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Restoring Order in Health and Chinese Medicine - Studies of the development and use of qi and the channels

Restoring Order in Health and Chinese Medicine - Studies of the development and use of qi and the channels

In Steven Birch´s latest book about Restoring order in health, you find contributions from very experienced practitioners about qi. It clearly describes the development and usage of the jingmai or meridians/channels of acupuncture. Seven authors like Stephen Birch from Holland, Miguel Angel Cabrer Mir and Manuel Rodriguez Cuadras from Spain, Dianne Sommers from Holland, Chip Chace and Dan Bensky from the US and Mark Bovey from the UK present a very in-depth study with contributions. The foreword by Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée makes it clear that this book is a must for all students and practitioners of qi related disciplines and those interested in studying qi related practices. For the development and practice of medical systems like acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage the concepts of qi and jingmai are central. Qi is a central concept in a number of self-development traditions from Asia, including Taiji quan, Qigong, and Aikido. The authors have drawn from a wide range of scholarly literature, original sources and many years of experience using these different practice methods to expose the history, development, nature, practical understanding and uses of these concepts, seeking the central core focus that guides their use in such a broad range of practice traditions. In the early literature the cultivation of the practitioner is a central theme and highlighted throughout these chapters. In addition the last two chapters focus on practical exercises that help develop the inner skills of the practitioner so that they are better able to utilise qi in clinical practice. This book will help both the student and seasoned practitioner deepen their understanding and uses of these traditional concepts.

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JCM Review

This work is a serious attempt to make sense of the anthropological, cultural and etymological history that underpins the practice of Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM). It sets out a deep and critical analysis of the core metaphors which inform the practice of TEAM, giving centre-stage to practitioner cultivation, needling, qigong and valid research methodologies. It also explores the idea of how the mind experiences the world as both observer and participant, and how 'the concept of Qi captures that interaction and mutual influence'. The work is laid out in 10 chapters with a foreword by Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée, who makes it clear that this book is a must for all students and practitioners of qi related disciplines.

In Chapter 1 the authors explore the links between qi, the mind, mental and emotional states and the body. They pose the question whether if we are part of a mutually interacting world where the observer and the observed are not distinct and separate, then perhaps qi is the language through which this mutuality can be captured. They point to the importance of this in terms of the individual both influencing and being influenced by the world. This chapter also traces the history of the development of the concept of qi and the cultural, political and philosophical influences that have shaped it. They say qi is not a magical, mysterious thing but a normal, everyday thing that is related to our everyday experiences and our attempts to explain them. Birch et al. are also interested in developing the setting for the practice of needling technique as espoused in the classics. They suggest that it is especially in a quiet, focused, emotionally-regulated state of mind that the qi is most effectively accessed; quoting the Neiye (Inner Training) they tell us that it is the 'yi' (awareness / attention / intention) that is responsible for this. Briefly making the case for a workable contemporary research model, the authors point to the substantial body of research on mind-body phenomena that has emerged over the last twenty years or so, and wonder if this may be instructive in coming to grips with how to investigate the qi paradigm scientifically.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the nature and development of the concept of the jingmai. The authors put the etymology of the jingmai into historical context, which creates a framework for the discussion in the remainder of the book. The question of how the mai were conceived and developed through history is also addressed in detail. The jingmai, they state, may be involved in helping to create alignment in the body and maintain order.

Chapter 3 discusses how to become a 'shangyi' ('superior physician') and explores the influence of the practitioner in early China. Dianne Somers makes an intriguing comparison between what passes for competent practice in today's conventional medical profession and how 'superior' practice was described during the Han era (206 BCE–220 CE).

Chapter 4 is an examination of acupuncture within its own diverse historical and cultural milieux. Not afraid to address the contemporary problems associated with researching acupuncture outcomes, Stephen Birch provides an interesting and relevant discussion of how acupuncture might be understood, measured and researched, without sliding into 'reductio ad absurdem'. Importantly Birch helps to establish a valid framework for research that investigates acupuncture on the basis of classical theory and its modern practical applications.

Birch examines how the concepts of qi and the jingmai have influenced the practice of acupuncture. He points to how extensively and systematically they have been used in a field where diverse practice models and methods have developed over time, and how this diversity has influenced the role of qi and the jingmai. In this regard he explores the relationship of acupoints to qi and the jingmai, and their relationship to the body, and examines discussions in the early literature about how needling should be done. He reiterates that 'we apply needles in order to regulate the Qi' as per chapter seventy-five of the Lingshu (Divine Pivot): 'Needling regulates (tunes) the qi (tiao qi).' He also explores in some detail how various levels of qi are experienced both by the practitioner and client, and how outcomes may depend on this relationship and the levels at which both parties are functioning.

