Forgotten Medicine: Squatting and Floor Sitting

 

In November of 2007, I interned at the Guangzhou Institute for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in Guangzhou, China. When traveling in China, I observed that Chinese people, young and old, rested in a flat-footed squat. While our upscale hotel boasted western toilets, squat toilets prevailed in every public place that I visited, including the hospital, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Back home in the land of criss-cross-apple-sauce, I rarely, if ever, saw anyone squatting. To my knowledge, no one was using a squat toilet.

Squat NeedlesI lived in Japan and Korea during elementary school, so I was not a stranger to squatting to use the bathroom. During my China internship, however, I discovered a strange phenomenon: squatting to pee took more coordination than I remembered. Truthfully, it felt a little awkward to sit in a deep flat-footed squat of any kind. An epic adventure in a local shop’s restroom, involving me and a tiny squat toilet, which was located partly beneath a sink and nearly flush with a wall, left me plagued with a question…how on earth do they do it?

Shortly after returning to Wisconsin, I became pregnant with my first child. I planned a homebirth with a certified professional midwife. While reading about natural childbirth, I discovered that in traditional cultures, women often squat to give birth. Squatting widens the pelvic outlet and takes advantage of gravitational force.¹ It was on. I began doing squatting exercises regularly, determined to squat my baby out. Ultimately, I gave birth in a supine position, leaning back against the side of the birth tub. Though I squatted throughout my labor, I had little squatting stamina while applying the extreme downward pressure that I found necessary for giving birth.

My recovery from childbirth was difficult. Every part of my pelvis hurt: SI joints, pubic symphysis, hip joints, ischial tuberosities. I delivered my daughter naturally, but my postpartum pelvic pain left me strongly considering taking pain medications. Soon afterwards, I experienced a mild cystocele. The symptoms resolved over several months with the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy®. At 30 years of age, however, I was a wreck about it. Intuitively I knew that something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t just me. Given that childbirth is imperative to the survival of our species, common sense dictates that healthy young women should be able to vaginally deliver babies without such consequences.

In researching prolapse conditions, the following words, written by biomechanist, Katy Bowman, flashed like a neon sign across my computer screen, “the ‘squat movement’ is going to happen in a big way, once everyone realizes that your Pelvic Floor, Hip, and Knee health require regular squatting”.² Through Katy’s work, I discovered a very simple premise: by not squatting, thus having difficulty squatting, thus no longer trying to squat, I had unequivocally altered my musculoskeletal alignment. Indeed, I had altered the structure of my pelvis itself, since bones are shaped according to the demands placed upon them via loads experienced during movement.³

Squatting passively to rest or work helps to retain range of motion in the hips. The action of descending into and ascending from a squatting position, and the active deep squatting used for toileting purposes utilize the muscles that interact with the pelvic girdle. A squatting deficiency lessens the activity of the gluteal and pelvic floor muscles, and misaligns the attachment points for the muscles and ligaments that support the pelvic floor, the pelvic organs and the abdominal organs.³ Many additional health consequences have been proposed, including incontinence, constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, prostate disorders, endometriosis, sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis of the hip joint, and toileting-related cardiovascular events.4,5

I have since awakened to the idea that the bodies of sedentary women do not function during childbirth as they would have in a traditional setting, where women squat on a daily basis, sit on the floor in a variety of positions, and regularly walk long distances to gather food and water. Like all of the other women around me, I had unwittingly been languorously idle, and that made giving birth while squatting physically impossible. By pushing forcefully despite my limitations (Valsalva maneuver), I generated enough pressure to cause a cystocele.5

Shockingly, it is now known that difficulty rising from the floor, as measured by a sitting-rising test (SRT), is a significant predictor of all-cause mortality.6 Like squatting, the simple act of sitting on the floor maintains musculoskeletal fitness. The quagmire is that our society has become disconnected from the natural movements that accompanied the genetic evolution of our species, yet those very movements remain vital to our health.³ Squatting and floor sitting cultivate Qi, course Qi and Blood, and preserve pre-natal Jing. Squatting is prevalent in many Asian countries. Though China does not, Asian countries such as Korea and Japan have enduring floor sitting traditions. Of course these movements weren’t mentioned in the foundational literature for Asian Medicine, because it was taken for granted that entire populations would be using them on a daily basis.

