This was my personal mission: to find a sense of place for our ancient medicine at a medical conference on the Las Vegas Strip. The conference had an imposing name: The 16th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine and Regenerative Biomedical Technologies. Could there be a place for us to participate in this growing market, estimated to be $115 billion by 2010, while keeping the heart and soul of our medicine intact? I was determined to find out in this inaugural year for the acupuncture program in anti-aging medicine.
One of the first obstacles I bumped into was the name of the conference itself. The word anti-aging doesn't appear to stem from Taoist roots. How can we keep the center of our medicine in the antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic, anti-phlogistic, anti-inflammatory stream of Western medicine? Being opposed to the prefix anti- also felt like a counterflow, so I focused on the word regenerative, added the word wellness and kept moving forward into the search.
First stop was the exhibit hall with its 600 exhibitors - eight times larger than the Pacific Symposium. The atmosphere was a little more carnival-like than the Symposium. Perhaps this was just a reflection of Las Vegas with its tendency to excess. The wonders varied from Botox and wrinkle-fillers to liposuction, medical marijuana, power weight-loss programs, growth hormone and teeth whiteners. There was medical equipment that cost more than some acupuncturists' annual salary.
Next stop was our classes. I moved down one of the hallways that was as wide as a three-lane highway to find our band of acupuncturists, about 90 strong, in one of the classrooms. Our classes were top notch.
James Stoxen, DC, emphasized the sometimes silent role of inflammation in aging. The average EPA (eicosapentaenic acid) level of inflammation in American women is 12 to 1. In Japan, with much less incidence of breast cancer and other diseases associated with inflammation, the average ratio is 1.2 to 1.
Rita Woods, massage therapist, delivered a heartfelt presentation: How Bodywork Therapies Enhance the Regenerative Process. In fetal development, the heart is formed before the brain. There are more neural pathways from the heart to the brain than from the brain to the heart. Chinese medical wisdom teaches us that postmenopausal blood moves from its youthful role in supplying blood to the uterus to its role of helping the heart develop the wisdom, strength and openness to be intimate with our true selves and others.
Dr. Kenneth Chao was next, focusing on acupuncture and herbal treatments to promote wellness and health, and to combat the effects of aging. Dr. Chao was generous in sharing practical ideas from his wealth of knowledge. For example, The Theory of Return to Foundation and Cook Up Resources is vital. Also keep the mingmen fire stoked.
Denver acupuncturist Denise Ellinger addressed cosmetic acupuncture. Americans spent $13 billion on cosmetics procedures in 2007. Botox (sterilized botulism that paralyzes the small muscles between the eyebrows) had projected sales of $500 million in 2008. Facial rejuvenation incorporates a holistic approach, bringing nourishment and vitality to the face. Have one of nature's strongest toxins injected into your third eye, or have an acupuncture treatment that vitalizes your whole system? Easy answer for me.
Samuel Collins, director of the Insurance Information Network for the American Acupuncture Council, thoughtfully presented the practical and necessary idea of getting paid for our services. It's a world of "sick" insurance, not wellness insurance, so we do need diagnostic codes.
Dr. John Hinwood was our early morning speaker. His message: Think big as you expand your successful practice. Thinking big uses the same amount of energy as thinking small. Write down your stories of the future to stimulate your right brain and subconscious.
Daniel Murphy, DC, sustained the energetic pace with an encyclopedic amount of scientific information about nutrition therapies, citing numerous clinical studies about the value of anti-oxidants. Environmental and genetic threats abound, however. The good news is that damaged DNA can be repaired.
Dr. John Chen, Dr. Alex Chen and Dr. Richard Tan were next on the agenda. John distilled his prodigious knowledge of herbs down to 10 formulas for optimal health and wellness and eloquently shared them with us. His father, Alex, directed us in the six sounds and yin/yang balance for anti-aging healing. The entertaining Dr. Tan briefed us on the balance method and reminded us, "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give."
Dr. Tan's emphasis on balance was a good place for the conference to end. Herein, I believe, lies the answer to the question about our profession's place in the business of anti-aging. We have chosen to participate in a multi-dimensional medicine that is based on balance. Certainly we work on the physical effects of aging. But beyond our clients' physical complaints and requests for facial rejuvenation, the beauty of our medicine is that we can simultaneously impact deeper levels. We can help fine-tune the more subtle qualities that bring balance to the aging process.
The work that we do can begin to soften the Wood energy for a more relaxed journey into the next realm. It can keep the charisma of Fire kindled, nourish the connectivity of Earth, enhance the dignity of Metal and support the courage of Water. As we work with our clients on the inner planes as well as the superficial lines, age-related wrinkles and furrows, we may share glimpses of the ageless youthful glow that runs deeper than a face lift. In other words, the revitalization of the shen.
The documentary "Wheel of Time" features a Tibetan named Takna Jigme Sangpo. Released after 37 years as a political prisoner in China, he met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When asked to describe his first impression of his spiritual leader, his answer was, "Very youthful!" Such is the power of the shen that it can render a 70-year-old face ageless!
Eventually we all age, even the Dalai Lama. Qi and blood become depleted, and jing begins to prepare for its next transformation. The seven-year cycles in women and the eight-year cycles in men arc back toward their own original spark, completing individual circles of life on earth. Our links between heaven and earth starts to lean more toward heaven, loosening their tethers on the earth.
We do share some common waters with Western medical practitioners who seek to optimize the aging process, prevent disease and promote fitness and vitality. We also have our own clear and independent course. What has defined Oriental medicine for the last few thousand years will define it again in this territory of anti-aging medicine. The integrity and coherence, the depth and breadth, the heart and soul that has allowed our profession to flourish for thousands of years will continue to lead us. As practitioners of this time-honored medicine, even in a culture that includes glitzy casinos, wrinkle-fillers and liposuction, we have a lot to give and a lot to receive.
Rosemary Cody, a licensed acupuncturist in Alaska and Idaho, now resides in Nevada after practicing in Anchorage for fourteen years. She can be contacted at