First appearing in Sentire Magazine, Issue 6:January 2019
I was delighted to write this article for Sentire to present my ideas and a theory of how flower essences may work, informed by my study of Classical Chinese Medicine. This article highlighting essences for Winter is first of a series discussing the challenges of each season and how flower essences can support us.
What are flower essences and how do they work?
This question has always been one of the trickiest to answer, and many of the existing theories of how flower essences work don’t feel sufficient. Everyone who has experienced the healing effect of flower essences knows they work, but how?
The typical scientific explanations involving chemical interactions with the brain or body chemistry are moot when you are looking at flower essences, which have no chemical components to create an effect. Examining flower essences through the lens of Classical Chinese Medicine offers a fresh perspective and can help create a new theory of the workings of these elegant remedies.
My flower essence practice predates my study of Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM); I became a certified practitioner through Jane Bell and the Alaskan Flower Essence Project in 2008. Later, studying with Diana Thompson, I learned the fundamentals of CCM theory, pattern assessment, and acupressure for horses. Learning to see health through this lens opened my mind to the vibrant interaction between an individual and their inner and outer environments. Ever since, I have been actively seeking points of intersection and finding ways to meld my flower essence practice with my understanding of CCM.
One book in particular gave me an idea of a new theory to explain how flower essences work. Written by Dr Daniel Keown, “The Spark in the Machine” creates a bridge between the thousands of years of observed knowledge of Chinese Medicine and modern Western science. A medical doctor and acupuncturist, Dr Keown has formulated a theory that explains the workings of acupuncture.
One of the foundational concepts in Chinese Medicine is qi (also spelled chi). Qi is routinely translated in English as energy, but this is a simplification that misses a lot of nuance. One of the most challenging aspects for the Western mind to learn Chinese Medicine theory is to think in a non linear way. Each word or concept has many layers, and each element is perpetually interacting with the whole.
I think of qi as life force. Qi moves, energizes, and is intelligent. It guides all the processes of life, from growth to healing and the maintenance of the body. Dr Keown’s theory is that qi is the missing link in the Western scientific understanding of life. Science can observe the healing process, but can’t explain how it works – how tissues knit, how the body can restore itself after injury or surgery. Equally mystifying is the process that guides embryonic development. A body is composed of chemical components and building blocks, but what guides the process of deciding what part goes where? How does the embryo go from undifferentiated stem cells to a fully functional body?
Dr Keown believes qi is this factor, that qi is the intelligence that guides the formation of the body from embryonic stages all through the life span. And, as is well understood to practitioners of CCM, lifespan is determined not by years on a calendar, but the strength or depletion of the qi. When the qi declines, the body declines and lifespan is shortened.
There is a continuum of qi, with the peak qi guiding and energizing the embryonic stage. Qi guides the staggeringly complex process that begins with a single fertilized cell, which develops into a fully functioning infant independent of the mother, with perfectly working organs, bones, tissues, and nervous system. As the child matures into adolescence, to adulthood, and eventually into senior years the qi gradually depletes and the body no longer heals from injury or disease as quickly, and generally loses vitality.
Therefore, qi can be understood as the intelligent force that directs the growth, restoration and healing of the organism, at its peak strength in early development, and declining over the life of the individual. Is it not too great a stretch to think this is the case for all life, including plants?
In the life of a plant, as with a human, the moment of peak qi is at fertilization, where the ovum is pollinated and the embryo (seed) forms. As gardeners everywhere know, this moment is when the plant is in flower. This is the critical moment that determines whether you will have a harvest or not. The attractiveness of a tree or plant in full bloom is undeniable. Perhaps we have always been drawn to the vibrancy of the flowers because we intuitively recognize the energy within them.
The process of flower essence making occurs when the plant is in peak flower, in bright clear conditions that also favor pollination. I have sat with many essence bowls and watched bees pollinate the flowers floating in the water. What if Dr Bach was responding to an intuitive sense of the perfect time to connect with the peak qi?
If this is the case, I believe the flower essence contains and is imprinted with the most potent form of the qi of the plant. This qi carries the vibrational signature, the intelligence and full blueprint of all the qualities of the plant. And, as the qi has intelligence, it can interface with the qi of the person taking the flower essence and promote healing.
The Mind-Body Connection
In the practice of Chinese Medicine, the entire person is considered. Physical symptoms are not more or less important than the emotions or mental processes. Each factor is related, and an imbalance in any part affects the health of the whole. Emotional or mental imbalances negatively impact related organ systems, and unhealthy organ systems can affect the mind and emotions as well.
