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meridian systemI was lying on a table in the back room of a two up two down terraced former mill-house in Chorley, pins sticking out of my arms, my legs and my face, and I felt weird, but in a good way. No, this isn’t the opening of a piece of fiction. This was 2007 and the beginning of my journey into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, my first consultation with an acupuncturist – though my experience and subsequent journey into the esoteric, did go a long way in informing my romantic story “Push Hands”.

I’d felt I had no choice in trying acupuncture, being afflicted with a ringing ear that western medicine could do nothing about. And you know what? It worked – of a fashion. Over a period my ringing ear didn’t ring so much any more. And the sessions made me feel different in other ways. I was suddenly more relaxed, more clear headed and energetic. In short, I felt better and a good ten years younger.

Acupuncture’s not available on the NHS, and at thirty quid a session, and with anything up to a dozen sessions or more being required, depending on what ails you, you have to be sure you want to use it. But then I found you could maintain that calmness, that clear headed, relaxed feeling by practising Tai Chi and Qigong. And eventually as we practice, we feel unfamiliar sensations in the hands and the arms, and we wonder: is it Qi?

I began, years ago thinking to nail this mysterious business of Qi, because without it, I believed, TCM and all that mind-body stuff didn’t make sense. But I’ve ended with a more pragmatic view, and a greater understanding of western physiology which explains things well enough if you can only be bothered getting to the bottom of it. I still hear Qi talked about in classes, and it grates a little now, but you can approach it from different angles, both from the traditional, and the practical and the secret is not to get hung up on either. Just do the exercises, the meditation; visualise, rationalise it however you want. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is it works.

One of my biggest frustrations with the traditional path is there has never been a consensus among so called masters about what Qi is, at least nothing one can glean from reading their books. With medical science, the more you read, the clearer things become. With Qi, however, the more you read, the less you understand anything at all. I’ve come to the conclusion the whole business is more of a misunderstanding, born partly out of a rejection of science in the west among those largely resistant to or ignorant of it, and in the east a willingness to present concepts in terms of what we apparently want to believe. And what we want to believe in is Qi.

In that acupuncturist’s consulting room there was a dummy with all the acupuncture points indicated as dots, with lines joining them like the map of a railway system. The lines indicate the so called meridians along which Qi is said to flow, an idea that can be traced back to a book by George Soulie de Morant, an early translator of oriental philosophy. But the strange thing is even the most revered founding oriental work on acupuncture, the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook doesn’t mention meridians. The meridian theory appears to have been an early twentieth century, and largely western, invention. It caught on and we’ve been talking rubbish ever since.

The acupuncture points are real enough. They are what we would now call neuro-vascular nodes, areas dense in fine veins and nerves, situated along the routes of the major arteries. These are referred to in early Chinese texts, a link having been found between them and the function of the organs of the body, that stimulating them can bring about certain healing effects – reducing inflammation, pain, sickness. The precise mechanism is complex and not well understood, but appears to be a result of the stimulation of the body’s natural healing mechanisms. In short, TCM works and is very effective, but the meridian theory, the model underpinning it, as presented to the west, and all its talk of Qi, is misleading at best, at worst, plain wrong.

But having said that it’s sometimes still useful to think in terms of Qi, more as a metaphor of physical effects. In practical terms, Qi has two components. One is oxygen, the other is glucose. The oxygen we get by breathing air, while glucose comes from the food in our stomachs. Both are carried by the blood to every part of the body where they combine to produce chemical energy, either for motion, or for healing and regeneration of tissue. Practices like Tai Chi and Qigong encourage deep breathing, boosting the amount of oxygen in the blood – you also get hot and you sweat because the by product of the body’s chemical equation is heat and water. Heat and water are a good sign. The movements during practice stimulate the neuro-vascular nodes, drive the lymph, and the relaxed, mindful attitude encourages a return to homeostasis, a neutral chemical balance essential for a healthy body. To practice Tai Chi or Qigong for an hour a day is to experience a dramatic change in the way you see and feel your body and the world about you.

The problem for westerners has been the gradual erosion of any romantic notions regarding one’s existence. Medical science has reduced life to a series of mechanical functions, an approach that, while advancing our understanding to miraculous levels, has ironically sucked the life out of being, and what we crave is a return to the mysterious. Perhaps in Qi we have been seeking to put the soul back into the machinery, and to revivify belief in the reality of our selves. But the path of the soul is something else, a somewhat longer journey of which the mind-body stuff can be a part, but only in the sense that in calming the mind, in freeing it from the debilitating distractions of the material life, it can then, in quieter times, return more readily to a deeper contemplation of other things.

