What to expect at your acupuncture treatment – Before, During and After

Well you’ve done it!  You’ve finally considered acupuncture, or maybe you’ve even booked your first appointment.  Now what?  What is the appointment going to be like?  Will the needles hurt?  Do I just walk in and someone starts poking me??  Every acupuncturist and their office of course will be different, but here are a few things that are likely to happen when you come in for your first appointment:

1) Checking-in & First visit

Really similar to a doctor’s appointment – you arrive 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork, settle in, and let your body calm down after you’ve just sat in traffic or rushed there on the bus.  Your acupuncturist will greet you, take you back to a treatment room that looks similar to a massage therapist’s room or doctor’s office.  You can sit or lie down and the interview process will begin.

2) The Acupuncturist & Interview process

Perhaps similar to your doctor (or not), the acupuncturist will begin a lengthy interview process that may involve things you’ve never been asked before!  Let’s say you’re coming in for back pain – we will ask specific questions about the pain, like when did it start, and how long you’ve been experiencing it, quality of the pain, but then we will ask a series of other questions to get a general idea of your lifestyle and constitution.  Some of these questions will be about sleep, work habits, eating habits, urination, bowel movements, etc.

You might ask, “Why would you be asking me all of these questions if I’m coming into for something completely unrelated?”  In Chinese medicine, we believe that all factors contribute to balancing an issue, so if you have back pain for example, other lifestyle or constitutional factors may play a part in why you are experiencing this pain and it will not heal.

3) Checking the Pulse, Tongue & Palpating

If you come to see an acupuncturist, they will put their fingers on your wrist and feel your pulse, ask to look at your tongue and maybe do some other palpating (which means feeling around your abdomen, limbs, back or anywhere else they feel might need to be checked).  The tongue body, color and quality, similar to the pulse, give us indications of things that are going on inside the body (sooo cool!).  Same with palpation – doctors will sometimes do this if they are feeling for specific organs in your abdomen for example – but we might do this to check for temperature or other qualities that help us figure out your case.

4) Treatment begins!

After we asked you a million questions, checked your tongue & pulse and felt around for anything else that’s important, we will decide what we are going to do, and then begin.  You will be lying on a table, either face up, down or on your side, and the acupuncturist will begin to insert tiny little needles.  40 or so acupuncture needles can fit into the size of a hypodermic needle, pretty cool!!  We might also do a little cupping, massage, gua sha or rub some topical herbs to help you.  We will leave the room and let you rest with the needles in – it may not sound like it, but it’s actually very relaxing!

5) Sensations of acupuncture

Some sensations you might feel as the needles are going in could be a like prick or poking sensation (NOTHING like getting your ears pierced), soreness, itching, aching, or like someone is pulling at a tiny little spot in your skin or muscle – sometimes you even feel nothing at all!  It’s best if you can relax and drift off into a meditative-like state, and if you are unable to, ask your acupuncturist if they can adjust anything.  Hey, it’s your treatment, so you should be able to be comfortable!  The body will heal faster and more proper if you can be at ease.

Sometimes also depending on where you are at that day – let’s say you had too much caffeine, or didn’t sleep well the night before, or for women if you are having a menstrual cycle, you may feel more sensitive that day.  It’s always a good idea to eat a little before the appointment – don’t come in on a completely empty stomach, especially if you have a morning appointment.

Lastly, you may or may not feel some strong or strange emotional sensations.  An acupuncture session can be very vulnerable – you have just told this person you don’t know all these intimate details of your life, and then they poke you!  It’s completely normal to feel like you want to cry or laugh or feel anxious, and perfectly normal if you feel nothing at all!  If anything at all makes you feel uncomfortable, or it’s too much or too fast, please tell them – if the person you are seeing will not adjust the treatment so that you feel good when you leave, maybe think about finding someone else.

6) Length of treatment

You will lay on the table for anywhere from 20-60 minutes, depending on your condition and what your acupuncturist thinks is best for you.  A longer treatment Is not always better, it really varies on a case-by-case basis.

7) What to expect afterwards

After checking to see if you’re ready, we pull the needles out afterwards, and there is usually little to no sensation, but there might be a soreness or itchiness (or some other sensation) afterwards.  It is rare that there is a little bruise or bleeding, but it will go away, and there is nothing to worry about if there is.

We recommend you don’t shower or get into water a few hours afterwards, only because you have been made vulnerable and we want to keep you warm, cozy and safe to keep that healing process going.  This could also include, no major workouts right after, or stressful situations (like don’t head straight back to work and immediately delve into that horrible project your boss has been bugging you about for weeks).  You usually will feel an “acu-buzz” right after, you might just feel a little sleepy or spacey, and that’s pretty normal.