From a TCM perspective, I tend towards Spleen Qi Deficiency, which predisposed me to a prolapse condition. Retrospectively it became clear that I ate my way into a Spleen Qi Deficiency, and the way that my constitution expressed itself physically was a result of giving birth as a modern mover. This revelation is cause for great inspiration, since both movement and nutrition are aspects of health that are 100% within my control. On my next trip to China, you can bet that I will be squatting alongside the locals. In fact, I’m squatting right now, while I finish up writing this post. I squat because my Jing depends on it! If you’re not doing so already, why not get out of that chair and squat with me?

References

  1. Mongan, M. (2005). Hypnobirthing: The Mongan method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing (3rd ed., pp. 57-61). Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
  2. Bowman, K. (2010, June 2). You Don’t Know Squat. Retrieved August 19, 2015, from http://www.katysays.com/you-dont-know-squat/
  3. Bowman, K., & Lewis, J. (2014). Move Your DNA: Restore your health through natural movement. Ventura, CA: Propriometrics Press.
  4. Isbit, J. (n.d.). Health Benefits of the Natural Squatting Position. Retrieved September 18, 2015, from http://www.naturesplatform.com
  5. Bowman, K. (2013). Alignment Matters: The First Five Years of Katy Says. Ventura, CA: Propriometrics Press.
  6. Brito, L., Ricardo, D., D. S. M. S. De Araujo, Ramos, P., Myers, J., & Araujo, C. (2012). Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Posted in Acupuncture, Natural Movement, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alexander Technique: A Simple Direction Can Free the Body and Mind from Tension

 

Many musicians have heard of or had some exposure to Alexander Technique through workshops, group classes, or perhaps private lessons. It is often thought that it is about posture training or relaxation, and while those may improve with Alexander work, the Technique is far more complex than that. The Alexander Technique is an educational method that teaches students how to change faulty patterns of body use, enabling improved mobility, posture, performance and alertness. This can relieve chronic stiffness, tension and stress as the student develops an awareness of the body as a whole, an understanding the mind-body connection, and becomes conscious of habits that may cause problems or pain.

As a freshman music major I experienced tendonitis in my right arm, and I adopted the faulty strategy to ignore the pain and “power through,” assuming it would eventually subside. That plan failed, and within months the pain escalated into severe tendonitis and bursitis that developed into debilitating pain, making it difficult to function in routine daily activities. I underwent the standard treatment of PT/OT, anti-inflammatories, and frequent practice breaks. This was ineffective, and by my fourth semester as a music major I had no choice but to stop playing oboe.

To my surprise, removing the oboe did nothing to change my condition. Simple daily tasks were still a challenge; while I took notes, extreme pain would radiate through my entire arm and into my shoulder, neck, and back. It became clear that I would also have to quit school, and at the suggestion of several people I decided to try the Alexander Technique.

In my first AT lesson, I did not understand anything my teacher did, but I left with a sense of physical lightness that was new and welcome. As I learned more about the Alexander principles, I found that the Technique offered a way to be in control of my body, instead of being a victim of it. I soon joined an Alexander Technique training course and learned that the oboe was never the problem, but a general and habitual misuse of my body led to my state of chronic pain.

During the three year training course I took a hiatus from college and from playing the oboe. When I finally returned to the oboe with a newly developed sense of awareness, I discovered that all of my damaging playing habits were still there. The oboe was a trigger for old patterns of misuse, and the previous years spent developing oboe technique were also spent ingraining faulty use that would take just as long to unlearn. It was discouraging at first, but also quite fascinating to experience how strong physical habits can be.

Many musicians wait until there is a problem to study Alexander Technique, just as I did. I encourage musicians to approach AT study, not only as a solution to pain, but as a way to enhance physical and mental approach to music making. The Technique does not change your technique at the instrument but can enhance it so you can use your body efficiently and effortlessly, allowing you to perform with a sense of lightness, more coordinated use, and presence of mind.

