How much acupuncture will I need?

One of the most difficult questions to answer is “how much acupuncture will I need?” Just a few treatments may do the trick if you are relatively young and healthy with just a single recent health problem – something like an ankle sprain, indigestion or lots of coughs and colds. However, the longer you have had a problem then the longer it usually takes to clear up – I have several patients with longstanding knee and shoulder problems who have improved gradually over six or more treatments. Similarly, if you are older and have a number of health problems and/or a general lack of energy then progress may be gradual. Quite commonly, people find that although they come with a single problem, acupuncture treatment helps with other things such as improving sleep, energy and emotional wellbeing. In these circumstances they may decide to continue acupuncture every month or so to keep themselves well.

Having said all this, I cannot always predict how quickly an individual will respond to acupuncture. For example, I recall two women with quite complex medical problems who came because of longstanding wrist pain – they were both on hospital waiting lists for specialist treatment. After just one treatment on the wrist, they were in much less pain and after a couple more treatments they were able to use the hand normally again. They both continue with acupuncture for other problems which are improving more slowly. And, of course, I occasionally treat someone who does not get any of the improvement I expect.

The aim of acupuncture is to help the body use its own natural healing capacity to get better. Consequently, I often give you self-help suggestions that will work alongside the acupuncture. These suggestions are based on giving you some understanding of how Chinese Medicine views your health problem and they are particularly important for making sure the benefits of treatment are long-lasting. Whilst a ‘quick fix’ is always very welcome, most of us are also keen to find ways of stopping the problem returning. Such suggestions will vary a lot from person to person, and may include ideas about eating, exercising, relaxing, playing and finding ways to ‘live the life you want to live’.

Lastly, what is going on in your lives, both now and in the past, has a big effect on how quickly and surely acupuncture can help. People who are struggling with overwork, poverty, loneliness or other severe stress will still benefit from acupuncture – indeed treatment should help them to cope with stress better – but improvement can be more gradual and treatment may need to continue for longer. Luckily, our bodies and minds have tremendous self-healing powers and with help from friends and from therapies such as acupuncture we should always be able to find a way forward.

Posted in joint and muscle pain, practical information, self-help, stress | Tagged , , ,

Living in harmony with the season of autumn

Are you someone who finds their health and spirits take a dive with the approach of autumn and winter? Or maybe you’re someone who welcomes the cooler autumn air? Either way, Chinese medicine has important and interesting advice to give us about living in harmony with the seasons. So how should we be approaching this quiet shift into autumn?

This extract is from the classical Chinese text called the Neijing, or Yellow Emporer’s Medical Classic, assembled between 200 BCE and 200 CE. This translation is taken from the Essential Texts in Chinese Medicine by Richard Bertschinger , page 62.

During the autumn there are three moons,

This is the time for sizing and settling,

The heavenly Qi is hastening,

The earthly Qi is strengthening.

Go to bed early and rise up early,

Copying the behaviour of the cock

In such a way you enable your will to stay peaceful and delay the penalty of the autumn.

Keep close and take in your mental strength

To enable the settling of autumn.

Do not allow your thoughts to stray without,

To enable the lung Qi to clear.

This is the response to the Qi of autumn,

And the art of caring for closure.

Richard goes on to explain: “How can we sustain mental power and strength? Simply by watching nature. Observe the common pattern: birth and growth in spring and summer, closure and storage in autumn and winter….Through them we learn an added dimension of care – understand the demands of the moment and adapt appropriately to the true but shifting connection with things”

 It may be easier to understand the ‘sizing and settling’ of autumn in relation to its place within the annual cycle of the seasons. Autumn is the time when nature is enjoying the fruits of the harvest but preparing for winter. Whilst summer is a season of blossoming and bright excitement, autumn is a more reflective time when we should refine and enjoy the good essentials of our life in a more peaceful and settled way. In this way we strengthen ourselves for winter – ‘the art of caring for closure’. We can see this process most clearly by considering trees in autumn. At this time of year, trees start to direct the lushness of their leaves back into their stems, branches and roots. But as the leaves drop, they retain the beautiful delicate tracery of the veins and shape of each leaf as refined memories and patterns for the future. The tree withdraws some of its outward flowing energy back inside itself and by doing this it ensures a safe winter, an expansive colourful springtime and a long life.

You may find it interesting to reflect on your own activities and discuss this with friends – how best can you enjoy the autumn season in a way that reflects nature? So, for example, you need to keep up some exercise but this may be a good time to explore mind-body exercise such as yoga or qigong. You need to eat healthy enjoyable food, but this is a time to focus more on cooked and warming food rather than summer salads. You will want to continue doing fun and relaxing things, but maybe find you look forward to curling up with a good book or tuning into a creative side of yourself. These are only my ideas – the important thing is that you live your life in balance with your own vision and potential as well as in balance with the seasons.

