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A Brief History of Acupuncture

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

A basic Account of how Acupuncture Chinese Medicine works.

Chinese medicine acupuncture chart

Thought to be over 3000 years old, Chinese Medicine is a holistic system of medicine that addresses most acute and chronic health conditions. Under the umbrella of Chinese Medicine, there are eight paths to health and healing, Acupuncture being one of them.* Acupuncture serves as a stand-alone healing modality and works synergistically with adjunct Eastern and Western medicines.

With the wide-spread popularity of Acupuncture in the West,** most people understand that acupuncture is the practice of inserting ultra-thin, sterile needles into points on the body to help restore physical, mental and spiritual well-being.*** What’s lesser known is the history of acupuncture and how it works.

The use of sharp objects to relieve pain has been traced to the stone ages on several continents, though it was only in the East that the use of needle-like tools were utilized beyond lancing boils, blood-letting and primitive surgical procedures. In fact, the use of needles as sophisticated medical implements to manipulate the subtle energy bodies predate China’s written language (1766 BC).

Thousands of years ago, Eastern Philosophers, like Taoist monks, observed that specific points on the body a) created sensations in other areas, and b) held the potential to affect symptoms at the surface and deepest levels of the body. Highly sensitive individuals confirmed that the sensations caused by needle insertion followed specific pathways. From this, early Chinese Medical practitioners inferred the existence of energetic pathways called channels or meridians. Over hundreds of years, the complex dynamic of meridians was mapped, instinctively linking physical anatomy with the elements and the more subtle fluctuations of mind, emotion, and spirit. Similar to the circulatory and nervous systems - which doctors of Chinese Medicine also mapped - the meridians serve as a highly evolved information network and are the conduits of Qi throughout the body. 

In Eastern Philosophy, Qi comprises all forms of life and is often translated as Life Force Energy or Prana in the ancient system of Ayurvedic Medicine. While much has been written and theorized about Qi, it is a relative term that offers the ultimate mystery. It’s like trying to explain the void, existence, creation, emptiness and the proliferation of All of Life in one decontextualized term. For our simple purpose, we can consider Qi in terms of kinetic and potential energy. From a Chinese Medicine lens, Qi composes, nourishes, balances, and protects all aspects of the body’s structure and functioning. Qi is the breath, the spirit, the mind, the emotions and all anatomic structures, their relationships and functioning - among the other 10,000 things ☺️.

Acupuncture point Shen Men H7 Heart 7
A favorite point - Heart 7 along the Medial Wrist

The distinct sites on the body where the Qi of the meridians is readily accessible are the acupuncture or acupressure points. Each point is linked with particular meridians, regions of the body, functions, and characteristics. The acupuncture point Shen Men (Heart 7), for example, means Spirit Gate and is located on the medial side of both wrist creases. Shen Men is the 7th point on the Heart Meridian. An internal branch of this meridian begins at the heart organ and travels externally from the armpit along the medial aspect of the arm to the tip of the pinky finger. Shen Men (Heart 7) is likely the most utilized acupuncture point along the Heart channel, and as the name Spirit Gate suggests, Shen Men helps calm the spirit and nourishes the heart. Shen Men is commonly used to treat emotional upset, particularly anxiety and excess worry. The point also treats insomnia, amnesia, cardiac pain, palpitations due to fright, irritability, chest pain, mania, epilepsy, and stupor, among other conditions.

In Chinese Medicine, we understand that the roots of disease (imbalance) can be traced to the pathological circulation of Qi, blood, and body fluids. When the flow of Qi or any substance is obstructed, aspects of the body are compromised. Not unlike a dam of leaves restricting the flow of water in a river, blockages in the meridians, tissues and organs will alter the flow of Qi and other crucial life substances. If a riverbed is compromised in any way, either it is blocked, diverted or drying up in areas, the water in that river cannot flow and life along its banks withers. By accessing and directing the flow of Qi through the gentle manipulation of needles, massage, the application of heat and so on, obstructions are cleared, deficiencies are invigorated, and the system is restored to balance.

One job of an acupuncturist is to identify where the Qi, blood and body fluids are deficient, blocked or in excess. We look for underlying patterns of disharmony in order to treat the underlying causes of disease. By treating the system as a whole (rather than suppressing or treating only the symptoms), root imbalances are ameliorated, holistic systems flow, and symptoms subside.

Practically speaking, acupuncture helps alleviate musculoskeletal pain and improve organ and systemic functions. It helps to balance the nervous, digestive, immune and endocrine systems, most of which are involved in stress-related and auto-immune conditions. Many people describe acupuncture as a deeply relaxing experience. This is because acupuncture catalyzes a parasympathetic ("rest and digest") response, prompting the body to release endorphins. Particular points also initiate the release of dopamine and serotonin. Endorphins, dopamine and serotonin all influence the brain centers, positively effecting our emotional wellbeing and overall health. When the Qi, blood and body fluids flow ease-fully, and the organ, nervous and musculoskeletal systems function optimally, essential vital force is free, suffering is reduced, awareness evolves and a person’s overall health and wellbeing shines.

This is my intention with every treatment at Intuitive Health & Healing in Tucson, AZ. During each tranquil private session, I combine Acupuncture Chinese Medicine with Dietary Therapy, Tui Na Massage, Intuitive Coaching, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Reiki, and/or custom Remedies as needed.

An initial session at Intuitive Health & Healing includes a compassionate conversation about where you’re at, how I can be of support to you, areas of concern and any health and wellness goals you’d like to set. If emotions appear, we make space and explore whatever is coming up for you. Along with therapeutic conversation, acupuncture and hands-on healing, I offer guided meditation, exercise suggestions, breath and relaxation techniques, any intuitive “hits” that may appear, and, if needed, a custom essence or remedy.

In peaceful calm, void and emptiness, 

The authentic qi flows easily. 

Essences and spirits are kept within. 

How could illness arise?

- Neijing Suwen 1, lines 41-44

*Beyond Acupuncture, the other paths to healing (branches or limbs of Chinese Medicine) are Herbal Medicine, Nutrition (food as medicine), Tui Na Massage - including Zheng Gu Bone Setting, Movement Therapy like Thai Qi and Martial Arts, external applied therapies such as Moxibustion, Cupping, and Gua Sha, Breath Work as found in conscious breathing, meditation and Qi Gong, and Feng Shui relating to the arrangement and nature of objects in our environment.

** Acupuncture was virtually unknown in America until President Nixon visited China in 1972. A New York Times journalist covering the story in China was treated for pain with acupuncture after an appendectomy. The news of his successful treatment quickly spread, and by the mid 1970s the practice of acupuncture in the US was legalized in most states.

***Research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), shows that the following conditions are effectively treated with acupuncture.

Do you live in the Tucson area and want to know more about how acupuncture can help you? Visit Intuitive Health & Healing Schedule to book your appointment, or text/call Britta at 917-519-2432 or email . Looking forward to seeing you soon!

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