Most people are now familiar with the term “acupuncture”, know it involves needles and know that it helps with pain management. However, there is still ongoing debate and conversation around how, why and for what it works. There is an abundant amount of research on many topics including and surrounding acupuncture and related modalities, but still much is needed. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a deep and complicated system that encompasses many ever-changing components. The following content is basic and simplified. It can be (and has been) profoundly expanded upon. It is my ultimate goal to spread this medicine and help others to understand what it takes a Licensed Acupuncturist 3-5 years to accomplish…plus a lifetime of study and practice.
A TCM perspective
Humans are a microcosm (a miniature version) of the universe and nature that surrounds us. We all have meridians, or channels, that course throughout our entire bodies. We are also composed of a number of constituents such as Qi (pronounced Chee), blood, body fluids, yin and yang (pronounced y-ah-ng). In a healthy and balanced human, all of these entities are balanced; nothing is excessive, nothing is deficient, nothing is blocked or stagnated. Qi can flow freely throughout the meridians and this free-flowing energy helps to create a vibrant, lively and animated person. When any of the above listed constituents becomes imbalanced in any way, the mind and/or body becomes diseased; symptoms and ailments begin to arise. Depending on which entities are out of whack, different pathologies occur.
The five elements
Every person also has a system of five elements (according to TCM) that should remain in balance as well, in order to stay healthy. These elements are reflections of the natural world around us and include: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. All of these elements have predispositions to certain pathologies, certain behaviors, certain emotions, certain tendencies, etc. and can get out of alignment just as Qi, blood, body fluids, yin and yang can.
Causes of imbalance & re-harmonization
There are many things that can contribute to disharmony in the elements and constituents. This can include: our diet, lifestyle, habits and behaviors, emotional well-being, trauma or accidents, extreme weather shifts, pharmaceuticals and more. Acupuncture and related modalities such as cupping, Chinese herbology, moxibustion, guasha, Tuina, Qigong, etc. can aid in re-balancing disharmonies and imbalance. TCM looks at the mind, body and soul when determining what needs to be addressed, how frequently and for how long. However, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, overall health and well-being includes the combination of many things: diet, emotional management, supportive relationships, community involvement, passion and drive in life, exercise and physical movement, self – care and more. TCM can only go so far to combat disease and disharmony when other components of life are mismanaged.
A western perspective
Acupuncture and cupping are tools used to create micro-injury to the body. Micro-injury signals the immune system and corresponding cascade systems to activate and begin the process of healing itself. The needle is a signal. Just as a bee sting signals your immune system to respond to the foreign invader, so does an acupuncture needle. Acupuncture signals the system to: down-regulate pain and inflammation, clear out cellular debris, produce endorphins, promote healthy blood and lymphatic flow and circulation, talk to different types of neurotransmitters and physiologically much more.
TCM can be difficult to research and study as some of the fundamental constituents of the medicine are not visible to the naked eye. You can’t see the meridians as they are the spaces between the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the lymph system, etc. You can’t grab Qi and dissect it to learn the mechanism. However, researchers are continuously making impressive strides to study and understand this ancient medicine. There are components that we can physiologically understand and others we are still working to make sense of in this modern era.
This medicine is vast. It has breadth and depth, is dynamic and hardly black and white. It meets each person specifically where they need to be met, at that time. As with many things in medicine and health, it is an ongoing practice. Each person varies drastically, and throughout the course of a lifetime. If it’s hard to wrap your mind around, you are not alone. If you are hesitant to try because you are unsure how or why it works, find solace in the fact that it is some 2 – 4,000 years old and produces results. Sometimes we may not know exactly how or why, just that we feel whole again.