The Nerve of Acupuncture:
How to Regulate the Nervous System for Improved Wellness
The first rule to communicating: know your audience.
Speak in terms that the audience will understand.
As an acupuncturist, I probably should begin by saying that I am in love with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its rich philosophy, terminology and insightful view of the body (both physically and energetically). What I have come to learn in my practice is that when I speak to clients in this TCM language, it often confuses more than helps. I find a better way to discuss how acupuncture benefits the body (and client) is to discuss it in ways that are more readily understood. Much like how doctors are trained in highly technical medical language, acupuncturists are trained in TCM lingo. The most successful of these practitioners are the ones who can translate this knowledge for their patients into easily understood ideas.
The many applications of acupuncture can be attributed, in part, to its effect on the nervous system. Each needle is placed into tissue that is highly innervated by nerves. This interaction allows for the needles to have a significant effect on the nervous system. In particular, acupuncture is shown to have a balancing effect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Our sympathetic nervous system is our “fight or flight” response. When we are stressed or frightened, this system engages to take blood from our internal organs to our limbs, increases our heart and breathing rates. In addition, various neurochemicals cascade through our body, including cortisol and adrenaline. With chronic stress, people find themselves with an overstimulated nervous system. Acupuncture works well at down-regulating it and initiating the parasympathetic response. This is our “rest and digest” system. Research is showing that acupuncture can affect the synthesis of feel-good neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine. It's no wonder clients often feel both relaxed and energized after treatment!
From a TCM perspective, chronic stress can lead to a disruption in any number of energetic systems of the body. For example, the Spleen Qi may become weak and a client may experience bloating, gas or abdominal pains. Likewise, another client may feel frustrated, irritable with hypochondriac pain indicating that their Liver Qi energy is stuck.
So, when clients ask “how does acupuncture work?” instead of describing the yin/yang and qi energies of the body (which I love talking about, by the way), I will describe its role in balancing the nervous system and synthesizing neurochemicals and hormones. It’s a language that we both understand. It’s a great way to demystify this ancient, traditional medicine and engage our clients in a whole new way.