Xiaoyan Wang, 56, has been practicing acupuncture since 1988. A United States resident since 2000, she got her U.S. license in 2004, and has been working in her own practice, Chinese Acupuncture and Herbs, ever since.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice based on balancing energy. Acupuncture practitioners insert extremely fine, disposable needles with rounded tips just below the surface of the skin to alleviate pain or to help treat various health conditions. The practice is based in ancient Chinese philosophy and likely predates recorded history; for her part, Wang treats patients in a nondescript office complex in Innsbrook.
DHR: What was your first encounter with acupuncture?
XW: Acupuncture is a part of our culture. You heard about acupuncture all the time growing up— it’s in your everyday life.
Do you remember your first acupuncture treatment?
I did acupuncture for myself first when I was a student at medical school.
We practiced in classrooms for each other. The first time I did acupuncture for myself I had a toothache. After the session, I was pain free.
I always do acupuncture for myself— I never see anybody else. Treating myself helps me understand it more, so I will know how to treat my patients in the best possible way.
What’s the main difference between Eastern and Western medicine?
They are totally different medicines. Western medicine is based on science. Our medicine is based on old Chinese philosophy. Yin-yang theory, five elements theory, meridian theory, Zang-Fu theory, et cetera.
Can you combine the two effectively?
It depends on the person. I think so. In China, we don’t practice pure Chinese medicine, actually. We practice both medicines. It really depends on your practitioner’s experience and the patient’s condition.
For example, if there’s a bad infection, or if the patient is in critical condition, Western medicine is the best. But for chronic problems, I think Chinese medicine is the best.
With Chinese medicine, you can help patients to avoid surgeries and medication. Here, I have noticed a lot of people take medicine forever. If you take Chinese medicine– no, no, no, Chinese medicine will cure your disease. Western medicine will sometimes just cover the symptoms.
You also offer cupping and moxibustion treatments.
These are a part of acupuncture. When we mention acupuncture, that means cupping and moxibustion also.
Moxa is a Chinese herb that is burned during moxibustion treatments. There are two kinds of moxibustion treatments. One is indirect moxibustion: burning a moxa smudge stick and warming the area of the body, but not applying the herb directly.
It depends on the patient’s condition. Usually we use moxibustion for patients who have a cold condition or a weak condition.
We also have direct moxibustion. We put moxa on the point of the body and burn it. When it starts to burn, I take it away. This is a stronger kind of moxibustion, but it can only be used for a small area. Indirect moxibustion can be used for a big area.
Direct moxibustion can be scarring moxibustion or non-scarring moxibustion. In general, I do non-scarring moxibustion, because most people don’t like scars.
I have a lot of patients that come to see me for pain relief, so I do more needles and cupping than moxibustion.
How do you diagnose a patient?
We have Chinese medical diagnosis, not Western medical diagnosis. We’d check your tongue, feel your pulses and ask your questions about your disease’s history every time. We utilize your information to make diagnosis based on Chinese Medicine theories and to decide which organ and meridian are affected and what nature the disorder is. We also learned Western medicine in the medical school, so we could do Western medical diagnosis if we want, but we need more information. Physical check-up, blood test, MRI, CT scan. Sometimes Western and Chinese medical diagnoses are the same, but most times they are completely different.
How does needlepoint acupuncture work?
It’s hard to explain it in a scientific way. We have so many different ways to explain it. Nerve-Reflex Theory, the Gate Control Theory of Pain, Implicit Order of X-Signal System, et cetera.
Acupuncture needles stimulate your body so that your body can heal by itself. Something is blocked in your body, and the needles can unblock it. We try to restore your balance so that you’re healthy.
It’s hard to explain why acupuncture works for pain. Sometimes it works right away. Sometimes it will take a while. But it always works. If you have acute symptoms– for example, a mild muscle spasm– after one treatment, you may feel better. If you have chronic pain: no, no, no, it will take a long time. It really depends. It’s complicated, too.
I always think of acupuncture as popping a balloon of trapped energy, but it doesn’t sound like that’s right.
(Laughs). No, no, no. Acupuncture stimulates your body.
When we were students at medical school, we learned physiology. The professor taught us to do an experiment. We did needles in points on a rabbit’s leg: one point on both legs. Before the acupuncture we did a blood test, and we did another test after right away. You could tell a huge difference in the white blood cell count. Big difference. I just couldn’t believe it.
In China, a lot of scientists have done so many researches to find out why acupuncture works— what’s the big difference for the patients? Circulation improves a lot. The local temperature will be a tiny bit lower. If the white blood cell count is high, after acupuncture treatment the white blood cell count goes down back to normal. If the white blood cell count is low, after treatment it goes back up to normal. If the temperature has a high fever, after acupuncture, the temperature of the body goes back to normal.
I can tell from the moxibustion when my patient is feeling better. The first time I do moxibustion for my patient, it will take a longer time for my patient to tell me it’s hot. After I do more sessions, it will be a short time. Why? Because the circulation is better.
These acupuncture points on a body— does anybody know how they were discovered?
Oh, yes. In ancient times, Chinese people poked everywhere. That’s how they found the meridians and the points.
What is a meridian?
A meridian is an ‘energy highway’ in the human body. There are fourteen meridians on the body. Every meridian is connected with an organ— heart, lungs, kidney, small intestines, bladder. Every meridian has different points. Every point has its own function. Every point treats different problems.
Are the meridians connected by blood vessels?
Nobody knows. You just feel it when you have acupuncture treatment.
It’s like a current of electricity, an electric shock. It’s not the nerve system, it’s not blood vessels, it’s not capillaries. It’s just our concept: it’s a meridian.
What is heat?
Heat is if the condition is “too much.”
For example, if the patient has high blood pressure, dry mouth, constipation, redness on the face, easily lost temper: that’s heat. If the patient has high fever, that is heat also.
What kind of herbal remedies do you provide?
So many. We have thousands of herbal formulas. I think classic formulas are the best: they have been in use for near 2000 years. If you know how to use classic formulas, they work very well, but it is very hard to do it. We learned how to prescribe herbal formulas at medical school.
What is chi?
Chi a Chinese medicine and philosophy concept.
In ancient times, people didn’t know why the person was alive. When the person died, they said the person didn’t have “chi.” Chi is the energy flow in the body.
So it’s like a life force.
That’s how we explain it. When we learned this concept at the medical school, we didn’t totally understand. Even today, it is very hard for me to explain it, even in Chinese.
Everything is chi. In general, most practitioners believe that chi stagnation is related to your emotions. If you’re happy, if you’re normal, the chi is flowing. If you’re not happy, you’re angry, you’re sick, your chi is stuck, and you need some kind of treatment to get it unstuck, flowing naturally again.