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mariaTai Chi has been around for a while in the west, Yang style appearing among the Chinese diaspora in the USA as early as the 1940’s. Qigong methods, although much older in origin, appeared more recently in the West, from the 1990’s. As a health system, both are practiced with a slow, mindful intent. The breath is measured and deep. They’re supposed to work, we’re told, by manipulating “chi”.

The literature talks of “chi” as a form of subtle energy that flows around the body. If chi is abundant and free flowing we are healthy. If chi is low or blocked, we become sick. This is where acupuncture comes in, being supposedly a more direct way of intervening in the body’s energy system, unblocking chi and improving its flow by needling a network of points in the subsurface tissues. Claims for the efficacy of Chinese “energy medicine” are impressive, though the research papers thus far translated are said by Western pundits to be of a poor quality, lacking the “blinded” trials and large scale studies one would normally expect. This makes it hard to differentiate between genuine efficacy and placebo. The best we can say is the results, though interesting, are thus far inconclusive. There may be something in it, there may not.

Those researchers who are most sympathetically inclined are at their best when seeking to explain things without using the “Chi” word. They speak instead of oxygen and glucose and bio-chemical energy. These processes are well understood and fit into the more mechanistic western paradigm. From this perspective it’s all about breathing and movement. This boosts the vascular and lymphatic systems, which increases the available energy for healing, for general health, and a sense of well-being. There’s no need to bring “chi” into it. Any claimants who fail this test and insist on using the “chi” word to paper over the cracks of a more rational analysis, risk an ignominious labelling as charlatans, cranks or crackpots. This would include most self proclaimed Qigong Masters, “healers” and unaffiliated researchers of energy medicine operating today.

The problem for me, as a practitioner of Tai Chi and Qigong, as well as an interested student of its background and science, is that it feels like there’s more going on than blood and lymph circulation. It feels like the nervous system is becoming highly active when we practice, that there is an “electrical” component. There is tingling, feelings of fullness, of electricity moving through the body. These are subjective sensations and could be anything, but, as far as I know, they are unique to Qigong and Tai Chi, and I would like to understand them better. However, in my last post on this subject I described having reached the stage where I was persuaded to abandon further enquiry along these lines, having found the literature far too obtuse and contradictory to make any headway with it at all.

I was happy instead to side with the work of Douglas Kendall et al, who present an alternative and convincing body of work that rebuts the Chinese concept of “chi” altogether, exposing it as a kind of Western mistranslation, that what the Chinese actually meant was something else entirely and more closely akin to Western concepts in the first place, though predating them by a few thousand years. Yes, Qigong and Tai Chi work, but not as a result of anything spooky, says Kendall. It’s purely physiological. Adopting this position we find ourselves on safer ground, but as a practitioner it also feels like an unsatisfactory retreat.

There is another large body of work by researchers who represent a hundred year long tradition of energy medicine, this one entirely western. It proposes an electromagnetic “energy body” as a pre-requsite for life, rather than as a by-product, and claims that in maintaining the health of the energy body, we maintain the health of the physical body. This work has many correlations with the concept of “chi” and is generally supportive of the eastern energy system. It began in the early part of the twentieth century, and has rumbled on in various backwaters ever since. It’s very interesting, but delving into it as I have been doing recently doesn’t help to clarify things at all.

As far as I can make out the work has been sidelined by the mainstream because no one has been able to reproduce the key experiments under the rigour of contemporary controls. What surrounds it in fact is the odour of something a bit fishy. It lurks in the shadows rather than under the illumination of a universal revelation. Its commentators are restricted to You Tube, where they appear shoulder to shoulder with the crazy cat videos. This does little for their reputation, but neither has it stopped them from going on to brazenly market gadgets for plugging into the “energy body” – the purpose being to “boost” or “repair” it, thereby arresting the onset of sickness, old age and death. Modern, western energy medicine promises us the elixir of immortality via gadgets with flashing lights. What’s not to like about it?

