Food and Diet

T.K. Chiba Shihan, Birankai Founder

“Aikido is not limited to a mat space…”

We did ikkyo, shihonage, kotegaishi to confirm the importance of basics. You know training can  be kind of boring – year after year the same thing, over and over. That’s what it is – nothing exciting… it’s just like a meal you eat every night, night after night. If it’s something very exciting you get sick. A healthy meal is sort of a boring meal – no excitement…

All of Aikido is to work with your body. The body is the foundation for everything. Work with your body…

Of course, Aikido is not limited to a mat space like this. There is a huge world out there, what I call big Aikido or big dojo. Practice Aikido principles within the big Aikido, right out there! That is what true Aikido is.

T.K. Chiba, from Oct 2, 1998 lecture at Siskiyou Aikikai, Ashland, Oregon

The atmosphere of our contemporary lifestyle surrounds us with a multitude of tools and equipment, an unprecedented variety of conveniences. Yet the complaint is often that it is difficult to find a place where one can study or acquire competence in some discipline. All that a person needs is “a sincere willingness to study.” If one truly wishes to study, one can do so under any circumstance.

Shozo Sato, From Shodo: The Quiet Art of Japanese Calligraphy

Chiba Sensei’s essay from the 1998 Summer Edition of Sansho, entitled “Food and Diet” is both philosophical, noting the body and earth are inseparable, and practical, as Sensei offers clear guidelines to eat a healthy diet which sustains us in our practice.

In this unprecedented time, facing the challenges of a global pandemic, with our normal rhythms disrupted, attending to what, when and how we eat is especially important. We are all faced with how to maintain our practice, outside our dojos and without (physical) contact with our training partners. If, as Sensei says, working with our body is the foundation of our training, and as Shozo Sato reminds us, “A willing heart is the dojo”, we can use this time – wherever we are – to grow our practice. Refining our diet can therefore be an important element in our personal study during this predicament.

Many of us who practiced with Chiba Sensei directly received his instruction on diet – recommendations which closely resemble those of writers Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Alice Waters and many others. In his book Food Rules, Pollan sums up his dietary advice in seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Pollan elaborates his first rule with, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. As you will read, Sensei would offer, “Eat food, as whole as possible, from what is seasonally available where you live”.

Sensei’s quote above observes how our approach to training and to eating can be similar: with an attitude of reverence and adherence to basics, without too much attachment to what’s exciting.  As part of our series on becoming more antifragile, I hope Chiba Sensei’s reflections encourage you to practice big Aikido, to seize opportunities for growth where you can, even at places like your dining table.

– Darrell Bluhm Shihan, Ashland, Oregon 1 May 2020

My basic philosophy of Diet is “Shin Do Fu Ji: Body and earth are inseparable.” Shin (body), means the physical body and presence, the “being.” Do (earth) is the multitude of conditions that comprise the “being,” including the environment, locality, and seasons. Fu Ji (inseparable), means that body and earth are one. This philosophy corresponds to the concept of the circulation of energy: Human beings absorb energy from other entities through eating, and create new entities with the energy we take in. This view also parallels the Buddhist concept of reincarnation — the foundation of the Buddhist view of the cosmos.

All life forms depend on the presence of other life forms. We exist in a continuously flowing cycle of life in which we eat other life forms, absorb their energy as a source of our life force and create other life forms with the energy we have absorbed. The reincarnation theory of Buddhism is not only an abstract concept of rebirth to another life, but also a reality happening before our very eyes. We must recognize the fact that all the life forms we consume are a necessary sacrifice to maintain our lives. This recognition is fundamental and is the wellspring of reverence toward life. Through it, we gain awareness of the importance of self-sacrifice in our own lives as well.

To restate this philosophy as a simple universal law applicable to all life forms: “Respect others!” Reverence toward life can be manifested through three principles of recognition: (1) Know what is enough. (2) Do not waste. (3) Do not devour. These are the principles of eating. These three principles point to one central theme: We should sacrifice more than what we need in the universal flow of life.

