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The Nature of QI Flow
By Michael O. Smith, M.D. , D.Ac.

As many Cancer Forum readers know, after long years of experience based on observation and patient feedback FACT has concluded that a metabolic repair system is the most effective program for long-term recovery. We discourage patients from adopting numerous adjunctive therapies which can overwhelm the body's healing capability with disastrous results.

There are some circumstances, however, when an adjunctive system can enhance the body's healing activity. Acupuncture is just one of those resources.

Dr. Michael Smith's knowledge and appreciation of acupuncture is explained very well in the following article. Dr. Smith , a psychiatrist and Doctor of Acupuncture, has received a great deal of recognition for his groundbreaking work using an ear

acupuncture technique to control drug addiction. Dr. Smith was named "Acupuncturist of the Year" in the United States in 1989 and in Germany in 1994.

As students of Western medical science, we are taught to rely on specific, often mechanical explanations of bodily functions. A medical colleague told me, "I can only work if I know the mechanism behind every action." Indeed the majority of us, even those people in alternative medicine, feel that there are clear physical-chemical explanations for most body functions. In spite of the numerous discoveries in western medicine, these assumptions are quite misleading.

Consider the process of gravity. It is a seemingly reliable process which is denoted in countless physical equations, yet the mechanism of action remains unknown. This lack of knowledge has not led to inappropriate speculation or mystical analysis. Gravitational force is simply part of our environment. Many processes in nature are poorly understood.

Science has to say "I don't know" in an appropriate and intelligent manner. As Sir William Osler told the medical class, "Half of what you have learned is true and half is false. I just don't know which half is which yet."

VASCULAR CIRCULATION

We are taught that the heart pumps blood around the body. This is a misleading approach to the problem of circulation. Very precise measurements can be made of fluid pressure gradients in the heart and the great vessels of the chest. Blood pressure can be measured in peripheral arteries. At first glance this seems to be a completely documented system. However, Western medical theory has never given any significant explanation of the mechanism for blood to return to the heart. Blood must return to the heart with the same volume and speed that it leaves the heart; otherwise the entire system will collapse. From the point of view of Western medicine, an un-described and essentially unknown force is responsible for "pumping" the blood from the limbs back to the heart.

Furthermore, it is often stated that certain reactions of the autonomic nervous system cause blood to flow to the limbs or abdomen on a higher priority. The physical force relating to this autonomic effect is also poorly understood. The Chinese medical texts say that the "blood follows the Qi." This suggests that the blood flows as a result of forces associated with a poorly defined process "Qi." Occasionally acupuncture treatments cause postural hypotensions, that is, the patient becomes dizzy and may faint due to a sudden re-distribution of blood from the heart to the lower body. According to the rules of acupuncture, it is possible to predict when this reaction may occur and insert needles in such a way as to make it more-or-less likely to occur. So one sees that the direction and priorities of blood flow can be altered by acupuncture in a predictable fashion.

Let us suggest a unified and more coherent system: (1) the pumping and valvular action of the heart cause blood to be distributed in the lungs and great vessels so that oxygen is taken into the blood cells and that a rhythmic pulse of blood is established, (2) the effect of Qi determines the priorities of arterial blood flow, and is the primary force responsible for circulation in small vessels and venous return.

WATER MOVEMENT IN PLANTS

How does water flow upward in a tree? Six tons of water evaporate from an average maple during the summer. Explanations of capillary action and molecular adhesion again are clearly not sufficient. If the restrictions of gravity were important, trees would tend to grow wider not taller. Some species might absorb water in the top of the plants so that water could flow with the force of gravity, not against it. Clearly there is some energy processes in living trees that can readily move water upward against the force of gravity. In fact, the movement of vital fluids (water and nutrients) is one of the basic properties of living organisms. By focusing in the mechanical process of the beating heart, we have neglected to observe the process of circulation as a whole. In particular we have neglected to observe that most vital circulation moves in the opposite direction of gravity and cannot be explained by any currently identified mechanical process.

Whether we are referring to the movement of water up from the roots in plants or venous return in animals, we have to accept that there is force (or forces) in nature which moves vital fluid against gravity in a constantly effective manner. Such a fluid moving force may be "unknown," but it can be measured as accurately as gravity. This force may be turned on and off as life itself may be created and destroyed. We will call this life-related force Qi.

LIVING INFORMATION

The information system that relates to living organisms is only beginning to be understood. Again there are structural mechanical objects in the foreground of our vision. Scientists properly marvel at the complexity of the brain and the neurotransmitter system. Nevertheless, there are many clues that indicate the existence of a more extensive and pervasive information system.

Dr. Manaka describes an "X-system" relating to the primitive biological adjustment process that must have existed prior to the evolutionary development of the human central nervous system (CNS). Indeed, there are many biological processes that occur in circumstances which seem to preclude control by the CNS: (1) Embryological development in utero, (2) wound healing and tissue regeneration - to name two.

