Acupuncture is treatment modality that originated with Chinese medicine. The efficacy and simplicity of acupuncture treatment have caused it to spread far in advance of the rest of the body of Chinese medical knowledge. It was recommended as the preferred treatment for lower back spasm and sciatica in 1892 in William Osler’s The Principles and Practice of Medicine, the primary clinical text used in North American medical schools until World War Two. Needless to say no Chinese medicine was being taught. Today one can still find many medical practitioners utilizing acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy with out having any understanding of the underlying theories or the more subtle aspects of treatment. This is a loss for the art of acupuncture.
Theories and techniques of acupuncture are thoroughly discussed in the Nei Jing (for more information about the Huang Di Nei Jing or the Yellow Emporers Classic of Internal Medicine see Traditional Chinese Medicine and the TCM Reading List). The treatments of an acupuncturist include far more than simply inserting needles, in fact the Chinese character for acupuncture 針灸 written in pinyin as zhēnjiù is literally translated “needles and fire.” This is because an essential component of acupuncture therapy is the use of moxabustion — a technique of burning the herb Artemisia vulgaris or mug wort over acupuncture points. The points are stimulated with the heat of the burning herb but are NOT burnt. In general the needles of an acupuncture treatment adjust the level and balance of energy that is moving along distinct pathways of the body called meridians or channels: in the language of Chinese medicine, they “adjust Yin and Yang.” Moxabustion, on the other hand, is used for cases of deficiency when energy needs to be added to the system rather than adjusted. As the Chinese language shows us, the two are functionally inseparable for effective treatment.
In addition, an acupuncturist guided by the principles of Chinese medicine, may use cupping, herbal liniments and poultices, a scraping therapy called guasha, and massage to achieve results. Many practitioners are trained in the use of Chinese herbal medicine as well.
One of the most distinctive theories of Chinese medicine and the one that governs acupuncture treatment is that of meridians or channels of energy that connect the interior of the body with the exterior, the upper with the lower and the left with the right. These meridians have yet to be objectified by modern scientific research but their existence can easily be observed by anyone who takes the time to learn their pathways and functions and look for them while going about their clinical duties or practicing any form of body work.
The Nei Jing lays out the pathways of the meridians, their relationships to each other and their functions as well as general information about the balance of the energies in the human body. All of this comprises a detailed and technical understanding of what health is and how to promote it, and of what disease is and how to intervene when it occurs.
The North American Tang Shou Tao healing arts program focuses on four primary ideas in relation to acupuncture:
First, the meridians are experienced as real through the practice of qigong. This evolution from a theoretical belief in and understanding of meridians to a first hand experience of them is very important to the development of skill in acupuncture or bodywork.
Second, the meridians are intimately connected with the structure of the body. Through the study of gongfu an understanding of proper structure is developed and along with it an ability to recognize unbalanced structure. In Chinese medical parlance unbalanced structure is an imbalance of Yin andYang and falls within the realm of acupuncture energetics.
Third, our medical philosophy is that treatment should progress from least invasive procedures toward more invasive. If it is possible to resolve a person’s problem through the practice of qigong, there is no need for other treatment. If it is possible to resolve a condition with our hands there is no need for needles. We focus, therefore, on the practice of tuina (therapeutic massage) as the introductory level training. We have found that developing skill in manual manipulation of the body’s tissues and structures develops palpatory skills and an appreciation of the interplay between the tissues and the energy. It grounds the practitioner and enables fruitful exploration of the more subtle energies. It is also important to our program that treatments that combine tuina with acupuncture tend to be more effective than treatments with acupuncture alone.
Finally, we believe that Chinese medicine as a whole is a clinical art and science. Its theories are relatively easy to learn, but the application of these theories in the service of our fellow beings is a life long pursuit. All North American Tang Shou Tao programs, therefore, follow an apprenticeship model focusing on a clinically based, “hands on” method of learning.
All the theoretical aspects of acupuncture can be learnt through North American Tang Shou Tao programs. We are not able to teach acupuncture techniques to unqualified individuals and unfortunately are not able to certify people for the practice of acupuncture. Individuals with serious interest in pursuing acupuncture professionally are encouraged to attend a college of acupuncture or Chinese medicine. Several schools around the country have Tang Shou Tao instructors on staff and we would be happy to consider extending our gongfu and tuina program to interested institutions. We are currently developing a program abroad which will allow access to acupuncture training to interested members.