These principles of recognition lead us to the importance of mindful chewing when we eat. Chewing well is important because of the physiological necessity of absorbing nutrition, but it is also significant because it creates a quiet dialogue with the life forms being sacrificed. Through this dialogue we unite with other life forms. Only then are we able truly to taste the essence of the sacrificed life forms.

The Eastern and Western views on this subject are quite different. Christianity teaches us that God and human beings are in separate domains, and that humans and other life forms are also in separate domains. It teaches us that other life forms are created for humankind. This is a very “human centered” view of the universe.

Buddha taught that “Weeds, trees, the earth and all creation can have Buddha’s nature.” In this view, not only human beings, but also weeds, trees, earth and rubble may have Buddha’s nature!

Similarly, Shinto religion teaches us that there are eight million gods in the universe. This means that from a Shinto perspective, we see gods within all life forms as well as in natural phenomena. In Buddhism and Shinto, humans are not above all other creatures, and therefore cannot do whatever they wish to other life forms.

Now let’s return to my basic theme, the “Shin Do Fu Ji” philosophy. First of all, the actual practice of the philosophy — in other words, the fundamentals of diet– should be based on the earth. This means that the food you consume should be based on the life forms indigenous to your locale, i.e., life forms which grow in the same environment in which you live. Moreover, you should eat food in season (spring, summer, fall, winter). The advancement of refrigeration technology and worldwide transportation allows us to eat anything at any time. Without being conscious of it, we eat foods from all over the world, even if they are not in season locally. In this day of modern convenience, we need to pay particular attention to the food we consume.

Second, you must eat food which is as close to its original form as possible. Thus, when you eat rice, eat genmai (brown rice). When you eat wheat, eat unprocessed flour. When you eat fish, eat it whole, as much as possible. Small fish should be eaten as they are (head and all). Large ones can be cooked with skin and bones intact. If you eat vegetables, eat roots, leaves, stems and flowers. In short, you should basically eat foods which are processed to the least extent possible.

Third, eat foods that still have life (ki) in them. The question you should ask is whether what you are about to eat will grow if you plant it in the earth. Is it alive? (Does it have ki?) Eat food that is as close to this state as possible. Examples of these foods are root vegetables, beans, unrefined grains, seaweed and seeds. They are closest to the ideal foods. In the case of fish, the basic method of cooking should be cooking whole (head, skin, flesh and bones). Dried or smoked fish, deep fried fish, small fish tempura, etc., are ideal methods of fish preparation.

You should be careful about meat, however. Meat can be appropriate for people in cold climates. On the other hand, we Japanese have been vegetarians for a long time and have a rather short history with the practice of eating meat. Consumption of a large quantity of meant has physiologically harmful effects on us. We have a longer small intestine than Europeans (because we were traditionally vegetarians). Therefore meat remains in our bodies longer, and the decaying meat acidifies our blood.

When you eat meat, also eat colorful vegetables, potatoes, and drink red wine to balance the meat’s extreme acidity. Most meat in today’s marketplace is artificially raised. Thus, most chickens are diabetic because they are crammed in a small area without freedom of movement and fed high calorie feeds and antibiotics. When it comes to fish, yellowtail tuna, which most Japanese love to eat, tastes completely different when naturally caught in the ocean than it does when farmed. If you must eat meat, to the greatest extent possible select kinds that are raised in a natural environment. Lamb is close to the ideal meat in this sense.

The reason why I fish so frequently is that I don’t trust the fish that are available in markets today. Prepared filets can be washed too much, to the point where nutrients have been washed off the meat. Also, they are no longer a totally balanced food since they are missing heads, bones and skin. They have no power to harmonize.

The importance of diet is that it is the foundation of the creative development of life and living. We must not neglect what kind of food we consume. The conscious choice of diet is also a concrete way to recognize and feel one’s participation in the law of universal nature.

It is important to understand that each individual must choose his or her best diet with comprehensive study and actual experience, based on the customs, seasons and climate of the area where he or she lives, his or her profession, individual body constitution and characteristics, family environment, etc.

