The Origin and Development of Acupuncture and Moxibustion
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicinal art that is designed to help the body overcome illnesses and injuries, not by medication, but by restoring the body’s natural energy flow. In traditional Chinese medicine, the body itself is seen as one whole that actually has “systems of function” that are named after specific organs. There are the zang, yin and fu systems. For instance, the fu systems are associated with “hollow yang organs” like the intestines. Health is viewed as a balance between the yin and yang and the body’s vital energy comes from the yang force, qi. There are now over 2,000 acupuncture points in the body. Before, there were only 365, one for every day of the year. It’s believed that applying needles to these points helps to influence the flow of “vital energy” within the body, which can help get rid of health problems because health problems are caused by vital energy imbalances. Moxibustion operates on the same principles but instead of using needles to stimulate acupuncture points, the ground up leaves of mugwort, are used to warm and stimulate them. The idea of moxibustion was derived from the comfort of fire during the cold times and it was expanded into the use of hot stones and hot sand in bags to treat the body. In some treatments, moxibustion is used together with acupuncture
The origins of acupuncture and moxibustion are a bit murky. It’s known that they were first developed in China. Some people believe acupuncture dates back as far as the Stone Age. However, the first true evidence of acupuncture being used turned up in Mongolia, dating back to the Neolithic age. Later discoveries proved that it was being used during the Shang dynasty, 1600-1100 BCE, as was moxibustion.
Some of the most important literature on early acupuncture and moxibustion include Huang Di Nei Jin, Shang Han Za Bing Lun, Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing, Cao Shi Jiu Fang, Huang Di Ming Tang Jiu Jing, Shen Jiu Jing Lun, and Ming Tang San Ren Tu. Traditionally, these practices were passed down from father to son or master to student. When the Imperial Medical Bureau was established during the Tang dynasty, medical education in China became more standardized and systematic. One interesting method of instruction required that the students place needles on certain points of wax on a dummy and if they were correct, water would come out of the points. At this point in time, an important change was also happening. While only scholars practiced these kinds of therapies in times past, around 1023, the art of acupuncture and moxibustion became a technical profession so more people could practice it.
With the introduction of modern medicine, acupuncture and moxibuston became less and less common. As it happened, many lower-class Chinese could not afford modern medicine so they relied on acupuncture. This earned the therapy a kind of negative reputation as people associated it with dirty, illiterate, uneducated people, which caused its popularity to decline. In 1822, the Chinese Emperor banned anyone from teaching it at the Academy of Medicine.
Things have changed since then. While many Chinese and Western doctors reject the practice of acupuncture and moxibustion, there are just as many who embrace it. Nowadays, more people have turned back to ancient therapies like acupuncture and moxibustion, going away from modern medicine. The older medicinal arts have gained respect even in the medical community because they have proven to have a positive effect, even if doctors can’t pinpoint exactly why.
The earliest acupuncture instruments were believed to be stone probes but there’s much more to acupuncture than needles. The stimulation of acupuncture points can be triggered by almost anything sharp. In ancient times, there were bronze, silver and gold acupuncture needles but now, only standardized stainless steel needles are used. These modern needles are so fine that there’s no pain, blood or mark. As for moxibustion, ancient practitioners mostly used direct moxibustion while modern practitioners mostly use indirect moxibustion. Instead of just using a moxa stick, there’s crude herb moxibustion, moxa burner, warm-needle moxa, and others.
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