When I was a in college, I was working a part-time job as a full-time student with several extracurriculars. The year that I first moved off campus was a particularly stressful one, and I recall one day I was stuck in traffic and rapidly ascending into road rage when I stretched into a yawn, pulling a muscle in my neck. Ever since, I’ve had shoulder pain that has not gone away despite several treatments. Recently, I started seeing an acupuncturist in hopes that he could stab my shoulder back into shape, which brought me into the world of Chinese medicine.
Now, I’ve dabbled in unconventional treatment before. I have practiced yoga for years, but I wouldn’t say on an expert level; the meditation at the end always stressed me back out because I didn’t know how to lie down still in the middle of the day in a room full of strangers. I have never shopped at Lulu Lemon nor posted an Instagram picture of myself doing a headstand on a beach at sunset. One time, I bought a moonstone ring from a vendor who specialized in crystals, and he told me that it was “balancing” and would “enhance intuition.” It was pretty until the stone fell out and I lost it. My intuition didn’t help me find it.
Needless to say, I felt pretty skeptical when I walked into my first appointment. My acupuncturist began with looking at my tongue and taking my pulse. He later explained that a tongue diagnosis includes looking at the shape, color, and coating in order to see where problems are manifesting in various ways throughout the body. There are different locations on the tongue that signify different major organs and body areas, similar to different placements for sweet or sour taste buds on the tongue.
Besides specific pain symptoms, acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of issues such as autoimmune diseases and mental illness. He gave me an example, explaining that redness on the tip of the tongue shows heart heat, indicating a person has been unable to release that energy and may be depressed. “You ever know anybody who may be extra giggly at everything? That’s how they may be trying to release that energy and become happier,” he explained, accurately describing about 60% of my friends.
Another example is the presence of pronounced white spots along the edge of the tongue, which indicate higher levels of anxiety. He would ask me about my lifestyle at the time, given possible stress factors like work and school, and gage how this was affecting my body.
The most perplexing factoid my acupuncturist shared with me was a new theory he picked up while at an acupuncture lecture of some sort in San Francisco. The lecturer, a well-renowned practitioner, shared that one could actually garner an understanding of a person’s childhood and how their parents raised them, just by taking their pulse. He proceeded to test this on several of the attendees, my acupuncturist included, who said that the man gave him an uncanny profile of his mother. Here I was thinking I came in for a mild, polite body stabbing, when in fact I accidentally rolled into a therapy session where my heartbeat rats out how my family screwed me up.
Traditional Chinese medicine includes the meridian system, which is the belief that there are paths in the body through which the life-energy of “chi” flows. He told me about one anonymous patient he had who suffers from a tense trail of pain from her toes up to the back of her head, which he describes as the “bladder meridian.” Apparently, people who have issues specifically with this meridian had troubled childhoods, and the suppression of this trauma manifests along this meridian in the body (The main message of acupuncture, as with all medicine, is that your parents have ruined your life and are to blame for all your problems).
I realize this may sound like new age-y nonsense, but, after a few appointments, my shoulder pain has gone away. Whether this may be from the chi or meridians or heart heat, I’m not sure, but I think it may be more along the lines of learning about the practice.
Acupuncture takes an optimistic approach different than what I am used to; the concept that the body should be capable of healing itself, and if not, then something is being slowed down or out of balance that needs to be prodded along in order for the healing to begin. With my treatments, I’ve become more aware of my body. Based on all the stories my acupuncturist has told me, I think the most important take away is that your life takes a toll on the body, and it will communicate when something is wrong; whether through stiffness, numbness, or pain, your body is trying to tell you something, and you should never be too busy to listen.