This might be a familiar scenario: Your new patient comes in and you want to help them feel better. The patient's intake is complex, and there are many long and intertwining issues that have been in play for years. You wonder what technique from your acupuncture toolbox you'd like to use and you want to know that when the patient leaves, you've made some positive changes for the body to integrate until the next time they schedule.Read More
Hi EV team,
I wanted to send a thank you to all of you - Rayén, Kailey, Marguerite and Dan for this weekend, as well as the whole course.
The class and toolbox is exactly what I had been looking for! As much as I love Chinese Medicine, I was frustrated by the gap between the theory and the practice, and the absence of a shared palpatory experience and relationship to qi. I've been using what I've learned in the course on all my patients in clinic, and it has been taking some of the "guess work" out of whether or not a treatment is working.
I have just finished the second of three modules in an Engaging Vitality (EV) training with Dan Bensky, Marguerite Dinkins, and Rayén Antón, L.Ac. Chip Chace was a part of the original EV team of developers and teachers, but he sadly passed last year—Rayén will teach the third module next month. This is the second time I have gone through this training. (I think for anything you want to learn, it’s important to expose yourself to it multiple times.)
It is a bit difficult to know where to start in describing this unique approach to acupuncture. It is so different that no other style approaches it in character or technique; it truly stands alone. Current students and seasoned acupuncturists with decades of experience are in the EV training with me, and both seem to pick up the work at about the same pace. Interesting that previous clinical experience in East Asian Medicine seems to not guarantee success in EV. What brings success is approaching the work with a spirit of openness and a willingness to follow the precise instructions given. Seeing the excellent performance of the students in the class, I find myself wishing I had come on this work long ago.Read More
Back in the spring my husband and I planned a trip to Spain that would coincide with the Yearly Follow-Up Class in Barcelona (YUFB) at the end of September. This is an annual 2-day class that Chip has been facilitating for close to a decade for practitioners across Europe who are continuing to progress with the Engaging Vitality (EV) material. It’s an opportunity to review topics participants want to revisit, practice the various palpation techniques, and reconnect and practice with fellow practitioners. Rayén Anton, a Barcelona-based practitioner who organizes and teaches EV trainings throughout Europe describes the YUFB as “a special kind of gathering, made by all the parts (which is all of us) and becoming something that is more than the sum of the parts.” I think this is a very beautiful way of describing it, and captures just how I feel when I get the opportunity to spend time and practice with fellow practitioners in the US who are also working with the EV material.
This year’s YUFB directly followed a 3-day Visceral Course with Dan Bensky. Dan lead the first day of review and practice while the EV European teachers crew oversaw the second day. For just coming off of a very full few days of training, everyone (and their very juicy livers) were remarkably focused and present.
It was a jam-packed couple of days. But a few things really stand out…
First off, when you make your way across the Atlantic Ocean to have Dan Bensky tell you for the ten-thousandth time that you’re still emitting when practicing the Manual Thermal Technique, it really has a way of finally getting through. I have a tendency to come in really hard and focused and look for the top of the Thermal Layer and end up doing all kinds of emitting in the process. But for whatever reason this time his instruction really got through to me. I understood what he meant when he told me I was emitting. I got it. Oftentimes it works out this way learning these palpation techniques. It takes a long time and a lot of practice and then just a bit of refinement in the moment and then “Wow, I get it.” A big learning moment presents itself. It finally gets into your body.
It was very evident to me from the beginning that this is a group of practitioners who have been deeply influenced and shaped by Chip’s approach to the Engaging Vitality material. The individuals who I had the good fortune of practicing with during the two days exhibited this very lovely and admirable blend of clinical rigor and deftness with genuine, heartfelt presence. The word that I kept hearing repeated while practicing was appreciation - appreciation for the quality of touch and resonance with patients, appreciation for the Shape of Qi, appreciation for the appearance and quality of the Fluids, appreciation for what the patient’s system is trying to convey in this moment. The European teachers really embodied a sense of soft focus and levity, this kind of benevolent attentiveness when making contact with the qi.
