An Overview of the Art of Acupuncture

an acupuncturist inserting a needleAcupuncture is an ancient form of healing through using fine needles that are inserted at specific points on the body to restore good health. As crazy as this may sound, numerous studies are emerging around the benefits of acupuncture particularly with regards to various forms of pain, including back pain, knee pain and headaches. Some studies have also found that acupuncture may be helpful for fertility when used to assist the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) process.

Acupuncture is a healing technique of Chinese medicine and therefore, follows the concepts and principles of this healing art form.

The Practice of Acupuncture

Acupuncture Points and Channels

Acupuncture theory states that there is a complex network of channels known as the meridian system, which traverses the body and connects different organs and body structures. Along the meridian system are points referred to as the acupuncture points, which are the points used by acupuncturists when inserting a needle for treatment.

Each of the acupuncture points is said to have different functions in the body and can help to have a curative effect on disease. In this system, there are twelve primary meridians which are said to each pertain to a particular organ. Furthermore, acupuncturists also believe that there are an additional eight meridians known as the ‘extraordinary meridians’. The extraordinary meridians lay deeper in the body and are accessible via special points on the primary channels. These deep meridians are said to be like a reservoir of Qi, blood and fluids, which can be drawn upon in times of depletion to help restore balance to the body.

The Concept of Qi

The concept of Qi (pronounced ‘Chi’) is a fundamental principle of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Directly translated, ‘Qi’ means ‘energy’. However, this translation is somewhat confusing and misleading. To try to explain this better, the Chinese believe in an ‘energy’ or universal life-force that flows through everyone and everything. Qi is the driving force that allows movement and permits life.

Qi, blood and fluids are three essential substances in Chinese medical thinking. We in the West are aware of blood and body fluids residing and nourishing the body. However, it is the Qi that enables the blood and fluids to move and reach the different parts of the body.

Here is a video explaining the concept of Qi by Dr Paul Lam.

A Brief History

A statue of a Chinese EmperorAs stated previously, acupuncture is closely associated as a part of Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is said to date back to at least 3,500 years and, although it is an ancient system, it is also very sophisticated with many complex principles and philosophies behind it’s working.

The oldest records of the use of acupuncture are documented in ancient Chinese texts that are said to be written by Huang Di, the first Yellow Emperor of China. However, the books appear to be a compilation by several unknown authors and detail the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture to treat patients.

The theory and practice of acupuncture are primarily based on the understanding that we as human beings are a reflection of our outer realities, and therefore, the external universe. This is personified in the concept of the microcosm and the macrocosm. Our internal bodies (the microcosm) has a correlation with the macrocosm (the universe). Therefore, external climatic influences that exist in nature may be able to have an impact on our internal bodies if our bodies are weak and pernicious influences from the elements are allowed to permeate. We can see this clearly in the person who has been exposed to the cold weather and ends up catching a cold due to the invasion of this climate.

When acupuncture is taught, the student needs to learn about Chinese philosophy as many of the concepts used in acupuncture are based on philosophical understandings. As such, the student will need to have a sound knowledge of utilisation and relevance of the five elements, yin-yang theory, the channel system, the six climates and more.

In the West, acupuncture colleges aim to bring an in-depth understanding of these philosophical concepts along with a balance of a good knowledge of Western anatomy, physiology and pathology. The International College of Oriental Medicine (ICOM) is one such training institution. You can visit ICOM on Vimeo here to learn more about their teaching style.

The Application of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is based on holistic philosophies and therefore, aims to treat the whole being, body, mind, emotion and spirit. Initially, the acupuncture practitioner will enquire as to the nature of the patient’s symptoms, but then they will like to ask more questions about the person’s overall health, background history, lifestyle and so forth to try to understand the cause of the ailments the patient is presenting.

Further diagnosis techniques are then carried out through the use of looking at the tongue, feeling the pulse, observing markings and textures on the body and palpating the channels.

Upon reaching a conclusion as to the nature and cause of the ailment, the practitioner will then begin to select appropriate acupuncture points in order to start to bring about a healing effect.