Anyone who has seen me lately knows that I have braces. Yes, at 54 years old, I have a mouthful of metal. Why am I doing this? Not for vanity. I was happy with my crooked teeth. But I have gum recession and I’d like to keep my teeth forever. To repair the gums, the teeth have to be straight. It’s been a long journey. Before the metal mouth, I flunked Invisaline’s. I was not compliant. Thus, I opted for metal braces. Even though they are uncomfortable, I know that it’s not forever, and that it will improve my health and appearance in the long run.
There are parallels between this experience and the experience of people pursuing acupuncture for the first time. I was reflecting on some preconceived ideas about acupuncture. One of the biggest myths about acupuncture is that “once you start, you have to go forever.” First of all, it is entirely up to you how long you choose to continue to get treatments. Of course, like any other healthy habit, the longer you maintain it, the better your quality of life. We can look at the process of a comprehensive schedule of acupuncture care in another light.
Perhaps an apt analogy for continuing care for the meridian system is orthodontics for your teeth. Both disciplines consist of an initial phase of care that usually involves overcoming a weakness, followed by a reconstructive or rehabilitative phase of care, and finally culminating in wellness or maintenance. With Chinese medicine, the earliest phase of your care usually consists of the highest visit frequency. In cases of chronic imbalances within the meridian system it is common to initially require a series of treatments close together until your bodies energy is properly balanced and restored.
Using the orthodontic analogy, this would be the point at which the brackets and wires are put on your teeth and you are seen for check-ups every couple weeks. Since there is no wire affixed within your meridian system, your acupuncture visits occur more frequently than orthodontic appointments, and are instead “wired together” by specific exercises, herbal formulas, self-care recommendations, etc.
As balance returns to your body, your visit frequency is diminished. This is the phase in which the orthodontist would also begin spacing out his visits and begin to “tweak” the wires to make fine adjustments to your teeth and allow them to settle into their new structural pattern. In both cases, this is a critical phase of care in that it is setting the stage for lifelong wellness or maintenance.
At the orthodontist, this is when you would be fitted for a retainer to be worn at least nightly for the rest of your life, or for as long as you wish to maintain healthy teeth. As for acupuncture, this marks the transition to a schedule of wellness or maintenance care to ensure a lifelong abundance of health and well-being. The maintenance or wellness phase of care is without a doubt the most important. What is sickness, but a lack of wellness? The whole objective of everything leading up to your natural state of balance. Once there, staying well is simply a matter of sustaining that balance.
In a month or so, I’ll be wearing my retainer to maintain my dental health and and getting my monthly acupuncture treatments to maintain a life of health and wellness.
About Cara Frank, L.OM.
Cara Frank, L.OM. was raised by in a health food store in Brooklyn NY. When she was 8 she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For over 30 years she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17 she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20 she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.
Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia where she maintains a busy acupuncture practce . She is the president of China Herb Company and she is the Academic Director of the Department of Chinese Herbology at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. You can read her full bio or schedule an appointment.