Last year, Asuman Algin, MD, attended one of my seminars in Chicago. Afterwards, she asked if I would come to Turkey to teach Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture. We all know that there is a tremendous interest these days in any product or procedure that is touted as being anti-aging, and that trend is not limited to the United States.Despite the state of the economy, people everywhere continue to spend billions of dollars a year on therapies and procedures that promise to make them look younger, thinner or more beautiful. You can have a procedure to modify almost anything about your body with which you are dissatisfied. And it's not only lines and wrinkles that concern people. They are having chin implants, fat transplantation, arm lifts, and cosmetic ear, foot and (believe it or not) leg-lengthening surgeries. Even if this was not morally repugnant, there can be serious medical consequences to consider.
Within weeks of her trip to Chicago, Dr. Algin contacted me asking me to choose specific dates for my courses in Istanbul because she had already organized a sizeable group. Her attention to details made my teaching trip to Istanbul virtually effortless. Along with several other physicians, Algin managed every aspect of the seminars including having an interpreter who had been trained in acupuncture in the United States. Because of the fact that Ayse (the interpreter and also a physician) had her American training in acupuncture and was also fluent in English, she did not merely parrot what I said in the lectures but was quite able to answer participants' questions in detail. That absolutely improved the quality of the training. And Turkish hospitality? It was unbelievably friendly and generous, and many of the people whom we met were especially curious about Americans.
Even though I was the "instructor" during my visit, I learned a lot about Turkish culture, especially with regard to the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. In Turkey, the world of TCM is very different from ours. First of all, only physicians may practice acupuncture. There are no practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine or licensed acupuncturists. However, there are physicians, like Dr. Algin, who no longer practice modern medicine but exclusively practice acupuncture.
Algin has a lovely, rather large clinic in her home town of Antalya and she is extremely busy. Besides working at her practice, Algin is also an instructor of various TCM topics at the university. Her TCM training is based on the acupuncture certificate program that is standard in all medical schools, along with her very extensive knowledge gained from attending seminars and conferences.
Medical school training in TCM includes information on the Five Elements, the Western aspect of acupuncture and what they call "pharmaco-acupuncture." While the programs may vary some, their overall goal is to improve acupuncture in Turkey. Since all acupuncture practitioners are physicians, the training tends to be general and could be termed as learning "internal medicine." If a physician decides that they would like additional training above and beyond the 500 hours or so that they receive in medical school, they attend acupuncture seminars or congresses. Their goal is generally to learn more about specific conditions or specialized techniques like cosmetic acupuncture. Naturally, since all acupuncture is performed by physicians, it is commonly accepted in hospitals as well as private clinics.
I reminded the attendees that one of the most important aspects of using TCM for cosmetic results is that our medicine treats the causes of aging, not just the results of it. This is a huge advantage that we have over the practices of many of the modern-day cosmetic procedures. One of my favorite things to say about cosmetic acupuncture is: "It is the only cosmetic procedure that actually improves the health of the person while also giving cosmetic results." So we can't lose sight of the fact that we are practicing a medicine that focuses on restoring and maintaining good health, even though that aspect of our medicine happens to include cosmetic improvements.
I asked them to think about the causes of aging and wrinkling from a TCM perspective: spleen qi deficiency creates sinking; digestive problems lead to poor skin condition; lung issues prevent them from properly controlling the skin; blood deficiency leads to poor circulation; and yin deficiency causes dry skin. These may all be addressed with treatments that reduce the outward appearance of aging - even to the point of making fine lines disappear. What could be better than improving your patients' health at the same time as minimizing wrinkling and sagging?
I remember an incident when, in response to an ad or article about cosmetic acupuncture, facial rejuvenation or facial acupuncture, I heard a TCM practitioner say they "didn't go to TCM school to become an aesthetician." Neither did I. However, if I practice a technique that I know works for anti-aging using only my basic TCM tools and therapies, why would I hesitate to use them even if they were for cosmetic purposes?
Let's face it: the main goal of TCM is prevention. Prevention includes everything from preventing disease to preventing what some people call the ravages of aging; in other words, wrinkles, lines and sagging. That's why TCM is really the true anti-aging medicine.
The bottom line is that we can help people maintain a youthful appearance through the use of TCM treatments. Our medicine can create a vibrancy and healthfulness inside that is reflected on the outside. Some of us will specialize in the cosmetic aspects of TCM, secure in the knowledge that we are helping people make a healthy choice when it comes to choosing a cosmetic procedure.
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