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How Does Acupuncture Work?

How Does Acupuncture Work?

by Elizabeth Carpenter,
MS, L.Ac.

I believe in Acupuncture"

Sometimes people say this to me conspiratorially like we’re both confessing to something akin to faith in the tooth fairy and genies.

Sometimes their statement is meant to confirm their position in the billion-dollar alternative medicine consumer movement, providing options for wellness, prevention and “healing” to those not fully satisfied, or not served at all, by the modern health care system.

And sometimes, particularly when they are new patients, the statement seems meant to reassure us both that the work we’re about to do together is likely to be effective.

After all, acupuncture’s reputation precedes it: you enter treatment for one thing (for example Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and end up with all sorts of side benefits like great sleep, good mood and abundant energy.

Still, I can’t help but smile internally. Because it really doesn’t matter. And yet it does.

It doesn’t matter -- because acupuncture’s therapeutics are not belief-dependent.

And yet it does matter -- because of the role placebo plays in every therapy.

Whether it’s your new drug from your MD or your acupuncture treatment if you “believe” it will work, you give yourself a bonus, so to speak, a little expeditor boost.


So... “Do you believe in acupuncture?”

Millions of people do, and here are the two main reasons why you should: track record and proof.

Acupuncture expanded from China to Japan in 219 A.D., was in Korea by 514 A.D., in Vietnam by the 8th century.

It spread to Europe by the 17th century, with France as the early adopter 100 years earlier. America got ahold of it late, the 20th century.

So here’s my second question, “how can a bogus health care system develop in sophistication, and spread worldwide over 21 centuries?”

To me, however, the most exciting and compelling reasons to believe are scientific ones. Well actually, science is second.

First place has to go to all the miracles in my clinic and those of my colleagues: people getting well who’ve failed so many other therapies, babies getting conceived to previously infertile couples, lives being restored.  But back to science…

In the West, we’ve categorized Qi (chee) or “energy” as completely unscientific.

Never mind that medical imaging, space and computer technologies, and even simple conveniences like electric lights are results of harnessing and manipulating energy.

Never mind the electromagnetic gradients of cell behavior and the electromagnetic fields of the heart and brain …. Qi is a ridiculous concept, right?

The premise of acupuncture – that there are “energy pathways” in the body that have been reliably mapped, and can be reliably manipulated to restore health and function, but are not able to be seen – is itself what laughs acupuncture out of legitimacy in a biomedicine centric world.

But here’s the thing:  now we know “Qi” and “meridians” are real.

Stereo-microscope photographs and images from transmission electron microscopy in the research papers show assemblies of tubular structures 1-2 μm wide (red blood cells are 6-8 μm in diameter).

Apparently, these structures have remained undiscovered for so long because they are almost transparent and so thin that they are barely visible with low-magnification surgical microscopes.

Do You Believe in Acupuncture?
They’re called Bonghan Ducts (after the researcher that first found them), that cover organ and travel distally all the way out to fingers and toes via specific channels.

The channels have been found inside blood and lymphatic vessels, in the brain, cerebrospinal fluid, and spinal cord, and also form networks that overlay internal organs.

In other words, they are just like and just where the ancient (and modern) acupuncture texts map them to be.

They are associated with embryonic organization, persist through adulthood, and contain both DNA and adult stem cells, perhaps accounting for why acupuncture is always regulatory, never detrimental, and explaining why the same point can bring resolution for opposite concerns (for example constipation and diarrhea), and have both immediate and long-term effects of restoring function.

The Bonghan ducts and channels system helps account for acupuncture’s broad regulatory effects on core health systems:  immune, hematopoiesis, hormone paths, all the organ systems, all the circulatory systems.

So now there are three pools of science explaining how acupuncture works:

The Neurophysiology Model

Acupuncture channels are independent but use the nerve system and stimulate the brain to change physiology throughout the body.

This includes acupuncture's effect on endorphin release (pain killers), other brain chemistry, as well as hormones, and other chemical messengers.

