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The Mystery Unraveled

Dec 16, 2010 | Acupuncture

Acupuncture – The Mystery Unraveled

Jill Ellen Smith L.Ac. M.Ac.
For the Howard County Women’s Journal

At least once per week a patient asks me ‘how does it work, exactly?’

If I respond ‘no one knows for sure’ that would be unsatisfactory (even though it’s close to the truth). If I said the National Institutes for Health (NIH) has been working on putting acupuncture under ‘the microscope’ since the 1980’s when Richard Nixon returned to the USA with his infamous discovery of Traditional Chinese Medicine; that too doesn’t really answer the question.

I can say that it’s not about the nervous system.

I can say that it impacts the body’s immune system, the endorphin release process, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, the circulatory system….to name a few AND that it is not these systems at the same time. Acupuncture is about another system entirely — the meridian system AND the meridian system is what creates and allows all of the other systems to function.

But still that does not explain how a needle (a tiny thin metal shaft of a pin) that slides almost imperceptibly thru the skin layer, doesn’t cause bleeding, and enters into the body at a certain level , causes subtle to profound changes in the body.

First I encourage my patients to take that ‘leap of faith’ into the world of the unknown and unseen. The ancient acupuncturists from China (over 4,000 years ago) embraced the concept of ‘qi’ (pronounced chee), understood by Westerners as Energy. It is still referred to as ‘life force’, and it is made visible by the forces of Yin and Yang. The polar opposite energies of Yin and Yang create the visible tangible world as we know it (think of the pistons of an engine in constant perpetual up and down, back and forth movement; that create energy for a car to move).

Once a Westerner can accept these concepts as real then we can have a conversation around the mystery of acupuncture. The acupuncturist, when trained appropriately in a fashion that honors the ancient art of Chinese Medicine, acts as the needle him or herself. The actual pin is merely then an extension of the practitioner. The acupuncturist who has begun and continues to practice their own personal growth and transformation is in the best position to ‘become the needle’ as we speak of in the acupuncture community.

With knowledge of anatomy/physiology and the meridian point system, and clarity around which points are appropriate for a particular problem (whether physical or emotional), the INTENTION of the acupuncturist combined with the rapport with the patient, all creates the power behind the movement of the ‘qi’. That is why the relationship between the acupuncturist and the patient is critical. Where there is not comfort and trust, there is little to no movement in the treatment.

But, again, how does that explain how a pin as thin as a hair, coming in contact with the meridian can cause such profound changes as headaches resolving, bowels starting to move regularly, gastrointestinal symptoms to resolve, back and body pains to find relief, fertility to happen…to name a few? The needle touches the river of qi (at the meridian level), and the achy or subtle tingle sensation we call DaQi confirms contact and movement of qi.  Blocks are cleared and movement of qi is restored. This is perceptible to the patient by the relief of symptoms. Movement of energy allows for strengthening of one’s energy reserves.  Just as water will ALWAYS flow downstream, the body will always want to return to balance/homeostasis. The body is always seeking healing. Movement of qi and clearing of blocks allows the body to do its own healing work.

I realize that I’ve still not offered you a specific ‘how does it work’. Would it help if I told you that children and animals respond the quickest to acupuncture? Why? —Because they are simply open and receptive.

And so the mystery of acupuncture boggles the minds of Americans because ‘qi’ is both tangible and intangible. The invisible nature of the process is and will always be mysterious to those who have not made that leap of faith into the world of ‘qi’ and its movement of Yin and Yang.

Think about it…even the microscopes at NIH used to study acupuncture are made of qi-just a very dense form of qi. The ancient Chinese were satisfied (and still are) with the wonders of energy and its magic to make life happen. Trying to find it under a microscope was simply unnecessary.

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