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Continuing the Journey: The Third Annual Five Element Acupuncture Symposium 2011

By Brian Bender, L.Ac.

Rushing from the valet, harried by an enormous power outage in San Diego and early morning Los Angeles traffic, I was greeted at the Five Element Acupuncture Symposium: Continuing the Journey warmly, like Norm from Cheers, with hugs and waves from practitioners and friends. As Symposium co-chair Eliot Ivanhoe, M.D. said in his opening remarks to the assembly, "Coming here feels like coming home."

This year's symposium was something special. I asked Neil Gumenick, Founder and Director of the Institute of Classical Five Element Acupuncture Inc. in Santa Monica CA, and the Symposium's Director, why this conference was immediately palpably different. He said that the Symposium's content had been designed to create an environment in which practitioners could learn together on a level playing field. He wanted those with significant experience practicing Five Element Acupuncture to have the opportunity to showcase the skills that have allowed them to grow as practitioners, from traditional diagnosis to the use of essential oils in place of needles. This Symposium, Gumenick said, would be a place for those with thirty-plus years of experience in the medicine, and those who have not yet even graduated from acupuncture school, to come together and, in sharing, lift the medicine.

Day One Focus on Experiential Learning

Immediately, the Symposium got off to a tremendous start with Jane Grissmer and Linda Simons, both faculty members of Tai Sophia Institute of Laurel MD, in a two hour session, "Awakening the Senses: Body/Mind/Spirit." This session, as with all the sessions of the day, was made up almost entirely of sensory activities designed to help practitioners understand patients at the levels of mind, body, and spirit. While this session was filled with fascinating material, one comment in particular moved me; Simons made an observation about the importance of breath that in a single breath, we are in our bodies and born, and with our last single breath, we are out of our bodies and gone.

This image resonated with me as one of those simple truisms that embodies the foundations of Oriental medicine and its vitalist underpinnings.

Niki Bilton, Academic Dean of Ongiara College of Acupuncture and Moxabustion in Ontario, Canada, followed Grissmer and Simons. Her two 1- hour workshops, one on sound and the other on color, captured the participants' full attention. In the first session, she used a series of recordings and volunteers to read aloud while the rest of the group "drew" the quality of the voice, a skill she teaches to help practitioners identify a patient's causative factor (CF). To work with color, Bilton had individuals with the same and different CFs sit beside one another so that we could see the changes in color manifest as they interacted. While the activities were simple, the results of the experiences were profound. Personally, I was amazed at how vibrantly an individual's color changed in relationship with others.

In the late afternoon, Stephen "Tuna" Flores and Pat Gorman, of Five Element Healthcare in New York, presented, "Essential Oils and Intention: Classical Five Element Treatment without Needles and Moxa." Flores and Gorman shared their experience using essential oils in place of needling for patients who cannot or will not accept acupuncture. They went through a detailed demonstration of the different essential oils to be used with both energetic blocks and patients of each CF. The room smelled of lavender as we finished and joined up in the hotel's bar for a social hour and to talk with one another about the learning acquired during the day.

Day Two Continuing the Momentum

The early morning got off to a great start with Flores and Gorman's "Roots and Branches Five Element Qi Gong" session. Participants focused first on the ways in which one's attention and intention is different when one is practicing qi gong for one's self as opposed to teaching therapeutic moves to a patient. The group next practiced several moves to support those with depleted jing and those as having a water Causative Factor (CF). This practice was extended the following day with an emphasis on the wood element.

Eliot Ivanhoe, M.D., a senior faculty member of the Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Inc., began the morning session with "The Gift of Not Knowing." Dr. Ivanhoe began a discussion about uncertainty in medical practice, discussing the role of uncertainty as a necessary step in determining the needs of the patient. To help practitioners deal with this uncertainty, Dr. Ivanhoe led the group through a series of activities to discern a patient's needs through interpersonal interaction. He then led the group through an introduction to contemplation, in order to help the practitioner enter a state of consciousness necessary for direct intuition.

Following Dr. Ivanhoe was Khosrow Khalighi, Founder and Director of Five Element Trainings in San Francisco, CA. His passion for teaching Five Element Acupuncture was evident from the moment he began to speak. Through lecture and practical exercises, the focus of his session was achieving proficiency in working with and treating a person at the level of spirit. Spirit, in Khalighi's view, does not get sick or cause suffering or imbalance. It is one's ability to connect to spirit that gets hampered and damages one's capacity to be well in the world. Thus, treating the spirit requires that the practitioner be fully "present" in the treatment room in order to perceive and resolve the blockages and imbalances that prevent the patient from becoming well.

