Thursday, August 30, 2012

5th New Thing ~ B is for Balance

"Show me your tongue," Shuren says.
"Show me your tongue." His English is rough.

I've been meaning to look into acupuncture for a few years now. But I kept not "getting around to it."

Although I know that medical insurance companies are now compelled to cover more alternative types of treatment and health care options than in years past, I still had a solid block in my head that it was going to be a battle getting it covered. Insurance speed bumps to maneuver, meant to discourage policy holders. I'm an insurance cynic. I just know they're out to get me.

But this long held intent to get acupuncture treatment and the year of 50 New Things came together and acupuncture was one of the first things to hit the early list.

"Show me your tongue," he repeats himself.

We are standing at the sign-in counter in his waiting room. Now, granted, there is no one else in the waiting room at the moment but it feels a bit odd to be starting the initial 'exam' at the front counter.

I stick out my tongue. So far I really like how this is going.
"Looks good," he says. "Why are you here?" he continues. His English is choppy; we maintain strict, concentrated eye contact to make sure that we understand each other. And we talk with our hands.

I explain that I go to the chiropractor periodically for pain in my right shoulder. Sometimes in my neck and right arm. And that my chiropractor also recommended acupuncture. BUT, instead of the shoulder pain, I would rather talk about energy and emotions. He nods his head.

"I think I hold a lot of tension in my body," I say. "And I'd like to get some help releasing that."
He asks how I'm eating. How I'm feeling. How I'm sleeping.
I hesitate a moment, then tell him the truth. Point blank. He nods his head.

He focuses on just one point: "You go to sleep fine but you wake in middle of the night and can't get back to sleep?"
"Yes," I say.
"Means that you are deeply disturbed." We are still standing at the front counter. Apparently that point blank thing goes both ways.

Now I'm sure this is just some sort of cultural translation-related misunderstanding.  What he really meant was deeply charming, right? Deeply enchanting?  Not disturbed. Not like the mad woman in Rochester's attic?

I picture the energy in me as a fluid substance that flows through my body. Life force that moves easily and unrestricted. Ideally speaking. Like the bloodstream, only unseen.

And like blood, the flow can sometimes slow and even stop. Become hindered. Creating trapped, stagnate pools that become toxic.

Maybe the moderate but chronic pain in my shoulder, pain that I've had for years, is about the need to release energy, get the flow moving better. The pain is my body trying to tell me something.

Shuren nods his head. He says we will work on balance overall.  As opposed to addressing the specific pain in my shoulder, which we agree is a symptom of something more fundamental.

He shows me to a small room and tells me to lie on the narrow, paper-covered table. Face up. I slip my shoes off, stash them under a chair and climb up. Adjust my skirt. He places a wedged pillow under my knees. My hands instinctively take a peaceful pose mid-chest.
"Is this your first time acupuncture?"
He goes on to ask me general health questions that I can't specifically remember now but that I think were a diversion. . . as he is busy doing something down at my feet. Feeling my pulse, maybe? I answer his questions as I realize I now have a needle inserted in each foot.
And then a needle in each ankle.
Each shin.
Each hand.
My forehead.
And the crown of my scalp.
Ten needles total.
I can't really feel the needles specifically but my right shins feels a faint, dull ache. Like an old bruise reminding me that it's still there. I wonder what this means.

"Listen to the music," Shuren says as he turns down the lights and leaves the room. My first thought is that he has forgotten to turn on the music. I can't hear it.
I can hear a jet far above the earth.
I can hear traffic from 512, though I'm a couple miles away.
Distant sirens, as we aren't far from a hospital.
I strain listening for music. After a few minutes I think, maybe there is a very, very quiet melody playing somewhere. Hard to tell.

I've never had much success at meditation. The phrase 'empty your mind.......'
What? Aren't thoughts a constant thing?
Daydreams, memories, planning, repetitive thoughts, spacing-out free-flowing thoughts, pre-writing, writing, editing.
Sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful.
Truth and lies.
For good or for evil, that ceaseless mental chatter?

No thoughts??  Meditation, emptying my mind. How do you do that? When I've tried it in the past, I felt a lot of pressure. Which, I think is kind of the opposite purpose of meditation. I read somewhere that of course it's difficult to free one's mind of constant thought, but as you're meditating (or trying VERY HARD to meditate) when you find your mind wandering off, to acknowledge the wandering, then deliberately steer your thoughts back to an empty, quiet mind. Even with this sage advice, I struggled and then pretty much stopped trying. Years ago.

