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What is Acupuncture?

An Energetic Explanation

Scott Nelson, LAc

Scott Nelson, LAc

In order to describe acupuncture, one must first understand qi. Commonly defined as energy flow, qi is an invisible life force that binds everything in the universe. Depending on its cultural roots, qi has been compared to Western notions of vitalism, as well as the yogic notion of prana, and associated variously with the terms energy, vital energy or spirit.

Qi is all of this and more. In Chinese medicine, the physical body, emotions and mind are not seen as mechanisms, but as different densities of qi interacting in their various manifestations to form the living organism. Qi is not static; it is dynamic and ever changing. It is at once energy, the physical body, emotions, thoughts and spirit— stemming from the same central qi source. All materials and substances are manifestations of qi in varying degrees.

One of the most comprehensive, yet simple explanations of qi comes from the book, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, by Giovanni Maciocia, in which he states, “Qi is an energy that manifests simultaneously on the physical and mental/spiritual level. It is in a constant state of flux and in varying states of aggregation. When qi condenses, energy transforms and accumulates into physical shape; when qi is dispersed, it gives rise to more subtle forms of matter.”

Chinese medicine recognizes the power of the mind to permit and even create disease.

Disease, therefore, is the detrimental congregation of stagnant qi. This can be the result of external pathogenic factors from our environment that break through our defense system, or internal factors such as suppressed thoughts or emotions, which also obstruct the proper flow of energy, thus lowering the body’s defenses and increasing the potential for outer negative forces to enter.

Chinese medicine recognizes the power of the mind to permit and even create disease. Emotions and thought can turn on processes that release neuropeptides and other physiological chemicals related to the type of thought or emotion the individual is experiencing. According to Chinese medicine, emotions, when improperly expressed, can become the root of disease; they can cause or allow stagnation and even cancer to come about.

To cure a disease, therefore, Chinese medicine says that we must move stagnation and dissipate negatively conglomerated qi, bringing it back to its source—a state of pure potential, which is of a dynamic, free, light and balanced nature. Acupuncture is one of many holistic modalities that are effective in doing this.

Acupuncture, then, is the art and medicine of moving and dispersing stagnant qi and its obstructed pathways. Stimulating specific points on these pathways alleviates certain ailments from which a patient may be suffering, including physical, mental and emotional blockages.

Acupuncture uses special needles to remove these obstructions. The needle creates a miniscule injury that results in an inflammatory response, thus creating the movement needed for healing. Acupuncture alone does not directly heal the body. Instead, it does something even more powerful—it releases and frees obstruction, allowing the body to do what comes naturally—to magnificently and skillfully heal itself.

Scott David Nelson, LAc, is a diplomate in acupuncture, certified nationally by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Before becoming an acupuncture physician, Nelson served as a personal fitness instructor. For more information, call 414-248-8000 or visit

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