March 28, 2005

Writing About Acupressure and Acupuncture: Educating the Public for the Good of the AOM Profession

By Matthew Bauer, LAc

When I was first exposed to Oriental medicine (OM) as a young adult, I was so impressed that I eventually decided to make a career out of it. Many of you reading this article likely had a similar experience.

In my case, my first in-depth exposure was in 1978, when I took some training from a shiatsu master and world-class bodyworker named Wataru Ohashi. Soon afterward, I met and became the student of Hua-Ching Ni, a 37th-generation practitioner of Chinese medicine within his family lineage, and a 74th-generation Taoist master within his spiritual lineage. I didn't study Chinese medicine from Hua-Ching Ni, but rather studied Taoist spirituality, philosophy, and folk history for five years before beginning my formal training to become a licensed acupuncturist.

A few years after beginning my practice, I was asked to join a budding acupuncture organization and became involved in its leadership. When I first joined this organization, I assumed one of our main goals would be informing the public about the great benefits of OM. I was surprised to find out that while everyone agreed this was something that needed to be done, the meager resources of the organization were focused instead on legislative issues, the work of running the organization and, eventually, supporting research on acupuncture and Oriental medicine. While I also thought these goals were very important, I became disappointed that public education goals were never given serious attention. I eventually learned this was not only the case for this particular California organization, but also for other state and national acupuncture and Oriental medicine organizations/associations.

By the early 1990s, I felt it was pointless to expect these organizations to emphasize public education, as they remained focused on working on those other issues. I then had the naïve idea that the next best thing would be to write a book that would inform and hopefully inspire the public to take advantage of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. I thought a great deal about what obstacles were keeping more Americans from pursuing this healing system, so that I might address these in a book. I came to the conclusion that a "perfect storm" of combined factors has kept the American public from more seriously considering the benefits of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. In addition to the fear of needles, there is the problem that the very idea of acupuncture seems so bizarre - that you could treat real health problems simply by poking needles in people. Add to this the absence (still) of clear scientific proof that acupuncture works, the fact that acupuncture comes from a foreign culture and an ancient past, and top it all off with the inability of anyone to explain exactly how this practice began, and it is no wonder only a fraction of the people who could be helped by this healing system are actually taking advantage of it.

It struck me that our inability to explain how acupuncture first began was a key stumbling block to its credibility in the West. Many nay-sayers here have leapt to the conclusion that this healing system sprang from superstitious beliefs rather than any rational reasons that would hold true today. My studies with Hua-Ching Ni, and the many insights his long oral tradition offered regarding early Chinese culture, encouraged me to think I might be able to offer rational theories about the earliest roots of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

I began a process of research, combining elements of scholarly understanding of ancient cultures and the history of OM, together with the Taoist oral folk history I had been studying. A major question I sought to address was whether it is possible to reconcile traditional Chinese folk history's claim that acupuncture/Oriental medicine theories are some 5,000 years old, with modern scholarly thought that sees no evidence of acupuncture's use before a few hundred years B.C. I believed that reconciling these two issues was possible, but addressing this question took me much longer and far deeper than I first anticipated - and so did finding a mainstream publisher who would invest in such a specialized subject.

My goal was to offer theories about how a series of events lead to the development of acupuncture and such concepts as qi, yin/yang and wu-hsing (Five Elements). I believed that if I could do this, I would have contributed something useful toward the goal of helping the Western public more fully accept and utilize this valuable healing system.

After much time and effort, that goal has been achieved in book form, the details of which can be found at the Web site below. My intention is to explain the theories and benefits of acupuncture, acupressure, and other forms of Oriental medicine to the public in a way that the average, curious reader can understand and accept. In addition to presenting theories about the roots of this healing system, it offers readers advice on such questions as what types of conditions can be treated with acupuncture and Oriental medicine, how many treatments may be necessary, and how to find qualified practitioners. It also includes a section on self-acupressure and massage, on the thinking that giving readers some first-hand experience with acupoints that helps them relieve simple problems might serve as an icebreaker and encourage readers to seek professional acupuncture and Oriental medical care for more serious needs.

The first drafts of the book went into much more detail laying out theories regarding the influence ancient astronomy had in the development of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Many of those details were cut out of the final draft because they were deemed to be too specialized for a general public readership. Nevertheless, I hope those involved in the study of Oriental medicine - acupuncture/OM students, professionals and scholars - will still find it useful. In the future, I will look for avenues to get these further details out to those with an interest in them.

Whether in a full or abbreviated form, the specific theories I offer regarding the roots of acupuncture/Oriental medicine will no doubt be controversial in some circles. I look forward to hearing from those who have different opinions on this subject, as a secondary goal I had in mind was to spur further discussion about the roots of Oriental medicine. I also hope to encourage more Eastern and Western specialists to explore this subject, because I am convinced that the more we learn about the roots of acupuncture and acupressure, the better we will understand how to help ease pain and suffering not only today, but also in the future.

In hindsight, I believe now that it was naïve of me to think I could accomplish much toward the goal of educating the public about the virtues of acupuncture and Oriental medicine with a single book. While the AOM profession has made progress over these years in the area of public education, I still believe we need to work together as a profession and place much more priority on developing comprehensive public education efforts. I remain convinced that making progress in this area will do more to advance this system of health care than anything else our profession could do.

Click here for previous articles by Matthew Bauer, LAc.


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