Cherry blossom season is a very special time in Japan, and it is a worth the trip alone to be able the witness the beautiful floral displays all over the country, and watch the Japanese momentarily lose their legendary self control and inner reserve to gather in the city parks for impromptu picnics and tipsy celebrations.
I have been specialising in a form of Japanese acupuncture called Toyohari for many years, and this was a rare opportunity to receive technical guidance from the sensei, or Japanese master teachers in their own country.
There are many differences between the Japanese and the more common Chinese forms of acupuncture.
While acupuncture originated in China over 3000 years ago, as it began to spread to the rest of Asia different styles soon started to emerge. There are still many different schools of acupuncture in Japan, but the main differences with the Chinese style are the use of finer needles, gentler techniques, and the emphasis on developing palpation skills to diagnose energetic imbalances on the body of our patients.
This sense of touch has been refined to a very high level in the Toyohari style of acupuncture due to the fact that blind Japanese acupuncturists originally created it in the 1950s.
Sight impaired people learn to compensate by developing their other senses to a higher level and the ability to touch is often one of them. This explains why, throughout Asia, massage therapy was for centuries an occupation reserved for those who couldn’t see. Not only were the blind practitioners very skilled with their hands, but also their lack of sight gave their women patients the freedom to disrobe without feeling any discomfort, or creating any jealous resentment from their male partners.
In the Toyohari style of acupuncture one is taught to feel the subtle differences in the temperature and texture of the skin, which indicate either a deficiency or excess of energy in the channels. These are located in the legs, the arms and the abdomen.
When the Qi is flowing harmoniously along the meridians, the skin should have a lustre and softness almost like a baby’s skin. In contrast, when the energy is deficient, the skin surface becomes sticky or rough. Around the acupuncture points, the flesh becomes weak, like a bruised apple. Again in contrast, when there is an excess condition, one will be looking for little nodules under the skin. In that model, one is taught to find the accurate location of the acupuncture points by feel alone. Even an error of a millimetre in the site of insertion can make a significant difference to the treatment results.
Japanese acupuncture has often been called “an art based on a science".
It is similar in many ways to the martial arts, with the emphasis being placed on concentration, the breath, and the control and sudden release of energy, which is transmitted from one body to the other.
Different insertion techniques and metals are chosen depending on the level of internal disharmonies being treated. To give you an example, a silver needle will be selected for correcting deficiencies because that metal has a strong positive electric energy.In this technique once the selected point has been accurately located by touch, the needle is advanced to the surface of the skin above the acupuncture point.
As in Japanese calligraphy, the practitioner’s posture is very important.
Any tension in the body will be transmitted to the fingers, so one practises being as relaxed as possible, while holding the needle extremely gently ”like holding the tail of a sleeping tiger".
Next, the needle is advanced to the surface without puncturing the skin. We now concentrate on feeling the Qi gathering at the tip of the needle. Once again concentration, breathing and relaxation is paramount to success.
When the practitioner senses that enough energy has gathered at the tip of the needle, it is withdrawn very quickly “like an arrow flying from a bow", while simultaneously the thumb closes the surface of the point to stop the Qi leaking. Any tiny delay in closing the surface of the skin while withdrawing the needle will have a huge effect on the amount of Qi being transmitted to the patient.
It should be a graceful motion, so the patient is not aware that the mastering of this technique alone can often take decades.
When I was chosen for a demonstration by one of our blind Japanese teachers, I instantly felt a source of vitality surging throughout my body, although my skin hadn’t even been punctured.
This brought a sudden awareness that despite my eight years of almost constant practice, I was still a very long way from reaching the top of the cherry tree. The journey though has definitively been worthwhile and I have been enjoying every step of the way.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com