Acupuncture, which comes from the Latin words acus meaning needle and pungere meaning prick, is better known as needle therapy. Yup, that’s right… needles! I know, many of you recoil at the thought of having little spikes inserted all over your body. But don’t be a wimp, after the first initial prods, it’s really not that bad. In fact, getting stuck feels good. I can personally attest to it.

Now why would you visit an acupuncturist, you ask? For one, this type of holistic medicine is all about “preventing illness before it shows its symptoms.” Aside from health maintenance, acupuncture can also restore you back to health and alleviate pain, which is much better than swallowing pills or undergoing exploratory surgery.

For those of you who are reluctant and/or skeptical, think about it — acupuncture has been around for more than 2,000 years! One of the reasons it’s on the fringe is because it’s based on a completely different paradigm than scientific biomedicine. And as we all know, ‘different’ is sometimes threatening.

Unlike western medicine, acupuncture treats the human body as a whole instead of isolated body parts, says Oakland-based acupuncturist Mayssa Sultan “Each organ in the body has a host of functions and everything is inter-related and inter-dependent. For example, the lungs not only control respiration but also the health of your immune system and your skin.”

Acupuncturists view disease as a loss of homeostatis among organ systems. They re-achieve balance by using needles, pressure and heat on sensitive parts of the body called acupuncture points. This is referred to as treating “patterns of disharmony,” adds Sultan. The points stimulate the meridian system. This in turn rebalances yin (the substance and fluid of the body, which is considered female), yang (the motive energetic force of which chi is a part, which is considered male) and chi, which is our energy reserve.

According to Chinese medicine, acupuncture normalizes the free flow of chi throughout the body. Pain or illnesses are treated by attempting to remedy local or systemic accumulations or deficiencies of chi. Pain is considered to indicate blockage or stagnation of the flow of chi.

Meanwhile, the acu-points used may or may not be in the same area of the body as the targeted symptom, says Sultan. “So if you are having digestive issues, an acupuncturist may use points on your legs, arms and feet. Conversely, insomnia may be treated by using the wrists and ankles.”

Upon your visit, an acupuncturist will decide which points to stick into you by observing and questioning you. During the examination, the acupuncturist will most definitely ask you to stick out your tongue. They’ll observe the size, shape, color and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge. Your tongue says a lot about what is going on inside of you. More than you could have imagined. To get an idea of your situation, they’ll also ask you a litany of groovy questions about appetite, thirst and taste; perspiration; defecation and urination; pain; sleep; and menses. Finally, they will feel your pulse on both wrists at three levels of pressure (superficial and deep) and three positions.

After the needles are in, the acupuncturist will leave you in a darkened room with a heat lamp, some soothing music (if you’re lucky) and your thoughts, allowing the needles to do their magic. The needles stimulate the central nervous system and release endorphins in the body that cause relaxation and reduce pain. If you’re still doubtful, keep in mind that approximately 8.2 million Americans have tried acupuncture. Clinical studies, meanwhile, are slowly proving the power and promise of this ancient practice. And in reality, the needles are tiny, the width of a human hair… So come on, consider getting stuck!

Some Common Points:

Stomach 36 a.k.a Zusanli is considered in classical texts to be one of the 11 most vital acupuncture points. It is located one finger breadth from the anterior crest of the tibia. This point benefits the stomach and spleen, tonifies chi and blood, dispels cold, strengthens the body, raises yang, calms the spirit and alleviates pain. And that’s just a few of its uses.

Large intestine 4, which is located in the mound between the thumb and forfinger, is a very big moving and tonification point. It alleviates pain and promotes bowel movement. Do not needle if pregnant becuase it can cause miscarriage.

Yin-Tang also called the Third Eye Point, is helpful in alleviating tension when you are stressed out. It’s also an excellent point to get brain activity going.

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