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Drawing On The Dao: Responding To Shock

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 111 - May 2005

A State of Shock

Joining the queue at the auto route tolls whilst on holiday in France we found ourselves in line behind a juggernaut. Without warning, the driver of the lorry decided to change lanes and reversed towards us at speed. Failing to look into his rear view mirror, the lorry driver hit our van with a sickening thud and shunted us for several horrifying yards before ramming us again for a second time. Coming to rest, we felt a great sense of relief to realize that, although our van was damaged, we were all physically unharmed. Nevertheless, we were also, understandably, quite shaken and as my heart pounded I reminded myself that the Daoist classics say 'During shock, there is no home for the Shen'.

'Shen' is the Chinese name given to the spirit that resides in the Heart. The Nei Ching describes the Shen as that which can 'guide the subjects in their joys and pleasures' and defines this spirit as the 'Supreme Controller' – the Emperor of the mind/body whose purpose is to help us attain a calm inner sense of direction. As with all Emperors, the Heart Shen needs a guard and protector and this is to be found in the energy field of the 'Heart Protector' or Pericardium.

The Heart Protector is the field of chi energy that flows through the meridians of the chest. When the channels of the Heart Protector are relaxed and at ease, the Shen feels at home and then there is a sense of stability and tranquility; a sense of inner direction and guidance. Conversely, if we are tense, restrained and wary, the muscles of the chest contract, breathing diminishes and we feel lost, afraid, vulnerable and disconnected from the Shen. This is also how we can feel when in a state of shock.

The state of being 'in shock' can range from a mild disturbance (as in our case on the auto route), to 'clinical shock syndrome'. All forms of shock adversely affect the circulation of energy in the meridians and energy field of the Heart Protector, but with extreme shock, blood and oxygen flow can be severely diminished. This gives rise to a marked imbalance in the Heart meridian – paleness, staring eyes, weak and rapid pulse, decreased blood pressure, restlessness and often a lack of interest in the surroundings – all classic signs of shock.

The Calm Guiding Presence

First aid for shock involves keeping the person comfortably warm with the body flat or the legs slightly raised to facilitate circulation. Quiet is needed and increased amounts of fluid must be given. Homeopathic Arnica and Bach Flower Rescue Remedy are very helpful. Acupressure and breathing techniques can be very successful in bringing someone out of a shocked state. When we experience a shock the circulation of energy in the field of the Heart Protector is affected, and this causes the muscles of the chest to contract, breathing to diminish and we feel afraid and disconnected to the Shen. To counteract this we need to cultivate a state that is open and relaxed and so re-establish the calm guiding presence of the Supreme Controller – the Heart Shen.

Lao Tzu speaks of the Heart as ideally being 'calm and quiet having great depth beneath it'. From such a peaceful base as this the Shen can reside and function freely. After a shock, to regain this quiet state that is home to the Shen we need to let go and relax, and the key to that is to firstly calm the breath. As the breath becomes calmer the chi is activated in the chest and channels of the Heart Protector, causing them to relax and open and thus creating the tranquil, safe space for the Shen to reside. As the Shen returns we feel calmer and thus are brought out of the shocked state.

Encourage the person in shock to firstly breathe out slowly, relaxing completely. Once the lungs are emptied, breathe in making sure that the abdomen rises before the chest does. Again slowly and calmly breathe out. The crucial point in abdominal breathing is to ensure that as you breathe in the abdomen rises and as you breathe out it falls. As we breathe steadily from the abdomen rather than the chest the latter will relax. As we relax the Shen is restored to the Heart and we begin to sense and trust again in that underlying and powerful source of happiness and well-being that can always be there regardless of the vicissitudes of life.

Massaging Meridian Points

When in shock, to help relax the chest armouring and all tension in the Heart Protector meridians and reconnect with the peace and calm of the Heart Shen, you can massage the following points:

• Point Pericardium 6 – Inner Frontier Gate. This point is found by measuring two acupuncture inches (one inch is equal to the width across the joint of the thumb) above the wrist between the tendons. Use moderate pressure massage in an anti-clockwise direction for several minutes.
• Point Heart 7 – Spirit Gate. At the flexure of the wrist on the little finger side press under the tendon and massage in an anti-clockwise direction for several minutes.
• Also add a revival point from the Kidney meridian (the Kidney energy acts as a controller of the Heart meridian). Point Kidney 1 – Bubbling Spring. On the sole of the foot in a depression between the junction of the second and third metatarsals with the toe bones – press your thumbs in a clockwise direction.

As you massage these points, affirm to yourself or the person who is shocked 'relax, let go, all is well'.


Teeguarden I. The Joy of Feeling. Japan Publications Inc. 1984.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press Ltd. 2000.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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