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Acupuncture Bellingham - Demystifying Chinese Medicine

By Scott Paglia, L.Ac. - Acupuncture Bellingham

There are three questions every acupuncturist has to answer throughout their day. The first
question is usually a bluntly delivered, “does it work?” The natural follow up is, “how does it
work?” And then lastly, after the patients and staff have gone home, here comes that eternal
question, “why do we do this?”

As a profession it is essential that we handle these questions with accuracy and assurance. It
seems for every solid fact concerning acupuncture there are a hundred misperceptions. We
are at a pivotal time in the profession. As a nation we are growing sick people. Our health is
being seriously impacted by a failing medical system. Many people are turning toward natural
medicine. What is needed are clear and concise answers to common questions such as those
raised above.

The first question, does it work, is easily answered with a solid YES. For some reason most of
the acupuncturists I have come across are quick to point out that, “yes it may work, but not
for everyone, at all times, and Tuesdays are not good for some reason.” I am often puzzled by
this response. What in the world works all the time regardless of circumstance? As an
acupuncture Bellingham practitioner if you are not helping people more than 80% of the
time you have a seriously deficient skill set. Time to get some help. So get over it. If you are
helping people most of the time be proud of that fact. Let the world know.

If a patient wants “evidence,” you may easily refer them to close to 14,000 studies found
on the PubMed web page which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the
National Institute of Health. I will often ask what studies they would be interested in and then
fill up the fax machine with data.

The second question is loaded. The infamous, how does it work? I used to agonize over
this with my patients. I would tell them there’s a very complicated energetic system with
meridians and qi and seasons and, yep. There it would be in front of me. The glazed-eye
look of someone who asked a simple question and is now buried in jargon. I actually gave up
explaining the medicine because it sounded so crazy to myself. If there are meridians and we
can detect precursors to matter entering the atmosphere how come we can’t find them?

I had the great fortune to read Dr. Kendall’s book, Dao of Chinese Medicine, a few years back.
It was a revelation. In just a few pages he freed me from the ambiguity which had silenced
me for so long. Chinese medicine was brought to Europe through the translation work of
Georges Soulie de Morant. After staying in Asia for 16 years Soulie de Morant popularized
acupuncture in France. He is credited with the French Energetic model. The big problem with
Soulie de Morant was not his passion for the medicine, but his accuracy with the translation.
Unfortunately for the profession his efforts landed us into the “energetic quagmire,” we are
currently engaged in. According to Kendall, the word qi was mistranslated into energy. The
proper translation is vital air or oxygen. Soulie de Morant went on to translate jing, as in
jingluo, into the French word, meridian. He actually threw out the reference to blood vessels
and inserted not only the word meridian but the idea with it as well. Thanks to the efforts of
Soulie de Morant we went from oxygen and blood vessels to energy and energy highways. No
wonder we are misunderstood as a profession. We don’t even understand the correct language
ourselves!

To compensate for this ambiguous language which is found in nearly all web and print
materials we offer all new patients a brief neurological explanation of acupuncture. Coming
out of their second appointment my patients and I have a checkup which goes like this. How
does acupuncture work? It moves blood. Why? Because that’s how the body heals. Every pain
killer, every hormone, every anti-inflammatory is in the blood stream. We move the blood to
where it’s needed and the body heals.

The most common negative reaction I hear is from the acupuncturists themselves. Mortally
offended, they accuse me of being reductionist or simplistic. Well to be honest with you, I am
fine with that criticism. If my chief fault as a practitioner is that I have adhered to the original
meanings of the ancient texts and provide my patients with very clear explanations of an almost
impossible to understand art then so be it. I think when people criticize us for this viewpoint it’s
because they have confused Chinese mystical thought with Chinese medical thought. Personally
I don’t deny the existence of energy in the body. I just don’t think that’s what the Chinese had in
mind when they were discussing medical ideas.

The last question is a deeply personal matter. I can’t answer this one for anybody. I can however
share my ideas. For me, the reason I practice this medicine is fourfold – each one feeding
equally into the others. The first and fourth reason are intrinsically linked.

1) Master the medicine. When a patient walks in we have to be able to read the pulse,
and then translate that information into Western medical language. We also have to treat
those conditions with a 90% success rate.

2) Help as many people as possible. Every time we see a condition and treat it we
become that much better a practitioner. To truly master the medicine requires hundreds of
thousands of visits.

3) Be fiscally responsible. We owe it to our patients and our families to be able to make a
living and be open when help is needed.

4) Make my family healthy. I don’t usually share number four in public. But here it goes.
My daughter was diagnosed at 2 and half years of age with type one diabetes. My mentor,
Bob Doane, put it to me this way. He said, “Scott it’s like this. Western medicine will keep
her alive. Your mastery of Chinese medicine will keep her healthy. So it’s up to you. You
can’t do that seeing 5 people a day. You have to see large volumes of people in order to
get this medicine right. So get to it.”

Scott Paglia, L.Ac.


Board Certified and Licensed Acupuncturist
Acupuncture Health Center, Bellingham, WA.