Mother’s Day, Relationships and Acupuncture.

Daniel Schulman

/ 5 min read

 It’s Mother’s Day.

The style of acupuncture I practice invokes a principle from the Chinese Han Dynasty  Canonical Text, the Nan Jing (the Classic of Difficult Issues) . . .

          in the case of depletion, treat the mother

What does this mean?

Chinese Medicine is a medicine of relationships.  Through the Chinese Medical lens, all the different parts of your body; the organs, glands, tissues, and pathways of nerve and blood are all in relationship with one another.  

Chinese Medicine arose two thousand years ago.  So the metaphors of the day were used . . . those of family and government.  Mother, child, father, emperor, minister of agriculture and so on are labels given to different ‘actors’ in the physiology and anatomy that is your body.  And all of these ‘actors’ are in familial and administrative relationship.

A mother and a child is just such a relationship.  A mother nourishes and supports her child.  A malnourished child needs more from mother.  (A hyperactive child may well be draining mother!)

When a classically trained practitioner of acupuncture offers you treatment, they are often doing so through the treatment of these relationships.  

These relationships are understood and arranged as reflections of universal cycles and sequences found in nature, across all scales of time and space;

  •      from one breathing cycle of inhalation and exhalation,
  •      to one 24-hour diurnal cycle,
  •      to one 12-month annual cycle through the seasons,
  •      to one full 60-year cycle of stems and branches
  •      and beyond;

the same recapitulating fractal patterns of movement through expansions and contractions of Yin and Yang are to be found at all these scales of zooming in and zooming out.

Through such cycles and relationships, everything has it’s place and timing, it’s appropriate coming and going, it’s balance.  Spring never goes to Fall without going through Summer.  Midday noon never proceeds directly to midnight without going through the afternoon and evening.

What does this have to do with Mothers?

Let’s look at an example.

But first, a quick overview of my clinical process.

A patient always arrives in my clinic with a symptom, a complaint, something they want me to attend to.

The symptom is not treated directly.  It turns out this would not be very effective.  The relationships in play need to be understood and those relationships need to be treated.  We have to go through a process to arrive at the best, most effective treatment.  The way I work, this process involves four steps . . . 

  1. Identifying the symptom
  2. Identifying the location of the issue underlying the symptom
  3. Identifying the most stressed physiological relationship involved
  4. Identifying and treating the best relationship to that stressed domain

Let’s consider a simple example of frequent urination.  A patient comes to my clinic complaining of frequent urination.  There can be many reasons for this symptom.  I have to use my clinical skills to investigate.  I may conclude it is due to too much heat in the body (as might be evidenced by a rapid pulse, red face, rapid speech, restlessness, aversion to heat, love of cold, warm and soft upper abdomen, restless sleep, etc).  I determine the heat is reflecting a hyper functioning in the Heart channel system(which could be arising from, for example, severe emotional stress, or from an unresolved febrile illness).  This is only at step 2 of the process.  

In the Korean system I use, step 3 identifies that the most stressed physiological relationship here is that between the Bladder channel and the Heart channel systems.  So in fact, even though the heat is within the Heart channel system, my treatment is to support the under-performing cooling function of the Bladder channel system which is unable to keep the Heart channel heat in check.  And even at this point in my process, I do not proceed to support the Bladder channel directly.  I use acupuncture strategies for treating channel relationships established in the Nan Jing some 2000 years ago. 

One of those relationships is described as the Mother-Child relationship.  In this case, Bladder belongs to what we call the Water Phase.  The Water Phase as it operates in our bodies is reflected in nature as Winter.  The mother of Winter, that which precedes and thus supports the timely flow into Winter is the Fall . . .

. . . For Fall to happen in nature, the trees lose their leaves and send their nutrients deep into their root systems, migratory animals undertake their migrations,  hibernating animals enter hibernation and so many other things occur, all before Winter can arrive.  The Fall corresponds with the Metal phase in acupuncture language, reflected in our bodies through the Large Intestine channel system.  And so Metal is ‘the mother’ of Water . . . in our bodies, the Large Intestine channel system is the physiological ‘mother’ (supporting antecedent) of the Bladder channel system.

And so . . . back to this hypothetical patient with frequent urination.  The problem is due to too much heat in her body, in the Heart channel system.  This is related to a hypofunctioning Bladder channel system, whose underperforming cooling function is unable to keep the heat in check.  But in this system of relationships, it turns out it is not that effective to treat the Bladder channel system directly.  Rather, it is much more effective to support the ‘Mother’ of the Bladder channel system, the Large Intestine channel system and ‘Metal’ (the mother of ‘Water’) in general.

My acupuncture treatment for this patient includes supportive treatment for the Large Intestine channel system and other ‘Metal’ supportive points.    If my understanding of the patient was correct, she will return after one or a few treatments with treatment success and normalisation of her urinary function.  In addition, because system relationships have been treated as a whole, she may well also find her sleep has improved, she feels cooler, calmer, more focused and she is in a much greater state of equanimity in relation to her emotionally turbulent relationships.

Such is the clinical world of medicine through the treatment of relationships.

Happy Mother’s Day!