Why My First Acupuncturist Fired Me

IMG_7422Here’s a little story about stress. Twenty years ago, I had my first acupuncture treatment. I’d been suffering from heartburn and stomach pain for months, so I went to the doctor and she gave me some pills. They helped a little. I went to another doctor and had an endoscopy. He said everything looked good in there. I went to a (very expensive) holistic doctor who suggested I take baths with lavender oil.

Frustrated, I called an acupuncturist. I was living in San Francisco, so there were plenty to choose from. The man I saw was soft-spoken and kind. His clinic was paneled in golden wood, and each treatment table had a different rainbow-colored sheet on it. I liked acupuncture a lot. After that first visit, I took the bus back to work, where my boss did a double take and exclaimed “What did they do to you?” I asked him what he meant, and he said “I’ve never seen you so relaxed! What is that? Drugs?”

I hadn’t taken any drugs, just an acupuncture nap, but I did feel profoundly relaxed and open-hearted. Watching the city through the bus window, it looked like everything was sparkling. I was hooked, and went back every week.

Here’s the problem. My stomach never stopped hurting. So I was prescribed some herbs, and dutifully swallowed the funky-tasting powder three times a day, but still no change.

After a few weeks of little progress, my acupuncturist started asking more questions. Was anything bothering me? Was I happy? I was startled to be asked about my feelings when it was my stomach that felt bad. I smiled and told him everything was great. And it was: I lived in a beautiful city, I had a loving partner and great friends, I had a pretty good job.

Still, my belly was angry. I’d been getting treatment weekly for two months when my acupuncturist sat me down and said something shocking: “I can’t help you right now. Something’s making you unable to heal, and you need to figure that out. Until you do, you’re wasting your money with me. I’m sorry.”

His words echoed in my head for a long time, but I was confused. It was five years later that I finally understood what he was saying. That’s when I realized how scared I often felt, how insecure, how I didn’t know where I was headed in life. I started practicing yoga, and I noticed how I held my stomach muscles tight most of the time, how I kept my breath shallow and locked up high in my chest. I started breathing deeper. I started telling the pain in my stomach that things would be okay.

And it went away. Not immediately, but it went away, and I no longer have major problems unless I find myself storing stress inside instead of finding ways to acknowledge and handle it.

In gently dismissing me from his care, that long-ago acupuncturist taught me a hugely valuable lesson. I learned that my body responds to my mind, and that often you can’t separate the two. (These days, mainstream medicine believes the same thing!) I learned to be more honest with myself about my worries. And, now that I’ve become an acupuncturist myself, I learned that sometimes the most important thing I can do for people is to help them find that body/mind connection in themselves.

So thank you to that San Francisco acupuncturist in 1995. You didn’t cure me, except for the part where you did. And thank you to the people who sit in my treatment room and trust me with their stresses and fears. I’m honored to figure things out with you.



Three Easy Tips for Fall Health

IMG_6886Early this morning I grabbed a fleece jacket before walking the dog, and my husband turned on the heater in our bathroom for the first time since March. Sure, now that it’s past lunchtime it’s 80 degrees again, but I say when jackets come out, fall has arrived in Central Texas. Finally. Chilly mornings coordinate so much better with pumpkin.

The flip side of gorgeous weather is that we’re about to get on the viral merry-go-round again. Many Austinites deal with allergies year round, but when you add colds and flu to the mix, things get extra challenging. It’s not too late to boost your immune system, though, so you can fight off those germs when they find you. Here are three easy tips (I mean it, they really are easy) for fall health.

  1. Eat well! With both summer and fall produce still available, it’s a great time to enjoy cooking. Limit dairy products, which are cold and create phlegm. Focus on a rainbow of lightly cooked vegetables, fresh fruits, and lean proteins. If you haven’t visited one of Austin’s awesome farmer’s markets lately, fall is one of my favorite times to go.
  2. Watch out for chilly winds! In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that pathogens enter the body through the neck and upper back. Recent research studies confirm that you really can catch a cold from being cold. So keep a light scarf handy to cover your neck! They’re also helpful for those frigid office air conditioners. (If I’ve just helped to justify your mild scarf addiction, you’re welcome.)
  3. Take herbs! If you or your kids always have a rough time during cold and flu season, consider taking preventive Chinese herbs. The classic formula Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen) is safe for all ages and effective at bolstering immunity over time.

Considering acupuncture or herbs for an immune boost this fall? Contact me to learn more or schedule an appointment anytime.



Top 5 Myths About Acupuncture

Lots of people have heard myths about acupuncture. That’s no surprise, because not as many people have gotten past them and on to the benefits of the medicine. So, in the interest of clearing a few things up, let’s talk about the top 5 myths about acupuncture.

Myth #1: Acupuncture hurts! (Otherwise known as “There’s no way I’m letting you stick needles in my body.”)

Acupuncture needles are teeeeeny tiny. I often tell people that I wish I had a different word for them, because many people hear “needle” and freeze up. I don’t blame you! If your frame of reference is the hypodermic needles used when giving blood or getting a vaccination, those aren’t tiny, and yep – they hurt.

In the hands of a skilled, gentle acupuncturist, you’ll feel little to no discomfort. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel anything. Lots of people notice heaviness or a radiating sensation from points, but they usually say “Cool!” and take a relaxing nap.

Myth #2: Acupuncture doesn’t work.

Acupuncture has been helping people for thousands of years. But just as people have different responses to medication or surgery, people have different responses to acupuncture. Some people see quick, dramatic changes. Others experience more gradual, subtle effects.

Occasionally, people find that acupuncture doesn’t help them, and in those cases, I work to find a referral to another type of health care provider. My end goal is always, always for you to feel better.

Myth #3: But I tried it once, and it didn’t work.

I believe you. The problem is, acupuncture isn’t much like taking an Advil when something hurts. It’s more like watering grass that’s gone brown. You have to keep watering the grass for it to turn green again, right?

Acupuncture works in a similar way. Some people do feel completely better after one visit, but it usually takes longer, especially for chronic conditions. Communication is key here: I want you to know what to expect. I always tell you how many initial treatments I feel are necessary for your condition, and we’ll reassess together as needed.

Myth #4: I can’t get acupuncture because I’m already taking medications for my condition or seeing another kind of practitioner.

In almost all cases, acupuncture is a very safe therapy to use if you’re taking pharmaceutical medications. Combining different types of treatment works well too. For example, chiropractic adjustments can be easier and hold longer when paired with acupuncture.

If you’re unsure, talk with an acupuncturist and your other health care providers about a coordinated treatment plan.

Myth #5: Acupuncture treats pain, right? Nothing hurts right now.

Acupuncture’s great at treating pain. As a matter of fact, the military uses it in battlefield situations. But that’s definitely not all it can do.

Because acupuncture affects so many of our bodies’ systems – the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system – it can treat many things. Trouble sleeping? Chronic stress or fatigue? Morning sickness? A kid who keeps getting ear infections? The list goes on, and you might be surprised!

Bonus (non-myth!) #6: I’m still not really sure about this.

That’s okay! Acupuncture is an ancient system of medicine, but it’s still pretty new in this part of the world, and lots of people have questions. I’m happy to answer yours, and I invite you to experience the awesome benefits of acupuncture for yourself.


Hi! Welcome to the Songbird Acupuncture blog. I’ll be posting here about how Chinese medicine works, when you might want to visit an acupuncturist, how to keep yourself and your family healthy seasonally, and much much more. Curious about anything in particular? Got a topic you’d like to read about? Contact me! Thanks for stopping by.