Baloney and Qi: What’s the point of Acupuncture?
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
Is it magical or is it scientific? Does it balance qi or does it release muscular tension?
Like most acupuncture students in the west, I wanted to escape into something magical.
I wanted to walk around the misty forests of Yunnan to find a magical Chinese dude who would strike evil sorcerors dead with qi balls and levitate tumors out of people’s butts.
So, welcome to acupuncture school, where no one will laugh at you for waving a crystal pendulum over your organic chai, and where it’s common to see sensitive guys with pony tails kung fu stand behind their desks during class, waving their arms mysteriously. They squint off into the distance as they say, “I don’t need a chair; I just summon qi from the universe.”
You think I’m exaggerating?
Day one of school: Qi!
“It’s everything, it’s everywhere. It’s energy. It’s so mysterious that it can’t be detected by
Cue one of the six white guys with dreadlocks to “boo” at the words “Western science.”
This weird fantasy circus of acupuncture school goes on for 4 years where we mostly memorize questions like the following (I’ll forgive you if you skim past it, lest you nod off):
1) A 36 year old male patient comes to you for help. He has been having some strange
discomfort in his epigastric area. This started awhile ago, but he couldn‘t tell you exactly when. He has noticed that this all gets worse whenever he has had anything that is cold. He used to love to eat ice cream, but now he can’t stand it. You ask if the discomfort comes and goes and he explains that it is pretty constant. He's also been noticing that he'll get the hiccups. For the most part, the best way to describe these hiccups as slow and forceful. They will get worse with any kind of cold food and feel better after a cup of hot tea and
sometimes he'll even use a heating pad. His tongue has a white, moist tongue coating and his pulse is slow.
Which one of the following point prescriptions do you expect this patient to have?
A) Ren 12, P 6, S 36, B 17, Ren 13
B) Ren 12, P 6, S 36, SP 4, B 20, and Ren 6
C) Ren 12, P 6, S 36, SP 4, and Liv 3
D) Ren 12, S 36, B 20, Liv 3, and SP 3
So is this magical shit or sciencey shit?
Chinese medicine as is taught in schools (US and China) was actually standardized by the
Communist party under Mao’s rule. They wanted to take the “magical, superstitious” stuff out and make it appear more modern. For other words, those of us looking for a magical fantasy were duped.
You killed my buzz, Mao!
Furthermore, those of us looking for practical methods to help people heal naturally were also largely unsatisfied. These communist cookbook protocols just aren’t very effective, and that’s the truth. We did learn to practice safely; we really did spend thousands of hours learning at least that, but for the most part, every useful, practical technique I know came from outside of school! And yes, the education in China and Taiwan is just as cookbook-based.
So, once we found out that school was a drag, we had 2 options:
Option 1: Be a Western medicine lapdog.
Cut off your dreads and iron your labcoat. Shine your goniometer. Talk about proprioceptive pain signals and impress your big brothers enough to refer patients to you.
Option 2: "You can’t make me grow up, dad!"
Join a healing cult on your spare time. “Gurus” and “Sifus” from around the area waited in the shadows for depressed acupuncture students.
“Pssst, hey you. Yeah, you. I got the magical shit you’re looking for.”
There really were “gurus” who charged hundreds of dollars a month to teach acupuncture
students distance healing, qi forcefields, astral battling, secret incantations and yeah, probably how to levitate tumors out of people’s butts. -Cool, but would they ever demonstrate this to skeptics?
“No, it’s too secretive. I can brag about doing it but I can’t show you.”
This is the kind of baloney that gives chiropractors and physical therapists ammunition to practice “dry needling!” They say, “We don’t balance qi; we just release muscular tension.” That’s how they get certified to practice after only 50 hours of training, then they’re free to jam acupuncture needles into muscular knots until it either releases the knot or it pierces your lung. (Seriously: Dry Needling Collapses Skier's Lung)
I opted for the 3rd option, which was to take a long time out from school to travel around Asia and learn what I could from people who weren’t bound to the fairly recent communist overhaul. I only wanted to learn methods that worked, and thank God I found teachers who were generous enough to share. Ultimately, my time in Asia gave me enough motivation to plow through the rest of school and move back to Taiwan after graduation to learn more.
So that brings back the original question, what is the point of acupuncture?
I said it earlier- we as bushy tailed bozos had the right motivation on our first day of class; we
wanted to help people heal naturally, to help them unlock their own healing potential.
Does it work?
I’ll tell you this, I’ve never seen anyone cure cancer with their qi or levitate anything, but you bet your damn crystal pendulum or shiny labcoat that I’ve seen countless people with all kinds problems get better with acupuncture. I’ve seen some people get better with acupuncture and ONLY acupuncture. And yes, some people do report mystical stuff happening during treatments. I’m really not discounting the mysterious; I just don’t think we should promote it as the vehicle by which acupuncture works.
Does that mean that it works for everyone, all the time?
And run from anyone who tells you otherwise. It’s great, and I went from blind believer to
disenchanted skeptic to confident practitioner, but I can tell you that it isn’t for everyone. And it really should be practiced by someone who learned it full time, not some assclown who learned it over a few weekends.
Finally, does it work by balancing mystical energy or does it just promote blood flow and
……Meh, who cares? But to me, helping someone help himself recover is magical enough.