Tales From the Treatment Room: Asking For What You Want
Real talk? I have the best patients in the world. I mean, I suppose every practitioner says or thinks this...or at least, I hope they do. But seriously - I mean it when I say I have the best patients. My practice has patients who are so brave and courageous in the face of pain and struggle, and who choose to be defiant by showing the world their resilience, their laughter and their truth. These are folks prepared to WERK and do work. But when folks are inquiring about acupuncture, I often have people ask me: just what is that work exactly? What can one expect in an acupuncture treatment? What can you get an acupuncture treatment for? This is such a complex set of questions because there's certain parts of an acupuncture treatment that are so very unique to the individual. Did you know that every acupuncture treatment is designed to suit your individual body, mind and spirit as it shows up in the treatment room that day? There's no one set treatment for any ailment, and points are selected based on what your pulse, tongue, and words say about how energy is flowing throughout your body.
Even just asking what an acupuncture treatment feels like, there's no universal agreement on what that experience is like. Partially, it's because while there are machines that can screen all kinds of things about the state of our health - what our blood make up is like, what our bones and joints look like, etc. - there's no machine that can report to your provider what you're feeling. Take a symptom like back pain for example. For as many people who experience excruciating back pain due to an injury to a structure (a muscle, a vertebrae, a disc, etc.), there are just as many people living with the same injury that experience absolutely no pain or discomfort at all. This goes double for mental/emotional struggle or stress - no test that is based simply on your structure can tell you everything about the state of your mental health or your current emotional landscape. So, what does an individual acupuncture needle or an entire treatment might feel like? Not to sound too trite or too much like Morpheus...but real talk, you cannot be told what an acupuncture treatment feels like. You have to experience it for yourself.
And yet when I hear this question, often what I'm hearing is that the needle experience is only part of what the person is asking. When I hear this question "What will it feel like?" what I'm also hearing is "what will I feel like afterward?" Having a good acupuncture treatment is not only just being open and receptive to some needles, it's also about conveying to your practitioner what you want to feel like afterward. Telling your practitioner what you want from treatment is something I find so vitally important, that even before I ask folks to hop up on the table I will ask my patients, "what do you want most from your treatment today?" For many folks this question comes as a surprise, maybe because they are used to someone in a medical profession just telling them what to do and how their body is supposed to feel. We are all very practiced to limit our own experiences of life (our feelings!) based on what someone tells us. My reason for asking this question is to help steer your body toward healing not only based on what your pulse, tongue and other examinations tell me to do, but also help make some choices as to how you get there.
For as many folks who tell me things like, "relief from this pain in my (back, leg, arm, etc.)," and "relaxation," or "more energy," I get plenty of requests for help with something like their mental health, their spirit, and even more abstract requests too. I've had folks play songs, do a little dance, or show me art they've painted and told me they want to feel exactly like that (or in some cases, to not feel like that anymore). I've also had folks show me .gif images and movie clips to show me exactly how they want to feel after their treatment. Most recently, I had a patient answer tell me they wanted to "Let [their] souuuuul glow!" invoking this ad:
Healing is not only a thing that is happening to you; you are in constant conversation with your own healing journey. If you have a goal on what you would like at least a part of your healing to feel like, no matter if it is attainable or not, by opening the door to this conversation, you are helping your practitioner get in sync and better help you whenever you share this kind of information. This kind of conversation is like that moment when the orchestra is about to perform and they all play middle C - a way to get all healing forces on the same page, playing the same healing note in service to your healing.
So while a perfectly acceptable answer is "I don't have any idea," if you are currently in treatment or looking for treatment with an acupuncturist, I encourage you to think about how you want to feel after a treatment. It can be anything from pain relief, relaxation, or something like for your spirit to feel lifted up out of the gutter - and then tell your practitioner. If your practitioner doesn't ask this question, make an opening for yourself and tell them! You might be very pleasantly surprised at the results.