The Beautiful World of Acupuncture

Twice per week, I give myself a wonderful treat, a deeply intense experience of relaxation that is more thoroughly refreshing than most experiences of sleep that I have ever had in my life.

With needles poking out of all sorts of places across my body!

It’s just not right, I know.  But it SO works.  So very much so…

I love going to acupuncture, it’s so calming and makes me feel like (at least a few) things are right in the world, (some) things–even if they’re very minor at times–are right with my body, and those things which are definitely off with how my body is functioning have the possibility of getting better.

I love my acupuncturist, who listens carefully to the minutiae and totally disgusting things that I tell about what my body is doing.  I’ve worked with several acupuncturists now, and we definitely found a really good fit — there are things that this person intuitively understands about what’s working and what’s wonky in my system.

I know that I’m happy with how my treatment is going, and who I’m working with, when I can consistently access that deep state of relaxation every single time I go in.  It’s a beautiful thing.

I love how accepting and non-judgmental everyone at my acupuncture clinic is.  I always feel welcomed, I feel like people deeply care about me — both the people who are running the place, and also the other patients.  Even when things aren’t quite right, when I’m really crabby or exhausted (and can barely make it up the 2 long flights of stairs up to the clinic) or in pain, or the table where I usually get my treatments is occupied (I prefer a table to a chair, because of my restless leg), I feel good, I can handle these things, I know I will feel better walking out than I did walking in.

And I love that I can get this kind of treatment and not worry about whether I can afford it, not have to choose between acupuncture treatments and good food, not have to stress about whether it’s worth the money it costs.

Because it is worth it.

And it doesn’t cost very much.

See, I go to a community acupuncture clinic.  Unlike a lot of acupuncture practitioners in the US, which treat individuals in private rooms and cost upwards of $75 per session, community acupuncture treats people in large rooms collectively, and costs between $15 and $35 per session, based on a self-disclosed sliding income scale (so you decide how much you can afford to pay).

I come into the clinic, lay down on the table or choose a chair amongst the 12-15 available, take my shoes and socks off, roll up my sleeves past my elbows and pants past my knees, and collect my thoughts.

Once the acupuncturist is finished treating whomever they are currently treating, or removing needles once someone has finished their session, they come over to me and we talk briefly about what I’ve been experiencing or noticing about my body — what’s working or not working, and any particular insights I may have had about how the last treatment worked, etc.  They listen carefully, and every once in a while ask questions, but mostly just listen.  Sometimes they feel my pulse on my wrist, or ask me to stick out my tongue.

Then they put very thin little needles in at various points around my body — on my legs, feet, arms, hands, and head/face.  Every once in a while, if I’m wearing appropriate clothing that can be rolled up or scooted down while maintaining modesty in a room full of other people, they may put a few in my belly, although that has not happened all that often.

The needles do sometimes hurt when they go in, but the pain almost always subsides within seconds.  One thing I really appreciate about the acupuncturist I’ve been working with lately is that a lot of the time I don’t even feel the needles go in — although with other acupuncturists it’s sometimes felt like they were trying to get the needles to hurt extra when they went in!!  :)   If any of the needles continue to hurt for more than a few seconds after they’re put in, the acupuncturist will remove them, and either try again, or just leave that spot alone.

Once all the needles are in (usually somewhere between one and two dozen), the acupuncturist usually asks if I want a blanket — although usually I don’t — they keep the clinic comfortably warm, and I generally have problems with a blanket bumping up against the needles (which can make them REALLY hurt or sting) when my leg gets twitchy, which happens a lot in my sessions.

Then I just lay there and relax;  I try to let my mind clear, and focus upon the sensations that I feel running through my body.  It’s really kind of fun, feeling the way the energies course through my body, or various parts pulse in and out of unison.  A lot of times I’ll get these very strong pulses in my arms that eventually synchronize, at which point I get this crazy euphoric feeling with mild vertigo and it all goes away.

