By Sara Calabro
Hold your breath. Gulp water. Swallow sugar. Ok, now try vinegar. Plug your ears. Pull your tongue. Breathe into a bag. Laugh. Sneeze. Hope. Pray.
Some of these rumored cures can be lifesavers for occasional hiccups. But what about hiccups that keep coming back? Or hiccups that hang around too long? Why are some people prone to hiccups while others can barely remember the last time they had them?
Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. With each contraction the vocal cords close, producing a “hiccup” sound. Acupuncturists do not dispute this explanation—but they want to know more. The acupuncture cure for hiccups is about understanding why the diaphragm is contracting.
Two of the most common explanations, eating quickly and drinking carbonated beverages, surely account for a significant number of hiccups. But recurring or irretractable hiccups require investigating what’s happening on a systemic level. This is where acupuncture excels.
Hiccups are a sign of rebellion
To treat hiccups, acupuncturists turn things around. Not turn things around in the sense of, “I’m going to turn this situation around.” We mean literally turn things around: Go the other way. Put her in reverse.
Diaphragmatic contraction is a symptom of what’s known as Rebellious Qi.
The simplest understanding of Rebellious Qi is movement in the wrong direction—things that should go down go up, and vice versa. In addition to hiccups, symptoms of Rebellious Qi include nausea and vomiting, difficulty swallowing, belching, diarrhea, constipation, urinary retention and high blood pressure.
Rebellious Qi can occur in any organ system, but with hiccups, it’s usually affecting the Stomach.
When working properly, the Stomach has a descending quality that complements the ascending function of its associated organ system, Spleen. Often a disruption in directionality is caused by a preexisting pattern. In other words, Rebellious Stomach Qi is the result of another underlying imbalance.
What causes Stomach qi to rebel?
A pattern known as Cold Invading the Stomach can cause Stomach Qi to rebel. Hiccups that are deep and long, and accompanied by stomach pain that’s relieved by warmth, may fall into this category.
Stomach Yin Deficiency may be the problem in someone with quick and quiet hiccups who also has dry stool, as well as a dry mouth and tongue.
Stomach Fire, a pattern characterized by bad breath, constipation and thirst, can cause Stomach Qi to rise, leading to hiccups that are loud and forceful.
Imbalances in other organ systems can affect the directional flow of Stomach Qi as well.
For example, the Liver plays an important role in Stomach function. Since emotional tension directly affects the Liver system, pent up anger and frustration can ultimately lead to Rebellious Stomach Qi.
This explains why biomedical doctors sometimes list stress as a cause of hiccups. Liver affecting the Stomach in this way is considered a full or excess pattern, so hiccups tend to be loud.
Acupuncture treatments for hiccups focus on resolving underlying disharmonies and encouraging the Stomach’s natural descending function.
In addition to acupuncture points along to the Stomach meridian (plus UB17, an acupuncture point indicated for harmonizing the diaphragm), treatments often involve the Pericardium channel.
“The pericardium meridian is closely related to the stomach functions; so much so that it could almost be called the ‘stomach meridian of the arm,'” says John Pirog, in The Practical Application of Meridian Style Acupuncture. “The pericardium meridian is…especially useful in reversing counterflow qi, with symptoms such as nausea, vomit and hiccough [sic].”
Hiccups that won’t go away may be due to a systemic imbalance that reverses the flow of Stomach Qi. When brown paper bags and teaspoons of sugar fail, acupuncture can help turn things around.
Photo by Sara Calabro
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