Eleanor Van Slyke
Dr. James Horton
May 11, 2000
Chinese Medicine and Religion
As with all things we know little about there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding acupuncture. The part people see the most is a person with needles sticking out of their flesh. Understandably being wary of sharp pointed objects being wielded by a complete stranger, this is often an obstacle that needs to be over come. The best way to do this is by becoming educated about how acupuncture is performed, where it came from, what it does, some of the benefits vs. the problems, and the different views about it. Though out the many different texts on acupuncture you find there is room for interpretation on how to perform it, what to use, and even where the pressure is placed. One thing you will find in common among these texts is this, acupuncture works to varying degrees.
The earliest recordings of the use of acupuncture go back 2,000 years. In China it is widely expressed that it has been in use for 4,000 years. The origins go back as early as the Stone Age where abscesses were punctured by sharp stones or bone fragments. ( History ) When you experience pain it is an instinctive reaction to apply pressure to that location. Such as when you get a toothache. Also the body may experience pain where the infection is not localized. Your body naturally sends you warning signals that something is wrong. The Ancient Chinese utilized these warnings, and developed an intricate system of these points over time through observation. It is easy to infer that applying pressure to relive pain with your hands evolved into the use of needles instead.
Tortoise shells have been found and dated back to 1500 B.C. – during the Shang Dynasty – recording the use of acupuncture. The first actual written text acclaiming acupuncture is called Nei Ching Su Wen. It is written into two basic sections. The Su Wen, or easy questions and the Lung Shu, or hard questions. This book basically lays out all the different points, but it is mostly a book on concept and theory. The Nei Ching Su Wen lays the basic rules of philosophy and treaties on health. These philosophies branched form two mainstream religions that abounded during the Warring States period in Chinese history. The first is Confucianism. The teachings of this “ religion “ stress that the body is scared and are against dissection or surgery. This makes acupuncture a perfect means of curing ales because by applying pressure to the external body, you can relieve internal disease. The other major train of thought is called Taoism. In this pool of thought comes the idea of Yin and Yang. Maintaining harmony is the stressed idea; you must have a balance between the forces at work. Interconnection of all things is also very important to the theory of how acupuncture works. The passive, nonviolent theme is promoted, thus supporting the external use of small needles. The unique way the diagnosis is made stems from an emphasis on detailed observation. Thus acupuncture is a process, which is not merely clinical. ( History )
The European definition for acupuncture means needle pressure. Acupuncture is really a Dutch term coined by William Ten Rhyne in the 17th century. ( history ) In china acupuncture is represented by the character ‘ Chen”. Which means to “prick with a needle.“ ( History ) There are many different ways to apply the pressure. It is not necessary to use the needles, often is more effective to use your fingers. ( Leong 72 ) There is a method called Moxibustion, which is the use of heat by itself or in combination with needles. An acupuncturist will use the dried leaves of Artemisia vulgaris. This method used to leave scarring, now it is utilized by burning a small cone on specific points, or heating the needle before insertion. ( Leong 87 ) Friction, suction, or impulses of electromagnetic energy may also be used to stimulate acupuncture points. ( Alternative )
Of all the different techniques they all use the same points. The organs they help connect these points. All the points connected like a dot-to-dot pattern are called a meridian. There are fourteen main meridians, and these are connected by smaller meridians. ( Chaitow 21 ) There are also five main elements and organs that are connected by these meridians. These are fire ( heart ), earth ( spleen ) , metal ( lung ) , water ( kidney ) , wood ( liver). The two cycles of the elements are called Sheng ( creation ) and K’O ( control ). These cycles work much like paper, rock , and scissors. In the Sheng cycle wood feeds fire, fire makes ashes, earth makes metal, metal defined as slime, and water , so metal makes water. There is another cycle, but it is not the reverse of the first. It’s meaning is opposing, not the order in which it flows. Water puts out fire, metal cuts wood, wood plows earth, earth dams water. The Sheng cycle is circle shaped, and the K’O cycle is star shaped. ( Leong 51 )
The traditional Chinese view of acupuncture is based on trial and error over hundreds of years, and a lot of symbolic representation. The meridians ( or channels ) run in regular patterns over the surface of the body. They irrigate and give nourishment to the body. Any obstruction of this flow of Yin and Yang must be unblocked by applying pressure to certain points. ( How ) Some of the different qualities given to Yang are : plus, hot, light, man, and the tendency to grow outward. Some of the symptoms of Yang are : pain, burning, spasms, over activity, excess. Some of the qualities of Yin are minus, cold, dark, women, tendency to shrink inward. The symptoms of Yin are : paralysis, cold, laxity, under activity, and deficiency. The sum of the Yin and Yang are equal to zero or Tao. ( Leong 19 )
The Yin and Yang go along with the traditional approach to acupuncture. One of unique ways to diagnoses people is that they use pulse. There are six veins I your wrist and depending on how fast or slow your heart beats in each vein determines what aliment you have. Acupuncturists also take into account how you look, your skin color – yellow or pale – and your bearing. They also listen very attentively to your heart, tone of voice, breathing pattern. They also ask many questions, they want to know who you are so they known who they’re treating them. ( Leong 19 )
The skeptics are found in the west, because most western countries don’t have the background and origin of acupuncture they do not rely on the ancient reasoning behind why the meridians work. The truth is no one really knows why acupuncture works. There are many complicated theories dealing with electromagnetic forces. A curious incident worth noting that came up with a good theory is when Professor Robert Becker was performing an experiment where he measured the conductivity of electricity through different points I the body. As a pure coincidence all the points that had high rates of conductivity were exactly the same as the meridians established by ancient acupuncturists. This discovery has lead to the use electromagnetic waves being used to apply stimuli to points, and also to locate different points on the body.
