What is Acupuncture and How Can It Help Improve Your Health and Wellness

Q&A with Leila-Scott M. Price (MAOM, L.Ac) Co-Founder of The Center for Healing Arts & Sciences

  • What is acupuncture?
  • What are acupuncture points?
  • How does acupuncture work?
  • What are the health benefits, and does it actually help?
  • What to expect during an acupuncture session?
  • How big are the needles, does acupuncture hurt?
  • How will you feel after an acupuncture session?
  • How many acupuncture sessions do you need to feel the benefits?
  • What to look for in an acupuncture practitioner?
  • Are there any at-home tips for people to use Traditional Chinese Medicine in their daily lives?

Our modern quest to live a more balanced life can lead us down a path that ends with a popular trend or fad. Sometimes, it can take us on a wellness journey that’s been around for thousands of years. Such is the case with acupuncture.

As a part of the robust system of holistic medicine known as Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture has also found its way into Western Medicine. Just look at the National Institute of Health. There you can find article after article that reports about the benefits of acupuncture for a wide range of issues from back pain to nausea, to hay fever, asthma and even in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

To learn more about acupuncture we talked with Leila-Scott M. Price, the co-founder and owner at The Center for Healing Arts and Sciences, located here in Houston. She holds a Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a degree in Human Organizational Development, and certification in Trust-Based relational Interventions. So, who better to educate us about how acupuncture can help improve our health and wellbeing?

Leila-Scott administering acupuncture -  Photo Credit: Annie Mulligan, Contributor / Houston Chronicle

Photo Credit: Annie Mulligan, Contributor / Houston Chronicle

"We call ourselves acupuncturists shorthand, but really what we are is practitioners of Chinese Medicine which is much more than just acupuncture." - Leila-Scott M. Price (MAOM, L.Ac)

Q. What is acupuncture?

A. Acupuncture is one significant part of the full system of Chinese medicine. We call ourselves acupuncturists shorthand, but really what we are is practitioners of Chinese Medicine which is much more than just acupuncture.

The treatment components of Traditional Chinese Medicine include acupuncture, herbal medicine, food therapy, tui na – a type pf therapeutic massage, qi gong – the movement of energy through actual physical movement sort of like a type of yoga and other lifestyle advice.

It’s really a robust system of holistic medicine.

Just as we have a respiratory system, a circulatory system, a digestive system and so on, we have an energetic system as well. Because science has not yet figured out how to see or measure this system, it is largely passed over by a lot of styles of medicine. It is this immaterial energetic system that acupuncture is accessing in order to affect the material parts of ourselves.

I like to remind people we couldn’t even be having this conversation if we didn’t have energy. A lamp when it’s not plugged into energy can do nothing. So, something is obviously energizing us as well.

Energy likes to move. A stream is healthier when moving, the same is true for air. Think about a day that’s really hot and the wind is not moving at all, it is super stagnant. That is worse than a hot day when the wind is moving a little bit. Energy is the same way it wants to move and it feels better in the body when it is moving.

So, when we have discomfort in the body - pain, stomachache, heart ache, the energy is stuck and it can’t move and that hurts in one way or another, emotionally, physically or both.

Acupuncture can help move that stagnant energy.

Acupuncture needles in lower back

Q. What are acupuncture points?

A. The body has a way or organizing energy in the body that we refer to as ‘channels’ or ‘meridians’ or ‘energy pathways’, and those energy pathways were discovered thousands and thousands of years ago.

Those energy pathways can be accessed by acupoints that connect into major organs in the body.

Acupuncture needles are inserted into acupoints along the meridian lines which run the length of your body and communicate with the vital organs located deeper in your core.

As research is catching up to the medicine, they are able to see how this works in the body.

For example, there is a point called stomach 36 on the lateral part of the upper shin and certain graphs can show that when you stimulate that point there is a connection into the brain that then goes down into the gut. It is pretty incredible, considering that long before graphs could prove this, it has been called “the commander point of the stomach” for thousands of years prior.

