Posts Tagged ‘acupuncture’

1) Move every two hours. Go for a walk, do a set of mindful pushups, play with dogs, children, and friends. Do this daily, without exception. When ill, just stretch and breath deeply, when feeling good, do something more strenuous.

2) Don’t eat processed foods. Ever. For any reason. This way, when you must, in an airplane, at grandma’s, etc., it will be the only time you eat this woefully legal, addictive poison.

3) Perform mindful breathing. Stand and breathe deeply, not forcefully. Try tai chi and qigong. Do this at least once a day for five minutes or more. A discipline like this will make you better at doing all the things you love. Discipline is most certainly not a four letter word!

4) Once a day or more, think of things about which you are grateful and say a silent thank you for them.

5) Get acupuncture before a problem gets really bad, be it pain or stress, or GI discomfort. It is always best to deal with something when it is still small.

6) Have a nice day!

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Despite the physiological discrepancy, no condition is closer to my heart than knee pain. I found Eastern medicine by shredding the cartilage of my knee. I had surgery to repair the damage, but the physical therapy didn’t work out so well, and within a few weeks my knee was the size of a basketball. Months of crutching about led to yet more months wielding a cane. Add in the strain to my low back and hip muscles from the compensation, and at 25 I was rocking out the full old-timer, complete with cloudy disposition and an impressive ratio of grumps per day. After half a year of this, I found myself relocated to San Diego from Connecticut. It didn’t take long for me to find tai chi, which enabled the miracle of miracles by unlocking my body’s innate healing ability that modern physiological science had been unable to reach.

Two years of tai chi later, I found myself in school for acupuncture & Eastern herbs. At this point my knee had regained full functionality (it actually worked a bit better than before the surgery), but I still had some shooting, stabbing pain when especially active. Then there was the meteorologist that had moved into my knee, alerting me to barometric changes with dull aches. Long mornings in the cold ocean waiting for waves got that meteorologist humming, too. It was the perfect home experiment!

Every night after school I pulled out my books and notes and set to work on my knee. I wasn’t very skilled in the beginning, in fact I was rather dreadful. But I stuck with it, and gradually my needle technique grew less painful. However, my knee started to feel better right away. By the second semester, I hardly needed any needles in my knee at all.

I like to say that I specialize in anything interesting, but my first project was my knee, and as such, the aspect of Eastern medicine with which I am most familiar, is knee pain. It is then with great delight that I can share this study on osteoarthritis of the knee from the People’s Hospital of Peking University in Beijing.

The points used in the study on all 73 participants are almost exactly the same ones that I used on my knee. Of the 49 people who completed the four week study, all had improvement in their knees, and that improvement was sustained after the four week followup visit. There was no control arm. The study assumes acupuncture works, and is testing a particular protocol. Admittedly, a study in which every participant improves is a bit suspect, which is a reason why some meta-analysis studies regard acupuncture’s success as inconclusive. [Commence digression] However, the studies then go on to conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work, which is as intellectually irresponsible as designing a study that allows for 100% improvement. The world of acupuncture research and research on acupuncture is still in its fledgling stages, and these are the growing pains–ones that acupuncture can treat! [Digression concluded]

I still use the bulk of these points for my knee pain treatments, but I change up the other points to customize the treatment to the individual. A scientific study by nature has to use the same points from person to person, but our bodies are all different, and as such, the pain of the knee and surrounding structures changes from person to person. Acupuncture works best when it is customized, but it can still work when homogenized. The knee is especially suited to homogenization of treatment, given that the reason for the problem is essentially the same from person to person, and the location of pain changes only slightly. The source of knee pain is almost always within the knee and surrounding muscles, so needling the points around the knee works very well. Something like carpal tunnel syndrome on the other hand can stem from the neck, shoulder, and elbow, so it is more difficult to design a standardized treatment that effectively treats it equally in all cases.

