The Roots of Acupuncture from my first book

Please Note! Due to the high volume of irritating spam and slow-down of participation here, we are no longer accepting new comments, questions, or subjects on this Forum. We are keeping all the subjects and comments for review as there is a lot of good stuff here relating to practice-building subjects. So, dig deep! Thanks to everyone who participated here but it is time to move on to bigger projects educating the public about acupuncture! Matt Bauer

20-Mar-2013 01:21 PM

Matthew Bauer

Posts: 211

The following is an unedited proof from my bookThe Healing Power of Acupressure and Acupuncture, by Matthew D. Bauer, L.Ac. Copyright 2005. It was written for the general public but I like to think it has value for Acupuncturists also. There may be some typos and it sometimes references the chapters that proceeded it in my book, but I hope it gives you food for thought and I invite questions and comments on this subject here.     Hh






     Do a little reading on the subject of acupuncture and you will likely run across a significant discrepancy. Some sources proclaim acupuncture to be 5,000 years old while others state the practice began around 3000 years ago. A third date of just over 2000 years is just as likely to be cited. The 5,000-year dating is based on traditional folk history, especially the legends regarding the Yellow Emperor. The more conservative 3,000 and most conservative 2,000-year dates are the ones modern scholars use based on specific evidence.

     There are disagreements among scholars over how to interpret some of the earliest known records that may reference the practice of acupuncture. This discrepancy mostly revolves around the translation of passages in written historic records dated around 500-600 BCE. One group of scholars cites these passages as mentioning acupuncture while others translate these passages differently and do not think acupuncture is being referenced. The more conservative scholars state the earliest definitive reference to the practice of acupuncture in available literature (which includes the compilation of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic) is the second century BCE.

     Complicating the question of when acupuncture began is the fact that no one seems to know how it first began. My research over the years has turned up just four theories that pertain to the origin of acupuncture. There is an old legend that tells a tale of an ancient soldier who was cured of an illness after being shot with an arrow. A scholar who specializes in the study of Chinese medicine recently speculated that acupuncture might have its roots in a type of ancient exorcism in which a shaman uses a lance or sword to scare away evil spirits. This same scholar and others also think acupuncture may have evolved from the practice of bloodletting. And lastly, there is an obscure reference, credited to the great Taoist sage Lao Tzu, stating that the ancient Chinese noticed that when people became ill they developed sore spots that later vanished when their illness subsided.

     The first theory – that of the ancient soldier and his lucky arrow – is the one found most often in non-scholarly sources. I have never run across any specific details associated with this theory such as what region of China this incident was supposed to have occurred in or what kind of problem was supposedly cured. Most legends of important people or events usually contain ample details to support the main theme – although these may vary as the legend is retold. The lack of details associated with this legend causes me to wonder if this theory might not have been a wild guess someone once made when trying to imagine how the idea of poking needles in people began. If no other credible theories were put forward to challenge this one, it may have survived over time by default.  

     The theory that the inspiration for acupuncture may be traced to rituals utilizing swords or lances to chase evil spirits away was suggested by the historian Dr. Paul U. Unschuld in his book “Medicine in China a History of Ideas” (University of California Press, 1985). Dr. Unschuld is a strong proponent of the more conservative translation of ancient passages and disagrees with those scholars who trace acupuncture back to nearly 3,000 years ago. While Dr. Unschuld offered his theory as a possibility, he is not insistent on the idea and states flatly on page 94 of the same book that… “The origin of acupuncture in China is not clear.”  Dr. Unschuld also thinks the theory that acupuncture evolved from bloodletting is a viable possibility.

     While not wishing to discount these three theories entirely, I believe the theory attributed to Lao Tzu dealing with sore spots is the most plausible. The mystic sage Lao Tzu lived around 500 B.C. and is credited as being the father of Taoism and writing the well-known book the “Tao Teh Ching” (pronounced “dao duh ting”) – the source of the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Few people, however, are aware that there is another book attributed to Lao Tzu titled the “Hua Hu Ching” which translates as “The Classic of Refining and Transforming the Rough and Undeveloped.”  I began my study of this book in 1978 when I took a series of classes on it from Master Ni as he was readying this work for publication. He published this 1979, together with his translation of the Tao Teh Ching under the title “The Complete Works of Lao Tzu.” Master Ni’s publication was the first English translation of the Hua Hu Ching and was perhaps the only complete copy of this teaching anywhere in the world.

     The format of the Hua Hu Ching is that of a dialog between Lao Tzu and a bright student, very much like the dialog between the court physician and the Yellow Emperor in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic. In the 14th century, Emperor Shuen Ti ordered the Hua Hu Ching destroyed, as Taoists believed the student being taught by Lao Tzu might have been the Buddha (although this is not stated in this book) while Buddhists believed the Buddhist teaching the “Diamond Sutra” was the original text and that the Taoists had plagiarized it . As Buddhism was the prominent religion in China at that time, religious leaders felt the Taoist version would undermine the authority of Buddhism and convinced the Emperor to destroy all copies. It was only through oral transmission within Master Ni’s Taoist lineage, that he was able to translate and publish this work.

     The Hua Hu Ching is a comprehensive treatise on profound spiritual concepts that form the core of Taoist philosophy. In one section of this work (that is not found in the Diamond Sutra), Lao Tzu briefly describes twenty “Taoist Holistic Sciences” including “Yi Yau” – the science of healing. Here Lao Tzu was recorded as stating…  

      “The ancient sages intuitively discovered that there were certain points on the body which became tender when the person became ill. When the illness had gone away, the tenderness was also gone. They discovered that by manipulating these points they could influence the internal organs and thus cure the disease. This is how acupuncture and acupressure developed.” (P. 142, The Complete Works of Lao Tzu, by Taoist Master Ni, Hua-Ching, First Edition, The Shrine of the Eternal Breath of Tao, publisher)  

     The main reason I find the theory regarding sore spots the most likely is the experience I have had learning and practicing acupuncture and acupressure.  In my practice, I sometimes refer to the work I do as the “Science of sore spots”, because finding and manipulating such spots is so instrumental to the services I perform.



     I first became interested in the subject of sore spots as a 19-year-old with a bad back who happened upon a book on “Shiatsu”, a style of Japanese acupressure.  Shiatsu is a method that employs rather forceful pressure, mostly with the thumbs, directly on established acupressure points. The author of this book recommended learning how to gauge the amount of pressure one would apply by practicing pressing one’s thumbs on a bathroom scale. Some points may call for 10 pounds of pressure, for example, others 15 or 20.

     After reading this book, I learned that a Shiatsu Master was to teach a class at an acupressure school nearby. The teacher, Wataru Ohashi, had been trained in Japan and eventually moved to New York and established an acupressure school there. Ohashi, we in this class were to learn, had recently undergone a revelation of sorts in his method of practice. While he had been trained in the classic Shiatsu style of regulated pressure on established points, he had recently changed his style to one in which he used a very gentle, probing technique. This style was such a departure from what he had been teaching at his school that he began telling his past graduates that he had “Taught them wrong.”

     A key aspect to Ohashi’s new style was for the practitioner to become acutely aware of their patient’s slightest discomfort. Rather than using a predetermined force on specific points, Ohashi taught us to gently probe all over the body and try to sense what spots caused any discomfort. Once such spots were found, the force applied was to remain just under that which would cause the patient’s muscles to tighten in resistance. By patiently keeping the force just under the threshold of resistance, the patient’s muscles would eventually relax and deep pressure could be applied without having to use forceful pressure.

     Ohashi taught that while classic acupressure points, those hundreds of dots that pepper figures on acupressure/acupuncture charts, were the most common areas where qi (ki) tended to stagnate; any point of tenderness was a sign of qi stagnation. As important as it may be to learn the location and indications of classic points, it was just as important to learn how to find sore spots wherever they may appear. As our class was an introductory course, Ohashi concentrated in teaching his techniques for finding sore spots rather than teaching us details of classic point locations and indications. After completing this course, I began to apply what I had learned in the massage/acupressure sessions I performed on friends and family and especially, on myself.

     When I enrolled in acupuncture school some years later, I began an intensive study of nearly 400 classic acupuncture points. I was taught to find these spots by virtue of their position in relation to anatomical landmarks, and such details as the depth and angle with which acupuncture needles were to be inserted. Choosing what points to use in treatment was done by assessing a patient’s rising, peaking and declining qi with pulse and tongue diagnosis (see Chapter 2), as well as checking specific spots called “Alarm” points. Alarm points are given that name because unusual tenderness at these spots serves as an alarm suggesting the patient may have a specific internal problem.  When the illness associated with alarm points improves, the tenderness of these spots will fade – just as Lao Tzu was recorded as stating.

     When I began my practice, I combined what I had learned and treated my patients with both acupuncture and acupressure/massage techniques. I like to think my training served me well. From Ohashi I learned how to touch my patients, seeking out sore spots wherever they may be, and working the soreness out with my fingers. In acupuncture school I learned the complex theories of Chinese Medicine; diagnosis of qi imbalances, the qi circulatory system, how specific points can adjust qi circulation and restore balance, and how to find and manipulate those spots with hair fine needles. 

     After I had been in practice a few years, I met someone who would help me take my practice to another level. Master Si-Tu Ji had been apprenticed to an elderly Shaolin Monk at the age of 4 and trained in a system of Qi-Gong (also spelled Chi-Kong). Qi-Gong is both a system of exercises to maintain and restore health and also another means by which a healer can manipulate a patient’s qi. As an exercise, Qi-Gong is similar to Tai Chi – a series of intricate movements designed to balance one’s body, mind and spirit by unblocking obstructions in one’s qi circulation. After practicing such exercises successfully and improving one’s qi circulation, some become very sensitive to other’s qi blockages and can use this sensitivity in healing. Some Qi-Gong “Masters” are thus able to use their qi to manipulate the qi of their patients.

     After practicing several of Master Ji’s Qi-Gong exercises for some two years, I experienced a sudden breakthrough in my own qi circulation system. I became very sensitive to my patient’s qi blockages. While I had developed a pretty good ability to find classic points according to traditional locations and other sore spots by the gradual, probing style I learned from Ohashi, I suddenly found myself able to zero in on such spots within seconds. At first I was a bit hesitant to use my newfound sensitivity. I had spent years learning how to methodically diagnose my patient’s qi imbalances and chose points by a combination of classic point prescription and whole body probing for hidden sore spots. Now I was finding points in seconds as though being drawn to them by some mysterious, magnetic force.

     Master Ji helped me to feel more comfortable about utilizing my new sensitivity. He explained that this method of finding points was similar to finding where to dig a well by using divining rods – trusting one’s intuition to pick up on very subtle signals. He had been taught that this method was how many of the acupuncture points were discovered in ancient times. Was this what Lao Tzu meant when he said the ancient sage “intuitively” discovered tender points that came and went with illness?  As I slowly incorporated this new technique into my practice, I was pleased with the results and learned to trust my intuition regarding points.

     Every day in my practice, the degree of help I was able to provide my patients hinged on my ability to draw upon what I had learned and successfully find and manipulate acupuncture/acupressure points. I came to believe the phenomena of sore spots appearing and disappearing with illness held the key to understanding how this practice may have begun. Exploring this hypothesis, I eventually developed a theory of a sequence of events leading up to the discovery of sore spots as described by Lao Tzu and considering how this discovery may have eventually led to the practice of acupuncture.


     If you have ever had a full body massage, chances are your massage therapist found several sore spots scattered throughout your body in places you never suspected were sore. I find such spots on my patients every day in my practice, often within seconds of running my hands over them. I call these “hidden” sore spots because a patient will not be aware of them until they are touched in just the right way. I will help you to locate some of these spots for yourself in Chapter 9.

     Hidden sore spots often feel like a deep bruise, even when pressed with very little pressure. Most who experience this during a massage, assume these spots are just minor strains within their muscle fibers and sometimes, that’s all that they are. Some of these spots however, are actually of the type described by Lao Tzu – unusually tender areas that mysteriously arise sympathetically with other problems. How did the ancient Chinese first discover the relationship between these spots and illness? The answer may lie in a phenomenon all of us have experienced but few of us have seriously considered, namely: rubbing a boo-boo makes it feel better.

     Bump your head or elbow and you will automatically reach to rub it. The same thing goes for a sore muscle or joint – humans have an urge to touch and rub sore spots. This action is likely instinct, although my research has been unable to confirm this.  Whether instinct or learned, somehow, rubbing these spots makes them feel better. The next time you bump yourself in this way, try avoiding the urge to rub it. You will find it hard to resist and that by not rubbing this spot the pain will seem to lasts longer. Virtually every primitive culture employs some form of touch therapy and it is reasonable to assume these practices might have their roots in the urge to rub sore spots.

     Life in prehistoric times was difficult and comforts were few. Depending on how far back one believes we can trace the human family tree, we can say with certainty that our earliest ancestors survived hundreds of thousands if not millions of years without clothing, the construction of dwellings or the use of fire. Sore muscles and joints must have been common and these early beings would have found rubbing these areas brought a welcomed measure of relief. 

     Rubbing a sore spot (let’s call this the “primary pain”) helps it to feel better but may not take it away entirely. Continue to probe beyond the area of the primary pain, as I learned how to do from Ohashi, and you will find “hidden” sore spots. Hidden sore spots on the hip or elbow, for example, often accompany a primary pain in the shoulder. At first, the relationship between hidden sore spots and primary pains undoubtedly went unnoticed. Eventually though, after observing such spots appear and disappear together with primary pains, someone came up with the idea that such spots may be related.

     After the prospect that hidden sore spots may be related to primary pains dawned on our ancestors, the next step would have been experimenting with rubbing out the soreness of hidden sore spots to see if that would help the primary pain. It did! Rubbing out the soreness of the spots on the hip or elbow that arise with a shoulder pain does indeed help the shoulder pain feel better. The discovery of hidden sore spots’ relation with primary pains and their therapeutic value may well have been one of the most significant discoveries of ancient time as it spawned a healing system that has survived thousands of years and has helped countless millions.

     While Lao Tzu described the discovery of hidden sore spots being related to illness, I feel it more likely this discovery first took place in conditions involving pain, as I described above. The association of sore spots and other types of illness would have been the next major milestone. Once the ancients learned the value of hidden sore spots in treating aches and pains, they likely would have spent more and more time looking for these spots and their association with primary pains. At some point, it must have been noticed that hidden sore spots spring up on those individuals that did not have any pains but suffered other illness. Hidden sore spots on the chest, upper back and wrists, for example, often accompany a cough. When the cough subsides, so too will the soreness of those spots. Rub out the soreness of those spots and the cough will improve faster than expected, just as rubbing out the soreness of the spots associated with primary pains helps them to subside.

      With this series of events, the ancients had discovered a valuable tool to aid their struggle for survival and improve the quality of their lives. I like to refer to primitive touch therapy as the “tool of touch” because I believe it was as valuable to our early ancestors as was the discovery of how to make stone tools. The more they learned about where hidden sore spots could be found, what conditions these spots were related to and how to stimulate these spots with their fingers, the better they were able to treat a wider range of problems. Lower primates, chimpanzees and so forth, are known to spend hours grooming each other. The early pioneers of touch therapy, possessing larger brains and greater finger dexterity than other primates, likely spent a good deal of their free time massaging their sore muscles and joints, perhaps even doing this on each other in regular massage sessions as lower primates do in regular grooming sessions. This early stage would have been similar to the probing style of acupressure/massage I first learned before I was taught the locations of established points. Eventually, certain members of each tribe who excelled at the art of touch therapy likely emerged and were recognized as healers.


     As generations of tribal healers continued to refine their ability to find and manipulate sore spots they made the next milestone discovery: Hidden sore spots can appear before the onset of pain or illness. The Alarm points I mentioned earlier in this chapter are not only checked to help confirm the reasons for a current illness; they can sometimes serve as an early warning of an underlying qi imbalance that could signal a coming illness. How could primitive people have discovered something so sophisticated?

     When performing regular maintenance touch therapy on healthy subjects, a healer may find hidden sore spots that do not seem to be related to any health problems. Finding new hidden sore spots on a subject who does not have any known pains or symptoms of illness is not unusual. As we considered earlier, sometimes these spots are just minor strains within muscle fibers. These spots heal quickly and are not related to other physical problems. Some ancient healers must have noticed however, that certain subjects with these “unrelated” hidden sore spots later developed a pain or illness that the hidden spots were related to. Hidden sore spots on the chest, upper back and wrists, for example, are found on a member of the tribe who does not have a cough, then, some days later, this person develops a cough. 

     As with the earlier discoveries, once a connection was suspected between sore spots and health problems, the next step would have been manipulating those spots to try to relieve the problems they were related to. Finding hidden sore spots on the chest, upper back and wrists, the healer rubs the soreness out of these spots. Over the next few days, most the members of the tribe come down with a cough while the one who had the preventative therapy does not. Once a healer sees this happen enough times they would become convinced that rubbing such pre-symptomatic sore spots helps to prevent the onset of illness. 

     Over perhaps dozens or even hundreds of generations of refining their skill in touch therapy, the ancient Chinese had developed means to treat both pain and illness and even to predict and prevent some disorders. They had not yet, however, discovered acupuncture. In order to understand how the ancient Chinese may have made the leap from using their hands to using needles, we will need to consider some details about the nature of sore spots.


     Most people have had the experience of rubbing a sore muscle and finding a small spot that seemed to be the source of the larger area of pain. People often call this a “knot.” Zeroing in on this spot directly provides more relief than rubbing the larger area of pain. What most people do not realize is that within that knot there will be a smaller spot. This smaller spot may be no bigger than the head of a match but will be surrounded by a protective layer of tight muscle making it difficult to detect. Skilled touch therapists learn an array of techniques to relax muscle fibers surrounding these spots so that they may touch them more directly.

     Touch therapy is much more effective if one can uncover the match head sized spots buried within knotted muscles. This is true both for primary pains and associated hidden sore spots. Being able to find and manipulate these spots takes a combination of a natural ability, training, and experience. In Chapter 2, I used the example of a skilled wine connoisseur as someone able to detect things most of us could not. The same applies for someone skilled in touch therapy. It is possible to develop one’s sense of touch to the point that one is able to feel things others cannot detect. Sightless people, for example, often develop a heightened sense of touch. In Japan, some of the most respected acupressurists are sightless. While finding sore spots no bigger than a match head buried within a muscle takes a refined sense of touch, the match head sized spot is not the end of the story.  Within the match head spot, there will be an even smaller spot not much bigger than a grain of sand.

     The vast majority of sore spots, however large an area of discomfort they cause, are the result of tiny problem spots literally the size of a grain of sand. These spots are the true epicenters of the soreness. Many people have rubbed their own aching muscles, but few have developed their sense of touch to the degree of being able to feel tiny problem spots the size of a grain of sand.  I am not able to tell the vintage or age of a wine by tasting it, but I understand there are those who can. I am however, able to find tiny sore spots on virtually anybody I work on just as many other acupuncturists and acupressurists can.  Of course most people, including most medical doctors, have not developed their ability to feel such fine spots. But, just because relatively few people have this capability does not mean such spots don’t exist.

     Once the ancient Chinese healers had refined their sense of touch to such a fine level, they would have also learned how difficult it is to manipulate these tiny spots with their fingers. While it is possible for a touch therapist to use a portion of their finger tip to apply pressure directly to a match head sized spot, you cannot make your finger tip small enough to zero in on the gain-of- sand-sized epicenter. I discovered this for myself after some years of refining my skills in the probing style of acupressure/massage I learned from Ohashi. Feeling these tiny problem spots encased in muscle fibers, you find yourself wishing you had some sort of ultra thin device, an extension of your fingers that could glide through the overlying fibers and reach that spot – a needle! I believe a desire to reach such spots is how the acupuncture needle came to be used – a tool employed by touch therapists to help them reach tiny, elusive problem spots.

     Just as touch therapy is most effective when the therapist is able to zero in on problem spots with their fingertips, acupuncture is most effective when the acupuncturist is able to find grain-of-sand-sized spots with the tip of an acupuncture needle. Once a needle has been inserted through the skin and into the muscle, acupuncturists often employ a sort of “hunt and peck” technique. The needle tip is raised and lowered slightly several times, each time moving the needle tip ever so slightly from where it was before. When the tip of the needle is moved into just the right location, the patient will feel a sudden jolt – like two magnets, inched into their range of attraction, suddenly snapping together as one. Often, the acupuncturist will also feel a tiny jolt through the needle. This sudden reaction signals that the bull’s eye (grain of sand) has been found. It is quite remarkable how moving the tip of a needle just a hair can make such a big difference in the degree of sensation a patient feels. Touch the match head spot with the needle tip and the patient feels something – hit the grain of sand and they feel a strange, painless jolt.  


     Legend has it that early acupuncture needles were made of slivers of bamboo and carefully selected fish bones. Either of these two instruments would have made good needles in that they are thin, sharp and flexible. Unfortunately, these perishable instruments could not survive the ravages of time and, even if they did, and we were lucky enough to find any of these instruments, it would be impossible to prove they had been used as acupuncture needles. At times, I have used the terms the “tool” of touch and the “art” of touch therapy to describe this subject. Unfortunately, unlike the study of stone tools or ancient works of art, we can never hope to find those first generations of acupuncture needles to help us trace the evolution of pre-historic touch therapy into the practice of acupuncture.

     A central feature of our ancestors’ gradual refinement of tool making was the increasing sharpness of these instruments. By 20,000 years ago axes, knives, scrappers and the like, were being produced with edges that were literally razor sharp. Different types of perforators or needles also began to be produced, most likely for sewing animal skins. If these early beings were practicing touch therapy during the same era their increasing finger dexterity was allowing them to craft sharper and more pointed tools, it is very likely healers became sharper and more pointed in their touch therapy. It is also reasonable to assume that if ancient touch therapists believed that the best spot to touch was too small for their fingers to reach, they would have looked to the tools they relied on in other areas of their lives and put the two together.

     Over time, needles made of flint (ouch!) and eventually steel were developed and became favored by many as the most popular method to stimulate points. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic makes no reference to touch therapy. While there may have been several reasons for this, a primary one, I believe, was that acupuncture often gets the job done with less time and effort on the healer’s part.


     Acupuncture/acupressure points are found within muscle (or tendon) fibers. These fibers are like the woven fibers of a rope; they derive their strength by distributing the load among many individual fibers working together as a team. The match head or grain of sand sized spots I referred to, feel like a small cluster of these fibers that, for whatever reasons, have coiled up – almost like a distraught person curling into a fetal position. This makes the muscle weaker and less flexible. It also causes pain – our body’s warning that something is wrong. If you successfully manipulate these spots, they will start to uncoil, restoring the fibers to their normal more flattened positions and reducing or even eliminating the pain. This may happen at the time these spots are manipulated – like little chips of ice melting under the touch therapist’s fingertips – or slowly over the next few days. Immediate or delayed, skilled touch therapists develop a sense of whether their therapy is achieving the desired result of helping these fibers uncoil.

     Acupuncture is remarkably effective in getting muscle/tendon fibers to uncoil, especially in hard to reach spots, but it also functions as a labor saving tool. For example, an extremely effective touch therapy technique is to apply pressure to a sore spot and hold it there for several minutes. This often works better than continually kneading or rubbing such a spot. In the practice of acupuncture, once a needle is inserted and positioned so its tip lightly touches the grain of sand spot, it can be left in place for several minutes. This can be done to several spots at a time. During this time, the patient can be left to rest, freeing the acupuncturist to do something else such as treat another patient if they wish. In touch therapy however, the therapist must be physically touching the point and can only treat one patient and a limited number of points at a time.

     When I was enrolled in acupuncture school, some of my teachers told me that it was old folk knowledge that acupuncturists tended to live longer than acupressurists. The theory behind this legend was that the less contact a healer had with their patients, the less they would be affected by the patient’s imbalanced qi. If this is true or at least, was believed to be true, this may also account for acupuncture becoming more popular over time.

     Today, due to acupuncture’s effectiveness as a short cut compared to touch therapy, many acupuncturists do not develop their hands-on techniques to a high level – just as a modern craftsman, trained to use power tools, may not learn how to use hand tools to the highest possible levels. Because of this, not all acupuncturists learn how to feel some of the subtle features that can be found within human flesh. Instead, schools such as I attended teach acupuncturists how to locate classic points based on their relation to anatomical landmarks and then to carefully stimulate these points with needles until the desired reaction occurs. Conversely, because acupuncture carries risks involved with piercing the skin and requiring highly regulated training and licensing, most skilled touch therapists do not learn acupuncture. It is not really necessary for acupuncturists to learn higher level touch therapy or touch therapists to learn acupuncture, but becoming proficient in touch therapy before learning acupuncture tends to make one inclined to believe that needles were a logical next step in the long evolution of touch therapy.     

The Whole and Its Parts 

     In Chapter 1, I mentioned the research being conducted by Dr. Cho and others using advanced brain imaging. These researchers are finding that when acupuncture is applied at classic acupuncture points, it causes specific reactions in the brain that often relate to the traditional indications of that point  – as with the point on the little toe stimulating the brain’s visual cortex. This research strongly suggests there is merit to the age-old claim that stimulating one area of the body can regulate the functions of a different area of the body but leaves open the question of why this should be.

     In Chapter 2, I explained the basis for feeling the pulse or looking at the tongue as methods of diagnosis by introducing what I called the Chinese “Holistic” theory. This theory holds that every part of the body is connected to every other part as all in creation affects and is affected by all else in creation. If it is true that every part of a whole system, such as an individual human being, is connected in some manner to every other part of that system, then the little toe is connected to the eyes. “But” …you may ask, “Why was it then that when Dr. Cho’s research team stuck a needle in a toe not known to influence eye problems, it didn’t stimulate the visual cortex? If every part of the body is connected to every other part, shouldn’t every toe be connected to the eyes?”

     The answer to the above question is yes – every toe, indeed every cell of the body, is connected to the eyes. In fact, every cell of a body is connected to every other cell of that body. That is what the holistic theory is all about. The crucial aspect of such holistic interconnections however, is that not all connections are equal. While the toe that did not stimulate the visual cortex was indeed connected to the eyes, the degree of that connection was not as strong as was that of the little toe. To take advantage of the overwhelming consequences of holistic interconnectedness, one needs to weigh the practical degree or the scale of the connection.

     In his book “Chaos… the Making of a New Science”, author James Gleick describes how the cutting edge of modern science now accepts the concept of holistic interconnectedness, yet many scientists resent this idea. He recounts a professor, obviously frustrated by the “new” holistic worldview, telling his class that one does not have to account for the effects of every leaf, falling from a tree on some small planet, when trying to calculate the motion of billiard balls on a pool table on earth. “Very small influences”, the professor tells his class “can be neglected.”

     The professor is right – very small influences can be neglected and that is why Dr. Cho’s test subjects’ visual cortexes neglected the influence of one toe but were stimulated by the influence of another. The ancient sages described by Lao Tzu discovered what points on the body had a strong enough connection with the internal organs to be useful as a form of therapy. They found these relatively stronger interconnections because these spots were found to become unusually tender during illness.

