Monday, April 23, 2012

Understanding Qi & Acupuncture

Acupuncture has successfully been treating hundreds of ailments for over two thousand years throughout Asia, but its spread in the United States is a recent development (about 30 years).

I get many questions about how acupuncture works – I am an advocate of being well informed before agreeing to any therapy and would like to offer this explanation of Qi and acupuncture.

Qi Pronounced “chee”, aka Chi & Ki

Qi is often translated as “life force” and is considered the energy that keeps our bodies functioning.

How do we know that Qi exists?

Imagine a white sheet hanging on a clothes line, fluttering and swaying.
What is causing the sheet to move?

Your answer is most likely “wind”.

Qi is very similar to wind. We cannot see it, but we can see what it does.
Qi is the wind in our sails – it is the dynamic flow that allows us to function.

We cannot see Qi under a microscope or contain it in a beaker.
That would be like capturing wind in a jar and finding only air.

In the same way that people saw the effects of moving air and began to call that phenomenon “wind”, people realized that the function of our bodies required some form of energy that seemed to have specific patterns of behavior.

The ancient Chinese called this Qi. In Japan it is called Ki, in India it is referred to as Prana. Even in modern American culture, we have phrases like “having Spirit” or “Vitality” or “Energy”.

The difficult thing for many people to understand is that Qi is a concept that was developed from observation and analysis, not as an esoteric or spiritual belief.

Over the course of hundreds of years, and millions of cases of trial and error, the ancient Chinese developed a system of explaining how the Qi flows within our bodies.

The pathways in which the Qi flows were called meridians or channels, while the points along these channels, were found to have therapeutic effects. This is the foundation of acupuncture.


Acupuncture affects the flow of Qi in the body to promote therapeutic effects. The stimulation of Qi is done with very thin, sterile, one-time use needles that are only slightly thicker than human hair.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that acupuncture is beneficial in over 70 different conditions, but the number of conditions it has been used for are far greater.

It can be used in so many conditions because it relies on the body's own healing mechanisms.

Acupuncture is guidance for the body, like private lessons on how to be healthier.

Taking this analogy a bit further, like learning music, martial arts, dance or yoga, the first lesson is usually the most profound – going from no knowledge to some knowledge is an exciting first step.

Also like learning something, it takes many lessons and practicing repeatedly to become better.

Bringing this back to acupuncture, some patients may not see a noticeable difference after 1 or 2 treatments, but many patients also have a significant reduction in symptoms from just 1 treatment.

It takes patience, dedication, effort and repetition to improve at anything and this is doubly true when it comes to health – everything we do in our lives affects our health in one way or another.

Every meal, every stressful situation, every experience of joy, every hour spent working-out, even sleeping patterns affect your health.

In the same way that exercising once a year will yield very slim results, a single acupuncture treatment can only offer limited benefit. Regularity is vital for improvement.

I often get asked “How many treatments will this take? How often should I come?”

The answer varies quite a bit depending on the nature and history of the condition, your overall health, and other lifestyle choices. For moderate conditions you should start with with at least 1 treatment a week for 4-6 weeks. During this time, we can reassess based on the degree of improvement to come up with a long-term plan.

For more severe & chronic cases, I recommend at least twice a week for 4-6 weeks, after which we will reassess to determine an appropriate treatment schedule with short term goals.

My belief is that health is not a finish line – it is a state of being that we create with everything we do. Acupuncture is just one of the many things that will help you be a healthier you!

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