Does tea count as part of our daily hydration quota?

You bet it does! (Though I might have issues if the tea is very strong or laced with sugar.)

So why do about 80% of my new patients say, looking slightly guilty, “I probably don’t drink enough water”? And why does this comment bug me?

Advice from NHS Choices seems to trigger people into guilt if they don’t drink 1.2 litres of water per day.

However, what NHS Choices actually says is, “we should drink about 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated.” NOTE: it says fluid, not specifically water. I think most people have this information second hand and interpret it as advice to drink masses of cold water.

So (preferably sugar-free) weak to medium strength ‘builders’ tea’ is a perfectly good way of hydrating, as is Earl Grey, green tea, jasmine tea etc., numerous herbal teas and our old buddy, water. But please don’t add artificial sweeteners to any of these drinks, as there is increasing evidence that these substances ‘confuse’ our body chemistry, and there’s even a suggestion nowadays that they may contribute to obesity.

Many people drink warm/hot water, maybe with some added lemon juice first thing in the morning, which is a great way to kick start the digestive system as well as beginning the day’s hydration.

If you drink pure juices they will hydrate you, but do remember that fruit juices are high in fruit sugar, which, though different from added sugar, still isn’t great in large quantities. Also, too much fruit juice is not good for your teeth. Vegetable juices are good and a moderate amount of coconut water would be OK hydrating choices.

How much fluid is enough?

I can’t tell you exactly how much fluid you should drink, because that will vary depending on you, your constitutional health, your situation and the climate/weather. However, a good rule of thumb is to drink when you’re thirsty, provided you’re not ‘out of touch’ with this vital brain-body signal. If you work in a hot or air-conditioned environment you’ll probably need more fluid, and if you have a full-on job like nursing you will probably need to remind yourself to drink more frequently.

In summer I expect you’ll naturally drink more water, and more fluid in general, which is appropriate. You may also eat more raw foods, which have quite a lot of fluid in them, too.

In winter you’re likely to drink more hot teas, and to eat more stews and soups, which will also increase your hydration level.

The great British climate

Our ‘temperate’, i.e. mostly cold, climate is a big player in our hydration choices. We live more of the year in colder conditions than we do in warmth or heat. Therefore, it’s natural for us to gravitate towards hot drinks. Indian tea found its way here several centuries ago and it seems to have kept its place in the British heart (and stomach).

Most of us would probably prefer not to surprise our stomachs with too much cold water except in warmer weather, so there’s no need to. It’s great when we can follow our bodies’ signals.

What about coffee?

Coffee doesn’t really have the same hydrating effect as tea or water, as it’s mildly diuretic. One or two coffees per day would be fine for many people. Half a dozen would be questionable (for all sorts of reasons). So if people drink coffee I’m always glad when I hear that they also drink the more truly hydrating things like teas or water.

Soft drinks

Don’t get me started on highly sugared or artificially-sweetened and/or caffeinated soft drinks! That’s another whole topic, but unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years you will have heard the big debate that’s raging about these drinks.

The bottom line

NHS Choices is simply trying to herd a lot of different people with different backgrounds and lifestyles into a healthier place. I don’t envy them this job!

To sum up, drink a reasonable amount of hot/cold, yummy/bland, not-too-sweet fluids and you should be fine. And if you happen to like the British cuppa it can stay in the frame as one of the good guys in the hydration story.

Inspiration and thanks

My thanks to acupuncturist colleague Sandra Bird, who inspired me to write this blog. She posts photos of cups of tea from wherever she is… in the clinic, at a seminar, visiting China! It occurred to me that these cuppa photos seem like natural punctuation marks in her days, and what better way to hydrate the long ‘daily sentence’ than that?

© Cornelia Davies 2018

Posted by: corneliadavies | November 12, 2018

Is Acupuncture Like Counselling?

Is acupuncture like counselling?

No, acupuncture is not like counselling.

The nuts and bolts of acupuncture work via neural messaging to the brain, which responds by sending neural signals back to the rest of the body. Modern scientific research is ongoing in ascertaining exactly how this fascinating mechanism works.

There is a significant consultation period at a first acupuncture session, as it’s important for the acupuncturist to gain a full a picture of the patient’s health issues and history. However, this consultation is not counselling.

The consultation may or may not include questions about the patient’s emotional or mental well-being, depending on their reason for seeking acupuncture. Many people seek help simply for musculoskeletal issues, while others may be having acupuncture for all sorts of different reasons, such as skin or menstrual problems, headaches or anxiety.

