Acupuncture has been gaining popularity in the last few years. What is all the hype about? Many people saw acupuncture demonstrated on an episode of Oprah which aired in February of last year. But one of the biggest boosts to acupuncture’s popularity was when Charlotte, a character on the TV show Sex and the City, got pregnant after going to an acupuncturist for infertility. Acupuncture has been widely written about in health magazines, major newspapers and TV shows. It is now being studied throughout the world for its benefits and its efficacy as an alternative healthcare, with relatively no side effects.
Acupuncture, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been practiced for several thousand years in Asia. Originally, pointed bones and stones were used in healing practice. Some of these artifacts of acupuncture may be 3,000 or more years old. Acupuncture was refined and developed by famous practitioners throughout the Far East and results were recorded into still famous texts such as the “Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor.” For hundreds of years, secrets of healing were passed by training from mentor to apprentice. Acupuncture spread to Japan and Korea where new styles of acupuncture were developed. Interestingly, Japan had famous blind acupuncture practitioners who developed diagnosis by feel or palpation. Eventually acupuncture traveled to Europe in the 1600-1700’s. Acupuncture has only been practiced in the US (outside of the Asian community) for the past 30 years or so, a relatively brief time!
The Principle of Acupuncture
The principle behind acupuncture is simple. It is about balance. Most people have heard of yin and yang and have seen the famous round symbol of black and white that illustrates these two opposites. Yin represents all that is stillness, dark and receptive and yang symbolizes all that is bright, moving and out-going. The idea is that a body becomes ill when it becomes too yang or too yin. When a body is out of balance and the body energy or “qi” gets stuck, it results in pain or disease. Acupuncture seeks to open the flow of qi in the pathways or meridians, so that the body can heal itself.
There are about 365 points on the body and twelve meridians which relate to the organ systems. Proper diagnosis is key to the patient’s treatment. Typically, an acupuncturist spends 15 to 30 minutes talking with the patient to understand the origins of the patient’s ailment and to go through the general patterns of health. The practitioner takes the pulse of the patient at the wrist in three different positions and three levels and looks at the condition of the patient’s tongue, the only visible muscle of the body.
An acupuncturist uses a gentle insertion of very fine needles into specific acupuncture point on the body. Many people I have met in my office are self-proclaimed “needle phobics” who want to know whether it will hurt. Because the needles are so thin, the insertion is relatively painless. After the needles are in the body a patient will sometimes feel heaviness, tingling or pulsing sensation at the points or on the body, which means that the qi is moving. These sensations are not unpleasant and many patients will fall asleep on the table as psychological and physical stress leaves the body.
Interestingly, even though two patients might suffer from migraines, and be taking the same western medicine, they might have a totally different diagnosis from each other in Chinese Medicine. For instance, one of the patients might have a root of blood deficiency; the other may have a deficiency in the kidneys. Even though they have the same disease from a western standpoint, they are treated differently by an acupuncturist. In the case of an arthritis patient, the acupuncturist might decide that there is cold and dampness in the joints which is obstructing the proper flow of qi. The acupuncturist would insert needles into acupuncture points around the sore joints as well as other body points that help to reduce dampness and cold. For a patient suffering from depression, an acupuncturist may decide that liver energy is getting stuck in the chest and the emotions are not flowing freely. This is frequently seen in the acupuncture clinic and is common in cases of depression. The practitioner would select acupuncture points on the liver meridian as well as points that encourage qi to move in the chest and the whole body.
Because Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the body, the mind, and the spirit are all connected, acupuncture is good for emotional as well as physical conditions. Acupuncture is very effective for pain, chronic internal diseases, skin diseases and psychological issues. The advantage of acupuncture is that it attempts to find the root cause of an illness, rather than just treating symptoms. Acupuncture has relatively no side effects. In fact, many patients report a feeling of well-being and wholeness after their treatments.