What is Acupuncture and what are its origins?

Acupuncture is part of a broad system of Traditional Chinese Medical Arts, which also Chinese Herbal Medicine, Tui Na (Chinese Massage), Physical Culture (including Tai Chi and Qi Gong), Meditation, Chinese Dietary Therapy and Feng Shui (geomancy). These healing systems all have their roots in Ancient China and have developed through over 2000 years of Chinese civilization.

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Acupuncture is based on the understanding that a series of meridians run through the body and connect internal organs and functions with the body surface. Archaeological evidence shows that the recognition of 11 of the 12 main meridians dates back at least as far as early Han Dynasty (2200 to 2300 years ago). Evidence also shows that the identification of meridians predates the identification of specific acupuncture points.

Something the Chinese call Qi (‘chee’) circulates through the meridian pathways. The flow of Qi in the meridian system is powerfully connected to wellness and illness. Qi can be manipulated at certain points (acupuncture points) along the meridians, typically by inserting needles, applying heat or applying pressure.

Often ‘Qi’ is translated as energy. This is viewed by most sinologists (scholars of Chinese culture) as a poor translation. It is perhaps more accurate to translate Qi as everything that circulates in the body. It can be as immaterial as spirit, or energy and nerve impulse, and as material as blood, lymph and other body fluids.

In the West, it is often assumed that acupuncture only involves the use of needles. Actually, there is no word in Chinese that means ‘acupuncture’. In fact, the Chinese word, ‘zhenjiu’, which has been translated as ‘acupuncture’, means something like ‘fire and needles’. This refers to the equal therapeutic value of needles and moxibustion; the burning of the herb, mugwort on and above acupuncture points. A more accurate term to describe this therapy is ‘acupuncture and moxibustion’ or ‘acumoxa’.

There are twelve main meridians that traverse the surface of the body and connect with internal organs, glands and other internal anatomical and physiological systems. In English translations, most of the meridians bear the name of the internal organ to which they primarily connect. So there is, for example, a Kidney meridian, a Stomach meridian, and so on. There are many other meridian systems beyond the 12 main meridians, including the extraordinary vessels, the tendinomuscular meridians and the divergent channels.

There are also a number of microsystems; parts of the body on which the whole body is reflected (also know as ‘reflexology’ systems). Acupuncturists routinely use ear, hand, foot and scalp microsystems to support their work. By employing the many techniques available to the acupuncturist, the flow of Qi (all circulating influences) can be affected along each meridian and all aspects of the body, mind and spirit associated with that meridian.

We thank the PEI Acupuncture Association for providing this article.

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