Acupuncture, Ecology and Social Justice

November 16th, 2007

Acupuncture started out as, and remains, an individualised form of treatment.  The needles are inserted into one individual at a time by one individual at a time.  This means that the acupuncturist and their client can develop a genuinely human relationship.

Acupuncture also has wider implications – for ecology and social justice too.

 These are not as often commented on as its healing benefits, so I’d like to spend a little while in this article drawing attention to them.

Acupuncture is a very ‘light’ technology.

Most of the skill in acupuncture resides in people and the technology it uses (the acupuncture needle) is very simple, and costs little (money or energy) to make.  Acupuncture needles are recyclable.  Acupuncture doesn’t require the very sophisticated machinery of modern western medicine, each machine containing extraordinary amounts of embedded energy to make and then more to run.  Acupuncture is a very ecological form of medicine.

Acupuncture can also be practised in a way that promotes social justice.

One factor that disguises this is the subsidies which governments give to western medicine.  If people had to pay for machines and medicines they use directly there would be very few people using western medicine.  The cost of even routine medicines for blood pressure is quite hight.  The costs of a single dose of more specialised drugs can run into hundreds of dollars (for each dose!).  The cost of just one machine can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Compared to this the acupuncture needle is incredibly cheap.  This means that acupuncture can be provided cheaply and so can be readily accessible to poor people as well as rich people.

The other cost associated with medicine (and other carers) is training.  I’m convinced that this can be done quickly and easily.  Unfortunately neither private colleges nor professional associations have an incentive to make acupuncture as easy and speedy as possible.  I first learned acupuncture two nights a week for a year from a course run by a friend.  I then went to a government approved college – and learned less in three years four days a week than from the first course.  This has convinced me that acupuncture can be taught simply and easily.  Especially with the kind of media that can now be accessed on line it should be possible to spread training in acupuncture far and wide.  There will of course have to be some person to person as well, but this can be fairly brief and concentrate on the people to people part: how to relate well to clients when doing diagnosis and treatment.  All the theory can be delivered and demonstrated on line.  This means that huge numbers of acupuncturists can be trained rapidly, easily and cheaply.  Who is doing this?  Well, me for one (you can see how I’m going at

Acupuncture is a form of medicine that is both ecologically sound and has the ability to fit well with social justice.

I think my decision is made

November 16th, 2007

I think my decision is made and here is how it came about.

Last night I went to a marketing seminar featuring two people from an Australian marketing company called mobium ( run by Aware Business (

They were speaking about a group of people who had firstly been labelled (mistakenly in my view) the ‘cultural creatives’.  This group is now known, more accurately in my view, as “LOHAS”, standing for “lifestyles of health and sustainability”.

This group, the LOHAS, group are defined by their concerns for three areas: health, the environment and social justice.  What this means is that those who turn up to Live Aid (are concerned for social justice) are more likely than the general population to be into ecology and willing to try alternative health (such as yoga or acupucture).  Likewise those who go to yoga classes are more likely than the general population to be concerned for ecology and social justice.  And so on.

This was a lovely moment for me: I felt that someone had finally put a name to my concerns and my approach.  I felt myself relaxing as I realised this.

One characteristic of this group is that they are concerned with authenticity.  It was then I knew that I couldn’t only have a paid acupuncture course on this blog.  It had never sat comfortably with me, but I didn’t know whether this was just sentimentality and delusion on my part.  I now know that it is actually a big part of who I am.

So that’s how I came to my decision about the way forward for this blog.  By being reminded of my core and ethics at a marketing seminar (who said God doesn’t have a sense of humour?  (To be fair Aware Business is a very different type of marketing company, so it’s not so much of a surprise.)

So this is my plan from here:

Keep putting up the content on this blog that will build into an acupuncture course.

To get some income I will be publishing some ebooks (the first one about what to expect at your first acupuncture treatment will be free.  The next will be for acupuncture students – a simple approach to point selection.  The third will be a concise introduction to the core of the theory of Chinese Medicine.  These are the ones I have planned for now, I’m sure I will think of others in time.)

Keep on designing a course in acupuncture using multi-media and discussion forums for which I will charge a fee based on membership for a particular period.  Probably monthly or quarterly.

