The Ups And Downs Of Qi

There is an acupuncture point right on the top of the head, called GV20, or DU20, which causes qi to rise upward in the body. This being the case, the point is used when you need to either hold things up and in (such as in cases of prolapse or excessive menstrual bleeding), or used to bring an extra boost of qi to the brain. This boost is helpful in raising the spirits, or in promoting an improved memory. For years, acupuncture students who were wise to this would take their board exams with a small needle inserted there, until the proctors found out and made it clear that this was considered cheating. I still remember my first experience with this point, back in my early days of grad school-in other words, before I had anything but the most rudimentary understanding of how acupuncture works. I was studying for a big exam, and left a small needle inserted in GV20 for hours while I hit the books. I was a little skeptical at first, but I had to admit that I felt a sense of focus and clarity during my study session that I had never had before. I was also convinced that memorization of the material had become a lot easier. I decided to leave the needle in for the rest of the day, calculating that if a little extra qi in the brain was good, then a whole lot of extra qi was even better. Makes sense, right?

Wrong. By the end of the day, I developed a migraine that had me in tears. My head ached so badly that even looking at my notes was impossible. So much for my enhanced study session. Somehow I never put two and two together; I thought that it was the stress of the upcoming exam that had given me the migraine. When I went to my evening class, my professor asked why I was so pale. I explained the situation, and he immediately plucked the needle from my head, scolding me for giving myself the headache by overusing that point. Since I hadn't balanced the flow of the qi with any other points, it had built up in my head, and all that pressure had led to a migraine.

It was the first time I had really learned the concept of balancing out qi, rather than simply using points in an empirical manner. When you first learn what the points are capable of, it feels like learning magic. You begin with a simple formula of using Point A to relieve Symptom B. You see Symptom B disappear, and the excitement sets in: you have created a change! Although there are some issues that truly can be resolved this simply, that is not what this medicine is all about. In my case, a little extra qi to the head improved my focus and memory; a lot of extra qi brought me pain and suffering.

When you start to understand how this medicine works, you learn that qi needs to flow smoothly, not to gather in one area of the body. If it does, certain symptomology will develop. This symptomology is particularly noticeable when there is an imbalance in the upward and downward flow of qi through the body. If there is not enough qi in the head, you will be tired, have muzzy thinking, and your spirits will be low. Your memory may be weak, and perhaps your eyes will be tired and blurry. You may develop a type of headache that feels better with rest, one which leaves you feeling "empty-headed."

On the other hand, if there is too much qi rising to the top of the body, you may have a headache of a different type: a strong, pounding headache that is relieved by movement. Rather than feeling spiritless, you may be filled with strong emotions: anger, irritability, frustration. Your face and eyes might become red. Dizziness, or vertigo may occur. Your thoughts could become obsessive and you might get the feeling that your mind won't stop going-which often leads to insomnia. High blood pressure is another symptom of excess qi rising to the top of the body.

A good acupuncturist will be able to raise or sink the qi when necessary, and to direct in the path it is meant to go. But, in a pinch, you can start to redirect your own qi through acupressure. If you feel that you are lacking qi in the head, press on GV20 for a few minutes. This point is located by following the line from the very tip of your ears to the top of your head. When you find that point, move your finger slightly back and press around until you feel a point that is sensitive, or maybe even a little squishy. Press down for a few minutes, and you will start to bring qi up to the head and brain. If, on the other hand, you feel that you have symptoms of too much qi rising to the head, you will want to stimulate a point called Kidney 1. This point is located on the sole of the foot, at the junction of the anterior 1/3 and posterior 2/3 of the line connecting the base of the 2nd and 3rd toes with the heel. Basically, it is behind the balls (of the feet!), and centered in the depression that can be found with the toes pointed.