Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

The practice of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine is foundered on a culture that emphasised cultural experiences, family values, leadership, loyalty, social ecology and interdependence.  The mind and body are parts of a continuum; diseases are seen as being and imbalance in the whole being.

Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine involves taking a full case history, listening to the patient’s pulse and looking at the patients tongue.   In Five Element acupuncture we are also looking for a dominant colour or hue to the complexion, sound of the voice, odour of the body and reflex emotion.   The aim is to diagnose the constitution of the patient as well as the pattern(s) of imbalance that have given rise to the current symptoms.  Treatment usually involves acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines and life style advice.

Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture works by influencing the nervous system of the body   Fine needles are inserted into neuro-vascular nodes that, through peripheral nerve pathways communicate with the brain and effect changes in neural signalling and blood flow.

Acupuncture activates the ‘rest and repair’ or ‘calm and connect’ aspect of the nervous system. 

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating our ability to respond to a stressor and then recover.  In health we can move easily between the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state and the parasympathetic ‘rest and repair’ state.  A competitive culture with stressful, demanding lifestyles and broken communities can lead to habits that sustain living in ‘fight or flight’ dominance.  In chronic fight or flight, our bodies lose their flexibility and depending on our constitution, we may move into unrelenting inflammation and eventually a depleted, exhausted state.

Acupuncture regulates blood flow.

Blood is life giving, it carries oxygen, nutrients, hormones, neuro-transmitters and immune mediators around the body.  It gathers information and removes waste. It is our inner resource for nourishment, communication and instruction.  Acupuncture has a regulating influence on the nervous system and the nervous system regulates blood flow.  Acupuncture can influence how blood flows through the lungs and heart gathering oxygen and momentum before moving on to receive resources and clear waste products.

The Chinese carried out medical dissections of the human bodies hundreds of years before the West and had ancient texts that describe a detailed understanding of anatomy and physiology. This knowledge grew during a time when our connectedness to our family, community and nature was still valued and so the interdependence of the organ systems was easily accepted.

Unfortunately when Chinese medicine was brought to the West in the 1900’s there were many mistranslations made and as a result there are many misunderstandings about how Acupuncture works and without a full biomedical explanation it was reduced to something slightly mystical.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine involves the use of plant combinations to treat imbalances and diseases.  They are prescribed in the form of tablets, capsules or teas and their names usually describe their action.

For example, Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder is also known as ‘Exterior Heat’ disperses wind-heat, clears heat and removes toxin, which means it is used to treat influenza, tonsillitis, hay fever and conjunctivitis.

Another formula, Bupleurum & Dang Gui is also known as ‘Free and Easy Wanderer’ and is used to treat premenstrual tension and irregular menstruation that is aggravated by emotional stress.

While many of the ancient formulas such as these still have clinical value today, our toxic environment and chronic life-style diseases present a challenge for us as practitioners.  Chinese medicine continues to evolve and in my practice I make use of The China Herb formulas developed by Professor Zhang and Dr Li and the Dui Yao modular system developed by Dr Daniel Weber with Wang Jing Shanghai TCM University.

Some Chinese herbs are suitable for long term use, some are designed for a short course to expel a virus or clear a bacterial infection.  Some work well with pharmaceutical medicines and others do not.  Each case is dealt with on an individual basis.

East meets West

I see Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine a complementary. Too few of us are taught as children to listen to our bodies and understand our constitution and support ourselves, so it is no wonder that we end up depressed and anxious or sick or unable to sustain relationships.

Western scientific medicine is foundered on a culture which experienced the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, the ‘Age of Reason’ and rational Greek Philosophy.  Mind and Body were separated in a Cartesian split and as such diseases were either physical or psychological.

Systems biology or Functional Medicine is the closest that Western Medicine comes to describe the interconnectivity and interdependence of the components of the body system.  New, more detailed understandings of how the genetic, protein, metabolite, cellular and pathway events that are always in flux and interdependent are being described.

Chinese Medicine is an ancient and classical paradigm of systems biology.  It is however empirical medicine.  It individualises treatment to the patient and is orientated towards treating the patient’s underlying condition.  Rational medicine or Western medicine is mechanistic and disease rather than patient centred.

I have great value and respect for Western medicine in acute care. I come from a family with doctors, pharmacists and pathologists and my husband is a veterinary surgeon.  Western Medicine has the capacity to diagnose and track physical changes through blood tests, ultra-sound, x-ray, MRI, CAT and PET scans etc.  Surgery saves lives and medication that manages pain, inflammation, regulates blood pressure, blood sugar or hormones, kills bacteria and targets cancer cells buys us time.

The challenge for patients who already have a diagnosis of illness is to use the time Western Medicine buys them to explore the treatments and tools offered first by Chinese Medicine and more recently by Functional Medicine and DNA testing to become self-aware and to make the choice to support their whole Selves. If this choice is made, a person has the chance to activate a recovery process and at the very least, limit the disease trajectory.

What is good health?

Good health is the capacity to adapt to change.   From the moment we are conceived to the moment we pass on, we are in a process of dynamic change, growing and evolving and eventually slowing down.  The environment in which we live is also ever changing.  The same life force that guides us, guides the changing rhythms of Nature in the tides and the seasons.

And yet in all this movement and change there is something quiet and constant.  There is an essential, core part of you that will always be ‘you’, it’s what makes you unique.  This is your constitution or your genetic make-up.  There is also a still core part of the Earth that we tune into when we are in nature; it’s powerful and very peaceful.

The Chinese Medicine theory of the Five Elements provides a tool for us to observe and get to know what our constitution is.  It describes Five Elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, their strengths and weakness and spheres of influence.  It is a theory that acknowledges that each element or phase is interdependent and co-functional.  It describes tendencies towards imbalances and how to notice these.

In knowing our constitution we can work towards daily choices and habits that nurture and support ourselves at the most fundamental level.  It is the seemingly little choices of what to eat for breakfast, how much to exercise, sleep, meditate, work and be social that gather momentum with time and generate our capacity to embrace and move with change.

Today we are seeing more chronic, life-style diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, auto-immunity, infertility, depression and anxiety.  These do not occur randomly, they occur when over a long period of time our capacity to adapt or self-regulate is undermined.   We may, through ignorance or cravings expose our bodies to toxins or deprive ourselves of enough friendship, sleep, physical and mental exercise, quite restorative time and nourishing food.

Knowledge of your constitution and the opportunity to make good choices requires a commitment to stay in relationship with yourself, to develop the capacity to observe and the willingness to seek skilled help when you get stuck.  I believe that this is the true wisdom of epi-genetics or ‘talking to your genes in a positive and supportive way’.