Furthermore, from a point function perspective, two of the points used in the study are very commonly used by acupuncturists to improve metabolism and boost energy. Though the source for knee pain is usually within the knee joint, poor posture of the whole body and sloppy ergonomics will put more strain on the knee to exacerbate the pain. With this increase in energy, it is easier to maintain proper posture and gait. Another of the knee points used in the study is used by many acupuncturists for almost every condition involving tendons, which are a major component of any joint. These dual purposes reflect the local and systemic nature of acupuncture points. All points will benefit local problems, i.e. the point in the middle of the wrist crease benefits carpal tunnel syndrome. Then there are the systemic actions of the points, wonderfully illustrated in this study using brain imaging. In essence, acupuncture points stimulate parts of the brain that are associated with many of the problems the points are traditionally purported to treat. The People’s Hospital of Peking University study uses points that are local (on the knee) which also positively affect health of the body in a way that supports recovery from osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a study of a treatment strategy that is incredibly simple and elegant. It is no wonder that it garnered positive results.

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    Allergy season is upon us, and there was recently an article on Time.com reporting on a study about acupuncture and allergies.
    The conclusion of the study was that “Acupuncture led to statistically significant improvements in disease-specific quality of life and antihistamine use measures after 8 weeks of treatment compared with sham acupuncture and with [cetirizine (i.e. Zyrtec and Reactine)] alone, but the improvements may not be clinically significant.”
    Sham acupuncture is when needles are not placed in relevant points on the body. It is used as a control group in acupuncture studies. I am not alone in the acupuncture world to be itching for acupuncture studies that compare acupuncture point prescriptions against one another, for there are many different strategies to treat allergies, as opposed to compare real acupuncture against sham acupuncture.
    Real acupuncture in a clinical trial is not quality acupuncture by any stretch of the imagination. Acupuncture works the best when the points selected are customized to an individual. Acupuncture does not function like medication, which is exactly the same composition of chemicals for each patient. Acupuncture points that work well for one person may do nothing for another, and vice versa. An acupuncture study, in attempts to maintain the “gold standard” of blinded control studies, uses the exact same point prescription for every patient. Therefore, acupuncture will frequently produce clinically insignificant results when practiced in a study, because a study by intention does not practice clinical acupuncture.
    Acupuncture is an expensive way to treat allergies, so it is probably only an avenue of pursuit for those who do not respond to, do not wish to, or are unable to take medications. There are Eastern herbal formula designed to treat allergies, which work well in conjunction with acupuncture, which can cut down on the number of visits required and mitigate the cost.

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Acupuncture has a long, storied history, and is useful in treating a wide array of ailments. Unlike medications or cortizone injections, acupuncture does not have a specific function, per se, the way aspirin treats pain, calcium tablets treat excess stomach acid, and antihystamines treat inflammation. Acupuncture is a tool with which to practice Traditional Eastern Medicine, and as such can be effectively used to treat pain, acid reflux, and inflammation depending on where the needles are placed on the body.

Traditional Eastern Medicine is based on principles and concepts that are unverifiable with modern science. This has quite rightly led many people in the west to view acupuncture with skepticism. However, acupuncture and Traditional Eastern Medical concepts have persisted from the miasma of prehistory into the twenty-first century despite modern science’s inability to explain how it works. More people in more regions of the world are enjoying its benefits than ever before, and it is gaining recognition in the medical community as it undergoes more rigorous scientific observationcontrolled clinical trials, as well as good old fashioned empiricism. All this despite no one being able to give a scientific explanation to its mode of operation, to prove how it works.

Traditional Eastern Medicine was developed long before the scientific method, and is not based on a scientific framework as much as it is on a philosophical one. It has been refined as much by court physicians in the great empires of Asia as by “barefoot doctors” wandering from village to village. This is not to say that TEM does not gladly incorporate science, just that it is first and foremost a philosophy based on Nature and Yin and Yang theory. Therefore, it is my belief that we will probably never have a satisfactory scientific explanation of acupuncture and TEM, just as we will never have a scientific explanation of virtue, morality, and music. Although we can certainly describe many facets of these concepts with science, their essence cannot be distilled into a molecular model or mathematical formula. So it is with acupuncture.

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Tai Yang / Greater Yang = big white part

Shao Yang / Lesser Yang  = small white part

Yang Ming / Yang Brightness = white circle

Tai Yin / Greater Yin = big black part

Shao Yin / Lesser Yin = small black part

Jue Yin / Reverting Yin = black circle

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Chinese name for the yin-yang symbol is the “Grand Ultimate Map” (tai ji tu). As its name implies, it is a description of the changes of states in which all phenomena are expressed. Yin and Yang are categories into which the myriad things can be ascribed.

