Community Acupuncture, Qi and Me

When I first learned about community acupuncture, I was told about the benefit and existence of group qi.  Being the lifelong-skeptic of all things non-provable as I am, I was quick to file that thought back in my mind as an unimportant fringe benefit in the grand scheme of things regarding community acupuncture.  After all, what really mattered most to me was being able to offer people affordable rates so that they would be able to come and get better and I wouldn’t feel strange asking them to pay something that I myself would feel uncomfortable paying.

Fortunately, however, by the simple time I’ve spent in several community acupuncture treatment rooms, either as the acupuncturist or as a patient, I have been able to sense the group qi and I truly feel it is an amazing, REAL part of the community acupuncture experience.

I would like first to delve into my former skepticism and the way it has dissolved.  Once upon a time (in 2004) when I started acupuncture school, I was taught about qi and almost immediately had this sinking feeling that I was about to study some hocus-pocus medicine that deep down I would never truly believe in.  Until that point I had a fairly narrow-minded life (okay, i admit that I still do to some extent – it’s a work in progress) relying mainly on scientific, provable facts.  I went straight into acupuncture school after my undergrad life as a math major – I liked math because everything was right or wrong, black and white  – PROOFS were what I did day in and day out!  Even my anatomy professor asked me why I was going to do acupuncture, which can’t be proven scientifically, when I was “a smart enough girl to go to medical school” – and therefore declined to write me a recommendation letter.

As it turned out, after a bit of time at acupuncture school, I began to “believe in” qi; to be able to sense it and understand it, even though I still don’t really know what it is, exactly.  I understood what my teachers meant when they said you could feel or know the state of a person’s qi based on palpation or looking or asking them about their state of health.  It became a reality for me but still something I would use caution with when talking to others, since I suspect most people in the world would look at me like I was just another crazy person who believes in magic and horoscopes and psychics and gnomes and elves and wizards and other unproven things if I discussed qi with them.  For me, qi was a taboo topic just like talking about God – some people would agree and others would think it sounded crazy (and not to equate qi and God, but thinking about qi has also allowed me to grow spiritually rather than be entirely agnostic).

Is it simply a coincidence that my patients often come into the treatment room in the adjoining time slots together, fall asleep together and wake up together?  It is something I have witnessed again and again.  Is it also mere magic that the times when my patients have seemed most relaxed in the treatment room have been when it was the fullest?  There’s a group stillness and a group movement that cannot be denied – this is group qi.

Now the idea of qi in the treatment room is a reality for me and for my patients, and is one I am beginning to feel more comfortable mentioning to others, yet it still hasn’t become a “selling point” for what I do.  It is not my website and I don’t tell people who ask me about my clinic that one of the best things is the group qi – but I think it’s something that people sense when they walk in the door and when they sit back in a chair for their treatment, and that they genuinely value.  It is also a huge relief to me that my patients orchestrate their own qi dynamic in the room without me having to do anything “special” for them.  I have heard of acupuncturists who spend an hour a day doing qigong and energy practices so that they feel grounded enough to do acupuncture (or something along those lines) – again, to me, this is a bit in the hocus-pocus realm (I won’t deny that qigong is valuable – but if it were required of me to be a good acupuncturist, I would never be a good acupuncturist).  To me it is important to take good care of myself so that I can take care of others:  get enough sleep, exercise and eat well, take quiet time if I need it, get out and have fun – overall just be balanced.  I like to practice what I preach and feel that I am on top of my game.  All these things help me to help my patients better, but I don’t have to set the stage when I enter the room of having some kind of “amazing energy” that makes ME a “healer.”  I just have to do the best that I can to create a comfortable environment, communicate, put in the needles, walk away and let them do the rest, together.  It’s beautiful and it works, and that is another reason why I love community acupuncture.

Author: Justine_Myers

Related Articles

Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. thanks

    I really like this post. I think I have a very similair approach as you – I guess my degree in Philosophy has made me a critical thinker. On the other hand, like you I am open enough to experiences that do not necessarily have a scientific basis (yet. many things in the past were unexplainable until a new paradigm could explain them… see Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

    I also like the grounded approach to self care.

    I haven’t experienced group qi yet, but I’m sure it exists.

    All the best,


  2. Justine, I LOVE this post —

    I love that you chose this topic and I love what you said about it. I find that group qi is really hard to talk about (especially for those of us who have an aversion to the woo-woo stuff), but it’s possibly the most important thing about what we’re doing.

    “There’s a group stillness and a group movement that cannot be denied – this is group qi.”

    That is PERFECT. Thank you. 


  3. Yep

    You sure nailed this topic, Justine!  Its funny.  At WCA there have been two times now when we’ve expanded and opened a new room for patients. Each time the group qi would get diluted a little and it took a few months to get enough bodies to have all the rooms really sing at once.  Before that happened though most of the patients, even when given a room that was almost empty they would opt for the room where most of the people were.

  4. It seems like

    .. group qi is not necessary to describe to the patients beforehand – if they’ve never experienced it, why limit it or cause them to have an expectation?

     Seems like much better to (figuratively) ask the question (something like), “what is the best experience you, as a patient, could have in a community space?”  That allows them to create their own experience, with the acup just describing and providing the space and inviting the patients to make their own group qi.