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East Meets West:

How does acupuncture work?

Western medicine is very curious about how acupuncture works---what follows is what we know so far about what happens when an acupuncturist inserts a tiny sterile needle at a specific location (eg an acupuncture point) on the body (and there are hundreds and hundreds of such points on the body).

The stimulus of needle is translated into a series of measurable biological responses, all occurring at the same time:

  • Endorphins, the body's natural painkiller molecules, are released into circulation
  • Serotonins, our natural calming molecules, are released into circulation
  • Inflammation is reduced locally and immunity overall is improved
  • Circulation of blood and oxygen are improved locally and balanced
  • Pain centers of our brains calm down
  • Restorative centers of our brains  become more active
  • Limbic areas, the emotional centers of our brains calm down, reducing stress response

This is one explanation of how acupuncture can balance the body-mind-spirit, reduce stress, and help you rediscover the emotional balance that already lies within you. Go ahead and feel like your best day ever on more days with acupuncture — and without drugs or side effects.

What is the 'point?'

Those hundreds and hundreds of acupuncture points that the ancient Chinese elucidated and mapped can actually be verified with electrical measurements on the skins surface — acupuncture points are points where we can measure the body's natural electricity as locations of greater electrical conductivity. Random locations on the body do not display such conductivity. 

The idea of communication and flow as conductivity and electricity is inherent in the Chinese medical theory. Ancient theorists understood the body's major bioelectric physiological pathways as a natural signaling system, eg circuits or network where energy (known as Qi pronounced 'chee') 'flows' through channels or meridians, along which the acupuncture points are located. The flow of Qi (or the bioelectrical relay of physiological information) is adjusted by needle stimulus — it is all a question of balance.

My favorite explanation of 'Qi', also translated as 'Vital Energy' in ancient texts, is a visual one:  Have you ever see time lapse photography of a sprouting seed or a blooming flower?

The indescribable burst and elation of energy we witness is the sum total of all the physiological processes in the plant — that is 'Qi'. And in humans, that includes the sum total of our human experience — body, mind, spirit---that is our birthright and the source of health and healing that exists in all of us.



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