Acupuncture – A Tool on the Journey to Health and Self-Discovery
by Fabienne Alsing B.A.,Ac.M.,M.B.Ac.C.Cert.ECBS
Myths and Associations
Acupuncture is a wonderful system of medicine which originated in the East about five to seven thousand years ago, and yet it is only decades since it was introduced into the Western society. Despite becoming a more widely accepted and recognised therapy form in the West, acupuncture still evokes some unfortunate reactions amongst a number of people. The most common questions I get from people who have not yet experienced acupuncture treatment, are: ‘Does it hurt?’ and ‘Does it work?’
As well as going into the much more exciting healing aspects of acupuncture, I will therefore answer these questions and look at putting to rest some of the unhelpful myths commonly associated with acupuncture.
Many people are still unwilling to consider receiving acupuncture due to their fear of needles, not to mention the fear of what one might catch from the needle(!) and any possible side-effects of the treatment. They have visions of lying for a long time with numerous large needles sticking out of them, causing a lot of pain and making them look something like a hedgehog.
The reality is, that acupuncture, when practised correctly, has no side-effects. It may bring to the surface unresolved or suppressed issues within the patient, to be looked at and cleared as part of the healing process, and it can sometimes be uncomfortable to face issues we have not wanted to or felt able to look at before. However, this is a necessary part of any healing process and as long as we work with it, the discomfort will only be very temporary. Also, a properly qualified acupuncturist will use sterile, hair-fine needles which when inserted correctly, will slip in through the pores of the skin, and so the actual puncturing of the skin is felt only as a very faint sensation and in some cases not at all. There is a slightly sharp secondary sensation when the needle connects with the energy in the point to bring about the treatment. This sensation literally only lasts for a second, whether the needle is left in or removed straight away, and is certainly much less painful than the pain and suffering many people put up with for years, to avoid trying acupuncture. Most of my patients are really surprised when they receive their first treatment, at how the sensation does not match their expectations and wish they had come much sooner.
Different acupuncture practitioners will use different needle techniques depending on their personal preference, and the technique I prefer to use is very light and involves 90% of the time removing the needle in the same movement as inserting it. Different acupuncturists also work with patients in different ways and I will always suggest to ‘interview’ a few practitioners to find one you feel you can personally work with, and at the same time check out their qualifications. I would personally choose a practitioner who has a minimum of three years acupuncture training, regardless of any other medical qualifications they might have, and also one who holds a full membership of The British Acupuncture Council (M.B.Ac.C.). The B.Ac.C. sets strict regulations for codes of ethics and practice. They keep a register of all their members and will also provide further help and answer questions. They can be contacted on 0181 7350400.
As for the use of acupuncture, most people have either watched TV programmes or read articles about the extraordinary use of acupuncture as an anaesthetic during often complicated surgical operations, or indeed as an aid to stop smoking or loose weight by wearing a stud inserted into an acupuncture point on one’s ear.
Both of these ways of using acupuncture can be effective and helpful in certain situations. However, acupuncture is also practised both preventatively, to ‘service’ one’s body and preempt disease in a similar way to how one will service one’s car, and also holistically, as a complete system of medicine. It is usually highly effective in aiding the healing process of a wide range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual imbalances within a person. In some cases, where a person’s illness is at a point of being irreversible, acupuncture can even be used to help the person in their dying process, by easing discomfort and promoting peace within.
Holistic acupuncture, is based on a deep understanding of how nature works and how the cycles and workings of nature are reflected within us. The cause of a person’s troubles or symptoms is diagnosed through determining certain imbalances within the natural flow of the life force or energy within (also referred to as Chi).
To explain this to my patients, I often use the analogy of the body being like the house they live in; In their house, they will have a water supply, a telephone network system and an electricity supply to all their appliances. In our bodies, we have a blood supply, a nervous system and we also have an electricity supply to all our inner appliances – our organs and functions. This electricity or Chi, which keeps all our organs and functions working for us, is absorbed from the air we breathe and nourished by the food we eat and it is with us from the moment we take our first breath at birth till the moment we stop breathing at the point of death. The Chi flows through us in a whole network of electrical wires, usually referred to as energy pathways or meridians.
We all know that if the fuse box or one of the electrical wires in our house is faulty, we will at worst have a power cut and at best, our electrical appliances won’t work properly. In a similar way, if there is an imbalance within our internal energy system, our organs and functions won’t work as well as they ought to, often leading to physical symptoms.
We can access the flow of Chi by inserting hair-fine acupuncture needles into certain points along the meridians, to restore the proper flow.