8) Follow-up 

Make a treatment plan with your acupuncturist!  Think of what you want as an end-goal (like “I want to be pain free”, or “I want to be able to sleep through the night”) and talk with your acupuncturist about it so that you both can have clear goals of what you want to see happen.  With chronic conditions, progress can be slower, but that means it will be longer lasting.  Every condition is different, but I think 3-4 visits is usually a good starting point to see if you and the practitioner are a good fit.  If you feel like it is not, ask them for a recommendation for someone else! We usually have a great network of other providers who have specialties, and it’s not offensive to want to get the care you deserve.

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What is “normal”?

The word “normal” is a funny word in the English language – in the dictionary, it actually has multiple meanings.  The first definition states:

“conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural”

I have my own opinions, of course, about how this word delineates a moral right and wrong, and can make people feel pretty crummy when used in a certain way, but my point here is to get how it relates to Western & Chinese medicine.  Another definition, which declares its definition for Biology & Medicine states:

free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation; of natural occurrence.” 

If you think about what that means in terms of medicine, a lot of people might not know.  It basically means that you’re not sick and in relatively good health.  And I feel when it comes to people’s health, this is a commonly unasked question by folks seeking healthcare advice.  For example one might ask, “is it normal that my knees are popping all the time?”  Or they’ll say, “It’s pretty normal that I get headaches all the time.”  Or maybe your shoulder pain has been there for so long, it seems “normal” now.

Look at these sweet little mushrooms doing their thing in the forest in Mindo, Ecuador!  Ok, sidetracked…but we were talking about what natural is!!  

“What’s it like for other people?” is another common one that I see people hesitantly ask, and also interesting, because we all want to know what other people are experiencing because we want a baseline for what we think our bodies should be doing.  A “norm”, a “natural state” of health – but what is that? One thing is that we are all different, and our norms and baselines can all be different.

I bring it up today because I think it’s a question that many adults are afraid to ask whoever they are receiving care from, because as an adult, you’d think we know all the answers by now, right?!?  WRONG.  And let me tell you why.

Here’s  a story of how we grow up with different “norms”:  Sally’s “normal” was being the only female in a family full of boys – mother passed away and her dad never taught her about shaving her armpits or legs, fart jokes were pretty common, and there was no shortage of diarrhea jokes from her brothers (you remember the diarrhea song, right?).  At a certain point, Sally starting getting stomach cramps, she just assumed this was “normal” because all the boys in the house were constantly farting and laughing and it seemed like it was funny and enjoyable to them, even though it wasn’t for her, so why ask?!  She ate what a lot of kids ate, or so she thought – chips, lunch meat sandwiches and Root Beer and would usually get stomach aches after meals that got worse throughout the day – she knew her dad was allergic to nuts, because he would break out in a rash on his arms every time he had them, and that was all she knew about allergies.  She never said anything to anyone because she just assumed having tummy aches and gas was “normal”.

Some of these “normal” things are influenced by society, culture and religion, and now of course, media.  But when it comes to this – what I ask for myself is, “What is a natural standard of health for my body that suits me at this time?”  I have conversations like this with my patients all the time, and it’s a conversation you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your health care provider.

Look at these natural little mushrooms 🙂

To me, a standard of good health or “natural” state of health is to NOT have headaches, to NOT be constipated or have daily loose stools, to NOT be bloated all the time, to NOT be moody, crashing daily and exhausted, and so on.  These are great things to consider in your life – does this resonate with you?  Are there a list of things you’ve always thought to be “normal” health-wise because a lot of people you know experience them and are just dealing with them or medicating them?  I have good news – this is something acupuncture and herbs can treat!!  Your body is an amazing machine that just needs slight tweaks to keep it running optimally and to support all of its other symptoms, and sometimes it just needs a little help to do so.

And now, one last cute little mushroom to get you thinking about nature some more…

**Please note: as with anything written in this blog, I am not a doctor, but am a student and write my observations based on my clinical training.  Always talk with your health care provider and decide for yourself what is best – I do not give out medical advice on this blog, only opinion.

The importance of our senses!

With the holidays upon us, and with that often comes traveling – long hours spent in airports and on the road; I am reminded of the importance of our senses and why we need to practice not using our devices as much.  Okay, it’s not like I’m bossy or would ever tell you what to do but LISTEN UP (ha!).

