Updated: Nov 23, 2018
Do you remember your Fundamentals of Chinese Medicine class? For most of us, probably not and for those of us who do remember those philosophical ramblings about What Tao, Wu Chi, Yin and Yang, 5 Elements or Qi is – still we might have never been given (or were ready to receive) a framework or paradigm to fully understand these concepts. Before we know it, we are busy memorizing points, their functions, Zang-Fu patterns and applying them in clinic that such a paradigm gets lost in the details of learning how to practice acupuncture. As we transition from observer to intern in the clinic, we are exposed to the many distinctive styles of acupuncture both from practitioner to practitioner as well as unique schools of thought pertaining to how to practice it, from standardized TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to 5 Element, Japanese or Orthopedic etc. However, no matter whether we are a new student, graduate, newly licensed acupuncturist or one who has been practicing for 20-30 years or more, we can benefit by taking a moment to step back and look at the holistic paradigm on which our medicine and practice is built.
This holistic paradigm is comprised of 5 dimensions, koshas or levels of reality. These dimensions envelope each other like the layers of an onion or the Russian nesting dolls (Matryoshka, a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another). It also draws parallels between Taoist and Vedanta, the Indian Holistic philosophy, highlighting the universal source from which these two traditions spring. In the Tao Te Ching, Loa Tzu states, “The Tao produced the One; The One produced the Two; The Two produced the Three; The Three produced all the myriad beings.”
The first or innermost dimension is the One or Wu Chi, the Great Emptiness that contains Yin and Yang which engenders the Cosmic Life Essence. In Vedanta, this is the level of the Anandamayakosha and the Cosmic Life Essence is called the Atman, it is the divine essence, eternal bliss and our true nature that is the spark of life within all of Creation and one with Brahman, the transcendent/ultimate reality or spirit. I know that can sound like a mouth full, just remember it is the One thing that is responsible for All things and that the One resides within you and we within it.
The second dimension of reality is Consciousness - the witness/awareness faculty, the “observer” of ones feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and actions. This is known as the Vijnyanamaykosha. All meditation practices are intended to allow us to enter as well as expand this dimension of reality by letting the feelings, thoughts or images come and go while focusing on the stillness between them until stillness and awareness is all that pervades. Tapping into this level, allows the Life Essence to radiate unimpeded throughout our bodies (directly supercharging our energy body). This is exactly what happens when a spontaneous healing and transformation occurs.
The third dimension is made up of the feelings, emotions, thoughts and beliefs that we have on a daily basis. This is the dimension of experience is called the Manomayakosha and determines the quality or state of our mind. These states are studied extensively within Chinese Medicine’s 5 Elemental theory. For Human beings it is the most familiar level of reality and the one in which family and society is based upon. The human identity or personality and ego is derived from this level as well. It is the easiest and most vulnerable level to get stuck at and where stress, emotional trauma and psychological illness take place. Humans become consumed by their job, money, personal problem, illness and attached to their habitual feelings and thoughts so much so that they become mostly unconscious and unaware of anything else. Extreme cases lead to addictions and psychosis and a sense of being lost, depressed and not knowing who you are or what your purpose is in life. This is because they are blocked at this level and have lost their ability to consciously connect to the Life Essence within them.
The fourth dimension is where Qi, the vital force or innate intelligence of bio-electric and magnetic energy current flows. In Vedanta, it is called the Pranamayakosha or Prana for short. This is the energetic dimension of our being and is related to the channels, chakras and acupuncture or marma points, the energy centers throughout the human body. The energy body is literally the bridge between the mind and the physical body and is the primary level at which acupuncture takes place. The energy body enhances the communication between the mind and physical body and activates the physical body’s innate ability to heal and repair itself. Aligning our awareness with breath and movement is intimately connected with cultivating and expanding our energy body. This is the main purpose behind such practices as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga. As the Life Essence from our innermost being radiates outward throughout the other dimensions of our being it is instantaneously manifested at the level of energy.
The fifth dimension is also well known to us (or so we think). It is the physical body and its systems as well as our external environment, the other life forms and human beings around us. It is called the Annamayakosha in Vedanta and observed within the 5 Elemental and Zang-Fu theory of Chinese Medicine. It includes our five basic senses - touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting as well as our intuition, imagination/visualization and memory. Most modern humans have the notion of what is “real” as being defined only by the material objects and environment that can be perceived with the five senses. These perceptions then are often conditioned or filtered by their thoughts and beliefs. However, reality is not just made up of the impressions received from the external world and what a person consciously or subconsciously thinks of them, reality and how we experience something is determined by how conscious we are of the different dimensions within our own being, others and the environment.
How does this paradigm influence the way we understand and practice Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture? The 5 dimensions of reality shows us at what level we prefer to practice Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Of course, we can never affect one level without affecting the other (being that they are interconnected) yet, we do emphasize one level more than the other which in return determines the reality we experience in clinic and in our lives.
In TCM, there is emphasis on obtaining “de qi”, a physical sensation and response from the patient. There is a similar emphasis with orthopedic acupuncture in which we stimulate the motor points, nerve centers in each muscle in order to get the muscle to “jump”(fasciculate) and reset to it’s original shape. Both styles of acupuncture are great at affecting the physical dimension of the human body and are effective at treating acute and chronic conditions of the body from physical injury.
In certain styles of Japanese acupuncture there is emphasis on very light, superficial or contact needling (without penetrating the skin). Depending on what elemental point is selected will determine how many breaths are taken while keeping contact with the needle for a extended period of time over the acupuncture point. A more meditative state takes place during such treatments with emphasis place on the practitioners ability to feel and sense the qi. This style of acupuncture places more importance on affecting the energetic dimension of the human body.
In 5 Element acupuncture, there is great value placed in understanding the psycho-somatic state of each patient. The Chinese medical saying, “All disease stems from the emotions.” is a well known fact in the mind of each 5 Element acupuncturist. Many of these practitioner’s have an uncanny ability to council and illicit suppressed or blocked emotions within each patient that can often result in a very profound emotionally healing experience during their acupuncture treatment. This style of acupuncture emphasizes the emotional and mental dimension of the human body.
The dimension of Consciousness does not have any direct correlate to a certain style of acupuncture. Rather, it pertains to each practitioner as a individual human being and where they are on their life’s journey of self discovery. We often enter this dimension during a peak experience in life or when coming to a crossroad in life’s journey. There is so much happening in life on a day to day basis, so much activity and hustle and bustle within society that in order to keep our sanity and health we have to take a step back, reflect and relax or do something that we love - something that gives us pure joy. Even if we don’t think we “meditate”, we experience times in our lives where that is exactly what we are doing (or non-doing) and the universe will find a way to make sure we do.
The more we consciously live our lives the more we are able to experience this ultimate and innermost dimension, Anandamayakosha, and the more our life is filled with meaning and purpose. We create space for the most important thing in our life, the expression of the One, Cosmic Life Essence or Atman to flow into every other dimension of our being. In our eyes, breath, gestures, actions, tone of voice - the presence of contentment, love and compassion that automatically makes people around you feel better and at peace. This is what defines a master practitioner of acupuncture or any other healing art. Within this paradigm, the ultimate healing is the re-uniting of the self with its source. However don’t worry if it doesn’t happen tomorrow - it is a trail and error process and that is why we are here on this planet in the first place. Understanding the 5 dimensions of reality will hopefully not only help us to understand how we personally practice acupuncture but also how we understand ourselves and how we practice life.