much is moderate? The current amount prescribed by the NHS is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). Or, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
But what is moderate?
The danger with anything that is ‘prescribed’ however, is that it doesn’t take the individual into account; it certainly isn’t a holistic approach. And it still isn’t clear what moderate is. Some people can knock out 10k with the minimum of training, while others can barely make it down the stairs in the morning. This week I saw several people out jogging in the 36 degrees Celsius heat, which may be moderate in Death Valley, but not in Southend.
Qi Belly vs. Beer Belly
The muscular system ultimately depends on the functioning of the internal organs and glands, so if these are not being Nourished above and beyond the muscles, you will ultimately do more damage than good. We unknowingly tax the internal system beyond its limits in the belief that muscular development should take precedence. Chinese traditional exercise then emphasises the internal rather than the external. In Chinese culture a big belly was traditionally seen as having an abundance of Qi. Unfortunately, the cult of the six pack is now huge and men and women all-around the world are flogging and starving themselves to look like whippets.
Before the Industrial Revolution exercise was part of everyday life. Working on the land or in a cottage industry, one walked, pulled, pushed, lifted. We washed our own clothes and kneaded our own bread. Life was the multi gym! And even up to not that long ago most of us walked to work, or at least to the bus stop or station. Now we drive everywhere. Which isn’t anyone’s fault other than that of the town planners. Imagine having to walk to Tescos to do the main shop! So, what we need is a more holistic, mindful, approach to exercise, not the one-size-fits-all type that most often leads to injury or just simply quitting.
Qi Gong is the answer! (Well, an option at least)
A lot of people do Qi Gong and they do it for a variety of reasons. At the height of its popularity in China during the 1980s, it is estimated that up to one hundred million Chinese were practicing Qi Gong. People who are interested in qigong come from all different backgrounds and practice it for many different reasons. Some people do it just for exercise and recreation, while others use it as a preventive medicine and as a self-healing technique. Some do it for self-cultivation and meditation, and others to compliment their martial arts training. And some do it for all these reasons.
What is Qi gong?
Qi is usually translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow, and definitions often involve breath, air, gas, or relationship between matter, energy, and spirit. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. Gong is often translated as cultivation or work, and definitions include practice, skill, mastery, merit, achievement, service, result, or accomplishment, and is often used to mean gongfu (kung fu) in the traditional sense of achievement through great effort. The two words are combined to describe systems to cultivate and balance life energy, especially for health.
Qi Gong is about tuning in to how you feel and what your body needs. It is not simply about breathing and movement (whether internal or external). Not only does it develop stamina, flexibility, strong bones, muscles and sinews, and promote a good sense of balance, practitioners also become aware of their spiritual and emotional needs.
Qi Gong is a lifestyle choice. Regular practice develops a connection to ones body, something that many of us have lost. And by being fully present and mentally absorbed in our exercise and our breathing, we can become emotionally centred, with a clear and open mind.
The Yin & Yang of Running
When it comes to health, exercise is a lot like food. What I mean is, we know greens are good for us but if that was all we ate, then they would soon become bad for us. And I think that is true of exercise. In the acupuncture clinic I see a lot of sports injuries caused not necessarily by the type of exercise (unless you consider darts to be exercise), but the amount. I’m talking about running. If you are into running then you know how addictive it can be. You start off just jogging around the block, and before you know it you are signing up for your first ultra! But maybe that was just me…..
Unlike activities like martial arts or dancing which take an element of skill, running is much more accessible. It is literally just putting one foot in front of the over, or controlled falling over. You don’t need to spend loads of money on equipment and clothing. You don’t even have to join a club. A good quality pair of running shoes is probably the only thing that will set you back a bit. And no one needs to show you how to run, we’ve been doing it for a long time!
There is nothing new about running of course.
There is evidence that ancient man used to run for long periods in order to track and wear out prey, known as persistence hunting. The idea being that animals cannot regulate their body heat by sweating as man can, so they eventually cannot flee any further and so succumb to the hunters. In fact it is a method still used by bushmen in the Kalahari desert and Rarámuri people in Mexico. It has also been hypothesised that the gluteus maximus muscle evolved to enable man to run. So it’s not just for sitting on.
