What is acupuncture?


The word "acupuncture" is a neologism created by the Jesuits living in China in the eighteenth century to describe (acu = needle / puncture =puncture) one of the four treatment techniques characteristic of traditional Chinese medicine. The other three treatments are the use of plants (herbal medicine), massage (Tui Na) and energy movement (Qi Cun).

The most rudimentary vestiges have been found of primitive stone needles about 5-9 long dating from the late Neolithic period (3500 BC).

In the beginning, the teaching of this tradition was done orally. The earliest written texts (Nei King: 400th BC, Nan Jing 1500dc) consist of cryptic statements, seemingly unrelated, which was probably due to the philosophy of requiring that the student reach a certain level before granting them more knowledge.

The importation of acupuncture to Europe happened in two periods: during the eighteenth century, thanks to the knowledge acquired by the Jesuits sent to evangelize the Chinese population, and then in the mid-twentieth century, thanks to the valuable contributions of George Soulié de Morant.



Traditional Chinese medicine is not a science: it is a pre-scientific tradition. It resembles science in that it observes phenomena, has a system of rational reasoning, is timely and consistent, and has a body of systematized knowledge that allows you to describe, diagnose and treat diseases.  However, it differs in its premises, rooted in Chinese philosophy, pervading with a vision of mankind on which acupuncture medicine is based.

We can summarize these concepts of Chinese thought in 4 sections:


1.  The concept of QI:

Chinese writing consists not of words but of images representing an idea, or ideograms.
The first difficulty we face in studying acupuncture is the translation, which necessarily impoverishes the broader sense of an idea.  In the case of Qi (translated as "energy"), it is defined as the breath that animates life in all its manifestations. Qi implies movement.
Life appears as a binary expansion, pulsating expansion (Yang) and contraction (Yin), thus inducing breathing, the heart beating and metabolizing ("take in and release").

The concept of Qi encompasses as much somatic cell vitality as other manifestations of life's intangibles, such as intelligence or emotion. Qi in motion therefore manifests itself in both physiological functions and in the attitudes and behavior of the subject. There is not a line dividing the physical and the psychic, and therefore, when the Qi is worked on (for example, with acupuncture) it is acting on the whole.

2.  Cyclical Thought:

While the western concept of time is linear, the eastern concept of life as a binary motion (which pivots on Yin Yang), promotes contemplation of cyclical phenomena.
This cycle offers the possibility an unmanifested totality (Tao) to express oneself in the real world, sequentially showing its various potentials.

"The return is the characteristic movement of Tao. Continue means to go far away.
To go far away is to return. Cycles are the temporal expression of the eternal beginning"- Tao Te Ching

Thus, pivoting from the most Yin: hidden, dark, cold (middle of winter), life unfolds all its forms developing, expanding to Yang: outside, bright, warm (noon, summer) to then grow, retreat and deepen again to Yin.
All manifestations of life, the most material to the most subtle, share this cyclical dynamic, which can be analyzed as a Yin-Yang pulse, or defined as a succession of "movements of Qi": development, expansion, maturity, withdrawal and internalization, which form the "5 Movements."

Change and transformation are, therefore, the only constants:
"Yin and Yang are produced by each other, get entangled with one another, and finally, are the other."

Cyclical thought, taken to extremes, can produce apparent paradoxes, that even so, occur in real life:
"To be bent is to become straight / be empty is to be filled
to be decrepit is to be renewed / have little is to possess "

As a result of this dynamic vision of life, Chinese medicine pays more attention to the dynamic aspects of human physiology than to the quantification of its organic compounds.


3.  Analogical Thinking:

There is a "non-logical" way to associate concepts that we use constantly, despite barely being aware of it.

Let's see an example of analogy. If to the reader we present the following grouping of elements:
FIRE ---------- EXPANDING-------------  JOY -------- RED ----------- HEART (Yang)


... one will probably finds this "logical."

However, does any rational logic allow for the association of movement to a color, or a mood?

The implications of analogical thinking are so pervasive, multiple, specific and subtle, that its explanation would exceed the approximation of this introduction.

Analogical thinking establishes resonance between emotions, organs and function at different levels. In using the study of analogical physiology, Chinese medicine can perform two inverse processes:

1 - INFER what happens on the inside of the body, apart from the visible. Two examples:
- If the Qi is expanded, the subject will be communicative, if contracted, introverted.
- A red complexion may be associated with a fullness of fire / heart, while a
black circles under the eyes may reflect a deficiency of water / kidney.

2 - INFLUENCE on the inner workings of the body through areas of resonance in the skin, which can be stimulated with the insertion of thin metal needles (acupuncture).


4.  The Concept of Resonance (the whole and part):

Since the dynamics of Qi affects equally the structures, functions, emotions and psyche, and since the same motion affects the superficial, deep, big and small, the ancient Chinese dedicated a lot of time, attention and sensitivity to interpret and structure these relationships.   That is, to be able to infer the inner workings (all) from appearances (part). This enabled them to develop the ability to detect changes inside the body from modifications that might be observable outside, particularly the aspect of the tongue (which is different for each person, and can modify the various states of the subject), and the quality of the pulses received in the energy channels of the individual.  Examination of the tongue and the pulse are pillars in the energetic diagnosis of the patient.

In the same way, ancient acupuncture doctors deduced that Qi flows sequentially in precise rhythmic waves throughout the body, even more so on the surface, on a trajectory they called "channels", which were translated as "meridians."

Studies have objectively shown the existence of the meridians by injecting a marking isotope (Technetium 99) in their pathways. The technetium was thus injected into the paths of the acupuncture channels, which do not correspond to any organic anatomical structure (arteries, nerves, veins, etc).

General internal phenomena appear to "resonate" along the meridians. For example, the mechanisms of "absorption of the outside world"- resonate as much around food as on the psyche - around zuyangming/ channel / Stomach. If this dynamic is impaired, the individual suffering from the said blockage may have digestive difficulties (nausea, vomiting, slow digestion and heavy feelings, etc), as much as difficulty "digesting" external events (psychic rejection, rumination of thoughts, etc.).

Along the meridians there are precise areas where the Qi is more concentrated (such as "knots" of Qi): the "acupuncture points", whose surface diameter is 2mm, would be the locus of resonance for very precise movements of Qi. The only evidence shown regarding acupuncture points is that they are areas of low electrical resistance in the skin.  Acupuncture doctors identify them by their precise location, and for being mildly depressed areas, with a light touch on the skin.

Each point is a reference to a movement (for example, there are 45 points in the channel zuyangming/ Stomach, which correspond to specific aspects of the integration of the outside world by the living subject).  As a virtue of this resonance, when a function is impaired, the corresponding point can be painful or sensitive to pressure (which is useful for diagnosis). Conversely, adequate stimulation by a thin metal needle can restore altered function.