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Understanding Acupuncture and Chinese herbs

Western medicine and Oriental medicine have very different ways of looking at health and use very different languages. The differences are why so many people turn to acupuncture when they want a fresh approach to health, or when all else has failed. In acupuncture and Chinese herbs, there are many ways of understanding each diagnosis that someone might get from their medical doctor. Each person is unique and their treatment will be too.


Even within Oriental medicine, there are different schools of thought and ways to approach treatment. Five element acupuncture is based on the person’s constitution, in other words, the specific blend of five elements, or aspects found in the natural world, and how they show up in a person. These five elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. They have associations with our internal organs, seasons of the year, and many other things such as flavors and smells. When a person is in balance, the five elements create and control each other in a fluid way which allows the body and mind to function properly. In this system, often less needles are used and the insertion of the needles is very shallow. The points are used in a very precise, and often poetic, manner.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), more reference is made to “Organs” and channels, often called meridians. Acupuncture uses an understanding of pathways that have been mapped out. Those pathways run through the entire body. The map looks a lot like a picture of nerves or blood vessels though it does not have the same structure to it. Each pathway is named for a major organ that it runs through, and the Organs have a much bigger responsibility than just their biochemical roles that Western medicine uses.


Oriental medicine has even more special vocabulary: Blood, Yin, Yang, Qi, Jing, Shen and other substances all play a role and must be balanced. For acupuncturists, Blood is more than the red stuff flowing in our veins. Blood is our substance, or our physical nature. Yin is even denser, and allows us to be still and peaceful and cool. Yang keeps us warm and active and upright. Qi keeps all the processes of our body going and is built of the air we breath and the food we eat. Jing is like our highest octane fuel and is crucial to reproduction and to longevity. Shen is like our spirit and must be able to soar, to rest and to shine in our lives.


Each person, and any health conditions they have, can be understood as balances and imbalances of all these parts. At the same time, each Western idea can be understood in these terms. Someone’s hormone levels, bile production by their liver, blood pressure, unchecked cancerous cells, quick temper, or other sign of disease can be understood in terms of “Organs”, meridians, elements and substances in Chinese medicine. Acupuncture treats the cause of the problem by using very tiny needles at specific points along the channels to create movement, and to stimulate or to calm Organs so that the whole system works better. Chinese herbs act in much the same way, moving blockages in the road and delivering just what the body and mind need to be healthy and balanced.

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