Is 2020 getting you down? Hang in there! 5 ways acupuncture can help you cope

illustrates blog on how acupuncture can support physical and mental health during pandemic

Here in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its serial lockdowns, widespread economic distress, and desperate concern for our loved ones, sky-high levels of worry and distress are doing serious damage to our mental and physical wellbeing.

You’re definitely not alone if you feel close to being crushed, demoralised and emotionally emptied out by all of the above. We’re all doing our best to hang on in there. And as my neighbour said to me just yesterday, “the only way out is to get through it.”

But how to ‘hang in there’ and ‘get though it’ when our physical and mental resources are stretched by months of uncertainty, fear and worry? Five element acupuncture in the 21st century draws on the deep experience of centuries of understanding of the body and mind. Here are five ways the five element traditions of healing can help you find the strength and resilience you need in the here and now.

1: Five element acupuncture is all about you. 

Some of my patients don’t want to talk beyond the bare minimum. Others need to talk everything out to reach an understanding in their own minds of what’s going on. Patient after patient tells me that they see me and my treatment room a safe place to describe what they’re going through, to ‘vent’ and express their frustration.

“It’s a huge strain keeping up a brave face,” one patient said recently, “with you, I can tell it like it is.” Tears are not unusual.

The good news is that acupuncture is about you and where you are right now. As an acupuncturist, I have the time to listen as well as the skills and knowledge that will support you to be and do your best through tough times.

2: Acupuncture is a natural pain killer for physical aches and pains, from headaches to osteoarthritis.

The mechanisms underlying acupuncture as effective pain relief have been researched in detail for more than 60 years. Researchers know that acupuncture activates the body’s own pain-killing compounds and increases the brain’s sensitivity to these naturally produced analgesics. 

3. Acupuncture encourages the release of endorphins – the body’s own feel good chemicals.

Endorphins play a key part in regulating our body’s physical response to stress – heart rate, blood pressure and our digestive system.

4. Acupuncture activates neurotransmitters encouraging rest and healing

When we’re stressed and anxious, the area of the brain called the hypothalamus releases neurochemicals that encourage our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Research shows that acupuncture can quiet down this alarm system. But acupuncture delivers more. As well as switching off fight, flight and freeze, it switches on the parasympathetic nervous system – telling our bodies it’s ok to rest and to relax, which is where we need to be for the body’s healing and restorative processes to get underway.

5: Sleep. Let’s not forget sleep! Most trials have found that acupuncture is significantly more effective at helping patients with difficulty sleeping than existing conventional drugs – without their level of side effects. 

However, if you’re already taking sleeping tablets, research shows that acupuncture can safely be combined with conventional treatments for insomnia. Researchers have also found that acupuncture reduces side effects and enhances the beneficial effects of conventional sleep medications your GP may prescribe. 

Take the first steps to building your resilience in these tough times. Chat with me about acupuncture can help you hang in there – call me on 07593 058748.

Join my 8pm Monday relax class. It’s free. It’s on Zoom (you don’t need an account to join), and in 30 minutes of calm you’ll learn some simple relaxation techniques that will help you through the rest of the week. Email me to get your link: kaye@kr-acupuncture.com

For more detail on the research mentioned in this article and to find out more about the evidence base for acupuncture in general, visit:

The British Acupuncture Council https://www.acupuncture.org.uk

Evidence Based Acupuncture https://www.evidencebasedacupuncture.org

NICE guideline for chronic pain: painkillers out, acupuncture in

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is set to endorse acupuncture as one of only four treatment options GPs can consider prescribing for people with chronic pain conditions. From January 2021, painkillers and all other drugs, apart from anti-depressants, will be off the prescription pad menu.

This new guideline is for chronic primary pain, characterised by emotional distress and functional disability. Common conditions that would qualify are fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, chronic neck pain and chronic pelvic pain, though there are many more possibilities.

This is NICE’s first guideline for chronic pain in general, rather than a specific painful condition, though the equivalent Scottish guideline agency (SIGN) has had one for several years (and it, too, endorses acupuncture).

Which treatments are recommended by NICE in this guideline?

acupuncture

exercise: a supervised group programme, preferably followed up long-term by patients themselves

psychological therapies: specifically cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

antidepressant drugs

Ten other classes of medication were considered and rejected by NICE. These included opioids, anti-inflammatories, paracetamol, benzodiazepines and gabapentinoids: none of these were found to have evidence of benefit for chronic pain and there are possible harms associated with their use.

Research shows that acupuncture is one of the best options for chronic pain, and it’s great that NICE recognise what so many patients know from their own experience of treatment.

One of the drivers behind the NICE decision is the urgent need to cut down prescriptions of opioids and other painkillers. In the United States – where opioid addiction is having a devastating impact – acupuncture is an increasingly popular option, supported insurance companies, and for example, a mainstream treatment on offer in healthcare services for US forces veterans .