One main principle of the Technique is the concept of directing, which means to subtly engage the musculature in a way that energizes the body in order to have more freedom and ease of movement. The first direction we teach and always return to is “to direct the head forward and up.” Think about how gravity can pull down the back of the head, putting downward pressure on the neck, shoulders, and spine. Directing forward and up can begin to alleviate this pattern of misuse. Imagine that you are wearing a 10-pound hat and how much effort it would be to hold your head up. Now imagine taking that hat off, and notice that your head feels a sense of lightness as it releases forward and up, away from the back of the neck. This simple direction can allow freedom in the neck and shoulders and allow the back to lengthen and widen. When we employ directions into our overall body use, it also can allow for more efficient use of the arms, legs, and the breath.

Although students may come to Alexander Technique for a specific reason, the Alexander teacher will begin by addressing the body as a whole. One portion of the lesson is spent working with everyday movements such as standing, sitting, bending, or walking, while the other portion is spent on a bodywork table. Through the course of a lesson the teacher helps the student release excess tension allowing the body to move more freely, naturally, and with more coordination. Once a foundation of the principles has been established, the teacher can guide the student in applying the technique to specific activities. Laura Medisky, DMA, M.AmSAT, has taught Alexander Technique for over 15 years. If you are interested in lessons, workshops for your department or studio, or more information about the Technique, please visit www.lauramedisky.com or www.amsatonline.org. Click here to Book An Appointment Online for lessons at Dane County Family Acupuncture.

This article was first published in the Madison Area Musicians’ Association, AFM Local 166 Newsletter Issue 1506 June, 2015.

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Gentle, Natural Skin Care

 

In response to some recent questions, I’d like to share my skin care routine with you! Here are the products that I use:

  • Pure Raw Clay (Masks & Baths)
  • Raw Organic Moroccan Argan Oil
  • Raw Organic Coconut Oil
  • Cackle Bees Honey Bar Soap

I like to keep skin care really simple! I allow my skin to function naturally, with the least amount of intervention. Tempting though it may be, I try to avoid the idea that I can outsmart my skin’s innate intelligence and self-understanding. I trust that everything my skin does, it does on purpose. My intention in caring for my complexion is to assist my body in functioning to its fullest potential.

My skin is an external reflection of my internal state. To appear vibrant and alive to the outside world, I consume vibrant foods that are full of life. To keep my external appearance unblemished, I keep my consumption clean. I avoid or limit my intake of sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol; and I choose internal and external nourishment that is free from chemical additives.

I only use soap to wash my face when I take a shower, every 2-3 days. I prefer a gentle soap made by a local beekeeper, called Cackle Bees Honey Bar Soap, which contains 4 saponified oils, beeswax, and honey (confession: sometimes I don’t use soap at all…GASP!). Between showers, I simply rinse my face with plain water.

I love the Moroccan skin care routine. Once per week I use a clay mask on my face, neck, and decolletage. I prefer pure, raw, Moroccan Rhassoul Clay (with no added ingredients), because it is not drying. I apply the clay up to a quarter of an inch thick, and rinse it off before it dries, about 20 minutes later. I use a wet washcloth, and try to avoid rubbing. After a clay mask, and after each shower, I thinly apply 100% raw, organic, Moroccan Argan Oil (with no added ingredients) to the same areas. It only takes a few drops!

Blemishes can be treated with a thick blob of clay, which is rinsed off before it dries. I keep a jar of clay handy, ready for use, because clay performs best when it has been prepared in advance. To prepare clay for use, I fill a pint sized mason jar halfway with dry clay, and cover the clay with water. There is no need to stir. Hydrated clay can be stored in a medicine cabinet, in a lidded glass jar (no plastic or metal, please). I add water periodically if it begins to look dry.

