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Ancient Healing

Acupuncture 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.

Both 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.

Acupuncture 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.

This 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 skills.

Throughout 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 the needles.

Many 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).

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Ted Kaptchuk, OMD
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