The Chinese character for Yin was originally comprised of the character for the shady part of a hill, while the character for Yang included the character for the sunny part of a hill. The modern simplified characters involve the moon for yin, and the sun for yang, as they are far easier to write (at least for a westerner like me). The old characters do a great job of illustrating the concepts for categorization.

The shady side of a hill relative to the sunny side is wetter, darker, cooler, lower, and the earth falls into it (gathers). The sunny side of a hill relative to the shady side is drier, brighter, hotter, higher, and the earth falls away from it (disperses). These initial descriptors do a decent job of establishing the parameters for yin-yang delineation. Though we speak of separating phenomena into yin or yang categories, it should be remembered that nothing can be a yin concept without an attending relative yang concept, and vice versa. The little circles within the greater teardrops emphasize this point.

So is water always yin and fire always yang? Yes, but water can have yang aspects, such as the capacity to wear away rocks, while fire can have yin concepts, such as bending around logs. Some aspects of water are more yin than others, i.e. a still pool versus a raging river. So too are there examples of fire behaving more yang than other fire, i.e. running up a tree versus a smoldering coal.

The six divisions of yin and yang are a way of distinguishing the present state of a phenomena in its expression of yin or yang.

Greater Yang: This is the state of maximum yang. It is the most apparent, the zenith, and a great mover & shaker. Something in Greater Yang expression is expanding as quickly as possible. It is outward moving, expanding, and centrifugal force. In Eastern medical theory it represents what we call in English the Urinary Bladder and Small Intestine meridians and the posterior/dorsal aspect of the body.

Lesser Yang: The state of yang where its actions are not as obviously yang as they are in the Greater Yang. It is the pivot, for if we use the analogy of a lever, the input of force (the handle) is Greater Yang, and the output of force (the bit moving the heavy object) is Greater Yang, for these are both sites of great action. The fulcrum/pivot point acts on the lever in a way that changes the force from one end to the other depending on the relative distance. This is a contained force that doesn’t get into the heavy object, but changes the way the input force does. Lesser Yang is an active yang, rather than a passive yin, but its actions are obscured by the actions of Greater Yang, although they are not hidden. In Eastern Medical theory it represents the Gall Bladder and Triple Burner meridians and the lateral aspects of the body.

Yang Brightness: This is Yang behaving in a Yin fashion. The Sun casts light and warmth, and is about as yang as it gets. When the full moon reflects the light of the sun, we get light (albeit reduced) but do not detect any warmth. The same can be said of the sun reflecting off the ocean, it may hurt the eyes, but we don’t particularly feel anything. Where the Greater Yang Sun moves across the sky, the Lesser Yang’s presence allows for changes, the Yang Brightness creates movement through yin concepts like contraction. In this way it is the basis/foundation of Greater Yin. It is conveyance, moving other objects, not moving itself. This is best exemplified by the intestines conducting a bolus of food, the biological force we call peristalsis. In Eastern medical theory it represents the Stomach and Large Intestine meridians, and the anterior aspect of the body.

Greater Yin: This is the state of maximum yin. It is a vacuum; the vacuum of space, the lower pressure differential that draws air into the lungs. When we see yin at work in our environment we are witnessing the Greater Yin. It is obscuring like mist, dark like the deep trenches of the ocean. It is centripetal force, gathering and condensing. It is a phenomena at its nadir. In Eastern medical theory it is the Lung and Spleen/Pancreas meridians, and the most lateral of the medial aspects of the body.

Lesser Yin: What lies behind the scenes. Greater Yin is the yin aspects of nature where, though invisible, we can see its effect, while Lesser Yin is the aspect of nature that remains totally hidden. In a body it is the bones, in a film it is the physical script. If Greater Yin is the vacuum, then Lesser Yin is the absolute void without a force or material presence made manifest. In Eastern medical theory it is the Heart and Kidney meridians, the most medial of the medial aspects of the body.

Reverting Yin: This is the state of transition from the inward movement of yin into the outward expansion of yang. When the Universe collapses inwards on itself, condenses to a minuscule point, and then “bangs” out again, this is the action of Reverting Yin. In this way, the Reverting Yin functions as the basis/foundation of Greater Yang. In Eastern medical theory it is the Liver and Pericardium meridians.

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Inner Gate fMRI


I wouldn’t even make pretenses to being a neuroscientist by donning an Einstein wig and goggles, but I can generalize wildly at the distillations of actual neurobiologists with the best of them. This article is describing the areas of the brain that “light up” when subjects were needled at a specific acupuncture point, Nei Guan, which is also called Pericardium 6 (PC6), and translated into English as “Inner Gate.”

The areas of the brain that “lit up” in this study were: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), occipital fusiform gyrus, posterior cingulate cortex, and precuneus (PCC/PCU). They are involved with awareness, emotions, sense of self, empathy, judgments of self as distinct from others, pain, blood pressure & heart rate, episodic memories, and “unconscious” memory retrieval and vetting.

In Eastern medicine, PC6 is predominantly used for nausea, chest disorders, and shen disorders. The shen is the Eastern version of the ego as self (not the division into superego, id, etc.). Its name, Inner Gate, implies access to the inner workings, or the vault, which corresponds nicely to the idea of judging the parameters of our self, as well as memory retrieval. The Pericardium channel is used to treat disorders of the heart, like blood pressure, as the Pericardium literally wraps the heart to protect it, and figuratively acts as the Heart’s envoy & ambassador to protect it from hostile forces.

It is also the point used to access what is called the yin linking vessel, which is an extraordinary meridian that links all of the yin channels in the body together and acts as an overflow-canal system, to redistribute excesses and deficiencies into a state of balance. The yin channels are all connected with a yin organ, which are viewed as a seat of an aspect of consciousness in traditional Eastern medicine. In this way, PC6 can affect all the aspects of the shen, and thereby influence any emotional state.

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Qi is synergistic function as it is perceived by the aspect of our consciousness that is responsible for intuition. It is often spoken of as energy, and elaborated upon with metaphors of water, but this is merely to facilitate explanation. Energy is capable of transforming into matter and back again, but qi does not do this. It also does not register on the electromagnetic spectrum. Indeed, yin and yang qi is understandable as the positive and negative aspect of magnetism.

The very first line of the section of the Dao De Jing that talks about the Dao (“The Way”) says that “the way that can be spoken of is not the true Way.” Or as Alan Watts puts it, “The course that can be discoursed is not the true Course.” The same holds true of qi. If we think qi is anything like the metaphors we use to discuss qi, we miss the point entirely and go clamoring after illusions and fancies. The best way, in my opinion, to understand qi is experientially. This is not satisfactory for a discerning mind of science, I know, and to this objection there are two things I can say:

1) There are phenomena which are capable of being experienced and understood in a purely rational manner, and then there are the phenomena which arrive only through intuition. Barring the notion that intuition is the result of complex lateral calculations and processing we cannot yet understand, which is still speculation despite its deference to reason, intuitive phenomena deserve to be treated as possessing categorical differences from rational ones. In this approach, qi is a quality of intuition that communicates with rational phenomena, but is not itself of reason. Our senses and mental processes grounded in reason cannot perceive it, but this does not mean it is not there. There is a rational system for qi to follow, yin-yang theory, which it always follows. Thus, qi itself is perfectly rational in functioning, though it is something outside of reason. A reasonably unreasonable phenomenon.

2) Assuming intuition is a category of rational thought that we are yet unable to trace and understand, qi would then be an imagined variable that allows a system to work. Eastern medicine relies on qi, which may be how the ancients explained nerves and hormones, which for some reason are capable of being influenced by putting needles in the body at certain places, which do not have to be the same two points for the same results.

My study of this topic, both written and experiential, has led me to a conclusion with much more in common with the first point. I invite skeptics to give these healing arts a fair shot by placating their inner critic with one or both of these points. Belief or acceptance of qi has nothing to do with their efficacy, but it is a fascinating area of study.

That said, acupuncture, Eastern herbalism, Tai chi & qi gong all operate on the level of qi. Yoga describes this as prana, which is translated as breath energy. Try some daoist breathing and see where it takes you!

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