Sound Steve Coster Acupuncture

The Sound of Chinese Medicine

In my last blog we touched on the sounds associated with the five elements and Acupuncture.  So this week I would like to take a closer look at Chinese music and it’s relationship with healing.

Music is important in all aspects of our existence.  We play music at every opportunity, at weddings and funerals, ceremonies of state and sporting events.  It also plays a huge role in religious ceremony, whether singing hymns in church, reciting from the Tora or the Koran, singing Sufi devotional songs, or the chanting of Gregorian monks. There isn’t a ceremony or an event that doesn’t involve some sort of music or singing.  And as I mentioned in my last blog, it has a role to play in healing.

Chinese Music

In Chinese culture it seems like every thing is done for a reason and nothing is done just for the sake of it.  Chinese music is no exception.  The five notes of the pentatonic scale in Chinese music coincide with the five elements, and the twelve tones correspond with the months of the year and the hours of the day.  Even Confucius had something to say about it.  He taught that the five notes of music should blend (like the ingredients of a dish) into a harmonious whole, no one tone dominating over the others, each contributing to the benefit of the group as a whole.  So, just like the five elements, balance is the order of the day.  

Music and Acupuncture

The first note is “jiao” and corresponds to E in Western music. It belongs to the wood element, is the sound of spring, and promotes the smooth functioning of Liver Qi, helping to relieve depression. The second note, “zhi” corresponds to G.  It belongs to the fire element, is the sound of summer, and helps to nourish the Heart and invigorate blood flow. The third note is “gong” and corresponds to C.  It belongs to the earth element, is the sound of late summer, and strengthens the Spleen. The fourth note is “shang” which corresponds to D and belongs to the metal element.  It is the sound of autumn, and protects and nourishes Lung yin. Lastly, the fifth note is “yu”, which corresponds to A. It belongs to the water element, is the sound of winter, and helps to nourish Kidney yin, protect Kidney essence, and reduce Lung fire.

The Six Healing Sounds

In Qi gong (which is itself believed to have originated from shamanic dance) sound is used to purge the major internal organs of noxious and stagnant qi by cooling and cleansing them.  There are six sounds (known as liu zi jue) and each is performed with a set of physical movements. Each sound effects an internal organ. Performing these healing sounds can cause yawning, burping, or passing wind.  These are all beneficial, so don’t suppress them.  Just be careful where you perform them!

1. SSSSSSSSS

The first healing sound is SSSSSSSS (like a snake) which benefits the Lungs.  Of all the organs the Lungs are the most in contact with the outer world and all its negative influences, such as germs, viruses and pollutants.  Making this sound is good for colds, flu, toothaches, asthma, emphysema, or depression.

2. WOOOOOOO

The second healing sound is WOOOOOO (as if you are blowing out a candle with rounded lips) which is the Kidney sound.  Practicing this sound is good for fatigue, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or back pain.  It could also be used for issues with reproduction.

3. SHHHHHHHH

The next healing sound is SHHHHHHH, the sound related to the Liver.  This sound is used to expel anger, clear the eyes of any irritations, removing a sour or bitter taste, or detoxifying the liver.  This sound also controls the quality of blood.

4. HAWWWWWWW

This is followed by HAWWWWWWWW (with mouth wide open), the Heart sound.  This sound can be made to alleviate sore throat, cold sores, swollen gums or tongue, jumpiness, moodiness, heart disease and mental disease.  

5. WHOOOOOOO

The fifth healing sound is that of the Spleen, WHOOOOOO.  This sound can be used to eliminate indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea and worry.  

6. HEEEEEEEE

Lastly, there is the sound of the San Jiao (aka the Triple Burner), HEEEEEEE.  This organ is unique to Chinese medicine and refers to the three energy centres of the body, or Dan Tien.   This healing sound harmonises the temperature between the three centres and the function of the associated organs:  the upper section (brain, heart and lungs) is hot; the middle section (liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, and spleen) is warm; the lower section (large and small intestines, bladder, and sexual organs) is cool.   

