According to legend, acupuncture was accidentally discovered when Chinese warriors found that arrows striking them at certain points in the body healed them of chronic conditions. Since then, it has acquired such a level of sophistication that there are now over 1,000-2,000 known acupoints in the body, performing different functions, some to stimulate, others to sedate. Of these, the therapist has the task of selecting 8 to 18 points for treatment. How does it work? Two theories have been forwarded by science. One is that the needle sends up impulses that travel faster than the pain impulses, thereby blocking them. The other is that it releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) into the bloodstream.
Acupuncture came to India sometime in the middle of last century and according to Dr C.H. Asrani, an allopath who does Chinese head and ear acupuncture; it has not grown as it should have. The reason: “In the early days, the general practitioners who learnt acupuncture were charging four times their regular fees for acupuncture and were using it indiscriminately.”
Another factor that has inhibited its growth is the in-depth understanding of the human body required to practice it, which only qualified doctors possess. Indeed, if Dr Asrani were to have his way, its practice would be restricted only to them. “Non-medicos should not do acupuncture,” says he.
But what has given the practice a shot in the arm is the introduction of Su-jok acupuncture, founded by Professor Park Jae Woo, a South Korean scientist. Sujok is a branch of acupuncture that contends that the hands and feet represent a mirror image of the body. The thumb and the big toe stand for the head, the two middle fingers for the legs and the two extreme fingers for the arms while the palms and feet stand for the body. Stimulating points in the hands and feet will heal the corresponding body parts. Sujok is primarily applied only on the forefinger and the middle finger of the right hand, if the patient is a female and the left for males.
Sujok has many advantages over Chinese acupuncture. Because the needles are much smaller, it is possible to send the patient along his way instead of making him sit in the clinic. Unlike acupuncture, which uses anything up to 20 needles, Sujok uses only four to five. Dr Shah practices both forms of acupuncture but is drawn to Su-jok. He says: “My personal experience is that most patients benefit by Sujok.”
Aditi Pandya, a practitioner of ayurveda and Sujok, specializes primarily in hair treatment. Coming from a family where each member turned grey at 30, the young woman utilized her science background and the fact that her grandfather was an ayurvedic physician to experiment with herbs. Persistence paid and eventually she emerged with a preparation. The dreaded age of 30 came and went with nary a gray hair on her head, much to the envy of her already graying cousins. Taking pity on them, she gave them her magic potion for use, and pretty soon word of mouth gave her a flourishing practice. Feedback began pouring in that the medicine not just stopped hair from graying but was also causing hair to grow. Her waiting room was soon flooded with people looking for a cure to baldness. Looking for a way to speed up the process, she stumbled upon Sujok acupuncture. She asserts now: “Sujok gives excellent results in no time.”
Although Aditi’s primary specialty is hair rejuvenation, she has treated her patients for other ailments as well. A transporter, for instance, had approached her for baldness, but she says: “In the process I pulled out his back pain.” Another of her patients was cured of infertility caused by a fibroid.
Amreen Ibrahim Kuradia (29) has good reason to be grateful to Pandya. Says she: “After my third delivery, I had to take treatment for thyroid, and in a month, 99 per cent of my hair had fallen. In desperation, I approached Aditi. In a few days, the hair fall stopped and new hair began to sprout.” Having gone to her for a year, Amreen believes she has had 75 per cent recovery.
Many acupuncture practitioners have thrilling tales to narrate of patients healed from painful and hopeless cases. Dr K. Nirmalchandra Shetty, who has done an advanced course in acupuncture from China, talks of a 12-year-old spastic boy who had marked deformities in the right hand and had protruding hip and vertebra. He could neither sit nor stand by himself. Acupuncture for a few months corrected the deformities considerably. His right hand regained some movement, and he was able to walk with difficulty. Says Dr Shetty: “Acupuncture is a complete system of healing.”
One of acupuncture’s most spectacular results arises from its ability to manage pain. Dr Shetty is an honorary consultant with Shanti Avedna Ashram, the premier hospice in the country for the care of terminally ill cancer patients. “All patients are given pain-relieving drug, of which morphine is the last resort. I interfere only when the morphine dose is ineffective or causing side effects. Acupuncture is very effective in managing pain. I also insert a few needles of a special variety into their ears. Whenever they overcome pain, all they have to do is to press their needles and they will have an anesthetic effect.”
So effective is acupuncture in handling pain that it has been developed as anesthesia in China and many western countries. In India, though, this function is undeveloped as yet. Says Dr Shetty somewhat bitterly: “In the USA, one million Americans use acupuncture. In the UK, 47 per cent of GPs refer patients to acupuncturists. In India, there are hardly any referrals from the medical community.”
Dr Shetty is driven by a desire to do something to heal cancer through his therapy but despite his efforts for five years, Tata Memorial Hospital, one of the country’s premier cancer hospitals, refused to give him a research project. While acupuncture has a long way to go before it becomes a mainline therapy, the therapists swear that it is remarkably effective in many cases. Says Dr Shah: “Acupressure is a palliative; its effects are not long-lasting. Acupuncture can give a complete cure in most cases.”
The WHO drew up the following list of diseases that respond well to acupuncture: acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis, cold, acute tonsillitis, acute bronchitis, myopia, cataract, toothache, acute and chronic gastritis, gastric hyperacidity, colitis, constipation, frozen shoulder, sciatica, osteo-arthritis, facial palsy, paralysis, among others. It can heal in rare cases. Dr Asrani cites the case of a patient who had non-stop hiccups for a week. After three sittings, he was cured. It can also help fertility.
Acupuncture can also help in mood elevation and management. Dr Shah claims to have successfully healed patients suffering from intense fear. Another woman approached him with complaints of headache, but the real cause was a deep sadness she had not acknowledged. “After Su-jok, the sadness lifted,” he says.
Most agree though that the therapy has its limitations. Says Dr Asrani: “If I feel a patient is better served by surgery, I tell him so.” Adds Dr Shetty, “Acupuncture cannot help in emergencies, cardiac problems, epidemics, infectious diseases, accidents, etc.”
An acupuncture sitting lasting half an hour or so usually costs between Rs 100-150, though it can go as high as Rs 300.
Apart from Sujok, there are a few more variations of acupuncture. One is ear acupuncture, where it is believed that the ear is the prototype of the fetus and therefore has all the body parts represented in it. Head acupuncture treats all the body parts simply by inserting needles within the scalp area. In laser acupuncture, a laser beam is directed at the acupoints instead of using needles. In homoeo-puncture, the appropriate homoeopathic medicine is applied at the tip of the needles.
Lastly, the insertion of needles, which are very fine, is not painful. So, there should be no fear on that part.
Author: Suma Varughese