ORIENTAL MEDICINE embraces a philosophy that health is a dynamic state of equilibrium. Within Chinese cosmology, Harriet Beinfield states ” that all creation is born from the marriage of two polar opposites, Yin and Yang, such as heaven & earth, winter & summer, night & day, cold & hot, wet & dry, inner & outer, body & mind. Harmony of this union means health, good weather, and good fortune while disharmony can lead to disease, disaster, and bad luck”. It’s been said that each human being is seen as a world in a miniature garden in which doctor and patient together strive to cultivate health. It is a system which treats the whole person by taking into consideration the lifestyle, physiology, and the emotional characteristics of the individual. It recognizes that these factors create the portrait whereby patterns of harmony and disharmony may be clinically evaluated. When in harmony the flow of qi or chi (pronounced chee) can be smoothly flowing. When there is disharmony the flow of chi can be disrupted or stagnant.
The flow of chi and how it moves is a core principle of this ancient medical philosophy. Chi is the vital energy or life force that flows throughout the body and is a body constituent that gives us the ability to move, feel, work, and think. The smooth flow of chi provides ease in all bodily functions. The total absence of chi is death, so obviously one’s good health depends on the quality, quantity and balanced distribution of chi. Chi circulates through specific pathways called meridians. There are 14 main meridians throughout the body. Each is connected to specific organs and glands. Meridian pathways are like rivers. Where a river flows, it transports life-giving water that nourishes the land, plants and people. In the same way, meridian pathways transport life-force or chi to nourish and energize every cell, organ, gland, tissue and muscle. Acupuncture points are located along these pathways or channels. Of course chi, moisture, blood, spirit and essence are the body’s constituents and the primal ingredients of our life force.
The ancient roots of this comprehensive medical system which has diagnosed, treated, and prevented illness dates back over twenty-three centuries. It’s continued to be revered for its ability to remedy ailments, alter state of mind, enhance recuperative powers, benefit the immune system, as well as improve an individuals capacity for pleasure, work and creativity. It’s hard to believe that acupuncture made its way to the US via the Nixon administration in 1972 when a newspaper reporter for the New York times, James Reston, accompanied Henry Kissinger to China. Mr. Reston wrote about his hospitalization for an appendectomy and the amazing acupuncture treatment he received to relieve his pain in the New York times, which, of course, got allot of press! However, the heroes of acupuncture in America are truly the doctors who immigrated here, some as early as the 1800′s.
Another true hero of Acupuncture in America is Miriam Lee. Her book, Insights of a Senior Acupuncturist, Dr. Lee speaks of her journey to the United States as a trained nurse, midwife and acupuncturist while China was experiencing poverty and war. She escaped to Singapore in 1949, and furthered her studies to include emotionally based illnesses. She moved to the US in 1966 and arrived in California at a time when acupuncture was illegal, so she took a factory job and pretty much gave up the idea of ever practicing again. It was when she saw her friend’s son who was bed-ridden, that she offered her skills knowing that acupuncture could help. After several treatments the boy improved and got better.
Dr. Lee rose to the occasion of fulfilling her destiny and started treating patients without a license. She was quoted as saying “if you don’t press the olive seed there will be no oil”. She was arrested in 1975 for practicing without a license. Her patients rallied to her defense, testified in her behalf and after much harassment, Dr Lee was allowed to practice acupuncture as an “experimental procedure”. A year later acupuncture was signed into California law as a legal medical practice. Miriam Lee remained our strongest advocate for the profession. She then founded and ran the Acupuncture Association of America and created a bridge by working closely with law makers to develop a comprehensive scope of practice and professional licensing for acupuncturists. Dr. Lee’s strong willed pursuits led to the inclusion of what was the beginning of acupuncture coverage by California’s primary health insurance plans. She was a devoted educator and both, held and sponsored classes at her Palo Alto home and office for many years. While I was not personally mentored by Dr. Lee, I was able to attend some of those classes in the early years of my education and practice. She was a strong, formidable taskmaster and truly dedicated to the authentic ways of what had been the traditional lineage of how one learned this amazing work. Till this day I regret not making more of an effort to learn from such a master. This great lineage continues to thrive and be communicated in classes and books from her dedicated apprentices.