Q. How does acupuncture work?

A. Since we don’t have a way to measure energy in the body we can only say what happens downstream. We can say what it does.

From a Western understanding we know that acupuncture is anti-inflammatory, so people who are having a disease that is related to inflammation it is going to help them.

We know that it regulates the immune system. Whether somebody has a low immune system and they are always getting sick, or their bodies is in overdrive with autoimmune disorders, it is going to modulate that.

Another explanation is that acupuncture interrupts pain signals, so if somebody is in acute or chronic pain, it can help with that by interfering with the proliferation of the pain signal to the brain, among others. We know that it can release endorphins and various other neurotransmitters, which help balance the mood.

Yet, from an eastern perspective all we really need to understand, in terms of an explanation, is that we are helping the body’s own healing mechanisms be called to action by helping your body return to a state of balance. 

Q. What are the health benefits, and does acupuncture really work?

I tell people, if you don’t need an ambulance or an emergency room, acupuncture can help you.

As with anything an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So if you are somebody who doesn’t really have a complaint and you can’t imagine why you would even seek out an acupuncturist, then this is the time to find one. It can help you to stay on this side of disease.

Unfortunately, there is a growing population that doesn’t necessarily have a disease that is named. They have gone to every western practitioner they can think of, they have had all the labs done, all the scans, and they are told that they are fine and they know that they are not fine.

So for many people, where there is no measurable disease yet, there is what we call in eastern medicine an energetic disturbance. If it is left untreated it will become manifest, it will end up with a name.

If you are in that in between phase where you are really unhappy you are not feeling optimum, or your digestion is out of whack, your mood is not what it used to be, your energy is not what it used to be, you are having aches and pains you are achy and inflamed, anything you can possibly imagine can be addressed by acupuncture and Chinese medicine.

Then there are those people who do have a name for their disease, it has become manifest and namable and they are dissatisfied with only using what western medicine has to offer. Maybe they have to be on a medication to manage a life or death disease, but that medication has some pretty significant side effects, acupuncture can help offset those side effects.

I do a lot of oncology, meaning, I don’t treat the cancer, but I treat the patient with their overall vitality, their recovery from their chemo treatment. Acupuncture helps their blood bounce back quicker so that they can continue on with their treatment, they have less nausea, they are more energetic so they can continue on with a good part of their day-to-day life using acupuncture.

People tend to think of acupuncture for pain, but it has many more benefits.

The public became aware of it as a pain relief option, and are just now just going, “Oh you mean if I’m depressed acupuncture can help? Oh, if I want to get pregnant acupuncture can help? I have kidney failure, acupuncture can help?”

There are endless diseases and discomforts that acupuncture can be useful for.

We see patients coming in with a lot of female issues, whether that is teens and preteens that are going through cramps or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), athletic injuries, women trying to get pregnant, women transitioning into menopause, all kinds of pain, we do see a lot of mood concerns - stress, anxiety, depression, digestive, oncology, and more.

Infertility is really incredible. There can be 30-60 percent increased chance of conception when acupuncture is used, whether natural or with IVF. Of course, it depends on the case.

Whatever the cause of infertility, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine help to balance hormones to promote a regular length cycle, stronger ovulation, and can even thicken the lining of the uterus for implantation. In short, if a person is struggling with fertility, they need to find an acupuncturist to help their chances of conception.

Often we think fertility treatment is just for the woman, but acupuncture is also good for male optimum hormone balance as well.

Acupuncture session for natural, holisitc wellness

Q. What to expect during an acupuncture session?

A. In our clinic you can expect your acupuncture session to feel somewhat luxurious. We are really trying to take care of the person from the moment they’ve called for the first time until they walk into the door for their appointment.

It is going to be very comfortable, cozy, and safe and clean.

That very first appointment they are going spend a little longer with their clinician. We like to get a full medical history, make sure we get a complete understanding of what’s going on in this person’s family history and personal history as well as what’s going on currently, so we can address the current complaint, what we call the "chief complaint".

