By Suma Varughese May 2002 Acupuncture and acupressure are two non-drug therapies which are making their presence felt in the complementary medicine scene. And acupressure and reflexology are getting the crowds because of ease of practice. But how do these gentle systems work? Acupuncture can treat acute sickness too – Dr Ravinder TuliBy Parveen Chopra The introduction of acupuncture in the world in recent times is a fascinating story. Delhi-based Dr Ravinder K. Tuli, the leading acupuncturist in the country, recounts that during World War II when the Red Army was fighting the Imperial army, there was an outbreak of malaria. Though quinine was around, Mao Tse Tung was informed about the efficacy of acupuncture in treating, curing and preventing malaria. Indeed, when tried, it proved as effective as quinine. Gradually, the Red Army started using acupuncture in varied conditions. Later in 1949, when Mao took over the reins in China, one of his first pronouncements in the Red Book was that while they should modernize, they should also adopt, develop and popularize traditional Chinese medicine, of which herbal practice and acupuncture are two parts. And when the barefoot doctors concept was formulated to take medicare to grassroot levels, basic training in both the use of herbs and acupuncture was provided to them. The second episode relates to President Nixon’s ice-breaking visit to China in 1971. James Reston, senior editor of The New York Times, who was in his entourage, developed acute abdominal pain which was diagnosed as appendicitis. A surgical team specially summoned from the USA removed the appendix, but the pain did not disappear. Eventually, they accepted their Chinese hosts’ offer of trying acupuncture and the relief was immediate. The incident made headline news in America. Acupuncture prominently figured in the MoUs signed between the two countries, and a department was set up in George Washington University to understand the practice. Today, acupuncture education and practice is fairly developed throughout the USA. An MD doctor who has worked for the Indian Air Force and who has learnt acupuncture in China and Sri Lanka, Dr Tuli has been practising the system since 1977. He also uses acupressure, yoga, nature cure, reiki, pranic healing, etc. He is at pains to explode the myth that alternative systems are good only for treating chronic cases. He relates the story of how once when he went trekking to Gaumukh, India, he found a person in his rest house suffering from acute mountain sickness (breathing problem due to water in the lungs) caused by lack of acclimatization at high altitudes. Dr Tuli volunteered his services. But since he did not have access to even acupuncture needles, he employed acupressure and within minutes the patient was up on his feet. He cites various other cases such as asthma attacks, where he could provide instant relief. Dr Tuli has also successfully treated a curious mix of emergencies, ranging from an actor losing his voice on the eve of a performance to a racehorse coming down with an attack of nerve paralysis just before a race. He has also treated a few pets. ”Acupuncture is a complete and versatile system that can treat any ailment, complementing any other system,” Dr Tuli says confidently. With his wife, Dr Poonam Tuli, and two junior doctors assisting him in his clinic in the upscale Friends Colony, his practice is flourishing. His grateful clientele includes diplomats, industrialists, politicians, sportspeople and artistes. Yet, he feels that acceptance of acupuncture is slow in the medical community. At the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi, India, where Dr Tuli is a consultant, referrals are often totally burnt-out cases. Dr Tuli refers to acupuncture as a spiritual practice because it is a holistic (meaning wholesome) system that creates harmony in the mind, body and spirit. Test cricketer Nikhil Chopra visited Dr Tuli for a shoulder problem. Not only was the cricketer cured, but he also wrote in Tuli’s visitors book: ”It was a great spiritual experience, I felt a sense of well-being.” Veera Hirano, a Britisher who works for the WHO, believes that her level of meditation took a leap after taking acupuncture sessions with Dr Tuli. One reason for the slow acceptance of acupuncture in India, says DrTuli, could be the fear that the use of needles exposes one to diseases like hepatitis and AIDS. ”We either use disposable or sterilized needles,” he assures. Dr Tuli informs that the Acupuncture Association of India (AAI), Kolkata, is the apex body in the country since it is the only organization affiliated with the World Federation of Acupuncture Societies, based in China. AAI offers one year’s acupuncture training to doctors qualified in any system of medicine. The large airy first floor room of the Arya Samaj center in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, India, is teeming with frantic