Can you have acupuncture without needles?

If we've seen each other in the past year, you may know that I've been taking a deep-dive into Japanese-style acupuncture and its related techniques. 

Unlike Chinese-style acupuncture, where a strong needle sensation is considered therapeutic, Japanese-style can be so gentle it is said you could needle a sleeping cat. Fewer points may also be needled, as elegant simplicity is highly valued.

Along with gentle needling, practitioners in Japan have revived the use of the teishin and other traditional tools that are used on the surface of the skin. (The filiform acupuncture needle that is used today was only one of nine different types of needles that were used in ancient times. Most of those needles were used on the surface of the skin and did not go through.) There is also a lot of use of moxabustion. Other modalities include the movement education system known as sotai, which emphasizes awareness and breathing, going toward ease and away from pain. 

The teishin is the best know of these non-insertion tools. Long and thin, with a knob on one end and a dull point on the other, it has broad application in the painless stimulation of acupuncture points. For this reason it is used with both children and adults—my littlest patients refer to it as a magic wand. There is a whole system of pediatric treatment called shonihari that uses the teishin and other tools (see photo) to tap, press, and otherwise stimulate acupuncture points and channels.

Resolving to be happy?

Traditional East Asian medicine has always emphasized the importance of happiness in preserving health. Modern scientific research has come to the same conclusion. In light of upsetting world events, it's more important than ever to cultivate your "happiness habit." 

If you are interested in learning more about the science of happiness or if being happy is one of your goals for 2018, take a listen to this TED Radio Hour program

Research roundup

More and more research studies are proving how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine enhance fertility and improve IVF outcomes

One of my favorite recent studies examined how "whole systems traditional Chinese medicine" (WSTCM) yields the best outcomes. This approach customizes the treatment to the individual, rather than using a rigid protocol. The researchers found WSTCM works significantly better than the standard acupuncture protocolspracticed at many fertility clinics. It is what we have always done at PSACH. Chinese medicine shines brightest when the treatment is matched to the individual. 

Finally, if you've always wanted to learn how to meditate, here's yet another reason. Physicians at Harvard University have found evidence that meditation may relieve the symptoms of IBS and IBD, common digestive diseases.

The myth of the acupuncture "labor induction"

I'm frequently asked about whether "inducing labor with acupuncture" is something I do. My quick answer is that a labor induction can only be performed in the hospital by your doctor or midwife. I prefer to think of late-pregnancy, pre-labor acupuncture as removing potential roadblocks to the birth process.

What does that mean?: By 36 or 37 weeks an expectant woman may be tired, she may have excess physical tension, or she may be anxious about giving birth. By addressing these symptoms with acupuncture we can allow the body to go into labor naturally.

How quickly after a pre-labor treatment does a woman typically go into labor?: For better or worse, rarely right away. Yes, I've seen babies born the evening after I treated the mom, but this is in a situation where the mom was very close to going into labor on her own. Usually it takes more than one acupuncture treatment.

So, is it still worth it to have acupuncture in the last few weeks of pregnancy?: Yes, research shows acupuncture can make for shorter, more efficient labors. It can also make you feel better, stronger, calmer, clearer going into labor. And, being as healthy as possible prior to giving birth will make postpartum easier too, whether you have a natural birth or a C-section.

Chinese Medicine for the Fourth Trimester

Many women seek out Chinese medicine care for help in getting pregnant, maintaining a healthy pregnancy, and preparing for birth, but what about after the baby comes--the so-called fourth trimester?

Birth, whether vaginal or surgical, entails a loss of qi (vital life force) and "blood" (as understood in the vocabulary of Chinese medicine, the nourishment, substance, and fuel necessary for life). Caring for a newborn is also depleting.

Ways to replenish qi and blood after birth include:

1. Herbs started as soon as possible after the birth to help clear out the lochia (the bleeding after delivery), boost the mother, and encourage breastmilk production. Herbs are routinely given in Chinese maternity hospitals. These can even be ordered and purchased before the baby comes, so you have them on hand.

2. Nourishing healthy food (click here for some suggestions): The logistics of getting food with a newborn to care for can be daunting. For those without extended family to help, consider cooking and stocking your freezer before the birth, or requesting home-cooked meals or gift certificates to restaurants or meal delivery services (Portable Chef or Fresh Direct for fully-cooked meals; Blue Apron or Plated for meals that require a little assembly) as baby gifts, instead of clothes or gear. Websites such as can help friends and family organize to help new parents.

3. Traditionally babies and new mothers were kept in the house after the birth, in most cultures for at least a month. Given the realities of modern life, this isn't always possible. However prioritizing time to rest and bond is important for both the health of mother and baby. And if you are concerned about your newborn contracting colds, flus, or other infectious diseases keeping him or her at home as much as possible is a good preventative strategy. Help with housework, errands, school pick-ups, etc. may be another "alternative" baby gift you could request.

4. Professional help from your Chinese medicine practitioner: In addition to routine prescribing of herbs after delivery, you may consider Chinese medicine (herbs and/or acupuncture) to help with any of the following conditions.

*Aches, pains, tearing, fatigue, fevers, sweating, and other common issues that may arise right after birth;
*In addition to getting help from a nursing professional, Chinese medicine can treat problems with milk supply, clogged ducts, mastitis, latch problems in the newborn;
*Baby blues and postpartum depression;
*For nursing moms, concerned about medications, Chinese medicine offers a great alternative for many other health issues;
*Finally, there is a special system of acupressure massage specifically for infants that can help improve digestion and sleep in babies, as well as address more acute conditions. We can treat babies using this modality, in addition to offering instruction to parents.

And, if you are in need of postpartum or infant care, please ask about our house-call service.