Oblique Strategies

‘Honour thy error as a hidden intention’.

This was the phrase presented by the Oblique Strategies pack as I tried to solve a complex problem which had been confounding me. It worked!

What strategies do you employ to set yourself free from a creative tight corner? During my youth I remember being shown this set of cards which were designed for use by muscians and artists, created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975. We would use these whenever exam revision was proving hard, and invariably it would unlock something useful.

Brian Eno

Brian Eno is an English musician and record producer who’s best known for being a founding member of the glam rock band Roxy Music and his innovations in ambient music. His work as a record producer is legendary as he has worked with such musicians as U2, Devo, Talking Heads and Ultravox.

His skill as a producer lies in unlocking the hidden talents in everyone. For example in one interview he told a story about how the drummer in a band he was producing came forward with a new composition featuring lead guitar. The normal procedure would be to give this part to the lead guitarist, but Eno suggested the drummer recorded this part himself. The resulting track was a surefire hit.

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According to Wikipedia – ‘each card offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.’

I rediscovered the concept recently, now available as a free website implementation and smartphone app (search for Oblique Strategies). Intriguingly the original cards still change hands for several hundred pounds on ebay.

A random click on the website came up with ‘from nothing to more than nothing’. Hmmm interesting. Go on, give it a try and see what comes up for you.

Oblique Strategies


Pelvic Pain, Sitting and a Pinch Of Scepticism

Tim Parks

Englishman Tim Parks is a best-selling novelist, critic, essayist, and Professor of Literature who has lived and worked in Italy for nearly forty years. He has previously been shortlisted for The Booker Prize.

Some time ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed his book Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo (in fact I booked an Italian rail holiday off the back of this enticing volume). More recently I came across another of his books which drew my attention – Teach Us How To Sit Still (Vantage books London).

Pelvic Pain, Sitting and a Pinch Of Scepticism

Tim Parks


In his forties the symptoms – constant abdominal pain and urinary difficulty- that were to dog his life began to take hold. In his remarkable book ‘Teach Us To Sit Still’ he describes in everyday detail how the body that had carried him thus far turned out to be less familiar than he thought possible. What he would later come to know as ‘unexplained pelvic pain’ increasingly dominated his daily routine.

He writes ‘had what happened been merely a problem of diagnosis, one bunch of doctors getting it wrong – in their eagerness to cut me up – and then another finally suggesting just the drug that would fix me in a jiffy, I would never have bothered to write about it.’

A Headache In The Pelvis

His was a story familiar to me – ‘so-called’ experts vying to offer treatments based on uncertain knowledge. So what do you do when you have exhausted all the possibilities? Search for the impossible of course! Whilst Googling his symptoms he came across a book entitled ‘A Headache In The Pelvis’ by Drs Wise and Anderson. In this well-researched book he was introduced to the idea that his symptoms – which made him increasingly unable to sit comfortably – were related to chronic tension in the pelvic floor muscles. What was needed, they asserted, was to make addressing the symptoms the top agenda item of the day, not the last.

Thus started a long and productive journey which took him through paradoxical relaxation, canoeing and Vipassana meditation. Parks describes the outcome of one of his early meditation sessions thus –

That Was Odd

‘Abruptly, a tight girdle of muscle between navel and pubis slid down, as if settling into its proper place. At once I felt more comfortable. That was odd. I was astonished. You go to three or four urologists and pay hundreds of pounds only to get the first piece of useful advice, from a self-help book’.

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Honestly and thoughtfully told, Parks’ story is one that will resonate with many trying to find answers to undiagnosed illness. The unresolved problem, the role of the expert and searching within to discover uncomfortable truths. In the end he not only ‘conquers’ the pain but really does find himself in the process (cliched but true).

Compelling reading.

Also see the following article by Tim Parks :- Tim Parks on meditation’s pros and cons: ‘This is more than medicine’

Also read my blog http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/fine-tuning-the-controls-stress/


[Pelvic Pain, Sitting and a Pinch Of Scepticism]


Acupuncture Point Sea of Blood

Introducing Acupuncture Point Sea of Blood

This point also known as Xue Hai or Spleen 10 has, as its name suggests a strong relationship with blood and blood circulation. Located on the upper leg, just above the knee (see diagram) it is often tender when pressed.