You have an oculomotor system!!!  It’s super important!  I was driving around Pike Street today, and as usual, dodging pedestrians GLUED to their phones, their necks edged forward (you might be doing this right now at your computer trying to read this), eyes squinted, thumbs typing frantically, and not paying attention at all to anything around them except their phone.  Some even had headphones in AND were texting.  Recently there have been white silhouettes placed at crosswalks across the city where people have been hit by drivers (over 240 in the last year) – I imagine it is the fault of both pedestrians and drivers not being fully aware of their surroundings.

A person came to the clinic recently who was riding their bike and had to stop suddenly, flipped over their handlebars and broke several ribs.  Why?  Headphones.  These things are tiny foreign objects which block off one of your very important senses to interact with the world around you.  We have to train ourselves to use all of these senses, or we don’t!  And you lose that ability slowly over time with repetition.

Looking at your phone all day keeps your visual system/nervous system only focusing on a tiny screen, which means that our eyes are only paying attention to a tiny 4 by 4 monitor, and NOTHING else around it.  That means your organism stops interacting with its environment; you are training yourself to not be aware of things around you.  Whoa.  If you were conscious of this, would you continue doing it?

Sometimes as I’m writing to you, I’m sitting on the couch, half-writing, half-watching a movie, and I’ve realized over time how my capacity to focus on one thing has changed.  I have gotten so “good” at multitasking, that my performance on each task has depleted.  I have begun to work on isolating different tasks, so that I type on my computer for a while at the desk and shut off my phone, or put on a movie and leave other devices in the bedroom, essentially training myself to unlearn multitasking and stop being distracted by every text or the next thing.  I also almost never wear headphones anymore outside, and find it interesting how I now experience the world again.

There is a man who has walked by me on my street for years, almost the same time every day (around 3 PM) to go get a coffee at our local coffee shop.  I always see him taking photos of leaves and birds and yesterday he was just standing in front of this beautiful tree at the end of our street.  We often wave or nod, and I know what he is experiencing by being aware and open to sights and sounds and smells and other people.  It’s truly wonderful.

Now go get off your phone and experience some stuff!!  Wishing you love and happiness this Winter.

xo WitchDoc

A story of wheatgrass: choosing what’s right for you.

I confess that sometimes I ask Google for help.

I browse the internet looking for what people are writing about herbal remedies, and I find these funny websites where I see things written that look like a little cut and paste: “Want to know how to heal IBS?  Top 10 herbal remedies!”  I actually had a couple friends who would get hired to write these things, and they were actually paid to cut and paste from other sites (and free-write)!

Recently I came across this forum where a woman told her story about wheatgrass.  She had started drinking wheatgrass shots daily, sometimes twice, because of the advice of a friend because it’s a “superfood”.  She started breaking out in this horrible skin rash that wouldn’t go away, experiencing nausea and digestive upset.  After elimination of the shots and going to the doctor, the skin cleared up, but the woman’s question on this forum was, “How can I continue to drink the wheatgrass shots without having this horrible side effect?”  In other words, how can I continue to do this thing that I think is so good for me even though it’s causing harm to me?

I had a friend whom whenever I would go to their house, they would show me all the supplements they were on.  Dr. Oz or Oprah or someone told them about XYZ, maybe that week they learned that everyone was Vitamin D deficient, so they ran out and bought some Vitamin D.  Or probiotics – probiotics are all the rage right now!  I asked, well what are you eating?  (And if you’ve read any of my other entries, I of course asked about exercise, sleep, water, etc.)  And they weren’t really doing any of those things.  Not sleeping, never going on walks, digestion was poor, and so on.  My point is that sometimes what we think is universally good, actually is not for us as individuals at that time.

copy-of-dsc01202

(A swirly universe inside my Watermelon juice with wild blue-green algae, served up at the lovely Wendy Green’s Casa Verde Raw Yoga Retreat in Ecuador)

So my answer is: Listen to your body!!!  The above photo is a great example – these green superfood powders like Spirulina, or Blue-Green Algae are so great for you, right?  So is watermelon – it’s a fruit!  But together, this is a very cold combination – if it’s middle of Winter in Seattle, you probably shouldn’t be drinking this everyday (and the quality of the product too is extremely important).  Not everything is good for everyone all the time.  Ever heard the phrase, “Even moderation of moderation is good”?  I have tended towards food sensitivities most of my life, so I understand this.  The first Naturopathic doctor I ever saw said I had a wheat and dairy allergy, which at the time I had a sensitivity (probably just like everyone else), but I held onto that diagnosis for a long time.  Sometimes those things can change, and you sometimes can make them change.

What if you let go of the wheatgrass for now (or whatever your “wheatgrass” is)?  It doesn’t mean forever, and maybe it does.  If you could never drink those wheatgrass shots again, don’t you think it’s possible that you could find that “superfood” and those “super nutrients” in another food or get those in another way?