Dr Bach’s inspiration to connect the state of the mind and emotions with the patient’s physical health was an extraordinary leap for a Western physician of the time. Even today, Western medicine barely recognizes these concepts in theory, and rarely in everyday practice. But for more than three thousand years, Classical Chinese Medicine doctors and herbalists have practiced medicine that integrates the mind and body into one whole.
With this understanding of the interlinked emotions and organ systems, we can see how using flower essences to balance emotions can benefit the health of the body.
Flower Essences to Support the Mind-Body in Winter
Each organ system has a season that is most challenging, and in winter the Kidney needs support from the negative influence of the cold. The Kidneys are the home of your vital forces and of your will to live. The symptoms of aging and lack of vitality are seen as a sign of the depletion of the Kidney qi.
The stresses of modern life also deplete our vital Kidney qi. Exhausted adrenals from chronic anxiety, poor or insufficient sleep, and reliance on stimulants such as caffeine are all challenges to long term health. Consider supporting your health this winter with flower essences and acupressure.
Flower Essences to Support the Kidney
The emotion associated with the Kidney is fear. Like all the emotions, it has a purpose and a place, but any emotion in excess will deplete and cause imbalance in the health. Fear is useful to get us out of dangerous situations, but chronic anxiety or PTSD causes negative impacts on both physical and mental health.
Any essence that helps to relieve fear and anxiety will rebalance the entire system for health. Other flower essences that can influence the Kidney qi are those for exhaustion, adrenal depletion, and the feeling of being “tired and wired”.
When you are deeply depleted, call on Olive flower essence to help you rebuild. This long-lived tree thrives in hot, dry climates, producing large crops of nourishing fruit rich in oil. The flower essence offers restorative energy to counter prolonged exhaustion and overwork.
One of the primary essences for fear, Mimulus soothes anxieties that are easily defined. In cases of recurring traumatic response, you are likely to know what triggers you. Taking Mimulus will help to ease the adrenaline spike and your fear response.
Round Leaf Vitex (Flora of Asia)
Modern culture applauds those who work long hours and give 110%. Unfortunately, neglecting your need for rest on a regular basis will result in a deeply depleted state. Round Leaf Vitex soothes dry, depleted nerves and helps you learn to listen to your body, so you can avoid exhaustion and find better balance.
Holly Grape (Flora of Asia)
If a child grows up in an environment that doesn’t feel safe, she will be constantly in a state of high alert. This survival strategy eventually results in adrenal fatigue and exhausted nerves. Holly Grape flower essence resets the alert, signaling a state of safety and activating the restoration response.
Banyan Tree (Jane Bell Essences)
Overuse of mental forces creates a disconnect from the body and with it, your sense of groundedness and safety. Banyan Tree essence helps you come back into your body, rebuilding your roots and connection to the earth. Restoring this sense of connection activates the restorative response and gives your overworked mind a rest.
Strong Kidney energy is also needed for the will to live. Without the direction and wise guidance of Kidney essence, loss of focus and indecision sets in and you will be unable to accomplish goals. Fortunately many flower essences are beneficial for this condition and can help set you back on a path to vitality and connection to purpose.
Wild Oat (Bach)
The flower essence of Wild Oat reconnects you to your sense of purpose. This essence is broadly applicable as so many people lose their way in life and need to find their inner compass again.
One of the characteristics of the Oak personality is to be the one everyone looks to for help. In being everything to everyone, there is a great potential for depletion and over-extension. Use Oak flower essence to develop the ability to delegate authority, helping you find more time for restorative self care.
Shillong Rose (Flora of Asia)
The vigorous Shillong Rose teaches focus and perseverance in the pursuit of a goal. Taking this flower essence strengthens your connection to purpose, and helps you stick to your intention even when it becomes challenging or difficult.
Kobushi Magnolia (Flora of Asia)
The Magnolia family speak to the core issue of incarnation and what you are here to do. The flower essence of the Kobushi Magnolia restores your connection to life purpose when family or culture have forced you in other directions.
I think of Penstemon as an essence to access fortitude despite obstacles life may put in your way. Taking this flower essence helps you develop inner strength and a connection to will guided by wisdom.
Taking flower essences multiple times a day over a period of weeks or months has long been the standard of practice. When you are working with issues that have been with you a long time, I think a good starting point is Bach’s guideline to take an essence for one month for each year you have had the issue. You are likely to experience relief much sooner, but in order to fully shift and stabilize in a new balance I recommend at least six months use of these foundational essences.
