Is Acupuncture Right for You?

When I bring up acupuncture to people who’ve never tried it, I get one of three reactions:

  1. OMG no!
  2. OMG hell no!!
  3. What’s it like? I’ve always wanted to try it!

This post is for you #3 people and anyone who is curious about what acupuncture is and why someone would do it.

I’ve been curious about acupuncture since the first time I read about it years ago in a runner’s forum where runners swore by its ability to help heal running injuries. Beyond that, I have health issues that have challenged me to look beyond traditional Western medicine for approaches that complemented my treatment plans. This includes lifelong asthma, insomnia, and an autoimmune thyroid disorder. I’m also a stroke survivor (thankfully). Everything I am sharing with you here is based solely on my personal experience, and it goes without saying that you should work with your doctor or treatment team for a plan that is designed specifically for you.

So is acupuncture right for you? Here’s my journey, which may help you decide:

Step 1: Know Why You’re Going

While I was battling running injuries the first time I went in 2015, I was also battling “I just went through a divorce, a layoff, a major health crisis with my child, and life is kicking my ass” fatigue. While I showed up thinking I was going for my plantar fasciitis flare-up, I also knew that I was battle-weary, and the stress of it all – plus the nagging feeling that Western medicine was missing something – was driving me to research a doctor and book that first appointment.

Some will say acupuncture heals everything under the sun. I don’t know about that. But I do know that it has worked for me to manage stress and anxiety, as well as help with pain management and healing of running injuries, including chronic bouts of plantar fasciitis that always surface when I am going through a particularly stressful time. But acupuncture is just one tool in my arsenal, which includes other more “conventional” treatments and medicine.

I have come to look at acupuncture as a way to hit the reset button for my body, particularly after a stressful time in my life. I’m a firm believer in the concept that our issues are in our tissues.

Step 2: Get a Recommendation

I went for my first treatment about a year after my divorce. Since running is my go-to for managing stress and anxiety, I was desperate for something, anything, that would help me continue to run. So after reading yet another rave review about the benefits of acupuncture in a running group forum, I decided to go for it. All other Western medicine approaches seemed to be failing me. What did I have to lose?

The most important thing for me was to get a recommendation from someone I knew. A sports massage therapist I trusted recommended a Chinese doctor who I worked with for several years before switching last year to Dr. Chen, also a Chinese doctor, also based on a personal recommendation, and someone I have come to trust immensely.

Trust me when I say that it takes a lot for me to trust someone. 🙂

Step 3: Trust the Process

If you trust the acupuncturist, you can relax on the table and trust the process. The doctor will ask why you are there or how you are doing; they may ask you to fill out forms (my biggest pet peeve anywhere I go, honestly); they may ask you to stick out your tongue for an assessment.

My biggest piece of advice: be honest. If you just lost your job or a loved one, say so. If your back hurts, say so. If you’re sad, say that, too. You don’t have to tell them all the details. But you should be honest about what hurts, whether it’s your foot, your neck…or maybe just your heart.

Based on this consultation, the doctor will insert acupuncture needles in select locations on your body. I always stay fully dressed. Sometimes, they move a heat lamp over your tummy in the winter (I love that and always think of Winnie the Pooh for some reason lol). There is usually soothing music playing, and once the needles are inserted, they dim or turn off the lights as they leave and close the door.

And then – it’s all you. You get to relax. In a way you have never probably relaxed in your entire life. For an entire 25-45 minutes. It is absolutely delicious, I tell you.

Step 4: Enjoy the Stillness

For me, the first few minutes of acupuncture are like when I wake up at 3AM and can’t sleep. My brain is frantically going over every detail of my life, my day, my to-do list, my many failures and fuck-ups, the pizza I ate (again), how many glasses of wine I had with dinner, the stupid thing I said at the absolute wrong moment, the brilliant thing I should have said at the exact right moment…you get the idea. It’s like 27 hamsters in wheels in my brain at any given time. But I’ve come to learn that in a few minutes on the table, the wheels slowly stop turning. The hamsters get off their wheels to go drink beer and eat pizza.

My heart rate goes down.

I relax.

