I have to laugh a little when I hear that question as I’m treating my clients. They get a needle sensation, and then want to know, “What WAS that?!”
I laugh because…it’s so hard to explain exactly what that was!
First, the “Qi” sensation is arriving at the needle. It’s the nerve “waking up” an area of your body. So, it’s a good sign that we got the right point.
Second, as far as why this point and why not other areas feel this sensation, it’s necessary to look a little more in-depth into Chinese medicine basics.
You have 6 meridians on each arm and another 6 on each leg. There are 3 yin meridians and 3 yang meridians on each limb. Then you also have a meridian that runs up the front center of your body and one that runs up the back center of your body.
The names of the hand / arm yin meridians are: Lung, Heart, and Pericardium. The hand / arm yang meridians are Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and San Jiao (“triple burner” which is not an organ, not the movement of water between the upper, middle and lower “burners” of your torso). The foot / leg meridians yin meridians are Kidney, Spleen, and Liver. The foot / leg yang meridians are Urinary Bladder, Stomach, and Gall Bladder. The “Ren,” and “Du” are the front and back center meridians.
Based on the position on your limb determines the “amount” of yin or yang on each meridian.
- Tai Yang = “Sun Yang,” most yang, meaning it gets the most sun! It’s on the very back of your head, arms, neck, back, and legs. On your arms it’s the Small Intestine; legs, it’s the Urinary Bladder.
- Shao Yang = “Middle Yang.” On your arms it’s the San Jiao / triple burner, on your legs it’s the Gall Bladder.
- Yang Ming = “Yang Brightness.” More toward the front of the body where it meets the Tai Yin meridian. On your arms it’s the Large Intestine, on your legs it’s the Stomach meridian.
- Tai Yin = “Dark Yin.” On your arms it’s the Lung, on your legs it’s the Spleen.
- Jue Yin = “Middle Yin.” On your arms it’s the Pericardium, on your legs it’s the Liver.
- Shao Yin = “Bright Yin,” where it connects to the Tai Yang. On your arms it’s the Heart, on your legs it’s the Kidney.
My acupuncture teacher would say we have “light meat and we have dark meat,” based on how the sun hits our skin. For example, you can observe the top of your radius, arm bone that extends toward you from your thumb. You can see where the lighter color meets the darker color. That’s the change between the Yang Ming and the Tai Yin.
The yin meridians of the arms start on the chest, the yin meridians of the legs start on the foot. The yang meridians of the arms start on the fingers, the yang meridians of the legs start on your head, in particular around the eyes.
The One Million Dollar Question: “How do you know where to put the needles???” I’m going to tell you!
It’s as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Where is the problem? In particular, what meridian(s). That’s really all I need to know. “Point to where it hurts.” In acupuncture, there is no such thing of “regular back pain,” or “regular sciatica.” Someone could have back pain on the Du meridian (straight on the center of the spine), on the Bladder meridian or on the Gall Bladder meridian, or any combination thereof. It could even wrap around to the meridians on the front of the body! Plus, the pain could be moving in a line on any of those meridians, or it could be in one spot, or it could move to different areas.
A. On the Chinese medical clock, there is a 2-hour segment for each meridian. More Qi circulates on that meridian at those times. The “neighboring” meridians balance each other and the opposites of the clock balance each other.
B. Tai Yin of the hand balances Tai Yin of the foot and so on and so forth.
C. Tai Yin can balance Tai Yang; Shao Yin balances Shao Yang; and Jue Yin balances Yang Ming.
D. A meridian can balance itself.
E. Yin meridians balance yang meridians. For example, Tai Yin and Yang Ming are considered “paired” meridians and balance each other. Lung balances Large Intestine; Spleen balances Stomach; etc…
3. Choose the points based on mirror imaging. The mirror image is, for example, treating the head (like for headaches) by using your hand and using your wrist to treat the neck area. It’s like your arm turns into a puppet, with the elbow being the abdomen area. You can also mirror image the whole body onto a smaller part, like your fingers, with the tip being the head and the base of the finger being the torso! Or you can “expand” an area, like using the whole leg to image the neck, like a magnifying glass.
But it’s not always that easy. As if that’s easy…
For example, what meridian is diabetes on? What meridian is depression on? Trick question: they’re not on a meridian!
In that case, we do overall balancing, like one needle in each meridian, or we use more of the internal function of the meridians and their corresponding organs.
Like if I treat someone with allergies with needling the Spleen meridian, they may feel a tender spot, and I can explain that it’s for their immune function. For stress, we may use the Liver or Heart meridians.
Most people have more than one problem going on, though, which is what makes acupuncture more complex.
As an example, let’s use the Spleen meridian again. It balances the Stomach meridian (Yin – Yang combination), which can treat your chest, throat, or eyes. The Spleen meridian can also be balancing the Heart meridian (meridian clock neighbors) which could be: problems in / with the armpit area; wrist or elbow pain on the Heart meridian (arm Shao Yin, remember) or pinky finger. The Spleen also balances the Small Intestine meridian (Tai Yin / Tai Yang) and San Jiao meridians (Chinese clock opposites). The Spleen also balances itself! Plus, I use it for its internal function of water regulation, for edema (water retention or swelling,) blood regulation and bleeding, digestive problems or immune systems weakness and fatigue.
When I choose the right points, I try to narrow down the number of needles and the number of meridians to the bare minimum necessary to achieve the treatment goals and total balance.
So, I may needle someone on the Spleen meridian for several things at once: digestive problem, wrist pain, and shoulder tension, for example. So when they ask, “What is that?!” You see how it’s hard to answer…
It’s a matter of finding the best meridian for treating what the patient has going on.
Then: finding the right points.
The more tender the area, the more likely it is to balance the “sick meridian(s).”
So I may palpate along a meridian to find those slightly sore points. Those are the best points to remove “stuck qi.”
When the patient feels better (relaxed, little or no pain), we are done if the needles are GLOBALLY BALANCED.
Global balance is when the meridians on each limb balance the meridians on all the other limbs. We want at least 4 connection points of balance before the treatment is considered “done” or “good.” What that means, is that if I choose – again – the Spleen on one leg, on the other leg I may do Stomach points to balance. Then, on one limb I will choose let’s say the Heart meridian, because it balances Spleen, and on the other arm do Large Intestine because it balances the yang leg (Stomach).
This is totally confusing, right???
Balanced points look like one of these patterns: See there are at least 2 sets of balanced areas, or even 3 sets or at the most 4 sets of balance. Then the treatment is done!