January 3, 2006

Why Limit Ourselves?

By Mike W. Bowser, LAc, MTOM, Dipl. Ac., HHP, BS

We currently live in a time where the concept of medicine as science seems to dominate public view. Everyone now wants to be part of this trend. For us as acupuncturists or practitioners of Oriental medicine, this means trying to understand and verbally alter our perceptions and descriptions of events as we understand them.

This can be an interesting challenge on the one hand, and also a severely limiting issue on the other. As practitioners of this alternative paradigm, we seek a certain amount of acceptance both from the public and from the mainstream medical-insurance industry. There are great concerns with underscoring our principal ideas just for acceptance sake. I wish to share some of these concerns as well as some possible solutions.

When Newton received his inspiration for gravity, his idea was not well appreciated nor widely accepted in his time. Yet today, his insight is considered monumental. By contrast, Oriental medicine has ideas based on an energetic understanding. Today, we find ourselves arguing against our own theoretical understanding and philosophies that have made us effective. Many a student has graduated with confusion about whether or not to believe in the ancient views, or to try to explain Oriental medicine (energetic processes) in Western medical (physical) terms. Little talk or discussion of the scientific works of Dr. Kim Bong-han or Pierre de Vernajoule (or others) has been included into the educational repertoire of the student trying to bridge the gigantic gap between Eastern and Western medical thought. This controversial research demonstrated that there is a fluid-filled system of ducts within the body that is separate from the circulatory and lymphatic systems. It should be well-known that the pursuit of science is the pursuit as truth, and as such, should not be limited to the current politics, as science cannot seem to define what it is that we do.

To understand this further, it is important to look at how people think. The concepts of left- and right-brain thinking can add some illumination. My understanding is that the left brain seeks to use critical thinking based on linear concepts of cause and effect. The right brain uses concepts based on the ideas of patterns and correspondences. Within ancient China, there are many examples of where both are applied to health, thereby seeking a balanced approach. We need to be able to utilize both linear and circular thinking, and know when to use each.

Let's look at a simple idea contained within the wu xing or Five Phase theory. Each phase is representative of a certain movement of energy, as well as a color, taste, smell, tone, etc. The list is quite exhaustive. These correlations were part of the natural patterns of disharmony that the ancient people noted and sought treatment for, and represent various frequencies as related to sound and light. Frequency forms of care have a scientific basis and also find themselves both within modern medical diagnostic and treatment machines as well as alternative treatment therapies.

The cutting edge of science is exploring frequency forms of diagnosis and treatment as we speak. Remember that it was considered "lower-level" practice to treat a patient after illness had set in. Yet, people only come to see us when there are symptoms present. We have achieved great success in helping many people overcome their illnesses in spite of their Western care, and have helped countless others to maintain their health. This is proof positive that our theoretical paradigms must be doing something right.

If we trash the medical heritage of our past, we have many problems to figure out -- the first of which is how to explain health and pathogenesis. For many of us, health is not the absence of symptoms. Our theoretical understanding seems to be accurate. Health, longevity and illness are interrelated and are constantly moving back and forth in a dynamic interplay. If we put our focus only on disease care as exemplified by the modern focus, we severely limit our understanding to only problems with an obvious symptomology and descriptive name. This is like looking at only half the process, and does nothing for building up the person to withstand future illness, nor does it improve quality of life.

I am putting forth this simple idea in the hopes that we understand that the development of our circular thinking is important to our clinical success. As organisms on this planet, we are not separate from its cyclical forces, good or bad. I have found it much easier to focus from a circular thought pattern to a linear one. Lienar application of symptomatic techniques is considered within the context of the individual's natural cycles. Even when treating a particular pattern, attempts are made to add treatment points that promote channel flow. The individual can only get better if flow within the body allows them to cycle through and eliminate old material.

As alternative practitioners, we have been forced to try to explain what we do through the lens of modern medicine. This is impossible, as these two systems do not share a common point of reference. Additionally, we are under the issue of payment within the insurance industry. This kind of dilemma only serves to separate and add confusion to a health care system that has shown itself to work for millennia. While it is important to have scientific research into understanding the human body, it is also important not to make statements of conclusion based on incomplete facts. This seems to be a very disconcerting trend which is now affecting our profession through the attempts of political forces to decide for us how acupuncture works.

In closing, the great strength of our medicine is found in the many philosophies that mirror natural events and movements. Great clinical success can be achieved by adding, not replacing, aspects of the Western medical philosophy with our own understanding. Take care, and practice well.


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