Here’s an assumption I often hear

“Surely, acupuncture really works because you have time to talk your problems through with someone and that makes you feel better?”

Actually, no.

It is true that:

  • We spend longer with patients than GPs do.
  • We have more time to ask questions.
  • We may ask how patients are feeling about their illnesses.


  • We are not like GPs, who may be triaging patients in the direction of the right consultant or diagnostic process for their problem. People come to us specifically for acupuncture treatment and all it entails.
  • After the first, information-gathering appointment a small portion of each follow-up session will be consultation, while most of the time will be taken up with the acupuncture treatment itself.
  • If someone consults an acupuncturist specifically for anxiety or depression issues inevitably some of each consultation will be taken up with asking the patient how they feel. (More on this below.)

Why acupuncturists ask some patients how they are feeling, mentally or emotionally

Sometimes we need to know exactly how someone is feeling, in order to tailor the treatment individually for them. Here are two examples:

1. Someone consults an acupuncturist for an emotional issue, such as anxiety or mild to medium depression.

In this case, an acupuncturist needs to ask the patient specifically how they are feeling, in order to choose the correct acupuncture points for treatment. A person who feels vulnerable will be treated differently from someone who is feeling grief, or a person who is anxious, exhausted and bad-tempered.

If someone says, “I’ve been feeling a bit wobbly this week” we need to know what they actually mean by that. For instance, “A bit wobbly and constantly bursting into tears” would be treated differently from “A bit wobbly and feeling empty inside,” or “A bit wobbly and surprisingly grumpy with the kids.” In fact, each of these statements would lead to further questioning, along with looking at the patient’s tongue and taking their pulses, using techniques within acupuncture diagnosis.

Treating people as individuals is one of the very strong features of this system of medicine.

So, when someone looking for help with anxiety or depression explains to their acupuncturist how they are feeling this is not a counselling session. They are being questioned in order that the acupuncturist can work out the best possible treatment plan to address their problems that day.

2. Someone with a physical issue comes in one day with a new trauma, incidental to the physical problem

An example of this might be that someone who is receiving acupuncture treatment for back pain comes in for treatment one day and they have just lost their job or have a new family problem.

You may think this is irrelevant, as the patient is having treatment for a very physical problem. However, modern scientific research is beginning to show that our bodies do, indeed, respond to what we are thinking, so this new emotional trauma might slow down their physical improvement unless it’s addressed. Acupuncture has long worked on this basis, so if someone who is already responding to treatment for back pain comes in with an additional emotional trauma their acupuncturist will be able to construct a better treatment for them that day if they have more than a rough idea about how the patient is feeling.

So, there may be more questions, such as, “How do you feel about this?” or “Where in your body do you feel it?” or “How are you dealing with it?” There are many more questions that may be asked, and each answer will lead the acupuncturist closer to identifying the best treatment strategy for that patient at that time. Sometimes this sort of incident will bring an existing emotional problem to the acupuncturist’s attention, which may result in more precisely tailored treatment for the patient in future.

Acupuncture history goes back millennia, and diagnosis is comprehensive

Acupuncture has thousands of years of history, with the oldest written reference dating from 300 BC (this reference is, in fact, an entire book) and there are many, many further texts written since then. Therefore, symptom pictures and their possible treatment patterns are noted very precisely. Some of these symptom descriptions include details about attendant emotional or mental states.

There are numerous different diagnostic patterns in acupuncture, with diverse pointers within each pattern. For example, one diagnostic syndrome has a whole list of possible symptoms, including “dry cough or with sticky sputum, low-grade afternoon fever, insomnia, dry mouth, inappropriate grief.” I’ve chosen just a few of the symptoms stated under this particular diagnostic pattern. It’s notable that, alongside a whole host of physical symptoms, are the words “inappropriate grief.” What this means is that someone might be feeling grief when they haven’t been bereaved or lost a significant relationship or life feature (e.g. job). In other words, this person feels an inexplicable grief or sense of loss.

Many diagnostic descriptions within acupuncture texts include emotional or mental symptoms at the end of descriptions of possible physical symptoms, highlighting the importance for acupuncturists to gain as much varied information from each patient as possible, in order to optimise each treatment.

As a result of this balancing of the whole person a significant number of patients report emotional improvements alongside physical progress from their treatments.



Not counselling, but consultation

So, in our persistent questioning of patients, we acupuncturists are not counselling. Rather, we’re investigating.