Take, for example, a man who has physical flexibility but who lacks muscle and body strength. If I describe flexibility versus strength as negative (-) versus positive (+), he is too much on the negative (-) side. In order to regain the ideal balance in his body, he must include the following items in his diet: high quality protein (grains, beans, naturally raised meat or fish), a variety of vegetables (burdock, carrots, radish, turnips, yams, onions, potatoes, etc.), and all kinds of seaweed. They are positive (+) yang foods. Consumption of these sorts of foods will offset his strong (-) tendency. In addition, he should include high quality vegetable oils and salt, such as sesame oil and natural vegetable oil and neutralized salts such as sesame salt, miso (soy bean paste) and umeboshi (pickled plum). These are (+) foods. Even if he doesn’t like fish bones, smelt and smoked whitefish — when broiled well — are good companions to beer. Ancient Japanese wisdom created miso soup with dried small fish in the soup stock.

It is a well known fact that during the Russo-Japanese and Sino-Japanese wars, Japanese soldiers’ body strength (stamina) was number one in the world — even though, based on European standards of nutrition, it should have been among the worst because of their “poor” diet, from a European point of view. Nowadays the simple traditional Japanese diet is being reevaluated in light of contemporary nutritional excesses.

As I mentioned above, diet is the foundation of life activities. At the same time, as we are social animals (beings), it is the foundation of harmony among people. The consumption of food should have a social aspect to it. Excessive insistence on a certain kind of diet may disrupt harmony in groups and within your family. In your association with food you must keep flexibility in mind during those times when you are the host who provides food for others, as well as during those times when you are the guest who is treated to a meal. It takes great internal strength to practice this middle-of-the-road lifestyle. It is a difficult road to travel — that of clearly knowing the foundation of your own diet while having a sense of balance and understanding of how to harmonize with other people in society. My own motto is: “Harmonize yet do not get swept away.”


**Editor’s note: when purchasing books or other items online, please consider using Amazon Smile, designating “Birankai International” to receive donations generated from your purchases.

The Importance of the Sole


Everyone who practices Aikido understands the importance of their feet. We all know the warm-up exercise where the sole of the foot is massaged, slapped, and shaken, and most of us have probably had sore feet at some point or other. Here is a 9 minute video that gave me a deeper understanding of the structures of the sole of the foot. The video focuses on plantar fasciitis, but it is of general interest as well. I once had a case of plantar fasciitis (in both feet) and I know many of you have had it, too. So painful! Mine came about from stepping on rocks while clearing brush. In my case it took a year to heal, and some people’s feet never do. If you have never had it, be thankful, and take care of your feet so you never get it! Even though this video was made for plantar fasciitis, there are other injuries, acute and chronic, that may occur. This video will help you to understand what goes on with the bottom of the feet and hopefully will be useful as you go through your Aikido career.

Many thanks to Deb Pastors, Oak Park Aikikai, for bringing it to my attention, and to Jan Arkless, North County Aikikai, for having asked the question.

Cecilia Ramos

Grass Valley Aikikai 

When What You Love Kills You

By Nathalie Daux, Fox Valley Aikikai

It started almost one year ago with an injury from an idiot who never apologized. That was the beginning of everything.

The injury and everything afterward brought me to my knees physically and mentally. And I am lucky to have been forced to my knees. I’m lucky to have been so broken and so hurt. I’m lucky because I was forced into asking myself the question: what do you do when what you love kills you, breaks you apart?


And I found the answer.

You don’t keep going.

I’m a busybody. Meaning that I really don’t like to stop moving. At all. Ever. I write, I make yoga videos, I workout, I train in my Aikido (a martial art), I do homework, etc. You name it and I do it. I don’t like to sit still and do nothing even if it is for relaxing. Or at least I didn’t use to.

There isn’t too much a problem with this. Not by itself at least. The problem Continue reading “When What You Love Kills You”

Sprains and Strains; understand and rehabilitate

By Mike Doren

With introduction by Suzane Van Amburgh, Multnomah Aikikai

Have you ever incurred a strain or sprain? What’s the difference really and what can one do about it? 

