The theory behind acupuncture is at once complex and rich in detail, yet really quite easy to grasp. The following will outline the basics of acupuncture theory and provide a springboard for further investigation into the depths of Chinese medical theory.
Most basically, Meridians or energetic lay lines, have been mapped throughout the human body. These meridians flow within the body and not on the surface.
Each meridian exists in a corresponding pair and has many acupuncture points along its path. The meridian system consists of twelve main channels. Each channel or meridian has many specific, recognized acupuncture points.
Although the meridians themselves are not thought of as physically identifiable, their existence is proved by observation of the effect of stimulating various pressure points.
The theory and practice of acupuncture developed hand in hand as practitioners observed the effects of different kinds of needling in different specific areas of the body.
The meridian system can be thought of as an energetic distribution network that in itself tends toward an energetic manifestation. Many charts and graphs exist that show the meridian pathways of the body.
Another feature that is always present on a meridian chart of the human body is the specific points that are marked upon the individual channel or meridian. These specific points are known as acupoints. Some channels appear to have many points distributed along them, some have fewer; some points are grouped closely together and others more distantly. These acupoints along the meridian channels can be thought of as access points to the flow of qi, or energy, in the body.
The idea of Qi flow in the body could be thought of as a river. A river has a source and it follows its course ultimately toward the ocean. As the river flows it will vary from shallow to deep, quick flowing to slow flowing, while always following the most ‘natural’ path. If we use this analogy of a river, we can think about a whirlpool in that river and consider how the whirlpool effect draws everything down into the heart of the river. This whirlpool is a vortex that gives access to the depth of the river at this point. We can consider acupuncture points as ‘energy vortices’ that draw Qi into or out of the body’s energy flow and provide access points at which the Qi flow of the body can be directly influenced from the outside.
Simple pressure on a specific point or ‘energy vortex’ will produce changes in the energy system, with consequent physical effects. This provides the basis for simple acupressure treatment. We do this simple acupressure technique naturally when we rub our temples when we have a headache or massage our lower back when it aches. Acupuncture simply takes this a stage further.
In acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into the patient’s body as a series of appropriately selected acupoints. The effect of the needling is expected to cause changes in the pattern of the patient’s energy system with the result being beneficial changes at the physical level. It is thought likely that the practitioner’s own energy system is also a factor in the process, the needle becoming an extension of that energy system.
Many conditions can be cured or at least improved by acupuncture administered by a qualified and experienced practitioner. A distal point (farthest from the site of the symptoms) is usually needled, as well as local points. A course of treatment is generally required, although results of a single treatment may sometimes be immediate and dramatic.
Acupuncture theory includes a system of differentiating disease patterns and the level of the problem in the body. If the client is suffering a lot of pain problems on the exterior of the body and/or an acute condition then the problem is considered a channel problem (meaning more superficial). Acupuncture at this level moves stuck qi, clears stagnation and expels external pathogenic factors. Local and distal points may be used and the results are often seen quickly.
If the client is suffering more chronic and long term problems, then the condition is considered to be an organ or Zang fu disharmony. The situation may be one of excess or deficient energy, or perhaps both, and the points selected will be dictated by the situation and the organs effected.
A combination of both channel problems and organ disharmony can also be treated at one time but priorities must be set. Excess conditions are usually treated before a deficiency condition and problems of a dual or complex nature are often treated with other modalities as well as acupuncture, such as herbal medicine or Tui Na massage.