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.


For instance, if you feel a deficient left guan (middle position) and you want to see which channel will get the best clinical result, think about which theory you might use. The Liver and Spleen are often used in TCM for a deficient Liver pulse, or you might fancy using the Mother Son theory from Nan Jing Chapter 69, by tonifying the mother of Wood. Or pick any other technique or theory you think might get you the result your patient wants.


Use the “Check” Method by touching at the acupuncture point to predetermine whether a particular point will likely have the desired therapeutic effect. See the NAJOM articles for more information on the “Checking” method, or better yet, attend a course this year, while he is in the Unitd States. In short, look for favorable changes as a result of you placing your finger on the Yuan Source point of the channel you are checking. The point that makes the best or most favorabe change to the patient is the channel that will have the greatest therapeutic effect for that patient at that time.


Here is where the fun begins, say Kidney “checks” out better than Liver or Spleen in this treatment, because your patient’s body made a more favorable change on the table when you checked KI 3, than when you checked LV 3, or SP 3. Now you can “check” for other points that get the same favorable result based on the different theories you know and their relationship to the Kidney Channel. You may want to see if Chapter 69 helps by checking LU 9 (Metal is the mother of Water), then compare those results with the feedback you get with when you check GB 40 and as many other theoretical channel pairings are you want. The more proficient you get at this the quicker you can through the process of “checking” eliminate theoretical methods that do not apply to your patient during that particular treatment. But let’s just assume that both KI and GB source points check out in this situation. So you treat them and they get an “OK” or favorable result and the patient leaves the office happy because thier symptoms feel better. Now, do you know what classical theory might explain this result? One explanation is Open, Close, Pivot (Kai, He, Shu) theory, where the Shao Yang and Shao Yin are the “pivots.”


Next if you can’t explain why this theory helped your deep left guan patient on the table in front, then you can dive into the Classics with an eye at examing that theory and explore the relationship to the patient you just treated the next time you ßstudy. By working in this way your classics studies become intimately clinical and supremely enjoyable. You are marrying clinical practice and classics study in a way that collapses the time between the cause and effect of treatment to get more immediate results during each treatment. Welcome to the world of a Forensic Cinical Medical Anthropologist.

David Toone, L.Ac

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) 
Introducing Dr. Bear 

Bone up on your Nan Jing 64, it will help you to understand the fractal nature of the Stems and Branches


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