Sometimes life delivers us wonderful surprises and serendipitous encounters. While spending some needed down time in the Arizona desert, I was approached via text message by a friend in Portland who asked if I would be willing to treat one of the Tibetan lamas at the Garchen Buddhist Institute where he studied. It was not all that far from where I was staying. The lama had recently developed a severe case of Bell’s palsy, and he was flying to Florida the next day on a brief teaching trip, so I would perhaps have just this one opportunity to treat him. I agreed to go up to the institute, even though I am not a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and had no connection to this lama. It sounded like an interesting adventure.
The lama, as it turns out, had the most severe case of Bell’s palsy I have ever seen—this despite the fact that he had already had three treatments on three successive days from a Chinese acupuncturist in a nearby town. He could not close his left eye and so had a patch over it. The left side of his mouth hung down almost a full inch. The left side of his face, in addition to sagging, was also quite swollen. The day before I arrived he had bled from his left ear, and the dried blood was still visible as evidence. He reported that he was experiencing a moderate level of pain in his face.
I had been vaguely aware of this institute because of my friend and knew Garchen Rinpoche who heads the institute to be a famous lama who had spent 20 years in Chinese prisons before coming to the West. (Rinpoche, literally “precious one,” is an honorific title given to reincarnated and/or senior lamas.) In addition, there were 5 or 6 other lamas in the institute; the one I would be treating was one of these other lamas. He had been an attendant of the Rinpoche for many years and was now about 55 years old. The setting was a remote property in the high desert of Arizona where they all lived and practiced. The stark beauty of the place was awe-inspiring.
The lamas’ quarters were in a modest building at the top of a hill. As I pulled in the lama I was to treat met me outside. My initial impression was of a extraordinarily gentle soul. The distortion in his face though was dramatic and immediately obvious. We went into his room for the treatment. Initially the lama’s pulse was difficult for me to assess. The skin of his abdomen felt like something was not right with his lungs, and when I asked, he said he was currently experiencing seasonal allergies, as he did every year. I did some contact needling with a teishin in his abdomen and then reassessed his pulse. It felt as though LR, KD, LU were deficient, and this is what I treated (LR sho, LU kyo secondary in Toyohari thinking—although this treatment was not at all a pure Toyohari-style treatment). The SP pulse also seemed a bit weak, but he told me he had no digestive complaints.
I used a teishin to treat LR-8, KD-7, LU-9, BL 2. On the face after using a teishin to do gentle dispersive sanshin, I retained 42 gauge needles at GV-24, CV-24, ST-7, BL-2, ST-6, ST-36. The insertion depth was about 2-3 mm, and they were retained about ten minutes. While the needles were in I did direct moxa on LI-11, 4, alternate LI-2, CV 6, SP 2. When I removed the needles, I worked to gently free up his neck using an enshin and teishin in the scalenes and SCM muscles as well as doing some qigong tuina (a very gentle type of bodywork that involves subtle lengthening and compressing of tissues). On the lama’s back I used teishin only, first performing sanshin but then tonifying BL-18, 23, 13, although I did bleed four points near the midline at his occiput where he showed distinct redness. The blood was at first dark and then quickly shifted to a healthier red. I also did qigong tuina on his toes and fingers—this is done to shift the condition of the upper body.
GV-24 in the scalp acupuncture system of Zhu Ming-Qing is in the “head and face” zone; this zone can be used for any and all problems of the face. I did a gentle lifting technique on this point while I had the lama move first his jaw side to side and then make circles with his tongue inside his mouth. This is the way the Zhu scalp system is employed—while needle technique is performed (which should always be comfortable), the patient engages movement in the distressed part of the body. This stimulation can be, and should be, repeated regularly throughout the treatment. In this case notable improvement was brought about with needling this point; the swelling around the eye diminished significantly. I believe the Zhu system is the perfect scalp system for meridian therapists to learn since it is so gentle.
Another technique I used on the lama’s face was a two-teishin technique I learned from Iwashina Anryu Sensei (aka Dr. Bear). One places a gold teishin on one side of the face (I used the ST-7 area) and a silver one on the other. One has to try it both ways to see which positioning works best. The patient could give me immediate feedback about which way I should orient the two teishin, and it confirmed my own perception. While I held the teishin gently in place for a few minutes, I had the lama subtly move his jaw side to side. This brought relief quickly and improved his ability to move the muscles on the left side of the face.
