18 Jan 2016

Energy Pathways of Chinese Medicine

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How Acupuncture Works

People keep asking me how this medicine works, so I thought I’d try to explain it as the Chinese viewed the body over 3000 years ago.  What actually happens within the body is still cloaked in some mystery.  But I’m getting an intuition and feel for it, and will attempt to explain it here.

Meridians, Rivers of Energy

The ancient Chinese believed that energy travels along certain pathways, and because it was an agrarian society 3000 years ago, they visualized rivers or canals in the body. They mapped out eight main meridians, and 8 other “extraordinary” meridians. From our modern scientific perspective on our circulatory system, we can see that their maps of the body match our circulatory system, remarkably so.  Their 16 pathways closely resemble our knowledge of how blood, nerves, and energy move in our bodies, yet they never did surgeries.

Blocked Energy = Pain and Illness

They also believed that if one of these channels or pathways was blocked, pain and illness would follow.  Using farm analogies in their teachings, they demonstrated that if one blocks a stream, everything planted downstream withers and suffers. Very simple to visualize, and it isn’t far from the truth.  But their real genius came next:  figuring out what points on the surface of the body would unblock a meridian that is deeper within the body.

When I insert a needle into a point on your wrist so that I can treat your neck pain, I’m figuring out how to get the stream (or the circulatory system with all of its blood and energy) flowing again.  There are acupuncture points along these pathways that trigger a flow of energy, and I can actually aim them to the right place in the body.  We are, after all, energy beings, and energy wants to flow.  The Chinese called that energy QI.  We could also say that the needles or pressure points are effective at boosting the body’s own healing mechanism; the practitioner then directs it to the affected area.

I am currently treating a woman for debilitating wrist pain.  Points on her opposite ankle are used to treat the painful wrist.  She simply couldn’t believe the pain-free relief that came with inserting a needle into the right spot on the ankle, effectively unblocking and releasing the pain in her wrist.  More treatments are needed to keep the pain away permanently, but she understands that some time will be needed to completely heal a condition that has existed for months or even years.

Acupuncture Is Evidence-Based Medicine

What an amazing system of medicine this is!   And yet only about 8% of the population uses acupuncture. There will never be enough money to run the kinds of double blind, placebo controlled studies that the big pharmaceuticals can conduct.  This is evidence- based medicine, and the evidence is clear.  Help spread the word.

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About the Author


Janet Barrows, has a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (MSOM) from the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, CA. She is a California State Licensed Acupuncturist (L. Ac.) practicing acupuncture and integrative medicine in Santa Rosa, CA. Her practice includes acupuncture, natural herbs, facial rejuvenation, nutrition, and medical qigong.