Chinese Medicine Daoism Health

“It Did Not Work”

The Yellow Emperor transmits books to Léi Gōng, from
The Yellow Emperor transmits books to Léi Gōng, from

“There are no incurable diseases, only incurable people.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

Cave, from
Cave, from
Old Chinese house, from
Old Chinese house, from

I live in a small community on a mountain. Needless to say there are not a lot of acupuncturists up here. In China it would be typical to find many more. I imagine them meditating in caves like sages, far away from congested cities, though there are lots in dense areas too. I frequently hear the same refrain when I introduce myself, “Oh, I tried that! Acupuncture didn’t work.”

Chinese medicine, like any time-tested medical system, treats almost any symptom not requiring surgery in the United States. Legally an acupuncturist cannot treat any illness, only their symptoms, which make us sound coy in articles like this. Western medicine is a complete system too although I have not heard anyone say, “I saw the doctor and it didn’t work so Western medicine has failed me.” Most people with an illness seek out another doctor because they know that proficiency varies greatly in the profession.

Chinese medicine is no different. One acupuncturist does not necessarily have the skills of another. I had a patient with hyperthyroidism, who could not take the toxic Western medication because her liver was being damaged. Her endocrinologist was very excited by her response to acupuncture because the hyperthyroidism went away. The doctor was ready to start referring all her patients too sensitive for the drugs to see acupuncturists. Her patient, a Chinese medicine practitioner herself, explained that not every acupuncturist is capable of such results. It is necessary to find the one who can, just as you would a Western doctor. Do not be discouraged by this trial by error. Every time you visit a medical practitioner, you are learning what kind of physician suits you and helps you the most.

Old Chinese book, from
Old Chinese book, from

“Acupuncture and herbs are only one aspect of a treatment. To truly heal, one needs to resonate with their clients. The client too needs to have confidence that one can overcome the illness or else the spirit will scatter. Temper one’s emotions or else the illness cannot be treated.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

In other words, “It did not work,” is a capitulation to illness that makes it impossible to heal. As long as we believe that we are incurable, it shall be so. We underestimate the power of the mind’s intention by entertaining such thoughts.

“A good healer cannot rely just on their knowledge and skill. One must have integrity, compassion and honesty as a responsible practitioner. … When both client-practitioner are in resonance, then the illness will no longer linger.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

The other reason a treatment may not work is that they are traditionally performed daily in courses of ten. In this country, the cost and time involved prohibits such frequency unless one lives in a small mountain community where everyone is close and the cost of living is lower. For stubborn issues in this country, treatment is recommended biweekly in the beginning. For every year you have had the problem, figure you will need a month of treatment. Acupuncture uses your energy to reestablish a flow in the body’s channels that helps specific areas. It is similar to reconnecting circuits on an electronic board. During the therapy you are learning how to recreate the regenerating flow. At a certain point in time your body forgets the lesson and symptoms return. This period lasts longer and longer as you master the new information. When discomfort recurs it is time to see your acupuncturist for another energetic tutoring session. Ultimately the patient needs them less and less. As Shīfu Kenny Gong said, “Good acupuncturist put himself out of business. Bad acupuncturist make plenty of money.”

Treatments usually last about 20 to 25 minutes. According to the ancient texts it takes the body’s energy and blood to make a full circuit in 22 minutes. The acupuncture therapy flows to every part of the patient in this time. Some treatments are shorter, such as for acute cold and flu symptoms, because the energy and blood only need to circulate on the surface. Deeper channels access the bones and constitution. Those sessions can last 30 minutes to an hour and they are done weekly rather than more frequently. It depends on what the patient needs at that moment in time. I ascertain this through palpation of the pulse, observation of the tongue and the patient’s complaints. “The process of healing cannot be fathomed because many variables can occur during an illness which will require constant adjustment of the treatment.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 8)

It also pays to be a fast learner and that is the reason children are so easy to help. Adults are more set in their ways. They have worn certain paths in their bodies that are deep below the surface like old European roads. It is harder for them to climb out and take the route ignored for so long.

Bronze man with acupuncture channels, from
Bronze man with acupuncture channels, from

After your first treatment you should feel some change in your state, either better or worse. Obviously you prefer to feel improvement but the unwinding of illness from the body can sometimes be uncomfortable. If your body is blocked, it is harder to be aware of changes taking place. It is the good practitioner’s habit to acknowledge these improvements until the patient’s self-awareness develops.

Living on a mountain makes it easier to see that the sky is the limit!


By Celia Quinn

I have spent a quarter century practicing and teaching acupuncture and herbalism. I prefer the classical techniques of the ancient sages described in the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. Unlike many practitioners, I specialized in the use of the pulse as a diagnostic tool. I have studied Chinese medicine with Jeffrey Yuen, Daoist priest and Shing Yi, a sister to Tai Ji, with Shifu Kenny Gong. I am currently retired, healing chronic illness and writing poetry.

2 replies on ““It Did Not Work””

I like the part about the body forgetting the lesson temporarily. I can see that a good doctor is actually a teacher. In a less serious vein, look out I’m coming to the mountain!

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