The Root and Branch of Healing

As an acupuncture student we learned about the root and the branch of illness. The branch of illness generally included the symptom that brought your patient to you in the first place. The root was generally the underlying problem that caused the imbalance manifesting in the set of symptoms in the first place.

To use the example of a cold, the cold itself may be the branch “symptom” that I am treating. This is particularly true of those who always get a cold when the kids first go back to school. Certainly there are many factors going on but while the branch may be the cold, the root may require dealing with boosting the immune system so they are less likely to get sick (or as sick) when their kids go back to school and bring home their own colds and flus.

In such a case, in the first treatment I might focus 90% of my attention on the branch of the problem. In subsequent treatments I may focus as much as 90% of my treatment on the root of the problem. The symptoms after the first treatment are likely much reduced and treating the root will help the body as much as anything to rid the rest of the symptoms.

Each illness is different in terms of how the percentages break down.

In general it is often fairly easy to make short term changes in the branch of a problem and make people feel better. It takes longer to make changes in the root of the problem, which is what keeps the problem from returning again and again.

Lifestyle changes can be looked at in the same manner. Some changes are big and require a lot of effort to make those changes. These might be the ones that make the most profound difference in the long run. These changes might mean giving up all gluten or stopping smoking or exercising regularly.

Other changes may encourage us to work towards our larger changes. Cutting back on smoking may not offer the same long term benefits of giving it up but consciously cutting back and becoming aware of smoking may make a larger change easier in the long run. Cutting back on food allergies and eating lower on the totem pole even once a week can be a good step towards bigger lifestyle changes. They should be looked as a step towards better health and these steps shouldn’t be minimized, particularly when people who are sick are making changes.

No one loves making changes in their lives. It takes effort. Small changes can feel like running a marathon to someone who is sick. Stop minimizing the efforts. Everyone has a lot of pressure to be perfect. We need to step back from that perfection and realize that sometimes good enough is. As people heal, even one day away from food allergens may make a huge difference in energy and cascade into the ability to make bigger and farther reaching changes.

Life is not about the goal. It is the path to get there.

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Bonnie Koenig has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999. She is passionate about helping people find real healing and real health. In the process she keeps asking about our attitudes towards sickness and health. Only by being clear on what sickness is, can we ever find health.

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