Be Well: Getting Right to the Point with Acupuncture
Writer: Jessica Metcalf
In a world that seems to demand a constant hustle from one activity to the next, making time for self-care can look like taking a day off work to attend to the laundry list of chores and tasks that seem never to get addressed - leaving most of us convinced that there is no such thing as true rest and relaxation from endless mental and physical gymnastics. But the balance of mind, body, and spirit is available for those who have willingly braved a very Western-world apprehension to the time-honored healing practice of acupuncture.
I walked into my first acupuncture appointment with definite biases, but the minute I met Keri Onderus at the Urban Acupuncture Center in Clintonville, all my prejudices disappeared. She was not a low-voiced, zen-conjuring guru but someone energetic and passionate about restoring the body's natural healing properties. Our session began with a basic explanation of the differences between traditional Eastern and Western health, wellness, and healing approaches.
Generally speaking, Western medicine tends to focus on treating the symptoms of injury and illness, often as an isolated issue. This practice excels in treating injuries and critical care concerns but is criticized by Eastern practitioners for lacking a therapeutic process that addresses the entire body as a system. Conversely, Eastern medicine views a patient's symptoms as indicators of an imbalance in the body's natural flow of energy, or qi (chi). By stimulating specific locations with its famed micro-needles, acupuncture is believed to draw this natural energy to areas of imbalance, restoring the body's natural state and allowing it to function at its full potential. Because acupuncture deals with whole-body systems, there are several ways to tap into total healing. All are based on the idea that the body naturally moves toward homeostasis, with acupuncture as a method of achieving that critical balance of energies.
General acupuncture utilizes a complex map, developed over many centuries, of pressure points on channels aligned with nerve pathways. For example, Keri explained the qi stagnation on the liver channel is "caused when people are 'on' all the time and moving at a breakneck pace, and we hold this stagnation in the major joint spaces of the body: the jaw, the shoulders and the hips." When this channel is off, she said, it disrupts the flow of everything else.
During my general acupuncture session, we discussed what I hoped to get out of my session – mental relaxation and peace, as well as healing from physical pain in my shoulder and ankle. Keri described the process of selecting certain points on the channels of which I was having physical pain and using that as a jumping-off point to create a treatment that would systematically follow the course of the liver channel.
Keri compassionately talked through each needle insertion, congratulating me for sticking it out (pun intended). Over the next 30-40 minutes, I could really sense the energy moving throughout my body as I went into a deeply meditative state that no amount of research beforehand could have prepared me for, leaving me with a desire to return to continue the process of reaching my body's homeostasis.
As I was experiencing a traditional acupuncture treatment for the first time, Amelia Jeffers, Editor-in-Chief of Sophisticated Living Columbus, was expanding her understanding and trust in the practice by exploring the burgeoning field of cosmetic acupuncture.
"I went to acupuncture for the first time when a friend bought me a gift card for my birthday," Amelia explained to me over a working coffee. "It was amazing - six treatments completely restored mobility in a frozen shoulder that I had been told would require extensive physical therapy and possibly surgery." Convinced that the same practice that healed her injury could certainly offer anti-aging benefits, Amelia endeavored to identify a practitioner specializing in Botox and facelift alternatives.
While many acupuncture offices will accommodate requests for facial treatments, few tout it as a focus within their practice - and even fewer have achieved special designation as a cosmetic practitioner. Yvonne Woodson of German Village Acupuncture became certified in the Mei Zen ™ Cosmetic Acupuncture System after hearing news reports of women who had to be ventilated for respiratory problems after receiving a botched batch of a toxin called onobotulinumtoxinA (commonly known as botox). While botox is widely (and successfully) used to treat a host of medical and cosmetic complaints, potential risks and side effects have driven a segment of the population to seek similar benefits from more conservative approaches, including acupuncture.
As a registered nurse and thoroughly trained acupuncture practitioner, Yvonne fully understands and appreciates the medical problems people face while addressing them with an integrative medicine approach led by an Eastern modality. One of the only acupuncturists in the entire OhioHealth system, Yvonne treats patients at the Bing Cancer Center to alleviate side effects of chemotherapy and advanced stages of cancer. Additionally, Yvonne sees patients at her eastside home office for a host of issues including aches and pains, chronic conditions like asthma and allergies, and (in growing numbers) noninvasive cosmetic rejuvenation.
Amelia enthusiastically submitted to Yvonne's expertise by signing on to an intensive treatment plan of two visits a week for five weeks. Yvonne began each appointment by taking Amelia's pulse and inquiring about her physical and mental health. Next, Yvonne inserted dozens of needles at varying depths into Amelia's feet, ankles, calves, abdomen, shoulders, scalp, and (of course) her face. During most visits, Yvonne treated Amelia to the added benefit of a Bemer device (pulsed electromagnetic field technology) to stimulate and increase blood flow to healthy muscles for improved performance and recovery. Each session's soundtrack was the soothing sounds of Weightless by Marconi Union - a careful arrangement of harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines composed in collaboration with sound therapists and proven to slow a listener's heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower cortisol levels. In short, she leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of balance and restored homeostasis.
Yvonne explained that the process of animating energy on a specific location could take up to 24 hours after treatment is complete, as the qi makes a complete circuit. Throughout the five weeks, Amelia reported an overall lowering of feelings of anxiety and stress alongside the cosmetic benefits of a reduction in wrinkles and sagginess, improved tone, and a reduction in discoloration.
To me, acupuncture always seemed like a sort of "mystical magic" technique that couldn't have any lasting effects or make any tangible or visible changes to your body. I also imagined it to be cost-prohibitive, but I was thrilled to learn that it is often covered by insurance and very much in line with more western therapies. I decided I had to experience this acclaimed peace that comes from an acupuncture treatment firsthand, and I am so grateful that I set up my first appointment and went in with an open mind.
Caption: These 17th C antique diagrams are examples of the ancient methodology involved with acupuncture training.