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Finding an Alternate Path

It was around 3AM and I was woken by the touch of my mom’s hands on my wrists.

Slowly opening my eyes, I noticed her concerned look as she was looking at me and my hands.

Fearing that something was wrong, I followed my mother’s gaze down my small hands. They

were covered with blood as I had scratched with them unconsciously in my sleep again. My

mom rushed me to the sink in the bathroom and started washing my skin. It stung so badly and in

the mirror I could see my red, raw skin. She called for my dad and he got a cold, wet towel. As

he rushed in, all three of us looked at my skin feeling heartbroken.

Many might wonder, what in the world is happening? Long story short, I have a skin

disease called atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. I have had this so called “flaw”

ever since I was young. It seemed like a mountain I could never climb up and little by little, it

started to disturb my confidence. If this continued, not only would it hurt me physically, but it

would hurt my mentality. This inspired my family to look for a cure.

By the time I started middle school, I had already been to at least fifteen medical

professionals. There had been nothing that I had not done to cure my “flaw”. I tried new diet

regimes, steroids, and medications to calm the scratching. In the end, nothing worked, but one

day my family was introduced to acupuncture. This seemed like our last hope. Little did I know

acupuncture would change my life.

I was skeptical to go to an acupuncturist. The only knowledge I had about acupuncture

was that they were going to use needles to poke my body. Scared, I walked into the clinic and

could smell a hint of jasmine leaves. I looked around observing the posters on the wall,

magazines with the latest gossip, and my acupuncturist ready to treat my eczema. As she

examined my skin, she unexpectedly said that my body was in a state of imbalance and my skin

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was urging me that I needed to restore it back to normal. So to restore my skin, I started my

journey with alternative medicine which included acupuncture, drinking herbal medicine, and

using herbal lotions to calm the itching.

Fast forward to nine months after my first session I was able to see the major differences:

no redness, less scratching, and more moisture in my skin. When nothing else worked,

acupuncture set me free from those terrible years of bleeding and itching. From that day on,

acupuncture has piqued my interest which brings me to my question: What is acupuncture and

how does it work?

The birth of acupuncture is vague, but many estimate that it has been around since 6000

BC. Archaeologists discovered early sets of hieroglyphics, dating back to 1000 BC, which

illustrated the practice of Chinese medicine. The hieroglyphics showed that the Ancient Chinese

used stone needles called Bian stones. “A Brief History of Chinese History” states, “This word,

Bian, literally means a sharp, narrow device used for healing” (“A Brief History…”). The

hieroglyphics gave a rough sketch of what the Ancient Chinese did to heal patients. However,

this was not enough to fully explain the history of Chinese medicine, especially, how

acupuncture was discovered and matured into modern practices. Simple Chinese Medicine…

states, “Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the oldest… natural healing methodology that

brings the body to optimum health…” (Kuhn, 3). Interestingly, researchers do not know why it

works, but they just know that it does. A new medical phenomena was uncovered, and

researchers learned the long history associated with Eastern medicine.

The earliest text that described Chinese medicine was created during 300-200 BC. The

text was titled The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine and was written based on the famous

dialogue between Huangdi, the emperor, and a physician named Qi Bo: they discussed Chinese

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Medical Arts, the basics of Chinese medicine. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine

focused on health, disease, treatment, and the philosophy behind Chinese medicine. The

organization of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine consisted of 162 articles that was

divided into two sections: theory and practice (Cohen). The discussions were centered around the

theory behind the practices, for example the yin and yang, and the interaction between the organs

in the body. The book was proven to be an influential reference work for practitioners in

traditional Chinese medicine as well as modern-day (Curran). The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of

Medicine became one of the foundations for practitioners to grow and learn the basics of Chinese

medicine.

During 25 BC-220 CE, a physician named Zhang Zhong Jing published a book called

Treatise on Cold Damage. This book was the most well-known classics in Chinese medicine

(“Institute of Classics…”). Treatise on Cold Damage became first clinical handbook for China

and the center for Canonical Chinese Medicine Training. “Shang Han Lun…” states, “The first is

to explain the theory… systematic theory of the Six Channels… second is to explain how the

principles… may be applied to disease in our own time…” (De). Simply, Treatise on Cold

Damage explains the six conformation pathologies as well as the systematic treatment (“Institute

of Classics…”). The systematic treatments that were proposed were acupuncture, herbal

medicine, and moxibustion (burn dried mugworts on particular points of the body) which were

known to be the basics of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Practitioners learned from Jing’s theory

and started to expand the practice of Eastern Medicine.

In 260-265 AD, famous physician Huang Fu Mi created a book called Systematic

Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. It was noted to be one of the most influential books in

the history of Chinese medicine (Suvow). Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion

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contained an enormous amount of research that solely focused on acupuncture and moxibustion.