Acupuncture, when used as a complete holistic system of medicine, provides the manual for how to diagnose the imbalance and also the tool for correcting it. Holistic acupuncture will look at a person’s Bodymindspirit as a whole and each organ and function within us have jobs, related to our mind and our spirit as well as to our body.
Anyone who has experienced having ‘flu’, knows that it doesn’t only affect our body. It also affects our ability to think clearly as well as the way we feel in our spirit. Conversely, feeling depressed or low in ourselves, will affect our physical immunity and also again our mental capacity.
We all know that when we feel happy, confident and peaceful, our muscles are relaxed and our posture is healthy, allowing a free flow of energy. If we lack confidence or feel angry or fearful, sad or mentally stressed, our muscles tend to tense up and we hold ourselves differently. We may then restrict the flow of Chi and cause energy blocks.
In this way we can understand how the cause of a person’s physical symptom, may well be at a mental, emotional or spirit level, and if we then were to treat only the physical symptom itself, we would achieve nothing more than possibly a short-lived relief. In fact, our physical symptoms are usually our body’s way of trying to tell us that there is an imbalance somewhere within our system. Our body is really quite an amazingly sensitive instrument; It will tell us all its needs if we only learn to listen. If we choose to ignore the messages of our body and numb our symptoms with painkillers, antibiotics and other drugs, the result is more often than not, a more serious imbalance and stronger symptoms. One of my favourite words of wisdom is: ‘If we listen to the whispers, the universe doesn’t need to shout at us’.
The vast majority of the physical symptoms I see in my practice, have roots in the emotional and spiritual deprivation a lot of people feel as a result of our current way of living.
Practised in this way, the acupuncture diagnosis becomes an exciting journey for both patient and practitioner, of exploring the real root cause of a given symptom and the treatment becomes a way of restoring balance and harmony within the energy system, hence allowing the person’s own natural healing process to work again.
Even after twelve years of practise, it never ceases to amaze me how often the most simple holistic acupuncture treatment will not only relieve or improve a physical symptom, but also trigger a healing process within a person on much deeper levels. Treatment will often release blocked memories and past experiences – and all I ever did was to restore the flow of nature within.
Having said all this, the quality and effectiveness of any holistic treatment,
depends in my experience largely upon two factors:
1) The individual practitioner’s ability to be at one with nature as well as a pure channel for Divine healing energy. True healing does not come from the practitioner, or the needle. It comes from a much greater universal healing force, to which we are all connected deep within our being. For a practitioner to be able to facilitate any true healing, s/he needs to find within him/her the connection with this divine healing force, listen to the deep inner guidance, observe the energy flow within the patient to determine the nature of the imbalance and then allow the healing force to trigger the patient’s own inner healing and deep connection. This ability requires years (and maybe even lifetimes) of constant dedication on the part of the practitioner in self development, and it is not a skill which can be learned through books.
A holistic practitioner will look beyond a person’s ‘story’ for the answers to their imbalance and not only help restore the natural flow of Chi within the patient, but also assist the patient towards an awareness of how s/he created the imbalance in the first place. The real task of any true holistic therapist is to encourage and facilitate self-empowerment and self-responsibility within each individual person who seeks their help. The work involved in guiding the patient in exploring and releasing their unhelpful emotional patterns and thought processes is a vital component of the treatment. Help and guidance on nutrition and lifestyle is also particularly important.
2) The patient also has to be willing and ready to put to use the effects of the healing and guidance and then make the necessary changes in their life to avoid the imbalance reoccurring. This in turn requires commitment and patience on the part of the patient. All healing involves learning and learning is a gradual, natural process. There is no such thing as a quick-fix or short-cut in a true learning process, just like there are no short-cuts in a child learning to walk or a bud opening in springtime. As I mentioned before, any imbalance is caused by a deviation from the divine force within the natural flow of energy and a build up of physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual toxins within, which in turn blocks the flow of Chi. A true, long term healing, will therefore only take place when the patient starts to take charge of their own process; clear out the toxins; start listening to the true whispers within, and restore their life to be in tune with their true nature.
We are all too used to giving our power away to ‘people in authority’ – the so called ‘specialists’ or ‘experts’. I strongly believe that we, ourselves, are the real experts. When we start seeking, we will find that we already have all the answers deep within us and although it is often both very helpful and sometimes necessary to seek the guidance of health practitioners along the way, the aim of this seeking should in my opinion be to ask for the healing to point us in the right direction whenever we stray from our path. Acupuncture is an effective tool on our road to health and self-discovery, in that it can prepare and maintain the soil from which we grow and ease the discomfort when the growing gets tough. The rest of the task is our own and our healing process then becomes a journey of exciting and colourful learning.