Acupuncture is More Than Just Needles

focus on acupunctureI consider myself an herbs man, primarily. During my first year in school, I decided that I was going to try to focus as quickly as possible. Now, granted, I need to learn as much as possible about the medicine as a whole. I need to know points, channel theory, point combinations, herbs, formulas, modifications, general theory and all its subdivisions, patient-doctor communication, business management and all the rest.

I need to know where to access resources when I need them and I need to be a competent overall practitioner. However, this medicine is so vast that it is extremely dangerous for a person as enamored with it as I am to operate without a particular focus. Having focus will allow me to increase my abilities in my chosen field while helping me to avoid overwhelm and avoiding becoming a jack-of-all-trades. It will also help me choose a thesis topic, mentor and help me to know who to work with in clinic. Not everyone takes this view, and I realize that.

Regardless – I love my herbs and I love formulas and I feel uncommonly blessed to be at NCNM – home of so many incredible scholars of Classical Chinese herbalism. However, this term I am learning a deep love and respect for acupuncture as well. Although some have argued that NCNM does not have a Classical acupuncture program, I beg to differ. We do learn points as other schools do – memorizing them and learning what sorts of standard actions are commonly ascribed to them by the profession at large.

However, this teaching is mediated by a much broader and more Classically based view of channel theory and, most importantly, techniques. Currently in our classes with Dr. Youping Qin we are learning the principles of Shen management as well as a host of Classically based needle manipulation techniques. It’s freaking AWESOME.

I’m especially interested in the Shen management portions of lecture and it has done a lot to change the way I needle. These are the five things I’ve taken from those lectures. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts in the comments.

1. You must needle without distraction.

The most important point I’ve taken away from the lectures so far is the vital importance of focus. This is, at least in part, the process of focusing your Shen completely on the needling. The idea is to focus everything on the tip of the needle, sensing the tissues and energies around it. When you get this kind of focus, you can drive the Qi, you can sense whether you are dealing with evil or even Qi and your treatments will be more effective overall. When I started marshalling all of my resources and not thinking about irrelevant things or even thinking about my performance, I found my insertions improved greatly and I grabbed the Qi much more quickly.

2. You must self-cultivate.

This partly follows from the last point. Focus doesn’t always come easily. You have to be able to step outside your problems or at least let them live somewhere else for a while. You have to be able to be totally present for the patient. Even some of my most beloved doctors have trouble with this, but I do think it is very important. Being needled by a doctor who is wholly focused on the treatment and not on talking to me about the latest football game score seems far more effective on the whole. Self cultivation will also enhance your ability to correctly access and interpret Qi, and probably increases the efficacy of your manipulation. That’s on top of all the other benefits.

3. You must have good contact with the patient and maintain that throughout the visit.

In more than one class we have talked about the fact that the treatment actually begins with your very first contact with the patient. Even the most practical of doctors have to admit that the conversation between the doctor and the patient – including your body language and speech quality – have a sometimes huge influence on the treatment effectiveness. Given that eyes are the windows of the Shen, having good eye contact is quite important in the Shen management part of any given treatment. I have to admit I am a little confused about this part – the pragmatist in me wants to reduce it down to easily analyzable behavioral actions and reactions. But somehow I know that it’s more than that.

4. You must study technique as well as point location.

As usual, I take from my studies a strong urging to study. The greatest needle manipulation techniques in the world aren’t going to matter much if you don’t hit the point. Regardless of recent studies that indicate that “sham” acupuncture is as effective as “real” acupuncture – good location and excellent understanding of channel theory are a huge part of great treatments. I can’t even imagine how you would go about challenging this – one simply needs to get a few treatments from someone only recently trained, or hastily trained and then turn to someone who has been practicing and improving the health of patients for 30 years… you’ll see the difference.

However, beyond knowing points and channels it is also vital to learn techniques for manipulating the Qi and actually USE them. We have learned reduction and tonification techniques, and this week began to learn “joined needling” and “joint needling.” I needled through my partner’s ankle! It was awesome! The more I learn about techniques and apply them in my limited experiences the more I see their power.

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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