How does this whole acupuncture thing work anyway?
This is a question I get regularly during treatments, and I usually say that a primary goal of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is to restore balance to the body. Through this lens, Acupuncturists examine how organ systems are functioning together and a treatment is geared toward harmonizing the imbalanced elements within the body. But, in reality, there is so much more to it than that!
The level of specificity and intricacy ingrained within this framework is breathtaking, and I am regularly amazed at how a medicine that was developed thousands of years ago is still applicable and effective today. I had a teacher once express that the philosophy giving rise to Chinese medicine consists of individual threads of information that become woven together to form this beautiful and intricate tapestry. In order to really understand the perspective, you need to learn the fundamentals, which build upon each other to produce a holistic system. It’s valuable to start at the beginning and look through the eyes of the ancestors of this medicine.
Chinese medicine is based on a system of Eastern Philosophy that was developed by observing the shifting patterns in nature. At this time there was no access to what we would consider advanced technology, therefore a majority of information about our physiology was gathered via observation. Individuals examined the world in which they lived and drew parallels between the changing cycles in their external environment with their internal environments. They saw the ebb and flow of weather systems, seasons come and go, changes in waterways and so much more. These observations provided the foundation for which the medicine was built upon.
What is Qi?
This brings me to my next point, you cannot talk about the fundamentals of Chinese medicine without talking about Qi. Pronounced ‘che-e’ and sometimes spelled ‘chi’ or ‘ki,’ Qi is the most basic component of every single bodily system. Qi is the initiator of all biological and metabolic processes that occur in our bodies, and without it we wouldn’t be able to function. Thinking about how the predecessors of Chinese medicine understood their physiology, they saw all these things shifting in the world around them. Year after year the seasons changed, plants would thrive and then they would die off, rivers would expand and contract with the alternation of rainy and dry seasons. They understood there was a force that couldn’t necessarily be seen, or measured, or held in one’s hands, but this invisible catalyst existed, and it became understood as Qi.
Rivers were extremely important to the societal development of Ancient China. They were necessary points of access for communication, transportation and trade. It was necessary to be conscientious of the changing of tides because these networks would become significantly impacted. The meridian and channel system operates similarly to a river, within a channel you have the flow of qi and blood which is responsible for nourishing the body, and allowing different organs to communicate with one another. When you have a dam in a river it prevents the continuous flow of water; the same thing happens when you have an obstruction in a channel, you have a blockage of Qi.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine works by allowing these channels to flow smoothly, by alleviating stagnation or restriction, it boosts the levels of Qi and harmonizes the organ systems. In its most natural state of being, Qi drives our digestion, it moves the blood in our arteries and veins, it stimulates hormone production, it contracts our muscles and so much more. When qi is stagnant, headaches, pain, digestive system issues, mood disorders and many more health issues can arise. When qi is deficient, lack of energy, poor blood flow and nutritional deficiencies can develop. When an acupuncturist asks questions, we are understanding the state of “qi” in the different organ system amongst many others things that can cause health issues. So the next time you come in for your Acupuncture, lay back, relax, and enjoy your body shifting into harmony!