Stems and Branches: A Down to Earth Perspective on the Practice of Acupuncture

With Guest: David Toone

Episode Qi087

Chinese medicine is fractal nature. We can take the broad principles outlined in the Yi Jing, Five Phases or Six Jing and watch as they help us to tune in the particular level of life in which we are embedded or observing. Be it the resonance from tendon, to Liver, to Spring to the arising energy of the East. Or the way Taiyang cold balances Shaoyin heat. Or how the trigrams of water and fire are mirror images. The ancient Chinese sciences and philosophy can help us to unfold a phase within the ever-shifting tides of change.

Today’s conversation takes one of these fractal perspectives, the heavenly stems and branches, and investigates how it shows up in the practice of acupuncture.

Listen in to this conversation on how the stems and branches are reflected not just in heavenly cycles, but in the arrangement of acupuncture points and how this fractal energy can help enliven the work we do with our hands and needles.
In this conversation we discuss:
  • Digging into the stems and branches was a natural outgrowth of working with David’s clinical understanding of acupuncture
  • How palpatory acupuncture lead David into a study of the Stems and Branches
  • Using Chapter 33 of the Nan Jjng, the Husband/Wife to turn the dynamic of the Five Phases
  • Any effective acupuncture can cause as much harm as healing
  • Deficient Earth years tend to show up with lots of water problems
  • How Yang Metal into Wood generates Metal
  • Stomach and Kidney to generate Fire, as a template for moving fire through the phases
  • The importance of the Yang channels in generating transformation through the phases
  • Using palpation to check for physiological changes in pulse or abdomen
  • One way to restore Spleen function to bring Yang into the Spleen
  • Nan Jing 64 describes a fractal relationship between the heavens, the earth and the workings of the human body
“Start with the Source Points!
So where do I start “checking” for the best channel to treat? One method Dr. Bear taught to find which channel gets the best clinical result is to “check” the Yuan Source point on the channel you think will be the most clinically effective.”
David Toone
David, originally trained as an Attorney, made the decision to study Chinese Medicine came on the heels of the year 2000 failure of NorthPoint Communications, the technology company that abruptly crashed and burned when Verizon pulled out of a merger between the two companies. David is not bitter, but he also does not own, nor will he ever own, a single Verizon product.
He was introducted to his acupuncture teacher, Dr. Bear during his first semeseter of school at AIMC – Berkeley. His primary goal was to make as many mistakes as he could in the student clinic. “It’s really nice to be able mess up on someone elses license” he was fond of saying. By graduation in 2007, he had done the majority of his clinical hours using Dr. Bear’s method, much to the chagrin of his supervisors.

In 2008, David traveled to Morioka, Japan to study with Dr. Bear. When he left, Dr. Bear said, “OK, now you have graduated from Elementary School” and handed him one copy of the Nan Jing, “the commenary in this one is Middle School.” Then handed him a thicker copy of the Nan Jing, saying “the commenary in this one is High School. But most importantly, see lots of patients. When you have done that you will graduate from College.” David returned home to Georgia and founded Red Earth Acupuncture, which paterns itself as closely as possible to Dr. Bear’s clinic in Morioka, Japan.

By 2009, David had realized that the TCM herbalism often failed to reproduce the results enumerated in the Classics. He concluded that either he had been a really poor student (which still remains a distinct possibility), or that the model of herbalism he learned in school fell short. At the behest of a friend and mentor, he was encouraged to study with Hai Sha and Bo Shi Ni, before finding his root Jin Fang teacher, Dr. Arnaud Versluys.

In addition, David has developed a fully modular exctract system that delivers the classical formulas as concentrated decoctions at classical dosages for his patients. In David’s spare time, he loves hanging out with his two children, staring at his navel at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, practicing Shorinji Kempo, and irratating his family with the banjo.
Links and Resources


Here is David's map of the Heaven Stems and Branches mapped out onto acupuncture points.

Contact Needling and Teishin
in the Treatment of Pain (this will give you a whole new glimpse into Qi) 



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I’ve heard it said that for something to be heard — it takes someone to speak and another to listen.

Michael Max

Acupuncturist, Podcast Host
About me
I've always been more drawn to questions than answers. And the practice of medicine seems to more lively when infused with a sense of curiosity and inquiry. It's been delight and honor to be able to discuss our medicine with so many thoughtful and skilled practitioners.

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