Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Five Element Acupuncture

There are now several kinds of acupuncture being practiced and I wanted to provide a small bit of information on an old, traditional Chinese style that has helped me – Five Element Acupuncture.

In accordance with the view of ancient Chinese medicine and philosophy, acupuncture views individuals as being comprised of the physical body, the mind and the spirit (soul). The body is divided into ten organs and two functions and imbalances in the functioning of these bring about diseases. Energy flows through organs along certain lines (meridians) in the body. Acupuncture points located along meridians can alter the energy in these organs and can thus be used to cure illnesses or correct imbalances.

Everything within and around us is composed of five basic elements – fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Each element has its own qualities and energy and affects all of nature (including us) in different ways, at different times and to different extents. Imbalances in these elements lead to imbalances of energy and consequently ill health. There is thus a close link between our energy, the energy of our environment and the vital cosmic energy (Qi). Acupuncture tries to restore the balance of the energy flow in a person through manipulating the energy at specific points within the body using needles.

Some of these ideas might be better illustrated through an excerpt from Nora Franglen’s book, ‘Keepers Of The Soul’:

“… My understanding of the powers of this new world of healing into which I had wandered was gradual, a slow awakening upon what was to me, at first, an alien landscape. I started out from the familiar world of physical medicine, in which I had grown up, the world of my body which was so reassuringly there before me, offering solid proof of my existence. I was to find this same body transformed into a shimmering mass of energy, sheltering what I now see as that deepest, most awesome part of me, my soul, and responding to the slightest pressure upon it of that soul. Ills of the body gradually melded with ills of the spirit, the familiar distinction between them now blurred. The needle, I found, could touch my soul as it so obviously touched my body, stirring that soul back to health, as it could the body.

Exactly what part the soul plays in our body’s functioning is of great concern to acupuncture, in contrast to western medicine, where the nature of this relationship, and its relevance to the health or ill-health of the body, is largely ignored, probably because it raises such disquieting questions. In the West, when the spirit is considered to be out of balance, it is said, almost dismissively, to produce that wide and vague category of illnesses labelled as stress-induced, psychosomatic, or, more succinctly, simply as mental. But, on the whole, that is as far as it goes. The close relationship acupuncture accepts sits uneasily within the tight framework within which Western medicine operates.

Such an approach has come to mean more to me than one which, by limiting the body rigidly to its physical role, concentrates almost entirely upon what can be physically measured and thus disregards anything which lies beyond the scope of its parameters. We can indeed choose to concentrate our attention upon the outside of things, for this is the face which is turned towards us, and thus it is possible to pause at the threshold of the physical, refusing to pass beyond that gate of skin and bone where beckon the deeper and more hidden parts of us. We can remain convinced that the physical contains the key to life’s secrets. And then the body becomes a trap, deceiving us by its very solidity and apparent reality into thinking that it holds the answers to all the questions of human health, and that it is only the inadequacy of our measuring methods, which have so far failed us.

But only the physical can be grasped by physical means. Science must always fall silent before that which is not physical within us, for instruments, measurers only of the measurable, cannot by their very nature grasp the immeasurable. And the realm of our soul, unlike that of our body, is immeasurable, although its effects are not. We can measure the heart beat, but can we measure what makes this same heart love? We can measure our physical being, those parts of us which appear, in life, upon the scan, and lie dissected after death upon the laboratory bench, but we cannot measure that something which transforms them into more than just the sum of their physical parts. And this quality is the spirit of life which makes us, in its presence, a person alive and functioning, and in its absence, a corpse.

This understanding gives to the practice of acupuncture a dimension which extends far beyond the sphere of physical medicine, moving into those areas which the fields of psychotherapy and spiritual counseling call their own. Where acupuncture relates to western medicine is in its concept of the physical energies of the various organs, it relates to modern psychotherapeutic practice in its understanding of the differing emotional characteristics which together make up the human being. Where it differs from both is in the fact that, having a clear concept of the soul within the body, it can use the same treatment to treat both. Indeed, it cannot treat one level without treating the others.

In acupuncture, physical health can never be regarded as distinct from mental or spiritual health. A division between what can be analysed by scientific methods and what, like distresses of the spirit or mental unease, cannot, is alien to it. The deep connections which it recognizes between our physical outer being and our inner being weave themselves tightly into every part of its diagnosis and treatment. It is the intimate relationship between these levels of our being whose delicate balance acupuncture accepts as being a determining factor in our health.

In diagnosing, an acupuncturist therefore makes no distinction between those ailments which appear physical in origin (a bad back, a headache) and those which appear to originate at a deeper level within us (heartache, depression, sadness, confusion), for all levels interconnect to form the one being, and all equally reveal the elements’ state of balance or imbalance. Indeed, the deeper ills, by reason of their depth and importance to us, are of particular concern to us, and demand the greater focus of a practitioner.

This is often an area of acupuncture unfamiliar to many who come for treatment, for acupuncture, being apparently a physical form of treatment, using a physical needle to penetrate the body’s surface, might appear to be capable only of treating the physical. It is not obvious to those with no knowledge of acupuncture how this physical needle placed in the body can relieve a patient’s depression or soothe his emotional distress. The ancient Chinese had no trouble in understanding this for they saw all things, and with them mankind, each as being a tiny manifestation of the Dao, the wholeness of all things, and therefore each person as potentially a complete whole in which body and soul merge together and must be treated together. A needle inserted in the body must affect the soul, just as the soul’s distress must affect the body.

There is of course, something which we can call the health of the body, as distinct from the health of the mind or of the spirit, but the relationship between these different levels of health is always close. They cannot be treated in isolation, by sending our soul, as it were, to church and our body to hospital. The soul accompanies the body on its journey to hospital, as the body accompanies the soul to its place of spiritual repose. It is when we ignore this fact that so much unnecessary suffering is caused to those who are sick…”

Footnote:

The excerpt is taken from "Keepers of the Soul: the Five Guardian Elements of Acupuncture". Published by Sofea Acupuncture, www.sofea.co.uk

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