Scared of acupuncture? You needn't be - practitioner Ka Hang Leoungk explains why ...
Acupuncture has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years and still used in hospitals in China today. That should give you a bit of a clue as to how effective it is. But many people I've encountered are still squeamish about it - even though the benefits regarding health, both mental and physical (it works wonders for stress) are widely renowned. Yes, it is sticking needles into the body and resembling a pin cushion for the best part of an hour. But the needles are tiny and discomfort minimal (to me it's like a slight pinch for a microsecond).
For me it's one of the most relaxing treatments out there, but you need to find somebody credible. I once advised a friend to go and see Ka Hang Leoungk (my lovely interviewee for this piece). Said friend instead went to some bargain basement outfit as "they were offering a discount" and complained of terrible migraines afterwards. My advice? When it comes to any invasive type of therapy, you don't cut corners. I've been seeing Ka Hang for several years and her credentials are second-to-none: a Registered Acupuncturist, member of the British Acupuncture Council (MBAcC) and an Academic Associate of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS). A new mother herself, she also has a maternity clinic to help clients during pregnancy. I always love getting her newsletters full of health and wellness tips - you can also catch up with her on her blog www.happyacupuncturist.com.
I once read somebody being described as having "a personality like a warm bath" and Ka Hang definitely fits that description. Whether it's having a relaxed chat or lying still in comfortable silence, a visit to her is more de-stressing than any therapy session or deep tissue massage. She also provides a lengthy health check and consultation before each session, so if you have any issues with migraines or anything else, she will ensure she knows about it.
With that in mind, I've asked her to elaborate on the benefits of acupuncture for those who have never tried it.
First things first - why would anyone want to put needles in themselves? (is the question I always get asked when I say I've had acupuncture!)
Why indeed? First of all the needles used in acupuncture are super fine, as thin as human hair. They are nothing like the needles used in injections or blood tests, even thinner than ones used in finger prick tests.
Needles are the most effective way of getting straight to the channels in the body. From there the body begins to start the healing process, whether it's to combat pain relief, aid with systemic or chronic conditions like digestion and women's issues, or rebalance for a more positive state of wellbeing.
It's hard to imagine if you've never had it but many people drift off and have a restorative nap during their session. So yes, it seems bizarre to stick needles in your body but after the initial insertion which takes about 5 minutes, you almost forget about it.
Can you describe how it works in layman's terms?
If you imagine your body and the channels as the M25. Ideally you want cars cruising smoothly at 60 miles/hour. Not too fast and not too slow. Now if traffic builds up then that causes problems whether it's shoulder pain, or low back pain, migraines or period pains. Sometimes the traffic jams are less tangible than pain like insomnia, stress, overthinking or just sluggishness. However your body manifests the traffic jams, acupuncture helps to move the traffic along by opening up more lanes or creating diversions. The acupuncturist doesn't take energy out of your body or put more in. All I do is help your body be more efficient by better directing the flow of traffic.
What drew you to the practice?
I love the holistic approach to it, how many things in the body are all interlinked. A person can't feel positive and energetic if they're tired and frazzled. Or how pain can really make you suffer physically and emotionally. I'mstill intrigued by the human body and the simplicity of how a few well-chosen acupuncture points can make such a difference, sometimes instantly.
What makes it particularly good for combating stress?
Acupuncture really benefits the mind, in particular calming it, which makes it wonderful for stress or stress related conditions. During a session you really can feel the calmness of drifting which is quite different to just taking a nap. Obviously I can't take away all the stresses in your life but it does rebalance you and helps you focus on what's important. You'll still feel passionate about your causes but you'll save energy for that rather than snap at the barista.
"A poor diet isn't just eating fried chicken all day- it's also how you eat it. I know people who cook a lovely meal with fresh organic produce but then argue throughout the meal."
Are there any other ailments its particularly good for?
I find it particularly helpful for pain conditions, women's issues such as painful or irregular periods, fertility and general fatigue when there's no medical reason for it. If you're feeling "under the weather" then acupuncture would be good for you.
What are the benefits of acupuncture facials when compared to normal facials?
Acupuncture facials work on both the skin itself and your general health and wellbeing, so instead of just wallpapering your house you're also making sure that the foundations are strong. This really helps to make the facial effects more long lasting.
Many of my clients come initially for concerns like skin tone and fine line and wrinkles but over time, they find their sleep is better and they feel more energised.
Any other tips for de-stressing and promoting holistic health?
What you eat is really important. In Chinese medicine, a poor diet isn't just eating fried chicken all day- it's also how you eat it. I know people who cook a lovely meal with fresh organic produce but then argue throughout the meal. It's important to take time out for your meals, even if it's only 15 minutes away from your desk and emails. Enjoy your food.
I'm also a big advocate of walking. Take it all in, it's a good way to let your senses wander without having to focus on any one thing. But leave the earphones at home and be mindful of your surroundings. Hear the chatter, sirens, leaves underfoot.
"The needles used in acupuncture are super fine, as thin as human hair."
How often and when should you go to have acupuncture? Are there any particularly good times of the year?
If you're having acupuncture for a specific condition, then that will dictate how frequently you should have acupuncture, but generally it's once a week, sometimes twice. If it's facial acupuncture, the average is every 4 weeks to build the foundation and achieve the improvements we want. Thereafter it might be every 2 months for maintenance.
It's good to have a seasonal tune up every 3/4 months to keep your body working optimally. September or beginning of autumn is a good time, as is the February slump. A lot of people find November and December especially tiring with the rush of festive parties and a few weekly acupuncture sessions would definitely benefit your body. Finally getting a good Spring session after the long winter really helps to get the body into gear for brighter days.
Ka Hang holds appointments at Neal's Yard Remedies Therapy Rooms, 2 Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DP. For appointments, call 020 7379 7662.