It’s true that each acupuncturist is a different individual with a different skill set, and some practitioners may have had training in counselling or psychotherapy too, but acupuncture as a therapy does not include counselling as such. Sometimes, when a patient repeatedly tells me that past events are continuing to bother them I will mention that they might need to go to someone who specialises in a talking therapy as well as or instead of receiving acupuncture. I make it clear that I am not that person, so that there’s no confusion. Also, if I were to spend too long talking with someone it would impact on the time we can devote to the acupuncture, the reason they are in my treatment room in the first place.

Many of us are extremely interested in the human condition, or we wouldn’t be doing this job. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many acupuncturists, when undertaking this potentially forensic questioning do so with great respect and compassion. As individuals within the profession, we do care greatly for our patients.

Consequently, it’s inevitable that some patients will tell other people how supported they feel during their acupuncture treatments. I believe that this is how any healthcare session should be. It’s important, though, to note that the main part of an acupuncture session involves the acupuncture treatment itself, i.e. the settling or balancing of the patient’s mental-physical system, via the insertion of tiny needles, with the intention of leading to an improvement in health and well-being.

© Cornelia Davies 2018

April 24th 2006

Clinical training starts today. There’s a cycle ride to the hospital, so I got to the garden to do my pre-breakfast Qi Gong earlier than I had last week, and all of a sudden the Chinese vision I had heard about for so many years materialised before my eyes: people doing Tai Chi, Qi Gong and other exercise in the early morning in a park. Hooray!

Some people were alone, like me; some were in groups. While I did my Qi Gong, a little way away a couple of chaps did some Tai Chi, and a group of middle aged Chinese ladies did Sword Form Tai Chi followed by what looked like a semi-acrobatic dance routine, waving red fans, all to the accompaniment of traditional music on their rather tinny ghetto blaster.


After breakfast came the moment we have all been waiting for: the first day of clinical observation. At the hospital, a pile of standard issue white coats awaited us. My little clinical group: Britta, Axel, Baihe and I looked great. Baihe looked very chic in her own white coat. The rest of us looked… authentic: in white coats that were a little too large and a little creased, just like all the pictures of Chinese doctors I have ever seen!

As I posed for a group photo, I realised how very excited I was. For twenty-five years, I have been involved in Chinese Medicine in one way or another and have had people say, too frequently to count, “Acupuncture? Does it work?” It’s infuriating, but an understandable viewpoint from ordinary members of the British public. Now, for the first time I was about to witness it practised live in a mainstream Chinese hospital: not fringe, not freaky, just normal.

We were assigned to follow Professor X in the acupuncture department as he saw an apparently endless round of people. He would sit at his desk for the diagnosis of a new patient, ask questions, take pulses, look at their tongue, and then write an acupuncture point or herb prescription. All the time, doctor and patient would be surrounded by a group of interested bystanders: other doctors, Chinese medical students, friends and family, other patients waiting, and, probably worst of all, us foreign students (can you imagine?)

I must say, the patients bore all of this very stoically: it was normal for them. However, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for one or two in particular, for whom the questioning got quite personal at times. My heart went out to one softly spoken young woman who was suffering from tiredness, and who also had dysmenorrhoea and chronic constipation. With the large, attentive audience and our interpreter following with an English version of her story, to my Western outlook it all seemed rather invasive.

In between these diagnostic sessions, Professor X would go around the clinic and put needles in half a dozen patients who had already been diagnosed or were there for follow up treatments. Each doctor clearly has his or her own style, and the professor seems to favour using lots of back points with deep needling, cups and electro-stimulation.

On several patients he used Huo Tuo Jia Ji points, which are located inside the bladder meridian on the back. Apparently he likes to use these points instead of the back shu points because they are not directly over organs, and therefore he can needle deeper. And, boy, did he needle deeper… I’m not certain I would ever dare to needle that deeply (or even feel the need to). Apart from my having been taught a very gentle acupuncture tradition, and apart from the litigious nature of Western society, they just looked so deep. He was using 3-inch needles, up to the hilt (yes, I do mean that: the hilt). We’ll see how I feel in a couple of months. (Update 2018… No, I do not needle that deeply, even now!)

Not everyone got this very strong back treatment, and I was surprised that one woman who was suffering from numb hands just had one point on each arm needled (Pericardium 6): nothing else – the perfect, elegant, one-needle treatment we were taught about at college? Whatever his reasons, it was certainly a contrast to some of the heavy-duty treatments for the back pain/sciatica group.
I hope that as time goes on we’ll get more explanation of what the differential diagnosis is for different patients, but for today, it was stimulating enough: the two and a half hours just flew by.

