Copyright Matthew D. Bauer and New Living Magazine March, 2005
Acupuncture, Acupressure, and the Power of Self-Healing
By Matthew D. Bauer, L.Ac.
When the ancient Chinese art of acupuncture first came to public light in the West some 30 years ago, it was quickly labeled by medical authorities as a bizarre, antiquated folk remedy with no medical value beyond the hit-and-miss chance of a placebo. Expert after expert dismissed the idea that sticking needles in people could help
any medical condition, yet alone the long list of disorders supporters claimed it could treat. Yet despite its rocky reception here, acupuncture’s popularity grew steadily, especially among those suffering from pain or stubborn, chronic conditions. An entirely new-to-the-Western-world health care profession - Licensed Acupuncturists - sprang-up to meet the demand, complete with its own accredited schools, licensing boards, and state and national licensing examinations.
As acupuncture slowly gained credibility here, Western scientists began to take it more seriously and started looking for answers as to how it may work. Recent findings show acupuncture causes an array of changes in body chemistry including producing natural pain relieving substances, hormones, anti-inflammatory substances, and immune system enhancers. Cutting-edge brain scans reveal that acupuncture stimulates key brain centers such as the limbic system that in turn regulates an array of bodily functions. What these high-tech studies are revealing is something acupuncturists have known for more than 2,000 years: Acupuncture helps the body to heal itself.
Western medicine’s approach to treating disease is similar to how a mechanic goes about fixing a dysfunctional machine; one finds the glitch in the machinery and then intervenes to restore the machine’s proper function. This approach essentially replaces our body’s natural healing efforts with man-made fixes such as killing bacteria with man-made antibiotics, or placing a man-made balloon into a clogged artery to restore blood flow.
Of course, unlike any machine, the human organism has the potential to repair or heal itself. The critical question is whether or not our self-healing efforts are powerful enough to heal any given disorder. Western medicine has a history of assuming that whenever a health problem is not quickly resolved by our natural healing ability, it is time for the doctor/mechanic to step in and take over. But while it is true that some health problems are beyond the body’s ability to heal and thus require outside intervention, many problems simply fail to resolve because the individual’s self-healing ability is not operating at 100% capacity. In such cases, common sense tells us that if we could boost the self-healing ability - get it closer to its full capacity - this could make-up the difference and allow self-healing to take place.
Oddly, the possibility of stimulating the body’s self-healing ability is not even considered an option in modern Western medicine. This explains why those first medical authorities here failed to appreciate acupuncture’s potential. If one looks at acupuncture as just another type of mechanical fix – acting in place of natural healing resources – then it appears to be ineffective. But if one looks at acupuncture as a method that facilitates self-healing – by stimulating key brain centers for example – then its potential seems great indeed.
Although understanding that acupuncture helps the body to heal itself is crucial to appreciating its potential, this does not explain just how it, or its related therapy acupressure, works. How does sticking a needle or applying pressure to a specific spot in the flesh stimulate brain centers that in turn stimulate self-healing? Modern researchers don’t have a clue. The ancient Chinese however, who discovered and refined this approach, believed they knew: Acupuncture restores the free flow of
qi throughout the body.
The ancient concept of qi (pronounced “chee” by the Chinese and “key” by the Japanese) has been a cornerstone of Eastern thought for more than two thousand years.
Qi is seen as an all-pervasive force of nature, a force that animates matter and gives function to form. According to this concept, the constant evolution of all creation occurs because
qi is in constant motion. As qi flows, it sets all in motion in a manner similar to how the motion of a wave causes water molecules to move. If this force is obstructed, unable to flow freely, it upsets nature’s delicate balancing act and causes disorder. In the human organism,
qi blockage leads to pain and disease. Restore the normal flow of qi and pain and disease resolve themselves. Acupuncture and acupressure points are spots in the flesh where
qi has the greatest tendency to get stuck. Stimulating these spots with needles (acupuncture) or finger pressure (acupressure) helps to break-up obstructions and restore the flow of
The problem modern skeptics have with the traditional qi explanation is that researchers have been unable to confirm the existence of this force. But, in this day of sky-rocketing health care costs and alarming evidence of drug side-effects, this should not deter us from making more use of acupuncture and acupressure. While it is impressive that millions of Americans have been helped with these therapies over the last 30 years, they represent only a fraction of those who could be helped. Nature has endowed us with the power of self-healing. Acupuncture and acupressure help us to unleash this power.