Additionally they are all fantastic teachers - patient, precise, encouraging, and very supportive. During a practice session I received some feedback from Rayén that was so helpful, so incredibly useful in my own personal process as a practitioner. I really don’t think I could have heard it or digested it if it had been given by a different teacher or if it had been delivered in any other way than how she delivered it in that moment. Rayén helped me to really see and understand in the moment that my particular stance and energetic communication was too forceful and too forward and that it was inhibiting me from really being able to come from a more receptive and open place while needling, a place of true listening. This was very evident in the fact that when I did start to soften and pull back, my partner’s system started talking to me, and I was able to connect with a sense of Settling, Suppling, Integrating and Opening (SSIO) while needing. This was invaluable feedback, a true gift, the lessons for me applicable in my life even beyond my practice of Traditional East Asian Medicine.
We fleshed out Channel Listening a little more. We revisited some of the material we all went over in the Cranial Course. We did a practice set on Listening Through The Needle that was fantastic and for the first time gave me a visceral sense of what that actually means. We talked about differentiating between the Fluids and the Shape of Qi. We talked a little bit about the timeless quality of working with the fluids, how time has a way of slowing down when making contact with the fluids and we find ourselves inhabiting a different space. We discussed the importance of not forcing anything, respecting limits, and the importance of gentle pacing and listening and quietude in the clinical encounter. We talked about Extraordinary Vessel movement, morphology, and resonance. It was such a breadth and depth of material that we were able to discuss in such a short period of time, and at the end of the two days it gave me such an appreciation for how incredibly cool the Engaging Vitality material is, how fun it is to work with the principles and the palpation techniques, to share in this joy with my colleagues, to see how I have been nudged along and encouraged and have grown as a practitioner. It was very joyful for me to be there. I felt an immense amount of gratitude.
Altogether my husband and I spent about two weeks in Spain, a good deal of it in Barcelona. I e-mailed Chip at one point while I was there to tell him:
I also love that you guys have set down such strong roots in this city. I love this city and I love to get lost here. To the extent that I am willing to totally lose my way here, to get lost, I am rewarded with new experiences, locations, something interesting to come upon. The more willing I am to get lost, the more likely I am to find something completely new. The metaphor of EV is totally alive for me in this city. And it’s all imbued with warmth, benevolence, curiosity, appreciation, boundless love.
Kailey Brennan, October 2018
Diane says . . .
Listening to the body can greatly impact a treatment. I have felt the profound effects, and these experiences have motivated me to persist in practicing the Engaging Vitality palpation techniques.
I received my first experience as a patient. I was being treated in the SIOM student clinic when Marguerite Dinkins, as supervisor, listened to the push-pull of an inserted needle. Marguerite then informed the student practitioner that the needle needed to be inserted 1 more millimeter. The point location was correct but the depth of the needle was not where it needed to be, to fully engage with the channel pathway. After the needle was adjusted, I could instantly feel the channel opening up and my lower abdomen warm up. The correct needle depth opened up what was blocked. Who knew that 1 millimeter would make such a difference? I imagine this is like getting a new house key made, if the angles and depth of the new key "teeth" are not precise, it is much more difficult getting the door open to get into the house. This was the moment I realized that Engaging Vitality palpatory skills could lead to very powerful and effective treatments.
The second experience I had also left a similarly lasting impression on me. I was in Module 2, Dan Bensky was helping us to further refine our palpatory skills. Our small group needled 2 points on the patient that we found through our Engaging Vitality palpation. The Yang Rhythm (quality of the movement of Qi) had improved and was greater and smoother. Dan then proceeded to needle reliable ST36. To my surprise, the Yang Rhythm changed. The movement of the Qi was no longer big and smooth. I couldn't feel it anymore. The first 2 points had affected positive change but the body was now telling us that ST36 was agitating it. It is one thing to hear Dan and Marguerite tell us to not over treat but to experience it under my own hand and by having the patient's body tell me directly was a very clear and strong message. The patient also reported that although she did not feel the insertion of the needle into ST36, her body did not feel right.
It was very powerful to experience firsthand the profound effects of using Engaging Vitality to guide a treatment, both as a patient and as a practitioner. The empirical successes have encouraged me to keep practicing, to fine tune my techniques and to improve my sense of touch.
SIEAM (Seattle Institute of East Asian Medicine) graduate.
