History Of Acupuncture – part 1

Acupuncture is founded on an array of philosophies that are absolutely different from the theories on which Western medicine is based. The basis of a physician’s diagnosis of a patient’s ailment in the West is his/ her understanding of anatomy, pathology, physiology and biochemistry. Having diagnosed the disease, the physician will make a decision on whether to cure the patient using medications, performing surgery or through other means. Nevertheless, the physicians find that it is extremely difficult to treat a number of patients, as despite the patients being obviously ailing, all medical examinations performed on them prove to be normal and, hence, it becomes difficult to diagnose the ailment. In fact, acupuncture, as several other complementary healings, is ideal for such patients, because, unlike the Western terms, there is no need for any diagnosis to treat the patient effectively.

An ancient therapy

Precisely speaking, acupuncture is among the oldest therapies of our civilization – it has been used for more than 2,000 years! Even though there have been new developments periodically, the fundamental theory as well as practice of acupuncture remains almost the same as it was practised over 20 centuries back. The theory on which acupuncture is based also forms the basis of the herbal medicine practised by the Chinese. In effect, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are regularly used in conjunction by healers in the East. Initially when acupuncture became well-accepted in the West, this mode of treatment was generally used unaccompanied by any other therapy. However, presently several practitioners also train themselves in Chinese herbal medicine and use the two therapies in conjunction.

The Nei Ching is considered to be the oldest literature on the theory on which Chinese medicine is based. This book has been translated into English and published under the name ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’. It is believed that the Yellow Emperor lived as far back as the 27th century B.C. However, there is some debate among scholars regarding the actual existence of the Yellow Emperor. While one section believes the Yellow Emperor really existed, there is another group of scholars who claim that it is mere a mythical character – possibly someone who was initially based on a real individual who, over the period of time, has been bestowed with much more prominence than what is justified. This disagreement can somewhat be compared to the scholarly debate in Britain regarding the existence of a real King Arthur. Nevertheless, even in case the Yellow Emperor had really existed, it is very doubtful if he can be given the credit for present form of the Nei Ching. It is even unlikely that the book belonged to the period when he is said to have lived.

In fact, written Chinese was somewhat in an archaic format during the 27th century B.C. – very much different from the ancient ideographs that we are familiar with. Basically, the Nei Ching is a highly insightful work of medical literature and it would really have been unattainable to express so much information in this primordial script. The latest view is that the Nei Ching is a compilation of many different essays, probably having their origin in specific medical school of thoughts or theorists. It is believed that these dissertations were written over a period of time between roughly 200 B.C. and A.D. 100 and, subsequently, compiled later in the last part of this era. All these notwithstanding, the Nei Ching still remains a work completed in the very distant past.

While it is true that the Nei Ching is one of the oldest literature pertaining to Chinese medicine that has been passed on to us, it is doubtful whether this is the maiden manuscript ever written on the theories on which Chinese medicine is based. In fact, the style in which this book was written does not suggest that it is dealing with something novel and original. Without any doubt that acupuncture was extensively comprehended as well as practised by people in China by the time the Nei Ching was written. In fact, the Nei Ching does not give the reader any instruction at all on the fundamental theory or the ideas and modus operandi that need to be employed to perform acupuncture, probably because by the time the book was published it was thought that people were already familiar with them.

The Nei Ching only deals with the more mysterious features of hypothesis, for instance, transfer of the principles that have the power to give life and transfer of the spirit as well as the seasons like the viscera’s patterns. The Nei Ching is in a question-answer form where the Yellow Emperor solicits answers, which are provided in detail by Ch’i Po. A number of these questions are highly philosophical or insightful covering several pages of the book. For instance, the Ch’i Po is asked to elucidate ‘how it is feasible to determine which of the signals sent by the 12 viscera to one another are valuable and which are useless’ and ‘if the brain together with the marrow regulate the viscera’ or ‘if the stomach regulates the viscera’ or ‘whether the six bowels are governed by the viscera’. Irrespective of whether the Yellow Emperor really existed or not, he definitely had an excellent understanding of the basic theories on which Chinese medicine is founded.

Several stories relating to distinguished acupuncture practitioners have also been passed on to us since the last 2,000 years or even more. A couple of centuries prior to the period when Nei Ching is believed to have been written, to some extent after the era when the Yellow Emperor is said to have lived, Pien Chueh, a renowned traveling physician as well as medicine teacher, lived in China. Although the precise dates pertaining to his life are not known, traditionally, Pien Chueh is believed to have lived some time during the 4th century B.C. One of the several stories pertaining to Pien Chueh talks about the time when the physician and medicine teacher was traveling through the Kuo province along with a number of his students or apprentices. When Pien Chueh and his students reached the town where the local king as well as his court resided, they noticed that several sacrifices were being made to the Gods at the temples, while some people were engaged in making arrangements for a funeral.

As Pien Chueh started making inquiries regarding the happenings, people told him that the king’s son had taken ill all of a sudden and had become comatose, which the physicians of the court were unable to bring him back to consciousness. The local people told Pien Chueh that they feared that the king’s son would inevitably die and, hence, they were making the funeral arrangements for the prince. Hearing this, Pien Chueh asked the informants if they could make the necessary arrangements to introduce him in the king’s court and told them that he believed that he may possibly prevent the boy’s death. Soon, the necessary arrangements were made and the king eagerly permitted Pien Chueh to examine the prince, who was lying in a comatose.

Pien Chueh examined the prince thoroughly and also diagnosed the child on the basis of his vast understanding of Chinese medicine. Subsequently, he started the treatment by inserting acupuncture needles in the prince’s head, chest, and limbs. To everyone’s surprise, the prince regained consciousness soon. Thereafter, Pien Chueh continued treating the prince and kept a close eye on his progress for three consecutive weeks. Besides acupuncture, Pien Chueh also employed herbal remedies and heat treatment. After three weeks, the prince regained his complete health and started his normal activities. Although the story does not tell anything about the fate of the court physicians, it can be guessed that the king might have made the necessary arrangements to ensure that they also learnt the fundamentals of acupuncture.



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