Seeking an alternative: Exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture in Exeter
I’ve had this dull ache in the base of my spine for a long time. Sometimes I practice yoga, and it goes away, other times the exercise exacerbates it. I thought I had tried everything, and then Ellie Columbine, Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist came along.
I like to think that I am pretty open to new ideas and perspectives. When it comes to finding solutions to health problems, it isn’t ‘one size fits all’. Different things work for different people – and I am always up for trying something new. So far this year, I’ve become one with the trees at Powderham castle on a yoga retreat, I’ve had a gong bath in Topsham, and I’ve taken up Muay Thai boxing. I have experienced reflexology on my feet and face, but I had never experienced acupuncture (which works on a similar premise). I couldn’t resist the offer of treatment and the opportunity to learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine.
So what exactly is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Well… Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been used for centuries and has evolved over thousands of years. TCM practitioners use various mind and body practices (such as acupuncture, qi-gong and tai chi) as well as herbal medicines to address health problems and balance the Qi* within the body.
*If you’re wondering what qi is, in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Qi is the vital energy that circulates through all our bodies. Or, according to the Oxford Dictionary, it is; “the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine.”
According to Shaolin grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit, TCM is;
The cleansing of meridians to achieve harmonious energy flow and the restoration of yin-yang balance.
I know it all sounds a bit far out if you’re not familiar with the terminology or the practice, but here’s the basic premise (as I understand it). We have meridians (energy lines) that run throughout our bodies, and to stay well, we need to make sure these meridians are balanced so that our energy (or qi) flows freely through the body.
Despite its ancient origins, TCM is used frequently in modern Western medicine. Acupuncture can be accessed through the NHS (and is often recommended privately) as well as being present in the majority of pain clinics and hospices in the UK.
Who is Ellie Columbine?
Ellie Columbine is an acupuncturist, and Chinese medicine practitioner brought up in Devon and based here in Exeter at Chiropractic Matters in Exminister. She graduated from the Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health Sciences in Canada, where she studied traditional Chinese medicine, western physiology and pathophysiology and meridian-based diagnosis. As well as; medical mandarin, Chinese medicine classical texts and qi-gong.
About her work, Ellie says she:
Focuses on identifying and treating the root cause of symptoms to enable the body to repair and rebalance from its foundation.
Prioritises creating an environment of non-judgement and inviting clients to participate in their journey back to health.
Tries to provide a space to heal and empower clients to re-establish a positive relationship with their bodies, minds and emotional wellbeing.
As well as acupuncture, Ellie uses techniques such as tuina massage, cupping, Chinese herbal medicine, moxibustion and gua sha. (More about different Chinese medicine techniques here)
Why turn to Chinese Medicine?
My first answer would be: why not? How do you know something works or doesn’t work until you try it?
Ellie developed her passion for TCM when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis. She explored alternative therapies after years of treatment using Western medicine. Ellie says:
I honestly believe that treatment and progress is an absolute collaboration, and it’s wonderful to see people feeling better and shift the relationship they have with their own body.
I underwent a four-week treatment, seeing Ellie once a week. My first session included a chat about my current health and afflictions, I highlighted my back pain, depression and monthly tummy pains. Ellie was very thorough in exploring my symptoms, she looked for patterns and triggers. She asked me lots of questions about my general health and wellbeing, checked my tongue (which I found odd, especially as I’ve been drinking turmeric, so it was a bit orange – awkward!). Ellie explained that TCM diagnosis looks at the colour, shape, and tongue coating, all for which provide crucial health-related information and didn’t baulk at my orange tongue.
Then Ellie felt my pulses, explaining that each pulse position corresponds with a different organ system in Chinese medicine – as someone who wasn’t aware that we have more than one pulse, this blew my mind a bit!
Then came the needles! Ellie gave me acupuncture on both sides of my body. She explained that this was to regulate my qi (energy) moving and balancing it to remove stagnation, strengthening the spleen (responsible for the production of qi and digestive system), she also went to work on the lower back, to eliminate dampness. Now, I am quite squeamish, and I don’t cope well with needles generally, but acupuncture needles are (for the most part) very slim, and Ellie put them in so gently and precisely – I hardly noticed. After having the needles in my back for a while, I felt a sense of sublime release and relaxation (that level of relaxation when you have to try not to dribble through the face hole on the treatment bed – I’m sure some of you can relate).
Each week Ellie provided acupuncture on both sides of the body to balance out my energy and boost my qi, after each week I felt a noticeable difference in the tightness of my muscles, and by week three my lower back pain had gone entirely.
During the second week, we discussed my response to the initial treatment. Ellie said I was displaying more signs of heat in the body. She explained that Chinese medicine looks at the body as a reflection of climatic factors, and you can have heat, cold, dampness, wind etc. showing excessively in the system at different times. According to Ellie, I also had qi stagnation signs (meaning that my qi or energy is not flowing smoothly in the body). So she focused on clearing some heat and helping to smooth out the stagnation.
Ellie did some cupping to help release heat and move qi in the back. For those of you who don’t know what cupping is, let me explain; cupping is the placing of individual cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction. It is used for lots of afflictions, including helping with pain, blood flow, relaxation and wellbeing, and as a type of deep-tissue massage. When you first have it done, it is quite a strange experience. There’s a moment of intense pressure followed by release. I’ve been kickboxing since, and it did wonders for my aching back and shoulder muscles!
Ellie suggested that I try herbs for energy and gave me a formula called Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, I used this for three weeks and I can honestly say that I felt that it improved my energy, lifted my mood, calmed my mind and regulated my body.
In week three, I was tired, tired, tired. Since becoming a vegetarian I have become very anaemic. The herbs were lifting my energy levels, and Ellie used moxa on my lower back and lower abdomen. This was to get rid of the coldness that was contributing to period pain and lower back pain.
On my final treatment, I had moxa (Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy that consists of burning the dried mugwort leaf on or above specific points on the body. It helps to warm areas of the body with the intention of stimulating circulation and lymphatic flow). I also had acupuncture and a shoulder and neck massage.
My lower back pain felt altogether better, and my shoulder and neck pain was positively improved.
So does Traditional Chinese Medicine work?
When I was researching TCM, I found an interesting article in the National Geographic called How ancient remedies are changing modern medicine. In it, I read about a pigs heart that was kept working outside the body for seven hours after being treated “with a bath of chemicals mimicking those in bile from bears.” According to the scientist “the chemicals that protect a bear’s organs from atrophying during hibernation could also sustain human organs”. In other words, the use of the faux bear bile could be a game-changer for transplant surgeries.
I might add that I don’t support the awful practice of extracting bear bile, and I definitely wouldn’t buy into remedies that involve the hunting of rare species such as the use of Rhino horn. Chinese medicines in the West are mostly plant-based, I am relieved that no animals died for my treatment.
But back to the question at hand: Does TCM work? In my opinion, yes, my treatments made quite a big difference to my general health and my back pain.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely, I’ve booked in for a monthly treatment. I might add that since having TCM and discussing it. Lots of my friends have been doing it for a long time and find it helps them too.
Interested in learning more about Chinese medicine? This is the brilliant article by National Geographic that I mentioned: How ancient remedies are changing modern medicine.
Interested in the impact of TCM on wildlife? This is a good read: Will mainstreaming traditional Chinese medicine threaten wildlife?
If you want to know more about Traditional Chinese Medicine and try a treatment, head over to Ellie’s website, contact her and have a chat.
Ellie works from chiropractic Matters Exminster.
Tags: acupuncture, acupuncture in devon, chiropractic matters, chiropractor, cupping, Exeter, exminister, moxa, therapy, traditional chinese medicine