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One of the most widely practiced art forms born from Daoist teachings is Chinese medicine. Consisting of massage techniques, joint manipulations, herbal remedies, acupuncture, medical exercises and other, more esoteric, modalities, it forms a complete system of diagnosis and healthcare. In modern times it is normally the case that a practitioner will study either one or a few of the various aspects of Chinese medicine or at least specialize in a particular area. For myself, I have studied several aspects of Chinese medicine with my strongest areas being acupuncture, massage and external Qi emission. My weakest area is herbal remedies which I have little experience or knowledge of.

Underpinning all Chinese medical practices are numerous theories which have been passed down through the ages. Theories such as the five elements, Yin and Yang, six divisions, stems and branches, Zang and Fu and so on inform the Chinese medical practitioner throughout their treatments. Many of these theories actually originated from different regions within China and during different periods of Chinese medicines development.

With the creation of the post-communist form of Chinese medicine known as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) many of these theories were placed together into one system. Whilst this had the positive affect of giving practitioners a good foundation knowledge for their practice it also created problems. One of the key issues was the fact that each of the various modalities within TCM was now using essentially the same theory. Whereas each method would have worked on a different level they were now merging into one form of medicine informed by identical philosophies. This issue has mostly affected acupuncture resulting in a weakened system in comparison to the strength of an aspect such as herbs. The reason for this problem is that most acupuncture from within the TCM school of thought is now based around Zang Fu theory. If you are not familiar with Zang Fu theory it is the study of the organs of the body. Originally Zang Fu theory was intended for informing herbal remedy prescription and originally had little to do with needle insertion.

In understanding this issue we must look at the nature of meridian theory versus Zang Fu theory. The energetic pathways of the meridian system flow close to the surface of the body within a region known as the Cou Li layer. Sometimes Cou Li is translated as the spaces between the tissues but other practitioners have connected it with the dermal layer of the skin. At the joints of the body the meridians go deeper into the body and, of course, there are the much deeper extra-ordinary meridians, but generally they are accessible through shallow insertion of acupuncture needles. The organs, on the other hand, are much deeper within the body. The concept is that herbal remedies work from the inside out (you swallow them) whilst acupuncture needles work from the outside in (you insert them into the body). Thus acupuncture should work on the meridians whilst herbal remedies work primarily on the organs. Interestingly, between these two you have Qi Gong practice which actually works on both equally, the meridians and the organs.

Of course when you insert a needle into the meridian system of the body you also affect the Zang Fu organs so an understanding of Zang Fu theory is still essential to your practice but it should not be the main modality you work to if you are an acupuncturist. If your diagnostic process indicates to you an organ imbalance such as deficiency of Liver Blood then you may help this condition through needling the correct points on the body but it will most likely not be as effective as the correctly prescribed herbal remedies or even medical Qi Gong exercises. The reason for this is that the theory you have diagnosed according to is more closely related to herbs and Qi Gong than to needle insertion. Through the use of needles you have accessed points which may affect the Liver Blood aspect of the body but any improvement is only as a by-product of a change in the flow of Qi you have caused rather than a direct change to the organ of the Liver itself.

Meridian theory is the key theory which should inform acupuncture practice. Meridians are made of up various lines of flowing information which we generally just refer to as Qi. Therefor we are engaging with the body on a purely energetic level. Any attempts to draw physiological links to acupuncture points in modern times have essentially drawn blanks or, at best, reached tenuous conclusions. Yes, I am sure that there are nerve endings, capillaries and so on in regions of the body which correspond to acupuncture points but so what? There are also countless areas of the body where physical landmarks exist which do not correspond to acupuncture points. Meridians are made up of flows of energy which dictate the various essential life functions of the human body. When we insert needles we are essentially accessing these flows of vital information so that we can change them for the better.

In order to be able to work with the meridian system and meridian theory you first need to be able to connect with it. This requires sensitivity on your part. Your mind is like a radio which, for the majority of people, is tuned into the wrong frequency. Our first mission is to change the frequency on our radio so that we can access the energetic realm and so the meridian system. This requires diligent and regular Qi Gong or Nei Gong training. An acupuncturist without a regular Qi Gong practice is only really able to work at a very basic level . They are essentially working blind which means that they are having to rely purely on intellectual theory and most likely the wrong theory.

The function of the needle in acupuncture is to give the therapist a way to directly enter the meridian system using their intention. This is where acupuncture theory and Qi Gong cross over. In Qi Gong it is known that the three regulations of Body, Breath and Mind must come together to produce any change. In acupuncture it is the same. The Body of the patient and practitioner must be used in the correct way, the Breath of the practitioner and therapist must harmonise and the Mind of the practitioner must be able to direct a mental instruction through the needle into the patient’s meridian pathway in order to create the potential for change.

When working with meridians there should be the following stages:

  1. Ascertain exactly which meridians are imbalanced and how they need changing. Are they deficient or excess? Are they full of pathogens? Is there stagnation? How are they balanced with each other and how are they affecting the mind/body unit as a whole?
  2. Palpate the meridians using your sensitivity, the vibratory force of a needle tip or your hands. Look for problem areas which can help to inform your treatment.
  3. Now bring in other diagnostic theories such as Zang Fu to further inform your practice and ensure that there are no contra-indications to what you are planning on doing.
  4. If you have attained the correct level of energetic sensitivity then allow the energy body to tell you what to do. Feel the flow of the meridians. Is it pushing or pulling you when you hold your hand or the needle nearby? Are there one of the eight diagnostic signs present when you contact the pathways or points? Is the point you are aiming to use willing to accept that needle or is it trying to push it away? This may sound odd but if you have not accepted that the energy system of your patient is consciousness itself then you have not understood the foundation theory of Jing, Qi and Shen.
  5. Allow the energy body to dictate which direction the needle should point and how deep the needle should be inserted to. Feel for instruction on whether to go with or against the flow.
  6. Use the various needle manipulation techniques at your disposal in order to create positive change to the environment of your patients Jing Luo system. Here you should send your intention through the needle into the patients body.
  7. Monitor change to the quality of the patients Qi throughout the treatment by checking the pulses and palpating the energy body further. Do not leave the patient unattended for too long as is often the case with many TCM practitioners. You need to watch for energetic changes. When change has taken place then take out or adjust the needles accordingly.

If you can get used to this way of working with acupuncture needles then you will find that your treatments will quickly become much stronger. The ancient Chinese referred to the energy body as a series of rivers and by-ways which flow and connect together into one unit. More than just a metaphor these were instructional guidelines meant to show how Qi moved within the body. The sincere acupuncturist will engage with these teachings and then explore the meridian system using their sensitivity in order to understand the nature of Qi. In my opinion (so please choose to ignore it!) many acupuncturists are barking up the wrong tree with their constant search for validation of their practice through western science. Why bother? Instead of getting distracted with scientific studies which are not usually very good anyway why not just keep working on improving your practice through engaging with a theoretical framework which seems to have worked fine for centuries already?

For those who want to get into this kind of acupuncture practice, your first step is to begin practicing some form of Qi Gong; the more powerful the better. Particularly useful are Dao Yin exercises as they have a close relationship to the Qi outside of the practitioners body. This is something which easily translates into working with the Qi of a patient. There is a very a close relationship between acupuncture, external Qi emission and Qi Gong practice. This is something I become more acutely aware of the more I continue to practice and develop…