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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture needles in kneeThe ancient art of Acupuncture is based on the notion that a person’s place in the universe is between Heaven and Earth. The Chinese symbol for a human is rather like a person standing with feet planted firmly on the ground while reaching both arms to heaven to embrace and draw the universe into him or herself. This reminds you that we are part of a greater whole, and there is a dynamic balance between heaven and earth, masculine and feminine, yin and yang. It is this balance that is the goal of acupuncture. Generally the Western physicians identify one single concern to bring about change and healing. The Chinese medicine based physician, however, sees the presenting complaint plus the underlying imbalance rippling through all the organs and energies of the body. In the Eastern model he also intervenes to support the restoration of the energy (qi) to the body, removes the blocks of stagnation that cause pain and nourishes the proper harmony of communications between the organs of the body.


The idea of qi (“chi”) is that of the universal energy that runs everything from our car engine to the Sun to the beat of the heart. It is the force that we draw with a breath and take in with food. The body takes this qi and transforms it to the form needed to maintain and is transported through a complex web of channels, meridians, and subchannels. A simple example demonstrates how one might understand this extraordinary web in our bodies that we can’t see or easily measure with conventional means:

If I throw two rocks into a pond they make waves that run into each other and they can cancel each other or come together to make larger waves. Where those waves cross each other and establish dynamic balance we have nodes. In much the same way every cell of the body generates an electromagnetic wave continuously. We can see that these waves form standing waves and nodes across the surface of the body. Those standing waves correspond to the energy meridians and the nodes are where the acupuncture points are placed. This is where the work of acupuncture is done.

A Treatment Session

An acupuncture treatment is done for a wide array of things from pain to depression and anxiety. The initial evaluation involves a discussion of the patient’s specific concerns, signs and symptoms as well as general information about the person’s life and habits, life history and health history. Then the practitioner reads the pulses of the wrists and examines the tongue to learn the qualities of the corresponding organs and their inbalances and problems. The treatment could be to open a block, build up a reserve or improve communication between different parts of the body. The end result is the improvement or resolution of the presenting symptoms and the improvement of the deeper health of the patient. Treatments generally last an hour and occur weekly for a few to several weeks. The particular treatment plan depends how the situation unfolds as the therapy moves forward.