It consisted of 12 volumes and 128 chapters that described 349 acupuncture points, needle

manipulation, Qi, blood flow, and the effect of the points.

As centuries passed, there had been over 1000 acupuncture points discovered and

practices had started to develop and mature. However, the growth of acupuncture did not stop

there. The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) was when the most advancement occurred for

acupuncture. New developments included:

1. Revision of the classic texts

2. Refinement of Acupuncture techniques and manipulation

3. Development of Moxa sticks for indirect treatment

4. Development of extra points outside the main meridians

5. The encyclopedic work of 120 volumes- Principle and Practice of Medicine was

written by the famous physician Wang Gendung

6. 1601 - Yang Jizhou wrote Zhenjin Dacheng (Principles of Acupuncture and

Moxibustion). This great treatise on Acupuncture reinforced the principles of the

Nei Jing and Nan Jing. This work was the foundation of the teachings of G.Soulie

de Morant who introduced Acupuncture into Europe. (Suvow, para. 10)

As G. Soulie de Morant introduced acupuncture to Europe, exposure helped expand

Eastern medicine into different parts of the world. Now, especially acupuncture, is known to be

one of the modern medical treatments in the world.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine stated that the main philosophy and structure

behind acupuncture is rooted with Daoism. In 500 BC, Daoism was first introduced to China.

“Taoism” states, “It emphasizes… ‘going with the flow’ in accordance with the… cosmic force

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which flows through all things and binds and releases them…” (Mark). Daoism highlights the

importance of the “way” of life for each individual. Daoism is both a religion and philosophy. In

the philosophical view, Daoism is one with nature and its surroundings. Religiously, the belief in

the cosmic balance that must be maintained is through “dao” (Mark). Great Discoveries in

Medicine… states, “... dao precedes everything… in all manifestations of nature… through self-

cultivation… develops deep awareness both the capacity to feel, think, and… enjoy,” (Bynum,

17). Daoism encompassed every aspect of life, and held importance with the interaction between

nature and oneself.

The definition of Daoism is controversial, but it has coined the term dao-jia (way-school)

or dao-de jia (way and virtue school) and came to identify as paradigms of the study of

𝑑𝑑𝑑 𝑑𝑑𝑑 (Hansen). “Daoist Philosophy” states, “preferred to focus on… nature of reality,

increasing their longevity, ordering life morally, practicing rulership, and regulating

consciousness and diet…” (Littlejohn). Daoists’ belief was built upon the idea that change is the

most basic character of things. In other words, as one thing changes, something else does too:

correlative forces. Simply, the forces that contradict each other is stated as yin and yang.

The creation behind Daoism is built around the belief of dualism: yin and yang. “Taoism,

Daoism” states, “Taoist thought focuses on… wu wei (non-action, a natural action, a perfect

equilibrium with tao), … ” (Gehrmann). Daoism revolves around the belief that when there is a

force, there has to be another force acting against it. The yin and yang are used to describe the

opposing forces, yin a negative source of energy, and yang the positive source. A simple

example would be light and darkness. “Yin and Yang” states, “The principle of Yin and Yang is

that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites,” (Cartwright). This phenomenon

affects everything in the universe and nothing would ever exist without the complementary. In

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other words, life is possible because the two forces interact with one another and try to create a

balance between the two energies. As we apply the concept of yin and yang to the human body,

it tries to explain how the mind, body, and emotions work. Ultimately, the goal of yin and yang

is to find harmony between each other. “Yin/Yang Theory” states, “Your body, mind, emotions,

and spirit can adjust and readjust to the circumstances in your life… seeks to create; that of

balance…” (“Yin/Yang Theory”). When the body is balanced, it can function at its optimal state.

To get to that state is difficult because anything can disrupt the flow of harmony, however, the

body is constantly trying to reach its optimal level.

To understand the conceptual view of acupuncture, acupuncturist Kyoungsang Kang tried

to explain the theory and standards of Chinese medicine. He gave a disclaimer explaining how he

does not know everything and currently, his goal is to dig further into the theory and idea of how

acupuncture works. He started off by saying, “Depict acupuncture like an onion, there are so

many layers and no matter how much you peel, it seems endless,”. Acupuncture has been around

longer than any other practices, yet little is known about it. Kang said, “The basic theory

behind… yin and yang…define whether your body is in a state of balance or imbalance… has

not been any specific research to prove anything, however, it is connected with the idea of qi

(chi).” Kang revealed small details of how qi flows in the body.

A unique aspect of Chinese medicine is the idea of how the body is in harmony with the

surroundings and one’s inner self. An essential energy called qi is directly related to yin and

yang. In order to have good health, there needs be harmony between these two forces. Qi is a

continuous, vital energy source that is located everywhere. The five main functions of qi are

impulsing, warming, defending, controlling, and transforming (“The Forms of Qi…”). To

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provide smooth harmony in the body, there also needs be a balance between the different types

of qi.

