One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, "are you able to treat yourself?" When I answer that yes, I can, but that the results aren't as good, people want to know why. Part of the reason is due to positioning-I can't get to most of the points I may need, such as the ones on my back. Also, speed of insertion is important for a painless experience. My insertions are very fast, which is why my patients like me ;) However, it's almost impossible to needle yourself quickly-I've tried. Even though I know it won't hurt if I do it right, there's always a hesitation when you are putting something into your own skin-which means that the insertion will be felt. More than anything else, though, I believe that self-acupuncture is not as effective because it lacks the exchange of energy between patient and practitioner. Up until a few years ago, I resisted referring to acupuncture as "energy work." I was determined to start a practice based on a more medical approach. I wanted hard facts, research studies, proof that what I was doing was affecting the body and blood in ways that could be detected by science. It wasn't until I became a little more educated and experienced that I realized it is impossible to remove the energetic component from acupuncture. Even a hard-core skeptic such as I had to give in and accept it after a few months of seeing it firsthand.
Since I had gone into school with this aversion to being seen as an "energy healer," I had no experience with guarding my energies. I kept hearing people talk about it, but I dismissed the idea as more new-agey weirdness. Sure, I was exhausted beyond belief every day after treating a few people, but so what? I was working full time and taking 8 classes, of course I was tired. And yes, when I treated certain people who I didn't mesh well with, I left feeling nauseous and headachy, but surely that was pure coincidence. I treated one girl with a bad case of bronchitis and instantly developed a migraine that was so severe, I almost couldn't drive home...and when I say instantly, I mean within seconds of putting the needles in. My instructors kept repeating the same advice: Guard yourselves, keep your energies separate from your patients, or you will burn out quickly.
One day, we did an exercise in class where we were blindfolded and positioned standing over a patient lying on a table. We had to place our hands over the patient and feel for energetic blockages. These blockages would likely be areas of pain or tightness in the patient's body. Without fail, my hands would stop over an area where there was some sort of issue. The first time, I thought it was coincidence...the second time as well. But soon I realized that my results were accurate with every single patient. It was at that moment when I finally knew that, weird or not, this was the real deal.
As you spend more time treating patients, the connection between your energy and your patients' energies gets stronger. Fortunately, it also becomes easier to control that exchange. Although I will still get an occasional headache when treating, generally I feel good after seeing patients. Years ago, when I first started sensing the qi coming to the needle after insertion, I used to experience a sensation of losing my breath, just for a second. It was so subtle, I didn't realize what it was for a long time. At this point, I can feel the qi at the needle as waves rising up from my stomach into my chest. My face gets very warm, and sometimes I break into a sweat. My hands get burning hot, almost to the point of being uncomfortable (for me, at least-I've gotten lots of compliments on my warm hands from patients!) Give me another ten years in practice, and I'll be able to float around the room after putting a few needles in!