This is what it is about...
My belief is that acupuncture practice is overburdened by superfluous and questionable traditional theory. My book offers a simpler but, I believe, equally effective model for the practice of acupuncture. It bases this model on the concept of stress, rather than traditional theories such as qi and the five elements. I propose a method of treatment which does not rely on traditional maps of meridians or the traditionally described functions of discrete acupuncture points.
Legend has it that acupuncture was conceived as a treatment when physicians observed soldiers cured of various prior complaints after receiving arrow wounds in battle. I can relate to this. I often pick up scratches and gashes on my regular walks in the forest. I am of the opinion that these small wounds are health-giving, keeping the immune system primed and the stress response balanced. From simple observations such as this, at first applied in very simple ways, a method of treatment was developed, codified and progressively elaborated over many centuries into the complex system it is today. I happen to think that system is over-complex, heavily laden as it is with superfluous theory. I have always believed in keeping things simple, essential, and avoiding the temptation to micro-manage in the false belief that in complexity we are afforded more control. In fact, the contrary is true.
Mine is not a conventional acupuncture text. There are so many of those. Nor is it a manual of technique. It is a book of ideas and approach. I am aware that, as the ideas discussed are unorthodox, this book may provoke scorn and irritation, even to the point of spittle-flying rage, in some traditionalists. I hope though that others will at least do it the justice of some reflection.
My book is really two books in one. (You get your money's worth.) One is about the acupuncture treatment of stress and all stress-related illness. The other is about the acupuncture treatment of anything, using a stress-based model. I am interested in stress, and while I could have separated these two concepts into two separate books, the ideas behind them grew together in an organic way and are intimately intertwined, so, loathe to separate them, I have kept them together in print.
I studied Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Italy under Dr. Ulderico Lanza, one of the first physicians to practise Chinese medicine in that country. I qualified in 1990 and was then mentored by my father-in-law, a highly experienced acupuncturist of some repute, who had taught himself acupuncture (shock horror!) as a young man, but had then learned considerably more from the Korean doctors with whom he worked in South America.
Acupuncture is not an exact science. Each practitioner's own intellect and experience inform his or her modus operandi, to a far greater extent than is supposed to happen in our modern, so-called Evidence Based Medicine. I am told that in rural China, each local acupuncturist has his own method, often passed down in the family over generations. For example, my father-in-law told me that on a trip to Hong Kong he learned, at a price in US dollars, the secret of success of a locally renowned Chinese acupuncturist. It was this: he only ever punctured the Ting points(1), and sometimes he punctured all of them. My father-in-law did not adopt this method: he developed his own, which was in continual evolution (but in which some things never changed), an evolution based on the outcome of constant trial and error and his own idiosyncratic style of inventiveness. Whether this kind of progress in medicine (trialling one's ideas on one's patients) is ethical or not, I shall leave for others more righteous than I to argue about.
I wrote this book because, in over twenty-three years of acupuncture practice, I have slowly but surely come to the conclusion that a lot of traditional theory is an unnecessary distraction from the therapeutic art and act. At best the mystique which surrounds it and its apparent technical complexity act as an elaborate piece of theatre (placebo!) for the patient. The codified traditional acupuncture most widely taught today evolved from a mixture of observation, trial and error, philosophy, reasoning, folklore, magic and tradition lasting many centuries. As such, it is unrealistic, in my view, to swallow it whole and uncritically.
Furthermore, I have not been able to ignore the fact that, since times of yore, particularly in the East, there has been an esoteric convention in the teaching of any art: conceptual edifices were constructed in order not to facilitate the student's early access to the most essential knowledge, but indeed to prepare the student in other ways by hampering it. The reason for this was ostensibly so that the novice would not gain too much technical knowledge before acquiring the wisdom to use it properly. Surely only a cynic (or a realist!) might suggest that it could also serve as an effective smokescreen to protect the master's status (only a true master could possibly understand such complexity), influence and income stream.
The former of these two reasons should not apply here. Anyone intending to apply any of the ideas presented in this book should already have professional-level knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, patient care and management. They should also possess a knowledge of the general and locally specific risks of inserting acupuncture needles, and the necessary precautions attendant on this. Moreover, even though this simplified version acupuncture will be immediately effective, it will still take years to master.
With these considerations and my own clinical observations in mind, I have whittled down the theory underlying my practice of acupuncture to the minimum I have found necessary for effective practice. Let me begin here to set out my store. The principle messages in this book are:
- A good part of traditional theory, models and method is unnecessary embellishment, from the point of view of therapeutic effectiveness.
- The most important acupuncture effect is general rather than specific. Point specificity has been enormously exaggerated. All acupuncture affects overarching systemic control systems more than system-specific functions.
- Many of the effects of acupuncture can be seen in terms of stress responses, in the widest sense.
I have not discarded all that is traditional, and for that I might draw just as fervent criticism from sceptics amongst readers as from traditionalist acupuncturists. But I am above all pragmatic. If I have experienced the truth of things, I do not let any perceived lack of scientific plausibility stand against them. This applies particularly to diagnosis, including, to my own long-term wonder and intrigue, traditional pulse diagnosis. Traditional Chinese diagnosis is observational, and I have found the observed associations described by traditional texts to be insightful and rather accurate.
I do not attempt to cover all bases, simply to describe a method of practice which is simple and, in my experience, effective. I claim no absolute superiority for the effectiveness of this method, only that it satisfies my felt need to achieve the most benefit with the smallest degree of complexity. (A somewhat Zen idea, don't you think?) I feel this sincere search has been empowering to my practice because it has imbued the therapeutic act with added intent and potency.
(1) Points situated, for the most part, at the ends of the fingers and toes.
(2) Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate ("Plurality must never be posited without necessity"): William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347) in Quaestiones et decisiones in quattuor libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi (Sentences of Peter Lombard). Otherwise stated as: "Don't needlessly multiply hypotheses". Ockham's Razor (or Occam's) is a heuristic that holds that among hypotheses, the best are those that rely on the fewest unverified assumptions, that is, the simplest.
Copyright © Robert Hale 2017. No part of the above may be reproduced in any form without my explicit consent. All rights reserved.
My book may be purchased in the United States from Amazon at the link given below, or from other Amazon marketplaces by changing the .com part of the link to .ca, .co.uk, .fr, .de, or whatever is appropriate.