Acupuncture literally means ‘needle piercing,” the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomic points in the body (called acupoints or acupuncture points) for therapeutic purposes. Along with the usual method of puncturing the skin with the fine needles, the practitioners of acupuncture also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or impulses of electromagnetic energy to stimulate the points. The acupoints (acupuncture points) are stimulated to balance the movement of energy (qi) in the body to restore health. Acupuncture involves stimulating. In the past 40 years acupuncture has become a well-known, reasonably available treatment in developed and developing countries. Acupuncture is used to regulate or correct the flow of qi to restore health.
To really understand how acupuncture works, it is necessary to become familiar with the basics of Chinese philosophy. The philosophies of the Dao or Tao, yin and yang, the eight principles, the three treasures and the five elements are all fundamental to traditional Chinese acupuncture and its specific role in helping to maintain good health and a person’s well-being.
The Philosophy of the Dao
Dao is often described as “the path” or “the way of life” in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture, just as its counterpart in ancient India, Ayurveda. The laws of the Dao advocate moderation, living in harmony with nature and striving for balance. Ancient Chinese believed that moderation in all areas of life is essential to a long and fruitful life. We are “fueled” by three treasures: Qi or Chi (pronounced chee), Shen, and Jing. Chi is energy or vital substance, Shen is the spirit, and Jing is our essence. Qi is both the life force (or vital substance) and the organizing principle flowing through all things and establishing their interconnectedness. Chinese believe that every living thing (both human and non-human) has qi. In the body, qi is found in the heart and lungs in circulating blood and oxygen. Shen is the treasure that gives brightness to life and is responsible for consciousness and mental abilities. Sometimes it is compared to soul. Within the individual shen is manifested in personality, thought, sensory perception, and the awareness of self. Jing is responsible for growth, development and reproduction. Jing represents a person’s potential for development. (comparable to western concept of genetical inheritance). Chinese believed that everyone is born with a finite amount of Jing. As we go through life, we lose or consume our Jing little by little. Once we lose Jing, it cannot be replaced. It is gone for ever. We lose Jing if we live a wrong or careless living. But Jing can be preserved if we live in moderation. Acupuncture can reduce the loss of Jing.
According to the philosophy of Dao, the role of the acupuncturist is to restore your health and enable you to live a little closer to the Dao, thus preserving your Jing and living to a ripe old age. A number of factors can contribute to the depletion of Jing. Living a life of excess, drinking too much, excessive emotional reactions, working too hard, inappropriate sexual behavior, etc. all were believed to result in the depletion of Jing. Balance in all things was considered the key to good health and long life.
In order to increase their understanding of the Dao, the Chinese developed two concepts that together form the basis of Chinese thought: yin and yang and the more detailed system of the five elements.
How Acupuncture Works?
Historically, acupuncture points were believed to be holes that allow entry into channels. These holes provide us gateways to influence, redirect, increase, or decrease body’s vital substance, qi, thus correcting many of the imbalances. Many studies and research were directed since to understand the mechanism of acupuncture.
Effects of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the immune system. It also has affects the circulation, blood pressure, rhythm and stroke volume of the heart, secretion of the gastric acid, and production of red and white cells. It also stimulates the release of a variety of hormones that help body to respond to injury and stress.
The Gate Control Theory of Pain
According to this theory, pain signals must pass through a number of high-traffic “gates” as they move from the area of injury upward through the spinal cord into the brain. Like a road or highway, these nerves can handle only a limited number of nerve signals at one time. The pain signals travels very slowly. We can generate other signals which move faster. The faster signals crowd out the slower ones because of the limited capacity of the nerves. (Remember the time sitting in traffic near a construction zone, where the two lanes merge into one. The fast cars on the merging lanes go further and merge ahead of the slower ones, making it nearly impossible for the slow traffic on the lane to move forward. Now think about the pain signals are the slow ones sitting there waiting for an opening to move through. If one can produce enough fast signals, it can effectively crowd out the pain signals.) Acupuncture generates competing stimulus and effectively blocks the slow pain signals from reaching the brain. The result: we never “experience the pain”.
Electrical Theory of Pain
The body continually generates tiny but detectable electrical discharges. This electrical field influences the growth, maturation, and functioning of some types of cells. It is known that acupuncture points are concentrated in regions of low electrical resistance. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between the electromagnetic fields in the body and the channels or meridians. So, this electrical theory of acupuncture suggests that acupuncture works by influencing the body’s electromagnetic fields. Acupuncture points have certain electrical properties, and stimulating these points alters chemical neurotransmitters in the body