Believe it or not, one of the most common questions I got in China from people who heard I practice Chinese medicine was, “Do you believe in it?” I would always respond by saying, “Well, I just spent four years in school and four years in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei studying language and medicine, so I really hope it works!” Of course, this is me being facetious, as I have seen many, many patients who have been treated successfully.
This is similar to Chinese people who engage me in a conversation (in Chinese) and then ten minutes later ask, “Do you understand Chinese?” But that’s another blog post.
Once and for all, I’d like to clarify this issue. There is no “belief” in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is not a religion or a school of philosophy. Let me explain.
Just as you have a circulatory system and a respiratory system in your body (as well as many different systems identified by Western physiology), you also have an energetic system. Chinese doctors have been observing this system for thousands of years and have figured out how it works (and how it breaks down).
You might not know where your lymphatic or endocrine systems are. You might not even “believe” in them. But, in fact, they are there, doing their jobs for you every day.
And similarly for your energetic system. You may not feel it. You may not even find anything about it in a standard physiology textbook, but it is also there, working for you.
As we enter the 21st century, scientists are beginning to find that acupuncture channels actually correspond to nerve bundles, points of electrical resistance, etc., and that needling certain points cause changes in the brain. They even have proof using very high-tech and expensive MRI’s.
This “evidence” is nice to have, but honestly, the classically trained acupuncturist needs none of it. Not only does he feel the energetic system in his own body, but he sees how patients respond to acupuncture, and he sees them getting better in specific ways as explained in the old acupuncture books. This is what gives him confidence. Not MRI’s.
I do understand when people are skeptical of acupuncture. Perhaps the acupuncture channels haven’t been conclusively proven to exist within our materialist scientific paradigm, but a thousand years ago, people were ridiculed for thinking the world was flat or that you could get sick from touching your nose. Now, fortunately, we all know that the earth is round and that touching our nose or eyes with unwashed hands can get us sick with a cold or flu.
I remember doing aikido in San Francisco in the early 90’s. My teacher studied with the founder of aikido and was known for his focus on “energy”. He talked about feeling “energy” in every cell of the body as we breathe. I had no idea of what he was talking about, but I sure did love throwing people across the mat like a samurai.
And then suddenly, six months later, I felt it—the circulation of energy, or “qi” as it is called in Chinese medicine. There was no belief involved. It was an experience in my body and it’s an experience that you can have as well if you find a good aikido, taiji, qigong or yoga teacher. Or perhaps a good acupuncturist.
A few days ago, I was walking into Kaldi’s café and heard a woman talking about acupuncture on her cell phone. After she finished her conversation, I mentioned that I had overheard her talk about acupuncture. She told me she had had a powerful first experience of acupuncture but then on the second treatment, “nothing happened”.
It turns out her acupuncturist is a chiropractor (this happens often here in Missouri where I am practicing, but in California, acupuncturists must receive four years of training and have to pass a very difficult State Board licensing exam) and told her that “acupuncture doesn’t work on some people”.
If your acupuncturist says this, I suggest you find another acupuncturist.
Acupuncture is not a magic trick and it’s not some kind of recreational drug. If you don’t feel anything during a treatment, it could be due to the hand skills or point location skills of the acupuncturist. Or maybe the points needled are correct, but the diagnosis is incorrect.
You might need more stimulation than other patients, which the practitioner will be able to determine. (It is for this reason that the needles we use in China are thicker than the ones we use here in the States. Chinese people like to feel some stimulation and perhaps like to feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Americans and Japanese patients, on the other hand, tend to have a very low pain threshold).
Or, you might not feel any effect during the actually treatment, but subtle (or not so subtle) changes might occur later. Every acupuncture treatment is different. Some might affect you like a cup of coffee, and some might affect you like a cup of green tea. You might not get that coffee buzz when drinking green tea, but keep drinking it for several months and your skin is clear and you’ve decreased the likelihood of cancerous growths occurring in your body. Acupuncture can be the same.
Ah, you say, but you did a Google search and found several studies saying that acupuncture doesn’t work based on research that uses sham acupuncture as a control group.
Be careful! Do you believe me when I tell you that the hand skills of an experienced acupuncturist are quite different from, say, an MD or chiropractor who has had a hundred hours of acupuncture training, or even from a freshly graduated acupuncturist? Who’s putting in the needles in those studies?
One last point. Some scientists are willing to say that acupuncture does work, but that its effectiveness is based on the placebo effect. If this is the case, how do you explain veterinary acupuncture? If you know anyone who raises or trains horses, talk to them about this. Most of them will have some experience with using acupuncture to treat horses. Acupuncture is also commonly used on cats and dogs, all with very favorable results.
So, if you’ve been meaning to try acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for something that ails you, come into our clinic for a cup of tea and try out acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for yourself. You might join the thousands of people in the U.S. today (and the millions around the world) who are benefiting from Chinese medicine and acupuncture.