Acupuncture is a type of therapy used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Chinese medicine is part of a spiritual tradition over 2,500 years old, which emphasizes the importance of cultivating balanced energy in the body, mind, and spirit.
According to the principles of Chinese medicine, energy called Qi (or Ch’i) flows in and through our bodies. This energy travels along thirty-five channels, or meridians, which link the organs of the body together. Qi may be positive or negative in quality, similar to the poles of a magnet: these qualities are called, Yin (negative) and Yang (positive). When Yin and Yang are balanced, Qi flows freely through the body, which is in a state of physical and mental health. When they are out of balance, however, the meridians can become obstructed, giving rise to all kinds of physical and emotional ailments.
Acupuncturists aim to treat the underlying causes of physical and psychological disorders by restoring balance to the body’s energy. This is done by placing small needles in the skin along the meridians at precise points, removing obstructions to the flow of Qi and allowing the body to return to its proper, balanced state. Because it acts on channels that flow through the entire body as well as the mind, acupuncture is used to treat an extraordinarily wide range of conditions, from intestinal disorders to depression and anxiety.
Acupuncture is usually performed in conjunction with other TCM techniques, including herbal medicine, t’ai chi, and meditation. This is because Chinese medicine is a holistic practice, and focuses not on the symptoms but the underlying causes of disease. When body, mind and spirit are considered together, imbalances in the body can be righted accurately, not only treating the current condition but preventing future ailments from arising as well.
In the West, acupuncture is still a relatively recent introduction. Only in the past two or three decades have doctors and scientists attempted to systematically study how and why acupuncture works. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States published the results of a multi-year study on the efficacy of acupuncture in treating various ailments. While the results were preliminary and often equivocal, the NIH presentation acknowledged the usefulness of acupuncture as both an adjunct and primary treatment for a wide range of ailments, and encouraged further research on the subject.
Since that time, acupuncture has been the subject of countless studies and experiments, which have produced predictably diverse results. However, the minimally invasive nature of acupuncture, along with its low risk of side effects, have helped it gain wide acceptance in Europe and America, with many health insurance providers covering its use alongside conventional treatments. The survival of this practice from prehistory to the present day suggest that acupuncture, along with other traditional Chinese medicinal techniques, can stand shoulder to shoulder with the most advanced treatments technology can produce.