As a practitioner, I often teach my clients to add in benefit by combining their formulas with self-help acupressure techniques. They find acupressure to be easy to integrate into their routines and offer one more tool they can use everywhere they go. You can forget your flower essences at home, but you won’t forget your fingers.
Acupressure – How To
Qi flows through the body in known pathways called meridians or channels, and each one carries a certain quality of qi affiliated with a particular organ system, such as the Kidney or Liver. The qi comes up to the surface and can be influenced at these locations known as acupuncture points. These points are generally found in little dips or hollows in the skin. Descriptions of how to find a point are guidelines to direct you, but the precise location of the point will vary from individual to individual, and even may move a little on a person over time.
To learn to feel for a point, imagine yourself at a farmstand choosing ripe peaches. As you pick up a peach, you run your fingers gently over the skin to feel if it has any bruises before you buy it. Using this same type of touch over your skin will allow your fingers to drop into the little hollows of the points, which can feel a little like a peach with small bruises. The points may be very small, often smaller than a thumbtack, but you can learn to feel them with a little practice. If you slowly run your fingertips over the area where the point is expected to be, you may find your fingers stopping in the same spot more than once. It is as if there is a certain magnetic factor to the points your fingers will connect to without your conscious knowing. Trust this and begin acupressure.
Using the Three Regulations
I was trained in a Classical style of acupressure with the focus on connecting to and influencing the qi, rather than the use of actual pressure intended to activate nerve endings. Using a type of qi gong process called the three regulations improves the quality of your acupressure and enhances the benefits. The three regulations are of the body, the breath, and the mind.
Regulate your body simply by finding a comfortable position to practice your acupressure. If you are straining to hold a point or in an awkward pose it will be very hard to breathe and your body cannot relax. Either of these situations do not allow free flow of qi.
Regulate your breath by breathing continuously, deeply into the belly, and releasing fully. The breath should be steady, without holding at either the top or bottom of the breath. This type of breathing will help the qi of the point to flow smoothly.
The most challenging regulation is of the mind. I find that by paying attention to my breath, and noticing the sensations under my finger as I hold the point helps me to keep my mind from running off and going through my list of to-do’s. Of course, some days this is easier than others.
Acupressure Points to Support the Kidney Qi
Kidney 1 is called Bubbling or Gushing Spring, and is the first point on the Kidney channel. This point tonifies (strengthens) the Kidney qi and calms the Spirit. This point is very helpful for anxiety and over-activity of the mind.
Find Kidney 1 on the sole surface of the foot. Flexing the foot, find the hollow just behind the ball of the foot, on the line of the second toe.
Continuing with the water imagery which describes core qualities of Kidney qi, Kidney 3 is called Great Stream. The source point for the Kidney channel, this point is the place of the most pure and high quality Kidney qi. Acupressure on this point strengthens the Kidneys and is helpful in resolving any of the anxiety issues related to depleted Kidney qi.
Find Kidney 3 on the inside of the ankle. Locate the most prominent area on the inside of the ankle bone, and slide back towards the achilles tendon. You will find a hollow between the ankle bone and the tendon.
Governing Vessel 4
This point, called Vital Gate, is one of the most important points in building up the strength of the body and general vitality. It is used to strengthen the Kidneys and essence. This point is very useful in maintaining health and strength during the challenging winter months.
Find Governing Vessel 4 on the line of the spine, on the lower back, at the level of and just below the navel. You may use the cupped palm of the hand to activate the qi of this point.
Integrating Flower Essences with Acupressure
Taking flower essences by mouth is a way to instantly introduce the vibrations of the flowers into the energy field of the entire body. My Tai Chi master taught me to touch the tip of my tongue to the roof of my upper palate, right behind the teeth, in order to complete the circuit of the two flows of energy running up the the back of the body and down the front of the body on the midline, known as the Governing Vessel and the Conception Vessel, respectively. These two meridians operate outside the organ system channels, and maintaining healthy flows of qi in these two meridians is key to health and vitality.
As you take your essences, take a few moments to make this energetic connection. Remember your intention for healing to direct the qi of the essences, and pay attention to the energy flow in your body.
Adding flower essences to acupressure is another way to work with the energy. Simply putting a drop of essence on the point or on your fingertip as you begin acupressure can add a layer of targeted healing energy. I recommend you experiment with different essences as some may be more aligned with your qi than others. Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years, and flower essences for about a century, so it is safe to say it is early days for these recommendations. Fortunately, flower essences and acupressure are gentle, so you can feel free to play and see what works for you.
The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kaptchuk
Bach Flower Essences and Chinese Medicine, Pablo Noriega
Floral Acupuncture, Deborah Craydon and Warren Bellows