– The human brain evolved to socialise so the verbal mind is easily influenced by other people, sometimes even harming ourselves
– The body has its own intelligences which have evolved to care for our wellbeing
– (The Meridian Functions are embodiments of some of these body intelligences)
-The verbal mind often overrules or ignores the body intelligences which causes internal conflict, injury or illness
– the techniques of Physical Democracy help a person to:
a) Listen to the intelligences of the body
b) Find a middle way, including both forms of intelligence
c) Allowing our decisions to be made by all aspects of ourselves
These principles can be taught to everyone using movement processes, simple hands-on techniques, theatre and voicework exercises and the framework of Inner Qigong.
In addition, practitioners of East Asian Therapies can teach clients to balance their lives using the processes of Physical Democracy in a way that integrates well with their treatments . The stages through which people learn Physical Democracy are embodied in the functions of the meridians in the following way.
Step 1: Individuation – learning to feel the body and sense a boundary between self and other.
Meridians involved: Yang Ming (Stomach and Large Intestine) & Tai Yin (Spleen and Lung)
Step 2: Listening to Inner Impulses – learning to discriminate between the motivations from self and from other
Meridians Involved: Tai Yang (Bladder and Small intestine) & Shao Yin (Kidney and Heart)
Step 3: Finding the Middle Way – learning to resolve conflict between self and other and to make decisions with both body and mind.
Meridians Involved: Shao Yang (Gall Bladder and Triple Heater) & Jue Yin (Liver and Pericardium)
This article is the third in a series describing ways of
working directly with the Qi of the Six Divisions. They
describe how your attitude, your quality of touch and your interactions with
the client are just as important as the choice of meridians you work with. In
fact, in situations where the condition is deeply embedded in unconscious
habits, I find these ‘Forms of Touch’ to be essential. In these cases working
with meridians alone often meets an unconscious resistance to change because
changing deep patterns means changing the self, which is scary. However, by
working with the Forms of Touch, the client is involved in exploring
themselves, experimenting with their patterns and feels in control of their
process, so that resistance is not triggered.
energy functions to which each form of touch relates are often called the Six
Divisions of Yin and Yang. The Six Divisions pair a leg meridian with a
synergistic meridian in the arm. These pairings are both Yang or both Yin and
show how the two Organs work together as part of a deeper function.
Chinese Medicine doesn’t define these deeper functions. However, my research in
the 1980’s into child development showed clearly that these Divisions guide infant movement development by showing how to join up
primitive movements into whole body actions. Moreover, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s
research showed that these archetypal baby movements also form the foundation
of the child’s personality and develop mental and emotional capacities as well
as physical ones. So
effectively, a baby is learning to embody the Qi of the Organs through learning
describes the deeper functions embodied in the connection between Kidney and
Heart, which is called the Shao Yin, and between the Bladder and Small
Intestine, called the Tai Yang. As with the other two groups of four meridians,
these form a connected family all of which are concerned with intention,
motivation and action. The two divisions also connect the Water Element to the
Fire Element, meaning that they transform unconscious motivations into
conscious intention and channel this energy into actions which align with the
The Dilemma of Being
Human culture is a
vast web of mimicry. As Susan Blackmore points out, we learn by copying more
than any other animal. Much of our sense of self is copied, even if we are not aware
of it, because we define ourselves largely by what our social groups like and
dislike. However, young children copy differently to older ones. Much of a
young child’s learning comes from spontaneous exploration and play.
exploration is always a part of learning but, as Erik Erikson pointed out,
children after the age of five are progressively more concerned with fitting
into their peer groups. Their games tend to have rules and groups of children in
this stage often exclude other children who don’t fit in. The threat of exclusion often pressures the
child to conform to a group norm. This pressure to conform increases in the
teenage years and, in addition, secondary
school also tends to squash initiative and creativity. By the time we are
adults, most of us have all but lost our ability to spontaneously play and to
explore. As Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist, the problem is
how to remain an artist as we grow up”.
I play the piano and
am particularly interested in free improvisation. This is a genre which has no
rules, follows no agreed chord structures and is created spontaneously. When I
started to play with others I was initially blocked by the desire to get things
right, to sound good. But this only had
the effect of freezing my creativity and made it impossible for me to really
listen to the other musicians. It took years to let go of the fear of getting
things wrong and start to let my musical creativity flow.
