Sustainable Healthcare: Acupuncture as Preventative Medicine
“The great Way is easy, yet people prefer the side paths. Be aware when things are out of balance. Stay centered within the Dao.” Dao De Jing, Chapter 53.
Acupuncture was classically seen as preventative medicine. Acupuncture treatment was used to restore body function and prevent disease before it manifested. Patients would visit their acupuncturists regularly to check body function on a very subtle level to regulate the “Qi” energy flow and correct any disturbances before they caused problems.
Disease has a progression to it. It begins at a relatively superficial and non-material level of the body; moving deeper and becoming more material as it worsens. Conditions manifesting on the “Qi” (subtle energy) level are easier to treat than those affecting the blood, fluids and tissues of the body, as they are less entrenched and stuck: easier to move and expel. Therefore, catching a condition when it has only penetrated the level of “qi” in the body is relatively quick and easy to resolve.
By the time a condition such as Cancer manifests, the disease has penetrated into the blood, tissue and/or organ levels of the body. It is no longer a “qi” condition; it is now a blood or hormonal condition. Such conditions require greater time and effort to move and expel, especially since the overall functional strength of the body has usually weakened by this time. The body’s strength must be rebuilt so as to fortify the ability to expel and resolve the internal knots.
However, catching a condition in the very beginning through preventative medicine is an area Chinese Medicine could greatly benefit our culture.
To better understand Acupuncture as preventative medicine, the “energetic layers” of the body must be understood. Chinese Medicine sees the body as composed of various layers of energy. In nature, water is seen as having different states: the vapor state, the liquid state, and a solid state as ice. The body is also seen in this way. There is the vapor state of the “qi,” the liquid state of the blood and body fluids, and the solid state of the organs and tissues.
All the states of energy can be felt within the pulse. Just as there are different layers to the body, there are also different layers within the pulse. When an acupuncturist checks the Stomach pulse for example, he/she can measure the “qi,” blood and fluids of the Stomach channel, as well as the Stomach organ itself. The function of the Stomach channel and organ can be assessed, as can any disturbances to them.
The pulse can indicate the depth of disturbance to the body: which acupuncture channel it has penetrated into. All the organs have four main channels associated with them: for example the Stomach has the Stomach Sinew Channel, The Stomach Minor Collateral Vessel, The Stomach Major Collateral Channel, as well as the Primary Channel of the Stomach. Each channel represents a layer of depth into which a disease can penetrate.
The subtlety of the pulse in diagnosis can allow the acupuncturist to discern the very beginning of a problem in the body, before it has manifested physically. If a problem lies within the Stomach’s “Sinew Channel” or the Stomach’s “Minor Collateral Vessel,” it is a superficial issue, and relatively quick and easy to resolve. Each subsequent layer brings with it more complications, causing greater challenges in resolution.
Often early stages of being “out of balance” manifest as mild symptoms such as constipation, bloating, pain, irritability, and frequent urination (to name a few). These are gentle signals from the body that something is stuck at a relatively superficial energetic level. The acupuncture channels that relate to these symptoms are the sinew and minor collateral channels. They are described as “side paths” of the Primary Acupuncture Channels where the energy of daily function flows.
Many of us may ignore such minor signals from the body. However, they are important indicators that something is stuck within the superficial level of the body, threatening to side-track our mind and energy from the primary focus of our lives.
The “Dao” or “Way” is a metaphor for balance and focus. Daoist medicine teaches, if we stay balanced within the Dao, we maintain health. Disease manifests when we stray from this focus, or fall out of balance.
The “Dao De Jing” describes falling out of balance through the image of a nation that has become corrupt. “When the rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn-all this is robbery and chaos. It is not keeping with the Tao.” Dao De Jing, Chapter 53.
Throughout history, we have seen what happens to countries that fall into states of great imbalance: usually revolution, anarchy and chaos. The body is the same. A wise ruler will heed the signals suggesting balance is being lost before widespread chaos ensues.
Constipation may seem mild and unimportant, however it is seen as the root of all chronic degenerative diseases within Chinese Medicine. If the body is inadequate in getting rid of toxins, they stay within the body and begin to damage the tissues. Skin conditions are often the result of compromised elimination. Think of how unlivable and disease-ridden New York City would be if there wasn’t regular trash disposal. Or if garbage made its way into the water supply, and came out of the faucet when you tried to run the bath or wash the dishes.
The same can be said for muscular tension. The muscles are also outlets, as they are the area where the most superficial energy level of “qi” circulates in the body. Tension shows blockage in the sinews. Blockage constricts the “qi,” and inhibits the body’s immune system from fully expelling pathogens the have invaded the body.
When we allow superficial blockages to go unaddressed for long periods of time, conditions have no choice but to move into the deeper terrain of the body, eventually making their way into the organs, sometimes creating life-threatening conditions.
It is ideal to catch a condition before it manifests into more serious, chronic conditions such as Cancer, Colitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. All medical systems believe this. However, Chinese Medicine has the ability to catch a condition at its very earliest stage: before it has caused any damage to the physical body. To allow this type of care for the body, however, healthcare must be practiced as preventative medicine. To care for ourselves in this way can prevent a lot of suffering, and save a great deal of money and time in the longrun. Healthcare becomes unbelievably expensive and painful when deep, serious conditions manifest. Any opportunity to offset this is of great benefit to all of us.