Once per week I take a clay bath. I add a quarter cup to a cup of therapeutic grade clay to my bath water (hydrated in advance, when time allows), along with a quarter to a half a cup of mineral salts. Currently I prefer a red desert clay called Terramin, although there are several other clays in my rotation. I can never seem to get enough mud! If my skin has been feeling dry, I apply organic, raw coconut oil to my body & then quickly rinse off in the shower to prevent greasiness.

I’m not a dermatologist, and this blog isn’t about the science of skin care. Though no shortage of research exists regarding the use of clays, argan oil, or coconut oil in skin care, ultimately I take care of my skin by following my values. In an increasingly modernized world, I try to remain in harmony with my environment, and to retain a trace of my ancestral heritage. Would my primitive ancestors have had access to products that resemble what I use? What would they have done to care for their skin? For the average layperson, I believe the answer would have been: not much!

How do you care for your skin? I would love to hear from you! If you try any of these recommendations, I would love your feedback!

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Taking Care of a Sick Kiddo

 

My daughter, Robin, is two and a half. This was the first winter she got repeating colds and flus. Like other parents we want her to get better quickly and be as comfortable as possible while the sickness runs its course. We also want to use as many natural remedies as we can before resorting to pharmaceuticals.

The first remedy we reach for is Yin Chiao, Jr., which is a Chinese herbal formula made specifically for children. Robin loves it. Sometimes it nips the first cough or runny nose in the bud, and we only have symptoms for two or three days. We also give her chewable vitamins from Standard Process, specifically Catalyn, a general whole food supplement, and Congaplex, which supports the immune system. There are homeopathic remedies we use depending on the symptoms, and she also takes a small spoonful of fermented cod liver oil every day. (She once said, “Yummy, it’s like honey.” Long may that last!)

For earache we use a homemade garlic oil. I have to sneak a few drops into her ear when she is sleeping, but it works wonders and keeps away the antibiotics. I have had luck treating my own ear pain with raw onion placed in the external ear and held in place there overnight. Robin is not quite old enough to tolerate that yet.

We do give her the occasional children’s ibuprofen. We do not want to suppress a fever, which is one of the many tools our body uses to heal and bring itself back into balance, but we want Robin to be comfortable and sleep well. Sleep is a time for healing.

While administering any of these natural remedies we try to get Robin to eat good foods: broth, soup, eggs, sauerkraut, fresh fruit and veggies, grass-fed meats… these are ideal. When I’m at a loss or some new symptom occurs (Robin recently complained of growing pains) I turn to Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions for Baby and Child Care. It has great recommendations for childhood ills, focusing especially on food as medicine, but also suggesting various homeopathic remedies, herbs, supplements, and compresses.

What do you do for your children when they are sick? How do you support their healing and give them comfort while the sickness runs its course?

Taking care of a sick kiddo is difficult and stressful. I have to remind myself that colds and flus are our body’s way of balancing itself, of ridding itself of things that should not be there, or that, if not expelled during these bouts of sickness, could go deeper into our bodies and cause more chronic illnesses down the road.

Winter in Wisconsin is tough. There is little sun for good vitamin D levels. There is cold and wind. We move around less, and if we do exercise most of us do it indoors. Our houses are sealed up tightly to conserve energy, which is an understandable goal. But that great insulation also keeps out fresh circulating air and keeps in contaminants and toxins that we carry in from outside or that are present in the modern stuff we live with these days.

Oh, to open the windows when spring comes! What a wonderful thing. Here at the clinic we are often slower in the summer months. Vacations do account for some of it. But I think it is because people are healthier. We spend hours outside every day. We move more, get more sun and fresh air, and eat better, more nutrient-dense, local food. As I wipe my sweet daughter’s nose for the umpteenth time I remind myself… Summer is coming!

 

 

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A Book Review: “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” by Weston A. Price, DDS

 

How different the level of life and horizon of such souls from those in many places in the so-called civilized world in which people have degraded themselves until life has no interest in values that cannot be expressed in gold or pelf, which they would obtain even though the life of the person being cheated or robbed would thereby be crippled or blotted out.