In order to be really
creative, one needs to let go of pre-conception and listen to the subtle
messages of the unconscious, because almost by definition, ideas that are new
to you come from your unconscious. Most of creativity training in the arts
concentrates on the breaking of habits and the process of letting go of our
internal critic, which tells us how things should be. But letting go of
preconceptions gives space for creativity but is not enough in itself. You also
need to make contact with the unconscious and help it to come into consciousness.
The dilemma of being
human is how to remain in touch with our authentic, creative spirit while
learning to live harmoniously with the society around us. Most of us squash our
primal energy down in order to fit in, but this leads to the slow death of the
spirit where a person just exists rather than living their life. The deep
lesson of the Shao Yin is to value our primal energy as the ‘fuel’ of our
spirit and to make space in our lives for its expression.
The Joyful Spirit
What do we mean by
our spirit? For the purposes of this article I am not interested in the beliefs
that different cultures have about it. Nor do we need to delve into the
labyrinth of philosophies about consciousness and mind. There is a common sense,
practically useful meaning to spirit: it is the aspect of ourselves which feels
alive, joyful, excited, clear and truthful. If we do not feel these then we are
not in touch with our spirit, whatever it is. This lack of joy is different to
the feelings we have when we go against the rules of our social group. Then we
feel guilty or ashamed. But it is perfectly possible to act with joy, to say
your truth and at the same time feel guilty for disappointing or hurting
someone we love. By becoming aware of the difference between guilt and
joylessness we can learn the difference between our conditioned self and our
The spirit has a dark
side too. It is also our purely selfish side which doesn’t care about other
people but is energised by primal drives. Freud called this “cesspit of sex and
selfishness” the Unconscious Id, which many religions feel needs to be inhibited. But this suppression
also cuts us off from our vitality. Maybe our spiritual challenge is to stay in
touch with our spirit while choosing not to act on it when it would harm our
I think that the
solution to this dilemma is to learn to bring the spirit into consciousness.
Then we can be in dialogue with it. If society or another person expects us to
act in a certain way we can ask our spirit: “Is that OK with you?”. Most often,
the spirit says yes, even if it’s not exactly what it would have done. But
sometimes it says “No, I can’t live with that” and if you over-ride that
message then an essential part of your authentic self dies.
The Shao Yin
Chinese Medicine, our primal life energy is attributed to the Kidney. I would
prefer to say that it is called the
Kidney because I think that it is not necessary to follow the medieval Chinese
belief that every ‘energetic’ function is the responsibility of an internal
organ. To me, a form of Qi is some holistic activity of the organism that
applies to both body and mind and the traditional physical organ associated
with that function is chosen because it expresses a physical metaphor for the
energy. There are many stories about why the kidney was chosen as the metaphor
for the primal spirit, but the historical reason is not important, it is enough
that we are naming a real aspect of ourselves.
In the same way, the
Heart is a label for awareness; it is not saying that the phenomenon of
consciousness lives in the heart organ. So the process of bringing primal
spirit into consciousness involves making a bridge between the Kidney and the
Heart. This combination is one of the Six Divisions, called the Shao Yin.
However, simply working with the two meridians is not enough to become aware of
our primal spirit. Instead, one needs to learn how to feel the subtle
sensations coming from parts of us that are normally unconscious and how to
facilitate their expression.
As with learning to
improvise, you first have to learn to let go of inhibition and self-control.
Then you can learn to listen to the elusive sensations coming from the
movements of deeper, unconscious parts and to allow them to initiate whole-body
movements. These spontaneous movements are the natural language of the spirit
and both express it and bring it into consciousness. The form of touch we call
Amplifying Touch consists of several techniques for helping this process
through facilitated movement and through voicework.
Voice is a
particularly direct way of contacting the spirit. I don’t mean learning to
sing, or trying to sound nice. Alfred
Wolfsohn, whose approach to voicework has been a great inspiration to me,
observed that the voice is part of us that we squash into tiny limits in order
to form our persona. We tend to speak and sing within a small range of notes,
and this self-limitation directly corresponds to our limitation of the spirit.
