What is Acupuncture?
A Brief Introduction to Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (tCM) is an ancient medical system that has evolved over 2500 years. It is founded on a different model to Western Medicine (WM) and views the human body in a different way to the science we are familiar, and perhaps more comfortable with. This does not invalidate it - mean it doesn't work.
Central to tCM theory is the idea that man is not distinct from nature. We are microcosms of it, our internal environment mirroring nature's natural seasons and rhythms. Weather terms are used to describe aetiology (causes of disease) such as Damp, Heat, Cold, Dry, Wind (the spearhead of all disease) which may in turn be Drained, Cooled, Warmed, Expelled. This may sound archaic, but by flouting the natural universe man has broken the nature-human web to which we are inexorably linked.
TCM is an holistic medicine, this means it seeks to diagnose the root (Ben) of disease not simply the symptoms or branches (Biao). This approach differs from WM which is symptomatic in it's treatment of illness. If we take headache as an example. WM may offer painkillers and generic lifestyle advice, like stress reduction. Likewise, TCM will treat the pain, the branches, but also search out the underlying causes/roots of the condition and address them also.
Qi & Meridians
What is Qi? Simply, it's our energy, our life force or in yogic theory our prana. It's what makes us different to an inanimate object like a stone. Jing, also key to tCM, is inherited from our parents - I liken Jing to our genes. For example, your genetic inheritance may be a constitutional lack (deficiency/Xu) of Lung energy or Qi, or in WM a genetic predisposition towards asthma.
Jing is different to Qi, we are born with a limited amount of Jing and when it runs out (like a battery running out of charge) we die. Qi on the other hand may be used wisely - a bit like putting your device on battery saving mode - we can preserve it by choosing how we live. We can also supplement it. We have some choice over the quality of the Qi in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the thoughts we think, the amount and type of exercise we take. We can all modify how we eat, breathe, think, move. Such lifestyle changes take effort and are part of a tCM acupuncture treatment plan. The patient is an active participant not simply a passive recipient of prescribed medicine/pills. This may not appeal to all.
TCM energetic theory in underpinned by Yin and Yang. Piqued your interest? I've listed some introductory books at the bottom of this page. I recommend 'Between Heaven and Earth.'
Meridians & Acu-Points
Our Qi is transported round our body in meridians. They contain over 600 acu-points which may be located and used to re-balance the body's energy. Qi may get stuck, like a traffic jam, and need releasing. It may need redistributing, there may be too much in one area and not enough somewhere else (i.e. an over-active mind). It may be deficient and require supplementing. The list goes on and it is the art of the acupuncturist to diagnose and redress a patient's imbalance by inserting acupuncture needles at acu-points to divert, supplement, release their Qi.
The meridians have names which are often abbreviated. You will notice this in the acupressure routines I share with you on this website. For anxiety and insomnia take LIV 3 as an example. This is the third acu-point (of 14) on the Liver (LIV) meridian. Each point has specific effects on the body's Qi. One function of LIV 3 is to move Qi in the whole body. If energy is stuck, stagnant it may cause pain, such as headache or emotional imbalance like frustration or anger. Acupuncture needling at LIV 3 may move this stasis.
What is Acupuncture and can Acupuncture help me?
The BAcC describes acupuncture:
"Acupuncture is a tried and tested system of traditional medicine, which has been used in China and other eastern cultures for thousands of years to restore, promote and maintain good health. Its benefits are now widely acknowledged all over the world and in the past decade traditional acupuncture has begun to feature more prominently in mainstream healthcare in the UK. In conjunction with needling, the practitioner may use techniques such as moxibustion, cupping, massage or electro-acupuncture. They may also suggest dietary or lifestyle changes.
Traditional acupuncture takes a holistic approach to health and regards illness as a sign that the body is out of balance. The exact pattern and degree of imbalance is unique to each individual. The traditional acupuncturist's skill lies in identifying the precise nature of the underlying disharmony and selecting the most effective treatment. The choice of acupuncture points will be specific to each patient's needs. Traditional acupuncture can also be used as a preventive measure to strengthen the constitution and promote general well-being.
An increasing weight of evidence from Western scientific research is demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a wide variety of conditions. From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system, influencing the production of the body's communication substances - hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting biochemical changes activate the body's self-regulating homeostatic systems, stimulating its natural healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional well-being."
Traditional Chinese Medicine Techniques
Within traditional acupuncture there are several specific techniques which can be used as stand-alone treatments. In addition to needling acupuncture points or acupressure, if relevant moxibustion (moxa), magnet therapy, cupping or massage may be included.
Moxa is used to heat specific acu-points using a cigar shaped roll of the mugwort plant. As well as face-to-face acupuncture treatments I also offer self-moxa tutorials and treatments.
Traditionally, moxa is used to support the immune system.
Between Heaven and Earth. A Guide to Chinese Medicine, Harriet Beinfield, Efrem Korngold
The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, Ted J Kaptchuk, Congdon & Weed
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists, Giovanni Maciocia, Elsevier
Helping Ourselves. A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, Daverick Leggett, Meridian Press