What is new, however, is running for fun. It was Jim Fixx who started the craze of jogging in the 1970’s. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack at the age of 52 while out jogging. Despite this irony, there is no doubt that jogging is better than sitting around smoking and eating crisps. Most probably Mr. Fixx would have died at 47 if he hadn’t started jogging.
So when does running become not so good for you?
Basically, doing too much exercise is as bad as doing none. I used to run a lot. At the height of my training I was running 75 miles a week. I thought nothing about getting up at 5am on a Sunday and running for 5 hours. I loved running, but looking back I can see I was mostly chasing the fix. Like any addiction, the pleasurable part is satisfying the cravings, not the actual thing itself.
A used hinge does not rust.
There is no doubt that exercise is good for us, and there is much evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to support this. But little is mentioned about the negative aspects of exercise; not only over-doing it, but the emotions associated with it too – fear, shame and guilt. If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know what these emotions can do to your Qi. Shame and guilt tangles Qi up and stops it from moving, and Fear descends Qi. Joy (or more accurately lack of Joy) needs something out of the ordinary to move it – like running 26.2 miles. And finally, Anger, which can be the result of Qi not moving (which we call Qi stagnation). We all know that runner who is unbearable to be around if for whatever reason they can’t get out for their run. It might even be you.
Exercise is important in Chinese Medicine. It keeps the qi moving which is good for body and Mind. It also prevents the accumulation of Dampness. Think of a wet tea towel that has just been screwed up and left in a corner. After a while it becomes a bit stinky; it needs to be hung out to let the air circulate. Your body is the same – the cells need oxygenating.
It is important to keep moving, whatever age you are. But balance is key: Chinese Medical theory makes it clear that any type of extreme is not a good thing. The ancient Taoist masters state that people should not only avoid overindulging, but also over exertion, which they say exhausts the sinews and bones.
When running goes bad
Which brings us to the tale of Pheidippides, who you probably would have only heard of for two reasons, 1. If you are into ancient Greek literature, or 2. If you have ever run a marathon. Pheidippides was a professional runner (or a courier on foot) who in 490 BC ran 280 miles over a period of 2 days (the actual mileage and period differs depending on what you read, but we can safely say he ran a long way in a short time) and then an additional 40km from Marathon to Athens to announce the news of the Greek victory over Persia. Unsurprisingly, after delivering his message he dropped dead. The marathon is of course named after this incredible feat.
While there is evidence that jogging (that is, running between 1 and 2.5 hours a week at a slow or average pace) can increase your lifespan by 6.2 years for men and 5.6 for women, the reverse is true for more running. Studies suggest that by doing more doesn’t mean more benefit, in fact it can mean the reverse. Excessive exercise can cause damage to the heart and coronary arteries, increasing the risk of heart problems and risk of stroke. Although a slow resting heart beat (as low as 40 bpm in some athletes) is considered to be a sign of good health, this may not be the case once they stop engaging in high levels of exercise. Other studies have also shown that endurance athletes have weak immune systems and are more prone to colds and asthma. Over-exercising in young women can also cause amenorrhoea (periods stopping) and other menstrual disorders, as well as reduced bone density.
For some people exercise can become more and more important in their routine, to a point where it disrupts their work and personal relationships. They feel frustrated and depressed when they can’t get their ‘fix’. As I stated above, this is related to Qi and Blood stagnation. The more hooked we become, the more we need to move our Qi and Blood and so feel invigorated.
The free flow of energy can be blocked by emotions and stress, which is why running can feel so good for our mental health. But although you feel good for a short time after exercising, it doesn’t deal with whatever is causing your Qi to be blocked. So it is a vicious circle of depletion. And it’s tough physically on those who have to run 30 or 40 miles a week to get their qi moving.
Running can become an addiction. Just the same as having to use caffeine, alcohol or drugs to get moving, running is the same. Although I’ve focused on running, the same applies equally to any endurance sport. But whatever your fix is, it’s deceptive. These things provide an initial high, but then an immediate slump. So at risk of repeating myself, it’s all about balance, just as Yin and Yang informs us that one extreme will only ever lead to its opposite extreme. Somewhere in the middle is needed.
Next week – What is considered ‘good’ exercise?