Now, I’m sure there is a kernel of truth in it, that the electromagnetic field of the body is indeed an integral part of its function. Robert Becker (Body Electric) has done most to establish the foundations of it, showing us how regeneration of tissues and bones following injury are all presaged by fluctuations in the body’s electrical potentials. Injuries that are reluctant to heal can indeed be encouraged to do so by artificially boosting the electrical potentials by external means. This much has been proven and accepted by the mainstream, but it’s a long way from the claims of latter day gurus.

Becker’s work seems not to have led anywhere in more recent times, except as footnotes in a greater mythology whose adherents are to be found quoting and misquoting him. Sadly, I’m unable to find any evidence of reliable science built upon the foundations of his work, and all the contemporary pundits are after is simply selling us stuff.

Energy medicine is not taught at “respectable” universities. Medical students do not emerge with a vocabulary that includes “energy bodies”, “the etheric” or “auras”. They do not talk of the electro magnetic elixirs of immortality. Progress in coming to any firm conclusions about all this stuff therefore is slow, and the answers seem as far away as ever. Is this because researchers are held back for want of funds and fear of ridicule? or is it because the research has already adequately established there is nothing in it but quackery?

So, amidst all this fog where does that leave the humble and more rational practitioners of Qigong, and Tai Chi? Well, in terms of the “energy body”, we’re going to be on shaky ground for a long time to come and must be circumspect in all our dealings with it. We must recognise that whenever we speak of bioelectricity as a more western friendly correlate of “chi” we are still entering a controversial field. We risk deluding ourselves and misleading others when we speak of it, so we’re better holding our tongues. That said, I do find it useful to think of an energy body when practising. Indeed any sensation of the body registered by the mind is the result of processes going on in the nervous system and therefore “energetic” in nature. But to develop a more acute awareness of it is one thing, to extrapolate from it all manner of dubious claims is quite another.

More about Tai Chi and Qigong, in practise, next time.

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girl smelling flowers 2Can Alpha Lipoic Acid help restore your sense of smell?

Anosmia. No sense of smell. Mine used to be normal, though seasonally attenuated by an allergy to pollen. I seem to have been without it forever now, though I suppose it must simply have grown more intermittent over the years until I realised I couldn’t remember what anything smelled like any more.

Doctors? Well, yes, you should always go see the doctor, see what pills he can prescribe for you, but my own doctor isn’t the most hopeful nor encouraging of healers – his most endearing mannerism is his slightly leaden patience, his least endearing a sorry shrug of the shoulders and the phrase: “There is nothing we can do.” Over the years he has conditioned me into believing the same of all ailments, that the best I can hope for is that the body will heal itself in those cases where it can, and that we have to simply adjust to living with those cases where it can’t.

The surgeons at the ENT department were a little more hopeful, offering me a handful of steroids and saying that if they didn’t work they could remove the nasal polyps their cameras had also revealed. (Polyps are harmless little outgrowths from the mucus membrane). The steroids worked, restoring a supernormal sense of smell in a matter of days, but this only lasted a few months, then it was back to anosmia as usual. As for the surgery, I know people who’ve had their polyps removed. They say it hurts, you’re on sickpay while it heals, it doesn’t work, and the polyps grow back in a few years anyway. The ENT surgeons gave the same pessimistic prognosis, so it didn’t take me long to decide on that one. If your polyps are so big you can’t breathe through your nose, then it’s worth doing, but otherwise,… probably not.

I think nasal polyps are a red herring anyway. True they often accompany anosmia, and are sometimes cited by medical professionals as being the cause of it, but I think they’re more likely a symptom. I still have polyps, but my sense of smell can be restored by steroids, which work by reducing inflammation. Ergo, I believe the cause of anosmia is inflammation, probably of the mucous membrane, which also contains the nerves that help us smell. Perhaps as the membrane swells, it stretches the nerves or even damages them, I don’t know, I’m speculating now. That would be my avenue of research if I were a medical man, but I’m not. I just want my sense of smell back.

Of course, you can’t live on steroids. Taken in the longer term they’re nasty things. Indeed I’m of the view it’s a bad idea to be on any kind of pharmaceutical for life, unless you’d be dead without it. What you need is something more natural and for which there are no known side effects, that the aim should be to kickstart the body’s own healing mechanism, not to find a permanent crutch for its apparent failings.

Fortunately, there are no end of “natural” methods for curing anosmia. Unfortunately I must have tried all of them, but to no avail. Then, about six months ago I came upon information about Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), a common, inexpensive food supplement that’s used as a natural anti-inflammatory. Medical reports, whilst not conclusive, were encouraging, that boosting your intake of ALA could help in recovering the sense of smell.