Xue Hai finds great use in treating skin complaints. For example red, raised heat rashes (which we are likely to describe as being caused by heat in the blood) may be cooled and soothed with this point. Many skin conditions (eg psoriasis, eczema, urticaria or hives) also have an underlying dryness which the classic Chinese texts urge us to treat by invigorating the blood. I find this surprisingly effective in practice, even in severe cases.

Menstruation relies on the smooth circulation of blood and so this point is a real star for treating fixed, stabbing menstrual pains accompanied by the passing of large dark-coloured clots. We talk about ‘dispelling stasis of blood’, which is about keeping it moving and fluid.

Conversely if your periods are scanty (perhaps indicating that you are not building enough womb lining) we might use this point to aid blood production. Because healthy blood is derived from a well-balanced diet, healthy eating would be encouraged too (read beetroot for the blood).

Acupuncture Point Sea of Blood

And finally this is a good point to treat inflammatory disorders of the knee when combined with point spleen 9 located below the kneecap.

Spleen 10, a true heavyweight in the acupuncture world.

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Acupuncture Point Sea of Blood

There’s Nothing You can Do About Sperm Quality (Or Is There?)

Are you a male struggling with low sperm parameters?

I recently came across an article by York Acupuncturist Ali Longridge which I wanted to share with you.  I have had many male patients who have checked in with low sperm count, morphology or motility. The mantra they arrive with is ‘there is nothing that can be done is there?’ But is this really true?

After a course of acupuncture treatment and dietary changes, a repeat sperm test will often show a marked improvement.

There's Nothing You can Do About Sperm Quality (Or Is There?)

In this well researched article Ali points out that that there is indeed much that can be done. As she points out –

Fertility acupuncture has been shown to increase the delivery of nutrients, antioxidants and oxygen to the sperm-making cells.

Read her article at:-


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There’s Nothing You can Do About Sperm Quality (Or Is There?)

Also see http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/cordyceps-mushrooms-endurance/

(Please note that unfortunately we are usually unable to help with VERY low sperm counts.)

How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

I am a great fan of TED talks – modern ideas for the modern world as I like to put it. A platform for some of the world’s brightest thinkers. In a previous blog I wrote about a diet to encourage healthy gut bacteria ‘The Microbiome – Bugs That Count’ with the principle that for optimum health we should cultivate the widest possible variety of these ‘good’ bacteria. Amongst other things these trillions of microbes contribute to our immune system, aid digestion and protect us from infection.

How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

Living In Captivity

In his thoughtful TED talk, ‘How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut’ Dan Knights explains how primates in captivity have less variety in their gut bacteria than those living in the wild, and how this is connected to the poorer health of those individuals in captivity. He also relates the rather alarming finding that most US (human) citizens have even less diversity than primates in zoos. In essence the modern world is facing a decrease in gut bacteria diversity!

Watch video   How We Study The Microbes Living In Your Gut

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Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

A large Chinese randomised control study carried out recently found acupuncture as good as drugs for constipation.

Three Different Point Combinations

Researchers tested three different acupuncture point combinations and compared these against the drug Mosapride. 684 patients were randomly assigned to one of the four groups.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

The acupuncture patients were given 16 sessions over a four week period. In each of the three groups treatment points were stimulated by passing a pulsed electrical current through the needle. This technique allows for increased acupoint stimulation over needle insertion alone.


After four weeks all four groups experienced significantly improved bowel movements, but at eight weeks the three acupuncture groups were showing significantly better bowel movements than the drug group. Stool consistency improved equally in all four groups.


Among the points that were chosen for this study Stomach 37, known as ‘Upper Great Void’ refers to the large bowel. This point, located on the lower leg is known for its ability to regulate the large intestine, and when used in combination with another point used in the study (Large Intestine 11) is said to lubricate the passage of the stool. This point combination was first discussed in a text book (The Spiritual Axis) compiled in the first century BC.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

For more information on this study click here.


Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts

Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts
I have reproduced here an article published by The British Acupuncture Council on 16th July 2018

Elderly patients with co-morbidities should be referred for regular acupuncture sessions to help reduce pressure on the NHS, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) says.