To conclude my series of blogs on sound and Acupuncture, this week I’m looking at using the voice as a diagnostic tool. Or, what does a person’s tone of voice tell us about their state of health?
When a patient comes in to the clinic to see me for acupuncture or tai na, there are a number of things I do before I’ve even asked a question. Firstly I observe them. I look at the way they walk; do they have a limp, favour one side or have any difficulty walking in general? I also look out for any observable telltale signs of ill health, such as a sallow complexion or bloodshot eyes. The quality of a person’s skin or hair can also be a giveaway sign of something else that is bubbling away under the surface. I even take note of the colours a person wears. All of these things, and much more of course, give me some idea of a person’s general healthy.
The 5 voices of Chinese Medicine
Next I will ask them about why they have come to see me for acupuncture. And while they are speaking, I listen; not only to what they are saying to me, but also to their tone of voice. A person’s tone of voice can tell us a lot about their state of health. Differential diagnosis is a tricky business of course. If someone raises their voice while telling a story, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are angry. It could be just the punch line to a funny story! So it’s important to take the context of what someone is saying into consideration. Ask yourself, is the tone of voice appropriate? For instance, if someone is telling me how happy they are but their voice is flat and lacking joy, alarm bells should be ringing.
So let’s take a closer look at the five voices.
In line with the five element system of Chinese medicine, each of the tones of voice correspond to an internal organ and an emotion.
Wood – Shouting
The shouting voice is associated with anger, the Liver emotion. Anger makes the Qi rise which gives the voice forcefulness. Sometimes a loud and assertive voice is needed, especially when you want things done or you need to be heard, such as in an emergency. Ever felt like you are being talked at rather than talked to? This voice may not be loud, but could instead be abrupt and clipped, but the emotion behind it is still one of anger. Anger is an important emotion, as you know, but without anger nothing changes. Remember my blog about anger? An effective general needs enough force to defend his territory, but not enough to start an all out war.
An imbalance is Indicated when this tone of voice is used out of context. Remember that the healthy Wood element has flexibility in its strength. Someone who reacts to everything with anger or irritation clearly lacks flexibility. Imbalance is also evident when anger (or assertion) is lacking when it is clearly called for. This means the Qi is failing to rise.
Fire – Laughter
In a time long ago, in a universe far far away, I worked in an office. I know, it’s hard to believe, it was another lifetime ago. I remember during my initial training being told to answer the phone with a smile, which changes your tone voice. And it does! This is the same with Laughter therapy – the brain doesn’t know the difference between real laughter or fake, so by just pretending to laugh endorphins are realised. Fake it to make it, as they say. If you listen carefully though, I think you can tell if someone is truly happy.
Laughter in the voice is different to actual laughter; it is simply having joy in one’s voice. Listen to someone telling an amusing story and you will hear this voice. There could be an imbalance if the voice is lacking laughter when telling a funny story. Or on the other hand, when laughter is present when it is out of context, like talking about an upsetting experience. In addition, some people laugh when they are nervous, or they laugh to mask their true feelings. It can be an Earth laugh (sympathetic) or a Water laugh (masking fear), or a Wood laugh (laughing with anger).
Earth – Singing
The singing voice can be heard when we are cooing to a baby or speaking to a pet, or tending to someone who is in pain. The voice is soft and modulates up and down. There is an imbalance if you were to talk to everyone with this tone of voice. But don’t get caught out; in some languages and dialects, such as Welsh, this tone of voice can be normal. In these cases, you have to listen carefully to hear when the singing tone has more emphasis and whether or not it is appropriate.
Metal – Weeping
People with this voice can sound as if they are about to cry. There might be a faltering in the words, or a chocked sound as if they are struggling to keep control of their voice. Some people with a weeping voice might also sound weak, as if they are struggling to be heard. A good example of this type of voice is that of Theresa may. This voice indicates a weakness in Lung qi. Theresa May not only has the voice, but she also has the grey, ashen skin associated with a Metal element imbalance to accompany it. The emotion associated with the Metal element is sadness and grief, so such a voice would be appropriate in the right context, i.e. someone has died.
