Is acupuncture a New Age practice, or is it a strictly a holistic discipline to heal people? The answer is: both. It depends on what practice you go to. Truthfully, the majority of all acupuncture falls under the new age variety and has it’s roots in Hindu and Buddhist teaching and spirituality. Obviously, this kind of acupuncture poses many problems and concerns for Catholics and there are spiritual dangers present. However, there is another type of acupuncture which has no spiritual component and is very different altogether.
How can we know the difference? This article will explain the origins and history of acupuncture to help us discern properly and make both informed and spiritually sound decisions that are in line with our faith.
Traditional Acupuncture is a technique derived from ancient Chinese medicine. Similar to Reiki, Feng Shui and other new age practices, it’s central belief is that we are all made up of a life force energy, or qi. This spiritual energy is all around us and pervades us physically and spiritually. We are told that it flows through pathways in our body called meridians. When the energy flows unobstructed, we are healthy. When it does not, illness, stress, or other negativities in our body, mind, or spirit occur.
The acupuncturist must find the correct acupoints throughout the body from which the negative energies flow. From there, they insert needles into the various areas. The acupuncturist must unblock these meridians and allow the energy to flow freely again allegedly bringing healing and freedom.
Some people claim that acupuncture is merely healing the body, and therefore, does not pose a problem for Christians. However, this is not true. Throughout history, acupuncture has been a spiritual practice, and by healing the spirit, one can thereby heal the body.
Listen to what Acupuncture Today reveals; “The vast majority of patients we see are imbalanced at the spirit level, regardless of the presence of physical symptoms. To truly and holistically heal, all levels must be addressed. To reach the spirit of a patient, we call upon the spirits of the points.”
The most ancient, and one of the most authoritative sources we have is called, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, by Ni, Maoshing.
It states; “The basic philosophy of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is to balance the body, mind and spirit by regulating the flow of qi. In simple terms qi is the “vital life force” of the body. It keeps the blood circulating, warms the body, fights disease, and keeps our minds and emotions free and uncluttered. Disease occurs when there is disruption to the balanced flow of qi within the body. Consequently, the aim of acupuncture is to remove any imbalances or obstructions within the body and to encourage the qi to flow smoothly.”[i]
In other words, this qi, or life force energy is what keeps us healthy or makes us unhealthy. It’s the spiritual worldview that pervades this practice. Consequently, it’s all about addressing the spirit as a pathway to healing the body. Naturally, this Buddhist spirituality opposes our Christian spiritual beliefs and what Jesus taught us (See more about this in our video on Reiki). As we know, false spirituality can even be harmful and lead to possible demonic negativities.
As a legitimate practice, there is a lot of major controversy over acupuncture in our country, even in the professional fields of medicine and science. Most agree that there are not many verifiable or well researched studies on the topic, or therefore it cannot be proven in any methodological way. For more info on this, see the footnote. [ii]
What’s scary is that the spiritual aspect of acupuncture can be performed on a person even without their knowledge. It goes without saying that Catholics should stay far away from any acupuncture practice that accepts, utilizes, pushes, believes, or practices in any way a non-Christian idea of spirituality, life-force energy, qi, qi gong, or anything else like this.
The majority of practices operate in this milieu of false spiritual belief, and so we tell all Christians to stay away or find a practice that does Dry Needling (Biomedical acupuncture) instead. Even if you have had success, it’s not proper or licit to find healing through illicit means, especially ones that can harm us spiritually or have a worldview against God.
