I try to be a very open-minded individual – yet I admit that in some domains, I hold “traditional” (outdated? biased?) views. For example, whenever I hear the word ‘doctor’ I immediately think of a white man, and any time I hear the word ‘teacher’ I immediately think of a white woman. I’m not proud of these slanted assumptions (and I am actively working to change them), but they do exist in my mind. Rather than deny them (in which case nothing would change) or condone them (which would again result in no change), I am accepting them (because any amount of self-hate is unacceptable) but I am also challenging them. I am intentionally exploring new, unfamiliar situations in an effort to keep me out of my assumptions, and to encourage the creation of new paradigms and ‘defaults’ in my brain.
One assumption I recently discovered I hold is the notion that Western methods of living are superior to non-Western modes. For example, when I was initially exposed to the full spectrum of true yogic living (including Ayurveda, the celebration of many deities, and some of the more intense physical poses), my mind immediately thought, “Holy crap, that is crazy!” Similarly, when I first heard people claim that chiropractic, naturopath, and/or acupuncture-type treatments healed a serious injury, cured a disease, or reversed infertility, I thought, “Yeah, right. It was probably the insulin/ chemotherapy/ clomid that actually provided the cure.” After noting this pattern a few more times, I realized that I was actually quite ethnocentric – and as someone who tries to be very tolerant, accepting, loving, and peaceful, I really didn’t like this awareness (even if it was accurate and honest).
So rather than judge what is unfamiliar to me (but also not blindly accept what is unknown simply because I want to appear inclusive), I decided to experience some of these items for myself. I discovered that I adore yoga, but do still think prudence is wise when it comes to some of the more extreme practices. I found that for my body, chiropractic treatments served as more of a short-term fix than a long-term solution (similar to my experience with massage – both are great to loosen me up, but neither one completely ‘fixes’ an issue without me taking additional supportive actions). I had been meaning to try acupuncture for several years – but like so many other things on my 101 list, just “never got around” to taking the time or making the effort to do so. Which is one of the reasons why I placed this item on my list. :)
A few months ago a Groupon landed in my email offering two acupuncture treatment sessions at an incredibly reasonable price. I took advantage of the opportunity, and within two weeks made my way to a nearby sports-medicine facility where the acupuncture office was located.
It was a little strange walking into a lobby where sports jerseys of famous athletes adorned the walls, muscle-men magazines lay on the coffee table, and protein bars and shakes were available for purchase. I learned that the focus of this facility was rehabilitation of high-performance athletes – and that acupuncture was one of many services offered (in addition to physical therapy, ice baths, VO2 max training, foam roller treatment, deep tissue massage…) As I waited for my appointment, I saw a few relatively young (i.e., early 20s), rather solid men in the rehab room. One was riding a stationary bike under the guidance of a trainer, and the other was on a table having his leg stretched by a therapist. I tried not to stare as I waited for my appointment.
After a few minutes, a woman called my name, and escorted me through the rehab room to a private treatment room. She and I sat down, and she conducted a formal, thorough medical intake with me. I was surprised by this; I guess I assumed that I would walk into a room, be asked, “So, what do you want?”, declare my malady, get stuck with some pins, sit for a few minutes, then leave. So to spend ten full minutes reviewing my health past and present was really surprising – heck, I don’t get that much time with my primary care doctor!
As I was asked about past illnesses, surgeries, conditions, and issues, I found myself disclosing a lot of very personal details to this woman – something I really hadn’t planned on doing. For some reason, whatever question she asked, I couldn’t help but answer 100% honestly and completely. Details I withhold from almost every other person in my everyday life came spewing forth, almost uncontrollably. It was interesting to observe, but a little freaky to experience.
Once I made my past and present states known, the woman did ask me, “So, what brings you in today?” Again, feeling compelled to answer 100% honestly, I replied, “Well, for some reason I’ve just always wanted to try acupuncture; but I don’t have any specific problem to address right now. So I guess I’m here mostly to see what you can do. I don’t have any pains, or diseases, or life-limiting problems, or anything like that… I guess if I do have an issue, it’s that I often experience feelings of anxiety. I have lots of ways to cope with the feelings, and mostly the strategies I employ are effective – but if I could have anxiety lifted from me, well, that would be awesome. Can acupuncture take care of that?” I looked at the woman, simultaneously skeptical and hopeful.
