Chinese Medicine Basics
An Overview of Acupuncture
A TCM therapy to balance qi (chi)
Acupuncture is a therapy within Traditional Chinese Medicine that uses small needles to stimulate specific points on the body. This stimulation restores the normal balance and flow of Qi (pronounced chee) to create harmony within the body. There is no medication on the needles; instead, acupuncture merely sets the stage for the body to repair itself and maintain its own health.
What is Qi?
Qi is the universal energy in all things and comprises the building blocks of the universe. While quite mystical in origins, Qi is a very practical idea within medicine. All people and animals use Qi to stay healthy. The heart uses Qi to pump blood, the liver uses Qi to detoxify, digestion uses Qi to obtain nutrients from food and get rid of waste, and the skin uses Qi to protect the body from illness and to look beautiful and radiant.
We are healthy when Qi is abundant and circulating throughout the body in the meridian system. A lack of Qi or stagnation in its flow leads to illness.
The core of acupuncture theory is the channel system and network (also called acupuncture meridians). The channels connect different parts of the body together, they integrate the acupuncture points on the surface to internal organs, and they serve as an alternative communication mechanism that connects the body. This is why acupuncturists can use acupuncture points on your legs to treat conditions in other parts of your body such as digestive diseases, wrinkles, and acne.
Acupuncture points, for the most part, lie on the channels. Points are regions of the body in that the Qi is more accessible. This is why we needle or massage them to influence the flow and circulation of Qi. Each point has a specific healing action, such as moving the Qi in the digestive system, stimulating the production of reproductive Qi, or sometimes it will focus on a specific region of the body.
Acupuncture Styles and Traditions
Acupuncture concepts are over 3000 years old and were systematized about 2500 years ago in the ancient Chinese Medicine text called the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic.
TCM concepts and methods traveled throughout East Asia with each country and region putting their own mark on the tradition, which is why the medicine may also be referred to as Traditional East Asian Medicine or Traditional Oriental Medicine. The most common styles of acupuncture are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. There is a lot of fluidity in the therapies across styles, and also diversity within the styles. Yet, broadly speaking, Chinese acupuncture is based upon the functions of the channels and acupuncture points and seeks to obtain a stronger sensation of Qi at each acupuncture point. Japanese acupuncture uses thinner needles with lighter stimulation of acupuncture points. Korean acupuncture has a very detailed system of the acupuncture points on the hands.
Throughout the centuries, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine concepts have evolved to include new ideas and applications of classical ideas. Many schools of thought and therapeutic approaches exist today.
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- Unschuld PU. Medicine in China : a history of ideas. 25th anniversary ed. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2010.