Significantly Fewer Deaths

The comments follow a systematic review, published in BMJ Open, which showed that continuity of care resulted in ‘significantly fewer deaths’ among patients and halved the risk of an emergency hospital admission.
The BAcC claims that the ‘continuity of patient-centred care’ provided by regular acupuncture, delivered by the same practitioner, over a considerable period of time helps relieve symptoms, reduce medication and improve wellbeing of elderly patients, therefore reducing their risk of hospital admission.

Mark Bovey, research manager at the BAcC, says there is significant evidence suggesting acupuncture is effective in relieving pain in conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal complaints and acupuncturists could be playing a much bigger role: ‘National health services across the developed world are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of old people with chronic illnesses. Conventional health and social care resources are overstretched and polypharmacy is rife, with its attendant side effects and interaction complications. Acupuncture could offer a useful additional resource.’
He highlights a report, Long-Term Acupuncture Therapy for Low-Income Older Adults with Multimorbidity: A Qualitative Study of Patient Perceptions, which was carried out in California last year and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The qualitative study, which involved 15 patients aged 60 years and older suffering from at least two chronic conditions, showed that a substantial number of participants were able to reduce their medication and maintain physical and mental health. In addition, they developed a strong trust in the clinic’s ability to support the totality of their health as individuals, which they contrasted to the specialised and impersonal approach of conventional medicine.
‘What is perhaps most interesting,’ Bovey comments, ‘is how the acupuncture clinic became the main health hub for these people. They were diagnosed and treated, there was social and emotional support, practical advice and referral to other community resources. This was a one-stop, holistic service, the sort of coordinated care model that the NHS is striving for, and patients yearning for.’

Giving evidence to a 2013 House of Commons health committee investigation into how the NHS could better manage elderly people with long-term conditions, the late Dr George Lewith, former professor of health research at the University of Southampton, said conventional medicine could ‘learn a lot’ from complementary medicine.

Whole Person Approach

‘Being nice to people and approaching them as whole people has a big effect on their symptoms. [The whole-person approach] could be delivered within regular medicine [ . . . ] We need to learn the lessons from complementary medicine and deliver them better conventionally, but you are not going to get GPs who are working 14 hours a day within the current health system, and who are all pretty disillusioned, to have increased compassion,’ he said.

Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts

Keywords: Giving elderly patients regular acupuncture could help take pressure off stretched NHS, say experts.


Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

Patients who book in for acupuncture treatment don’t usually ask for needles – they are much more likely to ask for help with a condition, for example stress. Here we talk about fine tuning the controls: stress.

According to Google, stress is ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’.

If we look at the potential causes of stress, we will end up with a list as long as our arm. There are usually however contributory factors resulting from the way we perceive the world around us. Inserting needles into acupuncture points to free up stagnation can help to engender a feeling of calmness, creating a break in which real change can take root.

Patients ask what else they can do to help. It is at this point that I will discuss the traffic light approach.

Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

In this model we are invited to rate the issues that demand our attention according to three labels – full control, partial control and no control. For example, we have no control over the weather, have full control over whether we submit our annual tax return, but are likely to have some control over the final tax bill (depending how we fill in our form).

The Wrong Label

In my experience, stress symptoms seem to point all too often to key tasks and decisions that we have attributed to the wrong label. A feeling of pushing against a brick wall may be just that, trying to change something we have no control over.

So here is my suggestion for you. If you are a habitual list maker why don’t you experiment with labelling each task according to the traffic light system. This technique will free you to focus on those items you have some or full control over and improve your efficiency. If you find this helpful please leave a comment here.

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Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

See also http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/pluggerz-good-nights-sleep/

Does Spring and Summer For You Mean Hay Fever?

Hay fever is a sensitivity to airborne pollens, dust mites, pets and so much more. Also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, it is an inflammation or swelling of the nose lining with symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, itchy and watery eyes, a runny or blocked nose, itchy ears, nose, and/or throat and headaches.

But then you probably know all of this. But what can Chinese Medicine (CM) bring to the party?

