Stress is a natural part of life. However, with today’s fast paced lifestyle, we are more stressed out than ever before.
Couple that with poor nutrition choices, sedentary desk jobs, and what seems like never ending days trying to juggle work and family, and we have the perfect recipe for health disaster.
But all is not lost. We may not always be able to change what is causing us stress, but there are numerous techniques that you can use to combat these daily stressors. These may include yoga, meditations, qigong, and acupuncture. You may want to experiment with several methods in order to find the one that works best for you but today we will be discussing the benefits of acupuncture.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China several thousands of years ago and spread throughout the Far East before moving to the west. It is the oldest continuously practiced medical system in the world. Acupuncture involves inserting very fine, hair thin needles at very precise pressure points throughout the body. The needles stimulate the body’s natural healing response by establishing a smooth flow of energy throughout the body.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
As in nature, health in the individual is determined by a smooth flow of vital energy. This energy, called qi or chi, circulates in our bodies along pathways called meridians. Meridians traverse and nourish the body just like rivers traverse and nourish the earth. Rivers can over flow, dry up, become dammed or polluted, all metaphors for what can happen to our vital energy.
When this happens, the body’s energy begins to flow improperly. As the energy becomes blocked and stagnant, the body may begin to show distress signals in the form of mental or physical symptoms. Any blockages must be cleared so that a free flow of energy can be restored in order for harmony to be restored to the body.
By activating the proper acupuncture points, the body’s energy can flow freely, thereby relieving or greatly reducing mental and physical symptoms that are stress induced.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
Acupuncture is perfectly safe when performed by a licensed practitioner. Acupuncturists are trained in the proper treatment methods. Acupuncture needles are not much thicker than a human hair. They are made of sterilized, fine quality stainless steel. They are for single use and are disposed of safely.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration approved non-toxic needles made for single use application specifically for acupuncture treatments. Most insertions penetrate only slightly below the surface of the skin. Sensations vary among individuals. Sometimes a person feels a pinch or tingling sensation.
The vast majority of people who commit to acupuncture treatments experience no pain at all. Bleeding rarely occurs. On the rare occasion that a drop of blood does appear, most of the time it is because the body is releasing heat, which may occur in people with high blood pressure.
Stress often tends to accumulate in the neck, back, and shoulders, causing muscular pain and tension headaches. High levels of stress can even elevate a person’s blood pressure. Acupuncture can relieve physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, and even help to lower a person’s blood pressure. Acupuncture produces the release of endorphins in the body that results in a person feeling calm and relaxed after treatment.
But acupuncture has even more far reaching benefits than just relaxation. In fact, the World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine’s ability to treat over 43 commonly encountered clinical disorders. Among these are headaches/migraines, neuralgia pain, musculoskeletal pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, indigestion, constipation, gynecological issues, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, allergies, asthma, and addictions to just name a few.
A typical acupuncture session may last 30 minutes to an hour. However, the first session may last up to 90 minutes as it is devoted to gathering information about a person’s health and lifestyle and most acupuncturists will conduct a physical exam as well. This allows the practitioner to address the patient’s specific concerns and goals in subsequent treatments.
Treatments may include acupuncture needles, the burning of moxa (a Chinese herb with medicinal properties) on the acupuncture points, and/or Chinese manual therapy (tuina and/or guasha). The patient often becomes very relaxed during the treatment and may even fall asleep.
Regular treatments can help strengthen a person’s immune system and reduce their stress response so that life doesn’t seem so hectic. Treatments may be recommended once or twice a week for 10-12 weeks depending on the severity of the condition being treated. At the end of those sessions, the person will be re-evaluated to see if the condition has resolved itself or if further treatment is recommended.
Remember, the longer a condition has existed, the longer treatment may be needed to return the body to state of balance. However, our goal as a practitioner is to return a person to a state of good health so that they just come in for seasonal tune ups. We take our car in for regular tune ups. Doesn’t the body deserve the same consideration? After all, everyone wants to feel refreshed and energized!
Stress Related Health Conditions
As I previously mentioned, acupuncture can help boost our immune system. Long term stress and high stress environments lower our immune system, making us more susceptible to potential illnesses. Regular acupuncture sessions can not only help treat stress related conditions that we are currently experiencing, but it also acts as a preventative by boosting the immune system so that we do not experience future symptoms. It’s always better to stay well than it is to get well!
An added bonus is that because acupuncture treats the body as whole, and not just the individual symptoms, it can address multiple issues at once. And it addresses these issues without the side effects that many pharmaceuticals have. Although people usually come in with one main complaint, they often notice relief across the board, reporting improved sleep, more energy, and a decrease in aches and pains.
Quite simply, acupuncture serves as a form of preventive medicine. By alleviating stress and strengthening the body, it serves to prevent illness and dis-ease within the body by promoting health and longevity.
The Mind-Body Connection
Acupuncturists see an individual as they would be in perfect health and balance, unique in body, mind, and spirit, and seeks to clear any blocks to a person’s health. Conventional medicine now accepts what Chinese medicine has known for thousands of years, the mind affects the body. Because our mental state affects our physical well-being, acupuncture aims to treat the mind and body as a systematic whole. Stress is the perfect example of how interconnected the body and mind is.
The mind perceives what is happening around us and the body reacts to the perceived situation according to the mind’s interpretation of the events. If the mind perceives a threat, our body’s flight or fight response kicks in. As with any stressful situation, the heart beats faster, the muscles tighten, and the body prepares to either defend itself or take off running to get away from the situation.
Remember though, not all stress is bad. And often it’s not the actual event that causes us stress but our interpretation of what is happening that causes us to experience the stress reaction. So, if we change how we look at the world, we can change how our body responds to everyday situations.
Acupuncture is just one way to retrain the body’s stress response. It is also important to learn positive stress coping mechanisms. Breath work, yoga postures, qigong or tai chi forms, and exercise in general are all practices that can help us deal with stress productively.
Finding the right combination of de-stressing methods often takes a little experimentation on your part. But finding what works for you and sticking with it will have long term positive effects and allow you to live a happy and healthier life.
Author: Leona Harter, L.Ac.
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: author’s own