The Benefits of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Mind Body Wellness
Scientific research is now proving what Chinese Medicine practitioners have long known, that acupuncture is an effective technique that can be used in preventative medicine and in the treatment of a host of emotional and physical conditions. If you want to learn about acupuncture or are curious about trying it, keep reading to learn more about its underlying principles and the mechanisms by which it seems to work- you may be converted to this unusual but proven approach!
A Brief History of Chinese Medicine Knowledge and Approaches
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works based on ”the energy meridian model.” The model suggests that energy moves through the body along metaphysical lines called meridians, and that acupuncture can be used to stimulate these channels to clear any blockages that may occur. When blockages are cleared and meridians remain open, health is maintained.
While this is a very neatly packaged, palatable explanation of Chinese Medicine- and the one propagated in western textbooks and by western practitioners- it is not fully accurate. It largely presents a gross oversimplification of true Chinese Medicine and undersells the strong basis of knowledge upon which the Chinese based their acupuncture approach and technique.
Chinese medicine is often perceived by westerners as esoteric, outdated, or based in mystical beliefs. Although these perspectives have been shifting in recent years, they continue to be a part of the western explanation for Chinese medicine. The reality is that Chinese medicine can be traced back 6000 years. The royal and the rich were steadfast patrons and the reason it’s had such long-term success.
In order to understand the human body and properly treat physical ailments, early Chinese medical practitioners took many of the same approaches that western medicine practitioners do now. This even included dissecting cadavers. In fact many may be surprised to learn that it was the Chinese who first studied anatomy through dissection - at a time when western medicine was rooted in outdated views that were later proven quite wrong.
Those early dissections allowed Chinese physicians to accurately learn about the inner workings of the human body. For example, records indicate they discovered how blood circulation works nearly 2000 years before western medicine was able to. Meanwhile, evidence for the use of acupuncture dates back well beyond that, giving more credence to its effectiveness as a healing technique.
Indeed, the Chinese did know a lot about the human body much sooner than western medicine did. This allowed them to understand the causes of pathology (diseases and ailments) in the body and consequently how to treat those physical problems. Practitioners would ask patients to make what we might today call today “lifestyle changes'“ – essentially adjusting diet and activity levels. Other methods included massage, herbal medicine, and of course, acupuncture. As it turns out, these methods were and are helpful to many people. They were intended to address not only the physical side of illness, but the mental side as well.
Today, scientific research is slowly coaxing the western medicine community to recognize the mind-body connection. We have an increasingly complex understanding of the way in which the mind can affect the body and the body can affect the mind. We also know that true mind-body wellness can be best promoted with preventative medicine.
The Slow Spread of Chinese Medicine
At first glance, one might think that western medicine was simply unwilling to adopt Chinese practices; however, the reality is that there were many barriers to bringing that knowledge into western practices, especially early on. Thousands of years ago, before modern technology, long distances, cultural differences, and language barriers all prevented Chinese Medicine from spreading.
Even a couple millennia ago, travel was certainly not so easy. When the most renowned Chinese physicians were being supported in their efforts by the rich and royal of China, it is unlikely that they would have headed west to share their great knowledge with other people. It was just impractical. The distance prevented communication between the east and west.
Beyond that, even if written texts could be taken back to the west, significant language barriers got in the way. In fact, the wisdom of Chinese medicine was recorded in a text, but all that knowledge was inaccessible because no one knew quite how to properly translate it. Several scholars attempted translations. One was fairly successful, but unfortunately his translation was not the one most readily adopted.
Instead, a translation from Georges Soulie de Morant became the most widely received translation. The problem though was that de Morant’s lack of medical training resulted in some errors that negatively affected the way in which people came to understand Chinese medicine. This is what led to the modern misconception that techniques such as acupuncture are intended solely to alter the body’s “energy.”
What Chinese Medicine Has to Offer For Mind Body Wellness
Chinese medicine is based on a deep understanding of the human body. The techniques used are intended to address problems in the body’s known physiological systems including the vascular, neural, endocrine, and somatic systems. All of these are affected by the nutrients taken into the body and the balance of various substances, such as hormones and neurotransmitters.
When Chinese texts are closely examined, all those references to “energy” turn out to be references to air, which makes sense given the human need for oxygen. Again, Chinese physicians were ahead of their time as they had identified that humans have an essential need for something from the air around them. They even recognized it was the vascular system that then circulated the air element through the body.
Moreover, those acupuncture points that were mistakenly translated by de Morant simply as being an “energy meridian,” were identified by the Chinese as being nodes. As it happens, these nodes are found at points along the body’s neurovascular system where there is a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and mast cells. We now know that these nodes do contain sensory fibers, mast cells, and blood and lymphatic vessels; all of which can affect the functioning of the whole body.
The Chinese similarly accurately recognized that these neurovascular nodes could reflect deeper problems in the human body. They also came to discover that stimulating these nodes could help to reduce disease conditions and pain. In sum, Chinese medicine offered a helpful approach based on physical and energy anatomy.
What Western Medicine Tells Us About Chinese Medicine
Modern examinations of Chinese medicine tell us that we have some serious misunderstandings and misconceptions of TCM. We now know that the Chinese knew plenty about the human body and were really onto something when they developed acupuncture. In fact, research is progressively adding to our understanding of the actual mechanisms by which acupuncture is effective.
As it turns out, acupuncture also seems to affect every system in the body, including the circulatory, cerebral, endocrine, immune, and gastrointestinal systems. It does this by reducing inflammation, reducing pain, and restoring homeostasis. Most diseases are due to some disturbance in the body’s homeostasis and scientific research is increasingly proving that inflammation seems to be a causal factor in many different physical and mental health conditions, from heart disease and autoimmune disorders to anxiety disorders.
The benefits of acupuncture occur as a result of various and sometimes complex mechanisms, but the most important may be stimulation of the peripheral nervous system. This has been demonstrated by research which showed that acupuncture had no effect when the nerves around a particular acupressure point were severed.
Other mechanisms that allow acupuncture to work include: promoting blood flow, relaxing muscles, releasing natural painkillers, and stimulating natural healing. In addition to these benefits, which all most directly link to physical outcomes, acupuncture is shown to help reduce stress. This seems to be a product of stimulating the release of various hormones and the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Conclusions about Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, and Mind Body Wellness
Science and scholarly inquiry has given us a much better understanding of the knowledge to be gleaned from Chinese medicine. It has also shown that acupuncture is much more than just pseudoscience; it is based on a anatomy and a deep study of the body and can produce a variety of health benefits.
Acupuncture works on the mind and body and is an excellent choice for those who want a more holistic approach to treatment. It is a particularly good option in cases where a western medicine approach would involve medications or more invasive procedures, both of which often have at least some negative side effect.
If there is any vote of confidence in acupuncture, it is the fact that many insurance companies now cover it. This speaks to its level of acceptance in the west, and most importantly, makes it a more accessible treatment option.