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Is My Pain Coming From the World, or From Myself? Acupuncture Treatment of the Psycho-somatic

Is My Pain Coming From the World, or From Myself? Acupuncture Treatment of the Psycho-somatic

My last article discussed pain resulting from the environment, manifesting in “weather-like” conditions in the body. Most of us know however that pain can also result from stress. This type of pain is often called “psycho-somatic,” or coming from the mind.

Acupuncture treatment works with the “humors” of the body: the qi, blood and body fluids. Insertion of hair-fine needles into specific acupuncture “points” along the body have regulating effects on the body’s qi, blood and fluids.

Qi is the dynamic energy force that maintains function within the body. It is the force that allows the heart to beat, the stomach and intestines to have peristaltic activity and the nerves to fire. The blood within Chinese Medical thinking is similar to the western concept, with one major difference. The blood, within Chinese Medicine, is seen as the conduit of the spirit. The spirit and mind have a strong relationship in Chinese Medicine. The spirit resides in the heart, which circulates the blood, and has a strong effect on the mind. The mind is not seen as residing in the brain in Chinese Medical thinking. The brain is seen more as the depository for memory, as well as being an organ of evolution. The daily mental and emotional components commonly associated with the “mind” are associated with the spleen/pancreas and heart within Chinese Medicine.

Pain may be the result of an external pathogenic factor such as “wind,” “cold” or “damp” lodged in the muscles. These climatic metaphors can be likened to the western germ concepts of bacterial, viral and fungal agents. These climatic factors stagnate the body’s qi, causing pain from blockage in the body’s energetic flow.

Pain can also come from stagnation of the blood. When wind or cold enter the body, the first line of defense is the qi. If the “invaders” overpower the qi, the blood is the second line of defense. Chinese physiology teaches that blood can transform into qi and vice versa, based on the body’s need. The blood is always supporting the qi in protecting us from the environnment when we are healthy. However, once a pathogen reaches the blood level, this indicates the body’s superficial immune capacity has been overwhelmed. The body can no longer “release” the pathogen out of the body. The blood will capture the pathogen and trap it within a minor blood vessel that is created on the surface of the skin. These are the spider veins many of us have on our skin. They are not just unsightly blemishes, but unresolved pathogens being held dormant by the body. They can also be trapped as nodules or growths, showing the involvement of the body fluids to maintain the dormant state of the pathogen.

Stagnation of blood can also result from the mind and emotions. Pathogenic factors are differenciated in Chinese Medicine as coming from the exterior (outside the body), or from the interior (inside the body). Wind, cold, damp, virus, bacteria, fungus are all seen as external pathogenic factors; whereas the emotions are seen as internal pathogenic factors. The emotions and their expressions are natural. It is only when we have difficulty letting them go, or when they become exhuberent that the emotions become a problem. Emotional stagnation manifests in stagnation of the blood. Over-exhuberant emotional expression results in heat, which eventually leads to blood stagnation. Any form of stagnation within the body can manifest in pain.

In my clinical practice as an acupuncturist, I treat a lot of people for pain. Diagnosing the cause of the pain is a process which I liken to detective work. When someone first comes into my office, before rapport has been established, I may be presented with only the exterior picture of the situation: where the pain is located, what it feels like and how it behaves. I treat what I see; I follow the clues I’m being given. I have the help of the person’s pulse, which can often show things that the patient is either not telling me, or that they don’t even know about what’s going on inside their bodies and minds. Each treatment is like peeling a layer of the onion to reveal more of the true nature of the condition.

Sometimes the person is only experiencing the body’s reaction to something deeper. For example, heat/inflammation is often the body’s natural immune response to cold or a viral agent lodged inside the body. When the heat is cleared, the cold may then reveal itself. The same is true for mental/emotional situations. When I am assessing a patient’s condition, I am asking “what is this really about?” Over time, during the course of the treatment process, the answer to this question becomes more and more clear: both to me as well as to the patient.

The response of the blood to an overwhelming pathogenic factor, regardless of whether it comes from the environment or from our emotional responses, is to put the issue into a state of suppression or repression. The issue may become unreachable: we may push it out of our minds, or forget about it altogether. This is the body’s natural way of protecting us, so the issue will not disrupt our daily life. Yet, the issue may present itself psycho-somatically: most often through pain, sleep or digestive disturbance. So even though it is not in our face, it is disrupting our quality of life.

The treatment process of healing is just that: a process. Sometimes the issues can be grasped and resolved in a short-time. However, other issues take time. It all depends on the intensity of the issue, as well as the body’s strength. The body is not going to let a potentially destructive issue come out of repression unless we are ready to deal with it. This is the reason why treatment can often take time, especially if the root of the issue being treated is chronic and strong.

Chinese Medicine believes all conditions can be treated. There is a saying my teacher used to say:

“in Chinese Medicine, there are no incurable diseases; only incurable people.”
Some of us lack the fortitude, will, courage or patience to heal. Understandable: some issues are very intense, scary and seemingly insurmountable. However, I have seen what appears to be miraculous healing occur numerous times: changes people couldn’t imagine. It just takes time, patience and courage. Time to peel the onion, courage to face the shadows, patience to weather the set-backs that are natural to the healing process.

Sometimes the initial period of treatment is about developing the will, courage or strength to begin the process of healing. The actual symptoms may not change right away, but the overall strength of the body will. A chronic condition can weaken the body’s blood and qi over time. Or, the condition may have manifested because of the weakness in the body. The qi and blood must therefore be rebuilt before the process of clearing and detoxing can begin. To detox without the necessary strength is dangerous, potentially further weakening the body from the strain.

Sometimes it is the repressed issue that is weakening the body. The body may refuse to rebuild itself until the issue is released, or “purged.” This is often the case with lifestyle choices, such a food addictions. Until the offending lifestyle habit is discontinued, the body will remain weak and stuck. Treatment is always considered on a case by case basis. Everyone is different, this is why course and duration of treatment always varies person to person.

Acupuncture, as practiced in the style of Classical Chinese Medicine is highly individualized, tailor made for each person. There is no standard treatment protocol for any condition. Protocols are actually thought of as worthless within this way of thinking. All of our conditions come from very different sources. None of us walk the same path in life, however similar they may seem. Therefore, medical treatment of our difficulties cannot be the same for more than one person. This is often why the initial period of treatment involves some detective work, to discover the cause of the condition, and the particular way the individual body wishes to heal. With necessary commitment, all conditions can be unraveled.

Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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