These sounds are performed sub vocally, so very quietly, as if on the breath, and just for a few minutes each.  In Qi gong it is the intension that is most important, so it is important that the mind is engaged and fully present.  Don’t worry about making a loud sound, you just want to feel a vibration in your vocal chords.  

Give them a go and see how they make you feel.  

The music theme continues next week when I look at how I use sound to make a diagnosis.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Acupuncture Southend Steve Coster

Music to sooth the savage beast….or Liver Yang Rising.

What music gets you moving?  Is it the theme from Rocky?  Or Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries?  Music is really important to me and just about everyone else on the planet.  We seem to play music at every opportunity. When we are sad we play it.  When we are happy we play it.  Music is powerful.  It can get you up and moving, send you to sleep, or it can be absolute torture to listen to.  This week’s blog, then, is all about Music.

Why is music so important to us?

It wasn’t that long ago really that philosophers spoke of the music of the spheres – the concept that the movement of the sun, moon and planets produce a harmony.  Quite literally the sound of Heaven.  Unfortunately, they explain, we can’t hear it because the sound has always been in our ears – we’ve just got used to it.  I think it’s quite sad to think that the sound of Heaven is just white noise now.

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The Chinese have known for a long time the power of music.  In the classic text the Neijing, the masters of Chinese medicine talk of different sounds and types of music associated with each of the five elements.

Wood – Shout – Lute

Fire – Laughter –  Pipe Organ

Earth – Singing – Gong/drum

Metal – Weeping –  Resonant

Water –  Moaning – Stringed

A diagnosis can therefore be made not only by what a person says, but also by their tone of voice.  For example, someone who is angry and shouts a lot could be soothed by the tone of the lute.  Likewise, sound can also be used as part of the healing process, like Gong baths or chanting. 

What is music? 

Well, basically it’s just noise.  It can be a sequence of noises, or it can be just one noise.  The noise might be pleasing to hear, or it may not.  I suppose it depends on what is trying to be communicated.  Primitive man would have started beating a log to communicate or simply entertain his friends.   But even that has the potential to be very sophisticated, just ask a drummer.  You may not like the sequence of noises I might like, but you can’t deny it’s music. When I was younger I remember playing dance music to an elderly relative and he just covered his ears up and said it hurt his ears!  You can’t please everyone I suppose, but you get my point…one man’s meat is another’s poison.

Southend Acupuncture Steve Coster

I always ask my clients if they would like music on while they relax with the needles in, and most people say yes.  But some prefer silence, usually people who are in the service industries such as hairdressers and shop workers, people who have to listen to music all day and now just want a bit of peace and quiet.

Over the years I’ve experimented with playing different genres of music in the treatment room: industrial, rock, folk, indie, world, classical, sounds of nature.  But like most things in life, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  Some people even bring their own music in.  Perhaps they are getting their own back, making me listen too.  However, a client once gave me a compilation of music that is totally neutral with no singing.  It goes down very well.  The only down side is I think I must of listened to it 10,000 times.  

The power of Musick

When I was researching for this blog, it seems the phrase ‘music to sooth the savage beast’ is in fact a misinterpretation of a poem by William Congreve (1697) in which he actually writes 

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

Which seems quite apt in terms of the five elements.  Music is indeed extremely powerful, so powerful in fact that it can not only affect one’s heart, it can even break rock.  How enjoyable it would be to listen to music that can wear down rock and bend wood I’m not sure, but I’m certain there is a middle aged man somewhere who has it on vinyl.

