I hope to explain a bit about acupuncture for you all and the benefits of acupuncture for autoimmune diseases as many of you have been curious of my ongoing treatment. Understand that I am not an expert on this and I do not have all the answers, but I present to you my understanding, research, along with my personal experience.
A major component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is qi, pronounced as “chee”, sometimes it is spelled as chi. Qi is vital in all things and has aspects of matter and energy. The qi in the body represents and measures the vitality of a person. There can be qi in foods as well, though that may be a topic for a different discussion. In the words of Paul Pitchford, “From a therapeutic standpoint, there are several functional aspects of qi. It is warming and is the source of all movement; it protects the body, flows through the acupuncture channels and maintains the activity of the body systems and organs. Sources of qi in the body are three-fold 1) from food; 2) from the air we breathe and 3) from the essence of the kidneys, some part of which we are born with.” Qi simply put and the way I understand it is the energy that moves within you, keeps your organs and systems moving and working together. How well we use qi depends on how we live our lives, what food we eat, our attitudes, mental state, relationships with people, and experiences.
To better understand how it all works, we must also understand yin and yang. Everything can be described in terms of yin-yang principles. It is rare for someone to be defined as only yin or only yang since they work in congruence together and when health is attained they are in balance. With autoimmune diseases in particular we know that there is an imbalance in the body simply because the immune system cannot recognize self from non-self invasive cells. Studies have shown that acupuncture can help to restore the body to homeostasis aka balance in the body.
Yang is associated with active, masculine, outside mind, light, time, heat, energy of the body, function to name a few. Yin on the other hand is passive, Earth, substance, inside, body, feminine, dark, cold, blood, to identify a few. Everything is whole in nature, and it’s the balance of yin and yang that makes them so, as one cannot exist without the other. Since this is all a bit complicated to understand, and I am deep in the learning process this video explains it visually, which helps for my learning style.
Acupuncture works to stimulate the blood flow, which helps to stimulate the body’s capability to heal. Acupuncture practitioners can use pulse diagnosis tests to identify different areas of the body that need work, certain pulse reads can indicate the areas of imbalance. A person can be too yin, or too yang in certain areas, the goal is to activate the qi to return the energy to a whole balanced state. It helps to activate the stagnant areas of the body to move and/or release the qi to get the body systems and organs working together in balance.
Acupuncture is a very personal and intimate experience but there is no doubt that it helps with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and disease management. Chris Kresser explains perfectly HERE just how acupuncture works to alleviate pain.
“Genetically the body is not designed to be in chronic pain. It will do everything it can to get us out of pain. Acupuncture “reminds” the body how it should be functioning, and helps its powerful inbuilt pain relieving mechanisms kick into gear. It’s a bit like jump-starting a car. You’re not changing how the car works, or even adding anything to the engine. You’re just giving the battery a little jolt so the car can run how it’s supposed to.”
My First Acupuncture Treatment
I was nervous the day of my first acupuncture treatment a back in November though, I’m not afraid of needles. I’ve spent the last nine years of my life getting stuck for blood drawings, infusions, and self-injecting medications. Needles were not my issue. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect and most often, the unknown causes anxiety. What happens to your body when the needles go in? I knew the science of it, but I didn’t know how it would pertain to me as an individual.
Going into my initial session I had no idea how I was going to react. As I talked with my acupuncturist we addressed the main issues I wanted to focus on treating, my arthritis (Ankylosing Spondylitis) you can read how that affects me here, leaky gut and digestive issues, hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue and amenorrhea. I was feeling like I had no energy for life. The day to day was draining me and I had no space for anything extra. Fortunately she is extremely sensitive, detailed and thoroughly discussed how each of these problems made me feel. I instantly felt a connection with her and it put me at ease. It was as if I had known her for a long time, I was only returning to see and be comforted by an old friend.
Her explanation of how my treatments would work helped me to understand more of the process of acupuncture. While I hadn’t yet committed to a full treatment plan I was seeing her for the first session to gauge whether it was something I really wanted to do for a longer term. She explained that during the first few sessions we’d be working towards getting the stuck and negative energy currently inside of me out, so that my qi can move properly throughout my body.
