Acupuncture as Relaxation Therapy in the Treatment of Chronic Conditions
“Can you coax your mind from its original wandering and keep to the original oneness? Can you let your body become supple as a newborn child? Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see nothing but the light?” Tao Te Jing, Chapter 10.
The words I hear most often in my office from patients receiving an acupuncture treatment is, “I feel so relaxed.” Deep relaxation is not only a pleasurable side-effect from acupuncture treatment, it is also a vital strategy in resolving many conditions of body, mind and spirit.
In the treatment of chronic-degenerative, autoimmune and deeply rooted chronic conditions, the Chinese medical classics indicate “relaxation of the muscles” as a primary necessity. The other major necessity for treatment of chronic conditions is insuring the lower orifices of elimination are open and working at optimal function.
The musculature of the body is very important within Chinese Medicine. After the bowels, the musculature is the chief area of detoxification within the body. Chinese Medicine views the body as three distinct “layers of energy” which relate to the different anatomical tissues in the physical body.
The deepest layer of the body is the bone and marrow: the area of “Yuan Qi,” or constitutional energy: similar to the idea of the DNA in Western Medicine. The most superficial layer of the body is the musculature and skin (generally grouped together within Chinese Medicine), relating to “Wei Qi,” or the defensive, immune energy. Between the “Wei” and “Yuan” energies is the “Ying Qi,” which resides in the blood, flesh and connective tissue of the body and relates to the mind, emotions and digestion.
When a patient is treated for a chronic internal condition, successful resolution depends upon detoxification through the “Wei” level of the body. The defensive, immune energy allows the detoxification and release of all pathogenic invaders stuck within the body. “Wei” energy flows through the muscles, skin and bowels. To successfully detoxify and release a stuck pathogenic factor from the internal terrain of the body, these areas of detoxification must be relaxed and open.
Arthritis, for example, is a condition that afflicts the joints. It includes degeneration of tissue and pain. Arthritis is seen in Chinese Medicine as the body’s attempt to hold a pathogen in “latency,” so it doesn’t attack the internal organs. The pathogen is brought from either the superficial “Wei” level of the body or the internal “Ying” level to the deep “Yuan” level to be held. Pain results from all types of blockage within the body. Blockage creates tension and heat, which eventually consumes and degenerates the blood and tissues of the body.
To eliminate the painful symptoms of arthritis, the pathogen being held in the joints must be released through the muscles, skin and bowels. The muscles must be relaxed, the bowels must be opened, and often the mind and spirit must be calmed.
Tightness in the muscles has a similar effect as tightness in the bowels: there is constriction and inadequate detoxification ability. Constriction often comes from resistance or agitation of the mind and emotions. Constipation and muscle tension is often the result of a stressed and uneasy mind.
Crohn’s Disease is classified as an inflammatory autoimmune condition, possibly from genetic inheritance. It is seen as attacking the “yuan” level of the body (the constitution) from a Chinese Medicine point of view.
The digestive energy of the body is seen as the same energy as the mind and emotions within Chinese Medicine. Digestion has a major impact on the mind and emotions; and the mind and emotions have a large impact on digestion.
Longterm mental or emotional agitation is a common cause of digestive distress. Unresolved mental and emotional material creates a blockage of the “ying” energy within the body. All blockage creates heat. Heat causes tissue damage and degeneration, often manifesting as ulceration and bleeding: both symptoms of Crohn’s Disease.
When the root of a physical condition is mental-emotional, this must be treated for full resolution to be achieved. In addition to relaxing the muscles and opening the bowels, the mind and spirit must be calmed. Acupuncture points may need to be included to help the patient resolve their internal conflict. The chest may need to be opened to allow release of emotional tension.
A state of deep relaxation supports the healing process. I often witness my patients entering a deep state of relaxation that sometimes includes sleep, or a deep meditative state as they receive their acupuncture treatment. I have come to see that this is not an “added bonus” to the treatment, but necessary for the healing process.
When a patient is brought to a deep level of relaxation, experienced either as sleep or deep meditation, the healing process is occurring. They are brought into an unconscious or semi-conscious state where the unconscious mind works to resolve that which is stuck. The Heart resolves trauma, disappointment, guilt and uneasiness within this state. Patients will often report vivid dreams during or after treatment, showing the Heart at work.
Sleep is the ultimate healer. It is the time when the body rebuilds; it is also the time when the Heart, Lungs and Liver “let go.” Resistance prevents release. Sleep is the greatest period of relaxation within our day: where we drop our resistance and allow that which we are repressing to reveal itself. Our Heart is open, and our spirits are free to travel and work out that which we have accumulated throughout the day.
Acupuncture treatment often has the quality of sleep: deep relaxation and even entering a semi-conscious state. However, acupuncture is “directed” sleep. The treatment is communicating a message to the body, mind and spirit, asking it to process in a specific way. This is why an hour-long acupuncture treatment can often feel like an entire night of restful sleep. This is also why so much healing can be achieved through an acupuncture session. It is a condensed, directed sleep; utilizing the healing power of sleep in an efficient, guided way.
The acupuncture point “Virgin Child” (Gallbladder-1) beautifully illustrates the intention of acupuncture treatment: to direct, focus and cleanse the mind; to relax the muscles: providing a reminder of the time when we were supple and open as a newborn child.