activity. Clusters of people flank the four walls, talking animatedly. At one end are two high beds holding a reclining form each, upon which therapists are vigorously administering what appears to be a massage. Judging by the people lining up, this seems to be a popular service. In the center of the room, like the still point of a turning world, sits a trim austere looking man whose youthful appearance belies his 75-odd years. This is Devendra Vora, author of the popular book, Health in Your Hands and an untiring apostle of acupressure. A man is a cancer patient. Vora is unfazed. Taking his left hand, he presses a few points and watches the man wince with pain. Swiftly writing down something, he asks him to collect some medicine from a lady sitting at the other end of the hall and to meet one of the therapists. The patient hesitantly explains that he is on allopathic drugs. ‘That’s okay,’ says Vora with supreme confidence. ‘You can do so for the first eight days but once you see the results for yourself, you must leave it off.’ Is acupressure then the David that can slay the Goliath Cancer? Vora has no doubt about it at all. Indeed, so sensational are the good healer’s claims that one trembles to mention them. ‘All types of cancer can be easily cured,’ he tells us, claiming to have treated around 10,000 such cases in the last 10 years. He also claims success in treating kidney ailments, muscular dystrophy and even HIV. I was disconcerted to find him diagnosing many cases of HIV by simply pressing a couple of points. Whether these are truly HIV cases or not, I cannot tell. Vora, though, throws an open challenge to all allopaths to prove his diagnosis wrong. Nor are his statements motivated by avarice. His twice-weekly sessions at the Arya Samaj are free of charge and his concern is transparently for the welfare of humanity. Elsewhere in the city, Samchand Bhavani Dharam, businessman, winces as tiny Sujok acupuncture needles are slipped into the two middle fingers of his left hand. Dr S.L. Shah, an allopath who also practices acupuncture and is deeply interested in the holistic sciences, explains that the patient will travel home to distant Thane with the needles in his finger, removing them only after an hour. The treatment is for frozen shoulder and already in four sittings he is 30 per cent better, says Dharam. This, after allopathy, homoepathy and other therapies failed to have any effect. Bharati Bagaria, a 48-year-old housewife, was laid low by a crippling back pain that prevented her from sitting or standing. In desperation, she approached Seema Khandwala, a practitioner of Chinese acupuncture. The first session itself yielded results and in five or six sessions the back pain had disappeared. Acupuncture and acupressure may or may not be the panacea its practitioners often claim them to be. But their growing popularity in India can hardly be doubted. While acupuncture is the senior and more respected of the two, it is acupressure which is climbing the popularity charts. Free training and treatment camps abound, run by people like Devendra Vora, who claims to have treated 20 lakh cases since his involvement in 1976. Chimanbhai Dave is another pioneer, having been deeply inspired by two books on reflexology (a variation of acupressure) written by Eunice Ingam called The Stories the Feet can Tell and The Stories the Feet have Told. His organization, Jay Bhagwan Acupressure Services Bombay (International) runs free training and healing workshops in about 300 centers in India and abroad. Another institution called Veer Savarkar Kendra in Vile Parle, also offers free treatment and training courses. Anjali Nevrekar, Sujok and hand reflexology practitioner, claims to have trained over 10,000 therapists herself. And acupressure gizmos abound, such as acupressure shoes, whose soft spikes are calculated to pressure your acupoints while you walk about your daily routine. There are many types of acupressure rollers, points, even beds! While such over-enthusiasm may be both unwise and unnecessary (practitioners say that all you really need are your fingertips, and that prolonged application of pressure such as that arising from footwear and beds can damage), it speaks volumes for the widespread awareness of what is an alien therapy, coming from China. Acupuncture and acupressure (which is further divided into other pressure therapies like reflexology, shiatsu, Sujok and G-Jo fingertip technique) come under the umbrella of Chinese medicine. Of ancient lineage, it was first consolidated in book form about 4,000 years ago, when The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine was published. At the core of these therapies, as indeed, all eastern sciences, is the presence of chi. Chi (prana, in India) is the bio-energy or life force that moves and sustains life. Indeed, it is the very essence of life. The universe is suffuse
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