Acupuncture isn’t only effective for pain, also one of the safest forms of treatment there is, when given by highly trained practitioners. I’m trained to the exacting and stringent standards of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). (That’s the membership body I belong to). The BAcC is registered with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), and although it’s not quite clear yet just how referrals will work once the guidelines are adopted, because we are registered with the PSA, GPs should be able to refer their patients to BAcC members like me for acupuncture for chronic pain (as long as NHS funding allows.)

It is important to realise that this guideline for GPs excludes any condition whose pain management is addressed by existing NICE guidance, that is headaches, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis, endometriosis, and IBS. But have a look at the research on how acupuncture can help with these conditions too.

Live well, live long: the Nourishment of Life tradition

The Nourishment of Life tradition is one of the foundations of my healing practice, protecting your physical and mental well being. 

Yes, using needles isn’t currently possible, but I’ve found there ARE meaningful ways to be there for my patients online, protecting their physical and mental well being in scary, stressful times. 

Needles are important tools, but they’re not the only ones I’m trained to use. Acupuncturists are practitioners in the Chinese Nourishment of Life tradition – known as yangsheng. Yangshen dates back over 2,500 thousand years and is a philosophy of wellness focusing on preventing illness and disease and promoting well being through a range of healing and therapeutic tools that includes tai chi and qigong, medicinal herbs and of course, acupuncture   

To support living well and fully into old age,  yangshen takes account of every aspect of our lives and behaviour – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. In addition to needles, this tradition provides me with a whole range of tools and approaches I use to encourage people of all ages towards health and fitness, improved immunity, and physical and mental balance. This means I can continue to offer support to my patients online – from recommending food as their best medicine to helping them cope with chronic pain. 

In lockdown I see patients for one-to-one sessions using a secure and data-compliant tele-health portal. Some find my continued emotional support is critical:  this pandemic hasn’t paused their personal traumas. Physical symptoms still cause pain too, and I coach my patients in appropriate techniques, including acupressure and moxibustion, that – with a little practice – they’re able to use at home. And there’s nothing more life affirming in Covid-19 times than coaching mums-to-be and their birth partners in acupressure techniques! 

In the best of times, it can be a struggle to find space to quiet strident thoughts and emotions. Usually, my treatment room is that place of calm for my patients. During this crisis, while that’s not an option, I’m doing my best to share yangshen Nourishment ofLife traditions as widely as possible in my community with skills and advice to help us all to live well and live long. I’ve recently started hosting free online, guided relaxation classes, open to all. Join me via Zoom meetings at 8pm on Monday evenings for 30-minutes of gentle physical and mental relaxation, offering calm and quiet in these troubling times. 

Everyone is welcome. To register, email me at kaye@kr-acupuncture.com

If you’d like to find out more about yangshen, I recommend Peter Deadman’s book Live Well Live Long: Teachings from the Nourishment of Life Tradition, published by The Journal of Chinese Medicine.

Image Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Siberian white crane. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Find some calm: join my free online relaxation classes

Everyone needs some space to regroup and nourish the soul at the moment, so these sessions are free and open to all. 

Hosted on Zoom at 8pm on Monday evenings, expect 30-minutes of gentle physical and mental relaxation, helping you to find some calm and quiet in these troubling times. 

We’ll do a bit of gentle bodywork to release tension, followed by some calming mindfulness practices.

Many of you will know I’m very keen on the power of poetry to comfort and inspire, so you can expect a little of that too. 

You can join in the bodywork standing or sitting as you prefer. I suggest loose clothing and you may want a yoga mat or blanket to lie on with a cushion or two to support your back, head or knees.

To register, email me at kaye@kr-acupuncture.com.

If you prefer, you can message me through my Facebook page @KayeRooneyAcupuncture or text me on 07593 058748.

I’ll then send you a link and joining instructions to the Zoom meeting room. You don’t need a Zoom account to take part.

Please feel free to invite family, friends and colleagues to join us online. 

World Acupuncture Day 2018 makes an impact

More than 1,000 delegates gathered at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for a conference on Thursday 15 November 2018, while in London the British Acupuncture Council held a high-profile press briefing.

The Paris event, organised by the European Traditional Chinese Medicine Association (ETCMA) in conjunction with the World Acupuncture Day Organization (WADO), brought together practitioners, researchers, politicians, academics and administrators of all disciplines related to acupuncture and moxibustion.

In London, acupuncturists, researchers and doctors presented the latest evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture to an audience of MPs and journalists, who gathered at the Shard.

Elsewhere in the UK acupuncturists marked the day with a variety of events, ranging from holding taster sessions for charity to writing to their local GPs and MPs.

Chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, Rob Strange, said: ‘The day was a huge success all round.

