Lubitsa Stubnova invites us to explore the ideas and methodologies behind Acupuncture, whilst sharing the uses and health benefits of this ancient form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Qi and the Garden Analogy
Qi and the Garden Analogy Imagine the human body as a garden covered by pathways (meridians) throughout which life-sustaining water (vital energy) circulates. Along the pathways are located gates (acu-points) which can be used to adjust the flow. If there is an abundant flow of water in the system and its flow is unimpeded and harmonious, and the soil is well fed with a good quality compost (food), the garden (body) will flourish and be healthy – mentally, emotionally and physically.
But when the flow of the water through the pathways or meridians is obstructed, distribution becomes imbalanced, causing areas of the garden to become flooded due to excess – while other parts will suffer from a lack of water causing depletion or vacuity. When the compost is poor quality (i.e. from junk/processed food), where there is too little or too much taken, or where the food source has been contaminated (from pesticides or additives) the garden will suffer and wither from disease.
In Chinese theory, as in the above analogy, ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’) is the water or vital energy and the activating force for life. Qi flows in meridians and supplies energy to all organs, body tissues and the mind. The distribution of qi has profound effects on all aspects of our wellbeing – from emotional to the intellectual and spiritual, as well as the physical.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture is one part of the spectrum of treatments of TCM which also includes herbal medicine, diet, exercise (e.g. Qigong, Tai chi), tuina massage, cupping, moxibustion etc. The first Chinese medicine texts were written over 2,000 years ago, yet these methods have been used in the East for over 3,000 years.
According to Chinese medicine, all diseases are caused by disharmonies and blockages in the flow of vital energy or qi. The flow of qi can be disturbed by any number of factors including (but not limited to): the weather, a person’s emotional state, a stressful lifestyle, an inappropriate diet or because of hereditary conditions. When the qi is imbalanced, the consequence may be illness or pain.
There’s a wise old Chinese saying that sums up this idea well: ‘If there is no free flow, there is pain. If there is free flow, there is no pain.’
And so during an acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist works to improve flow and clear any blockages through the insertion of ultra-fine needles at carefully chosen points along the meridians. The aim is to stimulate the body’s own healing response, allowing natural balance to be restored. The more this balance is achieved and maintained, the easier it is for the individual to reach a healthier and happier state of being.
Acupuncture works at both a local level – improving blood circulation and tissue repair – and also throughout the body via nerve stimulation balances the nervous system. Research into the practice of acupuncture has found that this treatment stimulates the secretion of substances called endorphins, chemicals that are released by the brain. Endorphins have characteristics similar to pain-killing drugs such as morphine. Various other neuro-chemicals (serotonin and adenosine, for example) have also been linked to the effects of acupuncture, particularly in relation to pain-relief, as well as their impact on mood, immunity, hormones and other systems. (See: The Acupuncture Handbook by Angela Hicks, 2005, Hachette Digital, p.258 ).
What can acupuncture do for me?
Because acupuncture is a holistic therapy, it’s not only used to treat an individual’s body, but also the mind and emotions, therefore addressing or helping to alleviate a whole range of acute and chronic issues and symptoms, such as:
- Aches or pain (Musculo-skeletal conditions acute or chronic)
- Mental/emotional conditions (Anxiety, depression, mood swings, temporary or transitory phases of life such as bereavement, marriage break-up, children leaving home, partnership difficulties etc.)
- Severe long-term chronic illnesses (diabetes, fibromyalgia and as a support for cancer patients etc.)
- Acute infections and viral conditions (such as sudden onset of colds, flu, acute stomach/bowel problems, chronic glandular fever, post-viral syndromes etc.)
Acupuncture can also be used as a preventative treatment, in order to maintain a good level of health and prevent future illness as well as to support and rejuvenate following a course of treatment.
Although acupuncture practitioners have known for some time that acupuncture can be used to help treat a huge number of conditions, research is still ‘proving’ its effect. A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) recently listed 28 conditions where acupuncture was proven to be an effective treatment.
What Can You Expect From Your First Acupuncture Session?
During your first consultation, your acupuncturist will ask you lots of questions about your main complaint and your general health. This involves questions about your sleeping habits, your appetite, your energy levels throughout the day and things like whether or not you prefer hot or cold weather. Although these questions may not seem significant, the answers provided will enable your acupuncturist to deliver a holistic and individual diagnosis to you. Your acupuncturist will also carry out a physical examination, where the practitioner will take a look at your tongue and feel your pulse. As the diagnosis is given during this first visit, this session will last longer than subsequent appointments. After the interview is completed and before the acupuncture treatment can begin, an explanation of the diagnosis along with the treatment plan will be given with a suggestion of the number of sessions needed.
Acute conditions usually require a course of 6 sessions, whereas chronic and more complex conditions will require 10 or more sessions. In most cases, you’ll be required to come for treatment once a week – but for some acute conditions, two treatments for the first 1-2 weeks may be suggested.
Over the course of the treatment, your acupuncturist will monitor your health and carry out reassessment of your health condition based on the progress in the sessions.
Your First Acupuncture Treatment
Once the practitioner has offered their diagnosis, you’ll be ready for your first acupuncture treatment. Normally for this treatment, you’ll be lay down on a couch and your acupuncturist will insert sterile single use ultra-fine needles in specific points on your body. These will remain in place for 30 minutes. During this time, you won’t feel pain but you’ll notice a tingling sensation arising from the needles. For most people, the treatment is very relaxing, so much so that you may even wish to take a little nap. Sometimes, your acupuncturist may use moxa to warm the needle before applying to chosen acupoints. This can help to enhance the effect of treatment. Moxa has been used alongside acupuncture throughout the long history of Chinese medicine. The herb used for moxibustion is Artemisia vulgaris latiflora – also known as mugwort.
Acupuncture Treatments: are there any side effects?
In both areas of conventional and complementary medicine, acupuncture is one of the safest medical treatments available. Some people find that small bruises appear at the needle site and other times people may feel dizzy or tired following a treatment, but this soon passes. These are both perfectly normal and minor after-effects of the treatment.
the positive effects of acupuncture
Most people that come for acupuncture treatment bring with them a ‘named’ condition that has been diagnosed through conventional Western medicine. Yet an acupuncturist understands that each person brings not only this diagnosis, but also their own unique circumstances and experiences in relation to their issues. In other words, all problems have an underlying cause and it is the acupuncturist’s aim is to find and treat the root cause of the problem in order to alleviate the pain or symptoms experienced.
Over the years, I’ve seen so many individuals benefit from this treatment and I have found that acupuncture is really one of those things that you can explain the principles of, but the only way to really understand how it works is to try it and feel the positive effects for yourself.
If you would like to experience the benefits that traditional acupuncture has to offer, please get in touch to make an appointment or to discuss the treatment further.
Written by Lubitsa Stubnova