By Laura Shin, Registered Acupuncturist

 

Acupuncture is probably best known for its ability to reduce pain and speed healing. Perhaps less well known is its effectiveness at helping control the body’s response to stress. While in ancient times stress came from the constant search for food, shelter, and safety; today, it more likely comes from work, traffic, financial pressures, and relationships. Our nervous system evolved, however, to allow us to respond to stressful situations. First, by helping us confront any challenging situation with the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight reaction and then by returning the body to balance or homeostasis with the parasympathetic nervous system, which is commonly called the state of rest-and-digest. We are meant to spend more time in homeostasis, but it seems that nowadays we are far too often subject to constant levels of stress that don’t allow us to relax.

When Traditional Chinese Medicine was first developed, the Heart was known as the ruler of the other organs and the residence of the shen or mind. It is thought that the Heart affects all mental activities, including emotions. When the qi or energy of the Heart is strong and flows unimpeded, our emotions are controlled and balanced. Joy, happiness, and laughter come naturally. We feel mental clarity, can count on our memories, and find that sleep comes easily. But when Heart qi is out of balance, the spirit doesn’t rest and the energy doesn’t circulate, leading to poor memory, foggy thinking, and problems sleeping. Chinese Medicine also believes that mind and body are linked and need to be in harmony, and that by working on one, you can positively impact the other.

There are several ways that treatment by a Registered Acupuncturist (which might include other modalities like massage or cupping, to name only two, in addition to acupuncture) can return body and mind to balance, including easing muscle tension, calming the shen or mind, nourishing the Heart, and improving the circulation of qi and blood. By alleviating physical symptoms, the shen or mind calms, believing that there is no longer a threat to be faced. The opposite is also true—when the mind relaxes, physical symptoms—like insomnia, restless minds, and memory problems—can disappear. In Western terms, acupuncture is helping to move the nervous system from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest, allowing for the release of tension, stress, and anxiety.