Gradually, the more I pay attention to these sensations, the more I calm down and my mind stops running around like a chicken, and eventually I fall into a state of deep, deep relaxation.  I don’t entirely know if I would call it sleep, it’s kind of like sleep, but it’s also not.  I feel like I’m almost on another plane, not registering with my senses the world going on around me, I don’t feel the table underneath me and my hearing subsides, although a loud enough noise will register and knock me out of that deep state, usually temporarily.  My breathing becomes very shallow and regular, and sometimes various muscles twitch a little bit.

(When I first started doing acupuncture at this clinic a year and a half ago, though, I didn’t have these deep experiences.  I did, however, have a TON of twitching!  I needed to lay on the table because I would have to hang my restless leg off its side and let it kick and twitch pretty much through the entire session.)

At some point in time, usually 45 minutes to an hour after starting, I wake up from this deep state.  Usually it’s with a really deep breath that I realize I’m back in the “real” world, although sometimes lately I’ve been coming out of the deep state very gradually and am cognizant of the rhythmic shallow breathing before that deep breath comes.  A lot of times after the deep breath, I’ll lay there for several minutes more, just gradually coming back to reality, and appreciating the relaxed state of my body.

(For quite a while, too, I would know that I was done with a session when thoughts of food and eating would spontaneously pop into my head!)

Once I’m ready to be finished, I open my eyes, put on my glasses, and lift my head up to see if the acupuncturist is within viewing range, either working on another person or walking around.  I catch their eye, or wait until they’re done with the person and then catch their eye.  If they’re not in viewing range, and likely at the front desk, I’ll give a little quiet sniff or yawn, something not loud enough to disturb anyone else in the room, but which the acupuncturist usually hears.

Then they come and take the needles out.  Every once in a while, the spot where the needle was in will bleed — sometimes quite profusely — so they usually have a cotton ball on hand to sop it up.  I’ve had a couple of times when I had a needle taken out of my ear–and the acupuncturist didn’t check for bleeding–only to find later a stream of dried blood running down my neck!  But this really doesn’t happen all that often, and I know now to check in the bathroom mirror before I leave the clinic.  The other thing that can happen, especially if they don’t put pressure on the spots where the needles come out right after removal, is that you can get bruises around the areas.  Usually putting pressure with the cotton ball is enough to prevent this, although even that sometimes doesn’t work.  I’ve never gotten a bruise on my face, but I have gotten some impressive ones near my elbows and knees — I think bruises are cool, tho, so this has been a bit of entertainment for me, watching them heal, with all their changing colors.

(I know, I’m totally a freak.)

And speaking of freaks… you may find, if you go to a community acupuncture clinic near you, that there are people there who don’t look like you, whatever it is that you look like.  Community acupuncture is a welcoming place, and welcoming of pretty much anyone who enters their doors.  There may be people of different races, people who have hairstyles or piercings that you don’t see every day, people who look abnormally “normal” and “straight”, people who express or represent gender in ways that you may not entirely be comfortable with.  That’s ok.  They’ll accept you no matter what you look like (and I generally look pretty “normal”, which sometimes makes me feel a bit awkward in more “alternative” milieux, but that wasn’t the case at my acupuncture clinic).  You can make the choice to accept them, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you are with what they look like, at least in the context of the clinic, as part of your healing process.  Chinese medicine doesn’t make conclusions based on whether you look like a punk rocker or a soccer mom.

If you’ve never tried acupuncture, I highly recommend it — in case you hadn’t realized that by now.  The Community Acupuncture Network has listings of a broad range of clinics across the country (and maybe in Canada too?), so you never know — there might be one near you.  The most you’ve got to lose in trying it out is 15 bucks — and I think most people reading this can probably afford to spend that, as part of an experiment that has a good probability of helping to improve health.

Do you have any experiences with acupuncture?  What has worked or not worked for you?  Have you ever been to a community acupuncture clinic?  What did you think?

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