But laying on the table with my ten needles, it's easier. I wonder why. Shuren didn't tell me to meditate but it seems natural somehow. Meditation. Or something like it. For over an hour. I don't fall asleep, although I've heard it is not uncommon during acupuncture. My mind does drift off in unintended directions but I find it very peaceful to bring myself right back to a quiet, calm place. Repeating soothing words in my head. Watching the dark and light shadows behind my closed lids. Never once scolding myself for not being 'better' at this.

Soon I realize that I really can hear music. In fact, it was all I can hear. No traffic. Has it been here the whole time?

Shuren comes in a couple times to quietly ask how I'm doing.
"Are you cold?"
He touches my skin.
"Do you want heat?"
"No, I'm good."
He doesn't seem to believe me.

The fourth time he comes in, he asks me if I'm ready to be done. Yes, okay. He pulls each needle as he wipes each spot with a cool alcohol pad. The needles did not hurt going in and don't hurt coming out. I ask him what I can expect to feel after a treatment. He says I will see for myself. He then says, "Get up slowly," and leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

I put my shoes back on and head out to the front counter. Not knowing what's next...paperwork? Schedule another appointment? Debrief?

"Is there anything else?" I ask.
"Don't drink cold water."
"No cold water?"
He nods.
"Warm water?" I ask.
"Yes, warm water. No cold water."
Yikes. Could he tell this about me? That I drink, not just cold, but ice water all the time.  Every day. Partially frozen water bottles. Cups of ice water at my desk.
Okay. I'll give this a try. No cold water.
"Do I need to come back?"
"Yes, probably a couple more times."

And that was my first appointment.

I don't know what I expected from acupuncture. Or maybe I did. I may have thought I'd feel something 'significant.' Like I'd spontaneously weep from all the releasing and flowing of energy. Or something. A more emotionally moving experience. That I'd feel overwhelmed. But instead it was very subtle and peaceful. I would never have thought of being pierced by needles as subtle or peaceful.

Through the rest of the day, I 'watched' for any differences in how I felt. Physically. Emotionally. The only thing I noticed was that I kept feeling warm and then chilled. Swinging between the two extremes all day. More chilled than not. Like my body was having a hard time maintaining an even temperature.

I return to Shuren's office three days later.
"How do you feel?" he asks me, as he leads me back to the same room as last time.
"I felt oddly hot and cold that first day. But otherwise, I feel about same."

As I'm slipping off my shoes and climbing up onto the table, he plugs in a heat lamp.
"This time we'll try heat too."
Seems that temperature is significant to this energy balance process.
I mention that I am drinking less cold water. Feeling kind of proud of myself. That I warm up mugs of water in the microwave and drink those.
"No microwave," he says.
"What?" I wilt inside.
"Microwave changes the molecules. Heat water on the stove."

No cold water? No microwaved water? Dehydration looms ahead. Okay. Really messing with my 'ways,' Shuren.

I'm up to my fourth appointment. And so far it turns out the needles are not at all the difficult part of this new experience. And temperature is way more important than I'd imagined.

I am not drinking cold water at all. Well, mostly. Drinking much more warm water.
Microwaved only about half the time now. Working on this. It's a process. Change might be good but it can also be difficult.

When Shuren left the room at my first appointment, I realized I would have no pictures of this new thing. There are all kinds of pictures on the Internet of acupuncture needles piercing flesh but I wouldn't have any of my experience. This felt a bit sad for a moment but it was easy to let go, as it was simply the nature of the first appointment.

At my second appointment, Shuren and I talked about the spiritual nature of acupuncture. I asked him if it would be disrespectful to take a picture of the needles in my skin. No, he says. Not at all. And even offered to take a shot himself as I needed to stay laying flat.

There are four needles in this shot. Take my word for it. The only one you can even kind of see is in my left upper shin.

The needle in my left hand.

And the one in my forehead. Lights down.

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty cool. I wonder if there are any changes you feel after a few appointments? I had acupuncture a few years ago for a bout of debilitating back pain. It helped me. I hope it helps you too. :d.