The autonomic and humoral control systems, which are more primitive in development than the cerebral systems, are probably intimately connected to the "X-system." The emotional, physiological personality and body language that each person expresses seems much too intricate and ever present to be managed by a cerebral cognitive process. By Chinese medical tradition the term Qi refers to an informational and body patterning system which is typical of living systems. Manalca's term "X-system" clearly is intended to fall within this definition. We are not only talking about the force required to move vital fluids or impel embryological development, but we are talking about the myriad of basic biological processes occurring in each living organism. This discussion of Qi derives from the principles of Western science and is consonant with the principles of Eastern Science.

EXCHANGE OF LIFE ENERGY

Acupuncturists and practitioners of other forms of "energy" medicine know that Qi is also a vital perceptible process. Active bodily treatment locations often feel warm and tingly. One can feel warmth exude into the air above a correctly placed acupuncture needle. In the treatment of an acute asthmatic, acupressure therapists can feel considerable heat and soreness develop in their own arms after placing their fingers on feishu (B-13) for several minutes.

These phenomena are not dependent on actually touching a person, but are also perceptible when placing a hand immediately above the surface of the body. Many of these phenomena are probably not measurable by ordinary instrumentation; rather they must be detected by an instrument that is specifically designed to receive these messages, i.e., the living organism.

FINDING THE APPROPRIATE VIEWPOINT

Many of you may be disappointed that I have moved away from a discussion based on physics and objective measurements. It is remarkable that acupuncture textbooks mention "te qi" sensations that are felt by the patient, but they virtually never describe similar perceptions that are made by the practitioner. Science is based on careful observation. We build precise measuring devices, because other less rigorous perceptions suggest certain measurements might be possible. If acupuncture texts do not describe these possibilities, how can we expect physicists and physiologists to examine these phenomena? In my experience the practitioner's Qi sensations are a very effective means of point location and selection. Certainly these phenomena were important in the development of acupuncture (i.e., before the charts were written). Likewise, Qi Gong and other forms of energy medicine are fully dependent on this source and quality of information.

We have not described Qi with any precision. Indeed, our broad use of Qi may be historically correct and clinically appropriate, but it may be quite troubling to more analytical researchers. How can Qi be a force and, at the same time, an information system? Haven't we re-discovered an impractical mystical dead end?

Use of the term Qi (or any other term signifying vital energy or process) is essential because our first responsibility in any development of research is to gain the appropriate perspective as to what kind of phenomenon we are looking for and what level(s) of functioning might be involved. Recently, medical science has used an extremely reductionist perspective.

Their approach has been so myopic that, for example, the lack of a mechanism for venous return has been significantly ignored. We are using the term Qi as an effort to broaden the perspective of researchers. Perhaps they can consider the process of fluid moving force in conjunction with a primitive but pervasive information system.

The treatment effects of energy medicine and the sensations associated with treatment may provide additional clues to develop this research appropriately. The use of acupuncture and relatively consistent uses of the term Qi have been employed for thousands of years. Working from the relatively well understood phenomena of acupuncture might be the best way to learn about the poorly understood mechanisms of circulation, wound healing, and other biological processes.

THE NATURE OF QI FLOW

Acupuncture points are well known to have certain biophysical properties: decreased electrical resistance, for example. Such "points" can be found in consistent locations on many species, including human beings. Veterinary acupuncture is regularly reported in mainstream veterinary literature. It is more respected than human acupuncture by comparable professional organizations. Acupuncture points and whatever underlying mechanism that accounts for their effectiveness are clearly part of the general biological reality of life.

The acupuncture system has therefore been a product of evolutionary development as much as any other biological systems. Biological systems are developed and retained because they are useful to the organism. The acupuncture system evolved because it was valuable to organisms long before anyone thought of using needles or pressure to stimulate acupuncture points. Indeed, we should describe it as a Qi flow system rather than an acupuncture system in order to avoid the implication that we are ignorant of this evolutionary process.

Let us consider the characteristics of such a Qi flow system. First of all, the organism must be able to activate and utilize the Qi flow system without the presence of an extrinsic stimulus. The organism must be able to "acupuncture" itself. There must be mechanism(s) for the organism to select and stimulate particular Qi flow points in a way that is productive. Our perceptions of "te qi" and relaxation following acupuncture are examples of reinforcing biological feedback to the organism. Similar feedback sensations accompany eating and sexual activities.

We often perceive pain related to internal organs in unusual locations, so-called "referred pain." Gall bladder pain may be perceived near the right shoulder, for example. The locations of referred pain may be puzzling to anatomists, but they are accurate indications of points of Qi flow blockage known to acupuncturists. Pain is a message for the organism "to pay attention to" a certain body location. Pain is consciously perceived. There also may be other comparable messages to activate Qi flow points that are not consciously perceived by us.

