Inside My Doctor’s Bag

A Fully Trained Acupuncturist Will Make Use of the Following (Aside from Needles, of course) . . .


Moxibustion refers to the application of heat through the burning of the herb, mugwort, on or over acupuncture points.  The very term ‘acupuncture’ is, in fact, a poor translation as it suggests the practice exclusively involves stimulation with needles.  The word in Chinese (‘Zhenjiu’) translates more precisely as ‘fire and needles’.    ‘Acupuncture’ has always involved BOTH the use of needles (to move the Qi) AND the use of focussed heat (to warm the channels).  Every textbook from China translated into English has the title, ‘Acupuncture and Moxibustion’.  I do a lot of moxibustion because it is an indispensable part of the therapy.  To just use needles is like choosing to speak English with only consonants and no vowels – only half the story.


In cupping therapy, glass, plastic or bamboo suction cups are applied to the skin surface for 5-20 minutes.  This is one of several (cupping, gua sha and bloodletting) approaches for dealing with poor microcirculation of blood at the capillary level.  This phenomenon is often part of many pain syndromes.  The need for such therapy can be evidenced by the slow return of colour to an area of skin after it has been pressed.

Gua Sha

In Gua Sha (skin scraping), a round-edged instrument is used to stroke the skin surface with pressure.  Gua Sha is used in many of the same instances for which cupping is indicated, but it tends to be more aggressive and is used to cover a larger area.  As with cupping, this process breaks congested surface capillaries, rejuvenating microcirculation in the area treated.


This is a technique whereby small lancets are used to prick skin areas and withdraw several drops of blood.  It sounds ‘medieval’.  But it’s not.  The effects can be dramatic when used for resolving such conditions as high fever or sore throat.  Bloodletting is also often indicated by the presence of vascular spiders (indications of capillary congestion) which can appear, for example, in areas of unresolved trauma.  In Classical Acupuncture, this is called ‘Network Vessel Pricking’.

Pediatric Tools

I generally don’t insert needles with babies, toddlers and little children. I use a Japanese paediatric approach called Shonishin. In shonishin, the acupuncture channels are stimulated on the child’s skin surface using a variety of paediatric tools for scraping, rubbing, tapping and pressing. Treatments are typically very effective and no longer than 5 and 15 minutes.

Polarity Agents

In modern acupuncture practice, a number of different polarity agents are used to establish an electromagnetic gradient along channels and between acupuncture points.  These include magnets (ranging in strength from 800-15000 Gauss), pellets of copper and zinc and various copper cords, rings and silver chains with built-in diodes.  These recent developments have largely come out of Japan.

Why I Don’t Use ‘Gadgets’

There are countless devices today that use electrical resistance to ‘read’ the channels, locate and treat acupuncture points.  Some of these are even hooked up to a computer, complete with graphics and printouts.  I choose not to use any of these in my practice, and for a reason that is central to how and why I practice acupuncture. Acupuncture is not just about treating patients. It’s also very much about cultivation and and a lifetime of skill development for the practitioner.

My position (and this is just my position) is, when a practitioner chooses to rely on ‘devices’ for both diagnosis and treatment, the full engagement required for a practitioner to develop their observational skills and sensitivity is short-circuited.  First and foremost, a good acupuncturist must rely continually on all their senses to develop skill. There are no shortcuts.  Senses and skills require a lifetime of engagement and use to develop. As skill develops, a practitioner increasingly picks up on many things a machine or device simply cannot perceive or detect.

For the serious practitioner, the clinical art of acupuncture is a bottomless well of insight and depth – but it only reveals itself to the practitioner who is willing to put the months, years and decades of time into repeated practice, reflection and refinement of sensory skill.  It is my position that devices freeze the practitioner at a certain level.