By AFEA member Layla O'Mara

Let me tell you something amazing about trees.

There is an awful lot more to them than it seems.

Their trunks and branches and leaves are what we see with the naked eye. We know of their root systems that stretch downwards and reach outwards into the soil. And we know that the tree needs light, and clean air and good soil in order to thrive.

This much we know, because we can see it. This much we can understand.

But beneath the soil, the roots are just the beginning. As Isabella Tree (her real name!) writes in her incredible book Wilding:

A tree’s life support system is extends further still, into a dark and invisible universe that microbiologists are mycologists are only just beginning to fathom: that of the mycorrhizae – fine hair-like filaments of fungus that attach themselves to the roots and create a deep intricate and vast underground network. 

At a hundredth of a millimetre in diameter, these filaments are invisible to the naked eye. A single filament may extend hundreds or thousands of times the length of one tree root, which extends the tree’s ability to access nutrients exponentially. Some mycorrhizae networks are said to reach across continents.

Mycorrhizae also act as an early warning system for a tree. They can release chemical signals along their network which stimulate a defensive response in all trees in the vicinity. They can even stimulate the release of chemicals from the tissues of a tree to attract predators for the particular pest assailing it. And, as Isabella Tree writes ‘they can alert trees to provide intensive care for ailing individuals or vulnerable offspring, supplying them with a boost of nutrients as though plugging them in to an intravenous drip.’

Learning of this has given me a totally different perspective when I look at my window at a tree in the field opposite my home. I no longer look at this tree as a single entity but as part of a community, part of a system, part of something bigger than itself. This poor ancient oak outside my window stands alone in the centre of a frequently ploughed field. I know now that the frequent ploughing disrupts greatly the underground communication mycorrhizae network. I know now that this ancient oak is ailing because it cannot tap in to the underground tributories and channels nature has designed.

Why I am I telling you all of this ?

Well, for me it is a perfect mirror of our own bodies and the work that I as a Five Element Acupuncturist am striving to do.

Our bodies are like a continent. Our limbs, our organs, our stress levels are our trees.

And beneath our skin, and weaving its way throughout our whole system, are our body’s version of the mycorrhizae – the acupuncture channels. 12 channels, over 360 points. A unique life giving network of unseen tributaries that communicate with each other, feed us, keep us safe.

Sometimes one of our ‘trees’ – a migraine or trouble conceiving or IBS – is struggling. And it is my job as an acupuncturist to tap in to the underground network that weaves its way through your body to send help to that tree. Sometimes that involves treating the area that is ailing, and sometimes it involves sending help from the other end of the network. (Science is catching up with this way of thinking, with the mind-gut connection now having being firmly established, for example)

There are times that, like the mycorrhizae, the body’s network acts like an early-warning system. Part of Five Element training is to learn to read these early warning systems and send help, send and ‘intravenous drip’ to the relevant area before the issue spreads.

There are times, too, that the networks have been ploughed up, or there has been too much fertilizer poured on to the ground and the underground system fails or blocks up.

And it is my job to reconnect your network for you, get those messages and energy and nutrients flowing from head to toe, so that your body can function as the beautiful complex continent it is designed to be.

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