Acupuncture is one of my very favorite things. I find this very odd, because why on Earth would I ever say that about getting needles stuck in my skin? It makes no sense to me, and yet, it just is.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s based on the principle that sticking these very tiny needles into certain energy channels on your body helps to create a more ease-ful flow of energy (or qi) throughout. If you’re more science-minded, there are studies that examine just exactly how it works (according to Western medicine) in more depth.
I first tried acupuncture just because I wanted to see what it was all about. Growing up, my friend Rachel’s dad swore by acupuncture, and that piqued my curiosity. As I became a coach and started learning more about healing modalities, I got even more curious. At some point, I discovered the existence of sliding scale community acupuncture, and I no longer even had the excuse of prohibitive cost to hold me back. I went to the Brooklyn Acupuncture Project and have been a devotee ever since.
What Happens in Community Acupuncture
I’ve only ever been to a community acupuncture clinic, and actually, I’ve only been to one because I love it so much. So my knowledge is based entirely on my experience at the Brooklyn Acupuncture Project. I’m sure things are different in other acupuncture spaces, and in private appointments. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.
When I make an appointment for acupuncture, I make it online. I used to make it by phone, but now the place I go uses a handy online booking system. I select the practitioner I’d like online (based on my experiences with them in the past), and I receive a confirmation. If you’re going to acupuncture for something specific, like fertility, or muscle spasms, or nausea, I recommend trying to find a practitioner who specializes in what you need help with. In my experience, most practitioners are trained in all different types of ailments, but some are particularly good at one thing or another.
When I get to the space, I put my payment in a little envelope on which I write my name, and I drop it into the payment box. I determine what to pay using a chart based on income. I remove my shoes, put my phone on silent, and have a sip of water or tea before they send me back to the treatment area, where there are several reclining chairs and several tables, many separated by airy curtains, and I make myself comfy. I take deep breaths or meditate or stare into space for a while, until the acupuncturist moves from other clients to me.
When the acupuncturist comes over, s/he usually asks me what’s going on, and I tell her/him. Ailments I’ve presented with have ranged from depression to trouble sleeping to muscle pain to exhaustion. I’ve sent friends there for fertility, arthritis pain and immobility, stress, and sports injuries. The practitioner will then feel my pulse, ask to look at my tongue, and ask some questions to get some more clarity around how to treat me.
Next, the needle sticking happens, which takes less than five minutes. The practitioner will insert anywhere from seven to over twenty tiny needles, offer to cover me with a reflective blanket thingy if I’m cold, and then leave me to drift happily for anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half.
Lots of people have a nice nap during acupuncture. I’ve drifted off a few times, but I generally just space out or meditate. It’s usually pretty delightful for me, but other people have told me that they start to feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable being unable to move very much. Everyone is different, and this is a good example of that.
Eventually, the acupuncturist will come back over and ask if I’m ready to be done. S/he will then remove the needles, give me any suggestions that might help with what I’m experiencing (like certain herbs or foods or yoga poses), and then send me on my way.
Does It Hurt?
Before I tried acupuncture, many people told me it doesn’t hurt. My experience has been that some points where they insert the needles hurt, and others don’t. Sometimes the insertion doesn’t hurt, but then I feel a twinge when the practitioner adjusts the needles. I tend to feel more pain with some practitioners, and less with others. I also find that when they put needles in my back, it rarely hurts, but I sometimes feel an uncomfortable prick when they put the needles in the feet, legs, and ears. I’ll also tell you that even if every single needle hurt when they put it in, it would still be worth it, and I’d still go.
Suggestions for Your First Session
Eat before you go. Before I went for the first time, the person I booked my session with told me it was important that I eat before coming, because people sometimes get lightheaded afterward. Because of that, I had my partner accompany me. I felt perfectly fine afterward, but it was still nice to have her there. I still make sure to have eaten before going, just so I don’t come out of the session ravenously hungry.
Try to wear loose, comfortable clothing if you can. You usually need to take off your socks and roll up your pants to your knees and your sleeves to your elbows, so try to wear something that allows that. Plus, it’s just really nice to feel comfy and cozy when you’re dozing with the needles in you.
Try not to move too much when you have the needles in you. For some reason, when I move with the needles in (to scratch an itch or something), I feel an uncomfortable twinge of pain from the insertion points. It’s certainly not unbearable, but it’s enough that I try not to do it if I can help it.
Tell your practitioner about your fears. If you don’t tell a practitioner that you’re feeling nervous or scared, there’s no way for him or her to know. (Same goes for other healing modalities, too!) If you tell your practitioner you’re scared, s/he will be more likely to be extra-gentle and explain things to you particularly well.
Ask questions. Sometimes when I go to acupuncture, I like to know things like how often I should come in, if there is anything else I can do to help myself feel better, or just why they did the practitioner did what s/he did. I’m always happy when I get up the courage to ask these questions. They usually help me to feel more at ease in my treatment, and I often come away with tidbits of information the practitioner might not have thought to tell me otherwise.
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What Do You Think?
What have your experiences with acupuncture been? If you’ve never tried it, what do you wonder about it?