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Acupuncture through my eyes 



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Although the use of acupuncture is growing around the world, there has been considerable controversy surrounding its value as a therapy and whether it is anything more than a placebo.
To start, let’s try to gain an easy and simple understanding of the term: acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of specific points on the body. The technique that has been most often studied involves penetrating the skin with thin metallic needles that are manipulated either by hand or with electric stimulation, which triggers the body’s natural healing process. Now that we are able to witness what goes on after acupuncture (through MRIs, ultra-sounds, thermo-imagery and more), we can measure the response and changes in the brain.
 
Here is a glimpse of my personal experience with acupuncture.
After many years studying western medicine at home, I came to China with a dream similar to that of my classmates. Coming from four corners of the world, both with and without medical backgrounds, we were all anxious to decode the ancient healing therapy of ACUPUNCTURE. Of course, everyone had to go through a rigorous language assessment in order to ensure all admitted students would be able follow the Chinese instruction.
We started with a subject that was very uncertain for me: whether or not this long journey—lasting as long as five years in China—would be worth the investment. Whether or not I was wasting my time studying a technique that was at that time unproven by science, a practice that was often criticized around the world. Whether I would wind up with a degree that would be un-recognized by medical authorities in my own country. But the main problem was my capacity to digest this whole new concept. It was called the BASIC THEORY OF TCM (TCM stands for traditional Chinese medicine), and it was the essence of what I later called a whole new face of medical science. This was my first encounter in a brand new world, and it was not easy. I believe this is the most concrete obstacle facing any Western mind, and especially facing any Western doctor trying to incorporate acupuncture into his or her practice. The success of the treatment lies in its ability and capacity to open up another dimension of science—to get this fundamental platform right.
First came the concept of QI, which everybody knows but at the same time nobody knows. It’s the energy of life within and around you; it’s at the very heart of TCM, and if you don't get it you can’t go far in this practice. It is all energy; everything is energy, which we know now from discoveries in modern physics. But the Chinese knew it thousands of years ago, and here I am try-ing to learn it, too.
 
The basic theories of TCM include the theory of yin and yang, which is fundamental to the practice of acupuncture in terms of understanding, diagnosing and treating health issues. At the most basic and deepest level, acupuncture seeks to balance yin and yang in each person, but the designation of something as yin or yang is always relative to something else; nothing is absolute. It was at once very elemental and incredibly complex to understand that idea, reminding me al-ways of the famous E = mc²…
After came the ZANG FU theory, a number of confusing notions that explain physiological function, pathological changes and the mutual relationship of every organ and viscera. But organs and viscera are not just anatomical substances, and if I tried to match them with the organs I had studied previously, they often wouldn't line up because Zang and Fu are classified by the differ-ent features of their functions. Zang and Fu consist of the five Zang and six fu organs. The five Zang organs are the heart (including the pericardium), lung, spleen, liver and kidney. The six fu organs are the gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, bladder and Sanjiao (three areas of the body cavity), which took me a long time to get right. The five Zang organs mainly manufacture and store essence: Qi, blood and bodily fluids. The six fu organs mainly receive and digest food, absorb nutrients, and transmit and excrete waste. The Zang organs store up essential Qi and regulate its outflow. The fu organs transform and transport substances without storing them. There is another category of organs, too, called the extraordinary fu organs. These include the brain, marrow, bone, vessels, gall bladder and uterus. They are named fu but their functions are closer to those of the Zang organs.
Next came the five elements, less difficult to understand, especially after such a long introduction. By that point I had learned the logic and become very grateful to have come across this path. The five elements are a comprehensive template that organizes all natural phenomena into five groups. WOOD, FIRE, EARTH, METAL and WATER—each one includes categories such as internal organs, body tissue, emotion, taste, color, stage of growth, soul, sound, direction…the categories are seemingly limitless. The five elements reflect a deep understanding of natural law. They provide a blueprint that diagrams how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact one other, including the internal organs.
The same is true of the BIAO BEN principle, which contrasts indicators of the primary and sec-ondary relationships of contradictory sides in various diseases. For example, body resistance (or anti-pathogenic factors) are considered ben (root), while pathogenic factors are biao. Etiology is ben, while symptoms are biao; primary disease is ben, while secondary disease is biao; pathological changes of internal organs are ben, while body surface is biao, etc.
By now, my brain was functioning in a completely new way, but it wasn’t long before I encountered the biggest surprise yet. The bouquet of subjects offered was no different than those at any Western medical school in any advanced country in the world. I hadn’t expected that. For me, acupuncture used to be a theoretical science. Yes, I was supposed to study the theory of TCM, learning about meridians and needles and herbs, but definitely not statistics, math and chemistry.
I had been studying at BEIJING ZHONG YI YAO DA XUE (Beijing University of Chinese Medicine), which is housed in a very simple old building that—at least from the outside—doesn’t con-form to the typical image of an advanced and modern medical facility. But, like so many things in China, appearances were misleading. In this university I learned things about the human body that I never would have encountered studying Western medicine. We studied anatomy by dissecting real bodies. We studied physiology, pathology, cytology, genetics, parasitology, immunology and more. We ran experiments in fully equipped laboratories hidden behind the walls of humble buildings. We experienced the real world of acupuncture by practicing in various departments in a number of hospitals. After five years, I was finally able to answer the questions I had asked years before: Yes, this thousands of years-old practice is indeed real science. It does work and it is well worth the time and energy required to learn it.
Even though we are still figuring out how it works and learning more about it, we already know it is effective. Perhaps this is why Western scientists are giving it a second look, and maybe this explains the huge growth of its use around the world. But as the practice grows, there are some facts that everyone should know about acupuncture. First, the training of any given acupuncturist, the accuracy of diagnosis and the condition itself significantly impacts the treatment. A patient’s impatience may also interfere, as acupuncture sometimes requires many sessions and a long time to become maximally effective. And it is important to consult a physician to determine if other medical intervention is also necessary. Acupuncture can be either a standalone or complementary treatment, depending on a patient’s condition.
Acupuncture is a great tool to incorporate into one’s healthcare wellness plan. One day, it may even become the first-choice treatment for many health issues. This shift could potentially set off a revolution: less medication, fewer doctor visits, an improved ecological system and a challenge for drug companies, who would be forced to offer cheaper and more effective medication. But the question remains: Who will finance the research of acupuncture so our dream might one day come true? It certainly won’t be pharmaceutical companies or producers of medical supplies. So who will dare? We must keep dreaming and waiting… 
 
By Bounoua Naima  ( an Algerian acupuncturist who graduated from Beijing University of Chinese Traditional Medicine)

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