Last month I wrote about the conscious body and the idea of symbolic healing. In a related turn of events I was asked to be a practice model for a hypnotherapist friend who wanted to revive her skills. Last week she came around to my clinic room and over the course of an afternoon I was hypnotised twice, once to test my susceptability and explore some phobias (I hate wasps and overcrowded tubes) and the second time to experiment with a past life regression. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed both but probably the past life regression the most as it involved generating a story and a most unique sensation that did not seem to be like telling a story. Certain aspects of this story seemed to be demanding they be told, regardless of whether they were particularly exciting or interesting while others that I hoped would come to the fore were not. I had often speculated that if I did such a regression my interest in certain cultures and time periods would inevitably make me come out as a Chinese sage, an Aztec warrior or a European alchemist or physician but instead I came out as none of those and in a period that has held little interest to me. For the curious I turned out to be a tanner in 15th century Germany who joined a monastic order.
Personal experience aside it has got my mind working on some interesting parallels. I have been wondering if acupuncture may help to induce some similar trances when it makes the limbs heavy or numb and frequently puts people into near sleep-like states. I have wondered about doing “guided meditations” with acupuncture before, talking people through the sensations being produced and working down the body in the same way as the hypnotist encourages you to relax each part of the body, from top to bottom, emptying tension from each part as you go. The image of the qi circulating at each point is very much like the visualised light bathing your body that I was guided through. The difficulty perhaps in this would be to induce the sensations without them hurting and bring them back to alert consciousness. One solution could be to put the needles in first, obtaining deqi as you go and then return and do subtle manipulations to each one. This way the inital procedure will start the release of the endorphins which while possibly painful will help the trance state to occur. Once each one has ‘grasped’ you can then get the patient to relax and guide them deeper through the subtle manipulations.
The next question is where to put the needles. I have seen in a book of Chinese needling techniques a ‘hypnosis needling’ method that involves a needle at Shenmen Ht-7 aimed in a proximal direction to catch all the points along the heart channel at the wrist.
I can understand the reasoning behind this, the Heart channel being down the inner arm, where heart pains are known to reach so stimulation here may feed back to the heart, slowing its pace and sending us into trance more easily. I suspect any set of points that may help us to reconstruct the issue we want to face in our trance could be appropriate though. Here is perhaps where the traditional channel and point selections could come into play, Xi clefts for acute issues, Luo points for emotions needing to be released, Yuan source points for the deepest issues and Shu transporting points for the interplay of other apsects of the mind, based either on either 5 element principles or TCM and classical interpretions of the spirit. Yang channels indicate issues of action, defense and interaction with the outside while Yin channels for more internal, introspective matters. It is probably best if not too many points are chosen and not on too many channels. Many classical sources recommend as few channels being selected form as possible with three often being the maximum so as not to overload the person. This probably a wise choice to prevent confusing the message you are sending. This is common in classical protocols where often only two or three points will be mentioned in a prescription, in quite stark contrast to many modern protocols where it seems as if they are using a blunderbuss approach, needling every possible point that may have an effect in the assumption that any points which do not need treatment will simply not respond.
This raises another issue of what manipulations are best to use. I think the answer to that depends on the level you are working. The tradition of classical acupuncture recognises three levels of qi: the wei, ying and yuan, in order of depth. The wei qi (defensive qi) circulates on the exterior and is most abundant in the sinew channels used commonly for musculoskeletal complaints, injuries and acute infections, while the ying qi (nutritive qi) is most abundant in the primary channels of regular acupuncture, and the yuan qi (source qi) is at the deepest level associated with the extraordinary vessels of internal alchemy or personal transformation. The luo traverse the wei and ying levels as can be seen on this diagram, connecting the primary channels to the surface.