She smiled, and laughed lightly. She responded, “I don’t think one treatment of acupuncture will bring you complete inner peace, but I’ll see what I can do.” With that, she asked me to take off my shoes and socks, and lay down on the massage table in the middle of the treatment room. In the next three minutes, she deftly inserted a total of 33 needles in various parts of my body. My head, ears, arms, legs, and feet all got a dose of wire. I didn’t feel most of the needles go into my body, but instead just heard a small ‘spring’ sound as the plastic guide covering each needle was removed (once the point of the needle was securely positioned in my skin). However, I did feel a slight ‘twinge’ in two of the ear needles, and a pretty significant zing in my left foot (the space between my first and second toes). But each of these sensations went away in a few seconds, and by the time the acupuncturist finished applying all of the needles, I honestly couldn’t feel any of them in my body.
The woman then applied a small dab of lavender essential oil to my temples (which made the experience feel a lot like my yoga classes – and therefore very familiar and comfortable), and told me to simply lay still and relax. She left me alone in a warm, darkened room, with an ocean waves sound track repeating in the background.
During the 20 minutes I laid on the treatment table, I engaged in loving-kindness meditation. I repeated phrases of well-being for myself, my family, my friends, strangers, and all conscious beings. Occasionally my mind would drift (as it usually does during a meditation session); at which point I just smiled, calmly and gently released whatever thought was occurring, and returned to the metta practice.
When the acupuncturist returned, she silently removed the needles, then gently rubbed my feet for a few seconds. She then quietly asked, “How do you feel?” I responded that I felt a little bit of energy in my cheeks and my hands (and it was an interesting sensation; it wasn’t warmth, and it wasn’t ‘feeling’, but it was just the presence of, well, energy. It’s difficult to describe…), and that I felt rested (which is how I imagine I would feel after laying still for 20 minutes). She nodded – not so much in agreement, but more to affirm that she heard me. She then had me slowly sit up, pause for a minute, then slowly stand, and pause for another minute. Once she felt comfortable that I wasn’t going to faint, she had me put on my shoes and socks, gave me a business card, and told me to call if I had any questions, or if I experienced anything that seemed problematic or confusing. With that, I walked out of the treatment room, past the two guys who were still getting worked on in the rehab room (bye boys!), and into the bright summer sun that beamed over the parking lot.
A few weeks later I had my second appointment with the same therapist. Just days prior to my second visit, the acupuncturist signed a lease for a private space – so my second experience was a lot more like I imagined an acupuncture appointment ‘should’ be. The waiting room was more spa-esque, with a plant on the coffee table, Chinese diagrams adorning the walls, a waterfall machine gently running in the corner… Quiet. Peaceful. Non-competitive.
Once in the treatment room, the second appointment proceeded much like the first. The acupuncturist skipped over the full medical intake, but did do a check-in with me to see how I felt after the first session. I confessed that I didn’t feel much different; the cheek-and-hand energy feeling went away after a few hours, and my anxiety and obsessive thinking continued at the same general frequency and intensity as before. The woman didn’t seem phased or surprised by this, but instead replied that acupuncture can take several treatments to work. She said she would try a few different spots this time, and would let the needles stay in longer. For this session she inserted 26 needles – all still in my head, ears, arms, legs, and feet, but I’m assuming in different specific places within each main area. I was left alone for 30 minutes this time, and during this session I chose to focus on breath meditation (simply being aware of breathing in and out, and bringing the wandering mind back to the feelings of breath at the nose, in the chest, at the belly, etc.).
At the end of this session I again felt rested – but that was all. Again the woman handed me a business card and invited me to call with any questions, and again I left the clinic space and entered the summer sun feeling relaxed.
It’s been several weeks since that second session, and I don’t feel changed by the experience. I suspect that if I had a more ‘obvious’ issue I was trying to address with acupuncture (like back pain, or headaches, or nausea, or something similarly physical) I might have had more ‘successful’ results. And who knows – in the future, if one of those persistent maladies befalls me and I can’t successfully address it with other means, I might re-visit acupuncture. At least now I know what to expect. And that was largely the goal of this venture. Had my interaction with acupuncture resulted in profound inner peace, well, that would have been a fantastic bonus. :)