I’ve been taking it now, as the title of this piece suggests, for 200 days, and have experienced some welcome improvement. I can no longer say I have no sense of smell whatsoever. It’s intermittent, present for some parts of the day absent for the rest. I’ll go for a few weeks without anything, and then a few weeks intermittently smelling things again. The improvement is small, halting, tentative, but seems to be gathering strength. As of now, even at it’s best, I have to say the sense is still severely impaired, responsive only to the strongest of odours, also curiously selective. By contrast Steroids will reveal to me the richly varied texture of background odours as I move from place to place. Such things are still beyond my grasp, but there is movement in the right direction. I’m taking nothing else, so it has to be the Alpha Lipoic Acid.

Results were not immediate. I began taking it at the start of 2015, and noticed no improvement for the first 100 days. Then I began to get my first inklings.

The medical studies involved a dose of 600 mg per day. The recommended daily maximum (as a food supplement) is 200mg. I didn’t want to exceed the recommended dose that much, so compromised on 400 mg. (200 in the morning, 200 in the evening). I take it in capsule form, with food. If you take it on an empty stomach it’ll give you indigestion.

So anyway, yes, it’s taken a long time, and even after 200 days it’s still mostly a blank with just the occasional heady rush of scent, but welcome all the same. I’ll report back in another 100 days, and let you know if there’s been any further improvement.

One other thing I should mention here, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, is the effect of alcohol. This may not effect everyone, but in my case at least, drinking it will set back recovery by days or even weeks. I can get away with it provided I don’t exceed the medically approved limit of 1 unit ABV per hour, and a maximum of 4 units per day. Any more than that and the body struggles to metabolise it. I can only speculate it’s causing an inflammation of the mucous membrane. If you’re struggling with anosmia then, it’s worth going tee total for a couple of months to see what happens. It’s not easy I know- most of us who like a drink are more hooked on alcohol than we suspect – that is until we try quitting, and then we realise it only too well. I’m down to a bottle of wine a week now – but not all at the same time.

The only other thing I found that helped with Anosmia was acupuncture. It took about 5 sessions but my sense came back quite strongly – again acupuncture is an effective anti-inflammatory. In my case it didn’t last very long though, but I was also drinking more than the medically approved guidelines at the time. I hadn’t made the link back then, but I’ve no doubts about it now.

If I was starting out again, looking for a cure, I’d say, for the quick hit, quit drinking and get some acupuncture. You should see positive results after five to ten sessions. Any more than that and it isn’t going to work. But start drinking again, and you’ll lose the benefits. For the longer road, quit drinking and start taking Alpha Lipoic Acid. You should see the first (modest) results within three to six months, but keep drinking – even modestly – and the results will be choppy to non existent.

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body electricMany “New Age” books on topics as diverse as Energy Healing, Homeopathy, Tai Chi and Acupuncture, quote “The Body Electric” as a source. They do this because Robert Becker’s work adds a scientific respectability to what many might consider otherwise dubious topics. Alas, there is also a tendency for writers to misquote him or simply not bother reading the book in the first place and to quote instead what they heard or believe they heard Robert Becker might have said in this book. Thus there has grown around the man a myth that can only be dispelled by sitting down for a few hours with the book and actually reading it. But it’s not an easy read for the modern audience. Well written and engaging though it is, it deals with medical research; and as such it’s technical, it talks of results and conclusions based on logical reasoning. Even if you’re not put off by this, you might be too squeamish to get past the early chapters which deal with cutting the limbs off salamanders and bullfrogs.

Becker was a doctor and orthopeadic surgeon, also a publicly funded medical researcher with an interest in how the body heals. It comes as a surprise to the layman how little medical professionals know about how the body actually works. Obviously they know a good deal more than the layman, but many of its most intimate processes are still a mystery. Becker’s early work involved observing and speculating upon how salamanders can regenerate limbs and tails when they’ve had the misfortune to lose them, with the obvious question in mind: if they can regenerate to that extent, why can’t we?

His experiments with salamanders are detailed in the early part of the book, and they describe the discovery of how the electrical potentials in a living system change when injury occurs, that it is an electrical process that triggers, then monitors the healing. This goes for any living creature, from salamanders to human beings. His interest in the body’s electrical’s properties lead naturally enough to an exploration of its electromagnetic properties as well, how these relate to the body’s processes and immune system, a work that was then expanded to consider the living organism’s relationship with the electromagnetic environment in which it lives.

