Ling Sun arranged her white lab coat as she settled into her seat at Feeling Great Wellness Center in Brunswick. Behind her an anatomical chart outlining the meridians of the body was displayed on the wall. For many, it may look like a chaotic mass of lines and numbers — not so for the native of Luoyang, China, who has been studying these complex energetic systems for more than 20 years.
“I came here in 1998 from central China, from Luoyang. There’s a peony flower festival there every year,” she remembers with a smile.
The city, situated between Beijing and Xi’an, is an ancient one, where residents are deeply connected to history, as well as the natural world around them. These links between the past and present shaped Sun’s future.
“My grandmother was what we call a ‘bare foot doctor’ in China, which means she had skills in healing people. She would always give medicine to people in the countryside,” she says.
“If people had a problem, they would run to our house. She would give them medicine, but she wouldn’t charge them. Sometimes they would give her eggs or things like that in exchange.”
Her grandmother eventually experienced her own health problems, suffering from heart disease. That, Sun says, prompted her father to become a doctor, which in turn inspired her own journey into Chinese medicine and the world of acupuncture.
Sun spent a great deal of time learning the healing practices that have been used by the Chinese for thousands of years.
“In China, acupuncture is used in hospitals along with Western medicine. You still check everything with machines and tests, but it is also used,” she says.
As an acupuncturist, who works in Brunswick and at Balance Wellness on St. Simons Island, Sun feels these Chinese methods provide a wealth of benefits. Acupuncture, for instance, aims to cure everything from physical pains to emotional stress. It’s all based on energy.
In the Chinese tradition, there is a concept called Qi, an energy that flows within all living beings. It travels within the body through energetic highways known as meridians.
The body is divided in half, with 12 meridians running through each side. Along these channels are roughly 360 acupuncture points that correspond to organ systems.
“The meridians are invisible. They’re energetic lines. Along the lines, there are points that have different functions and correspond to different organs,” Sun says. “When there is a blockage in these points, then you have pain or a problem.”
That can include anything from a headache to depression. The goal through acupuncture is to clear the energetic lines, allowing the Qi to flow freely. That’s where the needles come in. The single-use pins stimulate and unblock the knotted energy, much like dry needling does for muscles.
“You make a diagnosis, put your pins in, and it usually takes between 25 to 30 minutes with the needles in … but it is different for every person. The energy runs to different organs at different times, through different meridians. So we have to follow that,” she says.
“These aren’t the needles like needles in the hospital. They are very thin, and not hollow like a shot, which causes pain. It is more like a pinch. You put the needles in different points in the body, and they remove the blockage.”
Like Sun, Mark Brinson has been practicing acupuncture and Chinese medicine for decades.
The owner of Saint Acupuncture and Wellness in Redfern Village also incorporates his training in massage, physical therapy, and herbal treatments to combat a variety of ailments.
Acupuncture, he notes, still has some mystic qualities even after thousands of years and modern exploration.
“It really is basically just boosting an electrical signal within the body. It’s not only the point that you put the pin in, it’s the combination of points, that stimulates the body to heal itself,” he says.
It was an unlikely path that led the Florida native to delve into the realm of ancient medicine.
“I’d never had acupuncture, and I was deathly afraid of needles,” he says with a laugh. “Needles and public speaking were my two biggest fears in high school. Now, I do this and have lectured internationally.”
But after extensive training in both Chinese medicine and other therapeutic practices, he began to customize plans for each patient. That has helped to produce solid results, which have contributed to his stellar local reputation as a healer.
“I think the combination of the hands-on work, the herbs, and acupuncture makes the difference. Any of those three tools could probably solve the problem, but I think it will take longer. You could come in, and I could treat you 10 times. Or you could come in once, and we could just go ahead and fix it,” Brinson says.
“We can treat just about anything that comes through the door. I do well with musculoskeletal because that is my background There are some things that are super easy to treat — anxiety, shingles, vertigo, and fertility for both men and women. We’ve seen some great results with fertility.”
Brinson can recall countless success stories throughout his career, but he is always quick to refer those he treats to others if necessary. His rapport with patients, however, helps him to deliver customized treatment plans that often lead to success.
“If I’ve treated you before, I know that you could use this particular herbal formula. But if someone else comes in, they would get something completely different. It is very much based on the individual,” he says.
Another technique Brinson incorporates is cupping.
Glass caps are used to create suction on the skin, drawing in the tissue, which according to practitioners, triggers a healing response in the body. A cotton ball soaked in alcohol can be lit aflame to heat the cup and increase the suction prior to application.
“It can be used with a stubborn injury that won’t heal. After a while the body stops paying attention to (an injury), so this just brings it back to the body’s attention and stimulates it to heal itself,” Brinson says. “It’s really about the body healing itself.”
Like Brinson, Sun feels the ancient practice provides solutions for a modern world. Promoting the balance of the energy that lies beneath the physical can pave a way to one’s best life.
“Everything is energy … the yin and yang. It is nature. Sunrise is yang, sunset is yin,” she says with a smile.
“We are always comparing the yin and the yang, the positive and negative. We live under the sky and on the earth. It’s a yin and yang world.”