Looking at health care through the lens of ancient acupuncture and seeing the integration of health through three very real patient examples:
- A 60+ woman with urinary bladder prolapse
- A 30+ woman with crohn’s disease
- A 40- man with acid reflux
What do these three case studies have in common? They show that people with a broad array of symptoms have been combining acupuncture with conventional medicine to achieve remarkable results.
Acupuncture gets everything moving in the right direction. It is an ancient art that speaks directly to the body, whispering encouragement, giving direction and facilitating change and awareness. It aids the fundamental desire within each of us to do the things that make the most intuitive sense: to link the patterns of our physical symptoms, emotionality, psychologies and spiritual beliefs together, to bravely unearth the blocks and fears that hinder the patterns of wellness, and to form an organized and restorative connection within ourselves and beyond ourselves. This is how we rediscover basic health.
Health care in this country has been shifting toward the integration of Western medicine with other modalities for quite some time. The progress is slow and hindered by many powerful and conflicting forces, yet it is happening because a large body of people want holistic treatments and person-centered health care instead of symptom- focused treatment. Through cutting-edge research, the expanding and morphing of our social culture, the speed and accessibility of information, environmental changes and the progress of time, we are witnessing dramatic changes in the practice of health care.
Historically, the practice of Chinese medicine is fraught with contradicting theories and practices. It was not uncommon for one acupuncture or herbal practice to dominate in popularity in one dynasty in China, only to be completely revised with the opposite theory practiced in the next dynasty. For thousands of years, there have been revisions in these practices.
Yet instead of the older theories being dismissed, they seem to get integrated into the newer ones. That means acupuncture is reinvented each time it is introduced to a new culture or a new era, even while aspects of the medicine remain exactly the same.
For example, the basic concepts of yin and yang, the point locations and meridian construct (for the most part) remain the same, yet the interpretation changes.
The technique of acupuncture, is a paradox. Needling people to help them heal. The method is contra-intuitive, how can that work? Of course, it does, and sometimes the results are spectacular. Many more then one client has said, “I never would have thought in a million years that I would enjoy getting needled but I do. It is really relaxing”.
As Fritjof Capra says, “An outstanding property of all life is the tendency to form multileveled structures of systems within systems…Thus cells combine to form tissues, tissues to form organs, and organs to form organisms. These in turn exist within social systems and ecosystems. Throughout the living world we find living systems nesting within other living systems.”
The basic language used in acupuncture reflects principles of self-work. Acupuncturists like myself are most concerned with allowing the self’s energy to move out into the world as naturally as possible. This process is facilitated by unblocking the “qi,” or life force in the body, while unblocking the aspects of a person’s life that are keeping them stuck. Whether it is lifestyle choices, emotional or psychological states, physical symptoms or the patient’s spirituality — it all factors in.
Take the 60+ woman with the urinary bladder prolapse. She was suffering from anxiety, for which she was taking medication. After meeting with a urologist she was considering surgery. She was working two jobs and busy six days a week, often working one job in the day and one in the evening. She had an active yoga practice. She came from a very complex and difficult family structure and had a strong desire to have closer relationships to her children and grandchildren.
We did a combination of work that actively and physically supported her urinary bladder while energetically treating her anxiety. At first our discussions revolved around the elements of fire and water.
In Chinese medicine, fire is found in the chest or heart space and burns out of control when it is not grounded by the water. Water is found in the lower abdomen and grounds the fire on an axis. But if the water is too depleted, as in this case, it can not keep the fire in check. Water is associated with will or will power. The patient was strong-willed. She was working two jobs with very little support and throughout her life had managed to push through difficulty or pull herself up by her bootstraps.
In the same way, she was pushing through any physical discomfort. We spoke about how her water was low and not adequately supporting her organs. We did points such as “zhi dwelling” or “will dwelling,” which strengthen the water and generate change and balance. It can also balance the water/ fire relationship. We also did “bubbling spring,” which enlivens the water energy and grounds the energy in the body. It has a very calming effect.
The patient’s anxiety was greatly reduced. She only needed medication occasionally. Her prolapse became very manageable. There was still some discomfort, but she found if she did yoga and took other precautions, it did not hinder her from a full and active life.
She took up journaling, maintained her yoga practice, enrolled in an art class, read books on self-development and spent more time connecting with her family. She is still working with the powerful and dark feelings associated with her family of origin, but her overall health has improved significantly and she has come back to herself. She is alive again. She is thinking of doing some writing. And she has given her self a year to come up with a plan for the next part of her life.
At some point in the work process, she brought in this quote from Rumi:
“Very little grows on jagged rock.
So wild flowers will come up where you are.”
In the case of the 30+ woman with crohn’s disease, the secondary symptoms were amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period), insomnia and anxiety.
When this woman came to me, she had been working with her crohn’s disease for over a year and a half. She was now on a rigid diet and her symptoms were improving, in the past she had taken medication. But she had not had a period in some years; she told me that “it just disappeared.” Her insomnia was consistent. She would find herself waking at four in the morning and being unable to go back to sleep. Her anxiety had an unusual presentation — it would show up only around certain circumstances, but once it started it went out of control quickly and proved difficult to check until a certain amount of time had passed.
