One of the greatest gifts is discovering how to welcome the body’s messages, and one of the surest paths to moderation is observing the body’s requests and sensations. Excess pleasure and pain lead to discomfort and disease; the idea of yoga and many alternative practices is to bring the body back to neutral.
Alix Jean, TCM practitioner and Japanese Acupuncturist, joined us on the podcast to share how she treats the body and witnesses the transformation of healing through Hara diagnosis; the treatment used in Japanese acupuncture to assess through abdominal palpitations.
“With Hara diagnosis within the abdomen, we literally feel how there is a blockage in one of the organs or meridians. I like the immediate feedback used in the Hara diagnosis. Hara is listening to our guts; your body will give you little signs from the subconscious that you may or may not be aware of consciously.” – Alix Jean.
Our focus for the entire month of November featured Ayurveda and all the ways we treat our bodies to better care for ourselves. Through Ali Cramer, we learned about the doshas and the elements of each constitution; Insiya Rasiwala-Finn spoke to proper nourishment, diet, and ritual; and Maria Garre provided tips and tactile takeaways to stimulate the digestive fires to bolster the immune system during periods of disease.
Our interview with Alix concludes our month of navigating the spectrum of wellness, discussing the body’s subconscious messages and how to treat physical, emotional, and mental stress through Japanese acupuncture.
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Introducing Alix Jean
If you could choose any era to live in, what period would you choose?
AJ—Ancient China is one, and I’ve always been drawn to medieval Scotland as it’s part of my heritage.
What are some of the items you always have with you?
AJ—My triad of cell phone, wallet, and keys. I also always have a deodorant in my bag. I always forget to use it in the morning. I always have three things in my heart: this ability to pause; an openness to holding space without judgment at all times. Appreciation of beauty. I feel like I’ve always been a daydreamer.
What is the style of acupuncture that you teach?
AJ—Acupuncture defines points in the body to stimulate healing. The style I teach in Japanese acupuncture, it’s unique from TCM in several ways. Traditional Chinese Medicine is what all acupuncturists are trained in, in the West. TCM is our governing body. Japanese acupuncture provides a few extra techniques on top of TCM is how I like to think of it.
Through additional training, I’ve learned techniques that are more focused on palpitations and Japanese Meridian therapy. In Chinese medicine, we have the meridians, which are energy lines in the body. There are twelve main meridians with the corresponding internal organs. In Western Medicine, we might relate the energy lines to the fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that encases the muscles and organs and essential everything in the body.
Each meridian corresponds to an internal organ; for example, the lungs are in my chest, but the lung Meridian goes along the arm. When I’m looking at a person, I might assess that some lung symptoms are happening and then check the Meridian for tight or tender points or the nodules or changes within that connective tissue. Those are points that I would work on in the acupuncture session. In TCM, we learned about the meridians; it’s something we focus on, but sometimes the diagnosis goes straight to what’s going on in the organ, and then there’s a point prescription.
In Japanese acupuncture, there’s a lot more space to check the person through touch. The practice of Japanese acupuncture is more tactile. A lot of traditional Chinese medicine acupuncturists will pop the pins in and leave the room and wait. With Japanese acupuncture, I’m in the room the whole time as I’m checking and rechecking the body and the pins. I’m assessing based on the abdomen; it’s called Hara diagnosis. That’s a system of reflexes, which tells me which points to do.
Through Hara diagnosis through the abdomen, we literally feel a blockage in the organs or meridians. I like that immediate feedback. Hara is listening to our guts. Your body will give you little signs from the subconscious you may or may not be aware of.
The beautiful part about Hara diagnosis is that there’s a moment of feedback where the patient on the table and I feel a difference: what had been tight or tender finally releases. That’s the key difference for me as an acupuncture practitioner; there’s so much feedback and information presented right away that’s useful in reading the body’s response. We assess based not only on touch but also on observation. You might evaluate the color in their cheeks or see the person breathing deeper.
What’s the most common injury or ailment you treat?
AJ—The most common is stress-related things, and then hormone-related issues, and chronic injuries. Back pain, mental and emotional distress, hormones are all prevalent.
