Faith vs. Medicine: Why Traditional Chinese Medicine does not conflict with religion (By Nicole Noles DOM LMT)
Traditional Chinese Medicine is well-respected in Asia. After all, it grew up there. Here in America however, Chinese Medicine quietly accompanied the Asians who helped build the continental railroad in the 1800s. (To learn more, visit http://cprr.org/Museum/Chinese.html). It stayed under the radar until President Nixon’s historic trip to China in the 1970s. This was a pivotal moment for acupuncture in America, and it opened a whole new world of medicine to the U.S.
Now, in 2012, acupuncture has almost become a household world. Most people have at least heard of it. Still, people are hesitant to embrace this 5,000-year-old medicine. The two biggest concerns I hear are 1) I hate needles (understandable! But I have a way around that which I’ll share in another blog) and 2) But I’m Christian. I don’t believe in Qi.
What people are trying to articulate here is the misconception that by getting acupuncture to treat your health concerns, you are somehow converting to the religion of Qi and contradicting your current religious beliefs. Not so.
We’ve contributed to this ourselves by way of mistranslation. The Chinese style of writing is beautiful, symbolic and poetic in a way that English can never aspire to. This makes a true translation of any Chinese term impossible, since there is no way to articulate every nuance of just a single character, which has layer upon layer of meaning. So what you get is the best rough approximation in English that is the easiest to understand.
Unfortunately, Qi is one of those words that is most difficult to understand, because by its very nature, you can not see it, you can only feel it. Qi is the pin yin word, which uses the English alphabet to approximate the pronunciation of the Chinese word. Think of pin yin as the bridge between English and Chinese. The written Chinese character for Qi shows steam rising from a bowl of rice. It is the picture of steam in this instance that conveys the essence of Qi – the invisible force that animates all life. It’s so easy to just say Qi is “life force energy,” but that definition misses so much. Depending on who is doing the translating, you may instead hear that Qi is oxygen, a much more scientific and technical term. Yet oxygen (or Qi) is still the life force that animates all things, is it not? And if you don’t have it, you will certainly feel its absence quickly!
There is certainly a spiritual quality to the breath; most religions reference it in some way. There is also a mechanical and physical quality to the breath, and it can be performed for you with a respirator if you cannot breathe. But you do not need to believe in the religious quality of your breath or oxygen in order to breathe – your body will do it automatically for you. And so it is with Qi. It circulates in your body whether you consciously will it to or not.
But what about those funky meridians acupuncturists talk about? Meridians are the channels that Qi circulates in. We think of oxygen as only circulating in the blood, but if it does not reach every cell in your body there will be dysfunction or death. Same with Qi, but it has special channels, or meridians, that you can not see with dissection. Here’s my theory of why we can’t dissect a meridian:
Each muscle fiber in your body has a covering, or fascia. This fascia also covers bundles of muscle fibers. Then it also covers whole muscles, and groups of muscles plus organ systems. The entire network of fascia intertwines in a three-dimensional way that takes a lot of patience to unwind. And these networks of fascia create the spaces we call meridians. I can tell you where the meridians travel, and I can show you the fascia, but that was closest we could get to the meridians until we developed radiation and ultrasound technology. Now our technology is catching up to a point where we can document the meridian points and pathways instead of just taking it on “faith”. For the technically inclined you may want to check out these links and decide for yourself:
The Biophysics: Basis for Acupuncture and Health
No one practices Traditional Chinese Medicine as a religion. You are not required to believe in Buddha, Kwan Yin, or any other Asian deity to get results from acupuncture. There are no weekly services to get blessed with Qi. Just like any other aspect of health, you have to cultivate Qi with good habits and supplement it with herbs, acupuncture, wise dietary choices, and gentle exercise.
Remember, TCM has a 5,000-year history, which is a lot of time to practice and get things right. So it certainly is not an alternative or untested medicine. You don’t have to take it on faith – or change your faith – to get good results with acupuncture. A healthy dose of skepticism and an open mind are all it takes, and of course, showing up for your appointment on time. Ask your priest for religious advice and let your acupuncture physician take care of your health and your Qi with a valid, time-tested medicine – just don’t ask us for religious advice!
Nicole Noles is an acupuncture physician and licensed massage therapist in Florida, as well as the editor of the Port Charlotte Herald, a full-color premium weekly insert to the Charlotte Sun. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Public Health – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture at New Hope Chiropractic.