June 12th

In the park this evening I saw a man writing beautiful calligraphy on the slabs in a paved area, using a huge brush, dipped in water. The hairs of the brush were about 8 inches long, and in a bunch about 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and the handle was long enough that he could use the whole thing easily in a standing position, slightly bending. This was a proper calligraphy brush, elegant, and with an enormous water carrying capacity.

As he moved on down the pavement, presumably writing a traditional poem or text, the characters a few lines back dried and faded from view. This was artistry of true impermanence: here and flowing, lasting for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then gone. Perhaps the beginning of the stanza was gone before the end was reached – I don’t know. I’ve often admired the artistry and impermanence of the work of pavement artists who work in chalk, only to have their work fade or wash out within hours or days, but this was more transitory, even, than that.

With his big, water-holding brush, the artist was able to use blobs and strokes: delicate, thin lines and fat, satisfying strong lines. It was perfect: a calligraphy demonstration with no wastage of paper or ink. He had most likely scooped the water out of the park lake and into the recycled plastic bottle with the top cut off, which he was using as his water container. Exquisite: no stain on the planet, no throwaway, and a temporary addition of grace and beauty, leaving a permanent memory for me, at least, and probably for some others.

A slightly younger man stood watching him, clutching a wad of calligraphy texts, I think. His student? Possibly.

I think this may have been the original ‘poetry in motion’: for which the term was coined.

Posted by: corneliadavies | September 2, 2018

Acupuncture training in China diary Part 3. 1st days of class.

Dr-Wang-and-moxa-caligraphy_ed_webDr Wang, the teacher in this photo, has written this calligraphy on the board for us. It’s a traditional Chinese poem on the use of, moxa, which Chinese medical students learn. Luckily we had a translator!

April 17th 1st Day of Class

Well, it’s started.

As I had been warned, it is rote learning: the teachers don’t even like questions, because it alters their schedule, so you just have to check your book later! Different from what I’ve heard of the Reading acupuncture college’s first sessions: (‘are you visual, tactile, auditory, kinaesthetic, left brain, right brain etc –and how can we help you to learn better?’)

But you know what? I think I’ve understood something new about excess and deficiency, which are two important principals in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and which I never ‘got’ by osmosis. Today we raced in with yin/yang theory in the morning and the five elements in the afternoon. Having these basic theories of TCM described, ‘at source’ in China, was interesting, but pretty much unexplained, just presented, really… and I’m so glad I had some prior knowledge of the five elements. I haven’t dared ask how the people who had no previous experience of Chinese medicine got on.

We are told to learn certain things by heart tonight: “Put them in your computer,” says Wang our interpreter, pointing at her head. And she emphasises that tomorrow we will have even more to learn, so we must do it today. Most people in the class are doctors, so I guess that learning by remembering is very familiar to them. I like to learn by understanding: I hope I can keep up as time goes on when I expect to be on decreasingly familiar territory. I think that very soon my head will be very full.

Professor Liu described one particular part of five element theory, the Ke Cycle, as the interacting of one element on another. Our interpreter paused to tell us that Americans prefer to call this action conquering, which she further explained thus: “The Americans like conquering”… ”Yes” we said, dissolving into hysterics. One or two of the Iranian students had to have their colleagues translate, and then they, too, dissolved: a little too close to home for them, though, I think.

I’m trying to get the accommodation people to take the telly out of my room, as are some of the other students. I think the staff are puzzled as to why on earth we don’t want to avail ourselves of extra Mandarin practice/entertainment. Strange lot, aren’t we?

Some of my Germanic colleagues are dead set on organizing what they consider to be edible breakfasts, including German bread and coffee. I’m happy to have found Chinese millet porridge available in the canteen – a sort of grainy gruel: this suits me down to the ground. However, when my Swiss neighbour, Tamara, brings German bread into my room for me to try, I weaken and accept some, and it’s delicious: moist, pale brown and (this really tips the balance for me) it contains pumpkin seeds. Though I have developed a taste for the Chinese steamed buns, I have to admit that I would like more of this stuff, too.

My German colleagues, by the way call the delicious millet gruel ‘schlime’. I don’t think they’ll be joining me for breakfast.

First study group with other students tonight: a lively, interesting time.

April 18th
Today we start the Zang Fu organs: the explanation of how the internal organs function according to Chinese medicine. This is an interesting time for me. Because I already have training in five element acupuncture quite a bit of what is presented is familiar to me, but because I don’t have a TCM training I have to stay completely alert, in order not to miss new information that will be vital to my clinical training and diagnosis according to the principals of TCM. Some of the material has a different emphasis and connectivity from that of the Leamington approach, so I have to watch for that, too.

