Acupuncturists do more than just poke people with needles. They use non-needling techniques, such as moxibustion and cupping, and some prescribe herbs. They also offer advice — acupuncture-inspired tips that can help you feel healthier and happier.
Connect With People
“I have come to believe that people need connection more than anything else,” says Richard Mandell, an acupuncturist from Brookline, Mass. who founded the PanAfrican Acupuncture Project.
We acupuncturists use needles as a starting point, but it is our relationship with patients — the conversations, the gentle touch — that is most important. Isolation, and holding independence as the ultimate goal, separates us from healing potential.
Connection in the simplest sense can begin with acknowledgement of its importance. Helping others, greeting a homeless person, looking people in the eye, recognizing the good in each moment … These things increase our potential to heal ourselves and others. From an acupuncture perspective, they build and move qi.
Breathe Deeply Into Your Belly
“In acupuncture, the lungs govern the circulation of qi in the body,” explains Corvalis, Ore. acupuncturist Brodie Welch.
When we feel stress, the breath automatically becomes more shallow and rapid. Shallow, tense breathing tells the body to remain in a state of fight-or-flight. By inviting our breath to be slow, deep, easy, and gentle, we rein in the stress response, protect the adrenals from exhaustion, and activate the self-healing (parasympathetic) mode.
A daily breathing practice, which can be as simple as five minutes a day, or 10 breaths every hour, is the fastest way I know of to re-pattern the nervous system.
“While you’re breathing deeply, it’s helpful to focus on your belly,” adds San Francisco acupuncturist Jeremy Rothenberg.
“People can coax their own bodies into relaxation by focusing on deep belly breathing,” he says. “There are so many parasympathetic nerve endings in the belly, so deep breathing into that area shifts the body into rest-and-digest mode.
“If everyone spent time each day breathing into their bellies, many physical problems would be reversed. It’s like doing acupuncture on yourself.”
“If only all of my patients would take the time to exercise every day,” says acupuncturist Lara Ferguson Diaz, from Asheville, N.C.
I’m not talking about running a marathon. There’s nothing quite as simple yet profoundly helpful as a daily brisk walk in the park, or dancing with your kid in the living room. Our bodies are not designed to be static. They are designed to be in fairly constant motion except while sleeping or resting.
From an acupuncture perspective, too much sitting injures the spleen, which affects digestion, energy level, and even makes us more likely to gain weight. Blood and qi stagnation, the most common cause of pain that I see in my clinic, also occur when people have sedentary lifestyles.
Daily exercise will make you happier, less stressed, and better equipped to handle life. So, go take a hike!
“I wish all of my patients would engage in a meditation practice,” says Brooklyn, N.Y. acupuncturist Melanie Severo.
“So many of the issues that hold us back in our lives can be transformed through the simple act of awareness, and a meditation practice can be the doorway to heightened presence in all of our activities.”
Use a Dry Skin Brush
“Dry skin brushing takes just minutes a day but makes a huge difference in how someone feels and looks,” says San Diego-based acupuncturist Justin Burkett.
Using a natural-fiber, stiff-brissled, sisal body brush on dry skin before or after a shower is a great way to stimulate the skin, the lymphatic system, and the acupuncture meridian system. At the same time, it increases peripheral circulation and boosts immune function, which gives a healthy glow to the skin.
People can stimulate acupuncture points all over the body, on a daily basis, using a dry skin brush.
Stretch Before Bed
“Stretching in the evening is just as important as in the morning, which is when most people think about doing it,” says Laurel, Md. acupuncturist Allison Vaccaro.
Like acupuncture, stretching helps break up stagnation and encourages movement throughout the channels. Stretching in the evening helps loosen the muscles that haven’t been used during the day. Many people spend their evenings sitting on the couch watching TV. Some hit the gym first thing in the morning, then sit at a desk all day. These routines prime the body for stiffness, and can produce pain at night and upon waking.
Patients of mine who follow my advice to stretch at night report better sleep quality, and less pain and stiffness in the morning.
Get to Bed by 11:00 p.m.
“I encourage all of my patients to go to bed at 11 p.m. so that they are sleeping soundly by 1 a.m.,” says Susan Wadden, an acupuncturist in Shoreline, Wash.
Each organ system in acupuncture has an assigned two-hour time frame. One o’clock in the morning is when when the liver time cycle begins. Between 1 and 3 a.m. is the optimal time for the liver to cleanse itself. This cleansing, which plays a big role in whether we feel rested when we wake up, happens most efficiently when a person is in a deep state of sleep.
Find a Spiritual Practice
“I wish everyone would find a spiritual outlet to address their concerns, stress, and grief,” says Kari-Ann Hubbard, an acupuncturist in Tempe, Ariz.
These natural emotions can consume us and, from an acupuncture perspective, stagnate our qi and blood. This on its own can cause pain and other ailments, and it sets the stage for future imbalances.
A spiritual practice can be anything from journaling to prayer to meditation. Whatever works for you.
“I wish more of my patients would drink warm herbal teas instead of cold soft drinks and diet sodas,” says acupuncturist Lindsay Long, of Maple Grove, Minn.
“The phosphoric acid in colas can be harmful to bone health, and it can soften tooth enamel. According to acupuncture dietary theory, warm drinks are most supportive to the digestive system, and the bitter flavor of tea clears excess heat and dries dampness from the body.”
Stop Waiting for Perfect
“Stop waiting for the perfect time to engage in perfect behavior,” says Wayland, Mass. acupuncturist Marisa Fanelli.
Many of my patients consider anything less than a dramatic life change to be a failure. So, they wait until the perfect time to start eating the perfect diet. Or they wait until the perfect time to start working out again, since anything less than seven days a week at the gym is a failure.
This kind of all-or-nothing thinking leads to being perpetually stuck. In acupuncture-speak, we call this stagnation. Remember that even small steps forward are beneficial — and far easier to maintain in the long run.
Engage in Conscious Eating
“I wish all of my patients practiced conscious eating,” says Kathleen Port, an acupuncturist in Los Angeles.
This means being sensitive to portion size but also quality of food and eating habits — for example, not eating in the car or late at night, or not eating highly processed foods.
When we don’t bring consciousness to our eating habits, our spleen and stomach systems can become easily overwhelmed. When this happens, digestion slows down and cannot convert food into qi and blood. Qi and blood deficiencies give rise to a variety of issues, including poor sleep, poor digestion, menstrual dysfunction, infertility, and mood disorders.
Listen to Your Body
“When we are in a state of balance, our bodies stay healthy on their own, without much effort on our part,” says acupuncturist Michelle McGlade, from Mendota Heights, Minn.
When we are out of balance, our bodies signal alarms. These alarms can show up as fatigue, pain, or depression, to name just a few.
If everyone listened for these signals and took action when they happened — for example, made a diet change or started going to bed earlier — we’d all be much better off. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to take care of the people we love.
Bonus Tip for Pets: Change Up the Food
“On behalf of my dog patients, I wish their owners would follow my nutritional recommendations,” says pet acupuncturist Jeanie Mossa Kraft, of Falls Church, Va.
Dogs’ acupuncture treatments are enhanced by a healthy diet that does not include wheat, gluten, soy, or corn. Wheat and gluten exacerbate pain, especially arthritic pain — what we call bi syndrome in acupuncture. Soy and corn can make allergies worse in pets.
I beg the owners, “If you do nothing else, please change the dog’s food!” If only dogs could talk!