IMG_2786 copyDuring an intensive training session we sometimes push a little harder, reach a little farther and an injury can occur.

After a period of intensive training (such as Aikido summer camp), there is also a risk of suffering an injury as you return to your regular training schedule. Even regular daily activities can trigger an injury after a period of intensive training. People often report that they were “doing nothing” at the time they incurred the injury. After further inquiry it is revealed that the person recently engaged in intensive physical activity or an unusual use of self (eg. we moved last weekend or I went white water rafting for the first time).

Whether you have an injury now or you recently trained intensively, I encourage you to read this excellent article below by my colleague Mike Doren.

Along with being a Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner, Mike’s background in construction, mechanics, bodybuilding, martial arts, and professional marksmanship provides a deep knowledge base to draw from, regarding the physical/mechanical aspects of the work. Learn more about Mike Doren at: 

posted by Suzane Van Amburgh, GCFP, 5th dan, shidoin, Multnomah Aikikai

Sprains and Strains

By Mike Doren

Sprains are injuries that affect ligaments. They occur in response to a stretch or tear of a ligament. Sprains are an acute type of injury that results from trauma such as a fall or outside force that displaces the surrounding joint from its normal alignment. Sprains can range from a mild ligament stretch to a complete tear. Bruising, swelling, instability, and painful movement are common symptoms experienced after a sprain occurs.

Sprains occur most often in the ankles, knees or the arches of the feet. Sprained ligaments swell rapidly and are painful. Generally, the greater the pain is, the more severe the injury is. For most minor sprains, you can probably treat the injury yourself. If you heard a popping sound at the time of the injury, have a fever or aren’t improving within a couple of days, seek medical treatment because inadequate or delayed treatment may cause long-term joint instability or chronic pain.

Strains are injuries that affect muscles or tendons. They occur in response to a quick tear, twist, or pull of the muscle. Strains are an acute type of injury that results from overstretching or over contraction. Pain, weakness, and muscle spasms are common symptoms experienced after a strain occurs.

What Causes a Sprain? 

A sprain can result from a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position and stretches or tears the ligament supporting that joint. Typically, sprains occur when people fall and land on an outstretched arm, slide into a baseball base, land on the side of their foot, or twist a knee with the foot planted firmly on the ground.

Where Do Sprains Usually Occur? 

Although sprains can occur in both the upper and lower parts of the body, the most common site is the ankle. More than 25,000 individuals sprain an ankle each day in the United States.

The ankle joint is supported by several lateral (outside) ligaments and medial (inside) ligaments. Most ankle sprains happen when the foot turns inward as a person runs, turns, falls, or lands on the ankle after a jump. This type of sprain is called an inversion injury. The knee is another common site for a sprain. A blow to the knee or a fall is often the cause; sudden twisting can also result in a sprain.

Sprains frequently occur at the wrist, typically when people fall and land on an outstretched hand. A sprain to the thumb is common in skiing and other sports. This injury often occurs when a ligament near the base of the thumb (the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpo-phalangeal joint) is torn.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sprain?

The usual signs and symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, instability, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint (called functional ability). However, these signs and symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain. Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.

A grade I or mild sprain is caused by overstretching or slight tearing of the ligaments with no joint instability. A person with a mild sprain usually experiences minimal pain, swelling, and little or no loss of functional ability. Bruising is absent or slight, and the person is usually able to put weight on the affected joint.

A grade II or moderate sprain is caused by further, but still incomplete, tearing of the ligament and is characterized by bruising, moderate pain, and swelling. A person with a moderate sprain usually has more difficulty putting weight on the affected joint and experiences some loss of function. An x ray may be needed to help the health care provider determine if a fracture is causing the pain and swelling. Magnetic resonance imaging is occasionally used to help differentiate between a significant partial injury and a complete tear in a ligament, or can be recommended to rule out other injuries.

People who sustain a grade III or severe sprain completely tear or rupture a ligament. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually severe, and the patient is unable to put weight on the joint. An x ray is usually taken to rule out a broken bone. When diagnosing any sprain, the provider will ask the patient to explain how the injury happened. He or she will examine the affected area and check its stability and its ability to move and bear weight.

