Acupuncture and moxibustion
Bian Que was originally the name of a fabled doctor during the period of the Yellow Emperor, who reigned ancient China from 2697-2597 BC. But later, people used the name to call Qin Yueren (407-310 BC), widely regarded as the first medical doctor and physician in the country, for his extraordinary medical skills and sincere care for people.
Qin became an apprentice of a folk doctor when he was only a teenager. But thanks to his strong grasping power and hard work, he soon became a very famous doctor and physician himself and people began to call him Bian Que, the highest honor for a doctor in ancient times, and regarded him as the reincarnation of the mythological doctor.
Apart from the traditional medical skills he had learned from other doctors and experiences, Bian Que also invented his own approaches. For instance, he founded the “Four Diagnostic Methods,” namely, looking (or observing a patient’s complexion and tongue), listening (to a patient’s voice and breathing patterns), inquiring (about a patient’s physical conditions and symptoms) and taking (a patient’s pulse). Even today, the four methods remain as a foundation for diagnoses of the Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Back from the dead
There have been numerous legends about Bian Que, including how he once brought a “dead” man back to life.
The story goes that Bian Que one day traveled to the State of Guo and saw many people mourning and praying in the streets. He asked one of them what happened. He was told that a prince of the state just died of no apparent illness.
Bian Que decided to have a look. After introducing himself to the duke of the state, he was led to the body of the prince. After a careful examination, Bian Que told the duke that the prince was only in a “feigned death.”
Then he brought out a set of metal needles and inserted them one by one into various points of the prince’s body. Meanwhile, he also began force-feeding the patient a prescribed herbal tea.
A moment later, the prince gradually came back to life and after two more days of needle treatment, he fully recovered.
The needle treatment used by Bian Que to bring the “dead” prince back to life was nothing more than the technique of acupuncture. Acupuncture, along with moxibustion, has been an essential part of traditional Chinese medicine for at least more than 2,500 years.
Acupuncture was first officially documented in “Huangdi Neijing” or “The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor,” the earliest text on the theories and practices of TCM.
Most of the book’s contents were written or compiled during the Warring States Period (453-221 BC), though one or two chapters are believed to have been put together during the early years of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 25).
The work is composed of two parts, each containing 81 chapters.
They are written in a question-and-answer format, recording conversations between the mythical Yellow Emperor and his ministers, chiefly Qibo, a mythological Chinese doctor, and Shaoyu, a legendary acupuncturist.
The second part of this book, called “Lingshu” or “Spiritual Pivot,” focuses more on acupuncture therapy, acupoints, acupuncture needle methods and needling instruments, as well as acupuncture treatment principles.
In TCM, a human being is described as a microcosm interacting with his or her surrounding natural conditions or the macrocosm.
Disease is perceived as a disharmony of life energy, or qi, which is comprised of two parts, namely yin and yang. When the flow of qi in one’s body is insufficient, unbalanced or interrupted, yin and yang become unbalanced, which will result in illness.
Also, there is a meridian system in one’s body that conducts qi between the surface of the body and its internal organs. The system includes 12 main meridians, 12 branching sub-meridians, 15 large collaterals and the subsidiary 12 skin zones and 12 musculature zones.
Along the meridians and distributed around the meridian system, there are 720 acupuncture points through which one may readjust the flow of life energy in one’s body to help achieve and maintain health.
Restoring yin and yang
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles into the superficial skin, subcutaneous tissue and muscles at different acupuncture points to stimulate the flow of qi and restore the balance between yin and yang, thus reinstating health of both one’s mind and body.
Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which moxa, or a bundle of dried mugwort and wormwood leaves, is burned on or close to the surface of the skin at desired acupuncture points to invigorate the blood and stimulate the flow of the vital energy.
In the last century, practitioners also began to use electrical and laser needles for acupuncture for stronger stimulation and better effect in killing pains.
In 2003, the World Health Organization published an official report listing several dozens of symptoms, conditions and diseases that have been shown in controlled trials to be treated effectively by acupuncture.
They include low back pain, neck pain, tennis elbow, knee pain, periarthritis, sprains, dental pain, acute and chronic gastritis, nausea and vomiting, postoperative pain, stroke, essential and primary hypertension, depression and primary dysmenorrhea.
Acupuncture has been used for a number of other conditions as well, such as helping quit smoking and alleviate insomnia, fatigue, depression and allergies.
In addition, acupuncture has long been used for infertility treatment. For instance, in 2010, both world-famous singers Celine Dion and Mariah Carey said they overcame difficulties conceiving by turning to acupuncture therapy.
Some acupuncturists believe that acupuncture can help reduce stress and stimulate blood flow to the ovaries.
Not only in China, but also in many other Asian countries, the age-old healing practice of acupuncture has been widely deemed as an effective way to treat a variety of symptoms, conditions and illnesses and to maintain good health.
In most Western countries, however, acupuncture is still not considered a valid form of medicine, but a “new” alternative form of treatment because the results of trials and systematic reviews there seem to be inconsistent.
Nevertheless, since the 1970s, when WHO, and many other health organizations, began to evaluate the effects of acupuncture therapy, acupuncture and moxibustion have become more and more popular in many parts of the world, including some Western countries.
For example, it is reported that more than 3 million Americans use acupuncture and in France, one in five people has tried acupuncture.
In 2006, acupuncture and moxibustion were inscribed on the first national list of intangible cultural heritages in China.