The skin — the body’s largest organ — is often appreciated for its supple, hydrated or glowing surface: but underneath, the complex fibers and pathways have secrets that are yet to be fully understood. The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture seeks to harness the energetic pathways of the body for a less obstructed flow of the inner life source. The traditional Amazonian kambo practices also seek to transform the body’s energetic source and leave people less obstructed by mental and physical ailments. But what about combining the two? Let’s explore the origins of kambo and acupuncture and how, or rather if, the two should be combined.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a key fixture of traditional Chinese medicine and involves inserting thin needles through the skin at deliberate points of the body. The traditional explanation for acupuncture healing properties involves balancing the flowing life force or Qi — pronounced chee — through needle insertion along specific energetic pathways, or meridians. By applying pressure to these points, acupuncturists activate the central nervous system, relieving pain and symptoms of chronic disorders.
Let’s take a look at the history of acupuncture and how it made its way into Western doctor’s offices.
History of Acupuncture
Experts believe that acupuncture originated in China, referencing documents from The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, dating from around 100 BCE. Though these documents outlined a system of diagnosis and treatment recognized as acupuncture, archeologists found sharpened stones that may have been used as acupuncture implements dating back to as early as 6000 BCE.
The originating documents outline emperor Huang Ti’s communications with minister Chhi-Po regarding the prevailing Taoist philosophy and the concepts of meridians in the Qi. Over the following centuries, acupuncture became a fixture of Chinese healing therapies and by the 15th century, the standard acupuncture points were seen solidified on bronze statues — the very same points used in modern acupuncture today.
Published during The Ming Dynasty, The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion described the 365 points that represent openings to meridians and allow acupuncture needles to access these channels and alter the flow of Qi energy.
Starting in the 17th century, appreciation for acupuncture declined and it was excluded from the 1822 Imperial Medical Institute’s decree. The 20th century brought about a greater acceptance of Western medicine in China leading to the outlawing of traditional medicinal practices including acupuncture in 1929. After the installation of the Communist government in 1949, acupuncture was reinstated, research institutes were established and acupuncture treatments were made available in Western-style hospitals throughout China.
Acupuncture spread to other countries at various times and through many routes. Traditional theories of acupuncture have been challenged by American and British acupuncturists who favor a more biological model to describe the changes in symptoms of acupuncture patients.
Let’s take a look at the biological perspective on how acupuncture works.
Biology of Acupuncture
The traditional model of pressure points and meridians can be explained neurologically as acupuncture needles stimulating nerve endings, resulting in changes in brain function or pain reduction. This explanation is not fully conclusive and most clinical researchers have found little data on acupuncture’s method of action on the body.
Regardless, patients herald their acupuncturist for treating a range of ailments including back pain, menstrual cramps, headache and nausea.
A recent study sought to find replicable anatomical structures that could mirror the meridian system of traditional Chinese medicine. They found that the meridian patterns existed in the extracellular matrix and that fascia was an important component of the interaction between acupuncture needles and meridian points.
The extracellular matrix is the physical scaffolding that provides structure and support for tissues and organs — like the skin. Underneath the skin is layers of fibrous tissues — or fascia — that surround muscles, blood vessels and nerves. Acupuncture needles penetrate at various depths through the layers of skin, fascial tissue and muscle.
The researchers also found that vessel nerve bundles — which had been the primary explanation for 80% of acupuncture points — were actually only present in a few acupuncture points. These findings contradict the theory that meridian points are only along nervous channels and invites further research on acupuncture’s underlying mechanisms.
Increased attention from Western researchers and practitioners has spurred an intersection of different holistic medicinal teachings. Traditional Chinese Medicine — including the meridian system — and the Indian Chakra System have both been combined with the traditional Amazonian kambo practices. Let’s take a look at how the wisdom of frog-medicine and acupuncture intersect.
Kambo and Acupuncture
The origins of kambo lie in the lush jungles of the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous peoples found that the secretion of the abundant Phyllomedusa Bicolor tree frog has the power to transform and heal the mind and body. The method of kambo application is said to have come to a shaman during an ayahuasca vision: spurring him to scrape the secretions from the frog’s back and pressing the poison into the small burned holes in the skin. The location of the kambo application has various meanings depending on the participant’s desired effects, all of which involve purging the system of energetic blocks.
Some kambo circles have begun applying kambo to specific energetic points associated with acupuncture meridians. The belief is that by layering the frog secretions on the specific meridian points that correspond to different organs or illnesses can help participants use kambo in a more targeted way.
There is little research on the effectiveness of combining these two different medicinal traditions. Though both involve skin penetration, the vehicle of action is different. The burned kambo penetrations allow the secretion to enter the lymphatic system and the bloodstream. This quickly carries the substance around the entire body, resulting in immediate side effects like vomiting.
For those combining these different medicine forms the concepts of placebo and intention come into question. It is possible for kambo ceremony participants to report increased effectiveness from different areas of application, however, the human mind is powerful and without scientific evidence no conclusion can be drawn from these reports.
Some acupuncturists warn against burning along meridian lines, as the scarring could disrupt the healthy skin and facial tissue, perhaps damaging the area for further acupuncture treatment. This is another facet of the intersection between kambo and acupuncture that needs further research.
For some people, the intention behind their kambo application provides them with real perceived differences and improvements in their symptoms. This experience is valid as everyone’s kambo experience and goals are unique. Traditional kambo practices use specific areas of application depending on the goal of the treatment. For example women often receive kambo on their legs in order to promote fertility, while men receive treatment on their arms or back to promote strength. Kambo placement has always been intentional, and for some the meridian system provides an understanding of the energetic anatomy that inspires them to combine these two holistic medicines.
On the journey towards healing, combining the wisdom of different teachings can allow individuals to find their unique path towards contentment. Checking with expert kambo practitioners and acupuncturists before combining these two medicines is the best way to have a safe and predictable experience.
Have you heard of anyone combining kambo with the acupuncture meridian systems? With little research available, community discussion can be a resource for learning. We would love to hear your comments below. If you are interested in learning more about kambo and other Amazonian medicines make sure to subscribe to our newsletter for updates on the latest content.