by Blake Faulkner, L.Ac
In past articles, I’ve covered acupuncture points that are useful for at-home acupressure to treat pain, stress and anxiety. Today, I broaden the focus to some concepts of Chinese medicine that may be useful in self-care generally.
There are many points that are used quite commonly in acupuncture sessions every day, but also have a rich history in the arts of cultivation, such as Tai Qi, Qi Gong and meditation. The points I’ll illustrate today are Du-20, Ren 17, the Ren mai points on the lower belly, and Kidney 1. Together, these points represent the three major “fields” of energy and are used to reinforce the strength of these areas.
From the tradition of Daoism comes the concept of the Dān Tián, considered to be major energy centers in the body. In English, these areas are sometimes called the Upper, Middle and Lower Burners, and are “anatomically non-verifiable areas in the body.” In other words, these are conceptual representations of function, rather than physical organs. Like much of Chinese medicine, the concept of the three dan tian show how the nature of our bodies reflects the laws of the world around us. These three Burners successively reflect the sky or heavens in the upper, humanity in the middle, and the earth below. Keeping the three burners open and functional is considered crucial for optimal health.
For the Upper Dān Tián, I choose “Bai Hui,” Du-20, located at the very top of the head. This point is used quite often in acupuncture and can be calming and subduing to excessive energies in the upper body. Are our minds racing with anxious thoughts and worries or anger? Are we subjected to the rattling and “windy” issues such as headaches, tinnitus, spasms, paralysis or even seizures or confusion? In Confucian terms, we may think of this point as a marshal to “quell the chaos.” Bai Hui is said to affect the brain, which from a Daoist perspective, is the convergence of experiences and accumulations of life.
Bai Hui translates as “A Hundred Convergences,” and here we can reconnect with the world around us, opening the senses, waking and brightening the mind, or calming the noise from the outside. There are many points on the head to affect these issues, but Bai Hui is a point we can focus on in meditation, spiritual practices and visualization. It is at the very top of the head, at a flat place. You only need to do some tapping on this point with your fingertips to stimulate a wakeful feeling, which one of my teachers in acupuncture school had us do when we began to look glassy-eyed. In visualization, we can envision this point as an opening to connect us with inspiration from the universe, the celestial, something outside of us, and clear perception.
For the Middle Dan Tian, we can press firmly on Ren-17 in the middle of the breastbone. Ren-17 is named Dan Zhong, or “chest center,” and governs the energy of the heart and lungs, both physically and metaphorically. The middle Dan Tian relates to the Qi we bring in from the air around us, and our ability to be inspired and connect with others.
“Qì” is often translated as “energy,” and can be pictured like a spark or a light, but truly has components of both energy as well as the finest matter. Qi refers to function, or a transfer, even relationships. We can think of it as having a proper movement, with an easiness and regularity about it when working correctly. In visualization or meditation, picture warmth, light radiating within us, the intake of energy with our breath that feeds our whole body, and experiences that nourish us. If you are feeling overwhelmed because you have obligations to others you are afraid you can’t fulfill, or if you are feeling a desire to pull inward, but you need to give a presentation or enter a difficult social situation, you can press on Ren 17 for 1-3 minutes while focusing on taking deep, slow breaths. You may soon find your heart stops racing and your breathing becomes even. You can then feel confident in moving forward.
For the lower Dān Tián, we can focus on the belly points of the Ren mai, the meridian that runs up and down our front midline. Together, Ren 6 (Qi Hai “Sea of Qi”) and Ren 4 (guan yuan “origin pass”) nourish both the yin and yang of the body. Pressure, warmth or even focused attention of the mind to this area below the navel, helps to stimulate our mingmen or internal fire which nourishes the body’s overall functioning.
In visualization, we can picture warmth, light radiating within us, the intake of energy with our breath that feeds our whole body, and experiences that nourish us. This energy can spread to all points of our body, bringing rejuvenation and regeneration. Attention to these points is especially important for issues related to digestion, menstruation, reproduction and sexual function. Pressure and warmth (like a hot water bottle or moxa) at these points can also help strengthen the back and calm anxious thoughts. Please consult with your practitioner before stimulating these points during pregnancy.
In order to further ground ourselves and connect all three Dan Tian, we can use Kidney-1 or “Yong Quan.” Since Ki-1 is on the sole of the feet. This is a point of grounding, of stabilization, the point where our body contacts the earth, and can draw upon its influence. The energies of the earth are deep, strong, and tap into pure and cool underground water, exemplified by Ki-1, also known as the “Bubbling Spring.” Using this point in acupuncture can enliven a person’s Qì, as well as descend Qì which has risen excessively in symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, dizziness or headache. Kid 1 can produce a sense of calm, and is often stimulated during labor as a way to calm anxiety and fear in the new mother.
When we focus on this point in our standing meditation or other activities such as walking or just being outside, we can draw upon the invigorating Qì of the earth, up through our feet, and into the Dān Tián. In visualization, we can also see this place as an outlet for energies we do not need; we can visualize anything in our lives we care to let go, that the expanse of the deep earth can take and transform, like roots that expand from our feet and tap into the deep cool and watery places underground.
There are many more points that tap into the energies of the Dān Tián areas of the body, but Du-20, Ren 17, the belly points of the Ren mai and Kidney-1 are very accessible for meditation and self-cultivation at home.
Resources for more information:
Unschuld, Paul, Chinese Life Sciences
Hicks, Hicks & Mole, Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture
Yuen, Jeffrey, The Curious Organs
Jarret, Lonny S, Nourishing Destiny