The Connective Tissue Model

Acupuncture points are mostly located in areas featuring connective tissue, the web of ground substance, a matrix, that holds us together, literally. Acupuncture cues travel the matrix exerting local and long-distance effects.

The Growth Control Model

The Bonghan ducts, as above.

The truth is, science is doing its thing: it’s asking questions, to arrive at verifiable stories of how things work.

In the meantime, that acupuncture works is not a question for the billions of users of acupuncture worldwide.

It’s a fact.

As science catches up on the exact mechanisms of action, proving them through the gold standard method of the randomized controlled trial, you can still get in on the benefits for whatever you’d like to restore or improve.

You don’t even have to believe . . . but it wouldn’t hurt.

To Thriving!


More to Read:

Feulgen Reaction Study of Novel Threadlike Structures (Bonghan Ducts) on the Surfaces of Mammalian Organs , Shin et al., THE ANATOMICAL RECORD (PART B: NEW ANAT.) 284B:35–40, 2005

Bonghan Circulatory System as an Extension of Acupuncture Meridians, Kwang-Sup Soh, J Acupunct Meridian Stud 2009;2(2):93−106

Charles Shang, MD, Dept. of Medicine, Harvard Medical School;




Easy Meditation for Over-Thinking

Easy Meditation
for Over-Thinking

"The mind is a phenomenal servant and a horrible task master."

"My mind has a mind of its own!"

If this sounds like you, then, which end of this quote are you on?

Meditation is the hot thing now, even though it's been a performance optimizer and success strategy for thousands of years. Fortune 100 CEO's are hiring meditation coaches now, and that's putting it back on the map, along with the yoga explosion.

Anyone can meditate and anyone can reap the benefits.  But the most common objection I hear when suggesting it to patients is:

"I can't meditate because I think too much."

Which always makes me smile because that's the very point and the purpose of meditation.

We meditate precisely BECAUSE our minds are out of control. Yet the more we do it, the more it yields. We become smarter, more intuitive, with better memories; we become better decision makers; we're less reactive; we slow down brain aging, reduce our risk of dementias, relieve our stress.  In short, we build better brains.

BUT, if our minds are in overdrive, how can we possibly meditate?

Consider this...

Say you decide to climb Everest, but you're a couch potato.   Your first step would not be to fly there and start the climb. Your first step would be to do something like climbing the 2 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator.  

Yet when it comes to meditation, there's this notion that with no preface, no training, no lead-up, you'll sit cross-legged on the floor for an hour chanting "OM"...free of thoughts. That's an Everest meditation!

The newbie should begin with something equivalent to the couch potato taking the stairs.  And p.s., Any advanced meditator will tell you thoughts come up all the time during meditation….often important breakthrough ones, distracting boring ones, dramatic fantasy ones. It's how you deal with them that counts.

I suggest starting with this exercise.
This is very simple, so don't be confused.  There's no trick involved.

1-2 Minute Newbie Starter Meditation Practice

This is from The Institute of HeartMath, a research institute dedicated to developing practical skills for optimal physiology & performance. 

Just take deeper than normal, slower than normal breaths in and out of the heart area.    Fold your hands right over the heart to help you feel the area you're breathing in and out of.  Make the inhale and the exhale the same length.  About 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out.  And during this slow, even, deep breathing in and out of the heart area, actively put your attention on the sensation.

OK, you just meditated for 2 minutes.

How do you feel?  Lighter? Calmer? Odd? Same?

The breath is a lever on your mind.  You are always breathing. Therefore, you always have the option to exert leverage on what your mind is saying, doing, and proposing to you.  

If you don't believe you have the time to do this mini-meditation once or twice every day, then consider this ancient advice on the paradox of meditation practice.

"Meditate for 20 minutes a day.
If you don't have the time, then meditate for an hour."

To Thriving!


It’s Not the Bubble Baths of Life…

It's Not the Bubble Baths of Life...

...that teach us anything.”

~ Pema Chodron

By Elizabeth Carpenter, MS., L.Ac.

I recently had the privilege of being in mind-scrambling agony.