It has long been denied that fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field have any effect on human beings, contrary to my own instincts, so I was both surprised and reassured to discover Becker and many other investigators had established a clear, scientifically validated case by the 70’s. Becker was able to show that there is a significant “lunar effect” on human beings, as the moon modulates the earth’s electromagnetic properties in a regular cycle – hospital admissions, suicides and road accidents do follow a lunar cycle, peaking at certain times of the month.  Solar storms, which cause less predictable perturbations, can also have a negative effect on the psyche – things like mood, concentration and coordination. A reasonable case is also made for it effecting the immune system, rendering us more prone to disease at times of major disturbance. The picture that emerges is one of an organism with a complex bio electromagnetic field whose workings are as yet nine tenths unknown, but one that is never the less influenced by the complex, changing electromagnetic field of its environment.

Becker then develops his arguments further and begins looking at the ways man has drastically altered that environment with his technology, in particular radio and radar, also AC electrical transmission in power lines. The latter part of the book is concerned with how the effects of this invisible electromagnetic “pollution” might be harmful. Becker also expounds upon his belief that it was his outspoken opposition to corporate and military funded researchers in the 70’s -who were telling us everything is fine – that cost him his funding and eventually his job.

The Body Electric is often quoted when groping for a scientific explanation for acupuncture, and I admit this  is my own main area of interest. But out of 190 pages, only 3 discuss it. This is not to say the work done was not interesting, but it was certainly not so extensive as many who quote him have claimed. Becker was able to establish that the major acupuncture points, or nodes, do exist, and can be identified by measuring skin resistance. Nodes exhibit a reduced resistance when compared with surrounding tissue. It’s also an important observation that the positions of the nodes are the same irrespective of the person being examined, and to that extent there is a scientific basis to the traditional view of Chinese Medicine, one well worth investigating further.

Some readers have complained this book is dated, and certainly it only deals with work up to about 1980, but it’s a fascinating study all the same. Becker’s clear legacy is the insight that proper bioelectromagnetic functioning of the human body is fundamental to our well being, indeed to life itself. But these processes are still not very well understood, and I don’t know of anyone of Becker’s standing who has continued the work to deepen our knowledge of it since his time. This is a pity as it leaves us largely in the hands of charlatans and kite fliers who continue to misrepresent what Becker actually said and did.

For anyone trying to get to grips with this subject from an objective rather than a speculative point of view, I think The Body Electric, though somewhat dated, it still a good place to start, providing a firm foundation for further study.

Becker wrote a follow up to the body electric called Cross Currents which updates his work to about 1990.

I’ll be talking about that one when I’ve read it.

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meridian systemPeople have been asking me about my practice of Tai Chi recently and, naturally enough, they also want to talk about Chi. What is it? they ask, or more likely: Does it even exist?

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the concept of Chi, at least in so far as it is presented in many books on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Martial Arts – i.e. as a form of “subtle energy” moving about a pathway of invisible meridians. I am more easily accepting of it as an amalgam of effects produced by normal physiological processes – improved blood and lymph circulation, oxygenation, also a psychological component that works to induce a relaxation response. This is fine, it is within the realms of my experience.

But the sensations induced by practice – tingling, numbness, fullness – also suggest a bioelectrical component, that the nervous system is becoming activated when we practise, and in ways no other physical exercise can duplicate. This is where the going gets tough. The more one reads about it, the more confused one becomes, especially when seeking a coherent explanation in those books that deal with the so called “meridian theory”. Here, the texts, be they written by Chinese or Western “practitioners” talk of the flow, the storage and even the projection of chi. But they vary so widely in their explanations, to the extent that the principles each book appears to be describing are more the author’s personal interpretation of a myth to which the reader is invited to subscribe entirely on trust.

This is not a reliable basis on which to deepen one’s understanding, nor less for explaining it to someone else, or one risks merely perpetuating the myth while most likely also adding something of one’s own equally groundless twists to it.

My actual experience of Tai Chi and other mind-body techniques like Qigong, is that these methods do have a positive effect, both mentally and physically. I’ve used them to successfully tackle back injury and tinnitus. They are also deeply relaxing, so I do not suggest a decade of practise is now exposed as a monumental delusion – only that attempting to pursue a deeper understanding of them through meridian theory is perhaps not a good idea.