Posted in Chinese medical classics, self-help | Tagged , ,

Intimacy without hurt – strengthening your Heart Protector

Making intimate relationships with others, in the form of warm, loving and trusting friendships, is something that many of us find difficult. How to open our heart to another person without getting ourselves hurt is an ongoing balancing act. In terms of Chinese medicine, this balance depends on an energetic structure called the Heart Protector. This is not a structure that is visible to the eye, but when acupuncture changes the energy of the Heart Protector it is a change that we can feel.

The Heart Protector can be thought of as a gate. Depending on the situation, the ‘gate’ may need to be opened a little so that two hearts to communicate, or closed a little to regulate the connection and keep our hearts safe. Some people always have the ‘gate’ wide open – they ‘wear their hearts on their sleeve’ and rush too quickly into intimacy. Their love lives and friendships tend to be roller-coaster rides of highs of delight and lows of disappointment or rejection. For these people, I use acupuncture to strengthen the protective properties of the Heart Protector so that they enter new relationships more cautiously, with time for realistic expectations and judgement.

For others, the Heart Protector ‘gates’ become stuck in a closed position. The heart is well protected from hurt but it can get very lonely. This situation may be a result of serious or repeated hurt and rejection – especially when these are experienced as a child or when help and support is not available. The ‘gate’ clangs shut and potential new friendships and intimacies are kept at a distance. The sad and lonely feelings associated with this situation are hard to bear, but acupuncture can help by strengthening the heart and gently softening the Heart Protector to start to allow some love through.

Many of us waver between a tendency to be too open or too closed in particular situations. For example, we may develop close, balanced relationships with friends but be unable to stop falling headlong into inappropriate sexual intimacies. Or we may build a strong intimate connection with a partner, but be unable to defend ourselves from hurt by a parent or sibling. Whilst we will never become perfectly balanced, acupuncture and increased self-understanding may ease some of these more difficult relationships.

Within Chinese Medicine’s theory of the Five Elements, the Heart protector is part of the Fire element. For people who have the Fire element as the key constitutional element, matters of love, friendship and intimacy play an especially important role. The emotion associated with Fire is joy. Just as fire can swing rapidly between an overheated blaze and a barely glowing ember, so too can joy suddenly swing from high to low. When the Fire element gets out of balance, the Heart Protector ‘gates’ can swing open or get stuck, so that intimacy can be hard to keep steady. The good news is that when the Fire element is strong and balanced, people with a Fire element constitution have a particular ability to offer and receive intimacy, love and warm relationships. Then they bring great joy into the lives of others and themselves.

Posted in emotion, Five element acupuncture, mental health | Tagged , , , ,

Sleeping problems – giving the Shen a strong calm place to rest

Chinese medicine treats every person as an individual. So when you come to me for help with your sleep my first job is to understand your health in an all-round way, by asking you about every aspect of your health. Only when I have understood the underlying strengths, balance and flow of your Qi ( or energy) can I work out why you are having problems sleeping and how to treat you effectively. This is very different from a prescription for a sleeping pill! I have several patients who have had trouble sleeping – some cannot get off to sleep, some wake frequently in the night, some have restless sleep and bad dreams – and each one requires acupuncture in different points. I enjoy helping you with these problems – poor sleep is such a miserable thing to live with.

If you feel tired when you go to bed but then cannot settle to sleep, it is likely that you Qi and Blood need strengthening. You may find that you feel anxious or ‘on edge’ for no particular reason and you may become aware of your heart beating in your chest. I use acupuncture and moxa to build up your Qi and Blood. Then the part of you that Chinese medicine calls the ‘Shen’ (translated as your heart-mind or spirit)  has a strong, safe, warm place to rest at night, and sleep will be quicker and deeper. If your Blood is thin or weak, then the Shen cannot settle and you get that unsettled wakeful feeling.

Maybe instead of this you are a ‘3 o’clock waker’. Your Shen settles to sleep easily but then, some people say ‘like clockwork’, you wake up and are wide awake. This pattern suggests an imbalance in the Liver meridian, which is part of the Wood element. This is not the same as the liver that we know about from Western medicine, but it is the system in the body that has the job of regulating the flow of Qi and Blood around the whole body day and night. If this flow is not free flowing and appropriate for the time of day or night, then the Shen cannot stay calm and peaceful all night. It becomes agitated so that you get vivid dreams, restless sleep and/or sudden waking up. Then I use acupuncture to strengthen the Liver meridian and the Wood element in a way that promotes the smooth flow of Qi and Blood. Sleeping through the night then becomes possible.