Then we administer that first treatment.

All the answers from that initial interview have been pointing arrows toward a differentiated diagnosis.

That’s an important thing about Chinese Medicine, it’s not, oh you have asthma, this is how we treat it. it’s you are a human, you have these symptoms, in the West we understand these symptoms to be called asthma, but we are looking at what the symptoms are, how they present in you, and based on your individual constitution that’s how we determine how we are going to treat asthma for you.

Meaning if you come in with asthma, somebody else comes in with asthma, y’all might have asthma for very different reasons and very different presentations, so we may choose different points, different formulas, different lifestyle advise.

Once your clinician has differentiated what’s going on exactly, an acupoint prescription will be decided. Your points will then be placed after all of this diagnosis has happened.

You might have anywhere from ten to 20 pins in your body. Because the energy channels run the length of the body you might have some at your feet, some on the hands, on your tummy, on your back, it just depends on what’s going on and what your particular clinician has chosen.

Then there would be a good rest. It is important that the body rest with the pins for a minimum of 20 minutes.

I like to let people rest up to 40 minutes - I feel like we are an under rested culture and people appreciate the opportunity to take a time out.

acupuncture needles in a dish

Q. How big are the needles, does acupuncture hurt?

People always want to know about the pins. For those with any amount of needle phobia – acupuncture pins are nothing like a hypodermic needle.

This is the tiniest needle you can imagine – you can fit about 100 acupuncture needles into a normal medical syringe.

Also acupuncture pins are flexible so they go in very smoothly. They are designed not to cut tissue but to glide through tissue. A normal Western needle has to be beveled at the end so it breaks the vein. In acupuncture we are not breaking anything we are basically just gliding the pin into a super tiny pore.

Most people may only feel a few of the pins. If any sensation it is fleeting, not even a second long.

Q. How will you feel after an acupuncture session?

There is so much that can go on. It’s different for each person.

Sometimes they can feel subtle twitches that go on in the body, a sense of light buzzing underneath the skin, they can actually feel the energy vibrating.

For the people who are ready to receive this type of healing, it’s always an honor to be present for somebody’s first session because they have no idea what to expect.

When I come in to get them at the end of their rest they just look at me with wonder, like “I had no idea I could feel this relaxed. What was that? I feel like I was asleep, but I wasn’t asleep.”

A lot of people will call it outer space travel. They feel like they were levitating off the bed, or they were seeing colors, or they have wild dreams - certainly the brain waves are shifting.

People will get so chilled out. After the session they will just sit on the couch, have a cup of tea, take a moment before going out in that world.

Usually 20-25 minutes after they will feel more energized than they did before their session.

Often what happens is people will come in for a specific complaint and then they don’t want to ever stop coming because they love the way they feel.

I will tell people, while they are resting their brain and their body during an acupuncture session, these new neural pathways are being created.

Imagine, in our normal default setting we are like a record with a really deep groove. As we go around and round in life – consciously or subconsciously – we don’t know how to get out of that groove.

This daily process creates these strong neural connections, so when you come to acupuncture and you rest for that period of time, it’s like picking up the needle on the record player and dropping it into a different place – probably a more balanced useful place for your mind and body – making a nice, shallow groove.

When you come back for another acupuncture session the needle goes back in that shallow grove, and it gets a little deeper. It will go back to that default setting, but the longer you go to acupuncture that new groove is getting deeper and can create a new default setting that is more useful for your mind and body.

That’s why it can be revolutionary for people when they think they are coming for tennis elbow but now they have been coming for five to six years because everything about their lives feels more conscious and alive and balanced. 

Q. How many acupuncture sessions do you need to feel the benefits?

A. I’ve heard it said you can’t walk 30 years into the forest and walk out in three days. So, a part of patient education is that people have to remember they probably didn’t get to where they were overnight, or even in just a few weeks or months, so it does take consistency and commitment.