‘Many people know about acupuncture because of its ability to help with lower back pain – a huge problem in the UK and indeed the world. But World Acupuncture Day aimed to raise awareness that it is also an effective treatment for many other conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, fertility problems, IBS, migraine, depression and the side effects of cancer treatment.

‘When carried out by a fully trained acupuncture practitioner, acupuncture is extremely safe and cost effective and has the potential to transform lives for the better.’

He went on to highlight the importance of promoting acupuncture in the UK.

‘In China, acupuncture is fully integrated into the healthcare system. In Australia it is officially recognised and state registered. The US has a number of integrated programmes where acupuncture is used alongside orthodox medicine.

‘We would like to see acupuncture play a greater role in routine primary care in the UK as it does in other countries. At our press briefing speakers presented some very compelling evidence to show how effective acupuncture is. We are calling on health professionals to examine the science and take steps to integrate acupuncture into their practice.’

Among the speakers at the UK event was consultant cardiologist Sanjay Gupta, from York Hospital, who is collaborating with the Northern College of Acupuncture on a clinical trial to examine the benefits of acupuncture in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Acupuncturist Rebecca Geanty from Norfolk spoke about her multibed clinic, Treat, which helps patients with a range of conditions including musculoskeletal disorders, fertility issues, psychological problems, pregnancy and other chronic conditions.

Adrian Lyster presented on his 25-year career treating patients for pain in hospital and primary care clinics, and extolled the benefits of integrated care.

And Naava Carman presented evidence on the benefits of acupuncture for fertility.

Vice-president of WADO and president of the ETCMA, Gerd Ohmstede, said the Paris event also went extremely well.

He said: ‘One in four EU citizens uses complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), either as a complement or an alternative to conventional care. Yet this increasingly high level of popular use is not reflected in EU or national health policy or provision. 

‘The aim of World Acupuncture Day was to highlight new research that further demonstrates how acupuncture can contribute to national health systems around the world in a safe and cost-effective way.’

Winter enriches body and soul

After the tinsel and glitter of the festive season, January often hits people hard. 

Stark landscapes of bare, skeletal trees and frozen earth can seem grim and forbidding. But look deeper and of course, water – the element Chinese medicine associates most closely with winter – engenders life itself.

Over three millennia Chinese doctors and philosophers have described the cycle of the seasons as a creative cycle of five interdependent elements, beginning with water. Spring’s yang burst of growth, colour and rebirth would be impossible without water’s deep and dark wintertime yin.

We can benefit from mirroring nature. I advise my patients not to make the usual bleak January resolutions of denial and deprivation but instead to think of this time of year as a positive opportunity to nourish and nurture. 

How can your enrich your life? 

Which foods best fuel and warm your body? 

Are you seeking out and enjoying the music, books, films that sow the seeds of personal growth over the coming year? 

Who and what do you look to comfort and safeguard your spirit? 

This is the work of winter, and should make for a glorious spring. 

What is Five Element acupuncture?

For close to three thousand years, Chinese doctors and philosophers have used the idea of the creative cycle of the five elements and their associated seasons as a way to understand the complex relationship between our minds and emotions and our physical bodies.

Wood is associated with Spring. It embodies Yang and is the element of growth and outward expansion, hope and renewal.

  • The Fire of Summer warms our hearts and relationships.
  • As Summer the Yang of Summer wanes, Earth holds the centre with a rich harvest promising plenty.
  • Come Autumn, Yang gives way to Yin. Autumn’s element – Metal – recycles and purifies, securing valuable nutrients to nourish future growth.
  • And while Winter may seem forbidding, dark and cold, its element – Water –engenders life itself.

Balance and interdependence

In Chinese medicine in general, and Five Element acupuncture in particular, this creative cycle of generation, sustenance and support is extended to the relationships between the body’s organs.

The Heart is regarded as the Emperor of the body, mind and spirit of each individual.

Our bodily functions – the procurement and processing of nourishment; dispersal and take up of essential nutrients; the maintenance of balance and harmony; the elimination of impurities and waste – are all governed by the relevant organs. They are the ‘officials’ serving the Emperor.

The cycle emphasises the interdependence of the ‘officials’, showing how imbalance or dysfunction in one organ and its associated functions will have an impact on the others around and across the cycle.

The guiding principles of Five Element acupuncture

All five elements are of course present in each of us. When making a diagnosis and working on a treatment plan, Five Element practitioners carefully assess each patient to determine which of the five elements is dominant. You can think of this dominant element as your ‘guardian’ element.

Each ‘official’ governs aspects of our emotional and mental well-being as well as our physical health. For example, the Liver is associated with anger and our ability to plan ahead; Earth represents worry but also understanding and empathy.

Understanding the role of the ‘guardian’ element and its associated ‘officials’ is the guiding principle behind Five Element treatment as your practitioner works to restore balance in body, mind and spirit.