What is acupuncture?

Needling client

What is traditional acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of natural healing which involves the insertion of very fine sterile needles at specific points throughout the body. The body is viewed as a system of interconnected organs (more a set of functions than what we perceive as physical organs in Western medicine) and meridians (channels). Our energy, known as Qi, flows through the organs and meridians powering our bodily functions and maintaining health – a disruption to the energy results in symptoms of illhealth. There can be many reasons for this. Emotional and physical stress, poor diet, infection or injury are among the most common.

What makes this system so uniquely suited to modern life is that physical, emotional and mental are seen as interlinked. The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique – two patients receiving treatment for insomnia, for example, are very likely to have differing diagnoses for the root cause in Chinese medicine terms.

In the 1940s the Chinese government commissioned the development of a uniform system of diagnosis and treatment, somewhat misleadingly referred to as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Prior to this nearly all training had been apprentice-style with masters and within families. It was at this point that acupuncture began to be practiced in the West. There are many different styles of acupuncture which share a common root but are distinct and different in their emphasis.  You may read of TCM, Five Elements, Stems and Branches, Japanese Meridian Therapy, amongst others. Traditional acupuncture has a long history of adapting to new cultures in which it is practised and it is rapidly gaining popularity and acceptance in the West. The style of acupuncture that Alison practices incorporates aspects of TCM, Five elements and Stems and Branches giving plenty of “tools” in which to diagnose and treat. Her training college is the only college to teach Stems and Branches (see further for more information).

What is Five Element acupuncture?
The Five Elements refer to Fire, Earth, Metal, Wood and Water. They symbolise the lifecycle to which all living thing is subject to in nature and in our bodies – birth, growth, decline, death and rebirth. Each element represents a stage along this cycle. Each element is assigned two organs in terms of Chinese Medicine and has a number of correspondences relating to it. For example, the Wood element relates to the organs Liver and Gallbladder. It is associated with the emotion anger, the sour taste (think bile), the colour green, the eyes and so on. So a person with a Liver imbalance might present with dry, itchy eyes and a slight greenish tinge to the face. They might report feeling unusually frustrated and angry, prone to outbursts. The Liver organ has a set of functions in terms of Chinese Medicine, one of which is storing blood. If there is an imbalance, a person might have signs and symptoms of blood deficiency (anaemia in western terms). The cycle of elements not only flow into each other but also control each other in order to keep things in balance. Imbalances causing illhealth can occur when one or more elements overcontrols another. Acupuncture is used to rebalance the elements that are overcontrolling and support those that have become weak. Some acupuncturists exclusively treat using this type of acupuncture and others don’t use this theory at all. Alison uses it when it is felt relevant to the person before her and sometimes alongside other modalities.

Stems and Branches
The Stems and Branches theory is a unique science of understanding the cycles of energetic change through time and their effect on the individual. Knowledge of the Stems and Branches theory enables a practitioner to understand a patient’s illness at a much deeper level, particularly chronic issues. The constantly changing influences of the sun and moon provide us with hourly, daily, monthly and yearly cycles that have an influence on our health and character. People born in a certain year for example, are more predisposed to certain illnesses and character traits. A Stems and Branches treatment will take into consideration the year, month, day and hour of birth.

Acupuncture needles

For information about individual conditions and the acupuncture research to support treatment, click here to visit the British Acupuncture Council website.