Yoga and Acupuncture in India: an Ancient Link

Most people know that yoga is a practice from India, but not many people know that acupuncture also has a history in India.  The truth of acupuncture in India, and its integration with yoga, may open up a vast new world of healing to both new and seasoned yoga practitioners alike.

Much of the knowledge of acupuncture in India was exposed during the archaeological discoveries of the Harappa and Mohenjo-daro civilizations. Thousands of years ago, scholars from India went to China to teach, and pilgrims from China came to visit Buddhist shrines and universities in India. This is why many in India and Japan believe that acupuncture actually originated in India, where it spread to China. According to Dr. B.K. Singh, a scholar and specialist of acupuncture with 40 years of clinical, teaching, and research experience, acupuncture, or “Suchi-Bhaden,” (Suchi- “needle”, Bhaden- “puncture”) has been in practice in India as a traditional healing modality for the past 7,000 years.  What yoga practitioners will find fascinating is that many Indian subcultures utilize various tools (nose rings, earrings, tattoos, and even yoga) to stimulate many of these acupuncture points to maintain health. Even today, it is not uncommon to walk into a village in India and see individuals who practice yoga with earrings pierced into certain acupuncture points on their ears to treat ailments.

In his paper, “Acupuncture-its Origins in India,” Singh cites Sushutra, an ancient renowned surgeon of Ayurveda, who described the Indian version of acupuncture points as “marmas,” or, highly concentrated areas of “vital energy” within the body that act as windows for the body to communicate with the outside world. He went so far as saying that marma points are the seat of “Prana,” or “Pranayama.” Pranayama is considered one of the most important of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the integral texts to yoga teacher trainings all over the world. Pranayama is translated from Sanskrit as “breath control” and is considered to rejuvenate the body and extend life itself, which is why many yoga classes integrate breathing exercises.

The significance of this link between acupuncture and yoga is that individuals have the power to heal themselves by combining pranayama with acupuncture.  Unfortunately, ours is an instant-gratification culture where many treat acupuncture just like a pill from the doctor. Individuals believe that simply getting inserted with needles, like taking a pill, is all that is needed to heal.  An example of how individuals can heal themselves with yoga is supported by a recent study at the University College of Medical Sciences in Dheli, India, in which researchers monitored the diffusion capacities (the overall ability of the lung to transfer gas into and out of the blood) among patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) who were taught yoga poses and pranayama techniques every day.  The researchers concluded that yoga increased the patients’ diffusion capacities. In addition, the NIH supports that yoga is an effective therapy for alleviating co-morbidities like depression and anxiety, which often accompany diseases such like COPD.  Would it not make sense, then, for an individual to practice yogic breathing exercises for the duration of an acupuncture treatment, a time in which the body’s vital energy is at the surface, similar to ancient Indians who strove to activate their marma points through yoga?

As the owner of my San Diego-based acupuncture clinic and yoga studio, Acu Yoga Wellness, I can attest to the positive results of my patients who do pranayama breathing exercises during their acupuncture treatment, and/or follow up their acupuncture treatments with a yoga class.  It is my belief that, in order to truly heal in all aspects of one’s life, it is essential to do meditative breathing exercises daily.  I recommend to individuals interested in acupuncture to seek out a board-certified acupuncturist who integrates pranayama during treatments, or to combine a regular yoga practice, whether at-home or in a studio, with their acupuncture treatments.

Sources: Singh, B.K. “Acupuncture-its Origins in India.” British Journal of Acupuncture, 1985 – Volume 8, No. 2.

Soni R, Munish K, Singh K P, Singh S. Study of the Effect of Yoga Training on Diffusion Capacity in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patients: A controlled Trial. Int J Yoga 2012;5:123-7.

Siham Miller is a licensed acupuncturist and certified Yoga Alliance instructor. She is the owner of Acu Yoga Wellness in La Mesa, CA.

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