Acupuncture works by influencing the patient's'vital energy flow' or chi through the stimulation of this energy flow asa result of the insertion of very fine needles into the area of chiconcentration. These areas are called meridians (or channels). On a model or a chart of the acupuncture meridians, they appear as discrete distribution lines running all over the body, parallel to the networks of arteries, veins and capillaries that carry our blood supply round the body. This is slightly misleading, however, as chi exists everywhere in your body - ie the meridians only represents the highest concentration of chi flow. The key access points are known as acupuncture points and are where the needles are inserted.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest treatment principles in the world. It developed separately in different cultures (shiatsu was the Japanese version) and modifications of it have been introduced in modern times — acupressure, reflexology, zone therapy, metamorphic technique. It takes many years of study and practice to become proficient and safe in traditional acupuncture but its younger modifications have produced safe, simple self-help tricks.
Whereas the system of medicine now familiar in Europe and America emphasises the material substance and structure of the body, in China the emphasis wasalways on the flow of life energy through and within it. This produces acompletely different understanding of how your body works without in any waydenying the validity of Western knowledge — each system simply sets the other in a new perspective.
A Western doctor is quite content to diagnose what is materially wrong in your body and correct it with chemical medicines or surgery but he seldom asks himself why you became ill or how to prevent a relapse. Faced with the same patient, a traditional Chinese doctor will be much more concerned with these questions and will look for a weakness or distortion of the flow of your vital energy which has allowed the disease process to develop. His treatment is then directed at strengthening and balancing the energy flow to invigorate your recovery effort and repair the original weakness.
The Chinese doctor is working on your blueprint, at the level of the causes of things. The Western doctor confines his attention to the physical effects of these causes. It will be marvellous when we finally succeed in integrating these approaches fully, as we obviously should.
The obstacle to this is that acupuncture, like any other medical system that deals in blueprints, is hard to research scientifically. The same diseases indifferent individuals may call for different treatments and the objectives of treatment may be different too. There is no way to design a trial based on objective physical findings that can cope with this, however obvious and impressive the results of treatment may seem to the participants in the trial.
However, some problems such as anaesthesia and pain relief are sufficiently unambiguous for trials to be possible, and these have demonstrated an impressive benefit from acupuncture. These scientific obstacles melt away if you are prepared to judge the medical tradition from which acupuncture comes entirely onits merits in your own experience. The best way to do this is to find a practitioner and consult him. It does not matter if you have nothing wrong with you because the entire system of Chinese medicine is based on keeping you healthy. The practitioner will want to know a lot about you as a person. He will make direct observations of you such as your manner, mood and bodily physique, in the way any good doctor would and employ a series of examinations based onpulse readings, your responses to diagnostic acupuncture and moxibustion (assessing the effect on you of warmth from a smouldering pellet of the herbmoxa).
His findings help him to identify your basic nature within a wonderfully interlocking and comprehensive system of natural rhythms and cycles that are the basis of Chinese medical thinking - and they make good common sense too! Your therapist can then set about re-balancing your energy flow, soothing away distortions and tensions so that you are free to live a full life.
The custom in China is to visit the doctor at the beginning of each season,to be rebalanced for the new conditions it brings. That is the service for which you pay him. In the old tradition your doctor would then take responsibility for putting you right if you became ill meanwhile. In the West we are a long way from achieving anything remotely comparable.
An Introduction to Acupuncture
What to do
1. The time to consider using the services of a traditional Chinese doctor is when you are well. In good hands, the oriental system offers the most positive system of health insurance available anywhere in the world. It is unfair to judge it only as an alternative when no-one else can help.
2. Be careful in your choice of practitioner. In this country the most thoroughly trained practitioners seem to be graduates of the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (Tao House, Queensway, Leamington Spa, Warwicks CM32 5EZ). The British College of Acupuncture (8 Hunter Street, London WC1N 1BN) awards qualifications after two years in part-timestudy. Graduates of both these colleges use the initials LicAc (Licentiate in Acupuncture), but Leamington graduates tend to be members of the Traditional Acupuncture Society whereas British College graduates form the British Acupuncture Association. Neither of these groups of practitioners is medically qualified.
3. Doctors, dentists and nurses with additional qualifications in acupuncture tend to be graduates of the Academy of Western Acupuncture (12 Rodney Street, Liverpool L1 2TE) In general their acupuncture training is less fundamental and their thinking is still heavily biased towards western medica lideas. This kind of practitioner may be able to help you stop smoking or deal with some other intractable problem but is not qualified to undertake your seasonal health maintenance. An unfortunate tension exists between the medically and non-medically qualified.
4. All practitioners of acupuncture should be aware of Government guidelines concerning safe skin piercing, and are subject to byelaws of the Local Authority Environmental Health Department in England and Wales, which require him/her to maintain standards of hygiene sufficient to guarantee their clients against cross-infection from contaminated needles. In practice this means that needles used will have been sterilized in advance by a recognised process and kept in a sterile package until opened for use. No reputable practitioner would dream of violating good hygienic principles, let alone byelaws. Ask tactfully but firmly about his arrangements to protect you. Be wary of any practitioner who is offended by this. AIDS and Hepatitis B are lethal diseases and you are entitled to explicit reassurance
5. The Bayly Schools of Reflexology (see contacts below) are the best established in this country but few practitioners of reflexology will have trained for anything like as long to obtain their qualification as any Licentiate in Acupuncture. However there are correspondingly more reflexologists available in most areas. Simple foot massage is seldom harmful and often helps if given with care, and there are sandals available designed to massage your feet as you walk.
- The British Acupuncture Accreditation Board
Tel: 0208 968 3469
- The British Acupuncture Council
206-208 Latimer Road
Tel: 0208 964 0222
- The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine
PO Box 400
Tel: 0208 904 1357
- Bayly Schools of Reflexology