Some of you who have been attending clinic may have noticed a change in the things we are doing in the main room. Specifically, you may have been under the impression that, when attending an establishment called Dragon Acupuncture, you would expect to be seeing and receiving, well… acupuncture. Massage work and assisted stretching of some kind: perhaps not so much; which is what we’ve been doing a great deal of over the last half-year or so.
We’ve all tried to explain things to individual patients we’re working on and anybody else who is listening, but it might be worth making a more general effort to explain what we’re doing and the fundamental shift in perspective that goes with it.
When we were taught acupuncture we were told that there was a network of fine wires all over the body conveying a sort of mystical ‘bioenergy’ called qi. There were a series of points on the pathways which if stimulated by sticking a needle in them, would make changes in the way someone’s body worked.
Over the years we have come to believe that the map of points is a lot more vague than the one in the charts on the walls of Chinese clinics. We don’t think that just putting a needle in them will necessarily do anything at all, it may or may not depending on other factors which we’ll come to in a minute. We know that the channels aren’t thin wires but great big zones of flesh fascia and bone and contain blood, lymphatic fluid, interstitial fluid. None of us really believe in the notion of qi as a sort of life energy electricity that somehow has never been seen or measured by western science, but exists nonetheless less.
Whats become more interesting in Chinese medicine is the way body posture affects your physical health. One of the big issues that causes you to age quickly is collapses in posture that affect the amount of room the internal organs have to move as they work. The internal organs move about an enormous amount as they function in the day-to-day. This is something that has only very recently become apparent in western anatomy which has tended to focus on the information given by dissection of cadavers. This tells you a great deal about how the body is put together, but very little about what’s actually going on when it is alive. Until the advent of the MRI scanner, the internal function of a healthy body was a bit of a mystery. The innards and vital organs tended to be viewed as something like a pocket watch with a lot of structures packed into a small tight space. It’s actually much more like a complex dance of marine life. For instance we now know that the kidneys move around; as a result of walking and movement of the spine; and the regular descent of the diaphragm as we breathe. We know the right kidney will slip behind the liver on every breath, and that the kidneys travel an average of ten miles per day.
If you hold a lot of tension in your ribs and shoulders and hang your head forwards then your heart will have less room to beat effectively. If you have large twists in the pelvis and spine then this can put a lot of pressure on digestive function. If you arc your back and stick your bum out then it will tend to affect kidney movement and impact on the adrenals, this in turn also tenses and creates rigidity in the chest affecting the heart.
Over the years we have observed that the pathways of the acupuncture channels can be used as a way of describing issues of postural collapse leading to pressures on the internal organs to which they connect.
Taoist movement work nei gung chi gung and martial arts like tai ji and bagua are based on opening up the spaces in which the internal organs move to enhance physical and emotional health and slow down the ageing process. This technology and perspective on the body underpins Chinese medicine and has over the years informed what we do at Dragon Acupuncture. The arm and leg movements of Tai ji or chi kung engage with the fascial trains that lead deep into the internal organs and the structures that hold them in place. Fascia is the true skeleton of the body. It is the translucent sheets you see between muscles when you are preparing a bit of chicken. Fascia creates a kind of micro scaffolding all over the body which also acts as a passage for interstitial (cellular) fluid, another kind of very fast nervous response based on hyaluronic acid and is in all probability the structure we seek to engage with to make changes in health with acupuncture, rather than a network of channels holding a sort of spiritual electricity no one has ever seen or measured. The importance of fascia is only now becoming apparent because of the MRI scanners and fibre optic cameras ability to see the body in action.
There are schools of bodywork and massage which were edited out of Chinese medicine after the cultural revolution which is the material we are currently using in clinic. This involves a lot of work with our hands as well as needles. In musculoskeletal work it is based on opening up and invigorating the spine and encouraging the body to release held toxicity and fully process areas of incompletely resolved trauma. The same approach or a very similar one is used to engage with problems of the outer immune system such as coughs and colds, digestive problems and skin conditions.
This is exciting material for The Dragon as it confirms and enhances the way we’ve grown to view acupuncture. It also bridges the gap between working with your hands and working with a needle, which are increasingly interchangeable ways of affecting the body.
The issue of getting a point to work and make changes in the body relates to your ability to read what is going on in the tissue and react appropriately. It requires sensitivity, grounding, focus and stillness and has very little to do with intellectual knowledge or having a degree in Chinese medicine. It will also only really work if a patient is happy to be helped by the acupuncturist to let go of whatever structure is causing them discomfort, and change.
The body tends to function in self-supporting loops. As an example: good blood flow maintains a good open physical posture through nourishing the muscles which in turn enhances blood flow. Poor blood flow will constrict the chest creating poorer movement of blood from the heart and continuing poor blood flow. Effective deep breathing will massage and relax the digestive system preventing a build up of mucous in the lung! If the breath weakens then the lungs will tend to clog.
So a self-supporting loop can become a vicious circle and potentially a chronic down grade of physical health. In more musculoskeletal terms an area where the blood has stagnated through trauma or getting cold will tend to stay that way as the blood flow is impaired through the area meaning the tissues are poorly served with blood and lymph and can’t heal properly. This is the Chinese medical argument against putting ice on an injury
Acupuncture is mainly focused on reversing vicious circles which can be very easy or more tricky. This depends a great deal on how chronic the issue is and how much room for change there is in the situation, as well the skill of the practitioner. Acupuncture is in some ways the reverse of western medicine, which takes a long time and a lot of work to learn but is relatively easy to apply unless you are working a particularly complex field like surgery. Acupuncture is easy to learn and very hard to apply effectively.
The way bodies stiffen twist and collapse are reflections of emotional well-being as much as physical disharmony. The way we hold ourselves constantly informs our relationships with people around us. http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html?source=facebook#.UoSp873ecPt.facebook
So body posture will tend to amplify the state we are in through the context of interpersonal relationships. The same situation of feedback loops can be said to be at play with our emotions. Working with physical structure, so promoting expansion of the body out into the world, releasing the chest and spine. Allowing the pelvis to anchor us into the ground can create the cascade of change behind resolution of chronic physical or emotional discomfort.
It’s also a step into a far more complex world. Away from the persistent notion of human beings being something like a pocket watch and towards embracing the idea that relationship, societal structure and a healthy emotional life promotes a healthy physical life and vice versa and for everyone around you.
So don’t be surprised if you come in and see someone massaging someone’s calves or apparently giving someone a facial instead of putting in needles, at the end of the day it’s all about change.