Around seven years ago I embarked on a voyage of discovery. I was following a map with very few reference points and for a compass I had only a blend of experience, curiosity and intuition. When the voyage was complete, I had in my hands five separate treatment sequences and a 40-minute qigong form to practise and share with fellow voyagers.
Text: Chris McAlister
The Four Seas is a model from within the framework of traditional Oriental medicine and is mentioned in the Nei Jing (Chapter 33 of the Pivotal Spirit). The description is however, very brief and limited to expressions of imbalance and a few cardinal points. To my knowledge, it has remained obscure and uninvestigated for over two thousand years… My explorations – with patients and groups of students in Sweden, Israel and Italy – led me to realize that the model is essentially one of levels; so perhaps four oceanic depths rather than four separate seas. The seas are named after aspects of the bodymind. From deepest to most superficial, they are: Marrow, Blood, Nutrition and Qi. The Sea of Marrow, naturally enough, goes to the very depths of the human organism and can rectify pathology associated with our pre-natal energies. In this sense it is linked to the skeleton, spinal cord, back brain and ancestral patterns stretching far back in time. The Sea of Blood, slightly more superficial and marginally more rapid in its flow, is associated with deeply submerged emotional patterns, lost memories and of course the deeper levels of nutrition. The uterus, diaphragm and blood vessels are key organs with enormous relevance at this level. The Sea of Nutrition (or Nourishment) takes us to a level of relaxation that is more accessible on a moment-to-moment basis. It regulates those “oasis” moments of rest, regeneration and replenishing that we need to feel during the day – quiet moments of personal space when we have no need to monitor external events but can sink inwardly for a brief respite, enjoy our inner worlds and fill our tanks at the parasympathetic pit-stop. The sea of Qi is the most superficial of the levels. This is where we stretch, open our eyes and receive the stimuli of the outside world. Our lungs, skin and antennae awaken and extend to receive signals coming towards us from external sources. We are fully alive and keen to interact with the world around us – whether in play, work, exercise or general spatial awareness. We find ourselves in full sympathetic mode and are ready for dialogue with our surroundings. Each of these levels has clinical significance and each can be used to strengthen the other. The treatment patterns that I asked my students to practice in the various classes provoked involuntary movements in my body. These gradually led to a fully-fledged qigong programme spanning all four seas from Marrow to Qi. The programme takes between 30-40 minutes to complete and the moves range from restful reclining positions to dynamic aerobic exertion spiced with vocal exuberance. Both the treatments and the qigong programme have helped to create a more fully integrated concept of how the myriad physical and energetic aspects of the bodymind combine and interact with each other: meridians, points, structures and function combine in an easy to comprehend model of the human being in four modes of activity, rest and development. After seven years the map is now fairly well filled-in. Despite this, every new voyage brings new information, refinements and adjustments. The compass however, is unchanged: experience, curiosity and intuition remain my guiding lights.

Curious about The Four Seas? Visit Chris’ workshop at the European Shiatsu Congress. Or watch his webinar