Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been used in the Far East to both maintain and regain health for the last few thousand years. Today, more and more Westerners are using acupuncture and herbal formulas for a variety of health conditions. However, even with the growing popularity of this medicine in the West, a fair amount of misconception, and even skepticism, still remains regarding the safe practice and efficacy of acupuncture and herbal medicine. Let's take a look at some of the myths surrounding Oriental Medicine and try to debunk them.
"Acupuncture is painful."
First off, let me start by saying that it is NOT painful the way that I practice. I specialize in a system of Japanese Acupuncture the exclusively utilizes the teishin for all treatments. This needle has a rounded tip, which does not puncture the skin, providing the patient with a pain-free experience that achieves excellent results. Japanese Acupuncture styles, especially those that use the teishin primarily, rely on subtlety of technique and concentration of the mind rather than on aggressive needle manipulation.
The modern acupuncture needles that you may or may not be familiar with are actually only one of the many tools that acupuncturists have used classically. It is true that the vast majority of acupuncturists use needles that do puncture the skin, but these needles are very, very thin. In fact, up to 40 of these modern filiform acupuncture needles can fit inside the tip of a standard 18-gauge hypodermic needle (the kind used for injecting into muscle).
"Acupuncture is only used to alleviate pain. It can't do much for anything else."
While acupuncture is certainly very useful in alleviating pain, including joint pain, headaches, sprains and strains, etc., this is not its only function. Acupuncture can treat virtually any condition that you can think of, from allergies to infertility. Pain can exist in the body for a number of reasons, with overuse and injuries to the muscles and related tissues being only one. When there is imbalance and dysfunction inside the body, pain or discomfort on the outside is often an initial indicator that treatment may be needed. For a more complete list of conditions that the World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture fit to treat, click HERE.
"Acupuncture doesn't work. I tried it once."
This is a big one. The truth is that there are numerous factors that will determine how many treatments an individual will need, including how long the problem has been going on, their age and overall health, their lifestyle (are they perpetuating the condition on a daily basis?), etc. Chinese Medicine is built upon a philosophy of preventative maintenance, and taking care of ourselves at ALL times, even when we do not have any obvious symptoms of disease. In other words, it is easier, and makes more sense, to keep the body and mind healthy, than it is to fix it once something negative occurs. The number of treatments needed will vary greatly from case to case. Generally, it is best to receive a treatment one or more times per week at first. Then, patients often maintain a once-per-week or every other week treatment schedule for several months. Finally, most will come in once per month, or even once or twice per season, in order to sustain their health and well-being.
"Acupuncture and herbs will conflict with my prescription drugs, physical therapy, or other Western medical care."
Chinese Medicine is very useful as a medical intervention in its own right, and nowadays it is commonly used to alleviate the side effects of many modern medical treatments, such as those brought on by antibiotic use, cancer treatments, etc. Chinese Medicine excels at adapting to meet the exact needs of the patient as they change from day to day. These changes may in part be brought on by the use of Western medicine, such as the soreness and swelling that occurs after knee surgery, coughing due to the use of certain types of blood pressure medications, etc. Acupuncture and herbs are safe and effective complements to modern Western medicine, and no cause for concern should exist if they are administered by a licensed acupuncturist and/or Chinese herbalist with the proper training.
"I can't afford acupuncture or herbs."
I have found that many people make this assumption without actually researching the costs and considering their options. At first the out-of-pocket cost may seem like a lot, but consider what you are investing in: your physical health, mental clarity, and emotional stability, to say the least. Also, compared with the price of surgery, recurring medication refills, and other costs of illness, acupuncture is quite affordable. An acupuncturist's rates are set according to a number of different factors, especially rent, student loan debt, and malpractice insurance costs. Every effort will be made to ensure that patients can receive the treatments that they want and deserve.
"Lots of different medical practitioners offer acupuncture, such as chiropractors, physical therapists, and medical doctors."
