What is Acupuncture?
In its simplest form, acupuncture is attempting to bring Yin & Yang into balance. If you are not in harmony you are in dis-harmony leading to problems in the energetic body and eventually leading to sickness in the physical body. Balancing of Yin & Yang, for example, could be the relationship between the organs using the Wu Xing model, or the balance between Qi and blood. According to the energy traditions of Daoism, we have three bodies: the consciousness body, the energetic and the physical. The energetic or Qi body sits between the physical and consciousness layers and acts as a bridge to effect change. These three aspects of a human being are one and the same, and acupuncture works on changing the information in the energetic layer which affects both the mind and physical body, a bit like changing the code that sits behind this website. Qi is an extension of the mind down into the body, and the movement of the mind and the emotions affect the Qi which eventually affects the organs. The Qi runs through twelve primary channels and eight deeper congenital channels. The whole system is called the Jing Luo. The congenital channels are the first to form as the ‘energetic cage’ whilst in the womb. In Nei Gong we work with all the system, but of particular interest is the Trusting channel. The three Dan Tian sit on this channel.
We don’t want to just treat the symptom so it reappears again, we want to look for the underlying reason behind it. We go for the root and the root could be the mind. Dis-harmony is always better caught and treated before it gets worse, and so preventive acupuncture is even better. That’s why there has always been a strong tradition in the East for healthy living through various disciplines such as Qi Gong, diet and herbs. Western culture had it’s own folk traditions too, but the traditions from the East, especially from China, have managed to mostly stay preserved. The over-riding term for healthy living is ‘Yang Sheng Fa’.
Chinese medicine’s view on sickness is that it’s caused by either an external pathogen entering the body, a genetic issue that is passed from your parents, or even the effect of the cosmos on your birth, but the main reason is our own emotions and how they effect us. The way we react to stress is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with. If we don’t release stress, it gets buried progressively deeper into the body matrix and continues to affect us in many ways, eventually manifesting in ill health.
It’s no surprise that the internal arts are concerned with relaxing the body and releasing stored tension. Blockages and stagnation are a hindrance to a healthy body (the three bodies, not just the physical) and it was realised that in order to progress in self-cultivation you need to have a healthy body and mind. If the Qi is flowing as it should, then there is balance.
Think of it like a river: as long as it’s flowing it’s clear, but if there are any blockages in the river the water will pool and stagnate in areas and waters will muddy. Stagnation of Qi and blood is seen as an issue in Chinese medicine. The four pillars of Chinese medicine are; Acupuncture, Tui Na, Herbs and Qi Gong.
Two important texts are The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine or the Nei Jing Su Wen and The Spiritual Pivot or Ling Shu.
"Ordinary skills of acupuncture maintain the physical body, high level skills maintain the spirit"
The Ling Shu
Another very important study in its own right is the study of pulse diagnosis. Pulse taking is a skill that takes years to develop, but they do not lie, and if you are good you can tell much about the quality of a person’s health. To be clear, pulses are not like taking a western style pulse. In Chinese medicine the organs are represented on the wrists giving us an accurate reading of the overall health of the patient down to the individual organs.
If you are an acupuncturist then in my opinion you should also be a practitioner of the internal arts – they go hand in hand. The skill of developing sensitivity is practised during push hands in Taijiquan, with bodywork in Tui Na and in the inserting of needles in acupuncture. Traditionally martial artists were often medical people too. To cultivate yourself through a deep study of any of these arts leads us towards enlightenment or Shen Ming. Enlightenment is a tall order indeed, but just operating from a higher level of efficiency is the minimum requirement in order to treat others who are sick. If we are still struggling with our health or emotions, how can we rise above others to treat them?
What is Tui Na?
Tui means to ‘push’ and Na to ‘grasp’. Tui Na is more than massage. Like acupuncture it regulates and balances Yin & Yang. On the surface it relaxes and unbinds tension and tightness, but going deeper it also has an effect on the emotions and organs, and, like acupuncture, facilitates the body’s ability to heal itself.
The Jin Jing or sinew channels are like riverbeds for the Qi to flow through, so if we can treat these areas we can effect change in the Qi also. Instead of thinking of the body connected together with separate muscles and tendons, Chinese medicine connects the body through the sinew channels; for instance your Bladder Channel runs from your head to your toes.
My personal study
I first encountered the idea of meridians and Qi when I was studying striking points in Karate to disrupt the flow of Qi. After studying the internal arts, Chinese medicine became a natural progression for me, not just for treating patients but also because the knowledge I gained was invaluable to aiding my understanding of Nei Gong.
When the timing was right, and the opportunity presented itself, I decided to study the subject and in 2019 I completed a three-year Diploma in Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Tui Na massage with Xian Tian College, which are accredited with the Acupuncture Society and the British Acupuncture Federation. In my opinion the main difference between how I was taught in Xian Tian and other acupuncture colleges is that we were expected to cultivate our Qi and mind through the internal arts at the same time. How well a practitioner can cultivate themselves makes a huge difference on how well the treatment works. We were also taught from the perspective of Classical Chinese Medicine, which preserves the ancient tradition rather than moving towards mixing western medicine into Chinese medicine which seems to be the trend today.
To my mind, everything seems to get watered down today and made easier. You see it in Taijiquan, Qi Gong, and Acupuncture. Acupuncture can of course just be for pain relief or be symptom based, but it’s so much deeper. Why simplify it?
To me, acupuncture is a combination of self-cultivation and service to others, and is a natural progression from martial arts or Qi Gong and has many cross-overs with other disciplines. When I first started studying it seriously it was very confusing, despite having a background in the internal arts. There were so many theories and ways to treat, it was overwhelming. Then slowly it began to make sense, especially when I stopped trying to apply Western thought to it.
After graduating I had the intention of treating friends, family and students to start with, which I did, but unfortunately the pandemic ended that, but I’m hopeful I will be able to resume again at some point.