Some patients are talkers, some look around quietly and a lucky few drop off to sleep almost immediately and snore through the whole session! Each is okay, and what you naturally do can even be diagnostically useful, but is there anything you can be doing while the needles are working to get the most out of your treatment?
The importance of relaxation
Given our fast-paced modern lifestyle, the simple action of lying down and resting for 30 minutes in the middle of the day is incredibly therapeutic. We need to balance the excessive yang activity with some calm yin relaxation. This enforced relaxation most likely accounts for some of the beneficial effects of acupuncture.
Attaining a state of relaxation is also important for the energetic effects explained below. As in qigong, meditation, hypnosis and other practices that work with the mind, the desired state is one of focused relaxation. That is, the body and mind are relaxed, but the attention is focused on a single thing, rather than jumping around and multitasking. It is in this state that the mind can most effectively influence the body.
Some energetic theory
Qi (energy) is the link between mind/consciousness and the physical body. The mind, and in particular, the yi or ‘intention’ leads the body’s Qi. This in turn directs and motivates physical responses. This is pretty much the mechanism by which the placebo effect works — more on that in a future article.
Acupuncture and acupressure stimulate points which have specific effects on the Qi and the physical body. As well as stimulating the point directly, part of the therapeutic action is to draw the patient’s attention (their yi) to that point, so the Qi is drawn there more strongly. This is part of the reason why it is important to achieve a deqi sensation during needling.
So what does this all mean? When you’re having acupuncture, make sure you are comfortable. Breathe deeply and relax all the muscles of your body. You may want to work systematically from your head to your feet, relaxing each area as you go.
When the needles are inserted, look for the deqi sensation. This may feel like a dull ache, tingling, pulling, heat, cold, or other sensations. Sometimes they will be felt where the needle is inserted, and sometimes further along the channel or in apparently unconnected places (everywhere is connected!). If you just feel a scratchy or sharp sensation, that is not deqi, and if you feel an electrical shooting sensation, the needle is stimulating a nerve (which is not what you want).
When the needles are left to do their work, make sure you are still relaxed, close your eyes and feel for sensations around the needles or elsewhere in the body. If you don’t feel any sensations, just place your attention on the location of the needles and relax. It’s perfectly okay to fall asleep — sometimes this is what your body needs most. If you find your mind wandering, it’s good practice to acknowledge that it’s happening (don’t judge yourself, it’s perfectly normal) and then bring your attention back to the sensations in your body or the areas around the needles.
That’s it. Next time I’ll talk about other ways to get the most out of your acupuncture treatments.