How Does Acupuncture Actually Work?
At least in the realm of acupuncture, that pins and needles feeling isn't so much of a bad thing.
Bring up the topic of acupuncture, and one would tend to assume faux remedies accompanied by visuals similar to the Hellraiser film poster, but for those who have tried it, the results certainly can't be argued. Typically used to help manage pain on the body and situational stressors, New York City-based naturopathic doctor Dr. Gabrielle Francis takes the traditional Chinese medicine approach, which involves treating the whole body from an energetic standpoint. "On the body, there are 12 meridians, or channels of energy, each associated with an organ system," Dr. Francis explains. "The acupuncture points are placed along these meridians—so the lung meridian has 12 points, and there are 21 affecting the large intestine, for example—are always proportionally the same on each person, and there are 600 points total on the body."
Depending on the issue you want to address and the signs she picks up from your pulse and tongue, Dr. Francis will insert a series of needles in points along the vortex, which she refers to as energy vortexes. Spiritually, inserting the needle will help to even out any imbalances of energy. Medically, this increases blood flow, endorphin production, and lowers your cortisol levels.
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The endorphins in particular can help explain the zen-like state you tend to fall into. "During acupuncture, your brainwave pattern shifts into something called the alpha state, which is the same wave pattern that happens during prayer, hypnosis, and meditation. It's very rare that during the day, people aren't in this manic, fight or flight state," she says. "You'll feel this wave come over you, and your body drops into almost a deep trance, which can be very healing."
Nothing scary like the sunken place noted in Get Out, but according to Dr. Francis, this helps your immune system to reset itself, and during the process, people often report a sense of timelessness—an hour-long session can somehow feel like both an eternity and five minutes simultaneously. Dr. Francis has had clients treat a looming cold through acupuncture, as well as headaches, specific pain issues, and insomnia. Though it can help manage issues related to anxiety and depression, Dr. Francis notes that these symptoms are often the result of an underlying chemical imbalance, so while helpful, you'll need to go beyond acupuncture to address the particular imbalance.
And no, the needles don't hurt, though they're not totally free of sensation. Upon trying the method ourselves, we almost weren't aware that the initial needle had been inserted—cue Samantha Jones references.