Friday, May 7, 2010

Bernie: The Old Man of the Pack

Last weekend at A Chance for Bliss, the Animal Acupressure Training Academy held a class on the Five Elements in our Acupressure for Animals 100 Hour Certification Program. The Five Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) give us a way to assess the condition of an animal, as well as clues to what we can do to address the condition. So we’re looking for signs, clues to direct us. For example, if there’s not much energy evident in an animal, we call it a yin condition—that is, there is an apparent deficiency versus a congestion or accumulation. One of the many ways we assess what organs are affected is by the sound of the voice. When the liver energy is affected, it can manifest as a shouting voice in a human, and kind of an aggressive, hostile bark in a dog. If the Kidneys or Bladder energy are affected, the sound is a kind of groaning voice. Lung and Large Intestine energy is a crying voice.

Enter Bernie, our oldest member of the pack of 20 dogs who live together at A Chance for Bliss. Bernie is known for his almost incessant moaning-howling-crying-groaning voice. It’s been hard to pin down the sound with any precision; but everyone keeps asking, “What’s up with Bernie? What’s wrong? What does he need?” My students and I were hard pressed to agree on the sound of his voice. His voice didn’t fall into one of the distinct sounds of the Five Elements. So we would have to look for other clues, never going by one clue alone. But here, we didn’t find much of anything out of the normal range. He’s an old guy and is pretty normal for his age: his coat still has some luster; his tongue is a little on the pale side, but still “in the pink.” There’s still a light in his eyes. His body is a bit heavy but still not abnormal. Good appetite. He gets around for an old guy. He’s just slowing down with age. But his characteristic “howling” keeps going on and on. It would make a great car alarm, getting everyone’s attention.

Bernie, then, didn’t give us much to work with; or, to put it another way, we we’re stumped. The consensus we had was that Bernie was trying to tell us something. He’d look you right in the eye and plaintively give you his characteristic howl (though again, it’s not quite a howl). It was like the sound of a lost soul calling for help. If we had more clues we could have used the Five Element theory to address a particular disharmony in Bernie’s system by addressing the organs most affected and the energy of other organs to support the one most affected. What to do then? Exactly what Traditional Medicine (TCM) does—treat the whole being. And be sure to treat his spirit

So we lifted the old guy onto a big hassock, gathered around and got lots of hands on him. We harmonized all of his meridians with Tui Na (Chinese Massage). We did acu-point work to boost his immune system, calm his system and give him energy, and balance his system. We used points on the head to clear confusion; points to reduce anxiety; and points to raise his spirit. To tell the truth, he wasn’t having much of it; he just wanted to look at you and implore you with his repetitive howl. He was somewhat resistant, but not enough for us to stop working with him. We don’t do anything the animal adamantly doesn’t want, and Bernie seemed just restless. That restless energy did give us a possible clue. It was not the restlessness of anxiety, but felt more like a foul wind blowing through him. Wind is a disharmony in the system related to Liver energy, so we gave extra attention to Liver acu-points.

When we were done the howls were still going. We had given him the best we had. Sometimes you just don’t know, so you just do what you were trained to do. There’s a mystery of the body that’s bigger than any of our theories of knowledge. But we know from 5,000 years of Chinese medicine that “the work works. Trust your learning.” Later on, someone noticed that Bernie had stopped whining or howling or whatever it is he does. He was resting, but not howling. And later, when he was up and waking around, the howling was still gone. Something in his system was harmonizing. I haven’t checked in with Dee and Woody on his behavior, but the howl may be back. If not, great. If it’s back, that’s ok too. Sometimes a disharmony needs to unwind over time. We’ll keep working with him. We’ll be there for him. And, in addition to all of the knowledge and techniques we have, we always are guided by the what the great Yellow Emperor of Chinese Medicine said 2,600 years ago in his treatise of internal medicine: “Always look for the rooting in Spirit.” We will keep working with him to address his body, mind, and spirit.

Tom Wilson, PhD, Director, Animal Acupressure Training Academy and Director of Education, A Chance for Bliss

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