The term "acupuncture" as it applies to Oriental Medicine is specifically practiced by licensed acupuncturists, often designated as L.Ac. These healthcare professionals complete three to four years of training in order to earn a master's degree at an accredited college, focusing on the fundamentals of Oriental medical philosophy and its application, Western medicine, and clinical work. They have completed at least 1,490 hours of clinical and classroom training in acupuncture and biomedicine, as well as 2,050 hours of clinical and classroom training in Chinese herbal medicine. Chiropractors, physical therapists, medical doctors, etc., who advertise that they practice acupuncture in their clinics may have went through a minimal amount of training in acupuncture, but their education is usually nothing more than a series of weekend seminars spread out over the course of a couple of years, and totaling no more than 200-300 hours. Additionally, a lot of their training is allowed to be done in the format of online recorded lectures. Only an L.Ac. is trained with the depth of knowledge necessary to practice authentic acupuncture and herbal medicine as a healthcare system based upon the laws of Nature, and as practiced in the Far East for centuries. Other practitioners who treat patients using needles are simply, and often aggressively, treating musculoskeletal tightness, and are not considering the interrelationships among organs, emotions, senses, etc.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please call today. Thank you for reading.
"How many treatments will I need?"
This question comes up again and again. It is understandable that folks would like to know exactly what they are in for, considering that free time and finances can be scarce. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are not magic bullets. There are no secret formulas or acupuncture points for your illness. Some dedication is required at first, but the effects of treatment are often long-lasting and deep. Generally speaking, most chronic or recurring conditions will require a longer series of treatment than those that are acute in nature.
While it is absolutely true that each person's condition is unique, and will therefore require a unique treatment strategy and treatment plan, there is a certain level of commitment that all patients will be asked to follow to the best of their ability. In this blog I will attempt to describe this process as best that I can. I will discuss the necessary treatment frequency for all patients, especially ones that are new or that are looking for relief from a specific condition; and the stages of care, which is an adapted version of a commonly-used model in the healthcare industry.
On average, patients will see some improvement in their condition after five or six weekly treatments. This does not mean that all symptoms will be gone completely, but they may be less severe, you will have more good days than bad, and whenever bad days do creep up they will be managed from a clearer perspective. Whenever you receive treatment as often as possible at first, the practitioner can more effectively and efficiently decide upon a treatment strategy suitable to you current state of health, making only slight adjustments to the last treatment if needed. Also, patients are better able to recall any differences they've noticed since the last session, which may be subtle.
The standard, so to speak, that the vast majority of us are taught in Oriental Medicine school, is a treatment frequency of once per week. This is what virtually all practitioners in the U.S. suggest to their patients. There are a whole host of reasons for this, with the most obvious and troublesome being the overall public image of Chinese Medicine in this country. Oriental Medicine, which includes acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, etc., is often referred to as "complementary" or "alternative" medicine, which suggests that it is to be used alongside of (oftentimes at a very minimal frequency) conventional Western medicine, or even as a last resort when nothing else seems to be helping a person's condition. It should be noted that once weekly acupuncture sessions do in fact work for a lot of people. I've known patients who only come in once per month in order to maintain their level of well-being. This is not the norm though, and these patients have often been getting acupuncture treatments and/or taking herbal formulas for many years. Most patients will experience positive changes after any treatment, but when done only once weekly, and especially with chronic conditions, the relief may only last one or two days. When starting a course of treatment, especially for chronic conditions, it is unusual (but not impossible) for a single session to offer complete healing. This is a functional medicine, designed to help your body and mind rediscover a more efficient and harmonious way of operating. Asking the body-mind to reorganize itself in the direction towards healing, and to get it to move in that direction regularly and on its own, requires consistent and frequent treatments at first. There are way too many variables involved in the perpetuation of one's condition for a single treatment to heal the person 100%. These variables include, but are not limited to: emotional health; job-related factors, including physical and mental stress; dietary choices; etc.
