On distal needling, aka “Finding the switches”

People ask us all the time why we’re not putting needles into where it hurts. (“You know it’s my knee that’s sore, not my elbow, right?”) This is a totally fair question! The answer is that we use distal acupuncture: placing needles away from the site we’re treating instead of close to it. Distal points are below the knee, below the elbow, on the head and at the ears. It’s a safe, efficient and very effective way of practising that’s been used for thousands of years.

Some people believe that distal points work faster and better because they’re found on the parts of the meridian (think of meridians as highways for the body’s qi or life force) that are closer to the surface than other sections. Using distal points is a way to access those highways quickly, often making for dynamic, fast results. Distal acupuncture is a also a great way to practise in group settings—community acupuncture patients don’t have to take their clothes off or lie face down on their stomach, unable to see what’s happening next.

We at GCA are among the hundreds of community acupuncturists who learned distal needling techniques from the legendary Dr Richard Teh-Fu Tan. He was based in San Diego but taught thousands of people all over the world until his death in 2016. He used to say “If you wanna turn on the ceiling light, what do you do? Drag over a ladder and screw in the lightbulb? NO! You go over to the wall and find the switch! I tell all my students to find the switches!

Dr. Tan made horrible jokes and probably drank a bit too much. We loved him. We keep a picture of him by our little clinic altar with a tiny cup; at the end of every shift we pour out a couple drops of cheap Canadian whiskey (his favourite) and tell him how many people we treated using his methods that day. 

A balding man stands in the sunshine with a huge smile waves to the camera. Ocean and rugged coastline behind him.
Our teacher, Dr Tan

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