I am very often asked about how acupuncture works, and about what is happening when the needles are placed in the body. I have written briefly on this subject in How to Choose an Acupuncture Point. This article is about energy transfers. I am choosing this topic for two reasons. First, I find the notion of energy transfers to be one of the more elaborate and beautiful concepts in acupuncture. For a person receiving acupuncture, I believe it allows some insight into the complexity and thought process which underlies Chinese medicine. Second, it was my own involvement in five phase energy treatments that really got me hooked on acupuncture. One of my first books on acupuncture was The Ancient Chinese Art of Acupuncture and How It Works Scientifically, written in 1973 by Felix Mann. The book has a chart of all of the five phase tonification and sedation treatments, but without a complete explanation of how the points were chosen. The process of figuring them out engaged me in the logical thought process of Chinese medicine, which seemed to suit me very well. I hope that readers will find it as interesting as I first did (and still do). What I wish to convey, more than anything, is the purposefulness of Chinese medicine. Everything matters. Yes, it matters where the needles go. Yes, it matters in what order they are inserted and removed. Yes, they are different for everyone. The information presented is somewhat simplified and incomplete for ease of discussion.
The concept of energy transfers basically involves the movement of Qi across meridians in a way that effects the functioning of the related organs in a specific manner. There are two types I wish to illustrate. The first is a source-luo transfer. People who receive acupuncture might notice that most of the needles are placed at points below the elbows and knees. These are the control points of acupuncture. All of the regular acupuncture channels have the following set of points in this region:
• The five phase points of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These are in exact correlation to the five antique or transporting points of jing-well, ying-spring, shu-stream, jing-river, and he-sea. The antique points always begin with the jing-well point at the toes or fingers, and proceed towards the elbows and knees. The five phase points follow the same direction, but begin with wood on the Yin channels and metal on the Yang channels. Thus, for example, the jing-well point on the Liver channel is the wood point, but on the Gall Bladder it is the metal point. It is specifically this “never one model” aspect of Chinese medicine I love the most.
• Yuan source point. On the Yin organ channels, this corresponds with the shu-stream point.
• Luo point
• Xi cleft point
A source-luo transfer simply involves needling the yuan source point of one channel, and the luo point of its paired Yin-Yang channel, to transfer energy from the latter to the former. For example, needling the luo point of the Stomach channel and the yuan source point of the Spleen channel transfers energy from the Stomach to the Spleen, thus reducing repletion in the former and supplementing vacuity in the latter.
Five phase transfers are more complex. I will illustrate a 4 needle Spleen tonification treatment as an example. According to five phase theory the generation, or tonification cycle, follows the order of wood, fire, earth, metal, water, wood…Fire is the mother of earth. To tonify the Spleen (earth), the fire point of the fire channel (Heart) and the fire point of the Spleen channel are needled, with technique applied for tonification (such as angling the needle in the direction of flow of the channel, clockwise twirling of the needle, gentle insertion, closing the hole when removing the needle, etc.). This is referred to as a double tonification.
In addition, the controlling points are sedated. The control cycle follows the order of wood, earth, water, fire, metal, wood…Wood controls earth. To tonify the Spleen (earth), the wood point of the wood channel (Liver) and the wood point of the Spleen channel are needled, with technique applied for sedation (such as angling the needle against the flow of the channel, counterclockwise twirling of the needle, strong insertion, leaving the hole open when removing the needle, etc.)
There are literally an infinite number of ways to administer acupuncture treatments, and to conceptualize what is happening when needles are inserted into the body. In the end, the goal is always simply to free up blockages, restore normal functioning of the organs and tissues of the body, and move the body toward a state of balance.