Developing Internal Energy for Effective Acupuncture Practice

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Drawing on ancient Chinese knowledge and tradition, this book teaches practitioners of acupuncture how to develop their internal energy and sensitivity to energy in order to improve their practice.

Understanding and working with energy flow is essential to becoming a good acupuncturist and regular qigong practice helps the acupuncturist to direct energy flow within the patient more accurately and effectively. This book presents a complete training regime for Western acupuncturists and features qigong exercises dating back centuries. With images from the original manuscripts and the Chinese text alongside an English translation and commentary, Western readers are introduced to unique exercises and internal cultivation texts in a truly authentic way.

This book provides essential internal training for acupuncture practitioners and students and will be of interest to a wide array of martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.

The latest publication from Singing Dragon shares some intriguing, and occasionally infuriating, characteristics with its recent stablemates. Once again, Singing Dragon supremo Jessica Kingsley has convinced a dedicated practitioner – Ioannis Solos, a TCM practitioner and long-time student of the internal martial art of Yi Quan – to share their wisdom in print. And, as with previous publications, there is no doubt that the chosen author has a deep knowledge of his field. Yi Quan, as Solos explains, was a modification of Hsing I, designed to do away with the rote practice of forms and focus instead on understanding the principles and mechanisms underlying them. In applying this approach to the practice of acupuncture, he believes, we can develop similar skills to the practitioners described in the Nei Jing:

'For all kinds of needling, you should first [be able to] control the spirit. The spirit should focus on the needle, and the Yi should focus on the disease. A continuous failure to induce a curative effect is due to the acupuncturist's inability to concentrate his spirit essence.'

This is perhaps the most important message and challenge of Solos' book. Modern TCM, he points out, 'dismisses certain integral aspects of the system pertaining to cultural teachings, esoteric awareness and psychological and perceptual training' in its (thus far, largely fruitless) search for mainstream acceptance. Instead, he suggests, 'acupuncturists should try to practice as closely as possible to the original teachings of the Huang Di Nei Jing ... regardless of acceptance issues.'

However, as Solos points out, 'Internal Cultivation texts specifically directed to acupuncturists and 'Needling Nei Gong' exercise are rare'. The core of the book is designed to fill this gap, comprising as it does a set of progressive exercises built around the standing practice of Zhan Zhuang, and intended to enable the acupuncturist to develop their energetic abilities. This section of the book is well-presented, with clear instructions and a logical progression from the basic principles to application in acupuncture-specific forms. The adaptation of Zhan Zhuang to a needling form, and the subsequent versions with needling through paper stacks and cotton balls are particularly useful. If the visualisations are occasionally a little unusual – 'visualise the great balloon collapsing on your skin ... [but] instead of being smooth it contains many hooks and barbed wire which can grab the air' – and some of the other exercises' relevance to acupuncture skill seems a little obscure, there is nevertheless plenty here to keep a dedicated practitioner developing and exploring their own structure and energetic ability for years.

Therein lies the rub, however – this kind of standing practice is notoriously difficult for some people, and it is hard to imagine large numbers of acupuncturists (except, perhaps, those who already have some kind of internal practice of their own) engaging in them with the necessary rigour, commitment and dedication necessary to gain the promised benefits. While it may well be true that the majority of acupuncturists today are not ambitious to develop the same kinds of skills Chinese doctors of old may have had, Solos' benchmark of what he calls Qi De, or 'Energetic Ethics', is set very high by contemporary standards.

The latter half of the book consists of two appendices – a photo-reproduction and translation of the Purple Cloud Master's Essential Instructions, and a translation of a second manuscript, Detailed Exposition of the Intention and Qi Exercise. In fact, this publication is really three books in one; as Solos explains, he originally intended to write a commentary on an old manual he came across, Purple Cloud Master's Essential Methods for Painless Needle Insertion, which he considers 'amazingly complete, profound and resolute'. But instead, inspired by his training in Yi Quan, he decided to present his own thoughts and exercises for the development of energetic skill.

The Essential Instructions is only 12 pages long, and mostly consists of directions to engage in a tranquil sitting practice and then to practise needling while maintaining the resultant focused attitude. It may well be that 'complete, profound and resolute' depths to the text might emerge on multiple readings, but the absence of Solos' discarded commentary on the work is sorely felt (the comments of the text's earlier publisher, Chang Danan, are included, though he spends an amusing proportion of his commentary contradicting the instructions of the main text).

The presence of the Detailed Exposition in this book is also a little difficult to explain. It is a perfectly clear and workable 'Cosmic Orbit' exercise (and this reviewer must own to not having practised it for the suggested 100 days to test its efficacy), but, while Solos says that he has included it because it can be taught to patients and beginning acupuncture students, the net effect of its presence is to make the book as a whole seem even more unfocused.

Solos writes with admirable simplicity and concision. He is clearly speaking from his own experience and not from blind tradition or dogma. Any acupuncturist would do well to take his advice, his standard of dedication and his example of self-directed inquiry to heart. The exercises in Developing Internal Energy are deceptive in their simplicity – anyone training them with sincerity and rigour will find themselves on a path of continuous improvement in their acupuncture skills, their health and their understanding. Nor is Solos' challenge to the contemporary acupuncture world something that should be ignored. The embarrassed silence on the question of qi, attempts to relegate it to a mere physiological metaphor, and the – very Western – belief that an acupuncturist can substitute intellectual study and abstract understanding for direct experiential training of sensitivity and awareness: Solos makes a convincing case that all these are unsustainable, contradicted as they are by the clear statements of the classics upon which the whole art is founded.

It is regrettable, then, that this book falls a little short of what it might have been: the Zhan Zhuang practices are valuable, but their presentation is occasionally a little idiosyncratic and lacking in the kind of explanatory guidance that would help a practitioner inexperienced in or not naturally inclined to such practices; the Essential Details suffers from its isolation from the rest of the book, and from the excision of Solos' commentary; and the Detailed Exposition, while valuable in its own right, seems somewhat out of place.

Some of the most interesting parts of this work are Solos' own recollections and musings on training, Daoism, modern life and Greek folk tales. It is to be hoped that – perhaps with the guidance of a firmer editorial hand – he might be encouraged to share more of his unique and valuable perspective in the future.

Steve Wheeler

More Information
Author Ioannis Solos
Publication Date 1 Jul 2014
Publisher Singing Dragon
Number of Pages 240
Book Format Softcover
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