To me, acupuncture always seemed like one of those weird things that other people did. I didn’t have time for it, didn't know a lot about it, or why it worked, and luckily, I didn’t really have a need to try it out. That changed this past fall when I started to have low back pain that caused my sciatica issues to flare up in a big way. Feeling fire running all the way down my leg one Tuesday, desperation led me to SLC Qi (Qi is pronounced “chi”), a local community acupuncture clinic very close to us at Scholé Yoga Salt Lake.
I found relief through acupuncture when it seemed like everything else fell short. I had tried massage and chiropractic work, which had helped me in the past, but not this time. Acupuncture helped my body learn to heal itself when other practices didn’t work for me, and since I discovered it, many people in my life have also tried it and found similar results. I found the experience very meditative, and became very curious about the sensations I experience during my acupuncture sessions. Interestingly, I found links to yoga, especially the science behind what we practice in yin yoga at Scholé.
What is Qi?
Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been practiced for thousands of years, which led me to think that there must be something to learn about it, since therapies that don’t work don’t tend to hang around that long. In TCM, Qi is considered a life force that travels throughout our body, especially along energy lines called meridians. Interestingly, these are similar (but not exactly the same) as the “sen” energy lines worked in Thai massage.
Both traditions believe that blockages along these lines create issues, which is quite easy to believe if you’ve ever suffered from knots in your shoulders, calves, or anywhere else in your body. People may or may not believe in Qi or energy lines in our bodies, but our bodies do create and run on electricity that we create. This electricity keeps us alive, powering our heartbeats and helping our nerves transmit signals.
The Fascia Fascination
My first of many “a-ha!” moments in acupuncture came when I asked my therapist why it works. The answer was one that might sound familiar to people who have practiced at Scholé: Fascia. As you have likely heard in class while holding a pose near the end of class, fascia is connective tissue. It runs throughout our entire bodies and both separates our organs and tissues, and also holds us all together. Anatomists used to think fascia was just extra junk, as it can look like the flimsy, chewy tissue you cut away when you eat a steak. However, we now are beginning to learn that this essential element of our bodies could in fact be a critical communication system for our bodies.
Whether you consider our energy electricity or Qi, it likes to travel along the fascia. The tiny pins used in acupuncture act like amplifiers to help more energy flow through areas that may have been blocked, creating issues in our bodies. As blockages open up, Qi flows more freely, and we feel better. I actually once felt a knot in my shoulder being dissolving slowly like an ice cube in one acupuncture session, which was a fascinating process to observe using the practice of meditative observation.
Intrigued, I wanted to learn more, and discovered a book called “The Spark in the Machine” that is among the most fascinating works I have ever read. Written by a British doctor who found acupuncture to be an incredible help to patients in the ER and his regular practice, it examines the science of acupuncture’s effectiveness, all the way down to our embryological developments. You might not be as much of a body geek as me and don’t need to read anything to see if acupuncture might help you, but if you end up curious it is an excellent source of information.
What to Expect in Community Acupuncture
At 900 S 200 E, SLC Qi is close to SYSL and a great resource for the Salt Lake City yoga community. Qi Works is another local option in Murray that is also open on Sundays, but I have yet to visit that practice myself. Community acupuncture is affordable. You pay $15-40 per session on a sliding scale, and in February, SLC Qi is waiving their usual $15 new patient fee to help more people give acupuncture a try.
When you go, wear loose fitting clothing that can be pulled up to your elbows and knees. During your session, you relax in a recliner chair throughout your appointment. Therapists will interview you, then place tiny pins in your limbs according to what will help your particular condition most on that day. They don’t put pins in your trouble spots, and instead let the Qi work its way to those place. I doubted how this could be effective, but it works. I’ve tried acupuncture in a traditional Chinese clinic and paid A LOT more for it, and had pins put directly in my problem areas, which was a far more intense and slightly uncomfortable experience. I like the community approach because it shows me that less is often more when it comes to helping our bodies help themselves.
The pin prick sensation is very light, and the pins are always new for each patient and thrown away afterwards. Everything I have seen and experienced at SLC Qi is very clean and safe. Once your pins are placed, you relax for at least 30 minutes, but many people fall asleep and stay longer. The room is warm and comfortable, lights are soft, and music plays to help you relax.
If you’ve got something you’d like to leave behind, you might just want to give acupuncture a try. Combining it with a float in the SYSL meditation pod has done incredible things for my body, and the hope that comes with knowing you can feel better is a powerful thing to discover.