A classic part of Chinese and Japanese acupuncture is examining the root branch. We take a look at the root of the issue. If the roots are strong, the roots will nourish the branches. If Hara, the center route is clear, we’ll look at the branches. Sometimes local treatment is needed, say if your shoulder is sore, we work on that specific area, but it depends. Sometimes the branch is so loud; only that area needs relief. Someone might come in with neck pain, and I’ll work on their feet because that’s where the meridian’s root needs to be nourished and treated. The roots of the meridians typically start at the feet and work up to the head. The yang, the deep inner meridians, generally work from the ground upwards.
The other thing to keep in mind is posture, to ask what the spine is doing and see how the poster is affecting the injury. There are so many ways we create imbalances from improper posture, from walking to sitting; it’s all about the placement of the heel strike and where the toes land. Gait issues tend to throw off the hips and shoulders up to the neck because the neck is the lightest point. We have the most mobility in our cervical spine. So pain in the neck could be linked to an issue at the roots, which would be the placement of the feet.
Treat the energy body through various yoga pranayams, circular movements for the joints, and breathwork from Chien Lunge. The subtle body, also known as the energy body, lives below the skin where Prana flows. Prana is the life force, or energy according to Ayurveda, which we work with primarily through the breath. Boa’s Breath, White Leopard, Brahmari, and Bastrika Breath to strengthen your body’s Prana.
How did you become interested in acupuncture?
AJ—In my late teenage years, I was in a car accident that was a big kind of life changer for me. It was kind of intense. I was also studying psychology at the time, health psychology in particular, so I was already interested in that area. Through my injuries and my healing experience and not healing and what that felt like, I discovered a link between physical and mental health and emotional health. I felt that all aspects were not being addressed, I had been through a shock, and when I tried acupuncture, it provided the relief that I needed.
What’s your favorite part about treating people?
AJ—It’s so rewarding to see people getting better; it’s the most gratifying thing in the world. In Japanese acupuncture, you can see the moment when it occurs. I feel it’s humbling to honor the process of someone else healing and be witness to these aha moments.
CRO—I feel the same way in terms of teaching. It’s like those moments when you see and feel people drop into their bodies. I find that it takes 15-20 minutes for people to fully arrive because they’re thinking about all of the things that happened that day, and it takes time to drop in and be present in the moment. When the shift occurs, there’s almost like this energetic hum. One of my favorite parts of teaching is watching this process and witnessing what occurs when we are aware and in our bodies.
How would you achieve balance through TCM?
AJ—With Chinese medicine, it’s based on observations of nature. Therefore every day is different, and it would depend on the season. You would see what’s occurring in nature to decide whether it’s a yin season and go more inwards, such as winter, or a more yang season and spend more time outwards, such as summer. It’s always about balancing the constitution based on the environment and what you’re dealing with on that particular day.
How do the emotions correspond to the body and its organs?
AJ—In Japanese and Chinese acupuncture, we work with the elements and yin and yang concepts. The yang energy is all things solar and active and typically associated with the masculine. The element for yang is fire. The yin energy is more receptive and contracting and is commonly associated with the feminine. The element for yin is water and earth. We’re always moving through the phases of the elements within the body.
The liver and gallbladder are related to springtime. For spring, the element is wood. With wood, everything moves up and outward. Wood is represented as growth and leadership. The emotion that corresponds with the liver is anger, and the idea is that the energy moves upward and outward for growth. It can be a positive thing because it’s progressive. When checking the liver and gallbladder meridians, there’s this energy of up and out, this sense of drive, growth, and goals.
Spring moves into summer, and with summer, we have the element of fire. Summer is joyful and open-hearted. It’s represented as love and passion. The pathology of joy is this idea of over excitement and doing too much, as in chasing joy or almost like you would chase a drug addiction. It would mean you have too much fire, too much of a good thing. The organ associated with these ideas and elements is the heart.
From summer, we shift into autumn, where we discover the earth element. The earth element doesn’t have one direction; it comes back to the center. It’s the grounding and stabilizing source of nourishment. It’s the digestive organ that brings us back to our center. The emotion we have in this area is worry and overthinking. So we want to balance this energy by taking care of ourselves as much as we are others. The imbalance would be over-giving to others and not taking care of the self.