What I Learned As A Patient
Long before I became an acupuncturist, I was a patient. It was once all new and a complete mystery to me as well. Here are some valuable lessons that I learned being a patient, now, with the perspective of being a practitioner:
It Has Far Reaching Side Effects
I initially discovered acupuncture to address a hip injury that prevented me from running, simple enough. What I found was acupuncture and later, Chinese herbal medicine was a powerful way of addressing many aspects of my and my family’s health. Just a couple side effects I’ve experienced include improved immunity, greater mental clarity; deeper, restful sleep; a regular menstrual cycle; and more balanced mood. Most people think of acupuncture for pain and it can do much more as well. Ask yourself is there an aspect of your body, mind or heart that is preventing you from fully showing up in your life?
It’s Not Going to Fix Everything
On the flip side, going to acupuncture once a week, every two weeks or monthly magically won’t make all your issues disappear. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine has resolved many of many issues, alleviated others significantly and given me a greater awareness of how to better cope with other issues. Acupuncture was a powerful catalyst for learning to take better care of myself. As I became more aware of and used to feeling good, I also became more aware of the choices I made that sustained that quality of life and the choices I made that left me struggling. Acupuncture has tremendous benefits and can be used to treat a host of serious chronic and acute conditions. And making good lifestyle choices is a critical component in sustaining good health and wellbeing. This isn’t just the case for acupuncture. It goes for any medicine.
You Don’t Have to Understand It or Believe In It to Reap the Benefits
For a long time, I never asked a single question about my treatments. I’d go in, spend 10-15 minutes rattling off my issues and pains at break-neck speed while my acupuncturist listened empathetically, sometimes offering a nugget of wisdom and often times, just quietly listening as she read my pulses and placed needles in various parts of my body. Inevitably, about halfway through my appointment, I’d get quiet, sometimes fall asleep and wake up feeling more grounded, centered, with more energy and less pain. At the time, I had no idea why she chose to place the needles where she did. When I became a student and started to learn the theory, I started asking a lot of questions and then I spent a lot of time thinking about my treatment as well as trying to diagnose and label myself. I quickly found that it didn’t make my treatments any more effective or offer any greater benefit. In fact, sometimes, it actually hindered my ability to get out of my head, relax into my body and the moment to let the medicine do its work. I encourage my patients to ask questions and am always happy to share my treatment strategy. I also encourage them not to get too fixated on thinking about it but rather let go, relax then observe what shows up in their body and life.
It Takes Time to Heal But Real Healing Lasts
I noticed the immediate benefit of feeling more relaxed and had more energy the next day. My hip felt a bit looser and all those benefits faded after awhile. So I went back, every week for awhile, then every two weeks, eventually monthly or when time would allow. Over time, the relaxation and energy became more sustained and my hip pain was both less intense and stayed away for longer until it didn’t bother me at all, even while training and ultimately running a marathon! That was ten years ago. We live in a culture where we want immediate results and that’s not always realistic. You should notice shifts and changes with treatment and sustained, genuine healing can take time but it is worth it.
The Acupuncturist Matters
I’ve seen three practitioners since I started receiving treatment. All of them, gifted in their own ways, also has a unique style, bedside manner and approach to treatment. As patients, we all have different needs, goals and expectations and those also change over time depending on where we are in life. Chinese medicine has developed and evolved over thousands of years and in many different countries representing a vast body of knowledge so there is no ‘one way to treat.’ Every acupuncturist brings their own specialized toolkit of knowledge and skills as well as unique life experience to the treatment room. Finding someone who meets you where you are in life, listens to your goals, addresses your needs and expectations can require a little effort. Think of it like dating. Ask friends, trusted healthcare providers and me for referrals and then talk to the practitioner and trust your instincts about whether it’s a good fit. And if you don’t get the benefit you are looking for, ask yourself what is missing and try another practitioner before concluding that acupuncture doesn’t work.
I still get acupuncture regularly. I continue to receive treatment because it makes me a better practitioner to always remember what it feels like to be a patient.