The 1st in a series of posts on CAM topics. My MS degree focused on the integration of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into the Western healthcare system; here I share my thoughts. See this post for some background on the biopsychosocial model as it's related to all things CAM.
Acupuncture is one of the major therapeutic components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). One of the most common methods involves placing extremely thin needles in various parts of the body to manipulate the flow of qi, or the body's life force energy, which according to TCM theory gets blocked or out of balance, causing any array of symptoms.
Yes, I've had acupuncture a number of times (and currently still receive treatments). Yes, I have worked at a TCM wellness clinic. You already know about my master's program all about CAM. Does this make me an expert? No. Do I have insights and connections based on my education and experiences? I think I do.
The first, and often most challenging, hurdle to clear when understanding acupuncture via the Western thought process is the concept of qi or the idea of energy imbalances. If you're having trouble with the latter, see my post on energy and why it is also the foundation of the scientific theory we know and love in the West.
Qi is a difficult concept. There really is no exact translation but it might be thought of as "life force energy" -- which usually doesn't translate in meaning much better than the Chinese character. If you are familiar with Ayurveda, you might think of it like prana. If you are not, I like to think of qi as a specific energetic fingerprint that sustains me. The summation of all the physical and mental processes that are simultaneously occurring in my body, brain, being. (Heart beating, blood circulating, water balance, lymph movement, nerve conduction, respiration + all of the less characterized processes such as thoughts, emotions, and other somewhat esoteric elements.) When this is happening at a near optimal state, I feel healthy, balanced, and invigorated. When it's not, I may be tired or sick. Why does this happen? Possibly an outside pathogen, extended period of ignorance or neglect, or an intense emotional experience or trauma. And what exactly happens? Qi is thought to flow through the body in meridians (pathways); an imbalance might be an excess or deficiency of qi in a certain area or a blockage of its flow.
A staple in many alternative modalities is the body's innate ability to heal itself; acupuncture is no different. The needles that an acupuncturist uses guide the body toward salutogenesis. But how, you ask? The needle acts as a conduit connecting you to the universe, allowing you to tap into its energy and giving you the power to heal. But how, you ask? Right? Sounds a little loco. Or maybe not at all...
You see, when you start to wrap your head around the whole energy concept you may start to see connections.
Think about about a simple circuit. Different metals conduct electricity to a different capacity. For example, silver has a lower resistance than copper or aluminum, and will as such function in the circuit to a differing effect. In the same manner (maybe) there are different kinds of acupuncture needles. Gold, silver, or copper can be used by the acupuncturist to evoke a different response in a patient. So you might think of the needle as a conduit of energy in relation to the metal used to conduct electricity in a circuit.
One therapeutic means in acupuncture is via the circulatory system. For example, muscle tightness or constriction is an excess of cold and is treated by adding heat, i.e. by bringing blood flow to the affected area. Straightforward enough, right? Now take this thought process a step further. Blood circulating through our bodies is a form of energy movement. You can think of it as governed by the laws of fluid dynamics, or perhaps electromagnetic flux. Either way, energy is moving, flowing, changing.
And maybe, just maybe, those metallic needles had something to do with the way it did.