A Contemporary Acupuncture Practice
While many people have now heard of acupuncture and are knowledgeable of what it is, some are educated enough to want to know what style a given practitioner uses, for example, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. A Traditional Practitioner will choose from an array of treatment options such as acupuncture, dietary protocols, herbal medicine, moxa, cupping, gua sha, bodywork therapies, electro-stimulation, micro-current, cold laser, chi machine, magnets, topical lineiments, oils, plasters and more.
Acupuncture is an extremely effective form of health care that has evolved into a comprehensive, well documented and widely respected treatment modality. It involves the placement of fine, sterile, stainless steel needles which are inserted into acupuncture points in order to communicate with the body’s chi. It’s a method of communication that mobilizes chi, moisture, and blood to stimulate proper function of muscles, nerves, vessels, glands, and organs. This modality promotes healing, enhances one’s immune system, as well as benefits physical, mental, and emotional well being. It’s safe, relatively painless, as needles go unnoticed by many. However, some people may feel a slight sting, or a sensation of tingling, numbness, ache, or a feeling that the energy is moving. Sometimes people feel warmth, heaviness, or the sensation of the chi moving at a distance from the point of insertion. Typically, needles are retained for 20 to 40 minutes; while other times they do not need to be retained at all. Most often people will go into a very deep state of relaxation with acupuncture and will feel nourished and deeply relaxed during the treatment. Another option may be “to go” needles or an Auricular treatment aka ear acupuncture.
Reactions after a treatment may vary from the desire to continue to rest more while others are immediately energized. Some notice a relief of symptoms immediately while issues that are more complex and have become more chronic require more frequent treatments and a commitment to come regularly over a period of time. This medicine is quite profound on many levels and often impacts the body, mind, and spirit in a positive manner.
There are times when the results seem to be dramatic, and work like magic, however, there are conditions that need more frequent, consistent treatments and compliance to other aspects of interventions such as diet, herbal, or nutritional supplemental support. We live in a complex world where everyone wants everything now, but the journey toward regaining and maintaining our precious health is a most worthy endeavor.
A diagnosis is arrived at by taking a medical history, asking questions, making observations of shen (spirit) and examining the pulse, tongue, chi, and hara (which are areas of the abdomen and torso that are palpated for tenderness. Facial diagnosis, where facial features and lines tell their story. The pulses for the meridians are felt at the wrists on the radial artery. The strength and rhythm indicates the quality of health. The tongue, through it’s shape, color, cracks, movement and coating can provide information as to the condition of the body. Body climates such as wind, dampness, dryness, heat and cold are weather patterns that can reap havoc in nature and can also be the forces in the human body that can become imbalanced and lead to symptoms. One example of this would be a person who has developed a pattern of internal wind. Symptoms may manifest as an essential tremor or vertigo, or unsteady movement or trembling. This is an example of wind as it shakes the trees in the forest. Treatment is then directed toward restoring harmony, thereby allowing the symptoms to ease while dealing with the underlying causes of the imbalance.
Do you have a needle phobia?
Please also understand that Oriental Medicine is much more than just acupuncture. While I am an acupuncturist, it is not necessary to receive an acupuncture treatment to become a patient at this office. There are many that are put off by the idea of needles. There are other highly therapeutic treatment modalities and options that we can explore if in fact you are opposed to an acupuncture treatment. I wish to make it clear that acupressure points can be stimulated by using the following techniques: finger pressure or acupressure styles of massage: blunt probes: electro-stimulation: micro-current: heat: cold: cold laser: moxabustion. Additional therapeutic modalities can also be used as an adjunct to therapeutic care, such as; neuro-feedback, sound healing, herbal therapy, nutritional and dietary counseling to name a few. The ultimate goal is that chi or the “vital life force of the body” flows smoothly through various channels.