What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one part of a system of medicine most commonly referred to in the West as Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is because the first texts we have that discuss this system, the Huang Di Nei Jing were compiled in China during the Warring States period (475-221BCE). Neighbouring Asian countries adopted this medicine via trade routes and whilst adhering to the original principles they also brought their own flavour to the way it was practiced. Early trade with Europe did introduce Chinese Medicine to the West but it wasn’t until US President Nixon visited China in the early 1970s and a reporter travelling with him shared his experience of receiving acupuncture for pain management during an emergency appendectomy that it really found footing as a recognised modality.

We can explain acupuncture in terms of what is physically done (needles applied at specific points on the body) or what the treatment goals are (restore harmony to the meridian system to allow the body to function at the optimal level). In Toyohari acupuncture, the diagnosis and and the treatment are one and the same. Or to put it another way, there is no diagnosis without treatment. Disease states are named according to what treatment needs to be applied in order to facilitate healing. You will never receive an acupuncture diagnosis (eg. Kidney pattern) without treatment for that diagnosis. The diagnosis is named after the meridian that is most affected not after the organ with the same name so a Kidney pattern means the Kidney meridian will be treated, not that your physical kidneys are diseased.

With a background in shiatsu it was only natural that the style of acupuncture I was drawn to was Japanese acupuncture, sometimes referred to as Meridian Therapy. The school of acupuncture that I am a part of (Toyohari) was developed in Tokyo in the 1950s by a group of practitioners who were passionate about preserving the full scope of acupuncture as described in the classical texts. This style includes tools from the nine classical needles which were non-insertive and used for tapping, pressing or rubbing points.

“Japanese Acupuncture: a clinical guide”
Birch & Ida, 1998

It also includes moxibustion, the gentle burning of high grade mugwort punk (moxa) on acupuncture points to stimulate a response in the body. Both moxa and acupuncture work together to release blockages and encourage energy to gather to regulate the flow of ki though the channels. I think of this as smoothing out the bumps and filling in the holes a bit like mending a road or evening out hills and valleys in to an even plain that is easier to traverse. The meridians can be visualised as roads and pathways through the body that can sometimes become congested from stress, muscle tension, poor diet or illness. Acupuncture offers an intervention like a little nudge or squeeze, signalling to the body which way to go to get things moving again.

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