This question is actually more complicated to answer than you'd think. It's a matter of taking an in depth and somewhat difficult to understand tradition, and putting it into analogies that help shed some light on the mechanisms of acupuncture.
Here's how I like to explain it. The inside and outside of the body are filled with highways (meridians) in which the messages of the world around us are taken in and transported around to where they need to be for our reaction and responses in daily life. Some of these highways carry sensations, some carry emotions, some carry nutrients, etc. You get the picture?? I order for you to feel at your optimum health, it is important that all the highways be transporting at a smooth and regular flow all around the body.
Now, take a minute in my analogy to put yourself in a car on a real highway. In order for optimum movement of traffic, all the cars have to be doing what they are supposed to and the road surfaces free from debris or blockage for everything to flow smoothly. Right?? So, now, put yourself on that highway and close down one lane. What happens to the traffic flow? It's a bit of a mess, right??? And notice how you feel when the traffic flow starts to turn into a bit of a mess (worried, grumpy, aggressive, tense in the body, etc.)
OK. Let's get away from the actual traffic scenario and back to our own inner highways. If real life traffic becomes a mess when a part of the highway or the travelers on it aren't moving freely, can you imagine what happens inside our body when our "energy" highways are not flowing freely? Perhaps you already know the answer because you experience it regularly. For some, it comes up as mental health issues (anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, etc.) For others, it comes up as digestive issues (irritable bowel, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, acid reflux, etc.) For other still, it shows up like pain (back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, etc.) Depending on where the traffic blockage is occurring, will lend itself to what the body is experiencing.
Acupuncture seeks to be the clean up crew to the debris and blockages. With needles placed in strategic locations, an acupuncturist can help move the traffic (qi/energy) and get things flowing smoothy again. No two treatments are the same for different people.
Even if two people have what seem like the same traffic jam, the circumstances and situations that led to the jam are unique and require personalized attention.
How do we acupuncturists go about cleaning up the traffic jam? We ask a lot of questions. Not only are we concerned with where you are feeling the malfunction (emotional imbalance, physical pain, etc), but we want to know so much more (how's your sleep, how's your appetite, what's your week been like, what do you like to do for fun, how do you cope with your stress, do you eat a lot of cold food, do you take regular pee breaks, do you have a lot of sex, what's your poop look like). Believe me, we ask about EVERYTHING!!! We are naturally curious people and because of that curiosity, we can better see you as the entire network of highways so that we can clean up not only the debris at the site, but also clean up anything else that might be contributing to the slow down in your traffic (life force) flow.
Our goal is to keep your highways clear and flowing freely so that you go through your days experiencing optimum wellbeing, and your body/mind has the resiliency to meet the challenges that come your way with grace and ease (or at least try to anyway - life is life sometimes, am I right?)
There is a ton of research in the world looking at the physicality and nitty gritty of how acupuncture works on the body. Some like it to talk about it as sending sensation along the fascial connections and pathways of the body; some to nerve stimulation and brain function. As I started this article, I said it is a complicated medicine, and that it is! It is also a beautiful medicine. And, from all that I have read and studied, I can see a bit of truth in all the different ideas and approaches. As I mentioned above, no two people are the same, so no two treatments are the same. This makes it very difficult to study treatment protocols, though we certainly try to throw a bunch of people with anxiety in to a study and give them the same treatment points to see what happens. It's just the way we do science experiments, but isn't exactly the way we actually work with each individual. But, the scientific method is important, and we do our best to try to find ways to help the world better understand the medicine.
In a world where so much of what is offered is "here is a pill", "we don't know why this is happening", "it's part of aging and you'll just have to live with it", acupuncture looks at the whole person and says let's not dismiss this person or put a band-aid on the problem, but instead, let's see if we can get to the root and create wholeness once again. While the medicine cannot always be well explained by scientific method, one success story at a time is some pretty powerful evidence as well.
I'm here for that! One success story at a time. No band-aids. I want you to feel seen and heard. I want you to know, I will use every tool in my kit to try to get you answers and feeling better. Sometimes, even acupuncture won't be able to help. Most times though, it does. If you're curious and want to give it a try, reach out to me. I'm here to listen and share my knowledge and skills with you. My greatest desire is to help people feel in balance and harmony, able to live their best life now.
Michelle Stobart is an Ohio State Medical Board Licensed Acupuncturist. She operates a clinic in Athens, Ohio. She has a long history in the healing arts as a yoga therapist and Thai massage practitioner. You can make an appointment with her by reaching out to Inhale Wellness Studio.
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