So look forward to more content on acupuncture soon – I’m up to the meridians and will cover each one – hopefully at the rate of about one a week.

If you have any thoughts or responses about any of this, feel free to drop by and comment.

Decision Time is Getting Nearer

November 12th, 2007

Firstly, apologies for not having posted here for quite a while.

I’ve been thinking deeply about where to head with this blog.  I have a conflict between my need to make money and the energy for my ideals.  If I was sure this blog would make a million I guess I would have no problems doing it.  Likewise if I was a complete idealist I’d have no trouble finding the energy either.  The truth is I am a mixture.

The big decision is about the time and energy it would take to turn this site into an “interactive learning environment” with audio, video and fora.  I would charge (a bargain price) for access to this.  This would be a lot of work if no one was interested.  The other option is to have a very simple introduction to acupuncture theory and some suggestions about how the theory applies in life (essentially what I am doing now).  This is far less work but also of less educational value.  Also I don’t feel I can charge for access to this level of education.

I’m still inclining to the idea of doing both.  Putting the information out there in a simple and systematic format and charging for access to the interactive learning environment.  This basically means charging for access to me as teacher and the input of other students as well as the more sophisticated aspects of the environment (audio, video and fora).

On Wednesday, in two days, I have an exam; so, I won’t be making the decision ’til then.  Hopefully I will feel settled about what I want to do soon after this when I have a bit more head space to think.

Once again apologies for the lack of posts and thanks for your patience in bearing with it.  I’ll be back posting soon.

How my thinking is progressing

November 5th, 2007

I’m well into a course on teaching on line.

The idea is to set up a membership site with the course available – and using audio, video and discussion boards to make it a worthwhile learning experience.

At the moment I am playing with the idea of having acupunctureiseasy split into a free section where there would be text that would be enough to learn acupuncture from.  And the course with the audio, video, discussions and so one, which people would need to pay for.

All responses welcome.

Changing Direction

October 29th, 2007

I’m gradually getting clearer about where I am heading with this blog.

What I shall do is develop an interactive course.  It will have the text but also audio and visual content.  Along with all this there will also be discussion perhaps through comments or perhaps through a forum.  I am still refining the idea.

Having this clear I think I can now start writing again for this blog.

Evidence Based Medicine

October 25th, 2007

There is a very funny article about the limitations of Evidence Based Medicine in that radical periodical the British Medical Journal.  It is an examination of the evidence for the use of parachutes.

One of the many highlights:

The parachute and the healthy cohort effect
One of the major weaknesses of observational data is
the possibility of bias, including selection bias and
reporting bias, which can be obviated largely by using
randomised controlled trials. The relevance to
parachute use is that individuals jumping from aircraft
without the help of a parachute are likely to have a
high prevalence of pre-existing psychiatric morbidity.
Individuals who use parachutes are likely to have less
psychiatric morbidity and may also differ in key demographic
factors, such as income and cigarette use. It
follows, therefore, that the apparent protective effect of
parachutes may be merely an example of the “healthy
cohort” effect.

It’s very funny – a wonderful read.  Enjoy!

Evidence Based Medicine: Yes and No

October 24th, 2007

Over the last decade of so there has been something of a propaganda war waged on behalf of “Evidence Based Medicine”.

I am generally in favour of this: there is far too much time and money wasted. I am in favour of getting people as healthy as possible as quickly as possible.

So Evidence Based Medicine seems to be clearly sensible. Who could argue against it? Well, me – partly.

When looked at closely Evidence Based Medicine has some weaknesses (as well as very great strengths). The weaknesses aren’t widely understood so I would like to draw attention to them here.

Firstly, there is what gets researched (and so has evidence to back it).

Imagine that I believe that eating garlic at 10am each morning will cause my neighbour to eat toast at midday. A sceptic will point out (quite rightly) that there is no evidence for this. And why not? Because no one (I hope) is loony enough to take this seriously. My point is that what gets researched – and so has a chance to become evidence is filtered. It is filtered through what is ‘common-sense’ to those doing research.

