Acupuncture: The ancient art of correcting your qi, letting your natural energy flow, and correcting any imbalances in your body. Started in China thousands of years ago as a way of healing, Acupuncture, the art of inserting tiny needles into strategic points in your body, has always been a bit of an alternative medicine. But it has been growing in popularity, and gaining respect, in the west. It is now routinely used at hospitals and doctors offices to treat back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and more.
Months ago, a foreign teacher wrenched out her back. She went to the traditional doctor but the pain medicine wasn’t working. So she went to an acupuncturist in our city and has since gotten much better. Sarah, another foreign teacher with some other back problems, has also been going for the past few months, and today I joined her.
I don’t know what I expected, maybe an old man with a long, grey stringy beard who would feel my pulse, check my aura and tell me where my imbalance lay. He would burn incense to some Buddhist god of healing and then he would prickle me from head to toe with needles. I think I need to stop watching so many kung-fu movies.
The reality was the doctor was a middle aged, young looking woman wearing a white lab coat like most doctors do. She led us to some beds in the corner, away from too many prying eyes, and I got a quick peek round the room. The room was small with about 6 beds and a number of chairs spread around. The doctor was sitting at a small wooden desk, like a school desk, piled high with papers and slips.
One bed was filled with a man laying on his stomach, round clear balls on his back, texting. Another bed had a woman with pins stuck all in her face and hands. The ones in her hands had some burning substance on them. The doctor ushered that woman to another bed so Sarah and I could be next to each other, and I couldn’t help but stare at her as she passed us by. Pins. In her face.
We lay down, on our stomach, with me trying to keep my hand between my face and the pillow. It wasn’t obviously dirty, but it was clearly old, ripped, totally pilled and I didn’t know how long it had been since the sheets were changed. Although we were lucky, as other beds just had ripped bamboo mats on them and no sheets.
The doctor, very friendly, asked me where I wanted it done. I said upper back/shoulder area (too much sitting at the computer.) She felt around, asked if anything hurt as she pressed in various places and before I knew it I had a bunch of pins sticking out of me.
Now for the big question: did it hurt? No, it didn’t. But I won’t lie and say it was comfortable. I mean, you could feel the needles entering, though it wasn’t too painful. What was strange was when I moved. We both tried to stay as still as possible because when you moved there was a weird sensation. Like a sharp pressure or something. It wasn’t painful per say, but it wasn’t pleasant either. As long as we didn’t move, everything was okee-dokee.
Then she came over and put little cork like things on the ends of our needles juts like the crazy pin lady had on her hands. (She lay some paper down on my neck to catch any falling ash.) It was like cork incense or something because as it burned it let off a nice scent. The burning corks warmed the needles up and make it more relaxing on our muscles. (Turns out the herb is called moxa, or mugwort, and has been used in Chinese acupuncture for hundreds of years. Thank you internet for that tidbit.) She warned me that it might get too hot, and I might not be able to handle it, but it turned out to be no problem, and kind of enjoyable. I could feel the warmth coming through the needles.
We lay with the needles for about 40 minutes. We got new burning corks at some point too. When it was over, then she took out the medieval torture device. It was a long thin piece of plastic with a thing full of small short needles at the end. Think of a toothbrush with needles instead of bristles and that will give you a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. She said she wanted to hit my shoulder area to make it bleed. Then she would stick some cups on top of them to suck out the toxins.
I looked at the needle device. “Is this going to hurt?”
“Yes,” she said matter-of-factly.
“It only hurts while she’s doing it,” Sarah said reassuringly.
When in Rome.
After I was tenderized she threw on a couple of plastic bulbs and sucked out the air creating a vacuum in which my toxins could be released. I have seen this technique, called cupping, before but when I had seen it before the vacuum is usually made by putting a flame on the inside of the cup thus depleting all the oxygen inside and making a natural vacuum. This doctor did it the modern way, with a pump, and it really sucked my skin right into the ball. Also, because she had just abused me with needles it drew out some blood. All in all, it was incredibly disgusting looking. I have pictures but I am not going to share them because you may never look at my blog again. They are that traumatizing.
Interestingly enough though, it felt really nice. I didn’t feel any pulling or stretching or anything, but rather just pressure. Like someone keeping their elbow on a muscle in your back. Really, it wasn’t bad at all and I actually found it relaxing. Within 20 minutes of finishing we both had big purple bruises on our back.
So the verdict? Not bad. Sarah has back problems and she says she really notices a difference after acupuncture, especially a change in her posture. I don’t really have chronic problems so I didn’t really notice anything different. I did feel relaxed afterwards, like I had gotten a mini massage or something. I’m not sure if I will be going back, but it is nice to know the place is nearby and available if I ever need it.
How about you? Ever had acupuncture before? What was it like?
My mother-in-law was trained in traditional therapies. I used to go get the hot bottle treatment and medical massages all the time. I was afraid of the acupuncture–I don’t like needles and my mother-in-law used some special form of acupuncture that supposedly did hurt.