Introduction to Acupuncture Theory
The saying "look to the
old to discover the new" has inspired many current uses for acupuncture.
Numerous ancient texts have given many hints for treating problems which
previously had not responded to treatment. As one reads the ancient texts,
it becomes apparent that at some great time in the past, the ancient Chinese
had a most profound understanding of the laws of nature, the causes of
disease, and the life force which animates living things.
Only recently have modern physicists
come to understand the fact that invisible vibration and matter are not
two separate items, but are actually at their fundamental level the same,
that is . . . energy. This modern concept is mentioned matter of factly
in the Nei Ching, a Chinese medical philosophy book written about five
thousand years ago. Within the body there is an energy force the Chinese
called chi (pronounced chee). The chi circulates to maintain the
physical body; its function is to nourish and protect all the tissues.
The true practice of acupuncture
is based on the idea of activating and balancing the chi which in turn
brings about a change in the physical body. Acupuncture is a treatment
form which works specifically on the chi energy.
The chi circulates within
channels or pathways which are called meridians. There are 14 major meridians
and another 57 secondary meridians in the complete network. Along the
superficial course of the 14 major meridians are the acupuncture points
which are like small dots. The acupuncture points, when stimulated by
needle, heat, or pressure, affect a change in the chi and thus produce
predictable physiological effects. Basically, acupuncture works via the
meridians and their points.
Acupuncture can strengthen
the chi or calm it. In the context of externally caused illnesses such
as colds or flu, the old texts clearly state that in order for a disease
to enter the body, the body must first be in a weakened state or at least
weaker than the invading force. Treatment can be applied as prevention
to strengthen the body's resistance. If there is already a disease present,
the treatment principle would be to raise the body's defensive energy
and also to clear the congestion in the circulation caused by the illness.
In the context of a disease like
arthritis, acupuncture is used locally at the joints, to reduce inflammation
and increase circulation within. Treatment is also given at a systemic
level to strengthen the body's natural anti-inflammatory response,
One of the most interesting aspects
of the Chinese system is the scheme of correspondences between the major
organ/meridians and seemingly unrelated tissues. For example, the kidneys
are associated with the health of the bones and the lower back. A weakness
of the kidneys often results in lower back pain and bone diseases. A basic
principle is that any symptom is a reflection of an underlying imbalance
or weakness of one or more of the major organs.
In addition to physical symptoms,
specific psychological and emotional patterns are associated with the
organ/meridians. Another precept acupuncture theory is that the mind and
body are inseparable and one affects the other in all cases. For example,
the predominance of one emotion like grief over a long period of time
can result in a disease in its corresponding organ, in this case the lungs.
This is called the body/mind relationship.
Besides the concepts of chi energy,
the meridians, and body/mind, is the understanding that human beings are
influenced, and reflect within their physiology the forces and patterns
of nature and the seasons. The ancient Chinese doctors observed that the
varying daylight hours and seasonal climates have a very distinct effect
on the major organs and also that certain diseases are likely to be caused
by excesses of climate.
There are two theories which are
the basis of all these ideas; one is the Yin/Yang theory and the other
is the Five Element theory. The Yin/Yang theory is used to understand
and analyze body processes. Yin and Yang represent a theory of unified
opposites: "One doesn't exist without the other and each is constantly
changing into the opposite." This theory relates to the idea mentioned
before about matter and energy. In the contest of Yin/Yang, matter is
yin and energy is Yang. Other Yin/Yang examples or respectively: cold
and hot, weak and strong, female and male, night and day, hypofunction
and hyperfunction, rest and activity, expansion and contraction.
The Five Elements represent five
basic energies in Nature, which are symbolized by five substances: Wood,
Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element corresponds to a specific organ,
season, emotion, psychic activity, bodily tissue, and sound. For example,
Wood represents respectively, the liver, spring, anger, planning, tendons
and shouting. This theory evolved from observation of the changing patterns
in nature and is an elaboration of the Yin/Yang theory.
The Five Elements are like phases
in a cycle of gradation from Yin to Yang. Fire is the most Yang and Water
is the most Yin. Metal and Wood are at transition points between the two
extremes and Earth is considered the middle. The primary idea of these
phases is that they are all mutually dependent on each other. Each phase
or element generates the proceeding one and also each is controlled or
affects control over another. For example, Wood engenders Fire, is controlled
by Metal and controls Earth. Translated to organ/meridian correspondences,
it follows that the liver generates the heart, is controlled by the lungs,
and controls the spleen/pancreas. Using the Five Elements makes it possible
to understand the progress of a disease and its prognosis.
In summary, the main principle
of treatment by acupuncture is the energy called chi. The chi circulates
within the meridians and can be changed via stimulation of the acupuncture
points. Each point produces predictable physiological effects. The two
main theories of acupuncture are the Yin/Yang and the Five Elements. These
theories are based on the shifting patterns of nature, which are reflected
in the human physiology. Several important ideas expressed within these
theories include the concept that environment, climate, diet and the emotions
each have a specific effect on the body in health and disease; that the
organs are all mutually dependent; and that any symptom is a superficial
reflection of an underlying imbalance of the major organs.
The beauty of Chinese medicine
is that it is basically naturalistic, holistic and unified. Its roots
reach back to a highly evolved, non-technological culture and age. It
offers in many cases an effective alternative to chemical drugs and surgery.
It is also a helpful complement to Western medicine.