By Karen Lang
The Body is the Mind
How can a medical system developed 3,000 years ago address today’s physical and mental health issues? By treating the whole person. Chinese Medicine is a holistic medical system that treats the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of a person; the body and mind are one and the same, therefore thoughts and emotions can impact the physical body and vice versa. A simple example of this is a patient that would experience intense stomach pain when she had to make a decision that might end up disappointing someone. When treating her, I addressed the stomach pain but I also used acupuncture points to move her thoughts, to support decision-making, and to reduce stress so she was able to make the decision with much less discomfort and distress. Taking this example a step further, in Chinese Medicine, every organ system has an associated emotion. Worry affects the spleen (stomach and pancreas in modern terms). Think about the last time you were intensely worried about something. Didn’t you feel it in your gut? While more Western doctors are beginning to embrace the body-mind connection, it is rarely addressed in any concrete way in most medical settings.
Chinese Medicine Treats Body, Mind, Spirit
Acupuncture is one modality within the larger system of Chinese Medicine that also includes herbal therapy, dietary guidance, tuina (bodywork) and qigong/tai chi. Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles to stimulate acupuncture points. It engages the body’s own innate capacity for healing in order to resolve the underlying problem, rather than temporarily suppressing symptoms. From a Western perspective, acupuncture stimulates the brain via engagement with the peripheral nervous system. From a Chinese perspective, acupuncture resolves imbalances in the body’s essential energy (Qi) that cause pain and illness. Your body is doing all the work of healing; the role of the acupuncturist is simply to stimulate and direct that process. Your body’s own capacity to heal is a powerful example of the innate intelligence of our body-mind-spirit!
Learning From Your Illness
Illness can be the body’s way of telling you that your choices have put you out of alignment with the natural order of your life. This communication from the body often begins as a whisper, perhaps as a vague sense of unease. If ignored, over time the whisper may become louder and louder and the body may produce symptoms that are more and more uncomfortable. The Ling Shu, a famous Chinese medical text compiled between 480 to 222 BC, states, “All disease is rooted in the heart.” Remember that in Chinese Medicine the heart and mind are the same. This is not to say that every single illness you experience is a consequence of poor lifestyle choices or beliefs, but every pain or illness does give you an opportunity to learn more about what you need to heal. While you may not be responsible for your current state of health, you are always response-ABLE. Rather than turning over the responsibility for your own health to someone else, choosing acupuncture means choosing to be a full participant in the care of your whole self. It is an invitation to greater self-awareness and greater self-care.