I’m sure you’ve heard of acupuncture, you’ve maybe even had acupuncture treatments, but I bet you don’t know how it works. I can guarantee you that I can’t teach you all there is to know about acupuncture in one blog post. I’ve spent a ton of time studying it and learning it, it’s very multi-faceted and there are endless different techniques. However, I think I can give you a glimpse into the world of acupuncture. So that you can feel a little more educated about how acupuncture could help you, and understand a little more about what is happening when you get an acupuncture treatment.
Eastern Medicine vs. Western Medicine. A different perspective.
I have loved acupuncture since my very first day of class. Why? Because it completely opened my eyes to how you can look at a condition from a totally different perspective. Being able to see the same thing from two different sides gives you much more information and healing ideas. Let’s look at the same condition from both an eastern and western perspective to see the differences.
Western Diagnosis: Insomnia
Everyone knows what insomnia is, and unfortunately, many of us have experienced it.
In Western medicine, medical issues are looked at from a symptom perspective, leading to a diagnosis. I.e you have trouble sleeping, therefore you have the diagnosis of insomnia.
Treatment is used to target and get rid of a symptom. If you have insomnia, you will be given something to help you fall asleep, and/or stay asleep.
They body is looked at in parts, instead of as a whole. As you’ve probably noticed, when you go see a medical doctor, often you end up seeing a specialist. For example, a cardiologist if you have heart problems. The cardiologist will look at your heart, and symptoms you are having i.e chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat etc. and use that information and possibly labs or imaging to give you a diagnosis. I.e. high blood pressure, or clogged arteries. Then you will continue to see the cardiologist to get help with your heart. The focus is on one thing, the heart, and how to get rid of the symptom. If symptoms cross over into another part of the body, you are referred to another specialist. Once the symptom is gone in Western medicine, that is seen as the end of the line. Problem solved.
Group style of treatment:
For anyone with diagnosis X (i.e. insomnia) the treatment is the same.
Probably something along the line of sleeping pills.
Maybe if you have sleep apnea, a CPAP machine.
Or if you snore, possibly a treatment with a laser to change the anatomy of the inside of your throat, to open your airways more.
Sleep Troubles from an Eastern Perspective
Let’s look at the same issue from an Eastern perspective so you can start to see how an Eastern practitioner assesses the body.
Individual Assessment: Everyone is looked at as an individual: when two people have a sleep issue, likely the cause is different, so the treatment will be very different.
Source of the problem: Eastern medicine wants to find the source of your problem and fix the source. Symptoms can be used as a starting point to find the source of an issue. Much more detail is used to find the source of the issue.
For example: if you’re having trouble sleeping: does it take you forever to fall asleep, or do you fall asleep ok but find you wake up during the night and can’t fall back to sleep, or maybe you wake up before your alarm clock and can’t get back to sleep?
Those differences are very important for an acupuncture treatment, because they point to different causes of a similar problem.
Look at the body as a whole: for acupuncture, the entire body is looked at. A person’s body provides clues to their overall health. For acupuncture treatment, you asses many things. Some examples of details that are looked at:
- vitality: does a person have good energy, bright skin with good color, bright eyes, do they look healthy?
- Or do they have pale skin, low energy, dull eyes and look unhealthy?
- pulse: is your pulse strong and even?
- or is it weak, or almost absent, or wiry, or thin or deep or soft? Those all indicate different issues.
- Tongue & Nails: it may seem odd but your tongue and your nails give big clues into your long-term health. Have you ever looked at your tongue?
- Here are some things to look for: it may look pale, or very red, or sometimes even purple.
- Is there are coating on it: it is light? or thick? or maybe uneven, thicker in some areas, and absent in other areas?
- The size of your tongue: if your tongue is larger than it should be, you could see scalloped edges (marks from your teeth along the edges of your tongue, because your tongue is too big to fit in your mouth)
- all of those things indicate problem areas in different parts of the body.
An Idea of sleep from the acupuncture viewpoint.
Acupuncture is all about balance. In holistic medicine we refer to a term called homeostasis. The definition of homestasis is the body is in balance and self-regulating. Things are functioning as they should, for example your temperature would be at 98.6 degrees, where it should be. It wouldn’t be warmer or colder. It would just be in balance, as it should be.
