What is Acupuncture and the Philosophy Behind How It Works?

Acupuncture is a Chinese healing system that has become more popular in the western world in recent years, as people have started to reject traditional medicine and become suspicious of ‘big pharma’.

The earliest records of acupuncture, as we know it, can be found in the Huang di Nei Jing, which translates to the title ‘the Yellow Emperor’s Guide’. The exact date that this book was written is unclear, but it is thought to have been punished at some point between 9 centuries BC and 6 centuries BC.

It’s interesting to note that this is about the same age, historically, as Hippocratic medicine was first recorded in Greece, and the Ayurvedic system was recorded in India. There are some records of acupuncture that are older than the Yellow Emperor’s Guide – but this is the first time that the details of the how and the why were recorded, rather than just notes that it was practiced. It is thought that acupuncture has actually been in use for 3,000 years.

Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles in the skin at certain points around the body, and leave the needles in place so that they can offer pain relief. In my Manhattan acupuncture clinic, we also use adjunct therapies, including Chinese herbs. It is unclear how the practice was first invented – it is thought that the practice came from soldiers, who may have accidentally discovered that when they were given a wound in one area, pain somewhere else may have cleared up.

There is another form of speculation, which suggests that meridians and acupuncture points were found by Taoist sages, who were aware of how energy flows in the body. Modern followers of the idea of qi gong, an internal martial art and form of meditation, say that they can feel the flow of energy during practice, and some patients can feel this too. It’s interesting to note that when someone has internal issues such as stomach ulcers, they experience pain elsewhere in the body. In traditional medicine they say that the site of the pain is not always the source of the pain – and this is an idea that the acupuncturists follow as well.

Through centuries of careful observation, acupuncture evolved, and the Chinese have documented their own theories. To them, the idea is that there is an energy system that flows through the body, called qi. This energy can be manipulated through acupuncture, which aims to manipulate the qi at key points, called meridians. This helps to correct imbalances in the energy. The concept of yin and yang is important to the Chinese, and correcting imbalances is at the core of a lot of their practices. The idea of qi and meridians is a gross oversimplification of how the boy works, as the western world understands it – but it does actually offer a useful idea of how the human body works – and there is evidence to show that the meridian points are, if not actually a place that ‘energy’ flows through, important sets of nerve endings.

Chinese medicine involves thinking of how things are interconnected, and how man is not actually separated from nature but rather an inseperable part of the environment that he is in. Once you understand the idea of living in harmony with nature you are far better equipped to relax and to become more conscious of what is going on with your body. This state of mind can offer a number of benefits for pain relief – and can be helpful for chronic conditions and subtle issues that perhaps western medicine is not in the best position to fix.