George Rodriguez, M.D., Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, CA, spoke on Depression and pharmaceutical interventions. He began his presentation by making clear distinctions between sadness, clinical depression, and major depressive disorder. He then gave insights into how antidepressants are prescribed, by whom, for what reasons and the withdrawal symptoms patients may experience when attempting to cease medication. Some interesting facts: Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medications in the USA. Only 20% of antidepressants are prescribed by psychiatrists. Though it is well known that pharmacological interventions are most effective when combined with psychotherapy, use of psychotherapy is on the decline, while medication usage is on the rise. Given these facts, the group had an animated discussion of how to get through to the spirit when blockages might be chemically induced by antidepressants.

Founder and Director of the Wu Hsing Tao School in Seattle, WA, Dirk Hein, gave a light and informative session on archetypal representations of the twelve officials. This presentation was fascinating, putting an idealized face on the functions of each of the officials, helping the participants to think about the different ways in which the officials act in multilayered ways. For example, Hein conceived, of the Lung Official as the priest, the official who reminds of the sacredness of life and our sacred aspects.

Day Three Going Deeper Into the Medicine

This day was dedicated to delving deeper into issues and ideas brought up in earlier presentations.

After our morning session of qi gong, Dr. Rodriguez re-addressed the group, discussing expanding a practice by reaching out to and gaining referrals from medical doctors. According to Dr. Rodriguez, most physicians would welcome the opportunity to provide care for "difficult/hard to manage" patients. He suggested that acupuncturists ask for a referral for this type of patient to begin a relationship with a physician, noting specifically what type of disorders you can help.

Flores and Gorman addressed how to work with dying patients. One suggestion that they made was that when seeing a dying patient in a hospital setting where one does not normally practice, to carry a photocopy of your malpractice insurance, license, and credentials, to present to any hospital administrator who may ask for them. You must also know the laws of your state, to know whether or not you are able to treat a patient in a facility in which you do not have privileges. No matter where you treat the patient, prepare a kit, arrange the energy, be ready for anything and remember that the patient is in charge of deciding how, and whether or not they live or die.

Neil Gumenick, the Symposium Director and Founder and Director of the Institute of Classical Five Element Acupuncture Inc., brought all the work of the Symposium together by presenting a patient, both modeling how to come into rapport with patients and allowing others the opportunity to practice the skill. Discussion around the treatment plan for this patient was both dynamic and passionate, as well as an excellent way for newer practitioners to put their skills to work under the tutelage of practitioners with more than one hundred years of practical experience combined.

Finally, to round out the day, the presenters sat on a panel to address questions that had been submitted during the symposium. What a treat to hear such assembled wisdom! Among the questions presented to the panel were:

How can I improve my perceptiveness?
What advice do you have for facilitating the development and evolution of ourselves as practitioners?
What are some good exercises to help us in connecting with patients on the Spirit level?
How do you address physical symptoms along with Causative Factor work?
What has been your biggest challenge in developing into a good acupuncturist?
What have you found to be effective ways to promote your practice?

Where We Go From Here

This Symposium is now an annual event. If you are a Five Element acupuncturist looking to improve your skills and make connections within the community or if you are an AOM practitioner interested in learning more about this dynamic acupuncture system, mark your calendar for September 2012. Information on the 4th annual Continuing the Journey Five Element Acupuncture Symposium will be forthcoming at the Institute of Classical Five Element Acupuncture's website,

Additionally, there is a new way to connect with the Five Element Acupuncture community year-round! A website has just launched that provides free listings for all practitioners trained in the Five Element Acupuncture tradition, as taught by the late Professor JR Worsley and his students. The website lists schools and sources of continuing education in this tradition, features a Video of the Month visitors can stream for free, and has educational DVDs and related products for purchase. If you are a Five Element Practitioner, please check that your contact information is current and add your name if you are not yet listed at and spread the word!

Brian Bender, M.S.T.O.M., L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. earned his B.S. in Education/Mathematics from the University of Colorado in 1975 and a Masters degree from the McLaren College of Business Administration, University of San Francisco in 1984. After earning his M.S.T.O.M. degree from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in 1996, he completed his certification in Classical Five-Element Acupuncture at The Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture Inc. Brian has over 20 years experience as a practitioner and teacher of the martial arts of Aikido and Iaido. He is currently an instructor and clinic supervisor at Pacific College and maintains a private practice in Del Mar, CA.

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