The Consciousness of Health: Acupuncture and Self-Perception
How we feel about ourselves has a major impact on our health. To change from one state of being to another, like changing from illness into wellness, requires energy and power. No other person can really give us the energy and power we need to change and evolve. It has to come from ourselves.
Other people can inspire and support us, but we must find our own power and strength within. Once we find it, our life becomes very different. No longer can we indulge in the delusion that we are a victim. We are able to take control of our lives, and at the same time work in harmony with the rest of the world. We may also begin to realize that we have everything we need – all the time. We may not know how to access all aspects within ourselves; we may not yet understand how to use them, but we trust that everything is there. There’s a sense of expansiveness and possibility. Our goal shifts from trying to get what we need from other people to working to unlock and express that which is already in us: our innate power.
This is what acupuncture does. It stimulates powerful points on our bodies that awaken our own innate capacity to heal and grow strong. They are points that awaken consciousness and the will to heal, a capacity which all of us possess.
In acupuncture theory, there are energy channels (vessels) in the body that are very deep. So deep, they are said to penetrate into the bones and the brain. They begin at the ankles, run up the legs into the hips, shoulders, eyes and brain.
Even though the channels themselves are very deep, the process of inserting acupuncture needles into “points” along the channels is relatively superficial. We don’t need to needle deeply into the body to contact the energy of the channels. With the right technique and intention, the energy of the deeper levels of the body can be contacted and directed. Just like the mind can direct internal physiological processes through breath, tai ji, qi gong and meditation, superficial insertion of acupuncture needles along acupuncture points on the body can also direct internal physiological processes. They can also direct aspects of the mind and consciousness.
Acupuncture is “energetic medicine.” It works through tapping into the innate, naturally-occurring functional energy flow in the body. Some call this the “life-force,” which sounds kind of elusive and vague. But whoever uses this term is correct. Acupuncture works with the “energy” that gives us life.
We all know that the heat pumps blood throughout the body. We learn that it is a type of electrical energy that does this. We also know that the fluid in the body, such as the lymph and hormonal fluids also work through a type of pressurized system of movement and exchange. We know the science of it, and its existence, somewhat. But, what is it that gives animation and life to all of these organic functions? We know the heart beats and there is life; we know if the heart stops beating, there is no longer life. Do we understand though what it is that animates the heart in the first place? What is it that gives it function? What is this force that allows us life?
Acupuncture is a study of the “life-force.” It is a medicine that was created by Taoist sages over 2500 years ago. They were most interested in something they called the “primordial qi”: the essential force that gives life to all things. They also studied and questioned the “mouth of qi”: the aspect of the body where life enters and exits our bodies: where life originates, and where it departs. They sought out ways to impact and influence the body’s “life-force,” realizing if they can work with it, they can help people strengthen the basic fuel for health and vitality. This is what acupuncture is about – using the special acupuncture “points” where the functional life-force can be communicated with. There are over 365 such points on the human body. They are located on channels of energy called “meridians” or “vessels,” most of which are connected to a vital organ such as the Liver, Heart and Stomach.
The deepest acupuncture channels however, called the “Extraordinary Vessels,” do not connect to the 12 Primary organs of the body (the viscera and bowels). They are deeper than that. They connect to what are known as the “curious organs” – the brain, bones, uterus, blood vessels – special organs and structures that are considered evolutionary in form and function.
The “Qiao” Vessels are amongst the deepest acupuncture channels in the body. Qiao can be translated as “stance.” Qiao also has inference to the portals of perception – areas of spiritual awakening related to the opening of various unused areas of the brain. Most humans use only a small percentage of their brains. Sages and mystics train to access a greater amount of their brains, giving them increased ability to sense the world and utilize their own untapped, innate internal powers.
The Qiao Vessels influence endocrine function, skeletal strength and instinctual functioning. They relate to the “fight or flight” aspect of the body, as well as the way we see ourselves. But they function at a very deep, sometimes unconscious level. How we see ourselves and how we see the world influences our reactions – internal and external. This is often called “psycho-endocrinology.”