Developed over centuries, the theories of this system of oriental medicine view the problem from the perspective of the immune system rmore than the irritant. CM characterises the body into functional systems (named after major organs such as the liver), and their relative interactions allows us to identify disharmony between these functions. Treatment is aimed at restoring balance.

It is commonly believed that hay fever is due to a weakness of the Lung, Spleen and Kidney systems (which is not quite the same as the organ itself). This can make the body susceptible to the influence of climate – for example wind and cold – which can cause the familiar symptoms of runny nose, itching eyes and irritated sinuses. Think of how your eyes stream when you find yourself in a stiff breeze. 

Acupuncture for treating hay fever will often start with points to dispel wind from the nose (not the same as digestive wind), followed by points to strengthen the immune system.

So how effective is the treatment? The British Acupuncture Council have reviewed available evidence (click here) and conclude that ‘evidence from systematic reviews suggests that acupuncture and moxibustion may be a safe and effective treatment for allergic rhinitis with benefits over conventional medicine, that acupuncture can help to relieve symptoms of perennial rhinitis and that ear acupressure has a similar efficacy to antihistamines.

Look forward to summer without the hassle.

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The Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

Modern research shows us that we have more biologically important genetic material in our guts than in our DNA. It also seems that to be healthy we need a wide diversity of these bacteria. So how do we ensure such diversity? According to Professor Tim Spector when interviewed on Radio 4 recently, the answer is to eat as wide a variety of plant material as possible. This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.

Although each one of us carries a unique mix of bacterial species (the so-called microbiome), it is true that they thrive on fibre – from fruit, vegetables and cereals. The key therefore is to eat well and with variety.

In this article I try to sum up some of the best foods to add into a microbiome friendly diet in order to promote gut bacteria diversity.  [Source:  https://draxe.com/microbiome/]


Fresh Vegetables

beets, carrots, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, onions, peas, salad greens, sea vegetables, squash

Whole Pieces Of Fruit

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranate, red grapefruit, strawberries

Herbs, Spices and Teas

 The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That CountThe Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, green tea, organic coffee

Probiotic Foods

yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kvass, cultured veggies

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Wild Caught Fish Cage Free Eggs and Grass-Fed/Pasture Raised Meat

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Healthy Fats

grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Ancient Grains and legumes/Beans

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaraneth, buckwheat, quinoa

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate/Cocoa (in moderation)


Refined Vegetable Oils

canola, corn, soybean

Refined Carbohydrates and Processed Grain Products

Pasteurized Dairy Products 

(devoid of natural bacteria)

Conventional Meat, Poultry and Eggs

Added Sugars

packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals

Trans Fats/Hydrogenated Fats

packaged/processed products, fried foods

Remember the key to a diverse set of gut bacteria is a diverse diet, as opposed to an exclusion diet.

This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.



Acupuncture Point Zhaohai

In my own practice acupuncture point Zhaohai (also known as Kidney 6) is a very commonly used treatment point. What is it useful for? Located just below the ankle bone, in the jargon of acupuncture it is the best point

Acupuncture point Zhao Hai

Kidney 6

on the kidney channel to nourish Kidney Yin weakness. But what does this statement actually mean?

Let us break this statement down into easily digestible chunks. Yin is effectively one of a pair of opposing principles (the other is Yang) that serves to cool down or restrain movement, activity or warming in natural systems. In modern medical speak, this would be in some ways equivalent to the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.

A good example of yin in action would be to think of a helium balloon where a firm grip on the string restrains the balloon from doing what comes naturally – namely to soar up into the sky. Holding the string maintains equilibrium.

In the context of our body’s physiology, a weakness of this restraint system would result in symptoms such as hot flushes (especially in the evening) with flushed cheeks, a dry throat, poor sleep and a general feeling of agitation. It is simply a disturbance of the body’s normal regulation. This will of course be familiar to countless post-menopausal women!

Adding the term ‘Kidney’ refers to functions that are centred around the low back, but also along the pathway of the kidney meridian, and would point additional symptoms such as a sore back and weak knees.

Kidney 6 is essentially a great cooling point, especially if the individual also suffers from back and knee problems. It may also help to settle an agitated mind.

So here’s to acupuncture point Zhaohai.