Yvonne R. Farrell Publishers: Singing Dragon, London and Philadelphia, 2016 Paperback: 227 pages with illustrations, pathways of the EV ISBN: 978-1-84819-292-8 RRP: £22.99, also available as an e-book
(Reviewed by Olga Fedina, EJOM Vol.8 No.5)
It would be true to say that most of us who go to a typical TCM school finish it with a rather vague idea of what the Eight Extraordinary Vessels (EV) are and how to use them in a treatment, particularly outside some basic ren mai, du mai and dai mai treatments. When we subsequently research the topic on our own, we may feel more enlightened, or more confused. How come Li Shi-Zhen in An Exposition on the Eight Extraordinary Vessels never even mentioned the opening points for these channels? How come EV are used so routinely by some Japanese acupuncture schools, while many experienced practitioners warn against opening these channels unless they are specifically indicated? And what is the exact difference between the wei and qiao vessels?
This makes Yvonne Farrell’s book such a welcome addition to the literature that exists on the subject. Yvonne has a very clear, logical and concise way of writing, and the book is a manageable 227 pages. It includes a general presentation of the concept of the EV, the description of each one of them, case studies and some examples of how the channels and points on their pathways could be used.
What is interesting and unusual about this book is not only that it goes into great detail about every EV, but also that it is focused on treating EV as a way of bringing the person closer to his or her original energetic make-up or original nature. This book is a kindred spirit of Lonny Jarrett’s Nourishing Destiny, and evokes the Daoist and Confucian concepts of yang ming and yang xing, nourishing one’s destiny and one’s original nature.
As we can see from the title, the book’s main subject is how psycho-emotional pain can affect EV. However, the author goes far beyond associating particular psychological issues with a particular EV. She explores the nature of suffering as a means by which the spirit is communicating through the body the need to change and to create a better balance between body and mind. She sees illness as communication from the body, and suffering as an indication that we need to drop the resistance and learn the lessons we need to learn to be able to live our destiny. According to Yvonne, ‘the 8 EV can be used to support patients with any condition that is challenging their ability to maintain a connection to who they truly are.’
Alongside this comes the exploration of our role as practitioners, which I find very relevant. Are we fixing people, or are we aiding them to fulfill their destiny? How does the practitioner accompany the patient on the way to better health? As Yvonne says: ‘This is not about protocols for treating conditions. It is about an approach to seeing your patients that includes their resistance to change, the nature of their suffering and a way to create a therapeutic environment that allows for the possibility of change.’
Yvonne Farrell has been educating acupuncturists in California for 20 years. The last eight years she has focused her teaching on the use of the EV. From what I can understand the material in this book has developed from her studies with the Daoist master Jeffrey Yuen, among other teachers, and her own explorations and experience. While paying my full respect to this innovative yet grounded-in-tradition work, the scholar in me would still like to see more references and to understand better how the author came to certain conclusions, particularly the pictures of psychological imbalances for each vessel.
According to the author treating the Eight Extraordinary Vessels helps us to return to our original nature because the EV are ‘a precursor to the primary meridians and therefore might be thought of as the vessels that contain the seed of destiny planted by the will of Heaven at the moment of conception.’ These channels are holders of our original qi (yuan qi) and jing, closely related to the Kidneys.
Yvonne Farrell has been studying with Jeffrey Yuen, and she presents his view on the developing of the psyche where each EV or EV pair represents the next step in the progression from the primal source of chong mai through the various stages of separation into yin and yang (the ren and du mai and the wei and qiao mai), and ending in the harmonising and integrative function of the dai mai.
Yvonne’s detailed look at the EV opening points and the points along their pathway suggests ideas about the role these vessels have in the energetic make-up of the body. She points out, for example, that four out of the eight master points are also luo points, suggesting a connection with the luo-collateral system. She also draws our attention to the fact that the pairings of the opening and closing points follow the Six Divisions (GB 41 and TH 5 – shao yang, BL 62 and SI 3 – tai yang, Sp 4 and Lu 7 – tai yin, Ki 6 and P 6 – shao yin, where Ht has been replaced by P). EV pathways are described in great detail. For example, for chong mai the author describes five distinct branches, each one reflecting a particular pathology of the chong mai.
I would certainly recommend this book not only to anyone interested in exploring the Eight Extraordinary Vessels, but anyone pondering the philosophical question of health and disease.
Olga Fedina graduated from the London College of Traditional Acupuncture (LCTA) in 2005, having earlier studied shiatsu at the London School of Shiatsu-Do. She now lives and practises both therapies in her own centre in Valencia, Spain.