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Acupuncture and Blockages

It can be challenging to elucidate how acupuncture and Chinese Medicine work within a Western perspective. I am therefore always excited when I find a new way of explaining it to my patients and anyone interested in how and why acupuncture works.

Acupuncture is often described to move or clear blockages within the body. It does this via the meridian system which is an integrative network of channels that encompass who we are from the physical to the psycho-emotional. There are 14 channels that work together to create homeostasis within our physiology and which give us the ability to be an individual within the ever changing environment. Each channel has a particular function that when blocked or malfunctioning leads to imbalances and symptoms. Acupuncture points along these channels are needled which starts to shift the channel to a healthier place.

A blockage could be seen more superficially as tightness or constriction in muscles resulting in pain. An insufficiency within a channel could lead to weakened function such as undigested loose stools. An excess within a channel could lead to overactivity resulting in symptoms including headaches/migraines, tinnitus, ADHD etc. The unblocking, calming and strengthening of the meridian system is the key to bringing harmony back to the body/mind.

Trauma is another form of a blockage which is usually very severe and deeply embedded within us. It is also something that blocks us from feeling our bodies and experience and therefore shuts down our flow of life. The fear and terror that come from trauma result in us avoiding life as a way to not face parts of ourselves that are too painful or scary. This is disconnection.

I recently read 'In an Unspoken Voice' by Peter Levine who has pioneered the field of Somatic Experiencing since the 70's. He is, to say the least, an expert in the assistance and healing of traumatised individuals be it war veterans, victims of rape or sexual abuse, survivors of calamity's and many more situations in which PTSD (Post-traumatic-Stress-Disorder) arises within someone as the result of an external circumstance.

I'll paraphrase Gabor Mate here as I think it's important to establish that trauma and PTSD can happen to anyone whether the situation seems traumatising or not. Trauma is not necessarily what happens to someone but rather how that person interprets the situation within themselves. We give our experiences meaning from within therefore even if something doesn't seem traumatic to one person, it can be deeply traumatising for another leading to deep internal imbalances.

Out of the three responses to danger (Fight, Flight, Fright), Peter Levine places particular emphasis on the fright or 'freeze' response. This he suggests is a common state involved in traumatised individuals. At some point during a traumatic event, if we have no one to fight and no where to run, our nervous system goes into shutdown or freeze. This is akin to a kind of paralysis and is a very useful defensive state that in those dangerous moments protect us by numbing pain and in a sense blocking the intensity of an experience. Levine gives the example of the gazelle being captured by a lion. Once in the clutches of the lion, the gazelle enters freeze in a way limiting the fear and numbing the pain of dying.

The freeze state, albeit useful in certain circumstances, is what keeps individuals traumatised once they leave the horrific event/s that they have endured. This is what's known as PTSD. The terror and fear that sends us into paralysis or freeze remains stuck in the body. Animals instinctively know how to literally shake this fear/freeze out of their system. If and once they escape danger, they tremble and shake their bodies until the fear has been dissolved and transformed into a balanced state. This leaves them perfectly healthy and ready to continue as they had before the danger. In humans however, we have forgotten the way to engage in this instinctive releasing of fear. Once out of the danger, we hold onto this fear and freeze state, not consciously, but in a way that we are unable to process or transform it. This is what PTSD is and it continues to linger within us disrupting our rhythm and flow of life by making us avoid situations while being constantly in a state of high alert and sympathetic nervous system arousal. We lose touch with ourselves.

As you can see, this is also a blockage. It is a block from being able to engage in life or to face the past life experience/s that have lead us to live in fear and avoidance. The block is an absence of connection. This means, within the language of Chinese medicine, that the meridian system is malfunctioning. It has lost its flow and integrative properties. Where once there was communication within the mind/body matrix, there is now stagnation and blockage in the form of fear. This fear is sitting lodged deeply within the nervous system in a location that was affected by the traumatic event. It is an unresolved intense charge of emotional-nervous energy that has been unable to be released.

Luckily this doesn't have to be a lifetime hindrance. Trauma is something that can be transformed from the deep places where it resides and life can continue to flow in a healthy and balanced way. There are many modalities that work with and support the healing of trauma and acupuncture is one of those. As described above, when the meridian system is blocked and malfunctioning then we will have symptoms ranging from physical pain to psycho-emotional disturbance. It is the job of the acupuncturist to treat the channel system within someone in order to guide it back into a place of balance and harmony. As the meridian system comes back into balance, blockages are released, insufficiency's are filled and excesses are subdued. Gradually, health follows.

Trauma is by no means a quick fix. Some people work through theirs quicker than others depending on many factors. Trauma is nevertheless an important obstruction in our lives that if we work to clear, can lead to the goodness and peace that we all deserve to feel on a regular basis. Trauma can also be seen as a gateway into self discovery as we journey to the places of the self that we have been trying to escape. I heard somewhere that trauma was one of the four gateways to enlightenment. Albeit a terrifying component that is attached to us, it is also a chance to understand who we are.

Harry practices acupuncture in Forest Row at The Forest Row Osteopath Clinic and in East Grinstead at ICOM.

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