The same idea is used in acupuncture, balance. Some examples of how things can go out of balance:
- yang/yin (yang examples: masculine, active, creative, bright, hard — yin examples: feminine, passive, receptive, dark, soft)
- too hot or too cold (i.e. poor circulation is a cold condition, dry skin is a heat condition)
- deficient/excess (i.e. this language won’t make sense to you, but if you were overthinking and worried, and pensive, you partly have spleen qi deficiency; if you were angry all the time, and warm body temp, and depressed, you would partly have a diagnosis of liver qi excess and yang excess)
- stagnation (lack of flow, i.e. blood stagnation: in conditions like: migraines, cardiac disease, and blood clots (anytime, one example is during a period))
- flowing in the wrong direction (i.e. vomiting, food is supposed to move down through your body, not up and out)
The Role of Sleep In Chinese Medical Physiology
You should check out this article to learn more about sleep from the acupuncture perspective. It goes more in depth and explains what is going on in the body in some of the sleep scenarios I mentioned earlier, i.e. can’t fall asleep, or can fall asleep but can’t stay asleep, or wake up too early. It will tell you the source of those problems in terms of acupuncture and what needs to be addressed to fix those sleep issues. This will help you to understand why an acupuncturist would treat all of those conditions differently.
If you want to have a fuller understanding of acupuncture it’s going to require lots of reading on your part, because as I’ve mentioned it’s a very deep subject. I am constantly reading and discovering new things about acupuncture, even as an acupuncturist that has been trained and board certified in acupuncture! There are endless things to learn and discover in this subject.
What is A Meridian?
A meridian is a channel through which qi (pronounced “chi”) and the other fundamental substances flow.
The meridians function as a network, much like a highway system that can be mapped throughout the entire body. They are somewhat similar to the circulatory system in Western Medicine, however the meridians are non-physical.
What does that mean? Again this is a very complicated system that takes years of study, but I will try to give you a small example.
Let’s look at the spleen meridian. You may think “ok, spleen meridian will treat all things relating to the physical spleen.” That’s not how it works. There are a few points on the spleen meridian that treat things you would associate with the spleen, i.e. immune support. However, there are some other things that points on the spleen meridian treat: dampness in the body (think swelling), overthinking, pensiveness, excessive worrying. The spleen transports blood and energy to the limbs, so if there is a spleen deficiency, someone could have symptoms like cold hands and feet (blood isn’t reaching those areas like it should). A person could also experience weakness and fatigue (because the energy isn’t getting to the limbs like it should, and spleen also regulates getting nutrients from your food). The list goes on and on, acupuncture meridians are also interconnected and work together. Like I mentioned, it’s complicated.
Here’s an article that I think gives a good simple overview of meridians.
What's the Take Away Message?
If you’re wondering what lessons you can learn from this blog post, here’s what I hope you learned…
- The chance to dip your toe into the pool of acupuncture: I hope I’ve started to open your eyes to how acupuncture works. If you want a deeper understanding, it will require reading and research on your part, but maybe I’ve piqued your interest, or give you enough of an explanation that you feel a little more comfortable with the idea.
- That you have another treatment option for whatever may be ailing you. If you’ve been looking for relief from something health-related and what you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked, you may want to try acupuncture!
- Fun story about how acupuncture can treat just about anything. When I was in acupuncture training, I was having at least 3 bad dreams every night, that I remembered in vivid detail. This is a common thing for people who’ve had head injuries. They were awful dreams, one recurring one was Nazi’s coming to my house and I had to hide my family to protect them. Bad dreams. One day in class, our teacher mentioned 3 acupuncture points for night terrors. I wrote them down and decided to try them on myself.
- For acupuncture: people respond at different speeds. A small minority of people notice a difference right away (in 1-5 treatments). The majority of people need 6 treatments before they notice a difference. And a small percentage of people need more treatments (in the range of 10-12) to notice something. I happen to be in the notice a difference right away group.
- The acupuncture points for night terrors are in the legs. There are 3 points that I know of. I did those 3 points of myself, and left them in for 30 min. AND I DIDN’T HAVE ANOTHER NIGHTMARE FOR 6 MONTHS!!! Like I said I respond incredibly fast, but isn’t that wild? Do you know anything else that can help you get rid of nightmares?
- That’s how deep acupuncture is, it can treat the most common things i.e. digestive issues to more obscure things, i.e. nightmares or over-thinking.
- To have confidence in acupuncturists: Acupuncturists go through extensive training to be able to do what they do. I have spent a massive amount of time learning, and studying acupuncture. The acupuncture board exam was the hardest board exam I took. Just for reference, I took 7 board exams, and they were all very difficult.
- That acupuncture is cool! Guys, this is a really amazing treatment option that is so wide-reaching! I encourage you to give it a try!
- And if you’re wondering, “Does it hurt? I’m afraid of needles.” No is doesn’t hurt; you either won’t notice when they needles go in (they are SO tiny!) or it might feel like a mosquito bite, and then you won’t feel them once they’re in.