Written by Bob Quinn, DAOM, LAc
It was 23 years ago when I started my Chinese medical education; I came equipped with a lot of assumptions, most of which are widely shared in our modern culture. Many of those basic assumptions amount to what could be called “common sense.” Keep in mind though what Albert Einstein said about common sense: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.” That’s right, he said common sense concerns prejudices, not the way things actually are. Most would define common sense as offering a shared bedrock view of reality, but that is not the case. Simply because a view is shared does not make it true.
One assumption I brought with me into my acupuncture training concerned the amount of stimulation needed to make a change in the body. At the time I was a fan of deep strong massage techniques, and so it was not a stretch to extend that type of thinking to acupuncture. Our needling techniques (so the thinking goes) need to be strong or else nothing much will occur.
I no longer think that way, and more importantly, the best acupuncturists I have studied with also do not think or practice that way. In fact, the best of the best acupuncturists I have watched employ acupuncture techniques that are unbelievably gentle and minimalistic. If I had had the chance to watch these masters back in 1995, I think my assumptions would have won the day though, i.e., I would have dismissed this sort of gentle treatment as an interesting oddity but probably not so clinically useful. Such is the power of assumptions.
Slowly over the years I have seen enough to convince me that my original ideas of appropriate levels of stimulation were nothing but a cultural bias I had picked up. We live in a culture in which louder, bigger, stronger, brasher, brighter is appreciated and celebrated. The still, the subtle, the quiet do not enjoy the same sort of acceptance in our society. It has taken quite a bit of work to move against this cultural current, but in studying classical Japanese styles, this is what I have been faced with, and I have made some progress.
Even as I started to open to a place for the subtle in how I practice, I was confronted once again by my assumptions when I first saw shonishin demonstrated. You see, shonishin is gentle beyond gentle, and I once again had to ask myself how such minimalistic and gentle techniques (no needles are inserted at all!) could be sufficient to significantly change conditions in a child. Shonishin is a style of pediatric treatment in which tools other than needles are used to tap, stroke, vibrate, scratch, and rub on acupuncture points and meridians. These tools are generally made of various metals and deliver a comfortable level of stimulation to the child. In fact, most kids report it as pleasurable, not just acceptable. Most of these patients love coming in for repeat treatments, which is half the battle won. Generally speaking, taking children to doctors is no easy chore for parents; kids resist with all of the tools and strategies at their disposal. Who wouldn’t; it hurts when someone jabs you with a needle!
One of the hurdles for me in watching shonishin performed was that a treatment is so brief. In almost no time it is over. Little patients just respond so much more quickly than adults that we need to be more aware of the danger of overtreatment than we do of not enough treatment. And that can easily happen. With shonishin it is better to do too little than too much. But to a perceptive eye, a lot is improved in these few short minutes of shonishin treatment. The children calm down quickly, their skin takes on a healthier luster, their elimination improves, their appetite improves, spitting up decreases, and their problem symptoms decrease. It is a wonder to behold. From doing next to nothing, a whole lot of good stuff happens. Frankly, it still surprises me.
Usually in shonishin a series of treatments will be the best bet. When I say this, I am referring to treatment for common childhood conditions: bedwetting, poor sleep, tantrums, tummy aches, low appetite, nursing difficulties, repeated ear infections, and conditions of this sort. If the condition is more serious, it might well be that ongoing treatment of a semi-regular nature will be required.
At the Onkodo Clinic we have five acupuncturists well trained in shonishin: Daniel Silver, Lauri Elizabeth, Emily Ryan, Bob Quinn, and (soon) Vy Similes. This gives a parent ample scheduling options in finding a practitioner for their child. We look forward to helping your family!
P.S. Onkodo Clinic has its own line of high-quality shonishin tools—we call it the Gentle Spirit shonishin tool line. These tools are made in collaboration with two traditional Navajo silversmiths in a labor-intensive manner that no one else duplicates. Some of their work is actually in the Smithsonian Institute collection. See our store for photos and ordering.