When you and your physician meet, you will go over a treatment plan. Typically, regular weekly appointments are recommended (sometimes multiple times a week in more urgent or severe cases) to begin with and, once you have worked together to “get on top of” or “get in front of” your presenting problem, you will review your plan and possibly scale back to a maintenance program.

There might be a silver bullet out there that might fix the complaint, but it might create five other complaints as side effects.

With something gentle and safe it is likely going to take more of a commitment and some consistency. 

We can tend to think of a commitment to our health as a burden as compared to a silver bullet type solution. It seems our current society doesn’t want health to feel like work and the word “commitment” sounds like work.

However, committing to the process of mind-body health can really be crucial to cultivating both wellness and joy in one’s life. And that commitment (especially if it’s to your acupuncture sessions) can feel joyful in itself if we just surrender to the process of taking care of ourselves. When we were little, someone did it for us; now we are all grown up and our selves are waiting for us to show up and take care of us now.

We had someone come in recently with acute and chronic sciatic pain. She is in agony. She came one time, had 24 hours of relief and then the pain came back. She gave up on acupuncture - it just wasn’t enough.

It was sad because so often acupuncture is people’s last resort. They’ve tried so many other things, and then think, “oh there is this thing called acupuncture I haven’t tried yet.”

If people would just try acupuncture first, their recovery would happen so much quicker. The quicker you catch it the quicker you can repair it.

Center for the Healing Arts and Sciences in Houston

Photo Credit: The Center for the Healing Arts & Sciences

Q. What to look for in an acupuncture practitioner?

A. A, number one, you want to make sure your acupuncture practitioner is truly licensed.

Visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at nccaom.org. That is the national governing body for board-certified acupuncturists. There they will list only practitioners who are truly qualified and licensed.

You can enter in your zip code and other information to find licensed practitioners near you.

From there, I would suggest shopping around. Get on each of the acupuncturist’s websites, read their bio, read about their philosophy and see if it resonates.

It is a lot like shopping for any other western physician, psychotherapist or even yoga teacher. You might have to try a couple.

I always tell people regardless of what they are doing, don’t just try one. There is somebody out there that you can resonate with, so don’t think it is a reflection of the entirety of acupuncturists if the one you went to first wasn’t for you.

Licensed, credentialed practitioners are going to be following what we call clean needle technique. They are going to make safety a priority in their clinic. 

Q. Are there any at-home tips for people to use Traditional Chinese Medicine in their daily lives?

A. There are a handful of common acupressure techniques people tend to be familiar with.

Acupressure is simply putting pressure on the acupoints like we would with a needle in acupuncture.

The acupoint between your thumb and first finger is great for headache.

All you need to do is grab that fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and pointer finger and squeeze and massage. It is a trigger point for most people, so it is usually a little bit sensitive, but if you have an active headache or a tendency for headaches it is more likely to be more sensitive.

A few times a day give it a nice massage as a preventative measure against headaches. You don’t want to press so hard you are giving yourself a bruise or wincing, you just want to let it know that you are there and try to ease some of that, what we call stagnation. By pressing on that point, you are stimulating the energy in that area.

About two inches above your inner wrist, two inches above that first crease, where your hand and wrist delineate there is a point called pericardium 6 that’s great for Nausea. You can use the same technique for that or purchase a special band that is designed to be worn on the wrists and apply pressure to that point.

Another huge part of at-home maintenance is diet.

The standard American healthy diet tends to be a smoothie for breakfast a salad for lunch and sushi for dinner and everyone thinks this is healthy, and it is in a certain regard, but it is also a really cold diet and we need digestive fire for the metabolism to work efficiently.

Cold puts out that metabolic fire, and after a while it is going to start to break down.

For more information about Leila-Scott and The Center for Healing Arts and Sciences, visit their website at thecenterforhas.com

More Articles Like This:

Shop the Chakra Oil Collection:

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published