When to See a Doctor for a Sprain

•You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.

•The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps (other than swelling) that you do not see on the uninjured joint.

•You cannot move the injured joint.

•You cannot walk more than four steps without significant pain.

•Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint.

•You have numbness in any part of the injured area.

•You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.

•You injure an area that has been injured several times before.

•You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot.

•You are in doubt about the seriousness of the injury or how to care for it.

What Causes a Strain?

A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon. Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is associated with a recent trauma or injury; it also can occur after improperly lifting heavy objects or overstressing the muscles. Chronic strains are usually the result of overuse: prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

Where Do Strains Usually Occur?

Two common sites for a strain are the back and the hamstring muscle (located in the back of the thigh). Contact sports such as soccer, football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling put people at risk for strains. Gymnastics, tennis, rowing, golf, and other sports that require extensive gripping can increase the risk of hand and forearm strains. Elbow strains sometimes occur in people who participate in racquet sports, throwing, and contact sports.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Strain?

Typically, people with a strain experience pain, limited motion, muscle spasms, and possibly muscle weakness. They can also have localized swelling, cramping, or inflammation and, with a minor or moderate strain, usually some loss of muscle function. Patients typically have pain in the injured area and general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it. Severe strains that partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon are often very painful and disabling.

How Are Sprains and Strains Treated?

Reduce Swelling and Pain

Treatments for sprains and strains are similar and can be thought of as having two stages. The goal during the first stage is to reduce swelling and pain. The sooner you treat the sprain, the sooner you will recover. Take a hint from the pros: By getting immediate attention, they are back out there in a matter of days. If you do nothing, keep playing and then put some ice on your ankle later that night, you will end up with a sprain that can take weeks or months to heal properly. Most of the damage from a sprain comes from the swelling. Your main goal is to reduce swelling as much as possible, and to do that, every second counts. It’s also helpful to use an nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication to help control inflammation. Studies have found that patients using NSAIDs after ankle sprains had less pain, decreased swelling, and a more rapid return to activity than those who didn’t take any medication.

For people with a moderate or severe sprain, particularly of the ankle, a hard cast may be applied. This often occurs after the initial swelling has subsided. Severe sprains and strains may require surgery to repair the torn ligaments, muscle, or tendons. Surgery is usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon.

It is important that moderate and severe sprains and strains be evaluated by a health care provider to allow prompt, appropriate treatment to begin. This box lists some signs that should alert people to consult their provider. However, a person who has any concerns about the seriousness of a sprain or strain should always contact a provider for advice.

Begin Rehabilitation

The second stage of treating a sprain or strain is rehabilitation, the overall goal is to improve the condition of the injured area and restore its function. The health care provider will prescribe an exercise program designed to prevent stiffness, improve range of motion, and restore the joint’s normal flexibility and strength. Some patients may need physical therapy during this stage. When the acute pain and swelling have diminished, the provider will instruct the patient to do a series of exercises several times a day. These are very important because they help reduce swelling, prevent stiffness, and restore normal, pain-free range of motion. The provider can recommend many different types of exercises, depending on the injury. A patient with an injured knee or foot will work on weight-bearing and balancing exercises. The duration of the program depends on the extent of the injury, but the regimen commonly lasts for several weeks.

Another goal of rehabilitation is to increase strength and regain flexibility. Depending on the patient’s rate of recovery, this process begins about the second week after the injury. The provider will instruct the patient to do a series of exercises designed to meet these goals. During this phase of rehabilitation, patients progress to more demanding exercises as pain decreases and function improves.

The final goal is the return to full daily activities, including sports when appropriate. Patients must work closely with their health care provider or physical therapist to determine their readiness to return to full activity. Sometimes people are tempted to resume full activity or play sports despite pain or muscle soreness. Returning to full activity before regaining normal range of motion, flexibility, and strength increases the chance of reinjury and may lead to a chronic problem.

