The origins of acupuncture in China can be traced back thousands of years, making it one of the oldest and most long-standing health care systems in the world. Today, acupuncture is an effective, natural and increasingly popular form of health care that is being used by people from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds.
Acupuncture takes a holistic approach to understanding normal function and disease processes and focuses as much on the prevention of illness as on the treatment.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body’s meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of qi through the individual. The acupuncture points may also be stimulated using other methods, including moxibustion, cupping, electro-stimulation and bodywork, in order to re-establish the flow of qi.
What is qi & how does it affect the body?
When healthy, an abundant supply of qi (pronounced chee) or “life energy” flows through the body’s meridians (a network of invisible channels through the body). If the flow of qi in the meridians becomes blocked or there is an inadequate supply of qi, then the body fails to maintain harmony, balance and order, and disease or illness follows. This can result from stress, overwork, poor diet, disease pathogens, weather and environmental conditions, and other lifestyle factors and becomes evident to TCM practitioners through observable signs of bodily dysfunction. TCM practitioners look carefully for these signs of health and dysfunction, paying particular attention not only to the presenting signs and symptoms, but also to the medical history, general constitution, and the pulse and tongue.
Cupping is one of the oldest methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine, dating back over 2,500 years. Typically, the cups are made of glass, plastic, or silicon.
Cups are applied by creating a vacuum and are anchored to the skin, which pulls the tissues up into the cup. Sometimes the skin will change color, anywhere from pink to purple, a process we call “sha”. Typically, the more congested the area the darker the sha. These marks will go away in a few days and do not require any special care.
Cupping stimulates circulation, draws out toxins from the muscles, and encourages the flow of healing factors, fresh blood, and oxygen to the area, jump-starting the healing process. Aside from pain, cupping can also be used to treat respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and asthma; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; depression; and it is also used with great results to alleviate menstrual cramps.
Moxibustion is a technique that utilizes the burning of mugwort, known as ai ye in Chinese medicine, to stimulate the immune system and facilitate the movement of qi (energy) and blood. It is used to treat many conditions characterized by cold and stagnation, such as cold-sensitive arthritis, edema, and gynecological problems. It can also be used to boost the immune system prior to allergy season. Most commonly I use moxa sticks, which are rolls of pressed moxa that are lit and held over the appropriate acupoint or meridian until the area is warmed. For certain conditions I also do warm-needling, where an acupuncture needle is placed and then a cone or ball of moxa is placed on the end and lit, deeply warming the affected point.
Medical qigong therapy and prescriptions combine the use of breath work with individual physical movements, and mental intention. The goal of qigong is to correct the electromagnetic imbalances enabling the body to strengthen and regulate the internal organs, the nervous system, and the immune system to relieve pain, regulate hormones, strengthen, and purge deep-seated emotions and stress. Medical qigong therapy offers clients a safe and effective way to help rid themselves of many years of electromagnetic disruptions in the body caused by injuries, surgery, chemical and environmental influences, emotional changes and aging.
In China and more recently in the United States, doctors have applied qigong in hospitals and clinics to treat individuals suffering from a variety of ailments. Medical Qigong therapy and prescriptions can be used to treat people with cancer and help reduce or eliminate side effects from radiation and chemotherapy. It will help in treating cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease and post-stroke syndrome. It is especially useful in treating any kind of chronic pain, and chronic disorders of the digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Medical qigong can be divided into two methods of application – internal qigong or self treatment, and external qigong or qi emission.
Internal Qigong or Self Treatment: Internal qigong is a major part of qigong therapy. This form of qigong is practiced by oneself to achieve a specific purpose. A form of psycho-physiological self-regulation, internal qigong regulates the qi of the body for the purposes of harmonizing our internal energy systems for health enhancement and disease prevention. Typically, these are simple breathing and movement exercises or seated meditations.
External Qigong or Qi Emission: External qigong refers to the process by which qigong practitioners direct or emit their qi to others to purge and release toxic emotions from within the body’s tissues, eliminate energetic stagnations, as well as tonify, and regulate the internal organs, immune system, and energetic fields. The practitioner may touch areas on the other person’s body or simply pass his hands over the body. Medical qigong, this external form of qi cultivation, uses the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture to treat a wide variety of difficult and stubborn conditions that do not respond to other forms of therapy. It is very suitable for children, the elderly, people in very poor health, and those who are highly sensitive.
When patients are ill and their own level of qi is very low or stagnant, receiving qi from a qigong practitioner can prove to be a powerful stimulant toward recovery. Generally, however, people who receive external qigong from a qigong practitioner, simultaneously do their own internal practice.