Integrative Medicine is a buzzword these days. As a holistic approach to heath and wellness, it is aimed at addressing all aspects of care. Often modalities are blended in order to achieve a desired goal or healing experience. I have found that Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine interface seamlessly with Yoga Therapy to enable deeper healing with a profound and lasting treatment outcome, particularly when addressing psycho-emotional issues.
There are myriad ways that Acupuncture and Yoga Therapy intermix. In her article in Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine, Terra Gold outlines important aspects of this relationship beautifully(1). My intention here is to built upon this knowledge and explore the appeal to a practical application of the two methods in combination when treating psycho-emotional issues.
As reported in “Effectiveness of Yoga Therapy as a Complementary Treatment for Major Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta Analysis”, Yoga is an effectual therapy for treating and regulating mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (2). Similarly, as reported by myriad studies, Chinese Medicine is effective as a stand-alone and conjoint therapy modality for psychiatric disorders (3).
Over the last few decades there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people who receive prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. A recent CDC survey reports that one in every nine Americans take antidepressants daily, whereas thirty years ago that number was one in fifty (4). Simultaneously, the National Institute of Health reports that more and more people are seeking out complementary and alternative modalities (CAM) for natural treatment (5).
Incredible global shifts are affecting all of us on a deep personal level: natural disasters, wars, political instability, dissolution of families, the shifting of masculine/feminine identities, booming populations and massive generational shifts in values of what it means to be “human” (think AI). As a species, humans are faced with tremendous pressures to adapt, and some people are more resilient than others.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and Yoga Therapy are rooted in Buddhist and Hindu principles, respectively, and share an underlying philosophy and prescription for wellness. Both are holistic healing modalities, which have evolved over thousands of years. Living in accordance with nature and practices designed to promote the evolution of consciousness are their fundamental principles, along with self-discipline, self-inquiry, and loving-kindness. This resonates with many people who are challenged by existential questions often manifesting as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The yogic practices of asana (postures) meditation and prayanama (breathing techniques) enable us to to observe thoughts, feelings and sensations, and instead of believing everything they tell us and getting lost in them (which can indeed plunge us into obsessive realms of uncontrollable negativity), we are able to stand apart from them long enough to realize, to feel, to sense that we are in fact NOT what our subjective experiences tell us we are.
This process of going inward is similarly enabled by acupuncture, which directs our energy (Qi) internally during a treatment and reconnects us with a greater sense of wholeness, not ruled by thought, feeling and sensation. In fact, a strong dimension of Chinese Medicine conceives of the spirit as integral to diagnosis and treatment, and many points are specifically used to open us to spiritual awareness. Both philosophies purport that all illness has spiritual roots. And it is at the root level that each operates in order to correct imbalances that manifest as dis-ease.
Another commonality is that there are numerous similar physiological processes that take place when the body is receiving acupuncture as when practicing meditation and yoga poses. Yoga and acupuncture help to regulate and treat mood disorders on the physical level by raising endorphins, dopamine and GABA levels, levels 5. They address mood disorders on the mental level by quieting and focusing the mind, and on the emotional level they help the practitioner to train non-reactivity by cultivating a sense of awareness regarding the ephemeral nature of emotional states – we realize we don’t have to associate who we are with what we are thinking or feeling at any given moment. We are not our thoughts, not our feelings. We simply are. In combination, these therapies add a rich dimension to assessment and treatment planning to yield powerful results.
When I do an intake on a patient, I use the diagnostic skill and philosophical platform of both disciplines to make a thorough assessment. This paints an exquisitely complex picture of the essence and fundamental needs of the person in front of me and bestows an opening into deeper layers of their operating energetics. I look at their underlying pattern of imbalance according to Chinese Medicine, assess their Dosha (a yogic diagnostic tool) and Chakra function, and prescribe treatment that may include:
– Acupuncture to clear blockages and restore balance
– Chinese herbal medicine to powerfully resolve underlying pathology and treat more serious and chronic diseases
– Yoga postures/stretches to balance the Dosha and address physical ailments
– Breathing techniques to regulate the body, mind, and emotions
– Specific meditation techniques to address emotional and mental imbalances
With this method, the results speak for themselves. Patients report deeply transformative healing: from feeling relief from their symptoms to being more awake to their life, to gaining profound understanding of the purpose that their initial symptoms served in bringing awareness to areas of their life that were out of balance. As a practitioner, the integration of these methods is richly rewarding. There is nothing more fulfilling than being witness to another’s journey of healing.
The practice of integrative medicine is informed by many exciting studies illustrating the mechanisms of action in the treatment of the mind/body connection. For example, a recent study found that when needling acupuncture point Pericardium 8, sensory information is transported to the spinal dorsal horn and cuneate nucleus, which is associated with pain perception in the body (6). Interestingly, this point is named Palace of Toil (Lao Gong) and is commonly used in the treatment of psychiatric conditions as well as to manage pain and inflammation in the body.
There is much to explore and elaborate on in this evolving field. Following this article will be others that delve deeper into the structure and practical application of integrative treatment news and frameworks.
1. Terra Gold. 2015. Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine. Payne, Larry, Terra Gold, Eden Goldman.
2. Cabral, P., H. B. Meyer, and D. Ames. (2011). Effectiveness of Yoga Therapy as a Complimentary Treatment for Major Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-Analysis. Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders 13.4.
3. Steven K.H. Aung, Heather Fay, and Richard F. Hobbs. (2013). Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases. Medical Acupuncture. 25(6): 398–406.
Rui Ma, Shujun Xu, Xiuyun Wen,Qian Wu,Yanan Wu, et al. (2014) Acupuncture for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Systematic Review. Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy. 4:155.
Zhang-Jin Zhang, Hai-Yong Chen, Ka-Chee Yip, Roger Ng, Vivian Tamm Wong. (2010). The Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture Therapy in Depressive Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Jounal of Affective Disorders. 124(1-2)pp9-21.
4. Jun Yan. (2017). Percentage of Americans Taking Antidepressants Climbs. Psychopharmacology. 3(12). Retrieved from psychnews.psychiatryonline.org.
5. Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/2007/camsurvey_fs1.htm#use.
6. Jing-Jing Ciu, Li-Juan Ha, Xin-Long Zhu, Hong Shi, Fu-Chun Wang, Xiang-Hong Jing, Wan-Zhu Bai, (2013). Neuroanatomical Basis for Acupuncture point PC8 in the Rat: Neural Tracing Study with Cholera Toxin Subunit B. Acupuncture in Medicine 31(4).