Acupuncture as Body-Mind-Spirit Medicine
The history of acupuncture spans more than 2000 years. Some of the greatest medical and philosophical minds of Chinese culture created the medicine. Medical professionals were philosophers as well as scientists. Being a philosopher in ancient times meant also being a psychologist. Psychology is applied philosophy. Psychology, philosophy and science are all based on observation of the nature of the human being: mind, body and behavior. Within ancient Chinese culture, the body, mind and spirit were considered inseparable, seen to always affect one another. Therefore, within Chinese Medicine, body, mind and spirit are always taken into account when working with a patient. “Every needling must be rooted in the spirit,” teaches the medical classics. Each time a person is treated (or diagnosed), their state of mind, emotions and spirit must be taken into account. To just examine a person’s body is an incomplete diagnosis. To only treat a person’s body is an incomplete treatment. The whole person must be acknowledged and treated.
The beauty of Chinese Medicine is it always treats the individual. A person may come with a diagnosis or have symptoms that fit a disease pattern, however each person is acknowledged as unique within Chinese Medicine. We all have our own stories, our own histories, and our own paths. Each of us will manifest our pathologies in a different way. Each acupuncture treatment is individualized to fit the uniqueness of the patient, taking into account the symptoms of their body and mind, as well as their constitutional strengths and weaknesses.
In practice, it is rare to treat two people with the same condition in the exact same way. For example, a condition of gastritis may have originated from diet in one person, and worry in another. The two people may have similar symptoms. Yet the two people may have very different ways of looking at the world as well as different constitutions.
A person with Gastritis from a dietary cause may have a constitutional sensitivity to certain types of foods. Or perhaps the stomach issue comes from using food to self-medicate. Whereas a person with Gastritis resulting from worry may be constantly afraid something bad will happen, clench his stomach, creating a tremendous amount of stomach acid which leads to an ulcer. To adequately treat these two individuals, the acupuncturist must take into account what is causing the problem. If it is a matter of diet, the food being eaten must be adjusted, and treatment will focus on rebuilding the digestive system. If it is a matter of using food to self-medicate: eating too late, or eating foods that calm, yet aggravate the digestive system, the mind and emotions of the patient must be addressed with the acupuncture treatment to stop the behavior causing the problem. The underlying issue being medicated by the food must be addressed. If the issue comes from chronic worry: to stop the process that is causing the ulcer, the root of the worry must be addressed including the way the patient sees the world and responds to stress.
Each person will require a different treatment strategy, as each person possesses a uniquely different constitution, as well as a unique way of looking at the world. We all have different pasts that have created our beliefs. We have emotional and mental patterns set up during childhood. And genetic predispositions inherited from our family line.
People are made of body, mind and spirit. The acu-points along the body reflect this. The body is made up of 74 energy meridians. The meridians travel to every part of the body: into organs, muscles, bones. 12 of these meridians are named after their associated organs. For example, the Stomach Meridian travels from the sensory organs of the face down the throat, into the chest, deep into the stomach and pancreas and down the leg into the second and third toes. The Stomach meridian possesses 45 points. Each point takes up an aspect of the Stomach meridian: digestion, assimilation of experience and emotion, perception of the world, ect. The point Stomach-4 for example is named “The Earth Granary.” This is a point that may be chosen for the patient who is using food to self-medicate. Psycho-spiritually it is a point that addresses how a person is using food: how they are nourishing themselves, along with any dysfunction in this process. The point Stomach-8 is called “Head Tied in Knots,” which may be a good point for the patient whose gastritis stems from worry. By needling these points, an energetic message is sent throughout the Stomach Meridian to readjust the alignment of the patient’s mind. Spiritually, it can be said that these points will open the patient’s perception, reconnect them to a time when they were free from worry. Scientifically, the points release endorphins and affect the brain to treat addictive tendencies or imbalances in brain chemistry.
Some points exert strong physical effects on the body, some work very strongly on the mind, and others are spirit-oriented. Most points possess attributes on all levels. Putting together a point combination for a patient is a process of treating them scientifically, yet also honoring the entirety of their condition. The person with worry will receive a treatment that addresses the burning in the stomach, rebuilds the mucosal lining of the gut, as well as acknowledges the worry. Perhaps they also suffer from insomnia as well: points will be added to address this as well. Maybe the worry is rooted in a difficult relationship with the mother: points can be added to address this.
To enter the world of the ancient Chinese mind, one must allow oneself to become the philosopher-scientist. We are all body, mind, spirit beings. Most of us will acknowledge this. It makes perfect sense to me that our bodies reflect this. It also makes sense to me that a medical system reflects this as well. I sometimes have the image that the acupuncture pathways on the body reflect the pathways in the cosmos. We are reflections of the universe, as we are part of the universe. The highly cultivated philosopher-scientists of ancient China created a system of medicine that acknowledges this. In the acupuncture system, there are portals into every aspect of human existence through the acupuncture points. Points to awaken consciousness; points to rebuild the body; points to return a person’s functioning back to a state of health; points to resolve issues from the past. This is what is meant when my teacher calls acupuncture “a complete system of medicine.” To me, it is a system to view and honor the complete human being: body, mind and spirit.