Spirals, Stems and Branches: The Structure of Unfoldment in Time and Space

by Michael Max | With guest, Deborah Woolf

Stems and Branches are old Chinese science. Our medicine touches on it, but most of us rely on the more modern perspectives for our clincal work. The Stems and Branches speak to a perspective of the universe and our place in it that is foreign to our minds not because of language and culture, but because we live a world that focus more on humanity than cosmos.

In this conversation we touch on the influence of numbers, the spiral nature of unfoldment and change, a few things about the Hun and Po that will surprise you, how time and space give us different glimpses into reality and how a sense of playfulness wtih medicine and philosophy just might be a most wise approach.



In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • How Deborah found her way to studying the Stems and Branches
  • Closing of the heart septum and its relation to Imperial and
  • Ministerial Fire
  • Are we looking from heaven or looking from earth. From the creative or the created?
  • Chinese medicine and philosophy is numbers based
  • 五運六氣 five movements and six qi, Su wen 66-74
  • A deeper look at Hun and Po
  • The three in one
  • Orienting in Time and Space
  • How to read the Su Wen
  • Considering the extraordinary fu
  • Latest interests and projects
  • Advice to new practitioners

Keep it simple; if you can immerse yourself as much as possible in classical Chinese way of seeing the cosmos/body then you will always do things better!

Keep going back to the basics: what everything is based on gives you ALL the clues… that's why theory and study of classical Chinese history/culture/language helps acupuncturists to be much better practitioners


Deborah Woolf, L.Ac

I am crazy keen acupuncturist and super enthusiastic lecturer, who, by chance, have discovered and loved the cosmology and numerology inherent in Chinese Philosophy and Medicine. I was lucky to start studying (10 years after I know I wanted to be an acuouncturist) at the UK college that teaches the most philosophy and theory, based on Five Phases, wuxing 五行, and Stems and Branches, wuyun liuqi 五運六氣. My course was a 5 year long extravaganza, and I came out the other side, exhausted, changed and driven. Since then (20 years ago) I have not stopped treating, teaching and studying: these three activities interact fruitfully with each other, allowing me to deepen my understanding and practice of this amazing approach to health, the body and the cosmos.

As I am the daughter of academics I took what I was taught and read around the subjects, so that I was able to immerse myself more fully in ancient Chinese culture. I have followed Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee for 25 years, and have studied classical Chinese for at least 15 years. I may not be able to ask for soup, but I can make a stab at translating very obscure classical Chinese texts! This immersion and reading and teaching has allowed me to apply my ‘apprentice' style learning to my practice. I thoroughly appreciate and love what I do and am grateful daily for the opportunity to learn more and more and so be able to help my patients even more!


Links and Resources

Number six in the Umbrella Academy is Ben, the dead one. Or is he?

We talked in this episode about the magic square, here's more intel on it. We also discussed other ways of divining the cosmos

Su Wen 11
“Brain, Marrow, bones, vital circulations (mai), Gall Bladder, Uterus: these six are produced by the qi/Breaths of Earth. They store the Yin and they reflect the image of the Earth. Their name is ‘the extraordinary and permanent fu’ (qi heng zhi fu).

The St, Co, Si, Th, Bl, these 5 are produced by the Breaths of Heaven; their Breaths reflect the image of Heaven; this is why they make flow and do not store. They receive the unclear Breaths of the 5 zang. Their name is ‘the fu for transmission and transformation’. They cannot keep for a long time without transmitting so as finally to flow out/evacuate… Thus the 5 zang store the essences/Breaths [Jingqi] and do not make flow… The 6 fu transmit and transform and do not store.”

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