More recently my investigations have led me to the writings of western medical professionals and to a persuasive argument that suggests the “meridian system” is a myth, and a surprising one at that, being actually a Western, rather than a Chinese invention, a product of the “new age” rather than deepest antiquity.

Western medicine is often accused by the more holistically inclined (myself included) of being a bastion of wooden minded materialism at the beck and call of Big Pharma, but among its more open minded practitioners there is also an increasing willingness to look at the results of TCM techniques, like acupuncture, and to ask intelligent questions, no longer in order to merely debunk it as has been the case in the past, but, where it works, to document its efficacy, and to attempt an explanation of it in less mystical terms.

On the physical level, the health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong are derived from improved circulation of the blood and lymph, also increased levels of blood oxygenation induced by means of deep, abdominal breathing that is an integral part of practise. But anyone who has read up on the subject is also inevitably beguiled by this dense mystical heritage of “meridian theory” and the idea of an all pervading “subtle energy” somehow superimposed upon the physical body. Consequently, I have always felt that to deepen my knowledge and my experience, I would have to understand it from this esoteric, traditional perspective. It’s ironic then that my efforts to pay homage to it in this way have had the opposite effect, only grinding my progress to a halt.

But what if the notion of chi as a subtle energy were an invention, not born of ancient Chinese superstition, but of fairly modern western adepts reacting against the materialism of their own times, and simply mistranslating the original texts? It sounds flimsy, but the evidence presented by Donald Kendall in his book “The Dao of Traditional Chinese Medicine” is very persuasive, that indeed since the dawn of the twentieth century we have been perpetuating a myth born out of a popular need for the magical and the unknown – a need that continues to this day, and to which I am also prone.

Nearly all “energy work” titles quote among their primary sources the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook, a Chinese medical treatise compiled around the first century BCE. But what’s puzzling is that if we do indeed refer back to this book, we find no mention of the meridian system as it’s depicted today, nor any reference to chi as a form of energy. This is surprising because I have always surmised that it did. However, as Kendall points out, it reads more like a conventional medical textbook with sections on anatomy and pathology.

What the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook says is that the lungs extract “something” from air that is vital to life – what we’d now call oxygen – which is then carried around the body by the blood. This does not read like a witches cookbook of pre rational beliefs, but rather an early and highly competent description of how the body works. If this book is the true basis of TCM then something significant was lost in the translation, to say nothing of the fact that something was added that was highly misleading.

The Yellow Emperor’s handbook was translated by several westerners, most notably Georges Soulie De Morant, whose 1939 version is still in print, still influential, but also controversial in that the mystery of chi arises first here with a critical mistranslation of the word as “energy” when a better translation would be simply “air”. The Yellow Emperor’s handbook also details points on the body which we would recognise now as acupuncture points and elucidates upon the theory that needling or stimulating these points produces therapeutic effects. De Morant made copies of the diagrams, then added his own interlinking lines and, so the argument goes, invented the meridian system. Acupuncture points do exist. We now understand them to be areas particularly dense in fine blood vessels and nerves. Stimulating them does produce effects in the body – reducing inflammation, pain, and restoring the body’s balance, but the medium of transmission here would appear to be more accurately the nervous system, not De Morant’s meridians.

The Yellow Emperor’s handbook does not describe chi moving along meridians, but rather some essence of air moving along blood vessels. So, what we think of as a uniquely Chinese system of medicine involving a mysterious energy called Chi, is in fact a western invention, and a fairly recent one at that. What the ancient Chinese actually developed in the first millennium BCE was an understanding of the body’s functioning that the west did not catch up with until the seventeenth century. But if any of this is true, and I’m persuaded that it is, what’s equally remarkable is how so many Chinese scholars since then have themselves adopted and helped perpetuate the essentially meaningless “western” myth of the meridian system.

Contemporary western medicine is looking more into the therapeutic effects of acupuncture, with many medical professionals performing acupuncture themselves. It is available as a treatment for certain conditions on the NHS and for which there is good evidence to support its reported efficacy. But further acceptance of the technique, and progress with an explanation for how it works has been slow in coming, held up in part I think by the obfuscating myth of the so-called meridian system. Only by dispensing with it can progress be made in truly integrating Traditional Chinese Medicine into the west, and also, perhaps ironically, of deepening one’s own practice of Tai Chi and Qigong.

