So you want to try acupuncture? Finally your pains are bad enough that your mind is open enough to concede western medicine’s limitations in treating chronic conditions, and you’re “willing to try anything.”
First of all, isn’t that wonderful – that most of our patients are at the desperate point of willing to try anything… and our logical, proven paradigm of medicine falls under the heading of “anything,” somewhere just after yoga and just before shamans? Don’t tell me our job isn’t at least as hard as most doctors’. I digress.
So, what do you do? How do you “acupuncture?” Do you just go and point to where it hurts and we put a needle in and you get better? No, of course not. As a matter of fact the majority of points in most treatments will be mostly nowhere near your site of pain or discomfort? Whaaa? But how… ?
Don’t worry about it. Just lie still and breathe.
Ooh, there’s lesson #1: Shut up, and try to relax. Especially if you go to an old Chinese practitioner, it’s likely that less (talk) is more and if you start chatting their heads off with extraneous information that I’m sure seems important to you they’re going to ignore you at best, rudely dismiss you at worst. I realize that doesn’t seem like a very New Agey, bedside manner, but old Chinese practitioners don’t much care that acupuncture happens to fall under the heading of “New Age” in our abhorrently stupid society. There’s nothing new about Chinese Medicine. It’s like, older than everything.
Of course, you don’t have to go to a Chinese practitioner, and there’s no rule that one is better than the other. I’m sure 100 years ago it would have been a safer bet, but now we’ve got white rappers, black tennis players and non-Asian acupuncturists. It’s the 90’s.
Obviously referrals are always a good way to go, but so is just trusting your gut and even prejudices by looking at pictures of practitioners’ faces (or reading their charming blogs online). Once while suffering from an ongoing gout attack I had in L.A. I spent tons of money on a (old Asian) practitioner in Beverly Hills who came highly recommended by a friend but yielded minimal results. I then found some young white dude in the valley on Yelp who charged only $70/session and to this day I believe to some degree saved my life. Much like in our selection of points, there’s not necessarily any right or wrong, and you won’t know until you try.
How to try? Unless you get an especially awful vibe I would make at least three appointments to start, ideally over the course of two weeks, but permissibly over four. Acupuncture is about two things: continuity and experimentation, and for that reason it’s important to come frequently in the beginning. Once you get over that first hump of discomfort and the practitioner has begun to understand your pattern, a few times a month should be fine.
The day of: Before acupuncture you should have eaten something. It doesn’t have to be right before – as a matter of fact you should not have a recently full stomach – but you should have at least had a meal since waking up. Acupuncture works with the body’s energy, which is sorely depleted when void of nutrients. It’s not the end of the world if you’ve had caffeine, though as a stimulant it’s advisable to either wait until after treatment or at least have it as long as possible before. Intoxicants, conversely, are the end of the world – not literally – unless of course we can understand “the world” to encompass any one of our experiences or intentions, in which case it is (literal).
Afterwards, same rule applies: Best to abstain from intoxicants for the entire day of treatment. Even if the intoxicants have medical qualities, such as red wine or the new psychotically strong, medical marijuana, the acupuncture mechanism is a subtler one, attempting to do one particular thing, whereas they do another. You wouldn’t take a new herbal supplement concurrent with a week of antibiotics, so why disrupt our “qi manipulation?"
Other potential disruptors are vigorous exercise, confrontations and sex – best to abstain from all of these at least until the following morning. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells after acupuncture. You should be able to go back to work or go out with friends, do what you have to do. Just take it relatively easy and don’t go out and get into a drunken brawl or have wild sex all night.
In the macrocosm, “how to acupuncture” depends on your condition.
Chronic conditions should be seen once a week or at least three times a month for 3-6 months.
Acute conditions should come twice a week for a few weeks, though once a week should suffice if this is impractical. It just may take a few extra weeks. It is rare and unusual for there to be such a thing as “too much acupuncture,” as it is basically just refined circulation of energy and fluids, which much like stretching or breathing is always a good thing.
Maintenance and Prevention is also a fine way to approach acupuncture. We all have our own set of unique imbalances and vulnerabilities we are prone to, and going for treatment once every few weeks is a good way to hit our proverbial “reset button” and restore organ function
In closing, when you step through the threshold of your first acupuncture office you have traded yourself from the death team to the life team. As corny as that sounds no physiological endeavor is a one-man sport. Just like pharmaceutical companies need your help by eating poorly and not exercising in order to remain reliant upon their drugs, acupuncturists need your help by eating well to get maximum benefit (and get off those drugs). Once in a while are short-term simple cases that don’t require as much patient participation, but they are the exception. Again, don’t get me wrong. You’re entitled to feel like the victim of bad genetics or bad luck. I don’t believe in the cliché, “There are no victims.” Instead my belief is we are all victims, all to varying degrees, which unfortunately still results in the same prescription to just man up. You’re dying. We all are, but chances are if you’re “willing to try anything” that your path to death has recently sped up. This means no fucking around, no “half steppin’.” No one is more aware of the power of acupuncture and herbs than me, but beware of blowing your money on holistic medicine if you’re counting on it alone to resolve longstanding illness. That’s not how real medicine works, because it isn’t how life works, which makes sense. Don’t feel bad. Your pain is probably a blessing in disguise, a tool to steer you onto a more intelligent and enlightened path that will make old age much more pleasant than it is for the less fortunate who somehow managed to limbo underneath discomfort and disease thus far. Congratulations, and welcome.