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Gold needle therapy

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Out of the 11 therapies offered by the Traditional hospital in Thimphu, ‘Sergi khap’ (gold needle) or acupuncture therapy is the most popular one. In Bhutan, joint problems and migraines are the two conditions for which this therapy is most frequently employed to promote general wellness.

Acupuncture points are precise spots along the channel where needles may be inserted to change the channel's energy balance and, in turn, control the operation of the corresponding organ. This therapy regulates blood circulation and is reported to help alleviate stiffness and paralysis.

Picture of Gold needle acupuncture.

The gold needle measures around 1.5 mm in diameter and 2.5 inches in length (on average). It is made of pure gold and has a couple of coils at one end that is directed at the other. The determining aspect is both the needle and the well-defined application zones.

According to the philosophy of the Bhutanese Traditional Medicine System, there are three humors, seven bodily components, and three excretions that control the human body. Any disparity between them causes various ailments to be afflicted, which are always travelling along the hide spots. Thus, applying a needle to the affected area helps restore balance.

There are four methods for applying. The burning procedure stands out among them. Its non-invasive nature is established by the application's superficiality and the fact that it is not introduced deeply into the dermis. Before application, it must be heated for two to three minutes, or until it turns red hot. The doctor chooses the corresponding points (the hide points are grouped into two categories). The first one includes relevant and related points regarding the disorder, and the second one is the area that has been painful or achy for a long time, depending on the patient's motivation. Before applying, the physician takes refuge in Bhaisajyaguru Vaiduryaprabha (the Medicine Buddha), invoking spiritual influence to ensure that patients recover quickly and pray for salvation.

However, pregnant women are not encouraged to take traditional golden needle procedures. Moreover, people with conditions caused by bile, blood, or jaundice, or those that are heated in nature, are strictly prohibited. The doctors also do not perform the therapy near the patient's orifice or immediately after they have eaten food.

History and re-discovery of Sergi Khap

In Bhutan, it is believed that a treasure discoverer named Dorji Lingpa rediscovered the doctrine of the gold needle. He considered himself a reincarnation of Vairochana, a Tibetan adept who hid both Buddhist and Bon riches and was a key character in both traditions' Dzogchen lineages.

A drawing of Toerten Dorji Lingpa. Picture source:

He is said to have visited Paro to find certain writings that had been kept secret in Tagtshang (Tiger’s nest) caves. The "Gold Needle" is the manuscript collection's primary work. It has a very creative explanation of the Dzogchen doctrine, which the author argues is in line with the Bon tradition.

Golden needle therapy in modern Bhutan

Data from the National Traditional Medicine's therapy division show that 10 of the disorders treated had a cure rate of more than 60%.

The therapy was delivered informally up until 2017. Since it became official in 2018, the traditional hospital saw a rise of more than 4,000 patients, going from receiving 9,950 patients in 2018 to receiving 13,981 patients in 2019. As of October 2020, 13,660 patients had been admitted.

As of today, only Thimphu (two Dungtsho; "Dungtsho" refers to traditional medicine doctors ) and Paro (one Dungtsho) offer acupuncture therapy, so people from all around the nation must go there to obtain the treatment.

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