Previously I described Qi as a force which moves biologically active fluids both in plants and animals. Qi is then part of a circulatory system that is presumably much older than the cardiovascular system that is so prominent in mammals. Typically, a new, more specific physiological system. evolves in an organism so that the new system co-exists with the older more general physiological components. For example, the cerebral cortex has evolved in recent millennia and now it co-exists with the older, more general "sub cortex."

Qi also relates to such phenomena as embryological patterning and wound healing which are information related activities that are clearly governed by systems that are more primitive on the evolutionary scale than the central nervous system.

My hypothesis is that the Qi flow system is part of the most basic biological processes in our body. Qi is a balancing, activating component of the most primitive, but also the most pervasive process of circulation and information in living matter. The Qi flow system operates continuously in our bodies. Qi seems to be a part of the connective tissue linking every cell. The specific characteristics of the Qi flow systems are immensely more complex than we can describe at this present time. Topics such as embryological pattering, autonomic balance, subcortical function, microcirculation of lymph are described by today's scientists only in rather general observational terms. Chinese medicine provides more concepts and principles for us to attempt to understand these basic biological processes. Nevertheless, we all have to accept the fact that the Qi flow system and our basic life processes are much more sophisticated and capable of self-regulation than our current wisdom can appreciate.

External stimulation of Qi flow points improves the functioning of an already active biological system. Stimulation such as acupuncture triggers an increase in effectiveness of Qi flow. For the most part the response of the Qi flow system is much more complex than the choice of the stimulus (the location of acupuncture points chosen). Needling even one location can trigger a cascade of varied physiological responses in many parts of the body. The complex diversity of the response can rarely be predicted by the acupuncturist. Indeed this is one of the most valuable characteristics of acupuncture. A safe and relatively simple stimulus (or series of stimuli) may produce profound, multi-faceted, and often long lasting effects. As therapists, we should appreciate our easy access to this subtle programmed system. We should avoid the temptation to give the body precise instructions based on the illusion that we have an adequate understanding of these basic life processes. We are nursing assistants to the primary healing force: Qi. Pressure, light touch, electro-magnetism, even Qi emanating from a hand held beyond the body can all be as effective as acupuncture needling.

We should not find any one-to-one correlations between acupuncture stimulation and specific activities associated with organs that developed later in the evolutionary process. Hence Qi flow phenomena should not be exclusively correlated with a specific peripheral nerve, endocrine gland or cerebral cortical process. Naturally there will be general correlations since more recently evolved body processes are well integrated with other layers of development. Acupuncture treatment for asthma, for example, will not merely follow a specific neuroendocrine pattern.

We should expect that different sets of Qi flow points on the same occasion might produce similar results. Furthermore, stimulating the same set of points under different circumstances might produce different results. Remember that our external stimulation is merely a trigger that enables a system that is quite complex and internally consistent. Acupuncture does not re-program this basic homeostatic system; rather it activates a remedial life adjusting system that has been programmed for millennia.

ORGANIC INTEGRITY

People who receive acupuncture typically report that they feel more centered, more calm, and more comfortable with their own thoughts. They are reminded of more peaceful times in their life, or perhaps they experience a peaceful consciousness for the first time. These experiences are comparable to perceptions related to meditations, yoga, and other types of spiritual training. Acupuncture can be a key that opens the door to a more centered and effective consciousness. Successful acupuncture treatment can show a distraught patient that they have a much greater capability for a peaceful consciousness than seemed possible in their chronically nervous state.

Many people suffer from illnesses that are described as psychosomatic or auto-immune, because conflicts within their body are expressed as chronic destructive symptoms. I would describe such people as excessively controlled by the recently evolved central nervous system and endocrine systems. They have lost contact with the older, more homeostatic functions that we have identified with Qi. Older homeostatic functions of the body provide physical and emotional stability and resilience that are necessary to life. Western civilization has adopted Descarte's; definition of life," "I think, therefore I am." For these patients a more appropriate version might be: "I fear that I am not, therefore I am." Their own fears and insecurities become so pervasive that they cannot imagine being alive without them. The concept of finding a soothing, balancing process within themselves seems preposterous. After all, their will power, intelligence, and numerous pharmaceutical efforts have not been effective. "How can there be anything valuable within me?" they say. "I have tried as hard as I can." Some people may even feel insulted by the suggestion that there is some part of them that has not been used in this struggle. Efforts to find these older homeostatic layers may be labeled as irrational. In one sense, this is true. The older homeostatic parts of our body developed long before there was any rationality, that is, before the evolution of the cerebral cortex.

Acupuncture provides a simple, easy path to a vast healing capacity within ourselves. Once we become reacquainted with the source of our life, we'll be smart enough to take it easy and let the Qi flow.

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