How Acupuncture Changed My Life
The body has many fascinating ways of expressing itself. If we allow ourselves to focus and listen to our bodies, we can learn quite a lot. I believe actually, any question can be answered if we allow ourselves to get quiet, tune-in to ourselves, observe what is around us and patiently allow illumination to occur. The problem is, most of us are too distracted to really let ourselves get quiet, become still and listen.
I think one of the reasons acupuncture is so effective is it amplifies our ability to become present with ourselves. First of all, acupuncture is very relaxing. It calms the mind and soothes the body, often luring a person into a deep meditation or slumber. Acupuncture also focuses our attention on areas of the body that are asking for attention. Rather than simply numbing or ignoring a pain or discomfort, an acupuncture treatment encourages us to zoom-in on the issue, ideally until the message from our body can be received and understood. Often, after the message has been received and understood, the discomfort or pain stops.
I think many of us have a way of life that creates an antagonistic relationship with our bodies. Most of us are very focused on our desires and the seductions of life, which is good. It’s healthy to be animated. But not at the expense of our relationship to ourselves. And by that I don’t mean who we want to be, but rather who we are right now: what our body is expressing in the present moment. Too much focus on the future, on “becoming” and fantasy can take us away from exploring the present experience of ourselves and our lives.
Why is it important to be “present”? It’s often sold to us as a type of virtue that makes us a better, more desirable person. Yet, being present is actually a very practical, useful and healthful thing. Our body is a self-regulating entity. It tells us what is going on. It tells us what to do. If we can find a way to be in synch with it, the body can help us harmonize with time, space and those around us. This is not difficult to experience once we come to know that our body is an energetic system. Part of the body is solid, we know this. Part of it is also liquid. We also know this. Yet many of us don’t realize there’s a part of the body that is also neither liquid or solid: it is energy. To the ancient Chinese, the energetic aspect was the most interesting, worthwhile thing about the body. Through it, we can heal on a very subtle level, influence our minds and even create changes in the environment around us. The ancient Chinese were so intrigued by the energetics of the body that they built their entire healthcare system around it.
Our modern society is coming to see the impact our mind (and in some cases our “energy”) has on our physical health. This is not esoteric thinking. Mental stress creates inflammation in the body, it releases cortisol and excites “fight or flight” reactions within the nervous system. This puts the body into an acidic (inflammatory) state, which damages metabolic function, reduces immune capacity, and generates internal toxins that create pain, respiratory and digestive problems, as well as emotional symptoms like depression, irritability, anxiety and sleep disturbance. Stress is really not good for us. Our bodies will constantly tell us this. If we know how to listen.
It’s taken me many years to get to know my body. I’ve been a healer for some time; and involved in my own healing and self-care for even longer. I was one of those kids who was often sick, weak, sensitive, and super hard on himself. I just thought this was how I was and my current situation was what I had to deal with for the rest of my life. At least that’s what everyone told me. Until I met my first acupuncturist.
I was introduced to acupuncture by a friend. I became a true “believer” when acupuncture started making a significant difference in my life. Initially, I just asked the acupuncturist to help me with my asthma. Which she did, quickly and miraculously. For the first time in my life, I breathed deep and strong. But I also started feeling significantly better emotionally. As I learned more about what the treatment was doing, I saw my acupuncturist was working to strengthen my core vitality. This was a complex process, as I came to see. As she described it to me, my acupuncturist saw the treatment process “like architecture.” She was working to build a strong foundation, which for whatever reason I lacked. She told me this was the process of strengthening my kidneys, as they were considered by the ancient Chinese to be the energetic foundation of the body. My asthma was due in large part to a weakness in my foundation. This also impacted my emotional and mental health – my ability to feel strong, secure and calm. As she saw it, the symptom of asthma was a message from my body telling me that the Kidney-foundational energy of my body needed support. When the kidneys are weak they will draw a tremendous amount of energy from the lungs, weakening them over time.
Acupuncture treatment became my favorite thing. It helped me feel so good, so strong, so stable. It cured me of many chronic conditions I thought would never go away. And the philosophy and “magic” of it was so fascinating and inspiring. It is truly a system that is meant to empower. I was so charmed by acupuncture, that I decided to study it. Years later I now have my own busy acupuncture practice, where I get to introduce my patients to the wonder and empowering magic of the ancient Chinese healing modality.
Through my studies and personal healing work, I’ve spent many years learning about myself, strengthening my body, changing my mind and improving my life. Most of this work was done though acupuncture treatment, and through the study of ancient Chinese philosophy, medicine and spiritual practice.
Though years of learning to be present with myself, I’ve come to recognize my own reactions to stress, and how my system deals with it. Since childhood, I’ve had relatively weak lungs and kidneys. This caused me to have asthma as a child. This also caused me to have a difficult time expressing and discharging emotional stress. It also made me susceptible to perfectionism and guilt. As a result of my Lung and Kidney weakness, “communication” between my Kidneys and Heart tends to get backed-up. No doctor ever told me this. They’d never been able to explain what was going on in my system in a way that was satisfying, or even useful to me. And they certainly never tied all of my signs and symptoms together into a big picture. Chinese medicine was the only language that finally helped me get to know myself, which allowed me to learn to live with myself and care for myself in a way that led to a good quality of life.
