the joys of acupuncture
Every Saturday, my husband and I go to the Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SITCM) for our weekly fix – acupuncture. We are big believers in energy medicine. Antibiotics make me feel queasy, so I’m thrilled to now have a reliable way to keep me healthy. This helps me avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for 4000 years, and I like having that kind of historical evidence to back me up.
Being an asthmatic who stresses easily, I am a prime candidate for a variety of health ailments. I can get a runny nose from the winter cold, hayfever from the spring pollen, or irritable from the summer heat. The solution is not to bubble-wrap myself and stay indoors, but to find a long-term solution to build more immune system resilience. Acupuncture has risen to that challenge.
For someone who remains afraid of blood tests and injections, my enjoyment of acupuncture is a paradox that boggles the mind. I must admit though, when the occasional needle hits a point of chi stagnation and I feel the equivalent of an electric jolt through my hand/foot, I do wonder why I keep coming back.
During one of my first few visits to the clinic, May Li*, my favourite acupuncturist, took my medical history, and asked me something unusual. ‘Were you very sick as a child?’ I nodded. One of my earliest memories has to do with the smell of Vicks Vapour Rub. I was that sick kid who always had tissues on her.
‘Well…yes. I use to get chest infections.’
She looked at me gravely. ‘I was like you, once. I had a weak constitution. Don’t try to have babies yet! You must get stronger.’
I reassured her that I had no plans of bringing new life into the world anytime soon. Aside from enjoying the perks of uninterrupted sleep, I now have another very good reason to remain childless. I have to strengthen my constitution first. We’re talking serious stuff here.
‘What causes a weak constitution?’ I asked her.
‘Eating the wrong types of food, and stress.’ Aha. Stress. The “s” word, and an inescapable element of today’s world. I didn’t understand what she meant by the wrong type of food, though. I was eating my fruits, veggies and high-fibre cereal – surely I had done something right? Alas, I was off the mark. I failed to consider the nature of food. Cold-natured, and warm-natured, to be precise.
‘You must avoid cold foods, like bok choy, rockmelon and oranges. Eat warm foods like sweet potatoes and stewed apple.’
I didn’t dare ask about ice-cream or gelato. When we were done with that, she asked to look at my tongue, and she took my pulse. I marveled at how she was able to tell the state of my heart, liver, kidney, lung, intestines, spleen and stomach just from feeling my pulse on both wrists.
‘Have you been eating spicy food?’ she asked me once, smiling. Guilty as charged, I mumbled, ‘Yes. Um. Just once this week.’ My pulse gave it away! When it comes to avoiding spicy food, it’s hard for me to be a compliant patient. I cave in when my mum cooks something amazing, or when I stop by any of my favourite handmade noodle restaurants.
When it’s time for the needles, this is when it’s really important for me to relax.
‘Take a deep breath,’ May Li tells me each time before she inserts a needle in. When I tense up, it hurts. When I’m relaxed, it’s only a slight prick. By the time the needles are in, I’m already nodding off. Falling asleep from acupuncture is one of the most blissful experiences I’ve ever had. Needles stimulate the flow of energy in the body, promoting healing without the interference of medication.
My acupuncture experience varies from week to week. Once, I came into the clinic with a painful headache. This was the first time May Li put a needle in between my eyebrows. After the initial mild soreness from the needle, the pain cleared up almost immediately. Another time, I was feeling irritated from multiple life stressors, and when she put the needle in between my eyebrows, it hurt!
‘This will release your irritation,’ she said to me, after I winced. And true enough, by the time our session was done, I was a lot more mellow.
One of the biggest differences between going to a TCM practitioner and going to a GP is the actual length of consultation. I can easily spend up to two hours at the acupuncture clinic. I’d be lucky if I spend more than ten minutes in my GP’s office. It feels like the difference between a leisurely stroll through a park, and a mad sprint. The end results are similar – in the former, I am relaxed, and in the latter, I am somewhat flustered. The results from TCM may take longer to manifest compared to popping a pill, but the results also last.
For TCM, as May Li reminds me, food is medicine. I like that concept. It’s empowering, and it helps me make better food choices that improve my constitution. Now that I’m armed with new information about what kind of food is good for me, I’m more likely to shop for and eat the right kinds of food. Barring my occasional indulgence in spicy food, I’m on the right track. I actually fall ill a lot less now, and I’m feeling more positive about taking charge of my health.
I’ll keep going to my GP to pick up my asthma puffer prescriptions, get my iron levels checked, and for various other complaints. But when it comes to improving my health in the long-run, I’m sticking to TCM.
*Name has been changed