I wanted to share one of my patient’s stories with you to illustrate the potential of 5 Element Acupuncture in healing the mind and spirit after mental and physical trauma. I asked “Kathy” if I could use her story because it illustrates almost the complete array of both the illnesses of the spirit, and recovery in all realms. 5 Element acupuncture excels at treating shock, and all other forms of emotional health and illness.
Many people know acupuncture by what is most commonly practiced in our country, “TCM” (Traditional Chinese Medicine). This form of acupuncture grew out of Maoist China, after Mao came to power. He was faced with the need to address a health care crisis in his country, as most of the old family lineages of medical practice and teaching had been destroyed, and he had to find a way to quickly train people in basic healthcare skills. He created a university-style teaching that has many good qualities (I also practice it – its great for things like jet lag and sprained ankles), but was lacking in the diagnostic skills and the basic language of what we might call mental health care. This is the form of Chinese medicine most widely practiced in the US today. Any idea of “spirit” had been taken out of the medicine, based on the cultural beliefs coming out of China at that time. The 5 Element style came to Europe before the Cultural Revolution with the concepts of spirit and how to treat emotional health intact. It was introduced to the United States in 1972, when the first 5 Element school was opened in Maryland.
I asked Kathy if she would feel comfortable sharing her story with other people in the hopes that it might help others in pain and she said yes. This is what she wrote:
“After my first treatment with Laura I noticed a few changes almost instantly, that greatly improved my quality of life. The first thing that improved was my sleep. Before I saw Laura, I had countless nights of interrupted sleep and dreams that often woke me up. After I saw Laura, I started sleeping 10 hours a night, making up for all of those months of poor sleep. I woke up rested and energized as well.
The other thing I noticed after seeing Laura was that my anxiety level had decreased. My body was more relaxed and my muscles weren’t so tight. This added to an overall increase in energy in addition to just feeling more comfortable in my surroundings
One of the main reasons I started acupuncture was to help strengthen myself emotionally and physically. Several months ago, I experienced an event that made me feel like I wasn’t whole anymore, that I was broken into many pieces. I have spent months trying to put these pieces back together and have them work together as one strong element. I felt I have done that but there is still a delicacy about me, I can easily be broken down. Laura, however, with her work is helping me to strengthen those bonds so I can really be me again, but even stronger and more resilient.”
Kathy had decided to attend college on the east coast, leaving her boyfriend and family in the west. She was excited to go out on her own and begin her education, being a strong minded, self confident, and energetic, active young woman. Shortly after arriving she was drugged in a bar with the “date” drug with what you can imagine as the subsequent events from that. She was advised to take anti-HIV drugs after the event, and spent the next 3 months sitting on a couch, not able to do much more that that. She felt the drugs “took everything out of her”. She reported she tried to go back to school but she “didn’t feel like she was an “x” (her chosen profession), didn’t feel like a person”. She was afraid to not take the drugs but “knew they were killing everything inside her”. She lost 10 – 15 pounds. She eventually left school, returned home, and moved back in with her parents. The combination of the HIV drugs and the events that followed her drugging left her feeling fractured and broken. She had strong reactions to anything – and was overall more sensitive to the world at large. She felt it was hard to just get through the day. She had a hard time sorting through ideas and information, and spent most of her time being quiet and still. She wasn’t as sure about simple things, like what season she preferred. She didn’t feel depressed, but appeared that way to her family. She had a high level of stress and anxiety, rated at an “8” on a 1:10 scale. She also reported fatigue, neck pain, having lucid nightmares and would wake up feeling exhausted.
In my language I would say her spirit had lost its way. In 5 Element Acupuncture the spirit is actually composed of 5 aspects. The liver, Hun, is most like what we might call the soul in our culture – it is instinctive intelligence, the subconscious and is responsible for the ability to make plans and carry them out, and have dreams and aspirations for the future. Each organ has a corresponding spirit. The lung’s spirit, the Po, is responsible for the most base instinctual aspect of human hood. I would say that this young woman’s spirits had all “fallen asleep”, except the Po, leaving it to do all the work of her life. She didn’t know her heart’s desire (the spirit of the heart, shen, is responsible for this and is considered to be what we might call “consciousness”). She didn’t have the capacity for drive or will power – under the domain of the spirit of the Kidneys, and she had difficulty concentrating - under the domain of the Yi, spirit of the spleen.
After her first treatment she reported she was sleeping a lot, 10 hours a day, with no nightmares. She still had vivid dreams but the content shifted from being all about college to being about old friends she hadn’t seen in a while. The dreams didn’t wake her. She felt “really good” throughout the day, and energized. Her anxiety was better and she dropped down to counseling once every two weeks rather than every week. Her neck pain went away. She reported all the shattered pieces of herself were pieced back together but they weren’t “bone” yet. It was easier to get through the day and she didn’t have to think about every step of the way when doing tasks. When asked about her emotions she said she was” better than I’ve ever felt, more in tune to what my emotions are telling me”.
This was from the first treatment. In 5 Element acupuncture, treatment is divided into 3 stages, – 1. Clearing shock, 2. Nourishing the system and releasing physical blockage, and 3. Treating the spirit. Although one often works with all of the stages at all times, this is a general theme time-line that is followed. The treatments for clearing shock are very powerful, as you can see by Kathy’s example.
After such a treatment there is a need to strengthen the basic constitution and spirit so that it can retain, and sometimes accept, the new ideas, physical renewal or vitality, and awareness that emerge from having shock cleared from the body/mind. Oftentimes this need creates an awakened spirit, as a person realizes they need to have a belief system, or some sort of support other than their mind, to help them stare some of the ugliness of life in the face and be able to look behind that. This is where the treatment of the spirit begins. Often with it, they are able to see traumatic events as life lessons learned that ended up enriching their lives in some fashion, or helped them to wake up to the wish to live from a deeper place. The paradox of pain creating growth gives the ability to live more consciously, gratefully, and healthily.
Laura Santi graduated from the New England School of Acupuncture in 1991 and pursued further clinical training in Shanghai, China. She also attended the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Maryland to learn 5 Element style, and the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine for further study. Other education includes certification in teaching classical hatha yoga, the study of homeopathy from the New England School of Homeopathy, the practice of Aikido for two years, and NRT –“Nutritional Response Testing:, a strength test to bring to light nutritional deficiencies and possible allergens or toxins in a person’s body or environment. I practice both acute and constitutional (5 Element) styles of acupuncture which means that sudden problems such as back sprains or injuries from car accidents, and chronic, long term difficulties such as stress and depression can be addressed. Her style is predominantly 5 Element, with a mixture of Chinese and Japanese styles, allowing her to work on physical injury as well as her specialty, mental emotional healing.