In China, acupuncture is administered daily for 5-10 days in a row, followed by a break of two or three days, and then another course of daily treatment for 5-10 more days. Acupuncture is only given once per week as a follow-up to these more concentrated and successful courses of treatment. Now, most U.S. patients may think that is excessive and not possible, but please consider the following:
Now, let's discuss how treatment plans look at Great Nature Oriental Medicine. A plan is divided into three stages, outlined below:
Each case is unique and will require a treatment plan that is suitable to the patient's particular health issues, availability, and means. Since treatments at Great Nature Oriental Medicine often consist of both acupuncture and herbal medicine, your particular treatment schedule may differ slightly from what is outlined above. Herbal formulas are often given for one or two weeks at a time before a reassessment occurs. However, you will likely still need to receive acupuncture treatments as often as possible at first. Ultimately, consistency is the most important point to keep in mind.
It is important to remember that during each treatment your acupuncturist is giving you the best of their medicine that they can, but this is only one half of the healing relationship. The patient has a responsibility to engage their mind and to make the decision to meet their practitioner half way. This means being flexible and compliant with regards to dietary, lifestyle, exercise, or other recommendations that may be given.
I hope this information has been helpful to you in some way. Please contact me for more information by calling (618) 694-5189.
Headaches are a problem that all of us have dealt with at one time or another. However, each person's headache is different, both in cause and in manifestation. This is where acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine excels. By customizing a treatment for you based on your unique physiology, and dysfunctions of physiology, Oriental Medicine can help you to have fewer headaches, less severe headaches, and relief from any accompanying symptoms as well.
Here is a quote from an article that summarizes several others regarding treating headaches and migraines with acupuncture:
"The author noted patients who received acupuncture, 'experienced fewer migraine episodes, missed fewer days from work, and suffered no side effects compared to patients on conventional drug therapy.' They also found acupuncture to be more cost-efficient."
Read the entire article for yourself, here:
"In ancient times the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, was known to have been a child prodigy. As he grew he showed himself to be sincere, wise, honest, and compassionate. He became very learned and developed keen powers for observing nature. His people recognized him as a natural leader and chose him as their emperor.
"During his reign, Huang Di discoursed on medicine, health, lifestyle, nutrition, and Taoist cosmology with his ministers Qi Bo, Lei Gong, and others. Their first discussion began with Huang Di inquiring, 'I've heard that in the days of old everyone lived one hundred years without showing the usual signs of aging. Is this due to a change in the environment, or is it because people have lost the correct way of life?'
"Qi Bo replied, 'In the past, people practiced the Tao, the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance, of yin and yang, as represented by the transformation of the energies of the universe. Thus, they formulated practices such as Dao-in, an exercise combining stretching, massaging, and breathing to promote energy flow, and meditation to help maintain and harmonize themselves with the universe. They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided over stressing their bodies and minds, and refrained fro overindulgence of all kinds. They maintained well-being of body and mind; thus it is not surprising that they lived over one hundred years.
'These days, people have changed their way of life. They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their essence, and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm and order of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So, it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die soon after.
'The accomplished ones of ancient times advised people to guard themselves against disease-causing factors. On the mental level, one should remain calm and avoid excessive desires and fantasies, recognizing and maintaining the natural purity and clarity of the mind. When internal energies are able to circulate smoothly and freely, and the energy of the mind is not scattered, but is focused and concentrated, illness and disease can be avoided.
'Previously, people led a calm and honest existence, detached from undue desire and ambition; they lived with an untainted conscience and without fear. They were active, but never depleted themselves. Because they lived simply, these individuals knew contentment, as reflected in their diet of basic but nourishing foods and attire that was appropriate to the season but never luxurious. Since they were happy with their position in life, they did not feel jealousy or greed. They had compassion for others and were helpful and honest, free from destructive habits. They remained unshakable and unswayed by temptations, and they were able to stay centered even when adversity arose. They treated others justly, regardless of their level of intelligence or social position.'"
Ni, Maoshing. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary. Boston, Shambhala Publications, 1995, pp. 1-4.