Water – Groaning
The groaning voice lacks animation and can sound as if it is dragging, much like someone who is lacking laughter (Fire). The element associated with Water is fear. As fear sets in and the Qi descends, the voice descends too, losing it’s force and vibrancy. Think of someone trying to alert someone that there is a spider on their back people – in order not to panic them they speak in a quiet, flat tone.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs on Music and sound in Chinese Medicine. Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.
In my last blog we touched on the sounds associated with the five elements and Acupuncture. So this week I would like to take a closer look at Chinese music and it’s relationship with healing.
Music is important in all aspects of our existence. We play music at every opportunity, at weddings and funerals, ceremonies of state and sporting events. It also plays a huge role in religious ceremony, whether singing hymns in church, reciting from the Tora or the Koran, singing Sufi devotional songs, or the chanting of Gregorian monks. There isn’t a ceremony or an event that doesn’t involve some sort of music or singing. And as I mentioned in my last blog, it has a role to play in healing.
In Chinese culture it seems like every thing is done for a reason and nothing is done just for the sake of it. Chinese music is no exception. The five notes of the pentatonic scale in Chinese music coincide with the five elements, and the twelve tones correspond with the months of the year and the hours of the day. Even Confucius had something to say about it. He taught that the five notes of music should blend (like the ingredients of a dish) into a harmonious whole, no one tone dominating over the others, each contributing to the benefit of the group as a whole. So, just like the five elements, balance is the order of the day.
The first note is “jiao” and corresponds to E in Western music. It belongs to the wood element, is the sound of spring, and promotes the smooth functioning of Liver Qi, helping to relieve depression. The second note, “zhi” corresponds to G. It belongs to the fire element, is the sound of summer, and helps to nourish the Heart and invigorate blood flow. The third note is “gong” and corresponds to C. It belongs to the earth element, is the sound of late summer, and strengthens the Spleen. The fourth note is “shang” which corresponds to D and belongs to the metal element. It is the sound of autumn, and protects and nourishes Lung yin. Lastly, the fifth note is “yu”, which corresponds to A. It belongs to the water element, is the sound of winter, and helps to nourish Kidney yin, protect Kidney essence, and reduce Lung fire.
The Six Healing Sounds
In Qi gong (which is itself believed to have originated from shamanic dance) sound is used to purge the major internal organs of noxious and stagnant qi by cooling and cleansing them. There are six sounds (known as liu zi jue) and each is performed with a set of physical movements. Each sound effects an internal organ. Performing these healing sounds can cause yawning, burping, or passing wind. These are all beneficial, so don’t suppress them. Just be careful where you perform them!
The first healing sound is SSSSSSSS (like a snake) which benefits the Lungs. Of all the organs the Lungs are the most in contact with the outer world and all its negative influences, such as germs, viruses and pollutants. Making this sound is good for colds, flu, toothaches, asthma, emphysema, or depression.
The second healing sound is WOOOOOO (as if you are blowing out a candle with rounded lips) which is the Kidney sound. Practicing this sound is good for fatigue, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or back pain. It could also be used for issues with reproduction.
The next healing sound is SHHHHHHH, the sound related to the Liver. This sound is used to expel anger, clear the eyes of any irritations, removing a sour or bitter taste, or detoxifying the liver. This sound also controls the quality of blood.
This is followed by HAWWWWWWWW (with mouth wide open), the Heart sound. This sound can be made to alleviate sore throat, cold sores, swollen gums or tongue, jumpiness, moodiness, heart disease and mental disease.
The fifth healing sound is that of the Spleen, WHOOOOOO. This sound can be used to eliminate indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea and worry.
Lastly, there is the sound of the San Jiao (aka the Triple Burner), HEEEEEEE. This organ is unique to Chinese medicine and refers to the three energy centres of the body, or Dan Tien. This healing sound harmonises the temperature between the three centres and the function of the associated organs: the upper section (brain, heart and lungs) is hot; the middle section (liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, and spleen) is warm; the lower section (large and small intestines, bladder, and sexual organs) is cool.
These sounds are performed sub vocally, so very quietly, as if on the breath, and just for a few minutes each. In Qi gong it is the intension that is most important, so it is important that the mind is engaged and fully present. Don’t worry about making a loud sound, you just want to feel a vibration in your vocal chords.
Give them a go and see how they make you feel.
The music theme continues next week when I look at how I use sound to make a diagnosis.