Perhaps as a writer, I notice it more than most people but I believe it’s obvious that as we all walk through life we carry our stories with us. Everyone has a story. We’re walking in the present, with our past trailing along behind us. There are people and events and words and choices that have brought us to the very moment and place we are today, and without them—would we be the same?
I don’t believe we would.
Our stories have beginnings and endings, places where we found ourselves at a fork in the road and were forced to make a decision; some of those choices were minor and some were life-changing, but they all hide within the bigger picture. My story was forever changed the day that I received my first acupuncture treatment. It seemed minor at the time, but looking back now I can see that the decision I made that day forever altered my life in unexpected and wonderful, serendipitous ways, and I’m a different person because of it.
Acupuncture is now intricately woven into my personal healing journey and my own life story. I encourage you to look into this healing modality and open this potential for health and wellness with a practitioner in your local community. From a holistic standpoint, I consider it one of the best gifts I give myself on a regular basis. Inspired, I asked an acupuncturist if she would answer a few questions and help me open a dialogue around acupuncture for those who may not have made the leap to try it themselves yet.
Kim Christensen is a licensed acupuncturist who holds a Masters of Oriental Medicine from Northwestern Health Sciences University, and is a diplomate of Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) ® through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She has treated patients in a wide range of environments, including her own private practice, hospitals, private clinics and community outreach clinics.
Kim let’s begin at the beginning—Do you remember the first time you received acupuncture yourself? I vividly remember my own first experience! I think I was “hooked” after that first visit. Were you?
Yes, I remember it clearly! As a teenager, I struggled with acne, digestive issues, depression and body pain. My mom is a massage therapist, and at that time, she had her practice at an integrative health wellness clinic. I saw one of the acupuncturists that my mom worked with for my first treatment, and I was immediately fascinated. Lying on the table with the needles in, I remember so clearly feeling the qi in my body, a sensation of tingling and movement in and around my skin. I thought it was incredible. I was even more amazed when I started seeing and feeling improvements in my health. So yes, you could say I, too, was “hooked” after my first visit.
And, how long after you began receiving treatments as a patient did you decide to become a certified practitioner yourself?
It didn’t take long— I deeply admired the acupuncturists at the wellness clinic, and I felt that I wanted to do that work too. Pursuing acupuncture and Chinese medicine as my chosen path has been a long time coming, and it feels incredible to be here today!
Can you give us a brief explanation of what acupuncture is and why it’s considered a supportive and healing therapy?
Acupuncture is defined as the insertion of needles at specific points on the body. Treatments are based on Chinese medicine theory, a system of medicine that has been developed and practiced for over 2,000 years. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the stimulation of these points “opens” the channels, the pathways in the body through which qi (dynamic life force energy) flows. A free flow of qi is necessary to support the function of the body’s tissues and organs. When that flow is obstructed, and the qi and blood become stagnant, pain and dysfunction results. Acupuncture and the other modalities of Chinese medicine help to improve the flow of qi and blood, allowing for improved function, reduced pain and healing.
From a biomedicine perspective, acupuncture has a profound effect on the body, immediately activating the parasympathetic nervous system and creating a restorative “rest-digest” environment. Additionally, the insertion of needles into the tissue creates “micro-traumas,” which stimulates a healing response through nervous, immune and endocrine system activation. This leads to the production of chemicals that improve mood, alter pain perception, reduce inflammation, protect the body against infection and restore homeostasis.
When normal function and balance is restored to the various body systems, a variety of physical and emotional conditions can be addressed. Acupuncture can treat the symptoms of a health condition, address the root cause and prevent the onset of further symptoms. Acupuncture has few adverse effects or contraindications and is appropriate for most people.
In short? Acupuncture activates your body’s own healing potential, leading to improved health and well-being.
What kinds of health conditions or ailments does acupuncture particularly support?
Acupuncture can help almost anyone, from babies to older adults. It’s extremely effective at treating all types of acute and chronic body pain and post-surgical pain. Because it’s a safe, drug-free option for pain management, it provides an excellent alternative to opioid pain medications and reduces the risk of side effects and addiction. Acupuncture is effective at reducing the frequency, duration and intensity of headaches and migraines.
Internal medicine concerns such as lung conditions, heart problems, circulatory issues, nerve pain, digestive disorders and reproductive system issues can be treated with acupuncture. Acupuncture is incredibly useful to promote fertility in both partners and can be used to support all stages of pregnancy, promote labour and encourage breast milk production and recovery in the post-partum period. People struggling with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders can benefit from acupuncture, and it can play a role in treating drug and alcohol addiction and promoting recovery. And this list is just a drop in the bucket!
(The World Health Organization recognizes a wide range of conditions that can be treated with acupuncture, and Kim has a full list available.)
What do you tell your patients who are nervous around needles? Many people I’ve suggested acupuncture to are apprehensive about them—to say it mildly.