Four main types of qi that circulate around the human body are parental, acquired,

inherited and defensive qi. Parental qi is inherited by the parent at conception and later on stored

in the kidneys. “The Four Types…” states, “Parental Qi can be thought of as the deposit account

in a bank… can be used occasionally… to fall back on in times of emergency,” (“The Four

Types...”). The main purpose for parental qi is to have a substitute when the body has an

emergency. Acquired qi is the energy that is derived from outside sources that potential go into

your body. For example, air, food, water, etc. There can be many fluctuations of energy in a day,

either depleting or renewing (Eisen). Inherited qi is essentially what makes someone who they

are, examples are chronic diseases that can be passed down by generations. This defines why

there might be people who have heart disease over high blood pressure and it goes all the back to

ancestry. Lastly, the defensive qi is responsible for protecting the body from any form of illness.

Defensive qi circulates around the skin and muscles providing regular body temperatures and

moistens the skin. (“The Four Types…”). When all for energies are balanced, this puts the body

in an optimal state.

Qi travels through pathways called meridians that are located everywhere in the body.

“What is Qi…” states, “various channels or “meridians” through which Qi circulates, providing

wellness and vitality to all the body’s various muscles, organs, nerves, and other biological

systems…” (“What is Qi…”). There are 12 major meridians in the body that are connected to

specific parts of the body. Qi moves from one part of the body to another in order to deliver

essential substances. When a blockage of qi occurs this affects the corresponding organ and can

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damage the whole body. That is how an illness occurs and acupuncture helps the qi move freely

by unclogging the blockage in a meridian.

Practitioners use the four examination pillars to diagnose patients: inspection,

auscultation, palpation, and inquiry. Inspection is looking at the patient’s face, skin, tongue, and

other external traits. The tongue examinations are widely used because it behaves as a map of the

whole body and it is directly related to qi (“The Tongue is…”). In Chinese medicine, each organ

represents as a miniature model of the well-being of the body as a whole. Practitioners look at

the tongue’s color, shape, body quality, coat color, coat weight, coat surface, and the action

(Anastasi). When the tongue is irregular, practitioners focus on the infected area and connect it to

the body part that is correlated to it. Auscultation is another pillar of examinations. It refers to

listening to particular sounds from the body, and the five major types of sounds are laughing,

weeping, shouting, singing, and groaning (“Eight Principles of…”). Practitioners make patients

create these sounds in order to hear how the organs are functioning in the body. Olfaction is a

contribution to auscultation analysis. Olfaction is the smell of body odor and practitioners

determine the health of the patients through this method. The third pillar is palpation. Palpation

is when practitioners check the pulses of the patients at three different locations. This is to

identify any irregular heart activity, pain and tension, or affected meridians. Lastly, inquiry is the

last pillar and it is used to figure out the lifestyle of the patient. Lifestyle plays a major role in

how one’s body is developed and practitioners try to change it to healthy habits. The four pillars

of examination helps acupuncturists diagnose the patients thoroughly.

When the blockage of qi is identified in the meridians, there are several ways to unclog

the pathway. Youngsu Lyn who has been an acupuncturist for about 20 years simplified his way

of treating his patients. Lyn said, “The most common way to treat patients is by using needles…

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We try to find the acupoints in the body then insert a thin needle and give it an extra external

factor such as heat to help relieve the pain,”. The most basic way to learn where to insert the

needles is by practicing and memorizing an extensive amount of points and meridians.

“Acupuncture History”, states, “Documents sealed in 198 BCE… have no references to

acupuncture procedures but has references to system of meridians…” (Mandal). Lyn emphasizes

how talking about the procedure does not do much because it is more of a visual learning

concept.

Over the past 50 years, there has been an increasing demand for acupuncture.

Researchers have identified that around 14 million citizens have tried or used acupuncture

(“Increasing Demand for…”). Previously, there had only been 8.19 million acupuncture patients.

Acupuncture was not popular before because of the little foundation of evidence that it had.

People just knew that it worked, however, there was little support to reason why it worked.

Currently, there have been extensive research about acupuncture, but still there is little to know

about it. As a patient who has tried acupuncture, it is interesting to see the difference in the body

without using steroids and drugs. The holistic aspect inspires many to not rely on prescription

drugs and fix lifestyle habits.

Fully understanding acupuncture is difficult to say (Kang and Lyn can also agree to this

statement). There needs to be more research done to teach people the benefits of treating the

body naturally. This is possible because of advances in technology and the growth of the medical

industry. Today, acupuncture has become more of a mainstream type of treatment. The unusual,

strange medicine has a positive connotation and researchers are putting an immense amount of

time to solve the puzzle behind acupuncture.

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