What does it feel like? People who’ve never had acupuncture fixate on the needles and getting poked by pointy things. For me, that’s not what treatment is about.
Let me take you through a session with Monica Legatt, a typical one for me.
Sitting in a quiet room I answer Monica’s questions about my symptoms. I stick out my tongue and waggle it around at her. She leaves while I settle onto the massage table and arrange my clothing so she’ll have access to the areas where she’s going to stimulate me. Currently that’s my feet, lower legs, belly, wrists, shoulders, and forehead.
A soft knock and Monica re-enters. I have my glasses off, so everything’s a blur, but I know from past visits that the needles she unwraps from crinkling envelopes are very, very fine–very nearly wires rather than needles.
Before each insertion she tells me where she’s placing the next needle and why. Most of the time my level of discomfort is roughly the same as if I were plucking a hair from my eyebrows. Often Monica makes small adjustments in a needle to ensure it’s doing what needs to be done.
The result is a bit hard to describe: It’s like that pull and click when a magnet clings to a refrigerator door. Like getting a dance step right. Even though I’m not moving.
Occasionally Monica warns me I’m going to experience something more due to a particular needle’s insertion. “This is a strong point,” she’ll say, or “This could be pretty hot,” or “This is probably going to be kind of shocky.” She’s usually right. My reaction to a “strong” stimulation can take the form of a not-unpleasant sort of flutter in my muscles or a slight cramp. “Hot” is the right word for the way that a hot stimulation feels. My least favorite is “shocky,” which can range from a mild tingle to–once–a wild buzz I yelped out loud at.
Within seconds, all this mutes to the barest whispers of sensation. Monica leaves me alone on the table for a timeless time of meditation and fizzing light. I honestly can’t say how long this part of a treatment session lasts. I should be able to, because acupuncture appointments are scheduled, and when they end I check my watch to figure out which bus to catch. Got to be less than an hour.
I lie still enough not to disturb the needles. I lie comfortably, dreaming yet awake. If I keep my eyes open I may see haloes of color emanating from objects on the ceiling. If I close them it’s to concentrate on pulses of–pleasure’s too loaded a word. “Pulses of relaxation” comes closer to what I’m trying to say. But that implies passivity…pulses of well-being? Whatever they are, Ilike them a lot.
I’m never bored.
This, for me, is the core, the essence of how acupuncture feels.
After a while, Monica comes to check on how I’m doing. So far I’ve always been fine, but I appreciate her attentiveness. Eventually she returns once more, removes the needles, and leaves me again to slowly return to verticality. At the front desk I pick up prescribed herbs to reinforce her treatments between sessions.
In the introduction to the punk classic by X-Ray Spex, “Let’s Submerge,” lead singer Poly Styrene invites listeners to get into our little bubbles and “gently drift down…” That’s what acupuncture does for me: provides a restorative respite from everyday life’s noisy anthem. I float down, then rise up refreshed, ready to sing. Loud.
To learn more about the author, see Nisi Shawl