It’s clear that, though this is a course particularly for foreign doctors and other health care workers who have no prior knowledge of TCM, there are many things that it just doesn’t occur to Professor Wei Lixin to explain, as they are so obvious to her. However, not only is she an extremely pleasant young woman, but also she and her interpreter are open to questions, unlike yesterday’s team. Great.

Every time we cover a new organ, Thomas, a German medical student, asks for the Chinese name for it. After lunch, when we have covered four of the Zang (yin) organs, I congratulate him on his tenacity and we jokingly make a bet about whether he will have to keep asking as each new organ is presented. He thinks they’ll have got the hang of it by now, but I’m convinced that this bit isn’t in the notes, and accommodating though Dr Wei is, I don’t think she’ll automatically mention it. Shortly after we begin the functions of the Lung and Thomas asks the Chinese name, I find myself wishing I’d put money on it…


After today’s classes I went out to find some supper and get a bit of… er… air. Beijing is having its biggest dust storm for 6 years, but until today I had thought it was no big deal. I was alerted to something different when I went out of the college gates and noticed the normally robust pineapple woman (who two days ago had patiently taught me to count to 5 in Mandarin) sitting on the pavement with her collar over her mouth. Pretty soon I had given in and adopted the ‘Lone Ranger look’, with my scarf over my mouth.

Apparently, in the last few days several tons of sand has blown to Beijing from the Gobi Dessert. My question is where is it all going to go in the end? A bit of sweeping here and there is hardly going to move it out of the city. My friend Pat has a theory that perhaps they’ll make it into a giant sand dune and turn it into a theme park…

My route to supper and back was dotted with people accommodating themselves to the dust in varying ways: Lone Rangers like me, people in medical masks, the full-facial sheer scarf (a very chic option), and just plain old squinting (a lot of that).
Added to the dust storm, for the last few days, we’ve had cottony-type seed clusters falling out of the sky, like the most gossamer snow.

Posted by: corneliadavies | August 10, 2018

Why I love it when patients doze off during acupuncture treatment


The fact that people regularly doze during acupuncture might surprise you, but it’s true and it’s great. It’s a bit of relaxing time out for the person on the couch, and it’s good for other reasons, too.

Research scientists know that when we sleep, doze or relax with our minds in a comfortable “neutral” state we actually make cellular repair and create new cells more effectively. On the other hand, when we stay super-alert the mind-body is more involved with awake, “thinky” things, and we make fewer new cells, so bodily repair is slowed down.

This is all fine, as the body is a wonderfully complex piece of equipment with priorities shifting by the second. It’s not unlike how we use and look after machinery. When a machine is in full use we don’t do routine maintenance. Instead, we take our cars to the garage or do “house-keeping” on our computers when we’re not using them for other things.

Most people feel a surprising level of relaxation during treatment. This is because the needles activate microscopic parts of our nervous systems that quieten down conscious activity and step up repair levels. I always think that when this happens people are getting the “nuts and bolts” benefit of the acupuncture, plus the extra bonus of the body shifting gear into automatic maintenance at the same time. This is a win-win situation.

Of course, some people are on high alert all the time, and it’s less likely that they will go “down” into a more relaxed state during treatment. For individual reasons, their body-minds find it necessary to stay vigilant.

This is not a problem, as the nuts and bolts part of treatment will still be active, but the extra bonus will be absent.

I deliberately try to let people have some time alone in the treatment room while the needles are doing their work, so that they have a better chance of going “down” into this lovely level of extra relaxation. However, quite frequently I when I return to the room a patient will say to me, “I nearly dozed off then.” That tells me that the person has forced themselves to stay awake and alert because they think that they should. At times like this I take the opportunity to encourage them to let go next time this happens, and I explain that when they do this they will get the extra bonus of more cellular repair and renewal.


I’m “borrowing” an American colleague’s blog today because I think she has written very well about scar removal and improvement and why you might want or not want to go that route. I quite often “find” scars on patients because they flag an area of pain or impeded movement and when I examine it I find an old scar. People often don’t realise that a scar might have a lot of hard, dead scar tissue below or around it that pulls on or deadens nearby tissue. In many cases acupuncture can help to soften the area to a degree, even with a scar that may be decades old. It’s worth a try, and your acupuncturist will often do this as a “side issue” while they’re treating you for something else.



Scars are a natural expression of the healing process.  Injuries that produce them develop in three steps at wound site: inflammation, then proliferation, and then remodeling.  Sometimes this works out nicely and other times, depending on circumstances, the scar can be debilitating or genuinely unsightly.  What, then, to do about your scar tissue?