Believe it or not, the patient has a job to do during an acupuncture session. Now, this job is not as obvious or as active as the job of the practitioner, but it is equally as important. Aside from simply taking a load off and resting on the table for a half hour or so, one of the most crucial things that you as the patient can do is pay attention, observe, or listen to yourself in a gentle, yet disciplined way. Let me allow Buddhist monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh to elaborate. Below are passages taken from his book, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. Here, he outlines a practice for developing what is known in Buddhist teachings as Right Mindfulness, a practice that harmonizes and connects mind and consciousness with the physical body, which you will come to see were never really separate in the first place.
"In the Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers four objects for our mindfulness practice: our body, our feelings, our mind, and the objects of our mind... The Four Establishments of Mindfulness are the foundation of our dwelling place [and the foundation of the patient's practice during an acupuncture treatment]. Without them, our house is abandoned; no one is sweeping, dusting, or tidying up. Our body becomes unkempt, our feelings full of suffering, and our mind a heap of afflictions..."
Mindfulness of the Body
"The first establishment is 'mindfulness of the body in the body. Many people hate their bodies. The feel their body is an obstacle... When Sister Jina, a nun at Plum Village, teaches yoga, she always begins by saying, 'Let us be aware of our bodies. Breathing in, I know I am standing here in my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.' Practicing this way, we renew our acquaintance with our body and make peace with it... We begin by noting all of our body's positions and movements. When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we stand, walk, or lie down we know we are standing, walking, or lying down...
"The second way the Buddha taught us to practice mindfulness of the body is to recognize all of our body's parts, from the top of our head to the soles of our feet... We observe whether our forehead is relaxed and whether it has wrinkles. With mindfulness we touch our nose, our mouth, our arms, heart, lungs, blood and so on...
"The third method for practicing mindfulness of the body is to see the elements that it is made of: earth, water, fire, and air [these elements are discussed slightly differently across different traditions, but the practice is the same regardless]... Earth refers to things that are solid, and when we see the earth element in us we realize that there is really no boundary between ourselves and the rest of the universe. Next, recognize the element of water within you [the cooling and nourishing qualities of body and mind]. After that, we recognize the fire element, which means heat. For life to be possible, there must be heat. The best way to experience the air element is to practice mindful breathing. 'Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out...' We don't try to control our breathing. Whether our in-breath is long or short, deep or shallow, we just breathe naturally and shine the light of mindfulness on it...
Mindfulness of the Feelings
"The second establishment is 'mindfulness of the feelings in the feelings.' Feelings is just one of the fifty-one kinds of mental formations. In us, there exists a river of feelings in which every drop of water is a different feeling. To observe our feelings, we just sit on the riverbank and identify each feeling as it flows by and disappears... When we have a pleasant feeling, we may have a tendency to cling to it, and when we have an unpleasant feeling, we may be inclined to chase it away. But, it is more effective in both cases to turn to our breathing and simply observe the feeling, identifying it silently... Our feelings are not separate from us or caused just by something outside of us. Our feelings are us, and, for that moment we are our feelings... If we face our feelings with care and affection, we can transform them into a kind of energy that is healthy and nourishing... We all have difficult emotions, but if we allow them to dominate us we will become depleted. Emotions become strong when we do not know how to look after them. When our feelings are stronger than our mindfulness, we suffer. But, if we practice conscious breathing day after day, mindfulness becomes a habit..."
Incorporate these practices into your daily life, including the time you spend on a treatment table during an acupuncture session. Turn your attention to your body, checking in with each section from top to bottom. Then, give notice to how your breathing moves your body, and where it is able to reach in your body. Of great importance is learning to feel your breath move into your lower abdomen, below your belly button. Don't strain body nor mind during any of this. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "Smile, breath, and go slowly." Thanks for reading.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. "Right Mindfulness." The Heart of Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York, Broadway Books, 1999, pp. 67-70.
This page is intended to serve as a source for links to blogs and articles about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine that both new and returning patients may find informative and/or entertaining. It is also where I will share information about the history, principles, and benefits of this awesome medicine.