But music that can wear things down?  This got me thinking (and googling).  Although sound per se can’t necessarily break things, we know vibrations can.  There are plenty of examples of singers shattering glass with their voice.  There is even a film with Alan Bates called The Shout where his shout alone is able to kill.  If you want to see someone shattering a glass with their voice, here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amuPoPkAlx8

Music as torture

There are plenty of examples in history of music being used as torture.  The U.S. Army famously played rock music non-stop to force the Panamanian dictator Manual Noriega into submission.  Similarly, in an attempt to flush out David Koresh and his followers at Waco, Texas, the FBI played rock music (with the added delightful sound of knives being sharpened and rabbits being slaughtered).  At Gutanamo Bay the inmates were tortured by continuously playing the theme tune from the childrens’ tv show Barney.  And during the Iraq war the building where interrogations took place became know amongst the inmates as ‘the disco’!  This is an interesting article if you want to read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/jun/19/usa.guantanamo

Steve Coster Southend Acupuncture

The use of music as an interrogation method has in fact been banned by the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.  But since when has that stopped anyone.  I had a massage once where the classical music was so loud the windows were rattling. Looking back I think the masseur must have been a bit deaf.

The Chinese Medicine bit

In Chinese Medicine anything that subdues Qi or moves it, is important.  Exercise moves Qi, as does certain foods and even other people’s moods.  Ever entered a room and straight away you feel a negative energy?

Qi needs to flow smoothly.  If it is suppressed by poor diet, poor mood, or even medication, the result will eventually be ill health.  And in the fast paced world we live in, we are constantly looking for ways to move our Qi, or indeed suppress it.   This might be through meditation and gentle breathing exercises, or by more extreme methods such as tranquillisers or recreational drugs such as marijuana.

But there is always a yang to the yin side of the coin.  Studies have also shown that listeners of extreme music such as thrash and heavy metal can positively influence the listener, inspiring calmness rather than anger. 

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jun/22/listening-heavy-metal-punk-extreme-music-makes-you-calmer-not-angrier-study

Music as medicine

The healing effects of music, however, is not really understood and experiment results are often contradictory.  For instance, one study shows that plants respond better to calming music.  The plants exposed to Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert grew towards and entwined themselves around the speakers. But another plant group grew away from a speaker that played rock music.  But in other studies involving music played to plants, jazz music had a beneficial effect, but country music had no effect.  

Southend Steve Coster Acupuncture

Plants can’t actually hear of course, they are affected by the vibrations created by the sound waves.  So maybe it’s not the genre of music that is important, but the type of plant and the frequency of sound they prefer.  Perhaps cacti prefer desert blues but abhor the sound of violins. I guess more studies need to be done https://dengarden.com/gardening/the-effect-of-music-on-plant-growth

Humans, on the other hand, can communicate how they are actually feeling so results are a bit more reliable.  Apart from being a powerful motivational tool and making exercise more enjoyable, music has also been shown to improve the recovery of stroke patients.  There is also evidence that music can help with chronic and acute pain, end-of-life care, and depression.  And much more it seems  https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/why-we-need-music-player-every-patient-room/2019-03

Enjoy the silence

Silence is very important of course, but is it ever possible to be in total silence?  If you have ever tried to meditate you will appreciate how difficult it is to escape noise.  Even if you were in some sort of isolation tank you would probably still be able to hear the beat of your heart.  Music is literally within us.  So rather than trying to escape sound, maybe it is better to embrace it.  Go for a walk and revel in the sounds of nature.  Listen to your breath.  Hear the waves lapping, the birds singing, the traffic humming.  Bathe in the experience of it all.  Feel joy that you are able to hear it. 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Steve Coster Earth Acupuncture Chewing

Connecting with the earth & the art of chewing

Over the Easter weekend I was getting my hands dirty digging the veg patch and planting seeds.  The weather has been so clement that my courgettes are shooting up already!  In this week’s blog I explore our relationship with the earth and food we grow in it.  Acupuncture isn’t just about needles, a few simple lifestyle changes (such as how we eat) can make a big difference.

Connecting with the Earth

Steve Coster planting acupunctureSteve Coster Digging Acupuncture

It’s really important that we connect with nature; in fact it’s vital to our health.  Spending time in nature is becoming a big thing in health care all around the world. In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.  Nature therapy, as it is called elsewhere, helps to free us from the distractions from the modern world.  Not a particularly new idea I guess, but whatever way the holistic health ideal gets out there is great.  In other parts of the world it is called garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy or even ocean therapy.  Whatever you call it, connecting with nature has to be good for us.