But what we regard as common-sense turns out to be flawed. The findings of sub-atomic physics are a cliché for how common-sense has been confounded. Likewise it is not common-sense to believe that pensioner bus passes are part of health policy (but they are: see Michael Marmot’s The Status Syndrome). And there is (now) very good evidence to say that they are.

This leads to the second difficulty with the evidence in Evidence Based Medicine. The evidence admitted is based on clinical trials – and these are expensive.

This means that the evidence is largely produced by government and very large corporations. Much of the research is directed to finding solutions that will make money (pills and so forth).

Most seriously this means that the diseases of the poor are not often studied and there is little research on them. Even the extraordinary amounts of money given by such philanthropists as Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation are only a tiny drop in the bucket.

In the ‘developed countries’ this means that low cost solutions – and pills that can’t be patented – receive less attention. Henry Osiecki has done huge amounts of research on treating medical problems with foods – but you probably haven’t heard of him (google him to find lots of stuff).

There is good evidence based research now (often thanks to universities) that shows things like: going for a walk is as good a treatment for depression as some drugs. And yet the pills are still more frequent than walking clubs.

Just because the evidence is there doesn’t mean that it will be acted on.

This is a third difficulty for evidence based medicine. It won’t necessarily change anything. This may be unfair – it’s not researches’ job to change things. But its advocates do want it to change how medicine is done. So this isn’t so much a criticism as just saying that it can’t do everything. It needs to be married with political savvy as well.

This leads to the fourth difficulty

What we find convincing is our experience. If evidence from thousands of others says otherwise, well, we may change our minds. On the other hand we may not. We pay for more attention to those close to us than anonymous people far away. And clinical studies by their nature are about anonymous people we have had no contact with.

This is especially an issue for communication. The findings of the research could be communicated well – having individuals tell their story for instance, instead of in dry statistics.

However it is also a problem that this kind of research finds it hard to take account of all the complications of human experience.

Which leads to the fifth difficulty.

What research findings actually mean. “Cause” doesn’t mean quite the same in research as in normal speech. Perhaps the most popular example is: smoking causes cancer. This is a very solid research finding. However it doesn’t mean that if you smoke a cigarette you will get so much cancer and if you smoke lots of cigarettes you will get lots of cancer. What it means is that if you smoke a bit you are more like to get some health problems (lung cancer being only one) and if you smoke lots you are much more likely to get one of these health problems. It does NOT mean that you will – it just means that it is very likely. And we probably all know people who have defied the odds. (And we often forget all those who haven’t.) In our normal conversation when we say ‘cause’ we mean something pretty direct: the hammer hitting my thumb caused pain. In research – and so in Evidence Based Medicine – it’s a bit more complicated.

The final difficulty I want to point out is that Evidence Based Medicine is conservative.

The validity of the medicine is based on what has already been proven. If we were to go by only what has been proven we wouldn’t do any research at all. Any new ideas can’t be backed by research.

Evidence Based Research is advocated by well entrenched interests and operates to preclude those with new ideas. The conservative can always say to the innovators that there ideas are not proven: this is in the nature of the case. And why should people ‘waste’ time and money (which are always in short supply) trying something unproven? It seems an unanswerable argument. But the answer is that this is exactly what is required if we are to make any progress at all in any kind of research.

I am not trying to say that Evidence Based Medicine is of no value. It is of very great value. However it does have shortcomings – especially when dealing with anything beyond the mainstream. I hope with this in mind we can have a realistic appreciation of Evidence Based Medicine’s very great strengths.

Organs and Channels

September 24th, 2007

If someone has heard of acupuncture there are probably two things they know.  Firstly, that it involves having pins stuck in you.  Secondly, that it has something to do with lines that go all over the body.  These are both entirely correct.

Those lines illustrate what are called meridians or channels.  I prefer to call  them channels.  Firstly, because we don’t use ‘meridian’ in normal conversation and so few people know what it means.  Secondly, because ‘channel’ gives a pretty good idea of what they are thought of as doing in acupuncture.  As the irrigation channels on a farm supply water to different parts of the farm; so the channels in our bodies supply vital fluids to the parts of our bodies.  We will go into these vital fluids in great detail later (the one that people who have heard of acupuncture will have heard of is called ‘qi’ – or ‘chi’.  There are five in total: qi, blood, jing, shen, jin-ye).

