About the Practice of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been practiced for over 5,000 years, but in particular, has developed into a complex medical theory over the past 2,000 years. The first medical acupuncture text is the Chinese classic Huang Di Nei Jing (“Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine”) thought to be dated about the 1st century BCE.
At the foundation of acupuncture theory is the idea of the body as self-healing, with a dynamic network of interrelated and interacting energies that maintain health and vitality. This system can be interrupted, depleted, or blocked, but can also be re-balanced to support the creative power of healing.
Central to this system of thought is the concept of qi (pronounced “chee”). It can be difficult to define, but is often described as life force or vitality, or the energy that circulates throughout the body and enlivens all essential activities, including the spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of life. Health is dependent on the smooth and balanced movement of qi throughout the body. This flow of qi can be disturbed by a number of factors including the environment, poor nutrition, infections, toxins, trauma, and emotional states such as anxiety, stress, anger, fear or grief.
The network of pathways by which qi is circulated throughout the body are called meridians or channels. There are fourteen main meridians that run vertically up and down the body, and two unpaired midline meridians, running up the front and back. Qi constantly circulates in these pathways and when they become obstructed, deficient, or excessive, illness can occur. Acupuncture points are specific locations where the meridians come near the surface of the skin and are therefore easily accessible. By inserting very fine needles into these points, an acupuncturist stimulates the body's own healing response and helps to restore optimum physiologic function.
Although often described as a means of pain relief, acupuncture is in fact used to treat a wide range of conditions. It can improve one's overall balance and well being while also treating specific symptoms, both acute and chronic. Traditionally, acupuncture is used as a holistic approach to the prevention and maintenance of health as well as the management of disease. As with many systems of natural medicine, the importance of the mind and "spirit" is acknowledged as integral to the health of the body. Most patients find acupuncture to be very calming and relaxing, and often helpful in the resolution of emotional disorders.
The skill of an acupuncturist lies in their ability to make a traditional diagnosis from what is often a complex pattern of disharmony. The exact pattern and degree of disharmony is unique to each individual and with traditional acupuncture will be treated as such with a personalized treatment plan.
Techniques Commonly Used with Acupuncture
Traditionally, acupuncture is used within a system of modalities that includes herbs, moxabustion, cupping and tui-na massage. Moxabustion (or moxa), is a technique using heat to stimulate the specific points on the body. The dried herb mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), is burned in a very slow, controlled way to produce a gentle, penetrating heat on the acupuncture points or needles, thereby influencing the flow of qi and blood in the meridians. Moxa has an earthy, incense-like smell and generates a deep, relaxing warmth.
Cupping is another traditional treatment technique. In this case, suction is applied to certain regions of the body through a metal, wood or glass jar in which a partial vacuum has been created. This process draws blood congestion to the surface in order to stimulate circulation in deeper tissues. Cupping may be used for various problems such as chronic shoulder tension, low backache, sprains, soft tissue injuries, and to help relieve congestion in some respiratory conditions.
Tui-na and other forms of traditional acupressure are also commonly employed in the practice of Oriental medicine. Acupressure is a non-invasive method of massage therapy, used according to the theory of meridians, points, and qi circulation, with the intention relaxing tissues, balancing the meridians, and harmonizing yin and yang. Tui-na methods include the use of hand and arm techniques to massage the soft tissue of the body, stimulation of acupuncture points with pressure to directly affect the flow of qi, and manipulation techniques to realign muscles and fascia.