It’s All About the Li

Written by Simeon Pollock on . Posted in Health & Wellness

I recently had the experience of treating someone who, for the last year, has been undergoing tremendous emotional trauma. In addition, in recent weeks this same person was required to do physical labor that was beyond the individual’s capability. By the time this person was able to come into my office, walking was difficult, climbing stairs was nearly impossible, and the person’s whole body was in pain.


I can’t go into the details of the circumstances of this building crisis; suffice it to say, it was a terrible situation and this person needed real help. To use a metaphor I’ve employed in this column before: this person was in rush-hour gridlock and all the horns were blaring. Mental health counseling and massage were helping some, but this person was really “stuck” and couldn’t get past the trauma so that healing could take place.

This individual came in for acupuncture hoping that somehow it could help them.

Most people would scratch their heads and ask what could acupuncture possibly do?

First, one has to know that acupuncturists are not mental health professionals, nor do we play them on TV. Chinese medicine focuses on a mind/body connection: the mind and intention or attitude, called Li (pronounced “lee”), direct the energy, called Qi (pronounced “chee”). That means that a person’s attitude and frame of mind directly influence the body and can cause the body harm and weaken it or give it great energy.

This is readily apparent whenever one feels sad, depressed, or overwhelmed. It is so hard to have the oomph to get started on anything. The opposite is true whenever one is excited; before an exciting trip, for example, a person has boundless energy and is raring to go. When it comes to getting up for school, my kids have the hardest time getting out of bed; yet if we are leaving at 4 a.m. for the start of vacation, that pre-dawn wakeup is a non-issue — amazing! This is primarily due to attitude, and Chinese medicine refers to it as Li.

In my treatment of the patient in question in today’s column, I used acupuncture focused on relieving the energy blockages due to emotions and bringing the person back to balance to encourage homeostasis. This enabled the Qi to flow again, thus allowing healing to begin.

Secondarily, I worked to relieve the muscle tightness and spasm that resulted from both the emotional stress and physical overexertion. The change was evident on my patient’s face. No miracle occurred, everything was not magically right again in my patient’s world, but both my patient and I could tell that a corner was turned. One week and a few treatments later and the changes were startling.

When a person’s Qi is not flowing as it should, the effects on the body can be dramatic. The inhibition of proper Qi flow can result from so many things and be so insidious as to be unrecognized until major problems present themselves. This is why Chinese medicine has been used to prevent illness. I was told in school that in ancient times, Chinese doctors would be paid to keep their patients well, and if a patient got sick, then they stopped getting paid. If a patient died, they had to raise a flag over their clinic to symbolize their “failure.” On the patient’s part, he or she would be in constant contact with his or her doctor so as to stay healthy in both mind and body because they were seen as an integral unit.

What a unique healthcare system and outlook they had in contrast with today’s world, where the focus is primarily on the body. There are no gyms or personal trainers for mental and emotional health in order to strengthen ones’ ability to deal with stressful or emotional situations, no constant focus on stress relief or how to deal with stress other than by physical exertion. There is no mind/body medicine or specialist. They are separated and treated as such. To me, these are foibles in the system we use. The Li must proceed and lead the Qi.

The maxim “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is the unvarnished truth. Wishing everyone physical, mental, and emotional health until 120!

By Simeon Pollock

Simeon Pollock, L.Ac., L.M.T. is Maryland-licensed in both acupuncture and massage. He has a private practice in Silver Spring. Simeon practices his unique style of holistic healthcare by blending acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and massage therapy into a wonderful healing experience.