Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reflections on Being 5: Part 1

In a couple of months, it will be five years since South Austin Community Acupuncture first opened it’s doors for business. A good time to reflect on what we’ve created. Lately, one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is how there are things unique to community acupuncture that we have kind of downplayed over the years - in part intentionally, and in part this is just how things evolved. There’s a lot involved here, so I’m going to take on chunks over the course of a few blogs. Here we go:

Community acupuncture as a return to tradition

One thing you will commonly see on many community acupuncture clinic web sites is some kind of statement about how community acupuncture is a return to how the medicine is traditionally practiced in Asia. I’ve never been to Asia so I don’t know. I make no claims to tradition. From what I hear though, I suspect  treatment in China, Japan, or Korea while not uncommonly lacking in privacy, doesn’t particularly look like what we’re doing here. So, even though it’s central to what we do, I don’t make too big deal out of the fact that we treat in a group setting. To us here at SACA it’s as normal as anything, and we want it to be as normal as anything to our patients. Besides, we see tons of people who have never had acupuncture anyway, so as far as they know what we are doing is normal. I like to let people sort of put together the pieces of how this is a good idea at their own pace. Most get it. A very few do not.

Another aspect of this whole notion of community acupuncture being a return to how acupuncture is traditionally practiced, is the stated reliance on traditional methods of taking the pulse and looking at the tongue rather than talking, which you also might see on the occasional clinic website. While this is a handy way to signal that not talking too much in the community acupuncture setting is helpful, and to give an idea about what goes on in a community acupuncture clinic, I have deliberately shied away from such statements because in truth it’s not what I do – at least not consistently. 

I am trained in these traditional diagnostic methods – pulse and tongue – and my process is an ongoing one of corroborating what I see on a day to day basis with my learning. The problem with these methods is they are incredibly subjective and often enough don’t match with the patients symptoms. Sometimes they are very informative, sometimes not. In a sense this is the biggest challenge and one of the most unique aspects of Chinese medicine - this being ok with inconsistencies. I am to a certain extent. Bodies are not consistent. Why would a medicine that reflects the natural order of things be? My understanding also is that really, these methods (assessing pulse and tongue) are historically more the domain of herbalism anyway (which is usually when I use them).

So I’ve downplayed this whole, “This is how acupuncture is traditionally done” thing, and I’m ok with that. 
I actually see community acupuncture as a movement away from tradition.