Acupuncture is an ancient medicine dating back thousands of years. The guiding principles of Chinese medicine are just as relevant today as they were in the past. In today’s blog post, I want to share some foundational principles of acupuncture spelled out in a text entitled Lingshu. This book reveals timeless insights on how to stay healthy in today’s world.
Ancient Acupuncture Text
Lingshu, translated as Spiritual Pivot, is one of the oldest Chinese medical texts describing the workings of acupuncture. Its origins date back to the 1st century BCE. Lingshu is one of a two-part classic medical text entitled Huangdi Neijing, commonly referred to as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon. The other section, which also contains foundational principles of acupuncture, is entitled Suwen, meaning Basic Questions.
Current editions of the Lingshu come from the Shi Song’s edition from 1155 AD. However, the earliest existing edition dates back to 1339, during the Yuan dynasty. A single copy of this edition is still preserved at the National Library of China in Beijing, containing both Lingshu and Suwen.
Brilliance of the Lingshu
Let’s look at three passages in the first chapter of Lingshu entitled “The Laws of Heaven.” The book’s format is a dialogue between the Yellow Emperor and his minister, Qi Bo, a mythological Chinese doctor enlightened with the knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine by a heavenly spiritual being.
The Yellow Emperor’s Request
Huang Di said to Qi Bo, ‘I, the emperor of the people, receive revenues of rents and taxes to nourish the Hundred Families, but I am grieved by not being able to provide for those afflicted with disease. I wish they did not have to endure the poison of medicines and the use of stone probes. I prefer to use those fine needles which penetrate the channels, harmonize the blood and qi energy, manage the current and countercurrents, and assemble the exits and entrances. Please unravel this for future generations and enlighten them on the proper methods so this therapy will not be destroyed or severed for eons. See that it is easy to use, difficult to forget, a classical record. Delineate the process, clarify the extrinsic and the intrinsic, define an end and a beginning. Please formalize a reality of each item. Begin with the fundamentals of classic acupuncture. I wish to hear of these essentials.”
The Yellow Emperor was frustrated with the current state of medicine in China and wished his citizens did not have to rely on the “poisons of medicines.” How appropriate for us today. Western medical pharmaceuticals often have adverse side effects that cause more trouble than the supposed benefits. Yet, there does not seem to be a viable alternative to treating disease. But wait…the emperor has heard of an ancient form of traditional medicine called acupuncture, which uses “fine needles” to heal the body with no adverse effects.
The emperor asks Qi Bo to unravel the mystery and foundational principles of acupuncture for future generations and explain how this traditional medicine works. Start from the beginning, he says, and tell me the essential information.
Qi Bo’s Response
Qi Bo answered, “To begin with the first, there are a total of nine needles and the principles of their way. The principles of using these fine needles are easy to say but difficult to master. Ordinary skills of acupuncture maintain the physical body; high skills maintain the spirit, use spirit to reveal the spirit and the guest at the door. Without careful observation of the disease, how can there be understanding of its origin?”
In these few sentences, Qi Bo touches on several essential aspects of acupuncture that we, as practitioners two thousand years later, still address every day.
Easy to Say, Difficult to Master
First, the foundational principles of acupuncture “are easy to say but difficult to master.” We always tell patients that proper Qi flow is key to good health. It sounds simple enough. But it takes years of study and experience to know how to use the needles to restore that flow. Qi Bo then explains that good health involves more than the physical body. A good acupuncturist can “maintain the physical body,” but it takes “high skills” to maintain the spirit.
To explore this idea, let’s look at two health conditions, sciatica and migraine headaches. Sciatica often involves piriformis muscle spasms deep in the hip, impinging the sciatic nerve and sending stabbing pain down the leg. Acupuncture works quickly to release this spasm and help return the muscle to its normal function. We call it “retraining” the muscle to work as it used to before the injury. This condition is relatively easy to treat, as it resides purely on the physical level (muscle spasm).
