I try to be a very open-minded individual – yet I admit that in some domains, I hold “traditional” (outdated?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. 🙂
You’re such a fascinating person Stef. In many ways you are so left brained. Yet you continue to stretch yourself and find ways of moving into your right brain. I just listened to a two hour lecture by Deepak Chopra who introduced me to quantum physics twenty years ago (I’ve never looked back) It’s a fascinated lecture from a scientific point of view and yet so much more. I’m trying to download it so I can listen to it again. Kudos to you my friend.
Joss, I am totally left-brained. And yet, I know in my heart (and in my highly-rational mind) that living in extremes (of any sort) simply isn’t healthy, so I do try to push myself more to a place of balance. Which is challenging at times – but worth the work.
The lecture sounds interesting; if you find it, I’d be curious to explore a link…
will keep you posted on that.
So something else ticked off your list, well done.
I really liked the way you’ve written this article. Open and honestly.
At the end of last year and the beginning of this year I had a terrible migraine that lasted a total of four months. It was dreadful. My doctor encouraged me to go for accupuncture and I was quite happy to do so as it was something I had always been interested to try.
Lots of doctors do it here in Germany as a therapy for various ailments, some of which are even paid for by health insurance companies (I always take that as a good sign). Migraine, however isn’t one of them.
Two different doctors treated me, but they both had totally different approaches. Like you I had relaxing music in the background. The receptionists came and removed the needles. Not good. One left me with lots of bruising. Plus then I was expected to just get up and motor on as before ie no pauses and no feet rubbing. I think you got the better deal here. 😉
Alternative therapies are MASSIVE here in Germany and I feel quite sceptical about most of them. It seems to me, it’s often a way to make money. I would be quite interested I think in trying some of the other Chinese medical practices out though.
Alternative medicines are also become a bit more mainstream here, though they are still considered by most to be rather “alternative”. But some insurance companies will pay for some of them, for some conditions. So the alternative therapies are beginning to gain a wee bit of traction…
But your experience didn’t sound very good – yikes! I will say that I think I had one of the best possible experiences I could have arranged: caring and competent practitioner, relaxing experience, no after-effects at all (i.e., no bruising, certainly no bleeding!, and no pain or irritation…) – so I feel good knowing that maybe I’m just not an acupuncture kind of gal (that is, maybe my body just doesn’t respond to it as strongly as other people). I have done acupressure in the past (on my feet), and had a similar experience (i.e., it was pleasant enough, but didn’t do much for me beyond the time I was sitting in the chair getting my feet worked on). What other types of alternative therapies are common in Germany? Did you finally shake the migraine? (I can’t imagine being in that kind of pain for days on end, much less months…) 😦
I tried acupuncture last year when I couldn’t find any relief for my back pain and the doctor said my health insurance would cover for a number of sessions. It was a last resource thing and I don’t think it improved my back at all but I did feel more relaxed after each session. However the acupuncturist mentioned some herbs I could try for my back. I started with New Chapter Zyflamend and when I saw improvement, I looked at the 10 ingredients in it. One of them is holy basil, which reduces inflammation, so I bought that (New Chapter brand too). Since then, my back is 95% pain free. After everything I’ve tried, I know holy basil deserves its name. And without seeing the acupuncturist, I would never have known about it. But being poked by needles, I didn’t like so much (especially the one between my toes, hurt like hell!). Whoever says acupuncture doesn’t hurt never has had it done.
I’m happy to hear that you found relief, and that your acupuncturist was able to give you helpful information.
I honestly didn’t mind being poked, and only had a brief sensation (less than three seconds) of discomfort in two spots (my ears and my toes). But like most things in life, I suspect it’s different for everyone…
You really are game for everything, Stef.
And it really does seem to be your left-brained self, a Skeptical Inquirer. Then the rest of us get the benefit of your bravery, daring, curiosity, and your full analytical report.
I’m game for most things. I don’t want to live with any regrets, so if an opportunity comes along, I want to take advantage of it. (Or create my own opportunities when I can.) 🙂