The amount of rehabilitation and the time needed for full recovery after a sprain or strain depend on the severity of the injury and individual rates of healing. For example, a mild ankle sprain may require up to 3 to 6 weeks of rehabilitation; a moderate sprain could require 2 to 3 months. With a severe sprain, it can take up to 8 to 12 months to return to full activities. Extra care should be taken to avoid reinjury.

RICE Therapy

Reduce regular exercise or activities of daily living as needed. Your health care provider may advise you to put no weight on an injured area for 48 hours. If you cannot put weight on an ankle or knee, crutches may help. If you use a cane or one crutch for an ankle injury, use it on the uninjured side to help you lean away and relieve weight on the injured ankle.

• Ice
Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times a day. A cold pack, ice bag, or plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a towel can be used. To avoid cold injury and frostbite, do not apply the ice for more than 20 minutes.

• Compression
Compression of an injured ankle, knee, or wrist may help reduce swelling. Examples of compression bandages are elastic wraps, special boots, air casts, and splints. Ask your provider for advice on which one to use, and how tight to safely apply the bandage.

• Elevation
If possible, keep the injured ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist elevated on a pillow, above the level of the heart, to help decrease swelling.

Nutritional and Herbal Therapy for Muscle Strain and Sprain

Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg two times a day) is important for keeping collagen, ligaments and tendons strong. It helps reduce swelling, repair tissue, support connective tissue and promote proper healing.

• Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation which is important for strains and sprains.

• Bromelain (250 to 500 mg three times a day between meals) can help reduce swelling.

• Turmeric (250 to 500 mg three times a day between meals). If taken with bromelain, it can make the effect of bromelain stronger.

• Zinc (15 to 30 mg a day) promotes wound and tissue repair and is very important for bone health.

•Be sure get enough protein in your diet

• Calcium (1,000 mg a day)  and magnesium (500 mg a day) are very important for bone and muscle health.

•There are some very good Chinese herbal patent formulas that help reduce inflammation and swelling and promote healing: Jin Gu Die Da Wan 

•For pain relief, the Chinese herbal plaster, Shang Shi Zhi Tong Gao, is very effective.

Grass Valley Aikikai says, “Take care of yourselves, don’t be like us!”





Acupuncture, Actually: A Practical Look at Qi and ‘Energy’

By Grace Rollins, Bucks County Aikido

Paolo Propato and Grace Rollins, licensed acupuncturists at Bridge Acupuncture, discuss the energetics of acupuncture and what it’s like to work and train in their field of Chinese medicine.



Paolo: What is qi?
Grace: Many people think of qi as “energy”, but I think that’s too materialistic of a translation. Qi is basically a very useful term that sums up complex processes that together create recognizable phenomena in the body. If you try to think of qi as some kind of literal substance or force you’re just going to frustrate people interested in scientific backing; you won’t find a measurable “energy” that corresponds to what people who practice Asian medicine are talking about.

“Qi” for acupuncturists is “weather” as it relates to the body. Weather is electromagnetic and gravitational relationships between elements and molecules; it’s pressure dynamics,
thermodynamics, radiation; it’s many processes, all overlapping and influencing each other. We can study it, characterize it and make predictions about it. The same way that we recognize many patterns in weather, we learn how to recognize patterns in qi, so we can influence bodily functions and promote health.

P: What do acupuncture methods actually do?
G: The traditional answer is that they stimulate special points that harmonize qi in the body, thereby promoting proper function and health. Scientifically, stimulating acupuncture points with needles and moxa has been shown to generate complex responses.

Needling causes distortions in chains of connective tissue throughout the body, which linkdifferent muscle groups, joints and organs. It also fires nerve endings that light up vastly
different areas of the brain and spinal cord. Acupuncture causes an electrical distortion in the body’s electromagnetic field—you’re putting a metal needle into an ionic solution (the body) which immediately creates an electrical polarity. The micro-injury caused by needling and moxa heat is also a very powerful method of stimulating the immune system and cytokines (chemical messengers). Plus, with acupuncture needles you can physically loosen tight muscle and connective tissue to release restrictions and improve blood flow.

