Hello and welcome to Acupuncture Awareness Week, fighting the corner for both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and 5-Element Acupuncture. I am sure that those of you who’ve had acupuncture will swear by it and with any luck have told all your friends about it.
I imagine those of you who haven’t experienced it are somewhat sceptical to the claim that acupuncture treats the mind, body and spirit. It’s quite a leap of faith for anyone, including me, an acupuncturist who also works in the unashamedly commercial world of creative media. I want to share with the most cynical amongst you, how I make sense of the possibility that acupuncture has profound effects on both the mental and physical aspects of a person.
Acupuncture is the UK’s most popular alternative medicine with over 3 million people having treatment every year. GPs are now frequently recommending it for back problems, knee pain and headaches. MRI scans show that acupuncture triggers the body’s healing process by calming the central nervous system, regulating hormones and releasing endorphins. Newspapers widely report that celebrities are in favour of acupuncture for anything from fertility to addiction. Gwenyth Paltrow once said acupuncture had guided her to a “new level” in life, helping her to find love with her husband and giving her the strength to cope with the death of her father. Robert Downey Jr credits his good health to acupuncture. He says it has “had a profound impact in all areas of his life for many years.” Other advocates are Toyah Wilcox for insomnia, Gwen Stefani during pregnancy and Julie Walters for the menopause.
This growing support gives me great confidence in my dedication to acupuncture and assurance that the ancient practice is earning its place in the modern world. I don’t subscribe to championing alternative medicines against western medicine, I believe both systems play an important role in everyone’s life. If I had a life threatening road accident I’d rather paramedics equipped with modern emergency equipment ran to my assistance – over a well-meaning acupuncturist with calming words and a fine array of energy-conducting needles. There is one undeniable truth though, many pharmaceutical treatments have side effects as undesirable as the illnesses they treat. Acupuncture may take a bigger commitment of time and effort than a pill promising instant relief; but there are no undesirable side effects. More to the point, as I discovered, some most desirable side effects.
My first hand experience of being cured of chronic neck and shoulder pain plus some unexpected extra benefits persuaded me to quit my full-time job, and spend 4 years training to be an acupuncturist at the renowned Integrated College of Chinese Medicine. I met Angela, my acupuncturist and mentor 10 yeas ago and still see her every two months to de-stress and for a overall wellbeing and preventative treatment. Hand on my heart, I haven’t had more than a sniffle in so many years and I’m often complimented on my youthful complexion. That certainly isn’t down to living a Saint’s life or being immune to the odd life crisis. An acupuncturist spends as much time supporting and assessing your emotional state as they do reading the physical symptoms from the body. Tears are sometimes encouraged as a way of undoing the default tough-exterior setting we use to survive in our daily lives, which can suppress anger, grief and worry and cause stagnation. A good cry is a sign that pain is being let go of and the path ahead is clearing.
I can no longer count on my fingers and toes the number of friends who believe they owe their beautiful bouncing offspring or their sanity in high-pressure jobs to the support and treatment of an acupuncturist. So, how is it that wafer-thin and relatively painless needles, which are inserted into the most seemingly bizarre and unconnected parts of the body, can have these life changing effects?
As the ad says, “here comes the science bit”. It’s widely believed that acupuncture directly affects our autonomic nervous system (ANS) and our endocrine system. The ANS is made up of two parts, the sympathetic nervous system which comes into play when we need to take ‘fight or flight’ to a stressor and the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and relaxation. If we visualise our response to a scary sabre tooth tiger situation of old, it’s easy to see how the emotion ‘fear’ has a direct physical response in the body, when we ‘leg it’ without a moment’s thought. When we start to see the mind and the body acting ‘as one’ – it starts to seem possible that acupuncture could touch the mind, body and spirit simultaneously.
I have also been introduced to the notion that our historical emotions are stored as energy in our body. That means that a physiological reaction to a stressor leaves a residue in our body, which we know as common old tension or chronic pain. Acupuncture uses fine needles to tap into energy meridians where tension or injury causes blockages, clearing them and encouraging energy to flow freely again. This often means that pain, be it organ related or musculoskeletal is dissolved and as a bonus an emotional tension is released making you feel relaxed and happier.
I see my treatments as helping people to heal themselves, call it a re-balance or a reboot if you like. Acupuncture Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to pop down to Shine and demand your complimentary free trial 3rd to 10th March only. Hope to see you there.
By Sophie Webb, Acupuncturist at Shine Holistic and Shine On The Green