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What is it?Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that dates back 3000 years. It involves inserting needles in points along meridians to balance the body and help bring it back into homeostatis. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we speak of Qi, pronounced Chi, which is best translated as universal energy. The Qi in the body is our body’s vital force and may be deficient or stagnant causing pain or sickness. Acupuncture opens up the meridians to allow the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body.
Acupuncture is an art as well as a science. Although in TCM the language used to describe a condition sounds metaphorical, direct correlations to Western medical analysis can be made. For example in TCM there is a term called Wei Qi or defensive Qi found between the skin and the muscles. If this defensive Qi is weak then pathogens are easily allowed into the body and the person becomes sick. This in essence is the immune system which we all know is important to keep strong in order to protect the body from contagious diseases. This can range from a simple cold to more serious conditions such as cancer. The Chinese have known this for millennia and have developed an array of tools and techniques to keep the body strong and treat the root of the illness.
The TCM approach to health of treating the root cause rather than the symptoms is the most sensible approach. Doing this not only treats the disease, but can often also treat other ailments as they would have the same root. As is true of all holistic modalities, TCM tends to have positive ‘side effects’ rather than negative ones.
Acupuncture is just one of several modalities used in TCM. Herbal medicine plays an important role as does Nutrition, Tui Na (chinese massage), acupressure, moxabustion (the use of heat) and cupping therapy.
How does it work?
From a traditional Chinese perspective acupuncture works by removing energetic blockages in the meridians of the body and tonifying Qi or energy. It is also used to rebalance Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang represent the dichotomies of life and can refer to female and male hormones or low and high metabolic rates to name a couple.
From a Western perspective science hasn’t quite caught up with all the ways in which acupuncture works, but we do know that endorphins are being released and nerves are being stimulated. Neurology is a relatively new area of Western medicine with discoveries and advances being made all the time. For instance, the nervous system of the gut, called the enteric nervous system, was once being studied by one man and is now an entire new field of study. Although your gut can’t think per say, new research has shown that the ingestion of certain foods actually sends messages to the emotional centres of the brain! It seems comfort food is comforting, not only because of certain associations we may have with it, but because the lipids molecules actually directly relate a message to the limbic or emotional area of the brain. Nerves travel to and from the brain and effect organs (your heart, stomach and large intestine for example), hormonal communication, pain sensation and motor control to name a few. Acupuncture points are often located where a nerve enters a muscle. And studies have shown that points along meridians stimulate particular areas or lobes of the brain.
Some interesting evidence of meridians also exists. Using infrared imaging it has been shown that after applying heat to a point on the spleen meridian of one leg the heat travels up along the meridian and into the stomach meridian (the spleen’s paired organ in TCM) on the other leg! Another study showed that after putting pressure on a point from the Bladder meridian located near the eyebrow the little toe started to light up. This is the end of the Bladder meridian! There is no known connection, be it muscular or nervous in Western medicine between these two points. As the Chinese would say, given the age of Western medicine, we are still grasshoppers in this field. Even TCM is continually evolving after thousands of years.
Bladder meridian study: www.medicalacupuncture.org
What to expect.
The first session will take around 90mins as the practitioner will ask questions about your general health, look at your tongue and take your pulse to help to determine the state of your energy and digestion among other things.
Follow up treatments are 45 minutes in length. After a treatment you can expect to feel relaxed and have an overall feeling of well being. You will most likely sleep better and deeper that evening. Some points you may not feel at all and others you may feel a little prick or tingling as the needle is inserted and then either nothing or a warm feeling afterwards. It is best to drink lots of water afterwards to flush out the toxins from your body.