Maria says . . .
I have been exposed to Engaging Vitality work for close to a decade, but only now am finding the ability to dive deeper and bring the tools into my practice. In writing this, I want to share my experience and reflection upon the past years and most recent 6 months.
I remember being introduced to some of the tools from EV back when I was a graduate student at SIEAM (Seattle Institute of East Asian Medicine). The degree to which we as a class were exposed to these methods of assessing the body and Qi was very superficial. I liken it to the foam on top of your latte, learning something briefly and skimming the surface. Exciting yes, but not substantial enough. I think part of fundamental education in East Asian Medicine is to be exposed to many different lines of thought and practices so that we as practitioners can choose what resonates most and follow it deeper. In the course of my own private practice, many things I had learned during SIEAM have taken a back stance and some things have moved more to the foreground. I think unanswered questions and experiences in the clinic really dictate this trajectory for me. It has taken me some time to take action to pursue my curiosity and sign up to take the EV modules as CE courses. After taking the first two modules, I feel more connected to the medicine I practice, more eager to practice the methods and wondering why I have waited this long to arrive here. Learning these seemingly simple methods of examining the body and Qi has opened up a lot of dialogue inside my own experience. In reflection I can honestly say, there is a sense of fresh air when it comes to practicing EV in the clinic. This feeling is renewing me in a way. It allows me to create more space by setting aside the things I think I know, and allow myself to rest in not knowing it all. So far, with the instruction from Marguerite Dinkins and Dan Bensky to drop the ambition and practice I am taking myself past the surface into this study with their help. I cannot be more grateful to the additional practice sessions that Marguerite and Dan lead. During the last practice group I realized how much support these sessions are offering me. I find them to be most valuable and crucial in order to deepen my skills, in order to get immediate feedback, and be charged with energy to continue the dive. With all things that take time to cultivate and develop, having this support from the EV team helps me tremendously. Like roots to a tree. Thank you!
-Maria Portnaya LAc., Ageless Acupuncture LLC
“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.”
— Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity
In school to study acupuncture and East Asian medicine, we start with the fundamentals. We study East Asian medicine’s understanding of the body. We learn about the pathways of the meridians, the concept of the Qi dynamic, the theory of Yin and Yang, the Daoist understanding of humans and their relationship to nature, as well as some of the cultural, historical, political, philosophical and spiritual ideas that influence and undergird this medicine.
If your education was anything like mine, you learned all of the specifics of acupuncture point location. Hours upon hours of memorizing point prescriptions out of the Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion textbook (CAM). Shang Han Lun, Jin Gui Yao Luo. The relationship of the five elements.
While in school, if we had enough sanity and bandwidth left over, we started studying the other systems that so many of us use and draw from today: Dr. Tan, Master Tung’s Magic Points, Kiiko Matsumoto’s clinical strategies, 5 Element acupuncture, specific auricular protocols, Jeffrey Yuen’s tradition, amongst the many others out there.
Practicing in more advanced clinics while still in school, I started to feel quietly unnerved. More times than not, patients did not come in with the sort of clearly defined patterns and diagnoses laid out in our TCM textbooks. Not even close. Sometimes treatments were successful, sometimes they were not, and it was very difficult for me to discern why this was. When a course of treatments didn’t seem to make much of a difference, privately I worried that I had gotten myself into the wrong profession. Absolutely worst of all I was starting to become secretly blameful towards patients, critical of their lifestyle or questioning their desire to work in the service of healing. I was tasting the makings of burn out and I wasn’t even out of school yet.
I could theorize and read up and draw on my understanding of East Asian medicine, sure. I could try different point prescriptions, balancing different meridians, working both local and distal style acupuncture. But I wasn’t sure if I was just telling myself some kind of elaborate, made-up story. People and their bodies are so unique and they present with such diversity. They can’t even begin to be encapsulated and described in all of the textbooks and medical theories and treatment systems in the entire world. Plus, I’m a very tactile person and I needed a grounded, perceptible and detectable way in the clinical encounter to discern if my treatments were having an effect.
