What Are The Health Benefits Of Acupuncture?
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Written By: Suzanne Kvilhaug
Anything that’s rooted in wellness and can be categorized under areas like alternative medicine, holistic, natural health and so on, sign me up! Now! I’m interested in all different aspects and at least want to experience things once. So it’s no surprise that I’ve tried acupuncture. I just wish when I first tried it, I knew what I know now.
Looking back, I had no business walking into that appointment. All I really knew was that there were going to be needles and it may benefit my health. Sure, it could still help something without me knowing but I rather be more informed when trying new healing modalities. I still can flashback to the moment where I was left in the room alone, needles in me and I thought to myself...why am I here and what am I even doing this for?!
So if you’re interested in trying out acupuncture, or you love acupuncture and want to know more, this interview is for you. I turned to Jen Becker, a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and a Nationally Certified Diplomate in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), the highest level of certification available, to answer questions that explain acupuncture in depth. Jen presently solely focuses on her private practice in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. She blends her training in traditional Chinese medicine, five-element acupuncture, facial rejuvenation acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine to treat a wide variety of conditions with a focus on women’s health. She believes beauty shines from the inside out, first and foremost. Along with her private acupuncture practice, Jen has a health and wellness blog, Shine Soul Bright, a place to seek and find knowledge on Chinese healing, natural beauty, holistic health products and more. Shine Soul Bright is a guide to newfound and newly felt wellness through information, inspiration and mindful actions.
What training goes into becoming a licensed acupuncturist?
An L.Ac (licensed acupuncturist) must complete a vigorous 4-year master’s degree program in Acupuncture or Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine along with hours of clinical training. Once that training is complete, they must take and pass the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) board exams in order to be licensed and must maintain an up-to-date license to practice in their state.
Why did you decide to become a licensed acupuncturist?
Before falling in love with Chinese Medicine, I studied kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was while studying the human body through a western medical lens that I started to explore other systems of healing: so much of what I was reading about was frustrating because it didn't take into account the whole mind-body system. Conditions were treated with medication and physical therapy, but there were no connections being made between stress, what people were putting into their bodies and how to live in harmony with the outer world. This felt like a big hole for me, and so my intuition and curiosity, as well as a series of synchronicities led me to Chinese Medicine, with its deep ancient history, beautiful philosophy, and integration of the ebb and flow of nature with the human body.
How does acupuncture help?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing technique that has been used for over 2,000 years to cure qi imbalances. It involves the insertion of hair-thin, sterilized, disposable needles into acupuncture points on the body. These needles activate these points--which are based on an individual's unique needs and energetic imbalances--to bring the qi back to health and harmony, allowing the body to heal itself. During the acupuncture treatment, it is typical to drift into a very relaxing, dreamy state or healing rest. Scientific research has shown that acupuncture changes the brain waves, calming the alpha and beta (arousal and engagement) waves, and activating the delta (deep sleep) waves. Acupuncture is truly one of the best power naps there is!
It’s been said that acupuncture releases energy blockages in the body, how?
One of the main tenets of Chinese Medicine is that the body is made up of meridians or pathways that contain qi, a vital life force that flows through all of us. When our qi is balanced and flowing smoothly, we are in good health. It is when our qi gets stuck or we become deficient in qi that we may start to see certain health issues, such as pain and/or physical and emotional disharmonies, manifest.
Can anyone do an acupuncture session? Even people who have a fear of needles?
Yes! Almost everyone could benefit from acupuncture. Acupuncture can help those who are dealing with an acute issue (a cold, an injury, etc.); those who are suffering from more long-term or chronic pain like depression or back pain; or even those who are actually feeling good, but would like to figure out how to maintain their health and wellbeing.
And as for being afraid of needles, the usual response I get when treating new patients who have this fear is, “Oh that’s it?” or, “I didn’t really feel anything” when the needles are inserted. Acupuncture needles are very thin, and can be compared to a cat whisker or even a hair! Once the needles are in, it is normal to feel a dull ache or heaviness around where the needles are inserted. That is actually a good thing! That feeling is the energy moving. On the day of your treatment, it’s important to have a little food in your system, and it’s helpful to avoid caffeine the whole day to really benefit from that healing rest.
I would highly recommend making sure your acupuncturist has all the proper training and licensure. I often get asked about “dry needling” or hear stories about people getting acupuncture from their PT or doctor. These other health professionals (medical doctor, physical therapists, chiropractor, etc.) are able to get certified in acupuncture and are called certified acupuncturists (C.Ac.) with as little as 100 hours of training! This is very alarming! And not true Chinese medicine. To have the most authentic--and safest--experience, look for licensed acupuncturists, L.Ac.
Before someone goes to their first acupuncture session, what should they know?
As I mentioned above, DO YOUR RESEARCH! And make sure that the person you are booking a session with is a licensed acupuncturist. It's important not only to trust the credentials of your acupuncturist, but also to feel comfortable with them--this way you can truly get the deepest and most healing experience.
Will you feel results after one session?
Yes! But also, it depends. The frequency and duration of treatments really depends on the specific ailment or ailments and on the unique physical, mental and emotional makeup of the individual, but multiple sessions are almost always more effective than a one-off as the acupuncture sessions build on each other. For example, if someone is coming in for something very acute like a cold, we can work on that in just one or two sessions; something more chronic like a chronic fertility or digestive issue, on the other hand, could take weeks or months of regular treatments to get the full results. But again, everyone has a very unique energetic makeup and I have seen chronic issues resolve very quickly in some people so the best thing to do is commit to a few sessions in a row and trust the process.
How frequently do you recommend people do acupuncture sessions?
As I mentioned above, it really depends on what you are dealing with and on your unique energetic make-up. Once you consult with an acupuncturist they will give you an idea of how many sessions you may need and a general treatment plan. But even if committing to regular weekly sessions feels like too much for you, there are still ways to incorporate the lessons of healing and traditional Chinese medicine into your everyday: On my blog, I write about a variety of different foods and herbal supplements that I personally enjoy or use and that have worked for me. From Cold-Busting Remedies, Flower Essences, and the amazing benefits of reishi, to the life-changing power of meditation, incorporating health and wellness into your everyday life can be remarkably simple and empowering.
What are lesser known conditions that acupuncture can help heal?
Acupuncture is most commonly known in the mainstream media for treating pain--acute or chronic. So I find that most people are surprised when they learn that it can also help with emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression and trauma, to name a few. Acupuncture treats the mind/body connection and I often see that when there is a physical issue going on in the body--whether it's shoulder pain or digestive issues--the root cause is emotional.
What do the majority of patients come to you for help with?
I treat a wide array of conditions in my practice such as stress, anxiety, depression, digestive conditions, sleep issues, body pain. But I most commonly treat women and women's health issues: anything from period pain to fertility issues to hormonal acne.
What’s the biggest misconception about acupuncture that you would love to clear up?
One major misconception is that acupuncture is only effective as a placebo. Studies now show that acupuncture changes our brain chemistry, releases endorphins, reduces inflammation and strengthens our immune systems. Another misconception I have encountered is that acupuncture is only for "new age hippies" or is "woo-woo" medicine. On the contrary, acupuncture is actually used in the military; some hospitals are now starting to have acupuncturists on staff; and large insurance companies have acupuncture benefits. People from all walks of life get acupuncture on a regular basis: I see corporate CEOs, teachers, doctors, firefighters. It's great for everyone, not just the new-age folks.