THIS article was written at the end of my one-week sojourn in Shenzhen, the bustling border city near Hong Kong.
While in Shenzhen, I took the opportunity to look for qi-related healing methods. It is appropriate that I talk about acupuncture at this time.
Acupuncture is perhaps the most controversial of traditional Chinese treatment methods, as far as modern science/modern medicine is concerned. It is not difficult to accept that traditional Chinese herbs can have healing effects, since modern medicine is also based on healing plants and healthy foods. Many other traditional and indigenous healing methods also use healing herbs which have been tried and tested over the ages.
But acupuncture involves poking needles into energy points and energy meridians, which do not make sense to modern science. So for a long time the accepted explanation was that it must have been the placebo effect – if you believe and expect it to work, it will work on a certain percentage of people.
Fortunately, some research has shown that chemical-transmitters called endorphins are released when the needles are placed at the right points, thus proving scientifically for the first time that acupuncture really works.
Decades and hundreds of other scientific studies later, acupuncture is now more respected by the scientific community (see Acupuncture has won medical acceptance”, Fit For Life, May 8, 2005).
Brian Carter, a Western acupuncturist, gives a simple analogy: “Your brain is a computer, and the acupuncture points are the keyboard; you do the right points, and that tells the brain how to change the configuration of the mind and body.” The master acupuncturist not only knows when and which keys to play, but also how soft and how hard to play to create a melody.
Modern scientific research has established that acupuncture works via the immune and nervous systems, affecting neurons, electrolytes, neurotransmitters, and neuropeptides. Using PET scans, it has been possible to map the brain loci affected by stimulating specific acupuncture points. But even with this new information, the traditional system of acupoints and channels still give the clearest picture of how acupuncture works. The integration of the biomedical view and the traditional views, has however, given us unprecedented understanding of the subject.
Endorphins, neurons and immune cells are not the only reasons why acupuncture works. Acupuncture also unblocks “stagnant” qi (healing life-force), and allows it to flow freely, thus nourishing the target organs to function well or heal.
Since science has yet to fully grasp the understanding of this life-force phenomenon, we will have to wait for this aspect to be accepted. However, with so much interest now in the field of bioelectric medicine (see Bioelectric healing, Fit For Life, April 24, 2005), the wait should not be a long one.
Acupuncture has been used to relieve aches and pains, and heal a whole gamut of ailments from indigestion to infertility. It is especially effective for nausea and vomiting, pain, tennis elbow, menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, post-stroke and spinal cord injury, labour pain, migraine, alcoholism, and as part of a quit-smoking programme.
It also has variations in the form of moxibustion (heating the acupoints, often with specific herbal sticks); acupressure, which is applying pressure at the acupoints, often done as part of a traditional massage therapy; electro-acupuncture, which is applying a small electrical current to the acupoints (this method is often deliberately miscoinned as “laser acupuncture” by therapists to make it sound more sophisticated); magneto-acupuncture, which is using magnetism to stimulate the acupoints; acu-cupping, which is applying the cupping method at acupoints; and even acu-mesotherapy, which is injecting vitamins and anti-ageing supplements (for example, collagen, placenta extracts, organ cell extracts) at the acupoints.
Acupuncture and its variants work very well with herbs and qigong, as the healthy flow of qi is somehow involved in all these healing methods.
Acu-cupping and acu-mesotherapy
Cupping is an ancient Chinese healing method using a cup, which is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced (traditionally by the cooling of the heated air inside, and now usually by suctioning out the air), so that the skin and tissues are drawn into it. Blood-letting usually completes the treatment when several nicks are made on the congested area after the cup is removed.
A gliding-cupping-massage technique is practised by some practitioners, who apply a lubricant over the skin and then slide the cup over the targetted area or meridian path while maintaining the suction. This gliding method is similar to the tuina (tu-na) massage technique where the skin along the back is rapidly pinched in sequence.
In the Arab/Muslim healing tradition, cupping is an established practice, as it was also practised by the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is called Al-Hijamah (literally means “sucking”). Even presently, many practitioners still use the traditional bull’s horns instead of glass cups.
A close friend of mine is the local pioneer of modern “innovative Aku-Bekam”, which is the Malay equivalent of acu-cupping. She has managed to turn the traditional practice into a scientifically-sound procedure by incorporating proper antisepsis measures and using sterile modern instruments.
Acu-mesotherapy is gaining popularity in tandem with the spread of mesotherapy (injection of small amounts of medicines or supplements into the superficial layers of the skin) in the Western world.
The quest for health, youth and beauty has no bounds, and like in many other fields, we are seeing the marriage of advanced modern science with traditional practices to achieve the desired results even faster than is otherwise possible.
Acupuncture to quit smoking
One very useful application of acupuncture is to help stop smoking. Using modern electro-acupuncture instruments, the method is acceptable to all. If done as part of a proper quit-smoking programme (involving counselling, motivation, and adequate follow-up), the results are impressive.
Some centres claim results that exceed other methods currently available. It is also affordable.
Acupuncture analgesia and anaesthesia
While the therapeutic use of acupuncture for pain relief is common, it is extremely difficult to achieve maximal reduction of all uncomfortable sensations (pain, pressure, heat, stretching) necessary to allow a major surgery to proceed. For minor surgeries, often a few needles on the ear will suffice. However, it is possible to achieve satisfactory anaesthesia with acupuncture, even for major surgeries.
Many of you may have watched documentaries on major surgical operations being performed in China under the anaesthetic effects of acupuncture.
The anaesthesia attained through acupuncture can also be achieved by hypnosis, and I have also watched documentaries of major surgeries being performed while the patients were only under hypnosis.
Acupuncture can certainly be combined with hypnosis for various treatments for a synergistic effect. There is much we need to understand about the mind-body-qi connection
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