(This post is not going to address the acupuncture-is-BS mistaken thought, because that answer is so long it makes my fingers ache for moxa to think about typing it out. Another day, perhaps!)
1. The Pain Mistake
Much of acupuncture’s press in American media centers around its use in pain. Indeed, the first serious attention acupuncture got in the US was sparked from NY Times’ reporter James Reston’s experience with post-operative moxibustion and acupuncture in China. He had an emergency appendectomy while in China, and he wrote about that experience in a front-page Times article “Now, About My Operation in Peking.” (It’s super fun; go read it instead if you’re planning something boring after this.)
But acupuncture is far more versatile than a simple pain reliever.
Acupuncture is a complete system of medicine.
We often explain it this way: acupuncture treats people, not diseases. That means that no matter who you are or what you’re suffering from, acupuncture is an option for you – not just an alternative or a last-ditch attempt, but an actual, serious, thoughtful medicine.
2. The Nerve Mistake
Acupuncture is not about nerve stimulation. Acupuncture theory is based on a channel system that is neither separate from, nor dependent upon, nerves. These channels connect the whole body and are conduits of qi; points are areas where the qi is accessible.
Qi is not a thing or a substance like blood or sweat. It is a relationship. Qi is the spark of static electricity that shoots from your negatively charged hand as it comes into contact with your positively charged car door. It is a way to look at the all the interactions of the parts of a system and the overall effects or function of that system.
Channels aren’t anatomical parts; their existence depends upon the life they circulate. A corpse, for example, has no channels and no acupuncture points because it has no qi. So the channels are in part what enervate us, but they are not synonymous to nerves.
When we access the acupuncture points of an area, then, we are not attempting to influence the nerves.
The nerves are just one part of the wholeness of qi.
3. The Vague-Health-Benefit Mistake
Acupuncture has precise health benefits. Many people believe that acupuncture is somehow good – with hazy, indeterminate “balancing” benefits.
Maybe this is due in part to the fact that acupuncture’s media attention is generally sound-byte-ish in nature: Acupuncture might be good – get you some!
As a result, lots of people think of acupuncture as a vague panacea with little actual direction. Yet, acupuncture is capable of much more than that; customized treatments can achieve a direct, focused result.
These writings are an exploration of what it means to be human – to be sick, to be well, and to heal – viewed through the lens of acupuncture and, occasionally, herbal medicine. These writings aren’t medical advice. And they aren’t meant to be the final word on… well, anything. Rather, I hope they are a beginning of a conversation you have with someone in your life. Thanks for reading! ~MBH