Another theory from the west involves the discovery of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released into the body that inhibit the feeling of pain. Chemical testes have proven that the use of acupuncture releases endorphins. This effectively elevates your threshold of pain.
The use of acupuncture must not be taken as a cure all. It is most often used along with another form of treatment or regimen. For example if pain serves as a warning sign and you use acupuncture to dull the pain you could do more harm than good. The best way to use acupuncture is in conjunction with the healing process of your body. Thus it has become very popular in the western countries. So much so that there are insurance companies specifically to provide health care through acupuncture. California recently approved a healthcare plan called Acupuncture Plus+ . Positive attitudes continue to grow through good experiences with acupuncture in China itself. James Reston was on an interview assignment in Peking when he was overcome by a sudden attack of appendicitis. He was taken to the government hospital, and diagnosed through the same procedure used in acupuncture. He describes the doctors and nurses as “ meticulous, calm, and cheerful..” He thus underwent surgery with local anesthesia. After his surgery he experienced some discomfort. Thus the resident acupuncturist applied pressure to a few specific points and he gradually felt better. There are many factors involved I how well acupuncture works. The most important are the skill of the doctor, and experience of the doctor. The second is the willingness of the patient. If the patient cannot relax then the treatment will be unsuccessful. The needles will be gripped by the skin and will cause pain rather than a seeping sensation of pleasure. Another key factor is the size and length of the needle. One of the most interesting is how long the needle is left in the skin. The longer you leave the needle I the greater chance you will become numb. It is only sensible that if needles can be used to relieve pain after surgery, why can’t they be used to relieve pain before surgery. Thus acupuncture can be used as anesthesia. The patient must be very comfortable however because you are not paralyzed by this procedure and retain all capability of motion. You can still feel pressure but have not sensation of pain. Patients are able to converse with the surgeon , and eat. Some even get up and walk away from the table after they’re done. The benefits of this are innumerable. You have no nasty side effect of drowsiness, or being groggy. The vomiting and stomach irritation are a thing of the past. This technique is especially being used and experimented with in China.
Although there are arguments that acupuncture is purely suggestion, they can be proven wrong. Suggestion cannot allow for a human being to under surgery with pain. The discovery of endorphins shows that a chemical process is instigated through pressure points. There is a chemical increase of endorphins when acupuncture is performed. Research being funded in
China by the United States, and other Western countries, are going to lead us to a great break through some day. The future looks bright, and everyday we learn more and more. Some day we may learn the secret of why acupuncture works for now we will have to accept that it does work and try to combine old and new philosophies to reach a greater understanding.
“ Alternative Medicine “ Encarta 96 Encyclopedia 1993-1995
Ever, Michael. “ California Approves Acupuncture Plus+ Healthcare Plan “ 9/8/98.On Line Posting: http://acupunture.com/News/acuplus.htm.Internet.netscape.10/8/98
“ History of Acupuncture. “ On Line Posting: http:/healty.net/liberary/books/acupuncture/ACUPUN3.HTM.Internet.Netscape.12/4/98
“ How Does Acupuncture Work?. “ 10/4/98. On Line Posting: http://acupuncture.com/Acup/Works.htm.Internet.netscape.10/8/98
Leong, Lucille Acupuncture; Laymen’s View. New York: Signet 1982
Reston, James.“ Now, Let Me Tell You About the Appendectomy I had in Peking.” 7/26/71. On Line Posting: http:/acupuncture.com/Experence/ Times.Internet.netscape.12/4/98