It’s worth a thought!

A Quickie on Grief & Trauma

Yesterday I was driving in my car going to the gym.  Sometimes I hate going because it seems like such an unnatural place to be getting exercise, so I cancelled my membership, but they told me I had another free month, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll just keep going for the yoga and sauna…ha!

I’m listening to NPR – I realized recently I had stopped listening to the news or looking at social media feeds because it was really bringing down my spirit.  But story after story poured in about Venezuela, about Black Lives Matter, about the presidential campaign.  Stories of children being killed, friends starving in South America, people harming and hating each other.  I cried and my heart felt so heavy – and here I am, white girl in my box driving to the freaking gym.  Even though I grew up poor, my current security and privilege had never been so apparent to me.  I’ve had no words over the last month because of these heavy feelings, but now I want to share something of use.

In times like these, we may feel feelings of grief, trauma, loss, sadness, and anger, regardless of how directly we are being affected by the environment (if you’re not a spiritual person, think of it in terms of Quantum physics – one thing affecting another thing, even on the other side of the universe).  There are Herbal Allies and support for you, which are easy to access.  By that I mean that you can look to nature and its medicine for support – go to your local herb shop (or online), get some teas or tinctures, flower essences, walk by your nearest lake or park, sit outside and breathe some fresh air.  You can also check out my “Work With Me” section if you would like to receive some acupuncture or massage to help you through this time, or tell a buddy if they need that.

calendula

Here are some ideas on how to deal right now:

  • EXTRA SELF-CARE. That means go for more walks during the day than normal.  Drink more water and herbal teas, less alcohol and caffeine.  Take baths, sleep a LOT – sleep early.  Eat nutritious food.  Cry alone, in nature, or with friends and family.  Ask for hugs.
  • Be kind.  Flipping off that guy in the car next to you will only make you feel worse (well, probably).
  • Get some herbs to help your mind, nervous system, heart, digestion. Suggestions below.
  • Do some yoga or breathwork – this could help get you out of the house and be with community (there’s donation-based classes if you’re broke)
  • Take a class on herbs so you can get out and breathe fresh forest air and spend some time getting to know the outdoors. Check out Natalie Hammerquist of the Adiatum School in Seattle

grief

Some of my favorite herbs for grief & trauma:

  • Lemon Balm, Kava Kava, Passionflower, Chamomile, Oat Buds, Skullcap (there are more, but here’s just a few). Drink them singly as a tea (about 1 TB per cup of water), or get a tincture and take a dropperful or two a couple times a day.  These are gentle, and although there’s a lot of other food and nutrient therapy you can have, these are easy to drink as a tea.
  • Essential oils. Some health food or herb stores may have some blends for calming – Uncle Harry’s, Simpler’s Botanicals are brands I like.  Or you can just get single ones like Lavender, Lemon Balm, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Bergamot, Orange – whatever smell resonates with you, calms you, brightens your spirit, makes you feel more centered.  A drop in the hand, rub your palms together, breathe it in, or rub it on the back of your neck.

Flower essences:

  • Rescue Remedy – a great all around remedy when you feel suddenly panicked or overwhelmed (take as needed, either drops or the chewable pastilles).
  • Yarrow – helps protect you from energy around you if you are feeling vulnerable (take as needed).
  • Love-Lies-Bleeding or Borage – helps with the ability to move beyond personal pain, suffering or mental anguish; can help with heavy-heartedness & grief
  • Beech – helps you with tolerance, and to see the good within each person & sitaution
  • Calendula (pictured far above) – helps with healing warmth & receptivity (if you’re feeling argumentative, and lacking in receptivity in communication)

Please comment below if you have questions on where to go and what to do.  Let’s support each other during this time, for each other and ourselves, to promote peace, healing, love.  ❤ ❤ ❤

Xo, WD

PLEASE NOTE: as with any herbal advice, please double check with your health care provider regarding any medications you are taking as some herbs will lower the efficacy of your medication.

 

Why we do what we do.

The last couple of months have been challenging, both emotionally and physically.  Grad school is definitely a marathon, you do the best you can day by day, and try your best to tell yourself why you are doing things.  I have always been a mover and a shaker; I like to get one project done and move on to the next (so satisfying!) but working on a skill like this really takes a lot of time and practice.  You may not necessarily want to think of all the practice hours your acupuncturist had to put in before they touch you and poke you with needles, but aren’t you glad they did?!  This medicine sometimes reminds me of when I began baking gluten-free goods.  I would try to make everything healthy – take out the sugar, add applesauce.  Take out the flour, add broccoli.  No eggs, make chia seed eggs.  Pretty soon all my sweet friends at every birthday party were wondering if I was going to bring some weird chocolate covered broccoli concoction that tasted… well, let’s be honest, like chocolate broccoli.  But now that I’ve had a few years of experience, my friend’s responses are going from, “Mmm, this tastes healthy,” to, “This is amazing!! What IS this?!”  It took a lot of broccoli cakes to get there.

