How to Optimize Your Acupuncture Treatment

February 10, 2009

Acupuncture helps with many conditions. From physical diseases such as muscle, tendon, joint, and nerve pains to smoking cessation and infertility, acupuncture can provide tremendous assistance. But regardless of what condition you are seeking acupuncture for, there are a few rules of thumb about how to make the session more relaxing, effective, and – possibly – transformative.

First: Eat before acupuncture, but not right before. Skipping breakfast or lunch is almost always bad for you – it requires your body to work extra by not being adjusted to the natural rhythms of the day. But it is particularly to be avoided before an acupuncture treatment. If you skip a meal before acupuncture, the movement of the body’s subtle energy (qi, from here on) can become ungrounded, leading to possible upwards or downwards reckless qi. Symptoms of this may include dizziness, fainting, nausea, or headache. So, eat your wheaties (or should I say, sprouted whole grain cereal and pasture-grazed organic eggs.)

Second: Schedule enough time. At my clinic, regular appointments last 75 minutes – assuming I’m on time, which I usually am. Be realistic, and schedule enough padding on either end of your treatment to both get to the clinic and get to your next destination after the treatment – without being in a hurry. Being in a hurry is a good way to make your body’s qi behave in a way that we in the profession called “constrained.” Other words for this might be “stressed out,” “tense,” “nervous,” or “ungrounded.” Acupuncture is trying to regulate the movement of the qi in your body, and this is best done in a state of relaxation. You will make your acupuncturist’s job more difficult by winding yourself up right before (or especially during) the treatment. Hey, we can roll with it, but you want the best treatment you can get, right?

Third: During your treatment, breathe. Breathing is the most important bodily function that we have volitional control over. By adjusting the breath, we can affect the body’s nervous system, circulatory system, lymph system, and of course, meridian system in a profound way. I do not like the term: “breath control.” When first working with the breath, people tend to use too much intention and force – in an attempt to “control” the breath. However, a forced breath, no matter how deep, is always a tense breath. And we have already mentioned what tension does to the body’s qi – it makes it stuck. During acupuncture, the best approach is to simply allow the breath to be natural and pay attention, especially to the abdomen and to where the body is lying against the table, and gently inquire to yourself: do these places feel like they are being infused with the breath? The breath should fill the whole chest and abdominal cavity, massaging the internal organs, and pressing the front, sides, and lower back outward slightly. So, no matter how you are laying, you should feel the breath push against the table a little. Allowing it to do this will greatly increase the movement of qi in your body and facilitate the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment.

Fourth: Pay attention to how you feel. This is the number one rule of life, in my book, and is especially helpful in the arena of healthy living, and by extension, when receiving acupuncture. The types of acupuncture treatments are varied, but should all be relaxing (after the intial needling procedure, at least). During the process of laying on the table with pins in us, we often have different sensations. These sensations are our body talking to itself, with the acupuncture needles as a kind of intermediary or facilitator (and sometimes, mediator…) There is a lot of good information for us, about our body, our heatlh, and especially, our emotions, available to us during this experience. If we pay attention (at least until we drift off into the acu-dream state, which is also good for us), we can often find a new way of feeling in our bodies. This experience can then inform our day to day life, and sometimes (I’ve seen it happen!) lead to a profound and postive shift in our experience. Not everybody who gets acupuncture, of course, will have these experiences, nor should we expect them. But we should be on the look out – by simply paying attention to how we feel.

So these are the four rules of thumb for getting the most out of your acupuncture treatment: Eating, not hurrying, breathing, and paying attention to how you feel. Sound like Grandma’s advice on how to live the good life? Now you’re starting to catch on.