Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine:
“Nature, time, and patience are three great physicians.”– Chinese proverb
Chinese Medicine is based on the view that humanity is part of a larger creation of the universe itself. It is at least 3,000 years old, and is still being used to treat tens of millions of people all across the world.
The first law that Chinese medicine is based upon is the law of Yin and Yang. According to the Chinese, all life and the entire material universe originated from a single unified source, called Tao, which is an integrated and undifferentiated whole that is present in everything. Tao created two opposing forces – yin and yang, which are archetypal opposites that combine to create everything in the relative world. The interaction of yin and yang creates movement and energy, an energy known in China as qi, or the final force. Qi energy is all around us and infusing us. The life force permeates the entire universe, for it is an infinite resource available to all.
Jeannie Elmstrom, L.Ac., is the acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine practitioner at Balance Westside Wellness.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine that originated in China over 5,000 years ago. It is based on the belief that living beings have a vital energy, called “qi”, that circulates through invisible energy lines, known as meridians, on the body. The meridians communicate with the internal organs and provide pathways of communication throughout the body. The points along the meridians can be used to affect the health of the body by inserting tiny acupuncture needles in certain points to restore balance to the flow of qi throughout the body. There are over 1,000 acupuncture points on the body.
Acupuncture has been practiced for hundreds of years. Many people consider the beneficial therapeutic effects of acupuncture to be reliable and effective. Many people choose to receive acupuncture treatments because of its harmonizing effect for body, mind, and spirit.
According to ancient Chinese sages, Qi is the energy that flows within each being on earth. Qi is created when the Yang energy from heaven meets the Yin energy from earth. Yang is defined as moving, warm, formless, and unstable. Yin is defined as solid, cool, heavy, and tangible. Yin and Yang meet in the Dan Tien, or lower abdomen, of each person, and grasp each other in the ancient Yin/Yang symbol, demonstrating yang within yin and yin within yang.
There are many sub-categories of Qi. For instance, the Qi that flows through the meridians is created from our ancestral Qi combined with the Qi that is created from the air we breathe and the food we eat. Wei Qi is a special kind of energetic exoskeleton that surrounds the body and protects us from catching colds and flus. Qi Gong and Tai Qi are forms of exercise designed to cultivate one’s Qi and make it stronger.
Acupuncture techniques serve the purpose of letting energy flow properly through the channels and points in the body to regain balance and prevent stagnation. Qi needs to flow freely through all cells, tissues and body parts thereby leading to the acupuncture axiom “no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain.”
A Historical Perspective
Acupuncture is believed to have originated in ancient China with evidences tracing as far back as the Stone Age. Ancient medical practitioners, who “saw” the acupuncture channels and points in meditation, used Bian shi or sharp stones similarly to today’s needles. Archaeological findings revealed that stone acupuncture needles have existed since 3000 B.C. Similar practices were found in Eurasia during the Bronze Age as well as other countries such as Mongolia, Japan and Central Europe.
During the Middle Ages, Korea, Vietnam and other East Asian nations acquired and embraced Acupuncture. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party initially rejected Chinese Medicine, viewing it as superstitious folklore. However, Mao Zedong changed his mind in the early years of the PRC and decided that Chinese Medicine could be used to unite the country and provide relatively inexpensive health care, especially in rural areas. Although his attempt at codification of the vast history of Chinese Medicine into specific state-approved techniques and formulas served to change Acupuncture from an art form, passed from generation to generation, into a more specific set of theories and guidelines, at least part of the medicine has been preserved instead of destroyed.
The United States of America first recognized the early forms of acupuncture through President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972. The previous year, James Reston underwent surgery for appendicitis while visiting in China, and was treated with Acupuncture for post-operative pain. His article about Acupuncture in The New York Times introduced Americans to Acupuncture. Chinese immigrants practiced Acupuncture in the United States around this time too. It became popular during the 1970s as patients reported undergoing major surgery using only acupuncture as a means of anesthesia. The National Acupuncture Association or NAA was then formed in the U.S. and established the UCLA Acupuncture Pain Clinic in 1972.
How Acupuncture Works
Doctors of Chinese Medicine use acupuncture in much the same way that a western doctor uses medicine. After listening to a patient’s complaints, observing signs and symptoms, acupuncturists arrive at a diagnosis, confirmed by the patient’s pulse and tongue. From the diagnosis, the doctor determines the treatment principle that will determine the choice of acupuncture points and/or point combinations.
Acupuncture points are chosen in many different ways. There are point combinations that affect patients on a constitutional level, on a diagnostic level, and on a very specific level. Each doctor chooses main points based on the diagnosis and treatment principle, and then uses other points for other specific symptoms. Furthermore, there are specific ways that a needle is inserted or stimulated in order to bring about a desired response. For instance, a needle may be inserted as the patient exhales and then twisted counter-clockwise to detox or drain an acupuncture channel. On the other hand, if the practitioner wants to tonify or strengthen an aspect of the patient’s body, mind, or spirit, the practitioner would insert the needle on the patient’s inhalation and then twist the needle clockwise. In the same way, needles are inserted at a certain depth or angle depending on the desired outcome and the position of the point on the body.
Different Schools of Acupuncture
There are many different styles of Acupuncture. Some styles utilize the Five Elements, and choose each point prescription based on the patient’s constitution, utilizing the points on a single meridian. The Zang Fu school, on the other hand, determines a diagnosis based upon the health of the organs. Some styles utilize relatively fine needles with very little stimulation, while other schools use thicker needles and quite vigorous stimulation of needles.
What to Expect at an Acupuncture Appointment
Although there are some natural variations occurring with styles of different practitioners, most acupuncturists welcome their patients and invite them to fill out an extensive intake form in order to obtain all the pertinent information needed to treat the patient. After an extended interview with the patient, the practitioner will take the patient’s pulse. The pulse in Chinese Medicine is used to determine not only the health of the internal organs, but also the state of the qi and the blood. As mentioned before, the pulse is used to confirm the diagnosis. Then the practitioner will look at the patient’s tongue. The tongue is another diagnostic tool used to determine organ health as well as the state of the patient’s digestion.
Then, the practitioner will ask the patient to lie down on a treatment table. Tiny acupuncture needles are inserted in various parts of the patient’s body. The patient rests quietly with the needles for about 20-30 minutes. Afterwards, the needles are removed and the treatment is over.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
In addition to acupuncture, many doctors of Chinese Medicine also practice herbology. Chinese Herbal Medicine is a highly developed science and art form that works in conjunction with acupuncture to affect the same change within the body as the acupuncture treatment, and follow the same treatment principles. Chinese herbs are both safe and powerful, and can continue the work of the acupuncture treatment after the patient leaves the acupuncturist’s office.
Herbal formulas can be custom-tailored for each patient. In addition, there are many classic formulas that were created hundreds of years ago that are still used widely today. These formulas can be used as is or modified to meet a patient’s specific need. With the addition or substitution of one or two herbs, a classic formula can take on a different flavor, effectively custom-tailoring that formula for the patient.
Chinese herbal formulas can come in pill or tincture form. In addition, some practitioners choose to use raw herbs to make their formulas. The patient then boils the herbs in some water to make a tea, which is usually drunk three times a day. Raw herbs are especially powerful, although in the United States people are generally resistant to doing so because the taste can be quite strong.