Although most patients come to see me for physical complaints, like back and shoulder pain, painful urination, migraines, or asthma, many find improvement in their mental state as well. A few of Chinese medicine’s good “side effects” include better sleep, less anxiety and depression, and help in stress management. After their first treatment, most of my patients notice that they feel more relaxed and often ask me why.
A few of Chinese medicine’s good “side effects” include better sleep, less anxiety and depression, and help in stress management. For example, a patient who was coming in for a skin condition also found that his long time anxiety disorder was greatly improved. Another patient who was coming in for the treatment of lower back pain also struggled with insomnia. After a few treatments, he began to sleep much better. As one patient who was coming for help with shoulder and back pain, put it, “I find that my body and spirit are in stronger alignment and that I have more energy and fewer general complaints.”
Chinese medicine’s ability to improve overall health and improve quality of life for people is one of the most powerful and mysterious aspects of the treatment. So, how does it address the whole person, both the body and mind at the same time? To answer that question we must first understand Chinese medicine’s holistic view of the body.
Chinese Medicine’s Holistic View of the Body
Chinese medicine physiology discusses the strong effect emotions have on the physical aspects of the body. In diagnosis and treatment, Chinese medicine links specific emotions with specific functions in the body. Stress and worrying can affect the digestive system. Stress can also cause pain, because it stops the free flow of qi. Fear can impact urination. Anger causes heat and can lead to headaches or dizziness.
Connecting the physical body to the emotions makes sense. We all know when we are nervous because we physically feel it. Your heart rate increases, you may get sweaty palms, or even blush. It is also widely known that stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on health. Emotions affect our physical health, but it can also work the other way. Our physical health can affect the emotions as well. That’s why regular physical activity, stretching, yoga, and tai chi, makes us feel better emotionally.
Chinese medicine therapies, like acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and acupressure, are all physical treatments, but they also impact mental health. Sometimes emotional distress can cause the disease. Other times, the overall imbalance in your body is the cause of your main problem. By correcting these imbalances the treatment addresses both the mind and body.
How does Chinese Medicine Address the Whole Person?
The metaphor of the root and branch symbolize Chinese medicine’s approach to treatment. The branch is the symptom, such as pain. The root is the main imbalance that causes the disease. A Chinese medicine physician’s goal is to treat the root of the problem, not just the branch. Correcting the root can lead to long-term improvement and recovery.
For example, back pain. The pain itself is the branch of the disease. The underlying imbalance is the root. In many cases, the imbalance is caused by poor circulation of qi, or energy, which causes the muscles to remain tight. The lack of qi flow also creates other problems, such as poor sleep. By improving the flow of the qi, the treatment addresses the root imbalance. This not only reduces the back pain but also improves sleep.
Modern Research About Acupuncture’s Holistic Effects
Contemporary research is beginning to show how acupuncture works in the brain to affect both physical and mental health. Using an fMRI scanner, a scan that tracks blood flow within the brain, scientists have shown that acupuncture affects a part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is involved with emotional control. It is also involved with memory and behaviors such as addictions as well as hormonal regulation.
This remarkable study showed that acupuncture may calm the parts of the brain associated with the limbic system, therefore resulting in a calming effect on the person’s state of being. It is possible that acupuncture’s cumulative long-term capacity to improve health and well-being may have something to do with this ability to calm the limbic system.