I wrote about blog post about what traditional Chinese medicine can do for your scars.  Primarily, the approach we take it to either treat with acupuncture or by lightly scraping the area with a jade instrument in a technique known as gua sha.  (To read that post, go here).  What I didn’t cover were reasons to remove the scar and reasons to keep them.


MetaScreen shot of a Facebook post


What to do about scar tissue is somewhat of a personal issue.  If the injury is severe enough, you may have to wait…

View original post 942 more words

Posted by: corneliadavies | July 3, 2018

Acupuncture training in China diary. Part 2. Settling in.

flautist-(2)_ed_webApril 14th
I had to write my ‘speech’ for tomorrow’s opening ceremony. Wang Yue, the helpful organiser and translator in the office, asked me to do this, as an incoming student. I went to the office and typed it on her computer, as she wanted to be sure she could print it and translate it ahead. But she was out. Doris, who works at the next desk, told me to go ahead and type it into Wang Yue’s computer, anyway. So I started to, except that the machine was set up for Chinese, so everything I wrote emerged in Chinese characters after a couple of key strokes… interesting, but strange. Amidst laughter, Doris sorted it: As most of the instruction icons are in Chinese, I was a bit stuck for sorting it myself!

This afternoon I took Dobbin (the bike) out for his first proper spin. I wanted to visit the Temple of the White Cloud the other side of Beijing, which caused Doris and the others in the office to grin at me and say: “we want you back for tomorrow” (a comment on Beijing traffic, apparently). Well, the traffic was fine. OK, it was slightly challenging at the intersections of major roads, of which there are many (capital city, 12 million inhabitants… ), but I stayed with the cycle pack, and we all crossed together.

The temple is beautiful and peaceful, and was a very appropriate place for me to centre myself before the course. It’s a temple compound, with many small. Daoist shrines within, so is a very suitable place for an acupuncturist. I spent two gloriously peaceful hours there, and realised just how much it’s OK being here on my own.

Later, most of the other students were going out on a bonding exercise to a ‘special bar’. I guess I didn’t look too impressed, because the Swiss woman, Tamara, who was sort of insisting I go, said: “yes, I don’t like smoky pubs either, so we’ll just spend a short time and come home”. So I agreed. And it was smoky, and noisy and bizarre: why would a Western European band go to Beijing and play cover versions of Dire Straits and Santana numbers in a large, Western style pub???? Yep… it was an experience, and yep: we went home early (phew!).

April 15th
It was time for the much-awaited opening ceremony for the course.

These things are done according to a certain formula, with prestige being very important. The doctors and professors made speeches, welcoming us and extolling our virtues and their virtues. All very correct. And then I was called on to make my speech. (Sorry? Just me? I thought all the students were making speeches.) Yes, apparently my opening introduction that I’d written for Wang Yue to translate was not just one of the student introductions; it was the speech from the representative student. Ah! Of course! In China everyone must have their say in the right place, so as all the directors and doctors etc. had made speeches, it was only correct that one of the students should, too.

So I made my speech, in bite-sized pieces, and Wang Yue translated each section. Then everyone politely applauded. Then we went to the restaurant attached to the Institute and had the welcome banquet. All very friendly, with the professors and translators scattered amongst us. Talking to Dr Huo, the deputy director who had given the main welcoming speech, Tamara said in surprise: “Oh, so you speak English. Then why didn’t you give your speech in English?” “Because we are in China, so some things must be done in Chinese”, said his translator, quick as a flash. “Ah!” we all said, understanding the importance of this…

I like China. This is most definitely not a third world country, something I think we tend to forget. Things are certainly different here, and everything isn’t ‘bling’, as it sometimes is in the West, but I don’t have a problem with that. Actually, if it were ‘bling’, it would have to be continually cleaned or replaced, as one thing that seems certain here is the dust. It blows in from the Gobi Dessert, which is pretty inescapable. In my first diary entry, I teasingly mentioned the sweeping, and sweeping is, indeed, a big issue here: an unending issue. It’s DUSTY!

Today contained many delightful moments: some very simple pieces of human interaction: like the Chinese girl who unwisely tried to cross a busy intersection, against the traffic at the same moment that I tried to do the same, from the opposite side of the road. We both stopped in our tracks and simultaneously noticed each other as a mirror, and joyfully laughed at each other as a big lorry passed. We’re all the same really, when it comes to it…

Posted by: corneliadavies | June 13, 2018

A UK Acupuncturist’s experience of Chinese hospital acupuncture


post-4_ed_webThis time 12 years ago I was in China.

