I’M A RECOVERING SEEKER OF LOGIC AND RATIONAL ARGUMENTS AND SUPPRESSOR OF FEELINGS. I USED TO BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO FEARED THE UNKNOWN, THINKING THERE HAD TO BE A LOGICAL, SCIENTIFIC ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING. THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT I NEVER RELY ON MY HEAD OR NO LONGER EXPERIENCE THAT FEAR OF NOT KNOWING.
My journey over the past eight years has taught me to find balance, to let some of the “knowing” go and feel my way forward. It started with a medical mystery, which led me on a quest for answers in the modern medical world. Eventually, my journey led me to a different type of healer: those who draw upon the wisdom of the heroes of the past, the spiritual realm and source energy. It led me to several alternative methods in the health and wellness arena, including acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points to cure disease or relieve pain.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ACUPUNTURE
Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest healing modalities, dating back nearly 2,200 years in recorded history. The development of the art of Chinese acupuncture is credited to three founders. The first was, Fu Xi, an innovator said to have created nine types of needles. The second was, Shen Nong, who discovered the curative nature of herbs. And the third was, Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, who emphasized medicine and acupuncture. These were not the needles we know today—not even close. Originally made from polished and sharpened stone (bian shi) or bone and later bronze and other metals, these needles were thick and heavy. As acupuncture evolved, practitioners utilized channels and collaterals (now also called meridians) for needle placement, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Based on yin-yang and the five elements, acupuncture recognizes that health of the human body is maintained through holistic balance with itself and the environment.
In the 1700s the popularity of acupuncture declined, seemingly due to the ease of treatment with herbal medicines. People moved away from the pain of acupuncture. Political unrest and the spread of modern Western medicine into China led to further decline through the 1800s. Doctors practicing modern medicine either ignored or degraded the ancient traditional Chinese medicine, even calling acupuncture “the deadly needle.” The good news, though, is that just as modern Western medicine was spreading into the East, traditional medicine was taking root in Europe. Well-known physicians holding positive attitudes toward acupuncture quickly revitalized its popularity. In the last 60 years, Chinese official policy has been to encourage the integration of both types of medicine to capitalize on the strengths of each.
HOW ACUPUNCTURE WORKS
The basic tenet for Chinese medicine is that there is a life energy flowing throughout the body which is called “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Qi, or energy, flows through the body via meridians that connect the major organs and tissues. Ancient texts describe every part of the musculoskeletal system and its relation to a main meridian and associated sub-meridians. Through these pathways, every part of the body is associated with a certain internal organ and can be affected by an imbalance with that organ. Acupuncture works by puncturing these points to regulate the flow of the blood and qi. When qi is flowing naturally, the body is in a healthy balanced state. Pain, disease and other health issues occur when there is blockage or stagnation of qi.
Based on your symptoms, your acupuncturist will locate specific points for needle placement using anatomical landmarks that apply to every human body. The needles, which are as fine as horse hair, are placed at various depths in your skin, and sometimes twisted to heighten their effect. There may be some pain involved: Pain is a personal experience, and everyone has a different threshold. For me, it’s uncomfortable, but hurts less than plucking my eyebrows. Once the needles are in place, I don’t feel them at all. During a session the needles remain in position, while you lie or sit still, for 20-45 minutes.
RISKS AND RESULTS
Mayo Clinic states that the risks of acupuncture are low if you have a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner using sterile needles. Common side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted. Single-use, disposable needles are now the practice standard, so the risk of infection is minimal. Not everyone is a good candidate for acupuncture. You may be at risk of complications if you have a bleeding disorder, take blood thinners, have a pacemaker or are pregnant (some types of acupuncture are thought to stimulate labor).1
There are countless people who will tell you acupuncture works, and there are probably close to an equal amount of people that will tell you it doesn’t. There is, however, a growing body of clinical evidence that supports its use. I have found it to be most effective for acute pain, inflammation and energy balancing. I usually feel energized after a session. One key thing to note is that it usually takes several treatments scheduled close together to restore the energy flow within your body.
ONE LAST TIP
At my very first appointment, I was told to lie back, relax, and clear my mind from thoughts, but to stay awake. At the time, having no experience in meditation, this was very difficult. While sitting in the waiting room during a subsequent appointment I scoured the internet for help. The answer was a mantra to invite healing. Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung is a mantra for a sacred healing meditation which I still use today.
Alissa Cornell is local writer and human pin cushion.