So much of this is to say, and I’m coming to discover this more and more everyday working with the Engaging Vitality material, that the map is not necessarily the territory when it comes to the practice of East Asian medicine. They are useful and necessary and very helpful, but they can’t completely outline, nail down, and describe every person, condition, and presentation that walks into our clinic. Having a glimpse of this reality in school was terrifying for me. Very gradually through my involvement with the Engaging Vitality work, this has become very interesting and actually almost exciting.
Maps are very useful. Navigating through parts of Denver I’m unfamiliar with, I would be in big trouble if I didn’t have the Map function on my iPhone. It even lets me know in real-time which sections of I-70 or I-25 are backed up due to traffic or an accident. It’s an indispensable tool for living in a city, one that I would struggle without in very real and tangible ways. It saves me valuable time and energy each and every day.
Similarly, I am very reliant upon my maps in East Asian medicine. Distal style treatments, 5 Element acupuncture, strategies that I’ve picked up on from the Japanese tradition, continuing studies in pulse, tongue, and abdominal diagnosis. The maps I studied in and after acupuncture school and continue to study are incredibly valuable and I utilize them regularly.
But the human body is so incredible and diverse and mysterious. Textbooks, theories, teachings, protocols, and prescriptions are all very necessary and useful. But from what I have learned and am continuing to learn and discover everyday is that they are only capable of outlining the tip of the iceberg. When a patient comes in to see me for the first time and however many times after, it is so very interesting, compelling, and undeniably useful to try to engage the patient’s own qi in a dialogue and try to understand what the patient’s qi is asking for in that moment, opposed to placing or imposing my map or system or treatment strategy on that patient from the get-go.
In the Engaging Vitality work, we orient with this understanding that the human being is a functional unit comprised of body, mind and spirit, and that the body is capable of self-regulating and healing. Many of the ideas come from the osteopathic tradition here in the West, and they in many ways synthesize very agreeably with our understanding of East Asian medicine. In the Engaging Vitality work, we think about using all of the tools we have developed in East Asian medicine - acupuncture, moxibustion, e-stim, and so forth - to work in the service of supporting and encouraging the body’s innate capacity to self-regulate and heal.
Part of working in the service of the body’s healing mechanisms is understanding when you’ve given the body more information than it can adequately process in a treatment session. This is commonly referred to as “over-treatment” in the practice of acupuncture. And in Engaging Vitality, we have some very useful, immediate and direct ways of discerning if a patient is nearing over-treatment: the pulse becomes disorganized, the Channels start to feel buzzy, the tongue may develop more defined teethmarks, and the body’s fluids will start to feel like a thick, viscous liquid, like molasses. This is an incredibly valuable tool to have for more reasons than need mentioning.
And that doesn’t even begin touch on the usefulness of the Engaging Vitality work. Old injuries, strains, and ailments can lead to tension, constriction, and systemic disharmony in the body. With the Engaging Vitality tools, we can start to actually discover and pick up on this through our palpation skills. You come to learn that acupuncture points and very often channels may not necessarily be in the exact location that they were outlined in the texts. Recently having taken the Visceral Course, I’m starting to cultivate a tactile understanding of why we say that the lungs are responsible for the function of “descending and diffusing” in East Asian medicine. I’m continually discovering why certain acupuncture points are given their very unique, interesting and oftentimes perplexing point functions as outlined in Peter Deadman’s Manual of Acupuncture text. I might have certain preconceptions about what is going on for a patient based on their constitution, presentation, and main complaints, but those preconceptions might be completely vaporized once I start doing an examination.
The map might not necessarily be the territory, and this is good news for me. Learning the Engaging Vitality tools and mindset has helped me to be curious and interested in the face of ambiguity, complexity and confusion, as opposed to fearful, anxious, or feeling overwhelmingly impotent. It is incredible to think that as practitioners of East Asian medicine practicing with the Engaging Vitality material, in addition to all of the information we can glean from our pulse, tongue, and abdominal findings, there is this ability to receive so much palpatory information from our patient’s bodies and their qi. This information can help us come into dialogue with a patient’s qi, get feedback in the clinical encounter if we are truly working in the service of the body’s innate capacity to move towards healing, and helps us to more elegantly address, while holding a very large and open perspective and an appreciation for the wisdom of the body, the reasons why patients are coming to see us for treatment. Practicing the Engaging Vitality work helps me to more skillfully, attentively, and reverently practice my values and serve my entire reason for getting into East Asian medicine in the first place - to help people and to help people feel better.
