In my previous blog on the elements, I focused on the more familiar 5 elements of Chinese medicine: earth, water, fire, wood and metal. However, the element of Space is not usually considered. In this blog, I want to explore how space is in fact a core part of Chinese medicine and how we can connect with it. I will be running a workshop in September near Bristol, UK, with my daughter Rosa, to explore Space more deeply (details at end of this blog or contact email@example.com)
In other systems close to China, space is a fundamental element. Space or Ether is one of the 5 elements of Ayurvedic and Tibetan traditions. Space is the most immaterial level of matter, relating to the spaces between the other elements but also the bigger space, the heavens, the sky, all that which is beyond physical form.
In the Tibetan system the elements were considered to exist on 3 levels: the earthy plane (which relates a lot of the 5 “traditional” elements of Chinese medicine, which I explored in my last blog), the more universal plane, going into the heavens, and the secret plane: that which cannot be spoken, the more spiritual aspect of our being.
Clearly space exists and on several levels: so why is it not so obviously included within the Chinese system? I think it was. Much of Chinese medicine is only now coming through to us in its richness. I have particularly been inspired by the work of French sinologists such as Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee and Claude Larre, as well as Jean Marc Eyssalet who refer much more to the esoteric aspects of Chinese medicine than many English speaking writers. I wonder if this is because they had access to many of the texts which came through Vietnam and Korea rather than through China. Many of the more esoteric Chinese texts and traditions were destroyed during the Cultural revolution with its focus more on more physical and material aspects of the earthy realm of existence. Therefore in the 1970’s when Chinese teachings came through to the west, the focus was more on the physical. I also wonder if perhaps when we in the west first “discovered” the eastern teachings, perhaps we were not ready to absorb the deeper aspects.
However, there is a key emphasis in many teachings, that we exist between heaven and earth. Our feet represent our connection to earth and our brain to Heaven. We come from Heaven down to earth and go back to Heaven. The key axis of our body is that between our Kidneys, which store our ancestral energy and our connection to the past and our Heart, which stores our Shen, the essence of who we are, and our destiny and purpose in this life: our future.
I find that the Vajra, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajra
which is a potent Buddhist symbol is a powerful symbolic representation of this.
Sometimes it is referred to as a male symbol, but its essence goes beyond that to represent the whole (and thence our body as part of the whole) in the centre between heaven and earth: the thunderbolt coming from heaven down. I also love the way that it expresses space within it.
As many of you know, my work with Shiatsu has led me into exploring the worlds of pregnancy, birth and baby hood. We can’t be in this world of new life, without connecting to the more fundamental issues of why we are here, where we come from and where we go back to. Through this work I have learnt about the Extraordinary Vessels which are only recently becoming more integrated into our knowledge of Chinese medicine. These are channels, much less written about than the 12 meridians, which connect with the Brain and Reproductive Organs, fundamental organs which are not included in the 12 meridians system. The Extraordinary Vessels also connect with the Kidneys which are a link between the earthy and ancestral realms as well as to the Heart. The core four of Governing (Du) Conception (Ren) Penetrating Vessel (Chong) and Girdle ((Dai) represent the vertical axis from brain to pelvis and Girdle the horizontal axis: around the pelvis. (refer to previous blogs). I find that the Vajra is also a good representation of these vessels. The vertical axis of Du, Ren and Chong also closely overlap with the Chakras, which Ayurvedic medicine saw as the core energy centres along the midline axis of the body, connecting with all aspects of our being and our connection to heaven and earth.
Points along the pathways of the Extraordinary Vessels, indicate their connections with the different organs in the body. They regulate all of the organs of the 12 meridians, not just the Brain, Reproductive organs and Kidneys. Through their connections with the Brain, they link directly with the crown chakra, which relates to our connection with Heaven and with Space. Indeed when we look at the points along the Governing and Conception Vessel in the head or the upper area of the body many of them express this connection with the heaven and space. For eg at the throat CV22 ,Heavenly Prominence and slightly higher, just above the hairline, Governing Vessel 24, Courtyard of Spirit and also at the Third eye, Yin Tang: Hall of Impression (an extra point on the Governing Vessel).
In considering the development of our body from conception we need to be aware that from the fertilised egg we develop not only our physical body but also our support structures, such as our placenta, and amniotic sac. This is interesting as it shows that in our totality we are more than our physical body. The Extraordinary Vessels are the first vessels which develop at the moment of conception and relate therefore to both our inner body and outer body (refer to blog on this). We could consider then that they relate to the space around our body as we still retain the memory of our structures. For eg the navel, where we were attached to the umbilical cord, is often a sensitive place and can hold the memory of how we separated from our mother.