In Chapter 5 Charles Chace and Dan Bensky discuss the meaning of some of the essential etymological pillars of classical Chinese medicine, focusing on ji, qi and blood. They provide a scholarly analysis of the concept of ji in the context of the classics, and suggest that the ji lies in the spaces of quiescence between the 'comings and goings of the qi'; it is the space and emptiness from which all activity springs. When one works from the ji and one's action becomes effortless ('wu wei, 無 為') even the most subtle influence has a significant impact. Once again, the state of one's mind or spirit is a crucial part of the equation. According to Zhang Zhicong, '[One must] calmly attend to the intervals between the comings and goings [of the dynamic] and tonify or drain it. Even the slightest error of a hair's breadth and it will be lost! (靜守于來往之間, 而補瀉之, 少差毫 髮之間, 則失矣).' The authors discuss the ji as described in the Lingshu an important aspect of needling: 'before one can hope to execute any needle technique one must attune oneself with the timing of the qi itself. One must neither go rushing to meet, nor chasing after the qi, but remain instead with the dynamic (ji). The superior practitioner executes the techniques of tonification and drainage from within the empty spaces between the comings and goings of the qi in a calm and focused state of mind. The idea is to stay out of the way of the healthy functioning of the qi.'

In Chapter 6 Rodríguez attempts to position Chinese herbal medicine away from the reductive identification of 'active principle' molecules and back to the principle of 'a Chinese healing craft' underpinned by the concepts of qi, jingluo and zangfu. He argues that these concepts 'are as fundamental to herbalism as they are to acumoxa, although historically they were used in rather different and distinctive ways'. In his own words he offers here 'some raw ideas about the whole, in the hope that someone more able than me will take and adequately develop them to put Chinese herbal medicine back home, well into the rich Chinese models and concepts and far away from the danger of the short-sighted, narrow, bio-chemical interpretations of the modern period.'

In Chapter 7 Cabrer Mir shows 'how the practice of stillness enables movement that has greater resonance with our surroundings'. Making the case that movement cannot exist without stillness, he describes the virtues of taijiquan, qigong and acupuncture, and discusses stillness and the art of waiting - for an emergence, an opportunity … for movement. He invokes the practice of tuishou (pushing hands), 'with its emphasis on sticking and adhering' as one way to develop the relationship between the body and the needles.

In Chapter 8 Birch and Bovey give an outline of modern research as it is currently applied to TEAM, and point to the difficulties of finding an appropriate research methodology. They explore the thesis that 'clinical trials can be used to test the theories of acupuncture', and subsequently propose that this is not possible, especially for theories such as qi and the jingmai. Their clear descriptions and succinct analyses of research point to a rigorous non-reductionist methodology that reflects the nature of traditional acupuncture practice whilst still informing the world at large.

In Chapter 9, 'A summary of core practical concepts', the authors use their experience of acupuncture and taiji to propose the development of a 'traditional' model of practice, involving the conscious development of the skills of alertness, calmness, sensitivity, alignment, grounding, presence and awareness. They ask how the seemingly abstract ideas of qi, ji, yi and shen might be brought together in a clinical context, pointing out that these categories do not easily fit into any intellectual definition and as such are only accessible via direct perception, that is, 'the quality of inclusive, integrated awareness that we have to develop, practice and maintain.'

Chapter 10, 'Practical Exercises' is a treasure-trove of ideas, information and data relevant to the development of classical acupuncture practice. The level of detail necessary for this makes for a very slow examination, however, and I personally would prefer to have most of this information transmitted to me verbally and demonstrated physically. However it is a very useful resource from whence to explore further the ideas described and examined in this book.

In conclusion, this book is about the uncovering of historically authentic practitioner skills whilst attempting to extrapolate a viable evidence base. It is focused on the development of the practitioner - one who is sensitive to the history of the medicine and focuses on the development of the self in service to the concept of ji - and ultimately the patient. If the development of the clinical relationship is the key to successful outcomes in TEAM practice, then we need to find a new research paradigm which reflects just that. The success of this book lies in its organisation and scholarship, which are of the highest quality. It is an essential text for our bookshelves and an important contribution to the discussion about qi and its cosmology.

Michael McCarthy


AuthorStephen Birch
Publication Date01/05/2014
PublisherJade Stone Group
Number Of Pages500
Book FormatSoftcover

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