Friday, October 23, 2015

Acupuncture explained

What is acupuncture and how can it help skin problems? 

The following is an explanation of what acupuncture is, what it does, and how it can help you in many different ways, including helping your skin problems. This article was written by my dear friend and acupuncturist, Sharon Kraus, L.Ac.

When some people think of acupuncture, they cannot get past the word “needle.” For them it conjures the image of thick hypodermics and the pain of an injection or perhaps some comedic Hollywood image of a person with 400 needles stuck into every square inch of his or her body. Well, this could not be further from the truth!

Imagine instead walking into a serene setting, complete with soft music and gentle lighting. You are arriving at the end of a hectic day of meetings and frantic work deadlines. Your shoulders are so tense that they practically touch your ears. Your head aches and is heavy, and your stomach is slightly queasy from the greasy lunch you grabbed on the run. Imagine entering this tranquil space after your long and stressful day. You change into loose-fitting clothing and lie down on a soft massage table.

Your acupuncturist enters the room and begins a series of gentle diagnostic procedures such as feeling your pulse, looking at your tongue, and palpating certain areas of your body such as your arms and legs, belly or back. You will have a chance to tell your acupuncture practitioner what’s been on your mind and your concerns about your body. In addition to paying attention to what you say, he or she will be noticing the sound of your voice, the color and tone of your skin, and your general state of well-being. All of this goes into the diagnosis of your condition and the course of your treatment.

As the treatment begins, he or she may gently insert fine filaments (aka needles)—about the width and diameter of a hair—into specific points on your body. These points are chosen for their location on what is called an acupuncture meridian. Although sometimes there is a sensation of pressure, tingling, or the occasional pinch when the needles are inserted, it truly should be a comfortable process. As you lie on the table, you begin to feel your shoulders relax and the pressure begins to drain from your head. The queasiness in your stomach begins to subside as you float into a state of heavy relaxation. When the hour is up, you leave feeling renewed and perhaps a little sleepy. Or, if you lacked energy before, you might feel like going home and cleaning your house or tackling a project. You might just notice that you feel back in harmony with your world again.
Obviously the above is an idealized view of an acupuncture experience. Your acupuncturist may run a noisy, busy clinic with five tables, each separated by a cloth. But if you have a qualified acupuncturist, the setting is not the main issue. Once the treatment begins, it is likely that your body will relax and go into a slightly altered state of relaxation and healing. It is important, however, to find an acupuncturist who is licensed either statewide or nationally, and whom you can relate to. There are many styles of acupuncture, so I encourage you to try a few different people until you find the person who is right for you.

What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Acupuncture is a system that balances the flow of bioelectrical energy in the body. We are conductive beings, composed largely of water, and the functioning of our very cells is regulated by the flow of positive and negative ions. Although modern science still cannot explain it, the ancient Chinese, probably about 3,000 years ago, began mapping the electrical flows of energy in our bodies through a series of channels called acupuncture meridians. These channels invigorate the organs and the tissue, the flow of the blood, as well as the free-flowing expression of emotions. In that culture there was an understanding that the health of an individual depended on the harmonious interrelationship between all of one’s parts.

Over the centuries, this body of information grew and has continued to be refined throughout China, Japan, and other Asian cultures until present times. Now we see the vast tradition of Oriental medicine, which is a primary system of health care for millions of people, interfacing with modern medicine and Western science. More and more we see Oriental medicine being looked to here in the West to address the “gray” areas for which Western medicine has no clear answer, such as hormonal imbalance, fatigue, fibromyalgia, insomnia, chronic pain, arthritis, menstrual discomfort, and even infertility. The fact is, Oriental medicine can address any condition because it’s not treating the symptom, but the underlying imbalance. Regardless of the other therapies you might be receiving, acupuncture can be a very helpful addition.

In relation to skin care, most of us know that our skin is a major organ of elimination. In Oriental medicine, the skin is associated with the lungs and large intestine, otherwise known as the “metal” element. As you may also know, a buildup of toxicity in the body can lead to problem skin. If toxins can’t be properly eliminated through the bowel, they are likely to be expelled through the sinuses and the skin. Obviously the liver and the kidneys play an important role in the detoxification process as well. Keeping the metal element balanced with all of the other elements and their related organ systems through the use of acupuncture and herbs is one way to assist in the detoxification and maintenance of healthier skin.

Hormonal changes can cause breakouts and sometimes deep, scarring acne. Although hormones were an unknown entity 2,000 years ago in ancient China, there was an understanding that supporting a free flow in all the acupuncture meridians eased stress in the body, allowed for better assimilation of food and elimination of waste, normalized sleep, and improved the regulation of all the body’s cycles. In fact, acupuncture and Chinese herbs are known to be particularly helpful in regulating menstrual cycles and menstrual discomfort, as well as easing symptoms associated with menopause.

In the clinic, I have found that improving the flow of the lymph fluid in the upper part of the body with acupuncture, especially when there is a lot of upper body tension, helps to clear up acne. I have also discovered that many women with hormonal imbalances have either blood stagnation or weak “qi” (or diminished energy flow) in the lower abdomen, often accompanied by tight upper bodies—stiff neck and shoulders. We sometimes diagnose this as weak kidney or spleen qi, with liver qi or blood stagnation that can lead to “damp heat” conditions such as hormonal acne.

Let me translate! What this actually means is that a weakness in the body leads to stagnation of fluids, sometimes referred to as “dampness” in Oriental medicine. Many things can lead to this type of weakness or “qi deficiency,” but it’s important because in some cases the resulting accumulation of fluids can lead to a heat buildup in the body. Toxicity due to sluggish functioning of other organ systems such as the liver and large intestine can also lead to localized heat accumulations. In fact, heat buildup can be generated through repressed or expressed emotions like anger or overexcitement, as well as through elements of diet. Foods such as alcohol, coffee, greasy and spicy foods, excessive intake of “the whites” (i.e., refined sugar and flour), or foods to which one may be allergic can also lead to heat or damp conditions. Truly, the term damp heat can encompass all sorts of inflammatory, viral and bacterial conditions, including acne or herpes, as mentioned before.

Skin problems can have many different etiologies, but the beauty of Oriental medicine is that we examine the cause in each individual and balance the body accordingly. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular in the West as our society begins to realize the importance not just of healing a single part but of considering the whole. This concept is inherent in Oriental medicine. We can no longer afford to focus on just one part at the expense of all others, whether it be in relationship to our bodies and our skin, to our planet, or to the whole of humanity.

Thank you, Sharon, for such a lovely piece on the importance of acupuncture and how it relates to (and helps) the skins balance and wellness. For anyone in the Ashland/Medford Oregon area, you can contact Sharon through her website: CLICK HERE.

For more information, see: