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Something that concerns all of us is that professional publications in our field are becoming more and more removed from acupuncture. They look like tabloids that misrepresent and disrespect western medicine. Western medicine is not our business. And as acupuncture training becomes increasingly a fusion of western medicine and modern acupuncture; where students are taught point recipes and even tongue diagnoses for western diagnostic labels; where the highest degrees in acupuncture have almost no acupuncture in their curricula but instead train in statistics, western pharmaceuticals, and how to conduct a western medical style study in a field where the focus, qi, is immeasurable—it is guaranteed that prospective students wanting to enter our uncommonly deep profession will seek another path. 

As I read the applications for my own mentorship and training offering in acupuncture, I read of the overwhelming dismay of many kind, eager, open-hearted people who, filled with optimism and focused compassion, entered acupuncture training only to find that the training contained none of the mysticism, none of the joy, the sophistication, the rigorous thinking, the wonder of the classics, and the elation of connecting to a deep lineage, that a real training should have. 

As I read these accounts I relive my time at school, a magical time where the training was focused on the channels and their profound implications, where day after day we were all utterly riveted by Jeffrey Yuen, his wisdom and limitless depth of knowledge. His position was strong: acupuncture is a stand-alone modality and this is how you apply it for the benefit of not just any individual with any condition, but for the benefit of all mankind. 

With each step made toward fusion with western medicine within acupuncture schools or in the professional literature, our beloved medicine is belittled and made less powerful. A modality rests on its foundational principles and its diagnostic and treatment principles. If the diagnosis is a western label: arthritis, reflux, multiple sclerosis, influenza, long covid, high blood pressure, cancer, etc., how can a treatment be formulated for an individual? It is impossible. The treatments then consist of the same points for every case—a concept that is anathema to Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine does not treat diseases; it treats the individual. If the label rather than the individual is treated, a crap shoot ensues and such treatment is merely a gamble. The practitioners becomes endlessly frustrated, their patients face further disappointment and the profession exists in a haze of public doubt. 

The idea of treating western disease labels with sets of acupuncture points is tantamount to western medical protocol performed with acupuncture needles. It is “western medicine acupuncture”. It’s the mule of medicine—neither donkey nor horse. It is neither Chinese, nor classical, nor is it practice according to the principles of the classical texts that are the root of our medicine. It has nothing to do with acupuncture as per the Nei Jing, the book to which all acupuncturists are answerable.   

The phenomenon of the demise of real acupuncture training and the mounting closures of acupuncture schools, beginning long before the lock downs, is a clear reflection of the dismay I am hearing this week. Until acupuncture schools re-establish acupuncture as a stand alone modality, celebrate acupuncture’s offering of a way of engaging the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms of the channels, and marvel at the role of the channels as the healing force that frees, heals, and unites all humanity, we will see an increasing number of beautifully open-hearted people, our future colleagues who hope to join us in our magnificent profession, throw their hands in the air. This is our loss. We dismiss our root at our peril.

The future is bright if we see through a lens of clear optimism. As acupuncture reaches an extreme of divorce from its root, it is clear to me that acupuncture will flip as all extremes give birth to change. It will revert to its pre-Han dynasty roots. That means the practice of acupuncture will revert to the cultivation and command of the channels beyond mere focus on points. It will revert to its shamanic-like origins. People will regain the ancient ability to move energy in the channels and heal themselves, their family, their neighbors and their communities. In my mentorship in January, I am admitting energetic healers, stone healers, Reiki practitioners, massage therapists and of course many acupuncturists. They’ll learn rigorous acupuncture theory for all the channels, and how to work with and without needles. In this way, we can step aside from western medicine—a modality that has its own vital place in our culture as a medicine for emergencies—while we take our place and experience the wonders that the channels can perform.       

Ann Cecil-Sterman
Flatiron, Manhattan
November 16th, 2022

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1 thought on “The Future of Acupuncture”

  1. Dear Ann,

    I honor so much your work and Andrew’s work too. As I am reading this post, my heart is blessed for it …[edited]… finally just focus on my study for this great medicine. Thank you for being you dear Ann, thank you for keeping the flame of this Medicine and more, to teach it so well.

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