What is less known is that acupuncture also, like western medicine, has names for the different organs in our bodies (heart, liver and so on).

In acupuncture there are twelve organs and two channels associated with each organ.  These channels travel the same route on the left and right hand sides of the body (they are symmetrical).


Most of the acupuncture organs share the same names as the western body structures.  These are:

large intestine
small intestine
pericardium (sort of)
spleen (sort of)

The acupuncture organ the spleen probably includes what western medicine calls the pancreas (in some texts you will find it called the spleen-pancreas).  The pericardium in acupuncture surrounds and protects the heart.  In western medicine the heart is surround by the pericardiac sac but this has nothing like the importance of the organ in acunpuncture.

There is one acupuncture organ which has no equivalent in western medicine:

the Triple Heater (sometimes called the Triple Burner, Triple Warmer or the Three Burning Spaces).

Where acupuncture is vastly different to western medicine is in what the organs do.  We will go into this in detail as we go through each organ in turn.  However, one way in which all the organs in acupuncture are different to their western functions is that they are associated with an emotion.  This is without parallel in modern western medicine (though there are similar ideas in some kinds of bodywork and psychotherapy).  Another major difference is that the yin organs (kidney. liver, heart, spleen and lung) are said to store or regulate the vital fluids.  This too is unparalleled in modern western medicine.


The channels carry the vital fluids to different parts of the body.  It is along different points on the channels that the acupuncture pins are put.

In my opinion we are a long way from understanding how it is that acupuncture works.  We are fortunate that in the last couple of decades technology has reached the stage where we can watch the body’s functions in real time – through various types of scanners.  This technology is just beginning to be used to study how acupuncture works.  (Most acupuncture research is still just devoted to comparing outcomes of acupuncture with other forms of treatment.  This amounts to my pin versus your pill.  Not exactly exciting or laying the foundations for extending the effectiveness of acupuncture).
It is very likely that our nerves are involved in how acupuncture works – the channels mostly follow the same pathways as the major western nerve pathways.  (However, some of the major points do not lie on these pathways.)  An idea of my own is that acupuncture probably involves what western medicine calls the hormones as well.  (This is just my idea.)

If you learn shiatsu, especially zen shiatsu you will learn to fell these channels and whether they are full or empty.  This is an excellent way to learn where they are and is a wonderful way of treatment too.  (Unfortunately the zen shiatsu channels are somewhat different to the acupuncture channels.)

The channel is named after the organ where it begins.


September 21st, 2007

Apologies for no posts lately.  I’ve been down with a particularly nasty cold.  I’m either on the mend or getting a cough at the moment.

Hopefully I won’t get the cough and be back on deck next week.


The Metal Element #2 Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual

September 19th, 2007

The metal element can be looked at under four headings: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  These categories are my own (modern and western) they are not traditionally part of acupuncture.  However the things that appear under these headings are traditionally part of acupuncture: it is my arrangement that is new.

The metal element rules letting go of our breath and solid waste.  The lung also rules our skin – this, as well as protecting us is a major organ of discharge (sweat and toxins too).  This process of letting go should be easy and natural.

The emotion associated with letting go is sadness.  When you weep with sorrow you will notice how it involves your lungs.  Our tears usually bring with them a quality of softness: those who never cry are often hard and harsh (to themselves as well as to others), not an attractive quality.

Letting go of out moded ideas and past thoughts can be quite difficult.  Habits and routines can be invaluable in making our lives simpler (we don’t have to re-learn walking every time we get up).  However, they can be a trap to – so that we can, without even noticing it, become stale and dissatisfied.  We can lose the sense that each moment is unique and precious.

The spiritual here means a connection to some sense of cosmic order.  That our lives make sense and are connected.  This may be our connection with nature or a spiritual practice of some kind.

How is your metal element?

  •     Any breathing problems?
  •     Any problems with elimination?
  •     Do you cling to past relationships?
  •     Do you feel sad or try to fight it?
  •     Are you learning new things?
  •     Do you have a sense of connection to spirit in your life?