has a well-documented history in China spanning over 2,000
years, but some studies believe it originated almost 4,000 years ago.
In fact, examples of the earliest acupuncture needles made of stone
(bian) and ceramic predate the development of iron. Hieroglyphics
of both acupuncture and moxibustion date from the Shang Dynasty, three
thousand years ago.
Taoism and Confucianism have had a great influence over the development
of medicine in China. One of the main tenets of Confucianism stresses
that the body is holy, and must remain intact through life and into
death. The Taoists, on the other hand, believe that the key to health
is the maintenance of balance between opposing forces in nature, symbolized
most powerfully by yin and yang. The philosophy of Chinese
medicine can be said to exist between these two philosophies: disharmony
brings 'dis-ease', and a doctor can cure the patient through detailed
and accurate observations of the external and emotional life of the
patient. Acupuncture and moxibustion have both been successful in curing
internal disease through external means.
is based on ancient theories of the flow of life force energy, qi
(pronounced "chee"), along pathways or meridians, similar in concept
to the nervous and circulatory system. According to acupuncture theory,
disease or pain is caused by a blockage of qi at one or more organs
or acupoints along the meridians. Needles are used to stimulate these
points and facilitate the free flow of blocked energy. Moxibustion,
frequently used in conjunction with acupuncture, places burning herbs
near the skin or directly on the acupuncture needles, using heat to
stimulate the same meridian points. There are over 300 points and fourteen
channels on the human body which are used today in acupuncture.
method of healing dates back to the Sui dynasty (AD 561-618.) Acupuncture,
moxibustion and herbal medicine formed the basis of the curriculum of
the first medical college in China, which was founded at this time.
Through the centuries, techniques continued to grow and develop. Contact
with Europeans in the 16th century opened the West to this ancient medicine.
The Jesuits, in particular, collected and disseminated a great deal
of traditional Eastern medical information to Europe, while also bringing
Western concepts to China. Missionaries established Western medical
colleges at the end of the 19th century in China, and acupuncture was
briefly outlawed in 1929. However, under Communist rule, there was a
return to traditional Chinese medicine, especially in the countryside,
where the remedies were cheap, accepted by the people, and used
the 1950's, many new clinics were opened in China to provide, teach,
and investigate traditional methods of Chinese medicine. The resurgence
in interest along with access to Western techniques, led to the development
of many new methods of acupuncture, including ear, scalp
and electro-acupuncture, which uses small electrical currents to stimulate
Eastern and Western health practitioners seem to agree that acupuncture
and moxibustion have the highest success rates when treating chronic
conditions such as back problems and arthritis in adults, or asthma
and ear infections in children. In addition, they have been found useful
in treating migraine headaches, side effects from chemotherapy, and
gynecological conditions. Recently, the Journal of the American Medical
Association published a study which showed moxibustion was an effective
therapy for treating pregnant woman and reversing breech babies, (Cardini
& Welxin, JAMA Nov 11, 1998-vol. 280, No. 18).
Ted Kaptchuk, OMD
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