In traditional acupuncture practice there are two primary techniques, known somewhat poetically as ‘Warming the Mountain’ and ‘Cooling the Sky’. Applied to a patient’s body – whether with a needle or a thumb/finger/palm – they elicit either a distinct sensation of warmth, fullness and tingling, or a tangible sense of coolness, lightness and relief. Generally speaking, the warming technique is used to stimulate, enliven and strengthen an acupuncture point/channel or body area, while the cooling technique is used to clear excess heat, agitation and fullness. Applied correctly – that is, according to a proper Chinese medical diagnosis – these techniques produce an immediate and tangible feeling of relief in the patient, because what is cold and deficient is becoming warm and enlivened, or else what is hot and over-full being vented and relieved. Such phenomena can seem somewhat far-fetched and other-worldly, especially to those who subscribe to distorted Orientalist perspectives of such traditional practices. By way of explanation of such techniques, a team at Stanford University has been investigating the physiological phenomena associated with authentic taichi practice. Their findings confirm not only that proper taichi (or qigong) training develops huge power, it produces the ability to make the hands extremely warm (or not) on demand. Such skills are traditionally referred to as an aspect of ‘qi’ skill, and are trained using various types of qigong exercise. It is these skills that produce in a patient’s body the phenomena of ‘Warming the Mountain’ or ‘Cooling the Sky’. Whether or not you choose to view these phenomena as ‘qi skills’, or like the team at Stanford see them in terms of changes in the peripheral vascular system and specific brain areas, they are real, and can be effectively applied – by those with the dedication to do the necessary training – both martially to fight or medicinally to heal. You can read the report on the Stanford study here.