Complex Health Conditions
Treating migraine headaches is more complex because it often entails both a physical and spiritual component. The physical elements of treatment first address muscle tension in the neck and base of the head. Secondly, acupuncture opens blocked channels in the head. All pain comes from blocked Qi. Pain in the temples, forehead, and occiput most often derives from Qi not flowing correctly in the channels traversing these areas. These physical aspects of treating migraines are relatively straightforward to accomplish.
Then there is the spiritual aspect of treatment – is the patient suffering from undue stress, depression, anxiety, or overwhelm due to the challenges of living in a complex, dysfunctional world? Acupuncture addresses these emotional aspects of disease by strengthening the patient’s spirit, called Shen. These aspects of treatment require more skill from the practitioner, with more profound knowledge and understanding of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. These deeper foundational principles of acupuncture are what Qi Bo was talking about when he said, “Ordinary skills of acupuncture maintain the physical body; high skills maintain the spirit.”
Root Cause of Disease
Another fundamental principle of acupuncture is that “without careful observation of the disease, how can there be understanding of its origin?” As practitioners, we must understand the root cause of disease to resolve it entirely. Therefore, we design intake exams to understand the disease’s root cause and design treatment protocols to address the imbalances responsible for disharmony.
Lingshi contains hundreds of pages describing acupuncture’s foundations, which are still relevant today. Approaching this text requires patience, as the language is foreign, and explanations are philosophical and allegorical. Yet deep wisdom about Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and health is hidden within its poetic phrases.
Power of the Acupuncture Needle
Li Bo continues,
“This is the manipulation and the way of the needles. Firmness is precious. The primary fingers make a vertical insertion; do not needle to the left or right. The spirit seems to be at the tip of the needle. Focus awareness on the patient. Investigate the blood pulses and the needle will not be dangerous. When inserting the needle, it is necessary to harmonize the yang and control both the yin and the yang. The spirit will follow.”
The Power of the Needle
Acupuncture practitioners utilize needles every day to activate the Qi, open blocked channels, release tight muscles, promote circulation, and boost immunity. It’s hard to fathom how these hair-thin, stainless steel wires can have such a significant impact on the mind, body, and spirit. Qi Bo instructs the importance of the needle sitting firmly, not flimsy. It must be properly engaged with the Qi to have a positive effect, just as two electrical wires must have a contact for the current to flow.
Tapping Into The Spirit
He then describes the true miracle of acupuncture when he says, “The spirit seems to be at the tip of the needle.” After an acupuncturist inserts the needle, they activate the point by eliciting something called “deqi” at the tip of the needle. I envision deqi as the body’s energy grabbing the tip of the needle. Activating the Qi in this way is essential for good outcomes in treatment. Look at any acupuncture research study on PubMed, and you will see that treatments always include activating deqi. After all, acupuncture works through energetics, the spirit at the tip of the needle. Accessing this spirit with the acupuncture needle has the power to heal sinus infections, overcome infertility, cure migraines, resolve IBS, and relieve anxiety.
Health Revealed in the Pulses
The text continues expounding foundational principles of acupuncture by addressing the importance of practitioners knowing how to assess the pulse. Qi Bo declares, “Investigate the blood pulses…and the spirit will follow.” There are over a dozen unique pulse qualities that every practitioner must recognize to diagnose their patients properly. These different pulses indicate the patient’s yin and yang balance, revealing the causes of their disease. For example, a thin pulse can suggest yin deficiency, while a wiry pulse points to Qi stagnation. A slow, weak pulse reflects yang deficiency, while a full, rapid pulse reveals fire, a form of excess heat.
Powerful Medicine Rooted In Ancient Principles
Lingshu is an amazing text, as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. It explains the foundational principles of acupuncture with elegance and poignancy and should be on the bookshelf of every practicing acupuncturist. The practitioners at Raleigh Acupuncture use Lingshu as a guiding source when treating patients.
Try acupuncture and experience the powers of an ancient medicine that delivers safe, effective healing from pain and disease. You’ll know after just a few treatments whether its working. Over 90 percent of our patients find that it does!
Online text of Lingshu at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=6fXgzL2K0t8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Focus Keyphrase: Foundational Principles of Acupuncture
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