'Sarita' Elizabeth Cox, LAc, MSOM
educational doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
817 21st Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401
4903 27th Place, Meridian, MS 39305
Acupuncture is the most popularized treatment modality of Chinese and East Asian (Oriental) medicines. What is known about this classical medicine is derived from a core of ancient texts scribed 3,000 years ago by the early Chinese physicians. Acupuncture and treatments such as cupping, moxibustion, qi gong and herbal medicine seek to restore the natural flow of qi and promote the body's ability to heal itself. This philosophy of medicine is partly based on the idea that energy, called qi ("chee" or "prana"), flows along pathways – meridians – in the body which forms a micro-cosmic orbit with the greater macro-cosmic orbit of the earth and heavenly bodies. If the flow of qi along these meridians is blocked or imbalanced, illness can occur.
Causes of qi imbalance involve external forces - such as wind, cold, or heat; internal forces -such as emotions of joy, anger, worry, grief or fear;lifestyle factors - such as poor diet, too little sleep, or too much alcohol. Traditional diagnostic techniques such as questioning, observing, pulse and tongue diagnosis help the practitioner to determine the balance of opposite forces in the body such as yin/yang, cold/hot, internal/external and deficient/ excess. The body reacts or awakens to stimulation and begins to reharmonize itself. These treatments can serve to stimulate the vital force and achieve balance to optimize health, prevent illness, treat disease and alleviate symptoms. Acupuncture sessions are held bi-weekly, weekly, every other week or monthly depending on individual needs. A typical series of treatments may last for several months. In some cases, the treatment is ongoing, as in other health care systems.
There are several types of acupuncture treatments:
The understanding of the human body in Oriental medicine is based on the observation of nature and natural phenomena coupled with a holistic understanding of the universe as described in Daoism. Humans, and all life forms, are seen as inseparable from nature. Humans represent the juncture between the cosmos and earth, a fusion of cosmic and terrestrial forces. Sustained by the power of earth and transformed by the power of cosmos, humanity cannot be separated from nature — we are nature, manifest as living organisms. As stated by Fruehauf, department chair of the Classical Chinese Medicine department at National College of Naturopathic Medicine:
"Chinese medicine may be mysterious but it is not mystical. It is a science. Han period China grappled with the same laws of physics and biology that we do today. The science and system that resulted there from did so without technology or the desire to quantify. This has produced an elegant and potent method of understanding, preventing, diagnosing, and treating infirmity at a level of sophistication that is unique in the world."
Oriental medicine does not operate within a western scientific paradigm but some practitioners make efforts to bring practices into biomedical, evidence-based or integrated frameworks. Neurophysiologist Karl Primbram suggests, "In the absence of space-time coordinates, the usual causality upon which most scientific explanation depends must also be suspended. Complementaries, synchronicities, symmetries, and dualities must be called upon as explanatory principles." This is precisely reflectied in acupuncture which deals with standards of reference based on the complementarity of yin and yang, the sychronicity of the signs it interprets, the duality of the eight guiding criteria, and the symmetry of the 5 elements and 12 functions.
Whereas acupuncture generally treats excess nature, moxibustion – a counterpart modality – treats deficient nature. Although less popularized, it is a highly effective method of treatment. In China and Tibet, some practitioners focus their practice solely on moxibustion. Moxibustion, or moxa, is the application of heat resulting from the burning of a small bundle of tightly bound herbs, or moxa, to targeted acupoints. Moxibustion involves the burning of moxa, which is created by gathering dried leaves from mugwort or wormwood plants and forming it into a small cone or rolling it into a cigar-like shape stick.
The two main types of moxibustion are direct and indirect. In its earliest uses, direct moxibustion was most often applied over the acupuncture point, with the cone being placed directly on the skin. However, this often produced pain and scarring. Some Chinese traditions still deliberately induce blistering and scarring, although that technique is not typically done in the United States. Indirect moxibustion, most commonly used today, involves either placing the cone on top of an acupuncture needle and burning it, or applying heat to needle points from an electrical source. Other practitioners hold the burning moxa above the skin for a few minutes, or use a layer of ginger, garlic, or salt under the moxa. For people who have asthma or respiratory problems, smokeless moxa can be used.
A Chinese study in the 1990s suggested that moxibustion may help fetuses in breech (bottom first) return to a normal (head first) position before birth. Other research in China has examined the use of moxibustion in asthma and ulcerative colitis (chronic inflammation of the colon). There have been no human studies on the effects of moxibustion and cancer; however, a study in Taiwan found that mice with tumors that had been treated with moxibustion lived longer than mice with tumors that had not. Practitioners claim the radiant heat and herbal effect produced by moxibustion penetrates deeply into the body, warming and restoring the balance and flow of vital life force - qi. Moxibustion is promoted for improving general health and treating chronic conditions such as arthritis, digestive disorders, ulcers, peripheral neuropathies and for cancer.
Cupping is another treatment modality utilized by practitioners of Oriental medicines. A glass cup or bamboo jar is suctioned onto the body and allowed to sit for about ten minutes or utilized in a running style over larger areas of the body. This technique stimulates circulation, relieves swelling and stagnation, and greatly enhances acupuncture treatments. Cupping is used for many conditions including: back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, asthma, common colds and influenza.
Qigong is a meditative movement art believed to be at least 4,000 years old which promotes harmonious energy flow like acupuncture and other Oriental medicine modalities. The principles of treatment are the same, only the technique varies. The focus, unlike other martial forms of movement and defense, is an internal focus on healing. There are two types of qi gong: internal and external. Internal qi gong techniques utilize learned and self-directed exercises of self-awareness, sound, color, visualization of internal organs, systems and structures while establishing connection with nature and the cosmos. External qi gong is practiced by a qi gong master who uses his or her hands with the aim to project qi to others for the purpose of healing.
More than 5,000 styles of qi gong have been cataloged by the Chinese government. In western terms, qi qong optimizes the neuro/biofeed-back systems that regulate hormones, repairs wear and tear, dispose of toxic waste and provides immunity and self defense. By removing energy blockages and increasing energy levels the body strengthens and regulates the internal organs, the nervous, immune, endocrine systems allowing pain relief and releasing deep-seated emotions and stress.
Medical qi gong is well suited for sensitive people, children, and people in frail health but can be beneficial for absolutely anyone. Medical qi gong involves working directly and subtly with a person's qi in ways that are safe and non-invasive. Qi gong can be used to treat many subtle and spiritual conditions that cannot be treated with acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion or herbology. Practiced as an excellent adjunct to Western medicine, qi gong may successfully treat people with conditions which Western medicine finds resistant or ambiguous.
In China and more recently in the United States, doctors have applied qi gong in hospitals and clinics to treat individuals suffering from a variety of ailments. Medical qi gong therapy and prescriptions can be used to treat people with cancer and help reduce or eliminate side effects from radiation and chemotherapy. It is utilized in treating cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, post stroke syndrome, high blood pressure, addictions, depression and anxiety. It is especially useful in treating any kind of chronic pain and chronic disorders of the digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems. Like any other system of health care and other modalities of Oriental medicine, qi gong is not a panacea but a highly effective health care practice.