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Drawing on the Dao: Taking Action, Moving Forward

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 105 - November 2004

Adaptation Energy

It had been an enjoyable though hectic day – a shopping trip with my daughter and a long drive out of town – I was exhausted but needed to visit an ill and dear relative that evening. On my way over to see her I started to feel stressed – fuzzy headed and anxious. As a practitioner of the Daoist art of acupuncture, I knew this was a message from my Kidney energy warning me that I was feeling overloaded and must slow down.

Hans Selye, the stress researcher talks about 'adaptation energy' – a certain type of energy that helps us adjust to stressors. He says: "We have no objective way of measuring adaptability at any given moment, but there appears to be a readily available, replaceable type, and another more deeply hidden in reserves which can replenish the superficial kind only after some rest or diversion of activity."

To Daoists this 'deeply hidden in reserves' type of energy corresponds to the vital essence – the oil in the lamp so to speak, that we are born with, known as 'Jing'. This is considered to be a very precious substance – the foundation of our constitutional energy – one that we need to protect and value by ensuring that we do not overdo it through working too hard, partying too long, too much sex or over exercising. We need to ensure that we do not squander or use up these reserves of precious Jing energy as they cannot be replaced but, when needs must, we can draw on this energy to adapt to times of stress. That evening was one of those times for me.

One of the best ways to draw on the Jing energy is through focusing on the Dan Tien (sea of energy) – the energy centre just below the navel. This will have a calming, balancing, energizing and spiritually uplifting influence on your energy field. Lying comfortably on my back, I focused on the Dan Tien to practise lower abdominal breathing also known as 'Hara' breathing. Try it when you feel frazzled for it will not only connect you with but also help to preserve the Jing – a source of strength, health and healing.

Hara Breathing and Acupressure Points

• Sitting or lying comfortably with loose clothing inhale slowly through your nose and gently exhale through your mouth. Do this several times.

• As you inhale, feel a movement all the way down to the Dan Tien – the energy centre just below the navel. Allow your abdomen to expand as your diaphragm moves down in a full breath, then let your abdomen relax as you exhale completely. Breathe continuously, with no pauses between the exhalation and the inhalation.

• With closed eyes focus attention fully on the Dan Tien. As thoughts arise simply let them go. You may start to feel a warmth in this area and a deep sense of relaxation. Continue focusing and breathing like this for fifteen minutes or so.

• When your breathing is stable and you are fully focused on the lower abdomen breathe in more deeply then hold the breath for a few seconds whilst contracting the muscles of the perineum. Relax the muscles as you exhale. Repeat to a count of 20 breaths to strengthen the lower abdominal energy.

• Next massage the soles of the feet for at least three minutes and then hold some Kidney points.

• The acupuncture point Kidney 1 known as 'Bubbling Spring' is on the sole of the foot between the second and third metatarsal bones in the crease formed when the toes are flexed. Allow two thumbs to meet at this point and massage outwards.

• Next rub with circular movements the point Kidney 3 known as 'Greater Mountain Stream'. This is to be found just behind the inner anklebone. Press firmly and rub in a clockwise direction for at least three minutes each side.

Moving Forward

Sometimes stressors – illness, bereavement – too many changes of any kind in the status quo can accumulate to such an extent that we feel overwhelmed and disempowered. The Kidneys are the seat of our willpower and resolution and symptoms that suggest we have overdrawn on our Kidney reserves include depression, exhaustion and anxiety along with a variety of structural and physical symptoms such as sore knees, backache, palpitations.

If you feel depressed remember the saying 'you have to breakdown to breakthrough' and that you have a choice – you can continue to feel depressed and disempowered or you can have a breakthrough and alter your perspective seeing this crisis from the Daoist point of view – as an opportunity to face and accept this challenge and your painful feelings. In this way you start to 'go with the flow' towards a new way of life, a more balanced, less stressful existence.

None of this is easy, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Firstly allow yourself to express your feelings – to deny them will take up a lot of your energy and add to a depression. Let yourself cry, share your feelings with a friend, keep a journal and pour out how you feel into it.

We may not have control over all the changes and stressors in our lives, but we do have control over our attitude towards them. Once we resolve to accept our feelings we must also pay attention to those inner promptings that tell us how to make positive alterations to our lifestyle. Taking action to make changes we will start to feel re-empowered and the depression will begin to lift. Whether you feel slightly stressed or are experiencing a depression go towards the changes and challenges by affirming 'the action I take will move me forward'. Include 15 minutes of Hara breathing in your daily routine along with massaging feet and Kidney points to feel stronger in mind, body and spirit.


Hill, S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable. 1997.
Ody, P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press. 2000.
Selye, Hans. Stress without Distress. Signet. 1974.
Teeguarden, I. The Joy of Feeling. Japan Publications Inc. 1984.


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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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