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Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical tradition, believed to date back to around 200BC. The earliest written reference to acupuncture is in the Yellow Emperor's book of medicine, the Nei Jing.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into different parts of the body. These are believed to influence the Qi, or 'life force', that runs through invisible channels throughout the body. Acupuncturists must place the needles into specific points, known as acupoints. The acupoints are thought to form patterns in the body like constellations in the night sky.
Drawing on classical Taoist philosophy, acupuncturists believe that illness is caused when the body's yin and yang elements become imbalanced. The word Yin refers to material substance, while the word Yang signifies formless energy. According to acupuncturists, the body should create a natural balance between both yin and yang, but if an imbalance does occur, acupuncture can help to re-work the balance.
The body's acupoints are said to run along 12 main meridians (channels) known as cheng ching (regular tracts). The cheng ching lie in tissues beneath the surface of the skin and run between the hands, feet, abdomen and head. Each of the cheng ching connects to 12 organs via an intricate system of lo (small branches) and of ching pieh (cross-channels). Central to the practice is the idea that the natural systems of the external world are reflected in the body's interior. Chinese texts compare this inner system of the body to the connections between oceans, rivers, lakes and canals. While traditional Western conceptions of the body do not directly correspond with the forms of the acupoints and meridians, Western doctors recognise that the manipulation of the larger nerve fibres can be used to block pain.