Overcoming First-Time Acupuncture Fears
Overcoming First-Time Acupuncture Fears
If you think lying on a table with needles in your back is not your bag, please allow acupuncturist Gianna De La Torre to convince you otherwise.
In her LA-based intuitive acupuncture practice, Acu.Intuit, De La Torre has plenty of clients walk through her door who are curious about the benefits of acupuncture but not too psyched about the process. Many of them have long-held fears of needles. And De La Torre’s record with these clients is worth bragging about: “I’ve never had an experience where someone came in afraid of needles and left afraid of needles,” she told us.
Her approach is gentle and understanding. It draws on other healing modalities, like sound baths, intuitive reading, and crystal work. And it has opened acupuncture up for people who thought they would never be able to handle it.
In addition to her acupuncture work, De La Torre is a cofounder of Wildling, a beauty brand specializing in gua sha. (The facial gua sha kit, the Empress Collection, is step one on your way to an unreal face massage.) She also offers intuitive readings over the phone. Sessions are sixty to ninety minutes—she digs in deep.
A Q&A with Gianna De La Torre, LAc
The primary one that comes up is fear of needles. People worry that acupuncture is going to be painful. Or even if it’s not necessarily about pain, people have no idea what to expect in terms of the sensation. That can be such a big mental block that whatever other worries might come after that are hard to even imagine. Everything else is so far down the list.
I always start by showing them the needles we use. Really, you can think of the acupuncture needle as more of a pin. It’s much thinner than the needles most people have experience with and might be scared of. It has the diameter of a strand of hair. It’s somewhat soft. It bends with very little pressure.
Acupuncture needles can also slip right between the skin cells rather than tearing through them. You’re not pushing this rigid thing into your skin. So in most cases, there’s no blood whatsoever. And even if we hit a tiny blood vessel, it’s just the smallest drop.
I always tell clients that loads of people fall asleep on the table. That’s not a requirement—I’m not going to force you asleep or anything—but for people who are nervous, it’s a comforting thing to hear, like: Oh, I’m actually in a place where I’m going to take a nap? People have this misconception that they’re going to get acupuncture needles in and be stuck in this wide-eyed stare until it’s over, and that’s just not how it goes.
Sometimes, as I’m walking people through what it’s going to be like, I’ll go ahead and insert the first needle. Then I let them know the first one’s in, and they’re often like, “Oh, I barely even felt that.” Admittedly, it’s a little trickery on my part, but they have this realization that whatever they thought was going to happen is not at all what just happened.
There might be a little bit of prickly sensation at first, and then for most people that sensation either dissipates or remains in a way that is pleasantly dull and achy. It feels like there’s something happening, but it definitely doesn’t feel like you’re lying there with something sharp in your skin.
That dull sensation actually has a name: In Chinese medicine, it’s called a de qi sensation. The de qi sensation is like a heavy, descending feeling. If I were to make it in a sound, it would be bass-y, like, “Wom, wom, wom.” Like a heartbeat.
That de qi sensation also has an energetic effect that you can feel if you’re sensitive. If the feeling happens to be along a meridian, someone might feel like, Oh my gosh, I felt that kind of move up my leg. Or they might feel it move into their shoulder, or they might identify the feeling of a muscle relaxing. That’s because what we’re doing in acupuncture is getting the qi to move. That dull, achy pain when the needle goes in tells me: Okay, we’ve grabbed the qi. That’s what we want. We did what we intended to do.
Some of the very delicate tissues, like on the face or right on the wrist, will feel a little more sensitive, but it should never remain that way. I’m always reassuring people that if a needle placement feels sharp or uncomfortable, we’re going to move it. Sharpness or discomfort is not the de qi sensation. That’s not our goal.
As an acupuncturist, you have to have so much sensitivity and caring around the fact that someone has a fear of needles and is coming to you—a person who works with needles—for healing. I’m very careful not to dismiss that fear. Fears are valid, and they happen for a reason. There’s no reason to say, “You shouldn’t be afraid.” That’s not the way in.
It’s all about making people feel relaxed and safe and comfortable. That alone goes such a long way to helping them to be open to the experience. I’ll have them lie down on a BioMat under an infrared heat lamp, which is pleasantly warm, and I have them take a few deep breaths of an essential oil that I’ll put on their chest or in my hands. I’ll do some healing touch and rub their feet. I use sound healing. And crystal healing, too: I place crystals all over the body during every acupuncture appointment, and when someone’s nervous about needles, sometimes I’ll do that first. It gives them a little introduction to how stimulating the tender points on their body can feel good.
One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten was from this amazing Indian healer who came in. He had never had acupuncture before. Once I got the needles in, he was like, “That was like samadhi.” In Hinduism, Buddhism, and yogic thought, samadhi is this deep meditative state in which you’re totally absorbed in oneness. Physically, it’s a result of going into a parasympathetic healing state. And he felt that on the acupuncture table.
Gianna De La Torre, LAc, is an acupuncturist and intuitive, the founder of Acu.Intuit, and a cofounder of Wildling. De La Torre has a master’s in oriental medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and holds additional certifications in massage, healing touch, theta healing, and cosmetic acupuncture.
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