One immediately wonders if there is not something in the life-giving vitamins and minerals in the food that builds not only great physical structures within which their souls reside, but builds minds and hearts capable of a higher type of manhood in which the material values of life are made secondary to individual character.” (Price, 26).

I recently endeavored to read an epic book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A. Price, DDS (1870-1948). Dr. Weston A. Price was a dentist who dedicated his life to the scientific and anthropological study of nutrition and its effects on dental health; specifically the incidence of dental cavities, the breadth of the dental arch, and the crowding of teeth. Poignant and thought-provoking, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration details the basic principles of indigenous diets, as they were originally composed before the advent of what Dr. Price called “the displacing foods of modern commerce”. What I learned from this book was strikingly self-evident – it revealed wisdom that I imagine is already contained within all of us, yet begs the illumination that has historically been imparted between generation upon generation of our ancestors.

At times, the book is beautiful; regaling the reader with imagery from Weston Price’s inspired travels to remote parts of the world, where he compulsively sought to document the dietary habits of the last remaining isolated cultures on earth; from the Eskimos to the Maori of New Zealand, to the Gaels of the outer Hebrides of Scotland, among many others. Using a number of predetermined metrics, Dr. Price compared the dental health of isolated groups to that of their nearby, modernized counterparts. What he discovered was clear-cut evidence that modern foods, such as white flour, jams, sugar, canned vegetables, condensed milk, and vegetable oils, when introduced into a culture’s diet, were detrimental not only to the dental health of the people, but also to their physical, mental and societal well-being. Accompanying photographs record the enchanting faces and hearty physiques of persons with bright, even, decay-free smiles, maintained without the use of a toothbrush. In contrast, the images of modernized groups, even where modern dental and medical services were available, suggest defeated, suffering individuals with narrowed faces and hips, facial deformities, crowded decaying teeth, and/or the lesions that are characteristic of tuberculosis.

Many of the foods consumed by these thriving cultures turn the USDA’s recommendations upside-down. Although the diets varied considerably, all contained animal foods ~ with some cultures consuming primarily animal foods ~ either wild or domesticated, raw or cooked, from land or sea. Weston Price demonstrated, in the field and in the lab, that the high fat content of indigenous diets, which was obtained from foods such as fish oil, liver, eggs, animal fats, and unpasteurized butter, acted as a catalyst for the absorption of other nutrients, and as such rendered fats vital to human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes were sometimes eaten, although in some cultures none were consumed at all. The most overt unifying factor, given the wide variety of foods that were consumed, was the exclusive use of fresh or traditionally preserved, whole foods. Eating indigenous foods, or returning to an indigenous diet, in essence provided complete or near-complete immunity to dental cavities, in addition to other chronic and acute conditions.

From a Taoist perspective, I was intrigued to find the book proposing that food adapts to fit human nutritional requirements. Vegetation becomes more mineral rich or proteinaceous or fattening, depending on the prevailing environmental conditions, in order to better nourish the land’s inhabitants. Indigenous wisdom grasps the concept that the nutritional value of food can be modified by harnessing weather or soil conditions and the changing of the seasons. In this scenario, the human being becomes an integral part of the ecology. How unfortunate that we are no longer able to abide by nature in this harmonious way.

If you ask us here at Dane County Family Acupuncture, you might find that we have been tending to a batch of sauerkraut or kombucha at home, or making our own cheese from our raw dairy shares, or even tossing back raw eggs, rocky-style, for breakfast. We prefer our food to be organic, locally sourced, and in its least adulterated form. Being a traditional foodie myself, I am fascinated by the anthropology of nutrition, and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration certainly inspires one to imagine the spectacular, untapped capacity of the human body. However, perhaps a greater portion of the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” is devoted to Dr. Price’s decades of groundbreaking laboratory research and clinical experience. Despite the heavy emphasis on science, Dr. Price, and his epic book, naturally, have critics. In his defense, Weston Price does not ever specifically recommend that anyone adopt, wholesale, the diet of any of the groups that were studied. Nevertheless, we should take heed whenever attempting to incorporate the wisdom of old into our modern healthcare paradigm, since adjustments will undoubtedly need to be made.