I see colors behind my closed eyes. Blue, purple, green, white, gold, orange, and only once, red. The colors come and go like pulses of energy. Electrical current. It appears in different patterns like bursts of fireworks. Often it’s concentrated behind my left eye. If you are interested in what the colors represent, read this.

During my first acupuncture session a few weeks after my stroke, all I saw behind my closed eyes was a black blob moving up and down, struggling to move around sluggish dark green and brown colors. Eventually the black blob was absorbed into the colors and disappeared. In the next session, the black blob appeared but was absorbed more quickly into the other colors, which were less muddy and more clear. By the third and final session, there was no black blob; the colors I saw were bright and clear, and I felt stronger and more at peace. I felt like my true energy was back.

Hello, me! 🙂

During my session after the divorce (once a week for six weeks), I had what I can only call lucid dreams. In one, I was walking down a tree-lined path. I could see one of my children to my right, and the other to the left. We were all on our own paths, going our separate ways, but we could see each other through the trees. It made me sad but at the same time, I knew that this was what letting go looked like. It was coming and I had to be prepared, both emotionally and spiritually. I left that session feeling ready to accept what the future held for all three of us.

If you’re thinking – “This is too out there for me,” that’s cool! Not everyone sees colors or has lucid dreams. I’m a writer and have always been more on the creative/sensitive side, so it would figure that I would have a more “creative” reaction to acupuncture. If it happens for you, lean into it. See where it takes you. But don’t let my experience deter you from trying it, especially if it can help with your pain or anxiety.

Step 5: Take care of you afterwards.

Don’t plan anything the day you have acupuncture, at least for the first time, anyway. I do it on the weekends so that I have time to rest and recharge. You might feel extra tired for 1-3 days. You might feel energized. I have the BEST sleep of my life for a week or so after a session and I don’t run the day of or the day after. I usually leave feeling peaceful and a little out of it (until I get on the road, and then my road rage tendency sneaks back out. Note to self: Uber to and from acupuncture next time.)

Other tips: drink lots of water. Take a nap if you need to. Make homemade chicken soup and watch your favorite movies. Unless you’re energized, in which case you should follow that energy wherever it takes you. Clean your house, go for a run, write a book, broker world peace — if you’re feeling it, go for it!

I will say this – sometimes, I have emotional releases after acupuncture, usually within 24 hours. The very first session I had, as soon as the needles were inserted and before the doctor even left the room, silent tears streamed down my face. It surprised me and I was embarrassed, even though no one was in the room. (Emotions? Yuck!)

It was the first time I felt like I could release the sadness in my heart from the grief that I had been suppressing after my divorce and the ensuing life events so that I could get from one day to the next. After my father’s recent death, I had a session after many months of not going and the day after, I felt a release of pent-up emotions buried so deep, for so long, I didn’t even know they were there. After a good cry, I felt…free. I felt like I had more energy. I felt relieved.

I felt at peace.

Thinking About Giving Acupuncture a Go?

Although acupuncture is not for everyone, I have found it be to a wonderful addition to my “Feel My Best” tool box. What you’ll also find in there: journaling, reading, music, dancing, running, lifting, biking, yoga, snuggling my dog, and spending time in nature. I’m always adding new things that I discover as I go. I don’t do it all, all the time – I mean, I have to work and cook and do laundry and get my oil changed like everyone else. 🙂 But I do commit time every day to one or two of these things, even it’s three minutes of breathing on the porch in the fresh air with my steaming cup of coffee and a two-minute snuggle with my dog.

Even if you’re not ready to book an acupuncture appointment today, why not think about the things that help you hit the mental “reset’ button? Make a list and prioritize the things that make you the happiest. Then book time for those things in your day, every day. Look at your calendar right now. Work in time for you and the things that make you feel your best, your happiest, and most connected to you – the real, authentic, wonderful you.

“But I don’t have time!” you say.

“Bullshit!” I say.

See what you can give up doing to make room, i.e., mindless TV, scrolling on social media. Even if it’s five minutes. Trust me. You’re worth it. 🙂

I’ll leave you with you with that because my homemade chicken soup is ready, I have laundry to fold, and I’m going to build a fire and watch cheesy romance movies with my dog. Happy Sunday everyone!!