Acupuncture and depression: ‘Gate of Hope’

The acupuncture point Qimen, translated as ‘Gate of Hope’, is an example of an acupuncture point that may be especially useful for people with depression. However, depression – a state of persistent and severe low mood – is associated with many different causes and emotions. Chinese medicine does not have a category of ‘depression’ because it requires me to understand and treat the underlying patterns and emotional upsets on an individual basis. This individual approach of acupuncture is often very effective, and can, if necessary, be used alongside antidepressant medication.

gate of hope

Depression may follow the heartbreak, rejection and loneliness felt when an important relationship breaks down. It may be part of the weary frustration and hopelessness that can result from repeated disappointments, setbacks and failed plans. It may be part of the grief that follows the death of a close relative or friend; the loss of a home or job, or the shattering of future dreams and plans. It may be part of a severe anxiety state which makes life feel too difficult to bear. Or it may be the result of physical illness, especially severe anaemia. Each of these examples will require a different acupuncture treatment plan, which will become more personalised and refined as treatment proceeds.

A 50 year old patient, who I will call Jill, is an example of how I might treat someone with depression. She came for treatment after suffering a small stroke. She walked unsteadily and her hand was weak, but most importantly her spirits were very low. She cried a lot, had daydreams of death and dying, and was very tired. This depression required acupuncture treatment on several levels. I needed to treat her grief and morbid thoughts, which related to the loss of her former healthy self. This required me to treat her Metal element and included such points as Cloud Gate (Yun Men). The name suggests it helps to open a gate through the grey clouds to find inspiration and light from above. I also needed to relieve some of her frustration and irritation caused by her partial loss of independence and mobility. This required me to regulate her Wood element in order to get her Qi to move freely round her body and mind. I included points such as Root of the Spirit (Ben Shen), which roots the Qi and stops it from rising up to make someone feel irritated and ‘hot under the collar’. At a more basic physical level her stroke and medication had weakened her Qi and Blood generally, so strengthening them would help everything else to improve. After four treatments, her depression began to shift and hope started to return. Then I could add some acupuncture points to help strengthen her leg and hand muscles – to work alongside the exercise she was doing. Improvement was slow, but once hope returned than her life could begin to improve.

Often, the cause of the depression is less clear cut. But by improving the circulation of Qi and Blood and strengthening the person’s constitution there is a shift from the dark stuck place of depression to one where life’s problems become clearer and more open to change. Chinese medicine is especially useful at helping someone at the mental and spiritual level. Treatment at the level of the spirit, aims to help you (re)find your authentic self and the pathway to your natural place in the world. Here you can begin to find ways to fulfil your own potential. Depression is all about feeling stuck and sinking. Each of us has our own unique way forward, which we can explore step by step. Acupuncture is a good way to start taking those first steps.


Posted in depression, emotion, Five element acupuncture, mental health, mind body spirit, stress | Tagged , , , , ,

Numb hands or feet – successful treatment with acupuncture

If you suffer from a lack of feeling in the hands or feet, like a numbness, you will know how unpleasant and disabling it can be. Although Chinese medicine and acupuncture does not always help these symptoms, I have recently had considerable success in treating two men with numb hands and feet. Western medicine often labels longstanding numbness such as this as peripheral neuropathy, but may it offer little in the way of treatment. Using Chinese medicine I must first look at the whole picture of an individual’s health and illness and seek the underlying cause. Numbness usually indicates that Qi and Blood are not circulating freely in that area – once this is restored, then feeling will return. There are several causes for this reduced circulation, one of which is a weakness of the Blood.


Both of these patients were men in their 60s, and both were in other ways fit and active. The first patient had numbness in both feet, especially the soles of the feet, which was affecting his walking. He walked unsteadily, especially when the ground was uneven, because he couldn’t clearly feel the ground under his feet. The problem started several years ago after a back operation for a bad slipped disc. The operation had left him with some pain and weakness in one leg, which had improved slowly with acupuncture and daily exercises. But it was not until I started strengthening his Blood that the numb feeling quite quickly reduced. Once his Blood was stronger, then the circulation of Blood and Qi improved.

The other patient had numbness in his hands which was gradually getting worse. It was much worse after sustained use of the hand, such as with gardening or computer work. To start with I thought circulation of Blood and Qi was poor because of his chronic shoulder problems. However, although his shoulder pains improved with acupuncture, the numbness was getting worse. Once again it was a strong treatment to strengthen his Blood that made the big improvement to his numbness. The numbness was worse after using his arm muscles, because this use required stronger Blood than his body could provide.

