What happened when I tried acupuncture for the first time

Our Head of Commercial, Betty Beard, decides to brave the needles to try a time-tested Traditional Chinese Medicine practice.

Headache? Tick. Lack of sleep? Tick. Stress? Digestive issues? You guessed it – tick, tick. But can having needles inserted into my skin really be the answer? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) seems to think so…

Acupuncture has been a traditional practice and a central part of TCM for over 3000 years, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are just two of the many A-listers that swear by its benefits.

I receive my recommendation a little closer to home. A friend had found great help from acupuncture for issues surrounding gut health and anxiety, and thought it could be hugely beneficial for me, too.

I was facing the first anniversary of a loved-one’s death. Along with the intense emotional impact, the run up to the anniversary had taken a very physical toll on my body including stomach pains, lack of sleep and exhaustion. So, I was up for trying anything that may help…

What happened when I tried acupuncture for the first time

Inspired by my friend, I make an appointment at GinSen in Kensington. The clinic’s founder, Dr Lily Li Hua, a fifth generation family herbalist and acupuncturist, runs me through the basics in preparation of my visit.

“Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice involving the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body,” she tells me. “It aims to balance the body’s vital energy, known as ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ to promote overall health and wellbeing.

“Chi is the life force that animates the body. It’s believed to circulate through the meridians [energy channels in the body], influencing physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. A balanced and unobstructed flow of chi is associated with good health, while imbalances or blockages may lead to illness.”

Intrigued, I head to the clinic. First, I fill in a detailed form, listing any historic health issues. This is extensive, covering everything from joint pain and gut health to immunity. I then head into a private room for a short consultation with Dr Jingli Li, a TCM expert.

Jingli immediately highlights the physical toll that grief and the ongoing stress from the last year have had on my body. She explains how this can cause blockages to my chi – the vital energy flow.

After a feel of my pulse, Jingli recommends a general session across the whole of my body to unblock my chi, boost my circulation and nourish my body. Feeling very lethargic and having had poor sleep for a number of days, it sounds exactly what I need.

What happens during an acupuncture session

I head into the treatment room – a calming space with earthy tones to soothe the senses. After leaving me to undress and relax on the treatment bed, Jingli begins her work, inserting 30 needles across my body.

To my surprise, the process is basically painless. There are just two points – one on my calf and the other on the top of my head – where I notice a sharp, but brief pinpoint pain.

“The acupuncture point at the top of the head is a key point for brain focus and memory,” Lily later tells me. “It’s known for its calming effects and is often used to treat anxiety, insomnia and headaches.”

Once the rest of the needles are in place, Jingli gently guides a small heater over my stomach to provide indirect heat. The purpose of this – known as moxibustion – is to enhance my circulation and the flow of chi.

Jingli then leaves the room for half an hour to let the needles work their magic. Immediately, my brain starts to pipe up. What if I get an itch or have a surprise sneeze and knock out the needles?

But, my fears are unfounded. A huge sense of calm and stillness soon washes over me.

The benefits of acupuncture

As the treatment continues, I notice a dull ache at the top of my head where some of the needles are placed. I find myself tuning into this slight discomfort, all other thoughts fading, focussing on my breath until the feeling dissipates. The heat over my stomach is very comforting, and the combination of the warmth, stillness and gentle music sends me into a near sleep-like state as I completely relax.

The 30-minute session glides by, with Jingli returning to swiftly remove the needles. After some localised massage over the acupuncture points, I’m left to get dressed and make my way home.

“After the session, it’s important to prioritise rest and hydration,” Lily advises. “Avoid strenuous activities and remember that everyone’s experience with acupuncture is unique.”

For me, I notice some effects straight away. I sense an increased warmth all over my body during the journey home and feel much calmer than I had been earlier that day. Just carving out an hour of the day to simply be still and tune in to my body makes a huge difference – something that can be so easy to ignore in the stress of grief and a busy working life.

That night, I sleep like a baby for the first time in a few days and wake up feeling truly rested. This certainly helps to make the rest of the week a much easier affair!

How long does it take to see results?

“Some people may experience noticeable benefits after just a few sessions, while others may require more time,” Lily tells me. “Acupuncture’s effectiveness can be influenced by many factors. This includes the nature and duration of the condition being treated, the individual’s overall health, and how well they respond to acupuncture.

“For chronic conditions or more complex health issues, practitioners might suggest an initial series of six to 12 sessions, with one or two sessions per week.

“Acute issues may require more frequent sessions initially. After this, the frequency may be adjusted based on the individual’s response to treatment and the progress of their condition.”

My verdict? While it’s difficult to pin down the exact impact from my single acupuncture session, I feel grounded, calmer and more energised in the days following the treatment.

Given my initial results, I plan to revisit, carve out some more me-time and have another treatment to maximise the benefits that acupuncture has to offer.

How to get started with acupuncture

Dr Lily Lil Hua shares her top tips for attending your first acupuncture appointment.

  1. Research and choose a qualified practitioner. Look for a licensed and experienced acupuncturist – it’s well worth seeking recommendations from friends and/or reading online reviews.
  2. Be prepared to discuss your medical history. This includes any current symptoms, along with any medications that you’re taking.
  3. Relax and be open. Approach the session with an open mind and relax during the treatment. Share any concerns or sensations during your session with the acupuncturist.
  4. Understand the needle sensation. Needles are typically very thin, and insertion is often painless. You might notice tingling or a mild ache during the session.
  5. Ask about the duration and frequency. Chat to your acupuncturist about how many sessions you might need to notice any results. This will help to provide a roadmap for your treatment journey.

Find out more about GinSen

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