However, space needs to be anchored. What we have in Chinese medicine is the anchoring through the legs which is part of the Penetrating Vesssel. This is an essential part for me of the Extraordinary Vessels. In this first circuit which so closely relate to the chakras; there is a direct connection through the legs to the earth. The second circuit of the Extraordinary Vessels: Yin and Yang Heel and Linking, all begin in the feet and are about bringing the energy of the earth: and thence the day to day energy linking more directly with the 12 meridians and the five elements back to the centre and to heaven.
I would like now to share a few exercises I have developed to work with the Extraordinary Vessels which link into their connection with the space around the body. In these I have been inspired by Chi Qung, especially through Tricia Teahan (a graduate of Well Mother who is also a Chi Gung teacher: she is teaching a course in Dorset in September with Sally Ibbottson who is also a Well Mother teacher) Chi Qung includes a lot of work with both the Extraordinary Vessels and with the spaces around us.
1; How do you relate to the space around you?
Sit or stand and first be aware of your physical body and then be aware of the space around your body. Imagine that you are surrounded by water, floating in water, completely supported. This is how we were in the womb in the amniotic sac: never too hot or too cold, always supported. You might become aware of the connection from your navel reaching out through the umbilical cord to your placenta. How does this feel? Receiving support from outside. Be aware that the womb is not always a restful place as we absorb the feelings of our mother, who may not always be happy and calm: so if this exercise doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t do it. But note that it might be helpful to receive some work on the Extraordinary Vessels and to find ways of connecting with the space around you which feel helpful.
2: A Chi Gung inspired exercise to connect with the spaces around the organs of the Heart, Brain, Kidneys and reproductive organs and the spaciousness of the Extraordinary Vessels
Here is a video link
The exercise is written out here as well:
Stand and place a hand on your heart and a hand on your lower abdomen just resting along the pubic bone. This helps support our connection with the lower burner and with our reproductive organs. Breathe slowly and deeply and see if you can feel inside your body to find the physical connection between these two organs.
As you stand be aware of your posture, especially your lower back. Feel into your tail bone and gently feel a connection, like a silk thread, drawing you down to the earth. As you do this you may feel that you gently lengthen your lower back. Next feel the other end of your spine, right up as it connects into the top of your head. Feel the top of your head and feel a silk thread connecting you to heaven, the space above. Let this silk thread draw you up closer to heaven. Now become aware of your breathing. With each in breath feel your spine lengthening and with each out breath, soften gently. As you continue to breathe deeply go back to your connection between your heart and reproductive organs, feeling now a connection with your brain and your lower back: your energetic kidney area.
Next bring your hands slowly away from your body feeling how far away you can go from your heart and your reproductive organs, while still feeling connected to them. It probably won’t be more than a few centimetres or so.
Then, in the space around your body where you feel a connection, bring both your hands together in front of your heart and then gradually open your arms out, opening out the heart space. Then bring them back to just in front of the heart. Then turn your palms to face down to the ground and slowly bring them downwards to in front of your pubic bone. Then slowly bring them back up to the heart. This time as you reach the heart, stretch them out in front of you while you curl your spine down, bending forwards and reaching down to the earth. As you reach the earth, open up your arms to the earth space then draw them back in and then gradually uncurl back to standing, while letting your hands rise up the space in front of the inside of your legs. Move back in the space to in front of your heart again but this time keep the arms lifting until they are above your head where you can open them out to space and the heaven and then gather in the heaven energy and then bring it back down in front of your brain and back to your heart space
You might want to pause here or you might want to repeat this exercise several times
Rosa and I are exploring space through movement, touch, and exploration in September.
Journey into the power of the elements and discover their role in your health and life
Due to demand, we are considering whether to move this workshop to Long Ashton near Bristol and change the date to 24/25 September. Can you advise if you want to come if this date and venue is preferable to 18/19 September near Cheltenham, by mid July. Both venues allow activities outside in nature, weather permitting.
This workshop will be primarily experiential: we will guide you through different ways of exploring the elements and experiencing how they relate to your bodies and beings.
We will focus on the element of Space while also giving an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the earthy elements and exploring the interconnections between the Chinese and Auryvedic systems. You can attend this without having previously attended the day, or you might want to do it as a follow on from the day.
The workshops are aimed both at bodyworkers looking to incorporate the elements into their work and all people on a journey of self exploration.
They will all include, to varying amounts and depending on the needs and interest of the group:
– Movement: yoga, dance, meridian exercises
– Meditation: breathwork, visualization
– Sound: mantras and song
-Touch based exercises: these may include off or on the body touch, exploring how we give and receive touch: no previous knowledge of shiatsu or massage necessary,
– Reflection: journaling, dialogue, drawing
The workshop will be led by mother and daughter Suzanne Yates and Rosa Lia who will be drawing upon their combined backgrounds in shiatsu, yoga and bodywork.
Suzanne is a shiatsu and massage therapist, specialized in pregnancy and birth.
Rosa is a yoga teacher as well as Thai and Ayurvedic massage therapist.
Cost: £120 early booking (by 24th August), £140 full price