Chinese medicine: 3. Scorpion tails & magic needles

Posted: 2014 年 03 月 26 日 in Chinese medicine
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Scorpion Tails & Magic Needles

        Herbal therapy encompasses more than 2,000 organic medicines listed in the Chinese pharmacopeia, but only about 100 are commonly used to treat people. The rest are reserved for only the rarest conditions. Many common ingredients of the herbal pharmacy are standard ingredients of Western kitchens: cinnamon, ginger, licorice, rhubarb, nutmeg, orange peel and other spices and condiments. Herbal prescriptions routinely contain at least a half-dozen ingredients, some added simply to counteract the side-effects of more potent additives.

        The old adage “fight poison with poison” (以毒攻毒) originated in this branch of Chinese medicine. Some of man’s most virulent ailments are fought with such potent toxins as jimsonweed (Datura stramonium曼陀羅), centipedes, scorpion tails, and mercury. Herbal prescriptions come in a variety of forms. There are pills formed by blending finely powdered herbs with honey, brews made by boiling and reducing ingredients in water, powders dissolved in juice or water, pastes for external plasters, medicinal wines distilled from herbs steeped in strong spirits for a year or flour and water, and refined concentrates extracted from raw and dried herbs using modern technology.

        Acupuncture, probably the most widely used and publicized of Chinese therapies in the West, dates back to the battlefields of ancient China. Soldiers shot by arrows reported that their wounds often eliminated chronic ailments in other parts of their bodies. Physicians refined the technique over the centuries using “needles” fashioned from stone, jade, iron, and gold. Today’s practitioners of acupuncture stick very thin steel needles into “vital points” (穴道) along the body’s “vital energy” network. More than 800 such points have been identified, but only about 50 major spots are used in common practice.

        The insertion of a needle in each point produces a specific therapeutic effect on a specific organ, gland, nerve, or other body part. The points are connected to the internal organs and glands by energy channels called “meridians.” (經脈) While many of the secrets of acupuncture still mystify physicians in the West today, they acknowledge that it can be effective in treating certain ailments.

        Acupuncture has also proven to be effective as a local and general anesthetic. In recent years, patients have undergone painless appendectomies, major operations and even open-heart surgery while remaining alert and wide awake under acupuncture anesthesia. Acupressure (點穴) utilizes the same points and principles as acupuncture, but is applied with deep finger pressure rather than needles.

        Massage, called tui-na (推拿Chinese for “push and rub”), is applied to joints, tendons, ligaments and nerve centers as well as to vital points and meridians. With regular application over a period of time, tui-na can be effective in relieving and gradually eliminating arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, slipped discs, nerve paralysis, energy stagnation and related ailments.

        Skin-scraping (刮痧) involves the use of a blunt spoon or coin, dipped in wine or salt water, and rubbed repeatedly across vital points on a patient’s skin, usually on the neck or back, until a red welt appears. In cases of heat stroke, colds, fever, colic and painful joints, the practice draws out what Chinese physicians call “heat energy” and releases it through the skin to eliminate the cause of the problem.

        Blood-letting (放血) requires a sharp, thick needle with a triangular point that is used to prick open the skin at a vital point related the diseased organ. The release of blood induces “evil chi” and heat energy to travel along the meridians and escape through the open point.

        Suction cups (拔罐) made from bamboo or glass are briefly flamed with a burning wad of alcohol-soaked cotton to create a vacuum, then pressed over a vital point, usually along the spine. They stick tightly to the flesh by suction. Skin and flesh balloon into the cup, drawing out evil energies by pressure. The method has been found very effective in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, bruises, abscesses, and any ailments related to excessive exposure to wind or dampness.

        Moxibustion (艾灸)is the term for a treatment in which a burning stick of moxa, made from wormwood and resembling a thick cigar, is held directly over the skin at particular vital points. The herbal energy radiates from the glowing tip into the vital point and transmits therapeutic benefits along the meridian network to the diseased organ.

        As bizarre as blood-letting, moxibustion and other Chinese medical treatments may sound, all are still utilized with phenomenal success in Taiwan. For many common ailments, the Chinese approach appears to be superior to Western methods. It eliminates the need for strong chemical drugs, drastic surgery, radiation and other potentially dangerous methods used in the West and puts faith in natural, organic curatives. However, Chinese medicine does not dispute the superiority of Western medicine in the treatment of acute traumatic ailments, injuries and emergency cases.

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