When we use terms such as Blood, Liver, Heart etc in Chinese medicine, we are not talking about quite the same things as within Western Medicine. We use a capital letter to show we are talking in Chinese medicine terms. In Chinese medicine, Blood refers to a wider system of circulation and energy and is connected to the Liver as well as the Heart. Interestingly, in terms of the Five Elements, both of these men were constitutionally connected to the Wood Element. The Wood Element has a particular role to play in circulating Qi smoothly around the body, so this potential weakness in Wood probably contributed to the poor circulation of Qi and Blood.

Yes, this does get a bit complicated! It may sometimes take a little while, but Chinese medicine is very useful for unraveling and treating complex problems

Posted in Five element acupuncture, Numbness | Tagged , , ,

Treating the root of your problem

If you are someone with several different health problems, acupuncture and Chinese medicine is especially useful. Your Western medicine doctor is likely to treat each of these separately, which can bring benefits but can also lead to a complicated list of tablets, advice and specialist referrals. In contrast, when I am using acupuncture I am always aiming to treat the imbalance or weakness which is the root of all your problems. When I treat this underlying cause with acupuncture it will benefit all or most of your health problems – physical and emotional. This important guiding principle in Chinese medicine is called treating the root (the Ben), as well as treating the manifestation or symptom (the Biao). It is a holistic, or whole person, approach.

To illustrate this I will describe three patients who came for treatment because they had recurrent chest infections. They are all women in their early 60s but each have a different underlying cause.

The first patient, who I will call Jane, had suffered from severe chest infections for most of her adult life. These had been more frequent and severe in the last few years and had dented her self- confidence. During this period several close friends and family members had died, often unexpectedly. After further discussions, examination of her pulses and observation of her response to the first two treatments, I was able to diagnose the root of her problem. This was a constitutional weakness in one system of her body, which in Five Element theory corresponds to the Metal Element (not the same as everyday metal!). In physical terms the Metal element relates to the respiratory system and in emotional terms it is sensitive to grief and loss. Acupuncture to strengthen her Metal element was successful in preventing further serious infections and making her emotionally stronger, so that she could once more enjoy life.

Five elements pic

A second patient had similar chronic symptoms to Jane but I discovered that her constitutional weakness was in the system corresponding to the Earth element. This weakness caused a build-up of phlegm in the body, which was causing some joint pains as well as chest infections. In addition, the Earth element is said to be the ‘mother’ of Metal, which means that if Earth is weak it is unable to nurture its child Metal. When Metal is weak so are the lungs and respiratory system. Consequently I used acupuncture to not only directly strengthen her Lungs but also build up her Earth element, which was the root of the problem. She has started to ‘fight off’ her infections and I hope that in the longer term she will suffer from less pain in her joints.

My third patient had only been bothered by recurrent chest and throat infections for six months, but they had laid her low and interfered with both her work and her leisure. The infections lasted several weeks and as soon as she got over one she started another. She had been through a worrying period in relation to her son and daughter and also had a lot of work pressures. In this instance it was the body’s defence system (called Wei Qi in Chinese medicine) which was weakened. In terms of the Five Elements, her constitution was particularly affected by the Water element. The Water element plays an important role in overall strength of body and mind, as well as being a key factor in making and circulating Wei Qi. Her treatment involved strengthening her Water element at both the physical and emotional level and for the first few weeks she continued to require some Western medicine treatments and advice. It was reassuring for her that acupuncture could work alongside Western medicine and that I could use my conventional medical knowledge to advise her on this. She has now regained her physical health but still finds acupuncture helpful during periods of anxiety or low mood.

I have described three people with similar symptoms but very different root causes. By treating the underlying imbalance acupuncture is able to improve both physical and emotional health problems in a long-term way.

Posted in Five element acupuncture, lung and sinus problems, mental health, mind body spirit | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Dizziness – like being blown about by the wind

Dizziness and vertigo are common problems, and ones that Western medicine may find difficult to explain and treat. You may have a background feeling of slight unsteadiness, or sudden waves of dizziness when you feel you may fall, or episodes of spinning vertigo when lying still is your only option. In Chinese medicine all of these are explained and treated as ‘Wind’ – a disturbance of our natural balance that can start from inside or outside our body. I use a capital letter for Wind so that we know I am talking about the Chinese concept rather than everyday digestive or weather types! Acupuncture is usually effective at treating Wind, although it depends on the underlying cause and may take some time.

Chinese medicine developed thousands of years ago and often describes the cause of illness in terms of the natural world (see previous blogs about Damp, for example).Dizziness has many of the same characteristics as our everyday wind: it may come and go suddenly, just like sudden gusts of wind; and it may make us tremble, sway or fall, just like plants in a breeze or a storm.