Ah yes, needle fear is one of our biggest hurdles as acupuncturists! Many people are nervous around needles, and I never push someone into being needled unless they feel comfortable, confident and ready. Ultra-thin, smooth, and with a solid filiform needle shaft, acupuncture needles are completely different from the rigid, thicker, hollow hypodermic needles used for blood draws or injections. They’re designed for comfortable insertion and retention and are safely disposed of after each use.
I offer to show my patients the needles and will sometimes insert a needle into my own arm, so they can see what the process is like. Usually, once people have information and see how small the needles are their nervousness decreases.
I take great care in needling gently and quickly. Most people say it feels like a quick pinch while needles are being inserted. I can adjust the needles if there’s any discomfort, and a patient should feel comfortable during the treatment. Once the needles are in and the patient is having their “needle nap,” they may experience what we call a “de qi sensation”—a feeling of fullness, distention, tingling, warmth, cold or movement around the needles. It can be a little surprising the first time someone feels it, but it’s totally normal. That sensation is one of the indicators that the needles (and the patient’s body) are doing their job.
Although needling is the most well-known approach, Chinese Medicine includes a wide variety of modalities such as acupressure, cupping, gua sha, moxa, Tui Na massage, herbal medicine and dietary therapy. Additionally, I often use modern treatment approaches like tuning forks, laser therapy, e-stim, magnets and ear seeds/beads. All totally needle-free! If someone doesn’t want to be needled, I have lots of tools in my toolbox to offer them. I have treated many patients without needles and have witnessed excellent results from these needle-free treatments.
Is there something that you wish you had the time or the presence of mind to tell your patients, but often forget or don’t get the chance? What would you share with them?
I always wish I had more time with my patients—time management is the most challenging part for me. Healing is a non-linear process with many ins and outs, ups and downs, and sometimes, it’s hard to fit everything into a 30, 60 or 90 minute block of time. Generally, I wish I had more time to discuss diet—I could easily spend an extra 30 minutes with each patient every week talking about the power that food plays in a healing process. I’m working on creating education handouts so that my patients have resources to explore on their own time at home. I’m also accumulating Chinese medicine-friendly recipes and lifestyle tips in a Pinterest board, so patients can access awesome recipes easily and quickly.
What gets you the most excited about your work?
More than anything, I love connecting with patients. Each person is so unique, with different experiences, struggles and goals. I believe it’s incredibly important to listen to my patients, develop trust and honest communication and meet them wherever they are at in their healing process. I want to help people feel empowered and give them information, so that they can make educated choices about how they manage their health and well-being, on their own terms (with a little tough-love sometimes). When patients begin to feel improvement, they begin to feel hope for a new reality. There’s a momentum that develops when someone feels hopeful! Hope keeps people motivated to continue treatments and making lifestyle changes, and this momentum holds huge potential for deep, long-term healing.
What type of supportive self-care do you do at home? I think people are always curious to find out about how their own practitioners keep themselves balanced and healthy.
The most important thing for me: good, clean food! I also get acupuncture regularly (I try for once a week), as well as cupping, massage and chiropractic as often as I can. I take herbal medicines and an assortment of nutritional supplements. I see a mental health therapist regularly to keep my psyche in good shape and have a spiritual practice. Taking long baths are one of my favourite relaxing indulgences—lately, I’ve been hooked on adding Herbivore Botanicals’ Coconut Milk Bath Soak and a few drops of lavender essential oil to my bath for an extra bit of luxury. I’m a creative spirit, so finding time to make and create is an important part of my self-care. Creative expression keeps my spirit bright and my vibe high. And sometimes, I just lie on my bed with my laptop and binge on whatever TV show I’m hooked on at that moment. Where I struggle most with self-care is in developing and sticking to a regular fitness routine.
OK, any final thoughts you’d like to share with us? You’ve got an open mic and an attentive audience—what’s left on your mind that I didn’t think to ask you?
While I have a long list of topics I could discuss, I’ll share one thing that has been on my mind a lot lately. One of my mentors recently encouraged me to start “living in the centre of my life.” In speaking with her, I realized how often I have put myself on the back burner and ignored my own needs and inner voice in order to accommodate others. I know I’m not alone in this behaviour. The fast-paced demands of the world we live in can often stretch us beyond capacity, taking a toll on body, mind and spirit, and creating disharmony.
I think wellness includes making choices that honour our own unique needs, developing and practicing emotional and energetic boundaries and communicating clearly with those around us. Chinese medicine has a strong focus on the spirit, and we acupuncturists spend a lot of time asking our patients about their emotional well-being.
So many physical ailments have a psychological and spiritual component, and by exploring our emotions and realigning our priorities, we can lay important groundwork for healing. This process is non-linear, ongoing and can sometimes feel a bit vulnerable and bumpy—but I think it’s vital! The more grounded we are within ourselves, the more we are able to be present with those around us in sustainable and rewarding ways.
That is a lovely place to lead us, Kim, before we part ways. We all need that reminder every now and then to put ourselves and our own needs in a place of honour in our own lives. It’s a beautiful thing. My deepest gratitude to you for your gift of your wisdom and your time!