In the world of acupuncture, there are endless styles and techniques. You can go to ten different practitioners and experience ten completely different sessions-and all of them may work for you, as long as the practitioner is on the right track with the diagnosis. Acupuncture isn't just about needles. There are acupuncturists who treat without inserting a single needle. We also use a variety of tools to speed up the process of healing. Some of these include cupping, guasha, and moxa. For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, cupping is a modality in which flame is placed inside glass cups, which are then quickly put onto the skin after the flame is withdrawn. The flame sucks up the oxygen, which creates a tight suction between the skin and the cup. It feels like the opposite of a massage: whereas massage is pressure against the musculature, the cupping sucks at the area, like a reverse massage. It feels wonderful, helps to increase the circulation, and even helps with respiratory issues.
Guasha is a technique that involves sliding a flat, hard, smooth object over lubricated skin. It breaks up tightness and is miraculous in restoring range of motion in the neck. My patients are usually blown away by how beneficial it is, and how quickly it works. Old-school practitioners use Chinese soup spoons, but I prefer my curved jade pieces. Really, though, you can use anything with a flat smooth surface to get the job done. A few months ago, my boyfriend tweaked his neck, and I didn't have any of my tools at my house. I got the job done with a baby food lid and Vaseline...tacky, but effective :)
Moxa is an herb that we burn to promote blood flow, reduce pain, and warm up cold areas of the body. I'm going to post a whole other blog about that this week, since I've gotten a lot of questions about it lately.
With the wide variety of tricks I have in my bag, I sometimes go through phases with techniques. One particular technique that has made a comeback recently is called "Ranchi Ho." It is a combination of cupping and bloodletting, and it is every bit as exciting as it sounds!
I first experienced the magic of Ranchi Ho while still in grad school, and I never forgot the profound effects it had on one particular patient. During my grad school years, I spent several semesters interning in the school clinic. Every week, for years, the same elderly woman would schedule a session...and every week, for years, she complained bitterly about acupuncture not doing anything for her. She was infamous around the clinic for being a curmudgeon, and everyone always wondered why she bothered coming back if she hadn't gotten relief in her hundreds of sessions. This woman was in a wheelchair, and her neck was bent so severely to the side that it approached a 90 degree angle...no wonder she was grumpy!
On the day that it was my turn to treat her, I decided that all of those years of being fixed in that position in the chair must have led to a degree of stagnation that needles alone couldn't move; it was time to pull out the Ranchi Ho.
What followed was simultaneously so delightful, and so, so awful. Delightful, because I am a person who savors disgusting things; I'm the first one to volunteer to get out that ingrown hair, or to pop a pimple. Awful, because...we'll, you'll see...
The woman was propped up in her wheelchair; I gloved up and cleaned her neck and back with alcohol. I explained that I wanted to try a new technique on her that might feel a bit prickly, as I was using a lancet. She was agreeable, and I began. I pricked the area numerous times with the lancet, then quickly cupped it. What I saw then was one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed.
The blood working its way into the cup was a solid black mass, more like a thick winding black worm than anything liquid. As this worm grew and grew, filling the cup, I was blown away by how MUCH of it there was-where was all of this stuff coming from? Most of me was in awe, and part of me wanted to vomit. As I watched, the "worm" began to turn from black, to black-red, to dark red. Finally, normal, bright-red blood began to enter the cup. I popped it off (careful not to spatter blood everywhere), and rushed to the clean-up area to revel in my vile creation. When I came back to the patient, she was sitting straight up, her neck no longer bent to the side. I could not believe it. She had color in her face, she was upright and actually smiling, and she told everyone on the way out how good she felt after that session. In the hallway, a schoolmate just stared, transfixed, as he mouthed "Why isn't she crooked anymore?" to me under his breath.
After that day, I used Ranchi Ho frequently. Somehow, though, as the years went on, I began to replace it with other techniques. Over the past few weeks, I've begun to incorporate it again, and I regret not using it more often. It's a more intense type of treatment, but the results can be so dramatic. It is great for sleep issues, anxiety, and those stubborn knots that can't ever seem to get worked out. Not everyone expels thick strings of demonic goo like that patient did, but most people with very old, deep-seated knots or injuries will produce very dark blood that slowly changes color as the fresher blood is free to circulate. It's not for everyone, but for those who need it, it can be magical!