What is Your Body Trying To Tell You?
Pain is the most frequent symptom treated by acupuncture in the United States: Low back pain, stiffness of the shoulders, carpal-tunnel, limb weakness, foot pain, arthritis, headaches, gastro-intestinal pain, sinus pressure. I treated all of these in my office, everyday. Pain cannot be ignored. No matter how many aspirin or cortisone shots, the pain demands to be heard. The pills and shots temporarily quiet the “shouts” from the body. But, as I hear everyday from patients, they come back. People come into my office desperate, often because they have gone to many doctors and tried many pills and shots, and even surgeries, yet their pain remains. They come for acupuncture with little hope, which I understand: nothing else has worked, why should acupuncture? Yet, I’ve seen conditions completely resolve. Most of which the patients were certain would not go away. I’ve seen it many times.
My own experience with acupuncture was similar. The first time I received acupuncture was for chronic asthma, which my doctor told me could not be cured, only controlled through numerous medications. A friend brought me to his acupuncturist, and after a few sessions, my asthma was gone. I continued seeing the acupuncturist and never needed my medications again. I had felt for years that the steroid-laden medications I was being prescribed were weakening me. When I was finally able to give them up, I felt my entire system strengthen. The acupuncture helped restore my vitality, as well as clear the phlegm and inflammation within my airways.
I didn’t understand how acupuncture could help me in ways my doctor couldn’t. How could a treatment that didn’t use any internal medications treat my lungs? Why did I feel stronger and lighter with acupuncture treatment than I did with the drugs I’d been using for over 20 years? I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t help but become a believer. I liked feeling strong and breathing deep. I was happy to be able to run again, and be out in the cold without wheezing. So it really didn’t matter that my practical mid-western mind wasn’t completely comfortable with what was happening. I had a condition which had affected my quality of life since childhood, which had disappeared. Needless to say, I continued treatment.
Years later I wanted to be able to help others the way I was being helped. My acupuncturist sent me to study with her teacher. Now I have the grace to witness similar transformations in my own acupuncture office.
I’d like to share an exciting transformation that occurred in my office a few months ago. A patient came to me with debilitating wrist pain. He was a musician who was forced to discontinue playing because of chronic wrist weakness, pain and inflammation. He’d been to many specialists, endured cortisone shots and many medications, yet could not find lasting relief from the pain in his wrist.
After only one acupuncture treatment the pain this patient endured for years disappeared. It was a simple treatment too. He was a patient who had little faith acupuncture would work. I see these types of patients frequently; they come to acupuncture as a last resort. The acupuncture treatment worked. He was amazed. He wanted to understand what had happened. How could two acupuncture points on his arm do what all the fancy drugs and western treatments couldn’t: take away years of chronic pain? I explained the science of what had happened to him. He still couldn’t believe it: perhaps because his orientation (along with most of ours) is Western biological science. What I was describing was the 2000-year old science of Chinese Medicine: which sometimes sounds simplistic, yet proves sophisticated through its effectiveness.
It is not everyday that a chronic condition will resolve after one simple treatment. I am always open to this occurring, but usually chronic conditions take a while to unknot themselves. This is especially true if the pain has a psycho-somatic or degenerative root.
Pain is seen as a blockage of blood and energy within Chinese medical thinking. It can result from the invasion of external climatic factors into the body. Pain can also result from the inability to release and resolve emotional or mental material. Chinese Medicine speaks of two major types of “pathogenic factors” or causes of disease: those originating from outside the body and those from the inside of the body. From the outside, there are germs, climate, injuries, overuse. From the inside, there are thoughts and emotions, as well as diet. In both cases, it is the body’s ability to process and let go of these pathogenic factors that prevents problems. When the immune system is insufficient, it fails to fully release external pathogens, which become stuck in the body. Allergies are a good example of this. The symptoms of seasonal allergies resemble a type of head cold that come and go. It is a condition the body never fully resolved. Or sinus issues that come and go. Same thing.
Internal factors: emotions and thoughts can create similar blockages: an experience that a person was never able to fully let go of, or a feeling never fully processed, or a mental pattern. All of these internal factors can create disease and physical disturbance to the body just as strong as something coming in from the outside. Chronic fear can cause back pain just as intense as a slipped-disc.
If painful symptoms fail to respond by focusing on the physical body, it often means the emotions or mind often need to be addressed.
In all conditions, I ask: what is the body trying to tell this person? Sometimes it is merely that they are overworking, or not getting enough sleep, or eating too much sugar. However, at other times, the body is trying to convey a deeper message.
Acupuncture, at its root is spiritual medicine. It is not allied with any particular religion. It is based on Taoist philosophy. It can be said that Chinese Medicine is the science of Taoism. Its goal is treatment of pain and disease, as well as supporting patients in their evolution. Most of us wish to be free from pain. However, is it only physical pain we wish to be free from? How about freedom from fear? Or anger? Or a low self-image? Or a traumatic memory from the past? Regardless if mental-emotional material is causing physical or emotional pain, acupuncture supports patients to free themselves from their burden.
I recall treating a middle-aged woman a few years ago who was dragged to my office by her daughter. Literally dragged. She was afraid of needles. That was her excuse. My feeling was, she’d given up hope. That was why she was so resistant. This was my first impression of this woman. She’s stopped taking care of herself. She described every part of her life as a burden. Through our subsequent treatments, she described traumatic events from her past, and a long history of sorrow. I saw how weighed down she’d become by the past. She was in bondage, feeling as if she was losing the battle. I gave her a seldom-used, spirit-focused treatment, intent on helping her release the “ghosts” from her past. Simple. Five points. The next week, I saw a changed woman come into my office. Her complexion was different, no longer pale and drawn, but smiling and full of healthy color. Her hair was curled, she was neatly dressed, and her posture was erect and full of energy. I asked her how she was. She said she didn’t know what I’d done, but suddenly she’d begun cooking for herself again and felt lighter than she had in many years. She felt free. Weeks later, after a few more treatments, the buzzing in her ears, which was her chief complaint, ceased.
This is an example of how acupuncture treatment can work. Sometimes the chief complaint resolves quickly. Other times, it will take some time. Yet in the meantime, the patient can experience other areas of their lives improve, and even transform.
Most of the time I cannot predict what the patient’s body is going to tell us during treatment. It’s my job to locate the blockage, give a treatment to move the blockage, strengthen the body’s ability to heal, and wait for the next message. Who can predict that a cyst on the back is the result of suppressed career aspirations? Yet, with another patient I treated, when her cyst was treated and resolved, she came back to my office certain this is what the cyst was communicating. The resolution of the physical issue gave her insight into her mental-emotional life. After the body had been heard, the cyst disappeared: it’s services were no longer needed.