Dr. Price’s life’s work has been preserved and disseminated by the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). The Madison Chapter of the WAPF is a lovely support group that meets once per month at the Monona Community Center. They welcome new members, free of charge. If you’re interested, I encourage you to check it out!

  • Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Lemon Grove: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 2011. Print.
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Mind ~ Body Connection

 

“If you want to know what your thoughts were like in the past, look at your body today. If you want to know what your body will look like in the future, look at your thoughts today.” – Deepak Chopra

In regards to healing, I believe that the connection between body and mind is paramount to persistent success. All of our tissues are made from the same substances, brain included. Thus, improving overall health improves thought processes & the resulting clarity of thought begets better health care decisions. An attitude of wellness creates a spiraling continuum of advancement, with each successive loop bringing greater awareness & subsequent healing.

Thoughts direct Qi (energy). For example, if you close your eyes & bring to mind a lemon: it’s scent, the way it mists when sliced into, and the sweet/sour taste it leaves in your mouth…you can cause yourself to salivate. Another example of this phenomenon occurs when a nursing mother begins to lactate when she thinks about her baby or when she hears a baby crying.

In a motivational sense, thoughts direct actions, which are another aspect of Qi. Your actions can be a direct result of your internal dialogue, or the conversation you are engaged in with yourself at any given moment. Listen deeply: what are you and yourself talking about today? Perhaps you consider health and fitness to be priorities, but you can’t find the time or money or energy to devote to wellness. Or perhaps you simply believe that you will never be well. Like me, you may benefit from taking a few moments to listen to your internal dialogue. This process is called ‘metacognition’, in other words, ‘thinking about your own thinking’. I believe that developing metacognition is an essential step that must be taken when traveling a path towards physical wellbeing.

For me, what is so lovely about the mind-body connection is that we have control over it. We can influence our bodies in order to influence our minds, and vice versa. Are you beginning to grasp the possibilities? By changing the way we think, we can change the quality of our lives. We are truly the only thing that limits our own blessed existence.

Think well & Be well!
Elissa

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Does Acupuncture Hurt?

 

When people discover that I’m an acupuncturist, the first question I’m always asked is, “Does it hurt?” Unfortunately, fear of needles is one of the biggest deterrents for people who are suffering and could benefit from acupuncture treatment. Thus, I believe that the complex topic of needling sensation deserves my heartfelt and in-depth interpretation.

 

Patient Comfort

 

My patients’ comfort is my priority. Pain is a very individual experience, so I never judge a patient’s response to acupuncture, and the vulnerability he or she entrusts to me is held near to heart. The first acupuncture treatment is a learning experience for both of us: patients learn what to expect when receiving acupuncture and I learn how best to treat them. There are a lot of sensations that are completely normal, but if my patient feels uncomfortable at any time, I remove the source of the discomfort immediately. I cultivate the principle of non-violence; never expecting a patient to “tough it out” in order to feel better, continuously monitoring reactions, and adjusting my treatments according to the individual.

 

Insertion Versus Retention

 

There are two distinct aspects of an acupuncture treatment: needle insertion and needle retention. After needles have been inserted, they are retained for an average of 20 minutes. The patient lies comfortably on a massage table in a darkened room with relaxing music in the background. During this time, although the patient may have an awareness of needle location, there is no pain. I check on patients every 10 minutes and am commonly greeted by a sleeping patient when I re-enter a room. Before I walk away from a patient I ensure that they are not experiencing any discomfort; if my patient feels nervous or uneasy, I remain in the room or check on him or her more frequently.

 

The needling sensations I am about to discuss are short lived, occurring only during needle insertion, which takes approximately 5-10 minutes.

 

Pain Versus Sensation

 

For someone who has never had acupuncture, the only real frame of reference regarding needling sensation is hypodermic needles. Acupuncture needles are extremely fine, flexible even; once I was told that 18 acupuncture needles will fit into the inner diameter of a hypodermic needle. Acupuncture certainly does not feel like getting a shot or having blood drawn.

