Paul Silk Acupuncture and Massage in New Southgate, Barnet

What helps your medicine go down?

My studies in Acupuncture included a business module full of all the appropriate jargon one would expect. This included the idea that a 'successful' practitioner was one who accumulated the largest market share of customers. According to this model all practitioners are therefore in competition with each other for clients. Awkward! However, in the same way that you can't add apples and oranges and come up with one number, practitioners (and clients) are too different to compare 'like for like'. There is a difference in the physical styles of medicine we practice: Japanese acupuncture, TCM, 5 elements, cupping, gua sha, electro, moxa.

There is an even bigger diversity in how we represent ourselves - in our appearance, our demeanor, and our 'banter' and this post is suggesting that the 'how' a therapist does their thing rather than what they do, is really where clients receive the medicine they are looking for. To illustrate the point, imagine that you walk into your doctor's surgery and found him or her playing on a guitar with his or her feet on the desk. Would you be more or less inclined to believe that s/he knew what s/he was doing? Probably less, unless you had an incredible fear of 'the man' and actually a hippy doctor is the only person you'd trust to come anywhere near you.

This is because our brains instantly recognise archetypes. A white bearded elderly white male is suppose to be wise, a shoeless one a thriftless fool. A young woman modestly dressed should be a maiden, but provocatively dressed, she should not be! Tarot images such as the Hermit, the Emperor, the Priestess are hard-wired into our psyche and we shoe-horn people into these pre-set boxes of the brain at the slightest provocation.

Apparently it's not just how a person looks that effects us but the space in which we interact. An architect friend of mine explained to me the history of doctors' treatment rooms: if the doctor's room fits the formula of 'approaching an oracle' (something to do with the positioning of the desk and the door) the patients judge the doctors efficacy more positively i.e. whether their medicine works or not!

So am I saying then that the medicine is irrelevant? That it's all placebo? Almost! Holism recognises that our psychology and physiology are intrinsically linked, and psychoneuroimmunology now believes the same thing. In short, our continuing modern medical evolution is now coming to examine the idea that trust, or even love can have a profound effect on our bodies' ability to heal.

Although this is really talking about sustained periods of emotion, you can experience the physiological effect of happiness by trying the classic Taoist exercise of the inner smile:

• Sitting quietly and comfortably (full lotus NOT necessary!) become aware of the rise and fall of your breath.

• Observe your thoughts as they come and go. Keep returning to an awareness of your breath until you feel it coming and going, 'unhitched' and regular.

• When you feel like it, bring to mind a time when you were very happy: be it coming home, hugging a loved one, or reuniting with a lover

• As you feel your mouth widen into a smile allow the smile to spread inwards towards the heart

• When the smile reaches your heart, like a disco ball, you can imagine the warmth of the smile reflecting into the other organs of your body

• Feel free to place your hands over any organ in which you choose to enhance the connection and sense of relaxation

• Continue to breathe, feeling the smile deepen and the organs of the body relax further

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