Chinese medicine acknowledges that weakness, numbness and degeneration of the physical structure begins with a sense of depression or mental-emotional dispirit. The same is true with immune function. When we are happy and spirited, our immune function is strong. Depression brings about decreased immune function. A sense of bitterness or resentment can generate an internally toxic environment.
Toxic overload can originate from outside of us through the environment we live in, via the air we breathe and the food we eat. But toxins can also be generated internally via our thoughts and emotions. The emotions create heat and inflammation, which causes an increased acidic environment within our bodies. An acidic environment is highly detrimental to the cellular processes of respiration and metabolism. We end up poisoning ourselves. We can live in the cleanest, most pristine and abundant external environment, yet if our thoughts and emotions are generating toxic heat within, we will still get sick, we will still become weakened.
Much of the time we are not even aware of the thoughts we are thinking or the emotions we are generating. They form our basic unquestioned view of our inner and outer worlds. We accept things as being the way they are, often feeling powerless to effect change. We may believe the world is nasty and dangerous, or that we are not good enough, or people cannot be trusted, or whatever our story is. And maybe we have a lot of evidence to support these beliefs. But sometimes healing requires that we let go of our beliefs regardless of how true they seem.
After recognizing that it is our beliefs that are making us sick, we see that we have a choice. If we want to get better, we have to change the way we see things and what we believe. We have to reduce our stubbornness in insisting that the world is the way we think it is. We have to stop defending and protecting and holding onto the point of view that is poisoning us.
We all know the dramatic story of a person who lives with a partner who abuses them. They can defend and protect the abuser, but they are the ones who are getting hurt. They are supporting the cause of their ills. They have to eventually realize that they have the power to separate. The same is true for our relationship with ourselves. When we harbor negative thoughts about ourselves – thoughts that make us into a victim, or inferior to others, or just “bad” – we are abusing ourselves. These very thoughts could be contributing to decreased immune and endocrinological function in our bodies. They could also be generating toxic inflammation that is damaging our body tissues, creating weakness and degeneration. At worst, we could be cultivating an autoimmune disease, where our immune system decides to attack our own bodies.
It’s easy to say, “just stop abusing yourself!” But it’s obviously not that easy. As I said, many of our habitual thoughts and emotions are unconscious. We don’t even think about them as something we are choosing. They are just the ways in which we see the world. It is just what we think of as our personalities, or what we were taught to think.
True healing requires a change in consciousness. The same consciousness that has created a disease cannot be the same consciousness that heals it. We have to change the messages that are being sent to the cells inside our bodies. Much of this work occurs on the unconscious or subconscious levels. We have to get into the cellular level of the body. This is what acupuncture does. It sends new messages to the cells, it helps unearth the unconsciousness that is causing us to be unwell. Physiologically this is seen as transforming and dissipating “phlegm” within the body – old congealed toxic material that is blocking regular healthy flow of blood and energy.
How can acupuncture needles do this? Through the special acupuncture points in which the needles are placed. The points have resonance to specific aspects of physiological and psychological function. For example, along the “Yin Qiao” Vessel, there are points that build, regulate and consolidate endocrine-hormonal fluids, clear inflammation, support digestive function, regulate blood and energy flow in the chest and throat, open the sense organs of the face and impact the genitals and low back. The points also help a person cultivate faith, self-love, the ability to change their minds and the way they see themselves. They can help us let go of a sense of heaviness, depression and unease about being who we are. They have been classically given such names as “The Junction of Faith,” “Welcoming of Humanity,” “Great Manifestation,” and the “Spirit Burial Ground.”
The Yin Qiao Vessels helps dissipate “cold” and “damp” – fixated stubborn patterns born out of unconscious habituation – possibly relating to fear, feelings of powerlessness or disappointment.
In disease, there are often physical symptoms that mirror psychological states. Acupuncture acknowledges this, attempting to get to the root of both the physical and non-physical aspects of an illness. We work to change the body at the same time as we change the consciousness.