Recent findings show acupuncture produces natural pain-relieving substances, hormones, anti-inflammatory substances and immune system enhancers. Cutting-edge brain scans reveal that acupuncture stimulates the limbic system which in turn regulates these responses. What these high-tech studies are revealing is something acupuncturists have known for more than 2,000 years: Acupuncture helps the body heal itself.
Western medicine's approach to treating disease is similar to how a mechanic goes about fixing a broken down car; he finds the broken part in the automobile and then tries to fix or replace it. This approach essentially ignores our body's natural healing efforts and by-passes them with man-made fixes such as killing bacteria with antibiotics, or placing a balloon into a clogged artery to restore blood flow. Unlike an automobile though, the human body has the potential to repair and heal itself. Western medicine has a history of assuming that whenever a health problem is not healed quickly, it's time for the doctor/mechanic to step in and take over. While it's true that some health problems require outside intervention, many problems simply fail to resolve because the body's self-healing ability is not operating at 100% capacity.
Paradoxically, the possibility of stimulating the body's own self healing ability is not even considered an option in modern Western medicine. If you look at acupuncture as just another type of mechanical fix acting in place of natural healing resources, then it appears to be ineffective. But if you look at acupuncture as a method that facilitates self-healing by stimulating key brain centers for example, then its potential seems great indeed.
How does sticking a needle or applying pressure to specific spots on the body stimulate brain centers that initiate self-healing? Modern researchers don't have a clue but the ancient Chinese, who discovered and refined this approach, believed they knew: Acupuncture restores the free flow of qi throughout the body.
The ancient concept of qi (pronounced "chee" by the Chinese and "key" by the Japanese) has been a cornerstone of Eastern thought for more than two thousand years. Qi is seen as an all-pervasive force of nature, a force that animates matter and gives function to form. According to this concept, the constant evolution of all creation occurs because qi is in constant motion. As qi flows, it's similar how a wave causes water molecules to move. If this force is obstructed and unable to flow freely, it leads to pain and disease.
Restore the normal flow of qi, and pain and disease resolve themselves. Acupuncture and acupressure points are spots in the body where qi has the greatest tendency to get stuck. Stimulating these spots with needles (acupuncture) or finger pressure (acupressure) helps to break-up obstructions and restore the flow of qi.
The problem modern skeptics have with the traditional qi explanation is that researchers have been unable to confirm the existence of this force. But, in this day of sky-rocketing health care costs and alarming evidence of drug side-effects, this should not deter us from making more use of acupuncture and acupressure. While it's impressive that millions of Americans have been helped with these therapies over the last 30 years, they represent only a fraction of those who could be helped. Nature has endowed us with the power of self-healing. Acupuncture and acupressure help us to unleash this power.
Matthew D. Bauer is a Licensed Acupuncturist and author of "The Healing Power of Acupressure and Acupuncture: A Complete Guide to Timeless Traditions and Modern Practice"(Avery, 2005, $14.95). Visit Matthew's website at www.MatthewDBauer.com for more information on Matthew's book, Chinese medicine, or speaking availability.
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