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Acupuncture: What You Need to Know

by Sandra Ramani

The what, when and why of acupuncture
For many, acupuncture may only be familiar as a sight gag from movies and TV—for example, when a character covered in needles is shown to elicit screams from those around her, and winces from the audience. But while it may be true that this needle-based treatment does look more dramatic (and perhaps extreme) than it feels, in recent years, the ancient therapy has become mainstream enough that now—chances are—someone watching that on-screen scene knows from personal experience that the benefits of acupuncture are no joke.
All About Energy A key component of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a system that can be traced back thousands of years, acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow, or Qi, that course through the body. This energy is essential for health, so “disruptions of flow are believed to be responsible for disease,” explains Dr. Jitendra Uniyal, senior specialist of Traditional Chinese medicine at India’s Vana Malsi Estate wellness retreat. “Acupuncture is thought to correct these imbalances by unblocking the stagnated Qi in the meridians at identifiable points close to the skin, helping to maintain a free flow of energy.”
Western science explains it a bit differently, attributing the treatment’s success to the fact that it stimulates the nervous system, thereby releasing hormones that can lead to the desired results. Insulin production, thyroid hormones, beta-endorphins, white blood cell production, cholesterol levels and more are thought to be positively affected by acupuncture.
To the Point An initial session begins with a TCM consultation, which involves a general health assessment using tools like pulse and facial diagnosis, along with a physical examination and the taking of patient’s medical history. Based on the results, a trained therapist will then insert long, thin needles into the appropriate acupuncture points on the body.
“With the help of internally produced endorphins,” continues Dr. Uniyal, “the body is relaxed, thus encouraging the free flow of energy into the blocked meridians,” resulting in the correction of any imbalances. An initial session might last about two hours, while follow-ups can last as little as 30 minutes.
The Benefits In addition to boosting the body’s immune mechanisms, acupuncture can be very helpful with all manner of chronic and acute ailments—provided the patient follows through as necessary. For everything from allergies, sinus issues, and headaches to chronic pain, infertility issues, hormonal imbalances and even certain serious diseases, acupuncture has proven effective as both a primary and complementary treatment.
Best of all, “there are no contraindications for acupuncture,” says Dr. Uniyal. “Anybody can do it—except those who might have a phobia of needles.” The rare negative reactions are mainly due to the use of unsterilized needles or insertion in incorrect pressure points, so be sure to seek out reputable practitioners—and speak up if anything makes you uncomfortable.
Where It’s Available Because it is most effective when done regularly, or as prescribed for a particular issue, it is rare to find acupuncture on the menu at a hotel or resort spa, where clients may only be around for a few days. Many destination spas, though, including Arizona’s Mii amo (miiamo.com), Turnberry Isle in Miami (turnberryislemiami.com), and Vana Malsi Estate in the Himalayas (vanaretreats.com) do offer it as part of multi-day programs, and under the direction of trained experts.
For best results, find a practitioner near you, so treatment can be consistent. The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (aaaomonline.org) allows you to search by zip code for accredited therapists in your area.

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