Be aware then that to get hung up on the nature of chi is to risk becoming lost in the labyrinth of a bewildering myth, and if a man would make progress it is always better to keep both feet on the ground than to flap one’s arms uselessly as if they were wings that would take flight in thin air.

References:

Kendall, Donald, The Dao of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Kendall, Donald, Energy – meridian misconceptions of Chinese medicine (article)

Kresser, Chris, Acupuncture (blog)

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tao of tinnitus cover - smallIt’s a while since I wrote anything on this subject, and until recently I’d largely forgotten what a big part of my life tinnitus used to be. A constantly ringing ear is definitely no joke, but in my own case I think I was fated to get it, because without it I would not have been forced down the path of investigating Traditional Chinese Medical theory. Nor would I have discovered Tai Chi or Qigong, which I believe were helpful in controlling my tinnitus. But more than that, the Tai Chi and Qigong have gone on to become a part of my life, to the extent that I no longer feel complete unless I’m practicing. The sense of calm-tingly-quietude that comes after even half an hour of practise is a very special thing indeed.

From the western medical point of view, there is as yet no cure for tinnitus – this in spite of the so called “evidence based” ad-served “miracles cures” we see online, at the cost of many thousands of pounds. But think about it, if there really was an evidence based, double blind tested reliable cure, it would already be available on the National Health Service for free. Given the degree of distress caused by tinnitus I’m sure health professionals are as keen as anyone to develop a lasting cure for it, but as of yet we don’t have one. Any other treatment therefore,  of the “alternative” variety, and more especially those treatments that cost a lot of money, we have to approach with considerable circumspection, and with our quack radar fully operational. We live in a materialistic society which means, sadly,  its would-be leading edge entrepreneurs aren’t interested in your suffering at all. They are only interested in your money.

Imagine my dismay then when I discovered a young man of my acquaintance suffering from tinnitus, and who had grown desperate enough to blow £40 on an ebook that promised miracles, but which, after a load of useless flim-flam delivered nothing. He knows of my own journey with tinnitus, but his rational mindset would not allow him to accept the efficacy of ancient mind body techniques that are essentially free. I understand this, because I didn’t believe in them either, and anyway the idea of having to practice something every day in order to remain free of tinnitus seemed just too onerous, requiring far more discipline than one has time for on top of all the other daily demands.

£40 is a lot of money for any book and I’d expect a lot from it in return – like the meaning of life perhaps. The scam-bells should have been ringing, but he was desperate enough to punt a day’s wages on it. The experience left him feeling only more empty and desperate. It reminded me how vulnerable I’d been during the darkest days of my own tinnitus, and I remembered too how, if you felt there was even a half chance an unbelievably expensive book, or a weird gadget would contain a single thread of wisdom that might set you on the path to recovery, you’d gladly pay up.

My response to all of this is another ebook, but this one is free. My book is based on my experience of tinnitus and, while offering hope, doesn’t promise miracles. It lays out a regime of simple meditation and qigong exercise for restoring calm, which will hopefully clear up the tinnitus in the process, or at least bring it under control to the point where you feel you can get by. All the techniques, all the information you need is freely available online. My book points you in the right direction, offers some side notes to get you going, and says yes, this worked for me.  It does not mean it will work for you too,… but it might.

My family still roll their eyes at my “alternative” outlook, and I accept that I may be something of a Qigong bore, but my experience of these methods has always been positive at least in terms of restoring a sense of well-being, and in any case I believe it’s better to be on one’s feet and doing something rather than lying flat out under a cloud of depression, doing nothing. But my main point here is you don’t have to risk your life’s savings on it as well.

If you’ve got tinnitus and you’ve surfed in looking for information, my little book at least gives you something positive you can try. If it doesn’t work, you can call me a quack but at least it hasn’t cost you any money. The downside to Qigong is that in order to realise its benefits, and to stay well, it must be adopted as part of a daily routine. Most of us will either simply not believe in it, or we’ll tire of the early sessions, and we’ll give up on it long before the benefits have set in. It therefore doesn’t suit everyone, but those who do take it up, and stick with it, speak well of it.

Click the pic to get the download. This book is served form my public Dropbox folder and will always be free. If you find it for sale anywhere, let me know and I shall wish down a shed-load of bad karma on the miscreants.