He developed many accessible exercises to explore and widen the range of the
voice that I find a powerful way of letting the spirit speak in the first
The Tai Yang
you can hear your spirit, the next challenge is how to act in alignment with
it. The reason that we squash and inhibit our primal selves is usually that it scares
and embarrasses us. Most of us don’t speak our truth but express a version of
ourselves that is designed to impress others. Being authentic doesn’t mean that
one always follows the urges of the primal self but that we acknowledge it and
don’t hide it from others.
authenticity is difficult and often brings up old feelings of shame but, even
within the context of body therapy, there are ways of safely helping a person
to develop it. The most important is modelling. Being genuine yourself gives
the message that it’s ok for the other to express their truth. When someone’s
true spirit starts to appear after years of being squashed, the energy is often
highly emotionally charged. This is not the nature of spirit but is the result
of letting off the pressure of being contained. If the therapist is frightened
by the energy and tries to calm the client down then they give the client the
message that they need to keep that energy hidden. On the other hand, if the
therapist can choose to facilitate and hold space for the strong energy then
the client feels that it’s ok to show it. The ability of the therapist to contain their
own fear and give space for the client’s spirit gives them the message that
they can do that for themselves.
and control is performed by the muscles, so another effective way of contacting
our primal energy is to help the client to get in touch with aspects of the
body that are not in the business of control. Two body systems are particularly
potent doorways into this realm. I have already mentioned Amplifying Touch
which helps the internal organs to express their authentic energy. Once
someone can sense the energy of their spirit, touching the bones stimulates
awareness how it can flow clearly through the body without triggering the
emotions surrounding its imprisonment.
Tai Yang joins the Bladder to the Small Intestine. I have written in other articles2
how infants develop the ability to crawl by using muscles along these
meridians. Through this archetypal
movement they learn to align their actions with their intention and learn to be
pro-active in the world. In
adults, activating this connection helps to develop clarity and authentic
action. The Bladder connects our excitement (for instance: seeing something
interesting) with our ability to act and move towards it through the use of our
legs and spine. The muscles along the Bladder meridian align the skeleton to clearly
channel energy rather than control it with muscles.
unless your motivation is aligned with your spirit then any amount of skeletal
alignment won’t resolve that deeper conflict. Many of our urges come from our
conditioning and from the expectations of others. Some of these ‘outer
impulses’ are in alignment with our spirit and some are not. So we also need
the ability to discriminate between outer motivations that our spirit can
accept and those which would squash it. This function is metaphorically called
the Small Intestine, because it is that part of the body which discriminates
between the nutrients from the outer world that can be assimilated and those
that need to be excreted.
The muscles along the
Small Intestine meridian have a dual role. In contraction, they tighten the
neck and shoulders, stopping the free flow of energy up the skeleton and
inhibiting the spirit. On the other hand, if they are energised but not tense,
then when you reach with the arm, they connect it into the spine and thus
connect the reach of the arm with the push of the legs. The eyes see something exciting,
the arms reach for it and the legs push us towards it. The whole action is
channelled by the muscles along both the Bladder and the Small Intestine
meridians and the combination of the two channels forms the Tai Yang Division.
the Tai Yang division is the expression of our authentic spirit in action. It
needs the consciousness of our primal impulses that the Shao Yin gives and
provides a completion to those energies, bringing them into the world.
The Form of Touch associated with the Tai Yang is called
Clarifying Touch, It involves all the approaches I have mentioned above.
Modelling authenticity, supporting expression of spontaneity, helping the
client to feel the flow of excitement through the skeleton and working with the
Bladder and Small Intestine meridians to channel this energy clearly through
Being authentic, acting from spirit and speaking our truth
lets energy flow freely and the experience of this is the emotion of Joy. Both
the Shao Yin and the Tai Yang are intimately connected in this process, so I
call these two divisions the Joy Divisions. Maybe it was my unconscious that
made the connection with the 1980’s band
called the Joy Division. In any case, it is appropriate. Their music broke many
of the rules of rock music and I think we need some of that anarchism to free
ourselves of our inhibiting conditioning and learn to act through choice rather
than by convention.
and Teresa are running a workshop on how to work with the Joy Divisions in
Totnes 13-15 March. www.seed.org for details.
The Six Forms of Touch – Bill Palmer. Shiatsu Society Journal 147