Here is an excerpt of a wonderful letter Kailey sent for EV in 2017, describing what we do.
Engaging Vitality is a acupuncture and palpation workshop developed and taught by Dan Bensky, Chip Chace, and Marguerite Dinkins. In addition to being longstanding practitioners of Traditional East Asian Medicine, the instructors have extensive training and expertise in osteopathic palpation methods, including visceral manipulation and craniosacral therapy. Engaging Vitality is the product of their many years of deep engagement, study, and practice of these various traditions.
I believe Engaging Vitality has something very unique and valuable to offer to acupuncturists. Beyond the ability to improve diagnostic skills and and grow in clinical competency, Engaging Vitality teaches a way for the fundamental concepts of East Asian medicine to come to life in our hands. It is also a chance to study with and learn from three very generous and encouraging high level practitioners with a deep respect and appreciation for this incredible medicine we get to practice. And on top of all that, it’s a lot of fun.
Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail and I hope to see you in Boulder this fall.
All the best,
Kailey Brennan L.Ac. Denver, Colorado
I landed in my first Engaging Vitality Module I seminar a month after getting licensed as an acupuncturist. My primary reason for signing up was that I saw it as a chance to develop my palpation skills. I did not come to this profession with a background in any kind of bodywork. Beyond point location and surface anatomy, palpation was not heavily emphasized in my TCM schooling. So I felt deficient in this capacity as an acupuncturist, and I felt that taking a few Engaging Vitality seminars would help me develop my palpation skills, and that this would then translate to becoming a more competent and effective practitioner. I was clueless when it came to the osteopathic tradition, and I really did not give much consideration as to how it was going to be a part of the Engaging Vitality training. I was only focused on developing my palpation skills.
In hindsight, I can see that there were a lot of other reasons why I needed a training like this. TCM school left me with a lot of gnawing questions. For me, there was an appreciable disconnect between the theory and practice of acupuncture. In our theory courses we learned about the different manifestations of Qi; Yuan Qi, Ying Qi, Wei Qi, Zhong Qi, and Zheng Qi, amongst others. Were these just theories that provided a scaffolding for how we could think about practicing acupuncture? Or did these different manifestations of Qi actually translate into an appreciable palpatory reality in the clinical encounter? Is Qi actually something we can feel in our patients, through our hands? Or does my “capacity to feel Qi” require honing and developing some kind of nebulous, energetically-based, intuitive capacity in myself? Obviously, I had a lot of questions, and I was not sure if this made me a tenacious, curious student or a cantankerous pain-in-the-butt. Probably a little of both.
Suffice to say, I wanted to develop my palpation skills and work through some of my discontent with the practice of acupuncture. I learned the various palpation techniques in Modules I, II, and III. The techniques are not difficult to learn on the surface, but they require a willingness to hang out in a place of “unknowing” and not push an agenda. It is about coming into dialogue with a patient’s Qi. This may sound esoteric, but it’s not meant to be. It’s actually incredibly ordinary. And it was so reassuring to me to learn that the way one gets better at the Engaging Vitality material is by consistently practicing it. It is not about striving harder. It just takes regular, consistent practice. And then something starts to happen. You discover a whole world of information in your hands.
Having worked with the Engaging Vitality material for the past year, I now know that Qi is a palpatory reality, we can feel it in our patients, and we can use it to guide us and give us feedback while giving an acupuncture treatment. This has been a priceless discovery and it has made the medicine come alive for me. And not only that, but the real cherry on top is the chance to continue to study with and learn from high level teachers who encourage deep questioning, skepticism, and rigorous debate. From the beginning, I have never felt like I was learning from three completely inscrutable, all-knowing, omniscient teachers. They are real people who are working with this same material on a day-to-day basis in their own clinics. There is a real sense of being able to have a long, continuously fresh, tremendously interesting and ever-evolving journey with this material. Practicing acupuncture this way is anything but boring. For all these reasons and many more, I am so glad that I came into the Engaging Vitality work, and I am so excited to have more people come along for the ride.