Having qualified as an acupuncturist in the UK in 1983, in 2006 I decided to go to China and expand my knowledge of Chinese medicine “at source” in an acupuncture college in Beijing. It was a time crammed with hectically busy mornings in hospital acupuncture departments and afternoons in the classroom. I learned so much and my acupuncture practice has never looked back.

Every day I wrote about my experiences, and I’m going to share some of those diary entries in this blog for a few sessions.

April 11th

Well, I expected to see plenty of bicycles in Beijing, but I wasn’t ready to encounter one in the departure hall at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4. I loved it though: all dolled up in yellow fluorescent vinyl, with yellow panniers front and back and an operator in matching jacket. ‘London Bicycle Ambulance’, it proudly declared on the crossbars. Yes, Terminal 4’s departure paramedic ready to cycle into action at a moment’s notice. And I thought it was a great idea… but how did they get it past health and safety?

Flying to China was about as interesting as these long haul flights ever are, except that when I wasn’t sleeping in the early hours, dawn tinged the tops of a the massive Sayan mountain range north east of Urumqi. Quite staggering in size, these mountains seem to spread over an enormous area, which just slips by, silently, under the aeroplane. To my awareness, so used to comfortable, green, accessible England, I couldn’t really grasp the concept of what I was seeing: except its barren beauty, like a relief map. While the sun lit up the southern faces, the backs were thrown into shadowy relief.

… And glaciers, and long, winding rivers, and then a huge, frozen lake around Ulan-Ude.

Now I’m experiencing my first, jet-lagged day in Beijing, fresh off the plane, as they say. I’m settled into the accommodation attached to the Acupuncture Institute. It’s rather like stepping into an oriental version of the 1950’s: no frills, no recent decoration, but most things work, mostly. And tomorrow, they promise me, I’ll have Internet connection. We’ll see.

The part of Beijing I’m in seems to be ‘acupuncture supplies district’. The two nearest streets are bristling with shops and warehouses advertising acupuncture needles, guasha equipment, moxa etc. I guess it’s to do with the proximity of the acupuncture training centre and hospital campus, but I’ll find out when I move around out of the immediate district a bit more.

My favourite window items are plastic display point location models of a Friesian cow, with exposed muscles on one side and acupuncture channels on the other. I’m quite used to acupuncture models of people, ears, hands, feet and even horses, but the cow takes the biscuit. I think my reaction is partly due to having been brought up surrounded by Jerseys, Guernseys and Ayreshires, with the nearest Friesians 2 miles away: I think we always saw them as the “townie upstart cows,” but maybe that should suit Beijing…


13th April

I woke surprisingly early, and went to the piece of grass a minute away to do my QiGong and some yoga. While I was there, several people stopped for varying amounts of time and did a few minutes’ exercise. Even though I am still awake at odd times of night, due to jet lag, I have to get back into some sort of exercise habit.

Today my bicycle turned up: old, but not hugely shabby. It arrived in a sleek black VW with a VIP notice in the front: wonderfully incongruous. My friend Pat (or perhaps ‘ex-Pat’, as she’s been here a while?) borrows the driver and car when her flat mate is out of town on business.

Later I took Dobbin (the bike now has a name) to see Bicycle Repair Man, literally round the corner from the Institute. Pat had told me he would recognise it, as he had sold it again and again, to a succession of students, at a tidy profit, until an Iranian acupuncture student took it out of the loop by leaving it in Pat’s care. He did. ‘I know’, I said in English (damn, I wish I could speak Mandarin!). A few minutes later it squeaked a lot less (brake adjusted) and was easier for me to ride (saddle moved to its lowest position).

This evening I took it for a local area spin – not too far: I need to get used to the combination of bike, traffic and local driving customs. Within minutes of setting off from higgledy-piggledy high-rise modern Beijing I had turned down a street just over a busy junction and I was suddenly in old China. The street was narrow, with slow people, slow, slow cars and meandering bicycles. All the buildings were one story, and, curiously, all painted a uniform battleship grey.

As I neared the end of this street, where, once again 21st centaury life awaited, I smelled the unmistakable aroma of lamb kebabs: souvlakia, and immediately I was back in Crete – except for one small detail: apart from me, every single person was Chinese. I felt perfectly, utterly safe. In fact, very few people even showed that they noticed me, the only foreigner in their midst.

Before I left for China, a colleague told me that when he was in Nanjing, however crowded it was, the energy of the people was always very peaceful and quiet. I am beginning to notice that, too. When I observed it last night, I wondered if it is because most Chinese people at some time do some centring martial art: probably QiGong or tai chi. It must have a long term effect on the centeredness of their energy that also has a collective result. Which makes you wonder how the harmony of the whole world would be if everyone took some time for these things… or their own version.