So, back to my original topic.  A question I ask myself when I feel like I don’t know what the heck or why the heck I’m doing something is, am I doing it because it brings immediate joy?  No way man.  I would say that often I do things because the benefits come later, and it’s difficult to try and remind myself of that, but I need to in order to keep motivation.  I try not to do things because I feel like I should do them, but because I remind myself of the feeling that I know will come later if I am diligent and keep with the process.  Eventually, I began to enjoy the process too.  At one point it was something like, “eat veggies = tastes yucky = feel good”  to now “eat veggies = mmmmmm = feel good!”

With the state of the world right now, the huge amount of stress we put ourselves under as humans, practices such as these (yoga, walking, qi gong) are just constant reminders for us to come back to our body.  We create a quiet space in our day for peace and calm and to REWIRE ourselves.  Meditation, cooking, getting acupuncture, doing tai qi, walking your dog…there are so many ways to get there.  (Heck, even baking gluten-free cake!!  It might not taste as good as your “normal” cupcake, but you can guess that in an hour you won’t feel like crap if you make that decision now).

It’s also funny how we twist ourselves up all day, physically and mentally.  You realize when you’re sitting at work all day, you’re training yourself to stay in this hunched, crunched over position.  You realize that when you’re being negative about your state or talking poorly of your neighbor, that you’re spending all of your energy on that?  Eknath Eswaran said in Words to Live By:, “Destructive desires thrive on talk too; the more we talk about them, the stronger they get.”  The more energy you are putting in your body by external means, means that THAT stays in your body, mind and heart, and it takes just as much time to undo that as it does to do it.

Think about what you can do today for the elongation of feeling GOOD.  I mean, even walking takes practice – think of yourself as a baby, learning to crawl, learning to walk. Practicing that muscle, tendon & sinew memory over and over so that you can actually hold yourself up.

Now, how does this apply to acupuncture?  If you have just been in a car accident or traumatic event – your body is tense and frightened, all the nerves are shot, the sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight – is in full mode.  How can we deprogram this?  With acupuncture, we are using needles to send signals to the body that say, “Hey, everything’s okay, you can relax now.”  After you do that enough times (sometimes even once) the body responds and starts to reprogram itself.  That is why acupuncture can treat SO many different kinds of things: digestive issues, trauma, burns, acne, depression, anxiety, pain, dizziness, and so much more.

As far as these other practices go – yoga, Qi Gong and walking for me in particular – I do these because they help me to deprogram from so many things that I get knotted up over during the day.  From sitting too long, from driving too much, from hearing too many bad things on the news and not breathing enough, to stress.  When I feel overwhelmed and don’t want to do them, I remind myself of why I’m doing them, to reap the goodness I feel physically and emotionally, to send that energy out into my community that hopefully emanates peace and love.  I practice for myself and for you!  I challenge you to do the same.

xo, WD

 

On elders, on teachers.

This week my grandmother passed away, and of course I thought of the past and our experiences together as I was growing up.  She was my first exposure to plants – although she wasn’t an herbalist, she had a great affinity for flowers and being out in the garden, rain or shine.  She was always so quiet sitting with them; she tended to them every day and called them her babies.  I still do the same thing.

Right before she passed, I had watched this documentary on the herbalist Juliette de Bairacli Levy called Juliette of the Herbs, something about her oddly reminded me of my grandmother – even though my own was not so educated, there was still so much she gave me through her presence, similarly to Juliette.  Juliette was a teacher to one of my teachers and she pioneered some of the first veterinary herbal medicine literature.  She is truly an inspiration and a legend in the herbal community.

If you have a little time, this is a sweet documentary about this gypsy woman’s life – it reminds me of reconnecting with simple living but with an adventurous spirit and the importance of our connections to the plants that surround us and how they can heal us.  It is worth the thought – who and what are you learning from?  Taping into the deep wisdom of our elders, and the nature around us is imminently important in this world now where technology rules our lives.

To Juliette, who passed away in 2009, thank you for your teachings and that so many years later, we still continue to learn from you.  To my grandmother, who taught me the importance of a listening heart, rest in peace.

http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/8638/Juliette-of-the-Herbs