Acupuncture is amazing. It still boggles my mind, after all of these years of practice, that it is so simple and so effective.
Acupuncture was developed as one of the therapies used traditionally in Chinese medicine, alongside herbal medicine, massage, moxibustion and qi gong. The written history of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dates back over 2800 years and we have a few spotty details about how acupuncture was developed.
The first needles were made of stone and the early medicine people carefully observed how the stimulus on the body affected how it functioned. They shared and recorded their findings. Slowly, over centuries, a map of how to treat the body was created which we now call the meridian system.
The system was practiced and refined by thousands of practitioners over hundreds of years, improving both the reliability of the effects of their treatment and the instruments they used. Even though the Silk Road saw China exporting many of it’s exotic prizes, acupuncture was not among them.
China shares Acupuncture with the world
In the 1950’s, for a variety of political reasons, China’s Chairman Mao decided it was time to export acupuncture and Chinese medicine to the West (for more on this, check out this Slate magazine article). You can imagine, with a country the size and population of China, that there were many schools of thought and a variety of “best practices” for acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Some of them were regional, some more philosophical. But Mao needed something concise to export, so there was a culling of many traditional writings and practitioners. This allowed the knowledge of acupuncture to be distilled down and texts were created like “Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion”, a required text for most Chinese Medicine schools in the West.
With the cultural shifts happening in the 60’s, the timing politically and culturally was perfect for the West to fall in love with acupuncture. The “enlightened East”mystique had many Westerners clambering to learn this exported version of Chinese Medicine. Since then, there have been many schools for acupuncture and Chinese medicine opened in both Canada and the USA and thousands of new practitioners graduate each year. I graduated myself from a school in Victoria BC.
As practitioners in the west, we are working with a population that has been raised with the scientific model. Our clients want scientific proof that it is useful. Other healthcare providers want proof that acupuncture is effective. And so, acupuncture has been studied using the scientific model (although a way to do a double-blind clinical trial with acupuncture still eludes researchers) and found to have benefits for a variety of conditions. Even the World Health Organization endorses the use of acupuncture.
Medicine continues to evolve, as it should, and the acupuncture we use in the West today is particularly suited to the time and place that we are using it.