     Human flesh, composed of skin, nerve, muscles and tendon, connective tissue, etc., comprises a “part” of the whole organism. An important attribute of human flesh is its ability to feel sensations including pain, which serves as that system’s warning when something is wrong. If our flesh is injured or somehow compromised, we feel pain. When another part of the body is injured or compromised, that part may not signal us with pain. If our lungs become compromised for example, they often signal us with a cough. If every part of the body is connected to every other part, then an abnormality anywhere, such as the lungs, will cause an abnormality everywhere, including the flesh. As flesh primarily signals abnormalities by developing pain, an abnormality in the lungs will cause sore spots in the flesh. However, because holistic interconnections are not equal throughout the whole, an abnormality in the lungs will only cause sore spots to develop in those specific areas of the flesh that have a relatively stronger connection with the lungs.

     When the physics professor told his class that very small influences can be neglected in calculating the motion of billiard balls, was he essentially saying that the classic, mechanical physics ushered in by Newton, works perfectly well for solving many of our problems. He pointed out what many consider a weakness in the practical application of the holistic, interconnected model of nature – that if we believe everything both affects and is affected by everything else, we will be overwhelmed trying to calculate the effect of every falling leaf. But what the holistic model really tells us is to keep an open mind when looking for interconnections. Useful connections may not only appear on the mechanical level of one part being directly connected to its neighbor. The ancient sages, blissfully ignorant of our modern notions of how the body “should” work, stumbled across these subtle, but useful connections when they discovered hidden sore spots in some unlikely places. “A spot on the little toe connected to the eyes? Why not? If everything is connected to everything else, nothing should surprise us.” That is why I stated in Chapter 2 that … “The ability to learn the status of the whole from the study of any part is limited only by the individual’s skill in deciphering the impressions the whole leaves on the parts.”  The impressions are always there, some, it’s true, so small they can be neglected. Knowing those impressions are there however, should inspire us to leave no stone, or leaf, unturned in our search for useful interconnections.


    The profound ramifications of the Holistic model not only explain why hidden sore spots should manifest with pain or illness, it also tells us why manipulating these spots can help improve such problems.  Holistic interconnections, it seems, are a two-way street. If a problem in the eyes, for example, causes a hidden sore spot to develop on the little toe, then relieving the soreness of that spot on the toe will help relieve the problem in the eyes. The relief given to the hidden sore spot, however, must be through natural means. If you ingest a pain-killing drug, for example, to artificially relieve the sore spot at the little toe, this will not help the eyes, as this type of relief did not come about through the body’s natural interconnected healing processes. Sore spots can naturally be relieved through touch and so this type of relief helps to reverse the problem that caused such spots to spring up in the first place.     

     To the best of my knowledge, no one has been able to definitively show in scientific terms, why rubbing a boo-boo causes it to feel better. Perhaps one day, if we devote billions of dollars to researching this question, we may be able to understand scientifically why touch can heal pain. I suspect the answer to this is similar to what Dr. Cho’s research is telling us about acupuncture’s influence on higher brain centers. In the meantime, it seems common sense to assert that human flesh is very responsive to touch. Touch has a regulatory or normalizing effect on some of the aches and pains the flesh develops and, owing to the two way street of holistic interconnections, this explains why touching hidden sore spots – with one’s fingers or the tip of a needle – can help a wide range of different problems.

     Countless generations of touch therapists refined and passed down what they had learned about sore spots. Eventually, the most commonly found points became designated as the classic or “primary” points found on future acupuncture/acupressure charts and models. Later generations of therapist would be taught how to find the most common points and the conditions they arose with. By the time of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic however, these points were not chiefly classified by the conditions they were related to. As we considered in Chapter 1, the acupuncture points described in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic were classified by how they affected rising, peaking, and declining qi throughout a vast qi circulatory system leaving one to wonder how such complex, holistic theories evolved.  We will consider that mystery in the next chapters.    

Matthew Bauer