Nervy, hot, searing,  throbbing, sustained pain.

So much pain that I couldn’t think.

I couldn’t connect with hope. I couldn’t find a single position to be comfortable in. I couldn’t walk, sit, bend (even nod) or stand. No amount of aspirin or ibuprofen could touch it.  

I couldn’t sleep. My mind was bent on fear: what will happen if scenarios…. And on the other side of it – having engaged the medicine of healing – I’m so thankful. Thankful it’s over, yes.

But also thankful to have gone through it. Because, as one of my favorite teachers, Pema Chodron, lectured us while teaching on the topic mind management and anger, “it’s not the bubble baths of life that teach you...."

So what did I learn and how did the lessons come?

First, I got a big reminder of what my patients are experiencing when they seek my help. I got the chance to be in their boat, to increase my sympathy and compassion, to identify with how desperate and bleak things can seem and feel.

Second, I got the chance to test and work the system – the medicine I practice every day on behalf of others: Medicine is not something done to us or given to us to swallow. Those are just tools of the healer, efficacious and miraculous as they are.  Instead, I believe medicine is the attention we pay.

Healing (which literally means “to make whole”) is a partnership with our potential.  Getting well is a matter of offering the materials and cues needed for the body’s innate programming to take over. Medical science is constantly evolving and can explain a good deal about how things work and what goes on in the body. 

But healing itself – the impulse to heal, the instruction set, the why of it all, remains a mystery. Every human, indeed every organism, is endowed with an innate intelligence or healing capacity.

We all have it.

And when we nourish that potential, it comes to life and heals us.

Our job is to give it what it needs to get the job done. Positive attention - our healers and rest, food and water, herbs and therapies, and the faith that we can heal - trips the wellness wiring within and the miracle occurs.

We recover. And hopefully, having gone through our pain and illness, our dark days and nights, and come out the other side, we are better stewards and appreciators of the enormous gift of life and health we experience most other days.

To Thriving!


Think with Your Heart & Feel with Your Head

Think with Your Heart... 
& Feel with Your Head.

By Elizabeth Carpenter, MS., L.Ac.

I love this quote from Dr. Joseph Michael Levry

founder of Naam Yoga: 


"Think with Your Heart…"

We get so trapped in our heads trying to find solutions to problems. 

We’re taught even as toddlers, to be rational. 

In truth, the ability to evaluate information logically is a critical success skill.  But when it comes to happiness, and really feeling that big YES about our lives?... this is not the province of the intellect.  This is fulfillment of the heart. 

Thinking with the heart is the ability to synch physical, circumstantial reality with what feeds the soul.  To do this, we must bypass the rational mind, and access our inner vault-- the heart, where real knowledge of who we are, what brings joy and what makes sense--for us-- resides.

"….and Feel with Your Head."

Conversely, we need to feel with our heads. (Interestingly, mastering this ability opens the way to “thinking with the heart.”) 

When we feel emotionally jammed, our energy gets jammed in our bodies.  We become prisoners of how we feel.  And when we’re stuck like that, we are paralyzed, because emotion drives everything about us.

The admonition to feel with your head means that when we find ourselves overwhelmed--and it’s “Ground Hog Day” every minute because the tape loop in our head keeps replaying the story, evidence, and justification for why we feel so awful—it’s time to use that big rational brain of ours to break the cycle. 

We must get curious and ask ourselves important questions:  “What am I really feeling?…And if I'm honest with myself, where's that really coming from ?…What’s holding me hostage? What piece of this story can I shift to let this play out differently?”  i.e. We need to leverage our enormous intellectual capacity for problem-solving, to tease open the emotional jam so our “heart” intelligence provides solutions that satisfy.

When we think with our hearts, we create the life we love.  When we feel with our heads we move obstacles to get beyond pain.

In effect, what we’re really doing is balancing the two sides of our brain -- creativity and logic.  And that’s called genius.

To Thriving! 


Leaving Traces in Your Brain

Leaving Traces in Your Brain

by Elizabeth Carpenter, MS. L.Ac.

