Digging The Well: The Meaning Behind Acupuncture And Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, there is an expression that goes, “Waiting to seek medical attention when you are ill is like waiting until you are thirsty to dig a well.” Clearly the moral of the story is that preventative care is preferable to ameliorative care. In our own culture, we have similar expressions like “a stitch in time saves nine” and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Unfortunately, Western medicine tends to be reactive rather than proactive. Western medicine excels at emergencies and traumas but is only slowly beginning to focus on wellness. Partly this is based on the difference in underlying philosophies about the body and health that exist between Chinese medicine and Western medicine.

Chinese medicine is built on the understanding of the body as an energetic entity. Human beings are infused with qi, our vital life force. How we live, what we eat, how hard we work and how well we are able to rest all affect our qi. When the qi is abundant and flowing smoothly, we are said to be healthy. When the qi is weak or unbalanced, we become vulnerable to illness and “dis-ease.” Although in the past there was the concept of the “animus,” Western medicine currently has no corresponding view. We are simply the sum total of the electrical and biochemical reactions that occur within us. The closest Western medicine comes is to recognize that homeostasis is a good thing.

In Chinese medicine, the cultivation of qi is seen as crucial to a long and healthy life. The practice of Tai Qi and Qi Gong, as well as the martial arts, are ways to develop and enhance our life force. The Daoist priests who were influential in the early development of Chinese medicine put a lot of thought and effort into how to promote wellness and longevity. The art of tongue and pulse diagnoses were developed long ago as ways of reading the internal organs and their status to better prevent as well as treat disease. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can and should be used to prevent illness, not just treat it. We all know we need annual checkups with our M.D., and we should visit our dentist twice a year. Think how much healthier we would be if we had regular tune-ups with an acupuncturist. We know that our cars need regular maintenance, tune-ups, and oil changes. Do our bodies deserve any less? According to Chinese medicine, it is especially advantageous to have a treatment as the seasons’ change, at the equinoxes and solstices, to promote the harmony of our internal environment with the external environment.

One of the illustrations I use with patients is to visualize a seesaw. On one side are all the things we do that help keep us healthy. On the other side are all the factors that have a negative impact on our health. On the healthy side, it’s always helpful to start with good genetics. If your parents and grandparents lived long and healthy lives, then the odds are in your favor. We’ve all heard of the rare person who lives to be 100 despite drinking and smoking all his life. This, however, is not a winning strategy for most of us.

Also in the healthy column are things like eating a good diet, getting sufficient exercise and adequate rest and drinking eight glasses of water daily. Having healthy, supportive relationships and being part of a community that shares your interests and/or beliefs is also a positive influence. On the negative side of the equation are stress, poor diet, overwork, lack of/too much exercise, isolation and lack of close, personal relationships.

Some of the factors that impact us are beyond our control. The quality of the air we breathe is one. The stress of commuting and the frustration of gridlock are the prices many of us pay to live in the Bay Area. It seems only logical to me that in order to tip the scales in our favor we need to focus on the things we can do to improve our health. I generally recommend a good multivitamin/mineral ensure adequate nutrition. I encourage patients to relax more, smell the roses and enjoy life as much as possible. And one of the best ways to calm our frazzled nerves and to bring our bodies, minds, and spirits back into balance is to have regular acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture has the unique ability to bring about a state of relaxed alertness and balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The people who find acupuncture the most powerful tend to be those who are most out of balance. The treatment pulls them back toward a harmonious state, and they feel a profound difference. It’s amazing how we take for granted the stressed-out state that we tend to live in. Regular acupuncture helps us begin to pay closer attention to our well-being. And nothing is more important than our health and well-being.