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These two words have much import in my medicine (and in my personal life: it is the names of my first two children). Ben is the root or the source. Shen is the spirit (consciousness). They reflect an important principle in acupuncture therapy as recounted in Chapter 8 of the Nei Jing Ling Shu (one of the earliest texts on acupuncture dating back thousands of years ago) which is (and I’m paraphrasing) “above all, the most important thing is, with every needle not to miss the rooting of the spirits.”

These words weigh on me daily. Ninety plus percent of all the patients that come through my doors have their roots in emotional and spiritual causes. The effects of the emotions on our physiology is complex and beyond the scope of this blog post, but excesses of the emotions have profound impact on our health. Without rooting the spirit, what kind of therapy are we actually giving? While I do see benefit in relieving the symptomatic discomforts of my patients, without getting to the root, we can affect no real lasting or meaningful change. If the spirits do not reside peacefully, one cannot be truly healed.

And while I am very mindful that to truly heal oneself is a life-long pursuit which entails significant exploration of our minds, the above titled post is a reminder of where our intentions should be while we treat each individual. Often, patients who seek care are unaware of the lack of rooting of their spirits and it is this disconnect which often perpetuates their imbalance. Whether it be the elderly patient suffering from depression regarding what he can no longer do, or the mid-life crisis as one begins to contemplate one’s mortality, or the young adult who was the victim of an early life trauma, everyone needs the stability of a rooted spirit to maintain and ensure vitality and health.

Of course, as you can imagine, this puts a tremendous responsibility on the practitioner of eastern medicine. And I can attest, I have yet to live up to this ideal. I try daily, and fail often. But when the rooting of the spirits can be facilitated, it is as if a miracle has taken place. This keeps me on the path.

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