Steve Coster pain relief acupuncture

My courgettes!

Becoming grounded

The concept of Earth and grounding is fundamental to Chinese Medicine.  It is central to everything.  It is a pivotal time of year between the Yang and Yin when the summer is waning, around September, when fruits are at their ripest and sweetest.  Earth is also important in Qi Gong as Man is the connection between Heaven and Earth.  We need to be grounded, not only metaphorically but literally.  Gravity helps of course, but we all know people who have their heads in the clouds and are ungrounded, flitting from one thing to the next.  It’s important to have the creativity and freedom that comes with an attachment with the heavens, but it’s equally important to have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

In Wing Chun emphasis is put on the development of the horse stance, a stance used to ground oneself to generate power and stability.  It’s about being as solid and immoveable as a mountain, but not totally rigid and inanimate.  Mountains move, the whole Earth does in fact, we are just unaware of it!  By becoming connected to the Earth one is not only able to absorb power from it, but also transfer force into it, just like the roots of a tree.

The importance of proper digestion

We can also ground ourselves with food, by touching it, smelling it and tasting it.  Take a moment to really connect with what is in your mouth when you are eating.  Chew your food really well.  I am really adverse to food being liquidized before eating it, as I believe chewing is important to the digestive process.   Digestion starts in the mouth.  The action of chewing stimulates the release of saliva which contains digestive enzymes that break down starches into simple sugars.  Saliva also contains some fat digesting enzymes that begin the process of breaking down fats in our food.  Not only chewing, but smell and taste receptors also trigger the production of stomach acid and pancreatic juices 

In Chinese Medicine the whole digestive system is compared to a machine that mulches and heats the food to obtain the essences which are then converted into Qi and Blood.  By chewing we are breaking down the food into more manageable pieces but also heating it up.  If this doesn’t occur then vital energy is wasted in doing the heating which can result in Spleen deficiency and its related problems.  Without adequate chewing you will feel heavy and dull, develop gas, and be undernourished.  

The art of chewing 

Chewing ones food is again nothing new, but it became a big thing in the 19th century when nutritionist Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) developed into a real art.  He believed that you can eat whatever you like, but you must only eat when you are hungry and every mouthful should be chewed until it had lost its flavour.  Fletcher himself used to ‘Fletcherize’ each mouthful of food up to 100 times!  He famously said “Nature will castigate those who do not masticate”! 

His message to humanity – to have an excellent overall health – was to have a holistic approach involving three steps:

  1. Eat only when you have a good appetite
  2. Chew the food like pulp and drink that pulp. Do not swallow food.
  3. Drink all the liquids and liquid food sip by sip. Do not drink in gulps.

It sounds horrible! 

Eating the Chinese way

In Chinese Medicine the way we eat is important too, but unlike Fletcherism there has to an element of joy to it.  Who wants to be like a cow chewing the cud all day? However, there are still plenty of do’s and don’ts when eating.  These are just a few:

  • If you want something badly enough it’s probably more healthy just to eat it.  The mental anguish in suppressing the desire will probably do you more harm.
  • Eat in a nice environment.  
  • Avoid arguing or emotionally charged conversations.  
  • Don’t be too hot or too cold.  
  • Turn the tv off. 
  • Don’t read.  
  • Don’t eat before a bath (or in the bath!). 
  • Take time to self-reflect – eating is a time to nurture not only the body but the mind also.
  • Relax after food, but don’t rush off to bed.
  • Give thanks before and after eating.
  • Try to eat locally, organically, and seasonally.

So I hope this week’s blog has given you food for thought.  Remember, we are of the materials of the Earth so it’s important to respect what it offers. Be compassionate towards animals and plants and only consume what is needed.  We should feel the same aversion to polluting our bodies as we do the environment.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.