What's the most difficult thing personally that you had to deal with during this time of stay-at-home orders and limited openings? How did you cope?
Am I essential? Do I provide services that people rely on? Being hit with this professional question in the midst of an emergency led to a little bit of an existential crisis, which resolved only when my patients themselves expressed how important the treatments were to them.
Besides that first scary week in March, where it seemed that the virus might be everywhere and anywhere, I feel fortunate overall to have experienced the pandemic primarily as a big pause, a big timeout — which brought with it an opportunity to reconsider where I wanted to put my energies.
In my case that meant reorienting myself to be more “local.” More time with my family, more focus on my home and garden and the surrounding environment, and more focus on my local community and local issues. I’ve spent the last several years volunteering for state-level issues (which I have no regrets about), but I’m excited about “bringing things home,” so to speak, and keeping my attention here for the next decade or two!
How have you had to pivot your business during this pandemic to continue taking care of clients?
Acupuncturists have always been aware of the potential for infection, so that safety training is baked into our practice from the start.
The big pivot was from blood-born pathogens to an air-born virus. That has required some practical changes in our practice and in the patients’ experience. Instead of just performing clean-needle technique to prevent cross-infection, we are now doing “the big four”: prescreening, masking, disinfecting, and filtering!
My colleague Meagan Bretz and I now do all initial visits via telehealth, which has been surprisingly effective and welcomed, and we’ve built extra time into the schedule for cleaning the rooms between appointments.
I wish we could still have patients come early and drink tea in the waiting room, but instead we ask them to call from their car, and then come in to get their temperature taken, after which they go directly to their treatment room.
By the time they arrive at the clinic they will have already answered the Covid screening questionnaire, but the additional steps help protect the health of our staff and other patients from the possibility of any of us being asymptomatic carriers. Masks are required, of course, and new equipment filters the air during and between each patient visit.
As long as all of these conditions are met, I find myself able to be fully present with patients without the distraction of fears about the virus, almost like it was in “The Before Times,” and I’m able to practice knowing that I’m protecting my patients, colleagues, and family.
How can acupuncture help someone cope with the stress and/or fear of illness?
Decision-fatigue is a real thing! Trying to assess risk and make decisions takes a toll on the mind and body, and many people feel like they are trying to do this every day.
Yesterday I happened to be reading through a new meta-analysis of acupuncture during IVF, which concluded that beyond the positive effects on fertility, there was also a notable reduction in anxiety — equivalent to the positive results of doing group therapy.
Results like that reinforce what many acupuncturists and patients have already observed, that regardless of the primary issue that is being addressed, the experience of getting regular acupuncture treatments is highly relaxing and de-stressing.
We always take the time to talk with patients before doing a treatment. I consider that to be an essential diagnostic step, but I don’t doubt that it also helps with stress. Voicing one’s concerns in a therapeutic environment is often the first step towards letting go of any unnecessary concerns, and identifying the important ones.
It’s in the acupuncture treatment itself where a lot of the magic happens, as parasympathetic activation allows “fight or flight” to give way to “rest and digest.” I choose certain acupuncture points, in particular those on the ears, specifically to elicit this relaxing effect. Modern research into the external innervation of the vagus nerve, which only occurs on the ear, has helped us flesh out the anatomical mechanism underlying our traditional approaches.
The East Asian concepts of bringing Qi into empty channels, or of releasing it where it is stuck, predate our contemporary usage of the word “stress,” but the end result is the same — a move towards free thoughts and easy actions.
What inspired you to practice acupuncture?
I didn’t start out wanting to do acupuncture, I started out wanting to do qigong! It just so happened that I moved to China in 2001, however, which meant that no-one was willing to teach me qigong due to its associations with Falun Gong (this was just two years after the political crackdown on the group).
Acupuncture and tuina and herbal medicine were the backup plan. I can’t complain though, as twenty years later I’ve realized that qigong is best learned at one’s own pace, and that (in both China and the US) it is easier to support a family as an acupuncturist!
How do you unwind after a day at the office?
I’m writing this during summer, so that’s an easy one... I’ve learned not to rush indoors after getting home from work, but rather to first take a walk around outside (no mask!) and get the colors and shapes and patterns of nature in my eyes and ears. The key is remembering to do it “this time, each time.”
We are in the midst of a beautiful summer! Let’s take our time and enjoy it.