I think one of the challenges in studying acupuncture scientifically is that its methods do so
much, all at once. One exact mechanism eludes us. That’s why, even though I have a very
scientifically oriented mind, I still prefer the traditional Chinese and Japanese pre-scientific
theoretical concepts. We still haven’t discovered a better way to describe the complex
processes happening here.

P: What makes acupuncture unique compared to other modalities that work with the subtle energy of the body?
G: Acupuncture is old, people! Over 2,500 years old! Moxibustion, the practice of heating
acupoints with the ember of dried mugwort, is even older. So even though acupuncture is
dealing with complexities that resist the scientific method, it has withstood a very important test with its continued use over such a long period of time.
A good scientist remains open-minded to the things that science doesn’t yet have the tools to measure and explain. That applies to a lot of what happens in healing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be open-minded to everything. Innovation is good. It helps our medicine get better and better, but with a methodology that is mainly observational, you have to be careful not to be led astray.

For this reason, I approach change cautiously, and I gravitate toward Japanese acupuncture, which monitors feedback during the session. We’re always checking diagnostic qualities in the pulse, the abdomen or a symptomatic area for signs that our treatments are having the desired effect. Vetting my methods this way gives me confidence.

P: What are you feeling for before, during and after needling?
G: Patients like to ask me if I can “feel the energy,” and if you think of it like qi, the summation of complex processes, then the answer is absolutely yes. We rely on touch, smell, sight and sound to collect information about the patient—especially touch in Japanese acupuncture. If I have to wear a Band-Aid on just one finger, I feel like I have a hand tied behind my back—it affects what I can feel.

Before needling, I’m feeling diagnostically for areas of restriction, imbalance and dysfunction in the patient. This might be structural, as in certain muscle groups or vertebral bodies that are too tight, twisted or compressed. Often internal imbalances will also be represented by certain qualities in the pulse, on the tongue or in reflective zones of the abdomen and back. For example, cardiac problems often show up with specific tender points on the upper torso and back.

Next I’m feeling for an appropriate point location; there are traditional anatomical locations as well as certain qualities that identify a “live” point. Depending on the point, it might be a
recessed area, a tight spot, a tender spot, thicker skin or connective tissue—qualities that
indicate a more effective point. When I insert the needle, there is a feeling I seek that
acupuncturists call the “arrival of qi”. To me it’s like a density on the end of the needle, like it’s connected well. Learning to recognize it is part of our craft.

After needling I will re-check the diagnostic signs to see if the acupuncture was successful at balancing the qi. If I did a good job there should be signs of improvement; if not, I might need another point, or a different one, or to add moxa, for example.

I’m also feeling the qi of the person as a whole. This is the intuitive part, synthesizing the input from all of my senses.

P: How do you cultivate the necessary skills?
G: I started studying acupuncture at the same time I started studying Aikido and Zen meditation.  Like acupuncture, Aikido trains the various senses of the body to harmonize with another person’s qi. These practices help me to be more centered and attuned to my patients, and to myself.



An invaluable part of my training is a regular apprenticeship with the acupuncture master Kiiko Matsumoto. I spend at least two or three weeks a year shadowing her here and in Japan, taking in practical knowledge as well as the qi of her practice—the complex combination of qualities that allow her to be a dynamic, effective practitioner.

Taking my own health seriously is also a critical way that I stay attuned to the balance of qi in others. I believe in it, I live it! I work on my posture throughout the day and study how to move in a way that’s healthy and efficient. I try to eat in a way that’s balanced ecologically, that doesn’t do me harm and that fills me with vitality. I get outdoors and experience the natural world to help keep those areas of my consciousness and humanity alive. I meditate, do yoga and exercise a lot, and I try to play and have fun. Last but not least, I get regular acupuncture!

Bridge Acupuncture, located at 30 Garden Alley, in Doylestown, is a Legacy Advertising partner of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

To schedule an appointment with Paolo Propato or Grace Rollins, call 215-348-8058 or visit