 

I like to differentiate between pain and needling sensation. When a patient has been told that acupuncture doesn’t hurt, they often mistakenly believe that they will not feel anything during their treatment. This can lead to worry or distress when they discover that acupuncture is not sensation-free.

 

Let me be realistic: acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into the body, so it is extremely rare for a patient not to feel anything. Having had acupuncture from dozens of practitioners; I can honestly say that I’ve never had a treatment that was completely free of sensation. Neither have I ever experienced an acupuncture treatment that was painful. I think acupuncture feels…well, weird… believe it or not, I like it!

 

My average patient does not believe that acupuncture is painful. Some of the needles are felt when inserted, but not all; occasionally a needle will sting a bit; and infrequently a needle will bother him or her enough that we mutually decide to remove it.

 

Normal Needling Sensation

 

Needling sensation is not only normal, in a traditional sense it is considered to be a desirable, some would say an essential, aspect of acupuncture’s therapeutic effect. The most common sensation that people experience is very mild and sharp, a little bit like pricking a finger on a needle or a pin. Sometimes there will be a very mild itching or burning sensation at the location of the needle, akin to a mosquito bite. Some people experience a mild aching or throbbing sensation that I liken to the pressure that is applied during a massage or during acupressure. Less often, people describe a mild electric or zinging sensation that feels somewhat similar to being zapped by staticky laundry. Since sensations usually last only 30 seconds to 1 minute, I ask my patients to take a few breaths to see if the feeling subsides. If the sensation persists after a minute, my patient and I decide together whether or not the needle should remain.

 

Needle Sensitivity

 

As I mentioned earlier, acupuncture can elicit a multitude of completely normal sensations that are not experienced universally by every patient or at every needling site. Most importantly, on the rare occasion that an inserted needle is distracting or uncomfortable to my patient, I remove it immediately.

 

Reactions to acupuncture are diverse, and occasionally I encounter a patient who is very sensitive to needling sensations. These patients can only tolerate a very small dose of acupuncture: by this I mean a minimum number of the tiniest needles available. Even extremely needle sensitive patients continue with acupuncture because their symptomatic relief far outweighs the brief discomfort experienced during treatment.

 

That Point Hurt…Is Something Wrong?

 

The answer is a resounding no! I would like to be very clear regarding the safety of acupuncture needles. There are nationally and internationally recognized standards regarding the acceptable depth and direction of needling at every acupuncture point and at every location on the body. Beyond a rigorous Master’s level education, Certified Acupuncturists, like Kristin and I, undergo 1,000 hours of supervised clinical practice, pass several national board exams and are state and nationally certified before beginning to practice.

 

Picture a burly parole officer pounding his fist on a podium, striking fear into the hearts of the audience, and you’ll have an image in mind of my needling instructor, Craig Westerlund. Ay me! How we students cried and moaned about being forced to use the largest available needles to practice needling one another to the maximum allowable depth. “This doesn’t hurt me a bit!”, Craig would say with a devilish grin. Looking back I feel blessed to have learned my limits in such a vivid and unforgettable way.

 

I have since adopted a gentler needling style, but because of Craig, I can say with absolute confidence that I always practice acupuncture safely. Inserting an acupuncture needle into human tissue creates a microscopic injury. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally that tiny injury stings. When I remove a needle, however, it is simply to enhance my patient’s experience, not because something is wrong.

 

Acupuncture Works – Give it a Chance!

 

I recently went 10 weeks without an acupuncture treatment because Kristin, my business partner and preferred acupuncturist, was on maternity leave. The suffering! I do not know how people live without acupuncture. Acupuncture has had a profound effect on me personally, and I’m humbled on a daily basis by the positive life changes that this medicine has on my patients.

 

If you are considering acupuncture, I implore you – please don’t let a fear of needles prevent you from getting treatment. The vast majority of my patients genuinely enjoy acupuncture, with the added bonus of an improved quality of life. Simply stated, you will never know unless you give it a chance. I hope to see you soon!

 

Blessings,
Elissa Langer
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