While it would be tempting to simply overlay the western levels of conscious, subconconscious and unconscious onto these I think it is a mistake to try and force a modern western conceptual framework onto an ancient Chinese one, especially as each one seems to involve several of the levels at once with unconscious mechanisms being responsible for the expression for issues in the conscious or subconscious mind in all of them. It does seem that the wei level expresses most the unconscious: injuries, sudden pains for no apparent reason, infectious illness, postural habits and moods that we cannot identify a cause for. The work on this level is also working with automatic responses such as trigger point needling, or techniques aimed at boosting the immune system. The ying level seems to have the closest association with the conscious mind where acknowledged stresses affect our internal state. Treatment is focused on the primary and luo channels where the patient is usually conscious but relaxed and experiences sensations of deqi. The yuan level is the source and related to deep issues closest to the subconscious level that we are not immediately aware of but whose effects radiate into our lives in many aspects. These are the levels of the extraordinary vessels where we are encouraged to go into the deepest trance and re-evaluate our relationship with destiny and our paths in life. The Divergent channels which are said to cross between the wei and the yuan, relating to chronic diseases from deeply buried issues that must be brought to the surface for confrontation, or which are currently manifesting, out of control and must be suppressed into a latent state until resources are found to tackle it. In Taoism the core of the person is their spirit, with all disease traditionally being considered a manifestation of a spiritual dilemma. This would make the subconscious the deepest or most yin level with the unconscious as the most superficial and yang. The level of consiocusness of the patient also follows this pattern with sinew treatment usually requiring no relaxation and no retention of needles, primary meridians being the standard acupuncture treatment with retention times around 20 minutes to induce a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing, and yuan level treatments lasting up to 40 minutes and utilising vibration techniques at deep levels which are usually painless and deeply relaxing, enabling a state closest to that of hypnosis.
The last question is whether to talk the patient through a guided sequence like a hypnotist does. I think this could be a matter of choice and style of the practitioner and the personality and needs of the patient. There is no reason why the needles alone, manipulated well, cannot do the talking for you and I have certainly seen good results and people enter trances with this alone, but if aiming for a hypnosis-like experience it might be good to guide the person in the direction needed, especially in the beginning. Encouraging them to breathe deeply, perhaps incorporating the insertion times with the breath as some sources recommend, asking them to visualise the sensations flowing around their body and suggesting the general aims of the treatment should be a reasonable start. Once the needles are in and the qi has been grasped the body should have its characteristic heavy, numb, distended feeling suggesting an altered state. Now it might also be a good time to ask questions that can clarify an issue, suggest a shift of perspective, or visualise a goal, maybe while stimulating a point pertinent to the topic. However, not all people are comfortable or able to go into a deep trance and I have many people who like to carry on quite normal conversations while on the couch. Many hypnotists claim it is not necessary to be in a deep trance for ideas to be implanted. For the most part just bringing them to a relaxed state where they can think about a problem in a safe space and use the therapist as a sounding board to bounce ideas off, or to suggest expansive questions may be enough. Circular or reflexive questions produce the best result as their answers are expansive, inviting contemplation and opening new possibilities. I would suggest that for treatments on the yuan level such as extraordinary vessel protocols, probably should involve something like a deep trance state, coming from a tradition of neidan or meditative internal transformation practices. The length of these treatments, sometimes as long as 40 minutes, also suggest the sort of time frame for this to occur. If they are the sort of person who does not go into a deep meditation then it may be best not to use these deep level protocols and either work on primary channels to increase their self-reflexive abilities first, or maybe use a divergent protocol to bring the issue from the yuan level to the wei.
I like this model because, like my previous post, it bridges the gap between ancient and modern, eastern and western views. The original aim of acupuncture was to detect disorder in the spirit by the way the body was expressing this conflict and provide a solution by tapping into the mind to correct the disease at its source. Acupuncture as a form of hypnotism, utilisiing the body as the pathway to the subconscious and unconscious mind, is a way to explain its actions and develop new protocols from a perspective that does not require dogmatic belief, which was itself abhorrent to the early taoists such as Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, but instead encourages an open and flexible mind, prepared to abosrb the principles of ancient teachings and modern theories, working with both in a fluid fashion.
In other news I have begun my work at The Disability Foundation at the Royal National Orthpaedic Hospital on Friday afternoons. If anyone wishes to see me for a treatment there you can contact them on 020 8954 7373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.