Another common pattern is to wake up in the night feeling very hot. This pattern is commoner in women, and at its worst around the menopause, but it can affect men and women. It is due to an imbalance between the two types of Qi, or energy, called Yin and Yang. The Yin aspect of Qi is the cool, calm, enduring type of energy and if it gets weakened, by overwork and stress, the body feels hot and a bit jittery. Yin and yang energy have different phases, with Yin most important at night – hence the lack of cool, calm Yin is most noticeable at night when it can wake you up. I use acupuncture to nourish and strengthen your Yin and as balance is restored so sleep will improve. I remember a text from a patient which said “Woke up at 9.30. Can’t believe I slept to well, thanks” – and when she came for her next treatment she was still beaming!

It may be that you have a mixture of these patterns – this is quite common. For example, this week a patient came back after two treatments and reported that she was sleeping through the night much better, but it still took two hours to get to sleep. I took this to mean that her Qi was flowing more smoothly but her Qi and blood were still at a low level. Strengthening Qi and blood can take quite a few treatment sessions, especially if they have been at a low ebb for a long time. Improvement in sleeping problems may be fast or may be slow but as it goes alongside improvements in general health and wellbeing it is always very worthwhile.

Posted in mind body spirit, sleeping problem, Yin and Yang | Tagged , , , ,

Acupuncture for people with headaches

Maybe you suffer from migraines – vicious sick headaches that send you to bed for the day; or severe tension headaches – a gripping pounding pain round your head that can last all day; or  dull daily headaches- spoilers that wear you down and make life grey and tiresome. The scientific evidence for the benefits of acupuncture for migraine and tension headache is so strong that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has taken the unusual step of recommending acupuncture  for prevention.

Each of these types of headache, and all the other types that you may experience, have a different Chinese medicine explanation. Once I have identified the underlying cause I use acupuncture not only to treat the headache but also to help you understand the cause and what part you can play in preventing future headaches. Most people are keen to cut down the painkillers as soon as they are able to, and this in itself may bring health benefits. Tablets that are prescribed to take at the start of a migraine attack can be very effective, and you can still take these if required, but I would expect acupuncture treatment to greatly reduce your need for them.

In Chinese medicine, migraine headache, often accompanied by vomiting and eye symptoms, is usually due to a sudden rush of Yang energy up to the head. This is called ‘Liver Yang Rising’ and it is due to the Yin and Yang aspects of Qi getting out of balance. An underlying lack of Yin makes the Yang unstable and then stress, usually a strong or repressed emotion, agitates the Qi further and sets off a sudden rise of Yang. In women, Yang rises particularly easily just before a period. Another pattern is that a heavy week of work depletes the Yin further and Yang rises once the body relaxes – those weekend migraines for example. Migraine is more likely in certain constitutions than others- in Five Element terms a Wood constitution links to the liver, which is the seat of this particular Yin-Yang imbalance. Do note that this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your liver in everyday or Western medicine terms. The Chinese medicine liver is different – it is closely associated with the eyes (hence the eye symptoms) and the liver channel runs up through the stomach and throat to the head (hence the vomiting). It can also get out of balance in other ways that cause a variety of other type of headaches. I use acupuncture to strengthen your Qi, especially the liver Yin, keep the Qi flowing freely and calm the emotions to help you deal with any stress. If you are interested in playing your own part in the treatment I can advise you about diet and we can try and find ways for you to make small adjustments to your life to bring it into a better balance.

Not all severe or persistent headaches are due to problems in the liver meridian. Another common complaint is a think, heavy, muzzy headache that makes it difficult to concentrate, especially in the morning. This may be due to the body accumulating what Chinese medicine calls ‘Damp’, which means that your Qi is not bright clear energy circulating up to the head, but is Qi that is thicker and moves more slowly and downwards. There are many different causes of Damp – I have written about it in some other of my blogs- and it is usually accompanied by general tiredness. Acupuncture can help to clear the Damp and treat the underlying weakness or imbalance, but the headaches may be slower to clear than migraines.

Maybe your headache is more of a dull empty kind of pain that is on the top or front of your head and gets worse as the day goes on, especially if you are very busy. This type of pain is due to an underlying weakness of blood or Qi. In women who have periods, the regular loss of blood makes blood deficiency quite common and the headache is often worse after a period. Pregnancy and childbirth, and/or sustained periods of overwork, make this worse and overwork may also weaken your kidney Qi…. said to give a feeling like an ‘empty head’. Acupuncture, a good diet and finding some time to rest will not only relieve your headache but also give you back some zest and enthusiasm for life.

People with headaches are rewarding to treat. I start with wanting to know everything about you (!), then I examine your pulses and look at your tongue, and then solve the puzzle of why you are having a headache. That usually leads to very effective acupuncture treatment and greatly improved well-being.

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Posted in Damp, emotion, Headache, stress, Yin and Yang | Tagged , , , , ,