Acupuncture 101: How The Ancient Practice Could Change Your Wellness Journey
By Alexis Fernandez
How often do you go to the doctor? For many of us, we only make the effort after a health problem arises. We wait ‘till we’re sick to go, because that’s the way the system is built. There isn’t much support for the less immediate issues we deal with on a weekly basis – stress, digestive upset, constipation, headaches, fatigue, irritability, that occasional back or neck pain – until they become or cause a serious issue.
The Chinese medicine system, built upon over 2000 years of practice, seeks to shift our mindset regarding our health to one of prevention and balance. Practitioners understand the human body as intelligent – the things we feel, be it physical or emotional, communicate important information about our internal self. Routine acupuncture and personalized herbal formulas allow us to be proactive in maximizing wellness, restoring balance, and preventing health issues.
How does it work? The human body contains an energetic system composed of meridians, or pathways, that connect everything from our internal organs to our skin and carry qi (pronounced ‘chee’), the bodies vital force. This vital force keeps us animated – when it’s strong and flowing smoothly, we feel vigorous and lively; when the flow is obstructed or weak, it can manifest as a host of issues such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleeping difficulties, and digestive issues. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are the key tools of Chinese medicine, (quite literally) pinpointing areas where qi flow is weak and reopening those channels, boosting the body’s self-healing process and restoring the smooth flow of qi.
In Chinese Medicine, health is viewed as the body’s ability to respond effectively to a wide variety of stressors while maintaining equilibrium and integrity. The primary source of disease is any challenge to the body with which its unable to cope- be it emotional, environmental, or physical. Because Chinese Medicine understands the body as a comprehensive, highly interconnected system, the first 15-30 minutes of your visit with a practitioner usually involves a thorough interview where you’ll be asked about everything from your emotional state to your bathroom movements. Other diagnostic techniques like tongue and pulse diagnosis may also be conducted during the initial interview. The different signs and symptoms create a pattern that shows practitioners which organs and meridians are unbalanced.
The thought of having needles inserted into your body may sound scary to some, but fortunately acupuncture is typically painless due to the very thin, single-use, filiform needles used. Some patients describe a brief tingling sensation when the needles are initially inserted, and it’s also possible to feel a stronger, painless, electrical sensation from a needle. This is normal. The needles remain in place between 20 to 30 minutes and rarely draw blood. Many report that the experience after the needles are inserted is the best part: a blissful, meditative state of deep relaxation. Feelings of relaxation continue after the treatment, sometimes creating a lifting “acu buzz”. Stress alone can play a huge role in health problems such as headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety. In fact, it’s estimated that about 75% of doctors’ visits are due to stress related issues. It’s almost impossible to get rid of all our everyday stressors, but it is possible to build up your body’s resources and resiliency. With very few side effects, acupuncture is a safe and effective option for patients who want to reduce stress, pain, and improve their overall health from an Eastern approach. Treat yo self! Prevention is the best type of medicine, and acupuncture is a great way you can be proactive about your wellness. Interested in finding an acupuncturist near you? Like any healthcare provider, this is a really personal decision. Find someone you connect with and who makes you feel comfortable. All practitioners of Chinese Medicine in the United States are required to obtain a 4-year master’s degree in Oriental Medicine. In addition to hours of classroom and clinical practice, states require practitioners to be licensed and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), which administers board exams proving proficiency in Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Chinese Medical theory, and Biomedicine. Depending on the state, common professional titles for a licensed practitioner are Acupuncture Physician (AP), Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM), or Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.). When searching for an acupuncturist, make sure they are NCCAOM board certified and licensed by your state.
Check out the NCCAOM database of practitioners near you and kickstart your wellness journey in the new year. Alexis Fernandez is a licensed acupuncturist based in Portland, Oregon.