History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a system of medicine that began in China over 3000 years ago.  It is used as both preventative medicine and to relieve acute and chronic conditions that have no natural cure in western medicine, such as asthma, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

The Ancient Chinese observed that the essential energetic qualities that are found in nature are also found in every living being. By understanding the relationships of the energies within the body and using them as a guide, they could discover and treat the root of a person’s illness, restoring health to the body, mind and spirit.

Acupuncture is based on the understanding of the cyclical flow of vital energy, which is also known as Qi. Qi is the spark of life in all living things and flows in meridians (pathways) throughout the body.  Each meridian runs on the skin surface and is accessible via acupuncture points.  Each meridian also runs deeply inside the body and connects to the internal organs. The acupuncturist can affect the inside of the body using only points on the surface of the skin because the meridian brings the effects of the treatment at the superficial layer of the body into the deeper level of the organs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Today the most well known type of acupuncture is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).   Traditional Chinese Medicine is actually a bit of a misnomer; although it has it’s roots in traditional acupuncture, the way it is currently practiced is very different from traditional acupuncture.

A practitioner of TCM typically assesses the patient’s symptoms, which he or she uses to establish a treatment plan.  Usually this involves working to free the flow of Qi in the meridian associated with the symptoms intended to be alleviated.  While this approach does have some merit, it is far removed from the holistic approach of the acupuncture that had been standard for thousands of years.

TCM as it is practiced today is largely as a result of Chairman Mao’s 1950’s directive that TCM should be incorporated into the health care system in China. The introduction of western medicine to China in 1911 had led to a decline in TCM, but during the Long March of 1934-1935, Chairman Mao ‘s army was forced to rely on TCM and he was so impressed by its efficacy that he insisted that it should remain an important part of healthcare in China. As part of this integration, many of the more idiosyncratic elements of the tradition were suppressed and a more standardised way of treating patients based upon specific observable “syndromes” is how TCM is practiced today.  So although TCM is rooted in thousands of years of knowledge and history, its standardisation means that the way it is currently practiced is not actually traditional.  It also means that the treatment philosophy of TCM is rooted in treatment of symptoms (similar to Western allopathic medicine), rather than being a true holistic approach to health.

In an attempt to fix the symptom-based model of acupuncture, Professor J.R. Worsley (1923 – 2003) brought Classical Five Element Acupuncture to the West.  After he served in World War II, Worsley practiced physiotherapy and studied osteopathy, naturopathy and acupuncture. In the early 1950s he traveled to Taiwan, Singapore and Korea to further his studies and was awarded a Doctorate in Acupuncture. It was during his time there that he first came across the Five Element system of acupuncture and was drawn to the way it looked at every aspect of a person’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being in order to diagnose the root cause of his or her imbalance.  After studying under his Five Element teachers Ono and Hsui, in 1955 Worsley was awarded the title of “Master” of Five-Element Acupuncture.

Although sharing much with modern TCM it is also very different in theory and aim.  Rather than focusing on treating symptoms, in Classical Five Element Acupuncture there is thought to be one main or root cause for most of a patient’s presenting symptoms.  It is thought that through birth or early childhood that a constitutional weakness develops to the point where, through the law of Mother-Child, it impedes the flow of energy around the Sheng or creative cycle.  This weakness is one of the Five Elements, an element that is causing the presenting symptoms and stopping the growth of the person as a whole.  This weakened element is known as the person’s Causative Factor (CF) and true healing can only happen when the treatment is directed towards healing the person’s CF.

The Five Elements


The Five Elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, represent the five phases of Qi as it moves through nature and our bodies. The Elements work interdependently in an elegant and systemic balance, each one sustaining and supporting the next in the cycle. This cycle can best be seen in the change of seasons: Wood corresponds to the birth and growth of plants and trees in the spring. What is planted in the spring comes to maturity under the heat and vitality of Fire in summer. The warmth of Fire creates the abundance of the harvest of the Earth in late summer. After the harvest comes the decay of autumn, where the leaves falling from the trees nourish the soil and produce the mineral resources of Metal. The mountains and mineral rocks create and bind the flowing streams of Water, moving quietly under the surface of the ice in winter, which, in turn sources the germinating seed of Wood.


Associated with the season of spring, Wood represents all that spring is about and more.  Words like birth, growth, purpose, and direction are key words that define Wood. The two organs associated with Wood are the Liver and Gallbladder. They are viewed as the architect and the Construction Manager, respectively.

In the spring when seeds germinate, there is this deep sense of purpose that is programmed in even the tiniest of seeds, and it is also this same purpose that gives the seed a sense of direction. In our lives, the Wood element  gives us the ability see and plan for the future, primarily by the Liver, and to judge our surroundings appropriately so that we don’t waste our own resources and  only partake in purposeful action, which is the power given to us by the Gallbladder.

For people who are constitutionally Wood element, a sense of direction in their lives is a good indicator of overall balance. A healthy Wood element individual has a clear understanding of where they would like to be in the future and are also able to make the appropriate life decisions to ensure that they are following their path.

The Classical Five Element practitioner is trained to see, hear, smell and feel signs of elemental imbalance and to perceive the level at which the imbalance is rooted.  Each person is unique. Even though people’s symptoms may be similar each person’s causative factor is unique to them and the treatment is based on the individual need of each person.



Summer, the season of Fire, is the time of the year that is most closely connected to maturation. If our seeds sprouted in the spring, it is during the summer months when these plants reach maturation. In a similar way, summer can also be considered a time when nature reaches its peak much like we, humans, reach a sense of a peak in our lives. A healthy Fire element gives us a sense that what we work for in life can and will reach some for of maturation in the future. This is very much like a feeling of hope that life will always work out for us for it always has.


When we meditate on what Fire may be about, do we not conjure up words such as, warmth, passion, circulation, bitter taste, etc? It is not a coincidence that these are also the same qualities that are associated with this element. A person with a healthy Fire element is a joy to be around for they are able to make us feel accepted and loved. It is their warmth that makes us feel at home whenever we are with them, and it could also even be their passion for life that ignites our own Fire which then motivates us to walk our own life path with a renewed sense of interest.


On the opposite end of spectrum, an imbalanced Fire will manifest as a cold and distant person who lacks passion and love for life. And what it most important to remember in this situation is that it isn’t us. It’s very important to remember that the presence of these unpleasant qualities do not define who we are but simply, a reflection of an internal imbalance and a cry for help.

By treating the root cause of dis-ease in the patient, The Classical Five Element system of acupuncture allows the practitioner to elegantly restore balance and harmony and brings us back to a state of health and well-being that is our  birth-right.

Fire Earth Metal Water Wood
Yin Organ Heart Spleen Lungs Kidneys Liver
Yang Organ Small Intestine Stomach Large Intestine Urinary Bladder Gall Bladder
Sense Organ Tongue Mouth Nose Ears Eyes
Tissue Blood Vessels Muscles Skin Bone Tendons
Tastes Bitter Sweet Pungent Salty Sour
Colors Red Yellow White Blue Green
Sounds Laughing Singing Crying Groaning Shouting
Odor Scorched Fragrant Rotten Putrid Rancid
Emotion Joy Sympathy Grief Fear Anger
Season Summer Late Summer Autumn Winter Spring
Environment Heat Dampness Dryness Cold Wind
Development Stage Growth Transformation Harvest Storage Birth
Direction South Center West North East