What You Need To Know About Acupuncture

Given the phrase ‘I’d rather stick needles in my eyes’, it’s no wonder the idea of acupuncture doesn’t appeal to everyone. But health and wellness experts will tell you this ancient therapy can help fight chronic stress, heal pain and support immunity. We went to two of London’s leading acupuncturists to find out more…

It’s All About Qi

In a nutshell, acupuncture is all about qi (also referred to as chi) – an energy current that’s said to run through the body via energetic pathways referred to as meridians. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognises 20 meridians, and researchers have mapped out over 400 points on the body where these pathways can be manipulated. “From a Chinese medicine perspective, everything in life is composed and defined by its qi,” says acupuncturist Cassandra Hawthorne. “Qi is the energy current that runs through our body, providing it with circulation, nutrients and minerals. When qi is unable to flow properly, symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, hormone imbalance, pain, muscle weakness, depression and stress will occur. Certain lifestyle habits and environmental elements can also disrupt the flow of qi.”

Needles Help Remove Blockages

Cassandra explains the needles used in acupuncture work to release tension, remove energy blockages and strengthen the body’s qi. She says this helps shift the body towards a state of homeostasis, forcing it to self-heal. “By stimulating qi, signals are sent to the body telling it what it needs to do to resolve your condition. When all these functions take place harmoniously, the body is healthy and in balance.”

Your Organs Are Involved, Too

Chinese medicine believes each emotion has a corresponding organ. As acupuncturist John Tsagaris explains, “Overexcitement relates to the heart; worry attributes to the function of the spleen; sadness affects the lungs; fear depletes the kidneys; and anger overwhelms the liver.” In TCM, your organs are part of an integrated body system, explaining why an entire mind and body approach is needed to treat any given health concern, Cassandra told us. The liver, for example, ensures energy and blood flow smoothly, and also regulates bile secretion and is also connected with the tendons, nails and eyes. By understanding these connections, TCM practitioners explain how an eye disorder such as conjunctivitis may be due to an imbalance in the liver, or a heavy period could be down to an imbalance in the liver’s blood-storing ability, for example.

This Isn’t A Fad

“Acupuncture has been studied for its effectiveness for many years and thousands of research papers support its therapeutic potential for specific health conditions,” says John. “It’s even been embraced by the NHS as an effective and safe treatment, covered by the biggest private insurance companies. More recently, acupuncture has been employed to treat viral conditions and has shown effective results in treating Covid-19.” In fact, acupuncture is the most popular complementary therapy practiced in the UK, with 2.3 million treatments carried out every year.

It Can Help With Countless Conditions

Acupuncture has gained a reputation for easing pain, but studies show it can help treat countless health issues, including high and low blood pressure, painful periods, low sex drive, stress and insomnia, anxiety and depression, chemotherapy-induced nausea, allergies and symptoms of the menopause. Studies have also suggested it can help you lose weight and aid fertility. “Acupuncture can increase the chances of getting pregnancy for women undergoing fertility treatment by 65%,” John says. “A combination of acupuncture and herbal supplementation can improve the ovarian and follicular function and increase blood flow to the endometrium as well as strengthening semen quality. It also works well in synergy with IVF to maximise the chances of getting pregnant.” John also explains acupuncture can increase the opioid receptor binding ability, which could reduce the need to take painkillers. “Acupuncture also relieves pain by increasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals, and by affecting the part of the brain that regulates serotonin, a brain chemical involved with mood and pain perception,” he says. “Remember acupuncture isn’t a ‘cure-all’ treatment, but an effective way to naturally trigger a healing process within the body.”

The needles used in acupuncture work to release tension, remove energy blockages and strengthen the body’s qi. This helps shift the body towards a state of homeostasis, forcing it to self-heal.

Sessions Take A 360° Approach

Every acupuncturist has their own style and way of treating patients, but your first session will likely kick off with a consultation, where you’ll be asked lots of questions to get a good picture of what’s going on in your body – think digestion, energy levels and sleep quality. “I’ll check what medication you are currently on and what supplements you are taking, and will observe the pulse on both your hands. I’ll also look at your tongue, abdomen and back. A session with me starts with some brief acupressure bodywork followed by acupuncture point stimulation using needles, and perhaps some ear acupuncture, electro-acupuncture and cupping,” says John.

You’ll Feel Completely Relaxed

In today’s fast-paced world, we’ve become accustomed to operating from our sympathetic nervous system, meaning our fight or flight response. It’s intended to keep us safe, but is constantly activated, resulting in stress and anxiety. John explains that acupuncture brings the body back to the parasympathetic state, meaning body and mind slow down. “You’ll likely feel relaxed and sleepy during the treatment, which is triggered by a change in brain activity. It’s also not uncommon to feel chilly as your body temperature drops due to reduced blood pressure. Some people continue to feel relaxed for hours after a treatment, while others feel very energetic and clear-headed.”

It’s Totally Safe

Forget your fears about needles – acupuncture is a safe treatment with minimal risks. “Some people may feel a tiny prick, especially on more sensitive points, but there’s no pain associated with the practice. Side effects are rare, although can include short-lived drowsiness (due to a more relaxed state of mind), or a localised bruise caused from a superficial puncture of a capillary or vessel. To minimise the chance of bruising, no blood thinning herbs or supplements are recommended for a couple of days prior to your treatment,” says John.

Remember acupuncture isn’t a ‘cure-all’ treatment, but an effective way to naturally trigger a healing process within the body.
John Tsagaris

Preparation Is Key

To get the most out of your session, Cassandra also recommends avoiding coffee for at least two hours before your session. “Coffee is a stimulant that increases the fight or flight response, which isn’t an ideal scenario when a practitioner is trying to read your body signs. It can also help to wear loose clothing, so your acupuncturist can place the needles in the right places.”

You’ll Need To Commit

Don’t expect miracles after just one session, says Cassandra. While for some people, the effects are immediate, for the majority, it can take several treatments to notice real change. “Most acupuncture treatment plans involve at least six sessions, which is usually based on one session per week for six weeks,” she says. Be prepared for some homework, too, as any decent therapist will take a holistic approach, says John. “To really enhance the results of your treatment, you should be given herbal, nutritional and lifestyle recommendations to take away with you after your treatment.”

It Pays To Find The Right Practitioner

As with any wellness therapy, it pays to find a highly trained and certified acupuncturist. “When looking for a practitioner, check they are a member of a professional body such as ATCM (Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine) or BAcC (British Acupuncture Council) in the UK and the related bodies in other countries. Make sure your chosen practitioner is familiar with the concern that needs to be addressed and has knowledge from both the western and Chinese medicine perspective to treat it,” John advises.
 

To book a treatment with John, visit JohnTsagaris.co.uk, and for more information on Cassandra, visit Recultivate.co.uk
 

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