The patient had experienced a traumatic labor about four years prior and a difficult end of her marriage shortly afterwards. We began work by calming and restoring her “Shen”, or spirit, which was disturbed during her labor process. And we worked a lot with her “earth element,” using points like “abundant splendor,” which help to turn our own nourishing and supportive energy towards our own self. We also used “Supreme white,” which brings stability and enlivens transformation and transportation in the body. I gave her the Bach flower remedy called star of Bethlehem, which is helpful in recovery from shock.
Her insomnia reduced quickly and each time I saw her she was sleeping a little better and a little longer. Her digestion kept improving and she was able to broaden her diet and eat more foods — which was a great relief to her. Her anxiety became easier to work with. As the anxiety lessened she found some anger peeking its way through and she gave this a voice by talking and writing about it.
She felt the stirrings of her cycle returning and believed she had begun ovulating again. She was remembering what PMS felt like. As all this was happening, she moved into a new house and began creating a life more suited to her needs and wants. She made an appointment with her gynecologist and had her hormone levels checked. Everything was in order, so she did a progesterone challenge. Her period came quickly and now she has a regular cycle. She is still exploring these issues and working with changes in her life.
The 40- man with acid reflux has been working on different and substantial issues with me for about three years. He has a comprehensive support team which includes, beside myself, a therapist and a primary care physician. He takes medication for anxiety, among other things.
For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on two specific symptoms. The first was acid reflux. The second emerged quite spontaneously from our work.
This client had suffered from acid reflux for a long time. It was not constant, but when it was present it was uncomfortable. The acid reflux did not seem to be related to what he ate and it did not get worse when he lay down. At a certain point in time the acid reflux became more persistent. He went to his doctor, who put him on a low dose of medication. The medication relieved some of the discomfort, but he was still suffering.
When he described the symptom to me, he hands kept going to an area near his sternum, where he said he “he felt the discomfort”. I needled the point “dove tail,” which is used to support the spirit of the heart and pericardium. This was the area that felt congested for him. There was a large burst of qi and his eyes opened really wide in surprise.Then he settled down and rested. After this treatment, the symptoms of acid reflux were almost completely gone. He got off his medication shortly afterwards, with the permission of his doctor. He has some mild acid reflux every once in a while, but it is rare.
The second symptom was much more tricky. It had been present the entire time I was treating him, but no attention was given to it. It was mentioned maybe six times in three years. The symptoms is alcoholism. It is not overt, and his behavior was not dangerous. But like any addiction it was present and very much influencing his choices and health. I had kept an eye on it and acknowledged it but I was patiently waiting for an opening in the work to address it.
That opportunity came in an unusual way on an unexpected day. A few sessions before the one I’m talking about, we were discussing the enrichment of his quality of sleep and about lifestyle choices, such as going to bed at a consistent time and doing some dream work.
The next treatment, he was filling me on the last couple weeks when he started to tell me about some seemingly unrelated odd occurrences. He had possibly come down with a virus. He had incredibly poignant and sensitive interactions with two different people while he was out shopping. He had been contacted by old and dear friend from childhood. He was experiencing a strange pattern of physical pain.
I decided to do “clearing treatment,” which would help move old energy and give us a picture of what was happening. The treatment went well and he was calm and clear afterwards.
In the next session, he told me that he was quitting drinking and working on his alcoholism. This work is still in process and things are going well.
As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.”
Practicing acupuncture by focusing on the point names and using them to reflect the patient’s relevant stages of self- integration has been used throughout the history of Chinese medicine. There are accounts of this type of work in some of the earliest acupuncture texts.
One entire style of acupuncture called “Five Element,” organized by J. R. Worsley, emphasizes this type of practice and it’s effectiveness.
There is something valuable in enlarging a person’s own self-awareness. Then they can begin to take more responsibility for their health choices and outcomes. They also become more aware of their symptom-logy, how it presents and where they have influence on it.
One might think of the “placebo effect.” Telling a patient that an acupuncture point will treat a particular ailment may cause improvement. There is a plethora of studies proving this phenomena to be true. Yet the process that I am explaining is also real, empowering and enlightening and can be a substantial and valuable aid to certain medications and forms of psychotherapy.
Anxiety is a symptom that I see quite often. It is a secondary symptom in each of these three case studies. It manifests differently for each person. Specifically, I have used acupuncture to treat a number of women who were almost crippled by their symptoms of anxiety. They had all been checked out by their primary care physicians or cardiologists and had all been offered either anti-anxiety or depression medication.
Acupuncture is a safe adjunct therapy for use with most medications and medical intervention, as well as other alternative therapies such as homeopathy, massage, traditional therapy, naturopathy, etc. Similar to the constructs of a web or a hologram, it can be the bridge that connects different types of healing modalities, weaving energies together.
Jipala R. Kagan practices in upstate New York. She is a New York State Licensed Acupuncturist and NCCAOM Diplomat with an emphasis on Emotional/ Spiritual Acupuncture and Pain Relief. She has a working knowledge of Western Herbology, Homeopathic Medicine, Nutritional Supplements, Dietary/ Lifestyle Counseling and Myology. Visit her website @ www.transpersonalacupuncture.com for more information.