An energy therapy that spans time
Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine, which dates back thousands of years. Its exact origins are shrouded in legend and myth. But it is estimated that the medical practices behind acupuncture began in China over 2,000 years ago.
According to legend, acupuncture was discovered by accident. A Chinese healer noticed that pain in certain parts of the body could be relieved by inserting needles into other parts of the body. This observation led to the development of acupuncture as a healing technique.
The use of acupuncture spread in China over the centuries. Practitioners developed complex systems of acupuncture points and specific techniques to treat various disorders. Acupuncture is often combined with other therapeutic techniques, such as moxibustion and cupping.
Over time, acupuncture spread to other parts of Asia, then gradually became popular throughout the world. The word acupuncture was coined by the Jesuits in the 16th century when they discovered Chinese medicine; its real name is Zhēn Jiǔ, meaning the art of metal needling and moxibustion.
A Taoist vision of Man and the Universe
Acupuncture was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by Willem Ten Rhyne, a Dutch physician, but really took off in the mid-20th century. Scientific studies are regularly carried out to evaluate its effectiveness. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) an “official medicine”. Acupuncture, an integral part of TCM, is therefore recognized as a medical technique.
According to UNESCO, “Traditional Acupuncture is a therapeutic art which bases its diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning on a Taoist energetic vision of Man and the Universe”.
Acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced “chi”), which is considered a vital force present throughout the universe and within the human body. According to Chinese medicine, when Qi circulates freely and is balanced in the body, health is present; conversely, blockages or imbalances in Qi can lead to health problems.
Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body by inserting fine metal needles into the skin at varying depths. The needle has a sleeve, often made of twisted copper alloy, which acts as an antenna to let the qi flow in and out. These acupuncture points are located along energy channels called meridians, which are considered to be the circulation routes for Qi in the body.
A complex network of meridians connects different parts of the body, forming an interconnected energy system. According to TCM, these meridians carry the vital energy called Qi throughout the body. There are 12 main meridians associated with specific organs and named after them. For example, the liver meridian is associated with liver function, the bladder meridian with urinary function, and so on. Each meridian has a specific course through the body, and passes through specific acupuncture points.
The most commonly used points number 361, but there are over 1000 acupuncture points in the body. Each meridian is associated with a specific organ and physiological function.
Each meridian is associated with specific characteristics, such as times of day when its energy is most active, seasons of the year, emotions and symptoms that may be linked to its imbalance.
For example, the lung meridian is associated with autumn, sadness and respiratory problems.
Freeing the flow of Qi
When Qi is blocked or unbalanced, the practitioner of Chinese medicine looks to see which meridians are affected. A diagnosis is then made, and a therapeutic strategy defined. Inserting acupuncture needles into the points will restore energy balance by stimulating the flow of Qi, and releasing energy blockages.
The needles are left in place for a certain length of time (usually between 20′ and 45′), and can also be stimulated by different means (manual, electrical, moxibustion). Acupuncture brings about a global rebalancing of this energy network, which in turn affects organ function. As the acupuncture sessions progress, balance returns and health is restored.
Sometimes, acupuncture treatment can be combined with a prescription for Chinese pharmacopoeia. The number of sessions required will depend on the individual patient and how he or she responds to the treatment. In general, the longer the illness or disorder, the more time (and therefore acupuncture sessions) will be needed to overcome it. Conversely, an acute, mild or recent disorder can be resolved in one or two sessions.
The many benefits of acupuncture
The benefits of acupuncture are many. It can help relieve pain, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality and strengthen the immune system.
It can also be used to treat menstrual disorders, fertility problems and sleep disorders. This list is far from exhaustive…
In certain rare cases, there may be an over-reaction after an acupuncture session, which may suggest a worsening of symptoms. But don’t panic, as everything usually returns to normal within a few hours.
In some Asian countries, notably China and Vietnam, although allopathic medicine has taken on a major role, people still turn to their ancestral medicine when they don’t get the results they expect from so-called Western medicine.
The meridian network
What has been translated as meridian is called in Chinese 经络 Jīng Luò, meaning “meridians and collaterals”. Jīng 经, before referring to “meridian”, means “to pass through”, or “channel”. Luò 络 translates as “entwined”, “continuous”. So the Jīng Luò constitute a network of intertwined, continuous channels that allow you to “pass through”.
The main channels all communicate with each other. This inter-connection is supported by other smaller, or secondary, channels called luò (collaterals). They are fundamental in connecting all parts of the body.
The existence of this vast network explains the holistic vision of TCM. This network extends throughout the entire body. Consequently, to act on one part is to act on the whole entity. Conversely, it is impossible to isolate a part without considering it as a whole. The network principle is fundamental to understanding how acupuncture works.
Channels and collaterals, like rivers, allow free circulation. This means the free circulation of the fundamental TCM substances qì (气), blood (血 xuè) and body fluids (浸液 Jìn yè). In classical texts, there are numerous images referring to the circulation of qì and blood in the body, likening them to rivers and seas. The names of many acupuncture points refer to this, such as Qū chí (LI11) the elbow basin, Chǐ zé (Po5) the ulnar swamp, Qì hǎi (Ren6) the qì sea, Fù liū (Rn7) restore the current, to name but a few. The term 经 Jīng itself can be translated as river.