Energy Systems Science and Practice: Thinking and Acting Like an Integrative Acupressurist

March 4, 2022 2 Comments

For the past few months I have been seeing an integrative acupressurist who has been practicing her craft for some 35 years. I am blown away and grateful for the extensive knowledge she brings to the inner workings of my body, including the interrelationships between different “parts” as well as the impact of the “environment” on my “internal” systems.

She has been particularly adept at helping me to understand that presenting and relatively superficial aspects of dis-ease or dis-comfort have longer standing and deeper contributing factors. Peel back one layer, with great care and re-spect, and you are likely to find something else. “Wonderful!” she will often say, marveling at how the body intelligently adapts to stress and other demands upon it. “While this may not feel good, it is actually a very wise and creative response!”

This has me reflecting on our dominant health care system in the US and what it tends to pay attention to and how it responds. How does that compare/contrast with and how is it complemented by what an integrative acupressurist does? What lessons and metaphors lie there for guiding me in my thinking about approaching other systemic challenges – in organizations, communities, economies … ?

First and foremost, an integrative acupressurist assists with body’s structural integrity (muscles, bones, organs), flow management and bio-logical co-operation and communication. Sometimes that is about tending to areas in the body where blood or lymph or chi (all vital flows) are not circulating in optimal ways. Sometimes that is about helping to stimulate parts of the body (organs and muscles) that have become guarded, tense or listless as an intelligent defense response (this often calls for treating those areas indirectly, to bypass defenses and stimulate areas that are impacted referentially). Sometimes this is about reintroducing different parts/regions of the body to one another with careful touch and stimulation. Sometimes it is about helping the entire body process new information and sensations more optimally, including the introduction of various healing and fortifying herbs.

As I have been experiencing these interventions, and learning from this remarkable healer/teacher (she loves narrating what she is doing and entertains all questions), I have been thinking about how this knowledge and wisdom translates into efforts to shift and heal other kinds of living systems. As I have written elsewhere, I am a proponent of not just simply talking about and working on “system change,” but supporting the inherent regenerative (self-renewing) capacity of living systems, social and ecological. My friend Daniel Christian Wahl turned me on to the notion of “saluto-genesis” when it comes to working with living systems, which means tending to the long-term and ongoing ability of systems to produce wellbeing.

Thinking as a systemic health promoter, or “systemic saluto-genarian” (thanks to Freya Bradford for helping to coin this phrase), isn’t what my integrative acupressurist does also our work? Supporting change in organizations, communities, economies, ecosystems is not simply about mechanically plunging in, but sensing the whole, connecting and working at the speed of trust and with great re-spect (of diverse and wonderful bodies – minds, hearts, guts, spirits ….), tending to the four key areas of focus of energy systems science:

  • structural integrity – optimal connectivity, resilience, flexibility, balance of “sizes”
  • regenerative flows – optimal movement (volume, velocity, directionality, reach) of enlivening resources
  • collaborative learning – timely sharing and exchange of information and co-creation of knowledge
  • common cause/collective culture – valuing and actually working together with an understanding of mutuality

This a metaphor and framework that is proving rich for practice and conversation with others. What do you think, feel, sense?

For more on acupressure, I recommend Sam McClellan’s book, Integrative Acupressure: A Hands-On Guide to Balancing the Body’s Structure and Energy for Health and Healing.


  • Karlo Berger says:

    As a longtime shiatsu/acupressure practitioner and social change advocate, I was pleased and fascinated to read your insightful connecting of these dots. We practitioners are indeed facilitating the greater integration of a body-mind network manifested in the qi meridian system (recent fascia research suggests a physical basis for this network as well). While probably implicit within Daniel Christian Wahl’s notion of salutogenic intention, I think it bears emphasis that this kind of bodywork requires active compassionate intent to work its wonders, as well as deep and committed listening. Both qualities seem imperative in networking for social change as well.

  • Always interested in your posts. The 4 focus areas of energy systems science reminded me of the framework my colleagues and I developed from studying complexity science, which we wrote up in “Welcome to the Edge of Chaos” and self-published a few years ago (
    We first published “Welcome” just over 23 years ago, in February of 1997. We had spent over two years immersing ourselves in complex adaptive systems theory in the hope that Mother Nature’s rules for evolution could teach us something useful about how to help organizations take advantage of turbulence to evolve and take themselves to the next level of innovation and impact. We were not disappointed. The insights of complexity theory turned out to be an excellent guide to the transformative re-design of human institutions like organizations and communities. They fundamentally changed how we thought about our work as agents of organizational and community change.
    Complexity theory teaches us that systems of all types only grow and evolve when they migrate to the “edge of chaos” – tearing apart old structures, but retaining enough coherence to take advantage of the disequilibrium and use it to innovate, to reinvent, to renew at higher levels of complexity and depth. Not all systems make this leap. Some stay mired in stagnation; others descend into chaos.

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