Posted by: corneliadavies | May 19, 2018

“Ne’er Cast A Clout Till May Be Out”

“Ne’er Cast A Clout Till May Be Out”

Old English proverb or Chinese wisdom?

Translation: “Don’t discard any clothing until June.”


(Or it might relate to May blossom, otherwise known as hawthorn flowers, which come out in late April or early May.)

This last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a rash of people coming into the clinic with unexpected May colds and stiff necks. In Chinese medicine this makes complete sense, as spring is traditionally known as a time when we are vulnerable to illness, and should therefore take extra care.

We take this care during the inclement winter months, and then we discard clothing with gay abandon (or is it relief?) as soon as the temperature soars beyond 15 degrees.

This is all very understandable, and I am as quick as the next person to reach for my shorts with utter joy, as winter seems finally to have left.

But later during a warm day, or the next day, when temperatures plummet along with the arrival of a stiff easterly breeze are you reluctant to dress warmly enough? Once the T-shirt is on the top of the clothing pile will you willingly reach for your snuggly fleece?

In Chinese medicine “language” we talk in such archaic-sounding terms as wind-cold invasion when we’re diagnosing a cold that came on after someone literally got cold. Understandably, this infuriates and bemuses Western scientists, as they ask us, “Don’t you people know that colds are caused by viruses?” Yes, of course we do! As a profession, we communicate better when we explain that we do, indeed, understand things from a modern medical perspective, and that when we say someone has wind-cold invasion this is shorthand, which may mean that a person got unexpectedly cold, and that their already compromised immune system allowed a virus to penetrate the body’s defences.

In the case of someone with excruciating neck pain that came on after turning it suddenly I would ask diagnostic questions, examine the area of pain and surrounding areas, and examine the pulses and tongue. As an acupuncturist, my conclusion will always be specific to the individual and the circumstances surrounding their injury.

Yesterday, when treating someone with exactly this issue I concluded, from palpation of her upper back and neck that she already carried a lot of tension and consequent knotting of the muscles in this area. Added to that we’d had hot days, followed by colder evenings and then a return of much colder days, during which time her body probably struggled to find an appropriate warm/cold equilibrium. Then she had put some extra stress on her neck and “ping” it made a clicking sound, followed by restriction of movement and pain. In addition to all this, she’s a cold person. That’s “Chinese medicine speak” again. It means she has a long-term tendency to feel colder that the average person, though if you took her temperature it would be normal. This is another subject in acupuncture, so I won’t go into it here.

At this time of year I am delighted that we all have the chance to get our bodies out in the sunshine and start making Vitamin D, which has become so depleted during the winter months. However, I do encourage people to carry extra clothing in their cars and bags for when the sun disappears. Scarves, leggings, socks, an extra jumper or coat: all or any of these might save you the hassle of a spring cold or neck ache.

But keep your acupuncturist’s phone number at hand, in case you need help to resolve things.

If we make the old English proverb, “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out” into a pearl of Chinese wisdom perhaps we could say something like, “Keep your fur-collared robe at hand until the spring winds have died a thousand deaths.”

© Cornelia Davies May 2018


Posted by: corneliadavies | February 13, 2016


DSC02640_edited and borderDSC02607_edited_webHappy Chinese New Year 2016!

Spirulina – blue-green algae

Spirulina is a dried blue-green algae. It’s a super food.

Rich in nutrients

It contains an astonishing number of nutrients, including significant amounts of protein.

Here are some of the vitamins it contains: vitamin B complex, vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid and vitamin E.

And minerals: zinc, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium and phosphorus.

It also contains amino acids, including 8 essential ones, and 2,000 enzymes.

Spirulina doesn’t necessarily contain iodine, but it is an algae, so you should avoid it if you have an iodine or seafood allergy.

Spirulina is a particularly significant food for vegetarians because of the protein and iron it contains, both of which can be deficient in people who don’t eat meat. It’s great, nutritious food for omnivores, too.

You should also take advice about ingesting spirulina if you’re pregnant.

How to use spirulina

Spirulina is great in stews or soups, or stirred into porridge (be prepared to watch your porridge turn a strong green, though!) It’s also great stirred into yoghurt. If you’re a smoothie person it makes any smoothie into a green one. Some people even have it with pasta and pesto.

Sprinkle it onto food and stir in well.

Cornelia Davies, Acupuncture Kingsbridge

Tel: 01548 550251



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