I have to hold my hands up as I know absolutely nothing about acupuncture. My preconception of hundreds of needles being pushed into your back and tearing through your skin like a wasp sting leaves my hands clammy to say the least. Despite having two children aged 6yrs and soon to be 2yrs, having blood taken throughout my pregnancies, various injections, piercings and tattoo’s, I most definitely do not find pain a pleasurable experience. So why exactly am I doing this?
I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty-one years now and have always avoided taking unnecessary medication as I would rather suffer without pain relief rather than fill my body with chemicals and risk the side effects of drugs. As a single parent I get little sleep with my tedious toddler and find I am forever rushing around juggling my time, stressing from one day to another single-handedly and generally feel sluggish and tired tending a family alone. I also have a hormone imbalance for which my prolactin levels are raised above average, which in turn makes my period rather painful and causes an outbreak of spots on my face during my cycle. Acupuncture claims to treat all of these ailments and more, whilst being completely pain free with the only side effect being relaxation. Erm, somebody get me to the Belmore!
So what exactly is acupuncture? It’s is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) whereby hair-fine needles with the configuration similar to that of a bullet are inserted into the skin to enter the body without damaging the structures beneath. Unlike a medical needle, these do no draw out or release fluid, but simply push aside nerve tendrils during use. It would therefore be more fitting to call them pins. The human body contains over 400 pressure points, which stimulate Qi, or energy flow, throughout the body through channels called meridians. There are twelve meridians in total, six on each side of the body which link to the internal organs. When energy flow is blocked within the body then diseases occur, which can be treated by needling to rebalance the Qi.
The World Health organisation (WHO) have produced a list of disease categories for which acupuncture has demonstrable benefits, these include: asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, migraine, nausea, indigestion, constipation, IBS, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, neck, shoulder, back and knee pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, strains and sprains, soft tissue injuries, PMA, irregular or painful periods, menopausal syndrome, fluid retention, skin disorders, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, insomnia, the sequelae of cardiovascular accidents such as a stroke, as well as addictions to smoking, alcohol and other substances to name but a few. Acupuncture is also widely used to treat cancer patients following chemotherapy.
Pulling into the car park of the Belmore Centre which was clearly signposted from the main Stoke Mandeville Hospital road, I was pleasantly greeted by the friendly and welcoming staff at reception before being shown to a beautiful white stone waiting area filled with beauty products, soft lighting and soothing music. A few moments later I was greeted by Penny, my acupuncturist, and shown to a peaceful, cosy, low lit and quiet treatment room downstairs which was furnished with beautiful white and beige materials and sumptuous soft fluffy towels. After answering a few questions about my health concerning the procedure that I was about to have, Penny asked me to remove my shoes and socks and lay on the bed ready for the treatment to begin.
From discussing my symptoms of period pain, tiredness, stress and difficulty sleeping, Penny was able to assess that of the five elements the body is made up of; fire, earth, metal, water and wood, each concerning different organs and symptoms, I would benefit most from the water element being treated which concentrates on the bladder and kidneys. Raising my knees up with a soft warmed towel, I lay on my back with my arms by my side and my feet exposed as Penny felt the pulses in both of my wrists to establish the level of energy in my body. She explained that my pulses were slow and laboured, but after the twenty-minute treatment they would be fast and punchy indicating that my Qi energy has been balanced successfully.
She then proceeded to show me the needles, much like sewing pins, the needles are very fine and a few inches long with a copper coloured tip. Penny explained that the needles are sealed and sterile, and are thrown away in a special bin after each single use. You do not touch the needle, just the end piece, and it is inserted into the body using a hollow tube slightly shorter than the needle which is held in place on the pressure point and tapped to push the tip into the skin. She reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt, but that I would feel a slight tenderness once the needle was manipulated in order to reach the meridian point which would only last a split second. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes as she placed the first needle over the back of my hand. I felt the tube on my skin, a small tap and a light twist which caused my skin to move, and it wasn’t painful or uncomfortable at all. Peering over at my hand nervously expecting the pain to come any second, I was pleasantly surprised to see the needle sticking out of my skin at a forty-five degree angle and Penny gliding to the other side of the bed to insert the next needle. The majority of the needle was outside of my skin as it had only gone in by a few millimetres, and I was free to move about, look around and stare in amazement. It was fascinating to see.
Penny inserted five needles in total, one in each hand, one in the top of each foot and one in my forehead as she explained that less is more. I couldn’t help but smile at how pleasant it all was as I lay on the soft warm bed listening to the soothing music with my eyes closed. Penny explained that many of her patients fall asleep, feeling relaxed and euphoric for days to come. Finally she placed an infrared lamp over my torso which warmed me gently through to my deep muscles, like a reassuring hug on a cold winters day, and then left me to rest for twenty-minutes so that the needles could rebalance my Qi.
I have never felt so peaceful, it is amazing. If I hadn’t have seen the needles I would never have known they were there, and it wasn’t scary or uncomfortable at all like the needles that doctors use. Acupuncture raises the bodies level of hormones, prostaglandins, white blood cells and anti-bodies; it also stimulates endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers that can be 200 times stronger than morphine. I can see why acupuncture thrives on word of mouth and recommendations because you really do have to see it for yourself in order to appreciate the many benefits. After twenty minutes Penny checked my pulses with a smile on her face as my levels were upbeat and punchy, and then proceeded to remove the five needles from my hands, feet and head by simply plucking them out. It wasn’t painful having them removed, and all I wanted to do was stay on the bed all cosy and warm and have a nice nap. It was absolutely beautiful, such a calming and peaceful experience that not only helped with my ailments but also cleared my mind.
As I floated up off of the bed and put my shoes and socks back on, Penny gave me a glass of room-temperature water and advised that I should remain hydrated and aim to drink around three litres of water a day. This treatment should be repeated around six times to get ontop of my problems and maintained once a month thereafter to keep them at bay. One day on from my acupuncture, after a hectic morning routine, school run, shopping, housework, toddler tantrums, dinner time and a bath before putting the children to bed, and I have hardly broke a sweat all day. Instead of feeling pent up and on edge I am far more focused and calm and have found that I am able to think more clearly and assess each situation properly. It’s as if the fog has been cleared from my mind and I have the spirit and enthusiasm to carry on with a spring in my step one task at a time.
My eyes have been opened to the wonder of acupuncture and I wish I’d had the courage and knowledge to have tried it years ago. I am amazed at the difference it has made to me already with such an immediate effect and I’m actually looking forward to my period this month to see how it will differ from usual as a result of my treatment. If you are thinking of having acupuncture at the Belmore Centre then please get in touch and let me know how you get on. Gift vouchers are also available as it makes an ideal treat for a loved one or special occasion. You can watch a video of my treatment below or visit the Belmore Centre here for more information.
Please Note: I have no connection with The Belmore Centre and have not received payment for this blog. I only agree to blog about content that I have a personal interest in. All text, pictures and opinions are my own.