Traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system based on ancient principles which go back nearly two thousand years. It has a very positive model of good health and function, and looks at pain and illness as signs that the body is out of balance. The overall aim of acupuncture treatment, then, is to restore the body’s equilibrium. What makes this system so uniquely suited to modern life is that physical, emotional and mental are seen as interdependent, and reflect what many people perceive as the connection between the different aspects their lives.
Based on traditional belief, acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries. The focus is on the individual, not their illness, and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique; two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments.
Traditional acupuncturists believe that the underlying principle of treatment is that illness and pain occur when the body’s qi, or vital energy, cannot flow freely. There can be many reasons for this; emotional and physical stress, poor nutrition, infection or injury are among the most common. By inserting ultra-fine sterile needles into specific acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist seeks to re-establish the free flow of qi to restore balance and trigger the body’s natural healing response.
Until the 1940s, when the Chinese government commissioned the development of a uniform system of diagnosis and treatment, somewhat misleadingly referred to as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), nearly all training had been apprentice-style with masters and within families. The same applied when acupuncture travelled overseas to Japan and South East Asia.
As a consequence of this there are many different styles of acupuncture which share a common root but are distinct and different in their emphasis. You may read of TCM, Five Elements, Stems and Branches, Japanese Meridian Therapy, and many others, all of which have their passionate devotees. The Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, though, has long embraced this plurality under the heading “unity in diversity” and sees the variety of approaches as the mark of a healthy profession.
Traditional acupuncture has a long history of adapting to new cultures in which it is practised. Its growing popularity and acceptance in the West may well promote yet more new and exciting variations on the ancient themes.