Biomedical acupuncture (Not Spiritual)
Dry needling is different than acupuncture although the two look similar. Dry Needling is known as biomedical acupuncture, and it’s worlds apart from traditional acupuncture. For starters, dry needling has nothing to do with the insertion of needles into meridian acupoints. As Science Based Medicine affirms, “Dry needling has nothing to do with chi and meridians and acupoints and the rest of the fantastical underpinnings of traditional Chinese pseudo-medicine with its tongue and pulse diagnosis. Nor is dry needling used for every human aliment… because it’s not acupuncture.”[iii]
Dry needling penetrates the skin at what are known as “trigger points” in order to release tension and allegedly induce a healing response, whereas acupuncture claims to work along meridian lines which are spiritual and don’t actually exist. As Susan Brinkmann says regarding needling, “These trigger points are often associated with tension headaches, tinnitus, and pain in the joints or lower back. A dry needle is inserted into the trigger point directly instead of into the meridians (alleged energy centers) prescribed by traditional Chinese medical practitioners of acupuncture.”[iv]
Therefore, needling is not contrary to the Catholic faith or to God. A Catholic Christian may in good conscience participate in this holistic practice if they choose. With that being said, we offer two warngings.
1. There are some practitioners who operate their dry needling just like acupuncture and hold to the spiritual aspects still. So, check it out first.
2. There is no real clear of firm scientific evidence for either acupuncture or dry needling. Many healthcare providers and national fraud organizations warn of this along with the reality of many real scams and frauds. They warn that we could be wasting our money, and that it’s better to find healthier alternatives such as chiropractic care, massage, relaxation therapy, music, nature, or art therapy, etc.
But biomedical dry needling is not against the Catholic faith as long as it does not have any of the problematic spirituality of acupuncture attached to it.
[i] Huang Fu Mi was a famous physician and historian who organized all of the existing ancient Chinese acupuncture texts into one of the most authoritative texts ever created. It was called the Systematic Classics of acupuncture and Moxibustion. This text begins by talking about how acupuncture is a spiritual practice because it’s based in the spirit of man along with qi and vitality. “All methods of needling must first have their basis in spirit.” The text goes on to say that problems, stress, worry, and so on damage (not the body) but the spirit. The body is not right because the spirit is not right and is out of balance. The whole goal is to find balance of mind, body and spirit.
[ii] acupuncture is extremely controversial. Some say it does nothing. Others claim it works miracles. There is even a war between organizations. However, most science based and almost all consumer fraud organizations reaffirm that acupuncture is not scientifically verified, that there are a great many scams and on file frauds, not to mention a good amount of placebo that takes place as shown in many studies.
Steven Barrett, the top dog of healthcare fraud says, “acupuncture is an unproven modality of treatment. Its theory and practice are based on primitive and fanciable concepts of health and disease that bear no relationship to present scientific knowledge. Research during the past 20 years has not demonstrated that acupuncture is effective against any disease. Perceived effects of acupuncture are probably due to a combination of expectation, suggestion, counter irritation, conditioning, and other psychological mechanisms… When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects including infection, punctured organs, collapsed lungs and injury to the central nervous system.”
The Scientific American interview 5 different scientists which sums up the controversy. Here is the first question they asked. What’s your opinion on the evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness in medicine and specifically depression?
MacPherson: Strong evidence exists that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain conditions. For depression, we have evidence that acupuncture is a useful adjunct to conventional care. In one recent trial patients on antidepressants who received acupuncture did significantly better than those who just took medication. Patients who received counseling in addition to their medication received a similar benefit to the acupuncture group.
Ernst: Most studies examining the effectiveness of acupuncture are not rigorous. Those that are more rigorous fail to show that acupuncture is more than a placebo in managing depression.
Wang: My opinion is that acupuncture stimulations trigger the release of beneficial hormones and, theoretically, can serve as a mood stabilizer.
Colquhoun: acupuncture does not work, which means all discussions of how it does work are irrelevant. I’m not aware of any evidence that acupuncture works for depression.
Hall: The published evidence on acupuncture indicates that it might be helpful for pain and possibly for postoperative nausea and vomiting, but not for any other indications. All the evidence is compatible with the hypothesis that acupuncture is no more than a placebo.
Likewise, the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that while there may be some scientific evidence for acupuncture, there are many problems in the scientific studies and research. For those who are interested, check out this review here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6421999/
[iii] Science Based Medicine (Science based Medicine.org)
[iv] Susan Brinkmann, Women of Grace