The Four Gates is the name of two points, Hegu (A.K.A. Joining Valley) and Taichong (A.K.A. Great Rushing) which are used bilaterally. Their alpha-numeric designation is known as Large Intestine 4 and Liver 3. One is on the hand between the thumb and index finger and the other lies on the foot between the big toe and the deputy toe. We use them all the time. They are said to open the flow of Qi and blood. If anything is stuck, they will get it moving along, whether it’s stuckness in the mind, the spirit, the body, or just your run of the mill pain, the use of these 4 points is indicated to get things flowing again. It seems like, for people living in our modern world and society, that the way our constitutions are affected by the pace and stress of our lives is that Qi gets stagnant everywhere. So, as community acupuncturists, for most people, we are trying to open meridians and move Qi. To do this, we use The Four Gates in everything (Which also makes me think of Bill Hader’s character, Stefon, from SNL. If he were talking about this, the Four Gates would be a new club in Brooklyn that has everything: there are four entrances: they are all blocked by angry people in spandex with traffic cone hats, so you have to zipline in from the top of the building next door.)
I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I think of these points as a food and the food product I think of here is a mirepoix, which is French for the combination of carrots, celery, and onion. Like the 4 gates, this food combination comes up all the time, whether you’re braising a hefty cut of meat, attempting an authentic Cassoulet, or stewing up some hearty vegetable soup. But the actual ingredients of this combination morphs and changes depending on regions and culture. In Cajun cooking, there is a mirepoix, but instead of carrot you use bell pepper. In Italian cooking it’s called Sofrito, and has the addition of garlic and tomato.
In the kitchen, I play fast and loose with the mirepoix ingredients: instead of carrots, I’ll use bell pepper, like a Cajun, or push the envelope using anything carrot like: rutabaga, turnip, parsnips. Instead of celery, sometimes fennel. Instead of onion, I throw in leak, garlic, or green onion. The flexibility lets me experience an abundance of flavors and use whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand.
I often make these ingredients into a roasted vegetable paste: I’ll roast some version of the mirepoix, puree it, and keep it in a jar. The contents are like a fresh bullion and enhance the flavor and nutrition when I cook any of our staples: rice, beans, quinoa, couscous, polenta, lentils, or soup. In the words of Stefon, they go in everything.
It’s the same with the four gates. Whether it’s a sluggish digestion, depression with a feeling of stuckness, or pain in a joint, from an acupuncturist perspective, there is stuckness, and the four gates get mixed in so that things get moving again. Like the mirepoix, you can be flexible with the ingredients to achieve different goals.
I recently started working as a supervisor in the clinic at the Oakland acupuncture school AKA ACCHS (Academy of Chinese Culture and Health Sciences). One of the interns there, Orly, mentioned to me her use of alternate forms of the 4 gates. Basically, taking the concept of qi moving point pairs and bending the concept to apply to other pairs of points. I loved the idea and a couple days later I began practicing it. It seemed to really help clients and helped me be more creative with my point selection. It was a great moment of realization that I could take the concept of the 4 gates and apply it to treatments in new and different ways similar to the way I played fast and loose in the kitchen with the concept of the mirepoix.
It proved to me again how you never stop learning. I’ve been practicing acupuncture consistently for a while now, and, much like my relationship to food, it is endlessly interesting. Learning a new way to apply the concept of the four gates, something so basic and rudimentary, and be novel and creative, inspires me to feel that this practice of acupuncture, aside from nourishing the people of Oakland, offers endless creativity, nuance, and refinement.