When my lungs get weak and my kidneys and heart stagnate, this can lead me into obsessive-compulsive behavior. I always felt ashamed of this, as if it was a type of character weakness. But I came to realize it is just physiology gone awry. You see, Chinese Medicine found that the lungs have a function in relation to emotional expression and the ability to be present and “in the moment.” When the lungs are strong, they allow us to discharge emotional stress on a moment to moment basis. This is like the breath- we breathe in, have the experience, and breathe out, letting it go. When the lungs are weak, they are not able to “let go.” It’s like we emotionally “hold our breath.” Anything that cannot go up and out (which is the natural energetic flow of the lungs), ends up going down and in- usually into the kidneys, where it gets stuck. Energy that sinks into the kidneys to stagnate there can cause constipation and reduced urinary function. It can also cause pain in the back and uro-genital area. Emotionally, it can cause paranoia and obsessive-compulsive behavior. It can also lead to a state of “inversion,” where a person becomes antisocial, self-obsessed, fearful and unwilling to engage with others.
Additionally, when the lungs are weak, they are also unable to properly support the heart in its circulation of blood. According to Chinese medicine, blood is the mediumship of the emotions. Our thoughts and emotions travel within the blood. When blood circulation is not flowing properly, our emotions stagnate. We hold onto things, and this begins to affect our mood, and the way we see the world. The heart has a strong relationship with the eyes, the brain and our actions towards the world. Chinese medicine sees a link between chest pain and weakness/stiffness of the limbs. They equate it with the inability to have compassion. Blood and energy becomes stuck in the chest, unable to circulate to the limbs. Emotionally, this causes us to feel disconnected from those around us. It can also cause us to feel depressed, become selfish in our actions, and quite controlling.
There is a very special relationship between the lungs, kidneys and heart in Chinese medicine. It is called “the one-link.” It is lung energy that allows the blood to move. The lungs bring things out to the surface through the breath. Emotional toxins are sweated out, or exhaled out. Or, if they are particularly heavy, the lungs will bring the toxins into the large intestine where they are expelled via bowel movements. The lungs also “regulate the waterways” of the body, which supports Kidney function, playing a big role in fluid metabolism. Emotionally, the kidneys are the residence of the personal will. The kidneys are seen as representative of the energy within us that relates to our personality and nature. Our will stems from this. From the kidneys we instinctively know how to act, according to our nature, and our sense of ambition stems from here. It is also related to our will to live. There is nothing more fundamental to life than the breath. Without the breath, life is not possible. It is even more fundamental than food, water and sleep. Weak lungs can create a sense of depression which affects the will, preventing it’s expression. It can also bind the energy of the will so that it turns in on itself. This can create self-destructive and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Treatment of a disharmony between the lungs, kidneys and heart depends on what is the root of the problem. In my case, strengthening the lungs is primary. When the lungs are strong, the kidneys are no longer taxed, which allows them to be able to build themselves up. This directs the will outwards, and corrects the state of inversion which tends to direct the kidney “will” energy towards myself destructively. Stronger lungs also relax and control the heart energy, allowing it to flow outwards, reducing self-centeredness and the need to control. This also loosens the chest and lightens the mood to create a sense of animation, playfulness and joy.
The Chinese medical system can seen a bit simplistic compared to the scientific complexity of Western medicine. However, I’ve found it to be much more user friendly and practical within my own self-care. I can understand, connect with and immediately implement what I learn from the Chinese system. It’s a bit more difficult to connect to vitamin levels or x-ray findings. But, I think Western medicine is one in which the doctor is king, and the patients are made to dependent on them. Much of the language in the Western system is hard to connect with and understand, especially for the lay-person. I always appreciated the environmental and philosophical metaphors used in Chinese medicine. They helped me feel more a part of my body and its functioning, and also more empowered and inspired through my healing process.
One of the major reasons I decided to devote myself to acupuncture, as a practitioner and patient is the gratitude and excitement I felt to the system. It’s helped me learn about my body, in very simple, yet profound ways. I now know how to treat myself when I have symptoms. And I know where those symptoms are coming from. This knowledge has helped me make friends with my body and mind. There’s no need to judge or become angry with myself when I fall into obsessive-compulsive, anti-social or selfish states; and I don’t need to think of myself as weak or sick or defective when I develop respiratory systems, insomnia, chest tightness or low back pain. I simply see these symptoms as messages from my body telling me the lung-kidney-heart relationship within my body needs an adjustment. It’s not because I am bad, or there’s something fundamentally wrong with me. It’s because I’m a human being, with a body and a busy life, and sometimes things fall out of balance. And what’s even better: I know how to adjust it and bring back strength, stability and peace by using only a few acupuncture needles.