With hypothyroidism a major symptom is sensitivity to cold and coldness of the extremities. Most often my hands and feet are icy cold even if the rest of my body is warm even if I am covered up with blankets. I understand now there isn’t enough qi in my body to reach my extremities and warm up all parts of my body, the energy I do have is working overtime to take care of other things. Simply staying warm is a task and for the qi to reach the ends of my body is low on priority right now. She explained that the first few sessions she would leave the needles in my body on the pressure points for a longer period of time. Depending on the treatment the needles can stay in, or simply go in and come right back out.
The first day I saw her I was having terrible digestive upset, I was eating nutrient dense foods, doing yoga and all the “right ” things, but still my stomach and intestines were in knots. When we began treatment she started in my abdomen by placing needles in the lower two sides near my hips, one at the bottom of my sternum and another at the crown of my head. She told me to just relax for 15 minutes and covered me up with the blankets in order to keep me warm (remember extremities). What felt like a half an hour passed and my anxiety began to stir.
“ I am having a really hard time just laying here, being here with myself,” I didn’t even realize what I was saying but it all began pouring out of me as if these were words I had spoken at another time. I then said, “ I’m feeling like I do when I have my regular MRI’s to check my spine for bone fusion,” and at this point the tears began to roll away from my eyes. She asked what that feeling was like and began to release the blankets from each of my sides. The tears continued to stream steadily and while I was not hysterical, everything inside of me was screaming, “Get up, get out, move you have to MOVE!”
“It’s really hard being trapped, in there, not being able to move,” I said to her as she laid a tissue by my hand. “It’s really scary not being able to move,” I repeated and she replied “Have you experienced that feeling at other times?” BOOM! “Yes,” I said muddled with tears. Instantly I was 15 again unable to walk, my fingers curling into my hands, unable grip, students laughed and whispering behind my back, completely out of control and trapped in my own body unable to move. During those times I felt like a hostage inside my own body.
“It’s terrifying to not be able to move,” I told her, “it’s my biggest fear of all.”
It’s the most powerful and emotionally draining experience I’ve ever had, but my digestive upset was completely alleviated. It felt as though I was on the table and talking with her for over an hour and I wondered how I had been there so long, but it was only 15 minutes. In confusion and disillusion I left, exhausted. My body had done so much work and energy had shifted so much by the time I made it home that afternoon I crashed.
The important thing for you to know is that this doesn’t always happen to people. This is not necessarily the norm. From my understanding people can have extremely emotional releases during acupuncture but more often than not they don’t. This was simply my experience, my body has so much depleted qi because of all of these issues, arthritis, hypothyroid, potential parasite, adrenal fatigue, lack of blood, let alone the day to day activities and showing up in the world, emotional stress and past experiences buried deep inside of me. This may be the case for you too, but it’s completely individual. And I should mention that this strong of an emotional release has not happened since, there have been other things, but not like this.
I felt so light after. Regardless of the extreme fatigue, I felt a weight lifted off as me as if I had been keeping someone’s secret and just got to vent with my best friend. However, the fear of not being able to move is not something I even knew I had. I have never given a thought to it consciously before. Sure, the prognosis for my disease is spinal fusion and being wheelchair-bound, but what caused that fear was having experienced immobility and that experience along with the emotions attached to it have been stored in my body ever since. I just never realized it consumed me. Yet it’s an epiphany for me, I have this new understanding of myself, of why I enjoy movement through yoga, why traveling and physically relocating makes me feel alive. It’s the freedom of moving that I love, and the loss of that which terrifies me in every aspect. I understand deeply my motivation for everything I do, the way I live life, the way I eat, the way I treat people, how I care in my relationships it truly comes back to a determination to always be mobile.
I instantly knew after this session that I needed to commit to further to a treatment plan. What I learned of myself in one single appointment was revolutionary and now what I have learned after a consistent two months of treatment is invaluable. Dr. Perlmutter a neurologist and author of the popular book Grain Brain put my perspective into words perfectly,
Acupuncture has given me more insight into the why’s of my health challenges more than any other form of treatment I’ve sought out before.
I am still deep in this journey and I want to provide you with the best information to make an informed decision as to whether acupuncture is a treatment you wish to pursue. Since it varies to every individual experience I want you all to know how much it has truly affected me, and though I do recommend it, I also encourage doing thorough research, looking into your acupuncture’s credentials and mostly trusting your intuition with your decision as that is what led me to mine. In my next post on acupuncture I will discuss where I am now after two months of continual treatment and some more of what I have learned along the way about autoimmunity, vitality and myself.
Wishing you love, light and vibrancy!