At the end of the treatment the lama’s face was almost normal and the pain was gone! The change was dramatic. At a casual glance most people likely would not even notice the left-right differences. He still had the palsy, but good progress had been made. When I had him look in the mirror he was surprised. The other treatments he had received had been performed with strong stimulation and had benefitted him apparently very little. He said a number of times how surprised he was that the Japanese Meridian style treatment was so gentle. He had never heard that anything like Japanese Meridian Therapy existed. Clearly the gentleness of it appealed to him. The next day he left for Florida on a planned teaching trip where he will also be able to receive daily Chinese acupuncture treatments. I hope the Florida practitioners manage to keep the ball moving down the field so to speak.
About the title of this article: I had a dream two months ago about Garchen Rinpoche. I had no idea that after the treatment I would sit down to lunch with all the lamas and the Rinpoche; I thought I would just be driving back to Phoenix after I finished the treatment. When Garchen Rinpoche entered the dining room leaning on his metal cane, he walked right up to me with a radiantly beaming smile and gave me the sweetest hug, as though we had known each other for decades, although he had no clue who I was or what I was doing there. He is quite frail, but his spirit is that of a robust giant. His embrace was a blast of pure love. The others sat me next to him at lunch, and he immediately tied a multicolored bracelet on my wrist and held my hands. A number of times during the meal he again touched my hands. The interesting thing about this happening is that as I drove up the long, dirt road (a rough 15 km) to the institute a sudden thought occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be magical if I met Garchen Rinpoche and he blessed my hands for the sake of my future patients! And here it had happened without me ever mentioning my wish to anyone. Later two other lamas blessed some tiger’s eye mala beads for me. I left the institute in an elevated frame of mind, much moved in my heart by my experience.
During lunch I asked the one nun there—another radiant gem—who attends to Rinpoche’s needs to translate something for me and she agreed. I asked her to tell Rinpoche I had had a dream of him two months before. He seemed thrilled to hear this and explained a Tibetan concept that sounded a lot like the Chinese idea of the hun. He said our consciousness can leave our body when we sleep and when two spirits meet in that state it can be powerful. It was.
I share this article for a few reasons. It makes the point, I believe, that simple Meridian Therapy (MT) treatments can make a real impact where forceful techniques have failed, although to be strictly accurate my treatment had pieces in it from outside the MT world. Secondly, this case makes the point that even though most people in the U.S. are unaware that gentle acupuncture strategies and techniques have been developed in Japan, we who work in this manner are indeed needed. Our gentle approach to medicine deserves to have a seat at the table. Gentle is powerful.
Postscript: I did return to treat the lama two more times when he returned from his trip. My return had been delayed by the death of my mother. The lama with the Bell’s Palsy informed me that the night before I returned all the lamas had had a special prayer ceremony for my mother (I had texted him a request to pray for her.). I was quite touched by this and very grateful. The two treatments I gave were much like the one described above, and also brought very positive changes. My schedule did not allow me to stay longer, and in any event, he had to leave the next day on a teaching trip. I invited the lama to come to Portland, so that I could treat him regularly over a two-week period of time. I hope he will be able to come.
Courses By This Teacher
Yin Sotai - Gentle Within Gentle
with Bob QuinnSee In Store
Yin Sotai is a gentle evolution of Sotai, an already gentle East Asian bodywork style that is often combined with acupuncture treatments in Japan. Its founder was Keizo Hashimoto, MD of Sendai, Japan. Both Sotai and Yin Sotai are best understood as indirect methods of bodywork, which is to say that the patient will engage in pleasant movements away from pain and restriction. Yin Sotai is best understood as a sort of neuromuscular re-education for the patient. Often, just incorporating ten minutes of this sort of bodywork with acupuncture can increase its effectiveness tremendously.
- Participants will learn how to conduct a Pattern of Distortion exam.
- Participants will understand the foundational principles of Yin Sotai and be able to devise their own movements.
- Participants will understand how to use gentle Yin Sotai movements to dramatically improve their patient outcomes.
- Participants will learn how to think critically about what is happening in a Yin Sotai treatment.
- Participants will understand how to properly instruct their patients in doing Yin Sotai movements.
Bob Quinn, DAOM, L.Ac. has been a full-time Associate Professor of Chinese Medicine at National University of Natural Medicine in Portland since 2009; before that, he taught and supervised at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. He first entered acupuncture practice in 1998 with a master’s degree from OCOM, and later returned to earn his doctoral degree in Chinese medicine in 2008.