As I noted on the acupuncture page, this healing modality really needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Although I detailed some of the basics of what it is like in Your First Acupuncture Treatment, I wanted to give a more personal take on acupuncture, which for me has had its highs and lows.
Acupuncture’s Healing Effects
I first experienced acupuncture’s healing effects during a class on Chinese Medicine, led by Lilly Marie Blecher, ND, DOM. Dr. Blecher has an infectious enthusiasm for her practice and made me feel completely at ease, which is why when she asked for a volunteer I was eager to participate. But, I must admit as I lied down on the table in front of my colleagues I began to worry about what I had gotten myself into. Lilly asked Stan, one of my colleagues and friends, to stand by my side. She wanted him to act as an unbiased witness to the changes that occurred in my pulses after the treatment. Before Dr. Blecher began, she assessed my pulses and found that they were rather weak, a situation that didn’t surprise me at all.
After years of chronic illness I was often fatigued and tended to have very low blood pressure, so her assessment that my qi was low made sense. With a little effort Stan was able to confirm that he too could feel my weak, wiry pulses. I’m not sure if Stan could sense that I was a little nervous, but he leaned in and whispered, “don’t worry, you are in good hands,” a comforting, kind, and very welcomed gesture.
Then, Dr. Blecher began to insert the tiny, thin needles into points around my body. She would ask me to take a deep breath and on the exhale she would slowly insert the needles. She began on my arms and hands and I quickly felt a light tingling through those areas. She then moved to the lower legs. At one point on my right leg she had to keep twisting the needle which hurt a bit. She noted that she was having trouble sensing the qi (energy) in that area.
Shortly after the needles were all in place my body began to shake. Although I didn’t feel especially cold, my body certainly did. Lilly explained that is common because the needles have a cooling effect. My friend and colleague Emmie donated her sweater to help keep me warm. Although I could hear voices around me, I felt very calm and relaxed – as if I was in my own little world. The needles were left in for around 10-15 minutes ( a shorter period than normal because of the constraints of the class time). Then Dr. Blecher removed each one quickly, and checked my pulses. She noted that they were definitely improved, and Stan confirmed her assessment. After the treatment I felt as though my body was buzzing, and I felt very relaxed. That night I had a very restful sleep.
Needles are Not for Everyone
After such a positive first experience, I was eager to make an appointment with Dr. Blecher. However, I was disappointed to learn that she was not covered by my insurance and an initial appointment would have been $250, which was just too much for me at that time. So, I investigated other Licensed Acupuncturists in my area who were covered by insurance. I found one that was just 30 minutes away and enthusiastically made an appointment.
The first acupuncture appointment was over an hour and a half. We thoroughly reviewed my health conditions and primary concerns, which happened to be fatigue at the time. Then the Acupuncturist began to insert needles. She actually inserted them so quickly that I had very little time to even think about what was going on. This of course was good because I barely felt them going in, with the exception of a few points in my ear which were a little tender.
After she inserted the needles she placed a heat lamp over my body, directed at my abdomen. The warmth felt great, as again my body became cool from the needles. She gave me a bell and told me I could call for her if I needed, then she left me to relax in the darkened room.
I felt very relaxed, but I must admit I just had to lift my head to take a peek at all the needles sticking out of my body. That was a mistake. When I saw I looked like something out of Hellraiser, I felt a wave of panic come over me. I had to lie back down and focus on deep breathing to regain my calm. I quickly regained a sense of relaxation, and even felt on the verge of a nap.
When the Acupuncturist returned about 30 minutes later, I felt good. I again had some tingling throughout my body, but overall I just felt very mellow. After she took out the needles, I got dressed slowly, took time to drink water, and then left the office.
Once home, I barely remembered the drive. I found myself so drained and tired that I had to get right into bed. I slept in what almost felt like a trance-like state. It was as though my cells were humming, but my body couldn’t really get any momentum. That drained feeling lasted into the next morning.
Still, I dutifully returned for another appointment the following week, and for the next three weeks. Each appointment blurred into the next. They were all very similar, but my fatigue remained. In the end, although I felt relaxed, I didn’t find that Acupuncturist actually helped me.
In addition, there were all sorts of insurance mix-ups that resulted in my overpaying for the visits by a significant amount that was finally partially refunded over a month later. I don’t mention that Acupuncturist’s name here because, while I know she is a very well-trained and knowledgeable practitioner, she wasn’t able to help me. It wasn’t until months later that I could really understand why.
Chinese Herbs Build Qi
Even though my second experience with acupuncture was not especially favorable I didn’t give up hope on its value. After reading so many amazing research reports on its efficacy, I realized that it just wasn’t effective at treating depleted qi, or the level of fatigue that I was experiencing.
What I really needed was to have my qi built up. Through the recommendation of a friend from my Qigong class, I decided to make an appointment with Stephen Greenberg, who also uses Chinese herbs in his practice. Although he is not covered by insurance, his rates are so reasonable that I don’t mind paying out of pocket (under $100 per hour). In our first appointment, he thoroughly explained his diagnoses in very simple terms.
In fact, he made the very complicated study of Chinese Medicine clear and easy to understand. He confirmed what I suspected, that having acupuncture when my qi is too low meant that I was trying to stimulate energy that was simply not there. He worked with me to come up with an herbal formula that would help to rebuild my energy levels. In a little over a week, I was feeling much more energetic.
In a second appointment a month later, Dr. Greenberg revised the formula again, since my qi had improved but still needed additional support. I am very happy to report that my visits with Dr. Greenberg have helped me to increase my stamina and improve my vitality!
So, while acupuncture has had its ups and downs for me, I would still highly recommend it to anyone who is feeling out of balance or under stress. For more information, and to locate a Licensed Acupuncturist in your area, visit the Acupuncture page, or see “Your First Acupuncture Treatment” for tips on how to prepare for your first acupuncture appointment.
Lilly Marie Blecher, ND, DOM, Lecture at The Graduate Institute, July 22 & 23, 2011. Traditional / Classical Chinese Medicine.
*Photo courtesy of Maureen Edwards