An East vs West Perspective
There are two main philosophies about how Chinese medicine actually works. The difference comes from two different translations of ancient Chinese texts written a thousand years ago.
The First Western Translation: Qi is Energy
In the early 20th century, French banker, Georges Soulié de Morant, interpreted that Chinese medicine revolves around energy or ‘qi’ circulating through pathways or ‘meridians’ in the body. When the flow of qi is blocked, illness results. The purpose of acupuncture and other Chinese medical therapies (like herbal medicine and qi gong) is to promote the proper flow of qi through the meridians, thus restoring health.
Chinese Medicine schools in the U.S. teach this philosophy, despite the fact that that Soulié de Morant had no medical training nor any training in ancient Chinese language. Some practitioners point out that Soulié de Morant could have made mistakes in his translation.
Energy can come in many forms so translating ‘qi’ to simply ‘energy’ may not be entirely accurate. Therefore, the Western Philosophy may oversimplify the complex nature of the acupuncture.
The Modern Western Translation: Qi is Oxygen
Modern scholars, like Dr. Donald E. Kendall, have developed a philosophy based on a more specific translation of the ancient texts.
Kendall uncovered that ancient Chinese physicians had a detailed understanding of the circulatory system 2,000 years before westerners did. Chinese practitioners knew that the heart is the organ that pumps blood, that vessels flow towards and away from the heart, and which vessels supply different organs. Western medicine didn’t catch up until the early 16th century.
Since the ancient Chinese were so advanced, Kendall believes that ‘qi’ could be more accurately translated to ‘vital air’ or oxygen. The Chinese understood that the air we breathe is essential to life and that air circulates throughout the body. Despite the fact that they had no way to identify the actual oxygen molecule, the Chinese understood that air is necessary to provide energy.
Therefore, a more accurate translation of qi in a modern context is not just energy, but more specifically, oxygen.
Deeper Understanding Means More Literal Translation
It stands to reason then, that Soulié de Morant’s other translations could have oversimplified acupuncture.
Soulié de Morant translated the word ‘mai’ to mean ‘meridian’ or pathway. The Chinese knew that blood flows through an actual vessel, not a just mysterious path, so a more accurate translation could be ‘vessel’.
Soulié de Morant also translated ‘jie’ to mean ‘point’. However, due to the Chinese’ in-depth understand of anatomy, jie may be more specifically translated to mean ‘juncture.’ They knew how nerve structures are inner-connected. ‘Jie’ isn’t simply a point on a path, but a particular intersection in the neurovascular system.
Acupuncture Improves Blood Circulation
With these translations in mind, modern researchers have deduced that that neurovascular junctions, aka acupuncture points, contain a high concentration of sensory fibers, fine blood vessels, fine lymphatic vessels and immune system cells.
The junctions are distributed along blood vessels at the location where smaller capillaries branch out.
Ancient Chinese physicians discovered that the top layer of skin at these junctions is slightly thinner and has a lower electrical resistance. They also recognized that these surface points have connections to internal organs. Therefore, if the nodes are stimulated, they could relieve pain and reverse internal problems.
Chinese Medicine is Actually Modern Medicine
With the ancient texts literally translated, they provide a clear guide for acupuncture treatment. Chinese medicine is a mature branch of medicine that’s rich in clinical observations and empirical evidence. When the terms qi (oxygen), mai (vessel) and jie (neurovascular junction) are translated accurately, ancient Chinese medicine completely agrees with modern medicine.
Acupuncture is not a mysterious, spiritual movement of energy. It’s actually a practical application of scientific understanding. Acupuncture is simply the practice of promoting proper blood and oxygen flow through the body.
Help Your Body Help Itself
In a nutshell, acupuncture can stimulate the nervous system and activate built-in healing mechanisms. When a neurovascular junction, aka acupuncture point, is stimulated, it sends a signal to alert your body to actually heal itself. This process promotes homeostasis, the body’s natural ability to regulate its environment and maintain balance. The end result is a stronger, more resilient you!