Day after day, your mind is building your brain.
So what are you thinking about, obsessing about?

What are you enjoying every day?



Thanks to a concept known as Neural Darwinism – “survival of the busiest” –whatever captures your mind-share dominates your brain changes.

You teach your brain WHAT to think about,
and HOW you should feel.

Turns out that old meditation saying is a scientific fact:
“you become what your mind rests upon."


You are leaving traces in your brain with your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. neuropsychologist, in his wonderful new book, “Hardwiring Happiness,” explains the concept of experience-dependent neuroplasticity - Your repeating thoughts and experiences,

“don’t just grow new synapses, remarkable as that is by itself, but also somehow reach down into your genes—into little strips of atoms in the twisted molecules of DNA inside the nuclei of neurons—and change how they operate.  For instance, if you routinely practice relaxation, this will increase the activity of genes that calm down stress reactions, making you more resilient.”

But it’s ANY repeating thought-feeling, not just those useful ones. What matters most is how you spend the bulk of your mental time. So what are you doing with your mental time?  What are you asking your brain for more of?  Self-criticism, worry, love, joy, anxiety, fear, anger? Hanson says your attention on a something first acts like a spotlight to highlight it, and then behaves like a vacuum cleaner and sucks it up into your brain – for good or bad.  The more time you spend dwelling on something, the more you hard-wire it in! Awesome, or awful, your choice.

The Bad News

Most of us are spending a lot of time replaying bad things that have happened (an argument, a resentment, a regret) and bad things we anticipate (worry and fear of what we don’t want to happen).

Two Kinds of Good News

First, we can choose to linger over and replay the good stuff, to rewire and hard-wire ourselves for more goodies 🙂 Second, by waking ourselves up mid mind-rant, we can interrupt our negative thinking and decide to shift mental focus onto something better.

How To Use Your Mind to Build a Better Brain
  • Consciously enjoy and extend your time feeling grateful over the good stuff that happens to you, someone you care about, or in the world.
  • Feel thankful a few extra seconds when good things come your way
  • Notice when you’re enjoying good conversation, good food, a good experience and consciously take pleasure in it

These simple practices focus your attention so your brain highlights and sucks up the good stuff, leaving positive traces and instructions in your brain.

The Net

> You become more resilient.
> You hardwire happiness
> Self-Rx brain anti-aging /dementia-prevention

Go for it – dare to enjoy all your goodies and build a better brain!


To Thriving!

Elizabeth Carpenter, MS, L.Ac., CEFP

The Upside of Self-Centeredness

One of the most hurtful insults hurled by spouses, parents, peers, teachers and those whose opinion matters most to us is the accusation of being self-centered.

Dictionary Definition of Self-Centered:

Concerned solely or chiefly with one’s own interests, welfare, etc.;

  • Engrossed in self;
  • Selfish;
  • Egotistical

But there’s another side of self-centered.  Not just a twist on words, below I’m offering, instead, a twist on our potential.

Humans have the INNATE and INSTINCTUAL deep evolutionary survival programming to act in their own self-interest.

So the self-interest-seeking, excellent and useful question is, “How do we harness the POWER of that programming for real survival, or as cutting edge biologists term it, ‘thrival’?”

Proposed Definition of Self-Centered:

  • Centered in self;
  • Concerned and engaged in strategies for developing resilience, calm and healthy response mechanisms for handling uncertainty and navigating stress;
  • Capacity to respond rather than react;
  • Acquired state of consciousness where information, experience and intuition coalesce to drive superior outcomes through mind-body integrated decision-making process

Alot is at stake in this question.  Top 3 would be:

  • Level of satisfaction in daily experience
  • Quality of relationships
  • Level of physical health

We can harness the wellness wiring within to create a new norm of physical health, mental agility, emotional stability and spiritual groundedness. Energy medicine, mind-body practices are the tools of breakthrough and transformation.

Based on my experience working with thousands of patients, I developed the Oriens Approach as a reliable, step-by-step proven method to heal from disease, build health and create self-centeredness.

To thriving!

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