Also of interest is that wind, or air, will be drawn in to any vacuum. Although, in Chinese medicine, Wind and dizziness is not created by a vacuum as such, it is often caused by a deficiency or lack of energy, in terms of Qi or Blood.

So when someone comes to see me because they are dizzy, unsteady or noticing tremors, I will spend plenty of time finding out about all aspects of their health and life’s pressures. Most likely I will find that one or more of their systems are weak in energy and then I can use acupuncture to gradually strengthen them. This gets to the root of the problem and helps to prevent further attacks. If the dizziness is severe, I can aim for a quicker relief by also using acupuncture to calm or expel Wind directly. Once we have discussed the root of the problem, we may be able to find ways that you can play a part in getting stronger – such as particular changes to diet, or ways to get more relaxation and less stress. Any prescribed tablets that are proving helpful can be continued if necessary and then reduced gradually once acupuncture is working well.

In Chinese medicine, Wind can also invade the body from outside. A common cold, for example, is termed an invasion of Wind-Cold, and the Wind then causes sneezing and blockage. A feverish infection would be treated as Wind-Heat. In these instances invasion of Wind signifies an air-borne disease – not so far away from our modern understanding of infections. The focus of treatment with acupuncture is to strengthen the body’s defences, as it is only when they are weakened that Wind will enter the body. You can add to your own body defences by wrapping up warm when you go out in the wind and cold – you will be pleased that you reached for that scarf when you avoid all those colds that your friends are suffering from!

Posted in Dizziness, self-help, Wind

New Year Resolutions: yangshen, the Chinese tradition of nourishing life.

Let’s face it, New Year resolutions about healthy living can be a bit predictable: ‘go to the gym every day’, ‘go back to Weight Watchers’, ‘relax more by meditating’. This is not surprising given that government, doctors and nurses generally give us standardised advice – a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In contrast, advice based on Chinese medicine is finely tuned to you as an individual and the circumstances of your life. In terms of exercise, for example, I would advise some patients to be more physically active and others to rest more, and the type of activity would vary from strenuous exertion to walking in the park and enjoying the natural world around them.

Acupuncture treatment is based on improving the strength and balance of our Qi (energy, life-force). To keep healthy we need to have sufficient Qi, it needs to be balanced across our different body and mind systems, and it needs to flow smoothly round every part of the body. There are many ways that you can support the treatment in terms of small changes to your lifestyle – so lots of opportunities for New Year resolutions! Advice on healthy living is central to Chinese medicine – in ancient texts the Chinese tradition of nourishing life is called ‘yangshen’. Once I have some understanding of the state and balance of your Qi we can discuss what might be feasible, and even enjoyable, for you to do. However, there is no hurry – you may need to start feeling better before you have the energy for change.


New Year resolutions about exercise are a good example of how we need to think about ourselves as individuals. You may be someone with a constitution that especially benefits from regular vigorous exercise and recognise that you can successfully work off stress and anger, low energy or some other health problems by going for a run or playing sport. Without exercise, your Qi may have a tendency to get stuck or not move smoothly and this leads to both emotional and physical symptoms such as pain, irritation and impatience. The reason you feel better with exercise is because it helps move your Qi round the body. However, excessive exertion weakens our Qi so you should avoid pushing yourself so hard when you are under other pressures – such as with other illness, pregnancy, lack of sleep etc. You may also find that your strong competitive spirit makes you are prone to sports injuries. Acupuncture can help the body heal from such injuries, but it is even better to avoid them!

Many people who come for acupuncture treatment need their Qi and energy strengthened, and in this situation exercise needs to be much more gentle and balanced with plenty of rest. Usually, being encouraged to listen to what our body is telling us will lead to us conserving and rebuilding Qi by gentle activities such as short walks, swimming, or yoga or Tai Chi. However, some people have a lot of ‘nervous energy’ and can be observed to be ‘running on empty’. In this situation we feel a compulsion to keep working and exercising at a fast pace, even though we feel tired and worn out. This is usually because our Qi is out of balance in terms of its Yin and Yang aspects. If we weaken our Yin energy, through long unbroken hours of stressful work for example, then our hot, fast agitated Yang energy is not balanced out by cooling, sustained and calm Yin energy. We act on the drive of racing Yang energy but what we need to do is to rebuild our Yin energy by rest and relaxing activities. Once our Qi is back in balance we can build up our physical strength and resilience.

You can read more about the tradition of yangshen in the book Live Well, Live Long by Peter Deadman.


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