My success with Qigong is not unique. Other meditative methods, like Yoga also report positive results with tinnitus, attenuating the volume of the ringing, calming the associated anxiety and dealing also with the feelings of despair. The emotional dimension of sickness is not to be underestimated, and any method that addresses it is worth investigating. Yoga may suit you better but my knowledge of Yoga is limited to the gleaning of information on meditative breathing. I’m  lacking a good teacher in my area to get me going with it any further, otherwise I’d probably become a Yoga bore as well. Which brings me to my final point: if you need help getting going, or in finding the motivation to practice regularly, there’s no substitute for joining a class, if you can find one.

Tinnitus puts us in a dark place, a place where trusted forms of conventional medicine cannot help. The problem with Traditional Chinese Methodologies, like Qigong is that many of us of us simply don’t believe in them. We try everything else – medicines, the “top” specialists, even professional looking clinics with their “miraculous breathrough” adverts in the so called respectable press. We tend only to come back to the meditative methods when everything else has failed. Perhaps it’s only then we feel able to devote sufficient time and effort to the method, because we’ve nothing to lose. It would be better if more of us could give these methods the benefit of the doubt earlier on. They won’t cure everything, but by returning us to a sense of inner wellness, they free the body from the negative effects of our emotions, so it is better able to heal itself.

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noseThe short answer to this question, when I first posed it back in November, was a cautious yes.  I’d been anosmic – no sense of smell – for several years. A visit to my local sawbones had proved futile, yielding only a steroid nasal spray that made me ill. So I tried acupuncture and after about six weeks, my sense of smell came back! Hooray!

I enjoyed about three weeks of smelling the world again – and the world smelled good – even when it smelled bad. So I rushed to press and blogged about how successful I’d been and wasn’t this acupuncture business amazing.

I spoke too soon, because it disappeared again, even though I was continuing with the acupuncture. Twelve weeks later, it had shown no signs of re-recovery and the acupuncturist finally sacked me as a hopeless case. I was very disappointed – not just to be left anosmic, but because having those pins stuck in me had become the highpoint of my week. Sounds strange I know, but you need to try it.

Anyway, the longer answer, right now, appears to be: maybe acupuncture doesn’t work for anosmia, or at least not in my case, or rather not in any meaningful, long term sense.

Reluctantly, I returned to the sawbones with my tail between my legs. He wasn’t impressed by my acupuncture story.

“But it came back,” I assured him. “It definitely came back.”

He admitted it was curious, but still told me off for not having gone to see him sooner and for wasting time  on new age nonsense. No surprises there, I suppose. Then he sent me away with a prescription for some powerful antibiotics.

A few weeks later, I was still anosmic. I also had a bad stomach and had  contracted the worst chest infection I’ve ever had in my life – because antibiotics are a bit of a blunderbluss, swatting dead any harmful bacteria, but blowing a hole in your immune system while they’re at it, leaving you wide open to anything else that’s going.

So I waited for all of that to clear up, then went back to the sawbones. This time he said my septum was very narrow.

“What? Oh, sure, I know, but it’s always been like that doc, and I can breathe through it very well – breathe through it all the time because I meditate and do Qigong and stuff – and I used to be able to smell very well through it, and if you remember last November I told you when I was having acupuncture,…. my nose was obviously working, narrow septum or not so,….oh,… never mind.”

He was looking a bit blank by now, like I was speaking Esperanto, so I shut up and let him grumble some more about my suspiciously narrow septum.

Now I’m off to see the Ear Nose and Throat specialist at my local hospital. The sawbones is favouring surgery for that deviant septum. He tells me the surgery’s nothing to worry about. I tell him I’m not worried at all because no matter what the outcome of the ENT diagnosis, nobody’s going to be sticking a scalpel up my nose. It may be useless for smelling the coffee but it works very well in other respects, and I’m for leaving it well alone thanks very much.

So I was feeling a bit glum about the whole business, but the very next day I experienced a minor epiphany. I was in the works canteen when I found myself staring in disbelief at the guy  next to me.

“You all right, Mike?” he asked, a little worried.

“Em,… yes. You’re having fish and chips?”

He looked down at his tray in order to confirm the obvious. “Yes.”

I couldn’t believe it. They smelled great! So did the coffee I had with my lunch. So did the canteen, which was suddenly filled with the rich fatty smell of cooking odours.

I walked away puzzled. It’s November since I last smelled anything.

When I got home, I flipped the lid off the coffee jar, stuck my nose in deep and took a long luxurious draw on the contents,…. nothing.

My nose, it seems, has a quirky sense of humour.

Graeme out.

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