Clinical Mysteries

Belly Says Yes

There’s a funny thing that happens with almost every patient, almost every time. Their belly talks.

I may be touching a specific point to decide exactly where to place the needle, and it seems as though when I’m in just the right spot, I get a little rumble of acknowledgement from the patient’s belly.

Maybe, instead, I have just finished a treatment and the person’s belly gives a kind of thank you as if to say, “I feel good.” Or maybe I am just beginning to take a person’s pulse and the belly gives a little hello of recognition that I am there. My belly sometimes answers back.

I remember this happening when I was a patient in my school days, learning by getting treatments. I had never experienced anything like that — two bellies talking. But it was unmistakeably happening.

It still makes me laugh. And patients laugh too. They will say, “this never happens except when I am here!” or they will think it’s because they are hungry and I will explain to them that it’s pretty normal.

I picture this talking belly like a little muppet inside, something cute and a bit wild, that is communicating with me. I always find it a good sign. It’s like a yes.

I do wonder why this happens — in Chinese medicine one must always be curious about patterns that repeat because these are the clues that teach us what we are doing and how to become better at our work.

The official explanation I have heard is that this noise is a sign of qi movement. But I think it must be more than that.

Some things that come to mind: the stomach is part of the Earth element, and sometimes the Earth element is placed at the center of the other four elements, instead of the more usual five-circle wheel. It is our center, physically and energetically. So it makes sense in some way that this becomes a sort of gateway spokesperson for the body.

The Earth element is also about digestion, so maybe this is a form of integration and ingestion of new information.

To be honest, though, this belly talking remains a mystery — mostly because I have never observed it in any other circumstances besides hunger. But, too, acupuncture connects with a person’s system on a very deep level, so I can understand why something might happen in the context of an acupuncture treatment and nowhere else.