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What does "Balance" Actually Mean in the Acupuncture Clinic? How to Know if You're Balanced and How we Get You Back to Balance

As acupuncturists, we frequently use the very vague word “balance”. Because this word can mean so many things, I find it helps my patients if I can explain what this means.

Acupuncturist’s Balance = Doctor’s Homeostasis

Western medicine actually has a very similar concept, science calls it “homeostasis”.

Humans have homeostatic functions happening throughout their body, constantly. When we get too hot, we sweat to cool off. Too cold and we start trembling to warm the body up. When our thyroid gets low we release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), when we have enough thyroid our TSH goes down.  Reproductive hormones have feedback loops that raise and lower hormones as women move through their menstrual cycle.

Illness then is the body failing to maintain homeostasis in one or more of its systems and functions.

In the clinic, I too am working to reestablish homeostasis in the body, working to correct over or under/”hyper”, or “hypo”functioning in the body.

How do we know when we’re getting out of balance?

The problem in modern day is that with the availability of drugs to just mask symptoms when we get out of balance, we’ve forgotten that our bodies were designed to maintain homeostasis on their own — in other words without the use of drugs.

So rather than working to resolve imbalances when they first start (the first clue for me that I’m getting out of balance is often an eye twitch), we just either ignore symptoms and push through them, assuming they’re “normal” because “everyone has them”; or we wait for symptoms to get so bad that we now fear we have something diagnosable, and we go to our western doctor.

How I work with imbalance in the acupuncture clinic

When patients first come for treatment, they’re usually extremely out of balance. Maybe they have bloodwork showing hormone imbalance, or they’ve been diagnosed with something like IBS or Hashimotos.

I like to think of balance as a continuum, with perfect health being a straight line right down the middle — the ideal to strive for. When we first start, patients are far off to one side of the continuum, and my goal in the beginning stages of treatment is to push them towards the center, towards balance and homeostatic functioning.

Studies have shown that acupuncture has a homeostatic affect in the body, meaning that it helps systems that are under/hypo-functioning to boost function, and systems that are over/hyper-functioning to calm down. Again, we call that balance.

I know the treatment is working when patient’s pulse and tongue diagnoses start showing improvement, even if that’s before they notice changes in their symptoms.  As the weeks go on and their symptoms improve, they get closer and closer to that mid-line, or balance, as their body starts functioning how it’s supposed to, on its own.

Often people are able to reduce or completely get off (with the approval and input of their MD) their pharmaceuticals. Their blood work may improve. But with all the various complex things we’re working on, we still just summarize it so say, their body is getting more “balanced”.

What happens once patients are balanced?

Once we’ve  completed the initial course of treatment and acute symptoms a patient came in with are resolved, now the goal is to maintain balance.

Balance isn’t a static state. It’s not a destiny we’re aiming for and once we’re balanced our work is done. Because life happens. We feel better so we start over-working again, or we get injured, or our mom dies or we have to put our pet down.

But my goal is that the hard work I’ve done over the weeks of treatment to first, educate patients on what caused their particular imbalance in the first place, and second, to teach them what they can do outside the treatment room to help themselves stay balanced; will result in them maintaining the improvements we achieved through treatment.  Usually this involves nutrition, stress reduction, or some form of “assignment” related to their 5-element type.

The more people understand where they tend to get out of balance, and are able to bring themselves back to balance on their own, the less they need to continue coming to see me all the time, and can just come in every so often for “maintenance” treatments or herbs to assist the good work they’re already doing on their own.

What does “maintenance” acupuncture treatment do?

There’s an analogy that I use with my patients all the time. I read once that pilots or ship captains, when trying to get from point A to point B, are actually off-track almost 100% of the time.  To get from point A to point B, it means constant tiny steering corrections as they get off course, which means that only a tiny percentage of the journey are they right on the straight or mid-line between the two points, when they cross over the line before getting slightly off course again and making another small correction.

I think of health that way, and encourage my patients to view their body this way too. Once they’re dancing close to the balance point, it’s really about those small corrections that we make every day.

  • If they have a stressful day at work, they get off course. But if they go home and meditate, they move towards balance

  • If they start having negative thoughts racing through their minds, but then they make sure to go to their prayer group, now they’re uplifted and peaceful again
  • They have a weekend of eating especially crappy, but then the entire next couple weeks they eat impeccably.

Health is an ongoing journey of making those tiny corrections. To change the trajectory of your body’s functioning, towards wellness and away from disease.

Certainly acupuncture and herbs can be an important part in that. I have patients I’ve been seeing for years who notice that after a certain number of weeks or months, suddenly they just notice that they’re “off”. Then they’ll schedule an acupuncture appointment and they feel balanced again.

How do I notice when I’m personally out of balance?

I tend to run on the depleted side, historically always being a lower energy person. With the use of Chinese medicine, I’m able to live a highly functioning and active life, usually with all the energy I need to have packed full days.

But if I let myself abuse that energy, working too much, studying too much, not exercising enough, etc. then I best be darned sure that I’m taking my herbs, or I’ll start having symptoms, the first one as I mentioned is usually an eye-twitch.

An EYE-TWITCH!???, you might be thinking! YES! That’s all it takes for me to notice I’m out of balance, I’m a tad bit off course. Because I notice it for what it is, a signal for the need of a course correction, I only need to make a tiny one, and it barely impacts my life.

If I don’t pay attention and ram through life instead, then I start getting weak, woozy sensations, almost like I’m out of my body and I can’t think straight. If that comes on, the answer for me is still herbs and acupuncture, and usually I haven’t been taking time for de-stressing moments. I didn’t listen, so now my life is affected a little more.

But I let this go on for a DAY, before I do something about it.

And that’s what I try to teach my patients: the tiniest symptom is your body talking to you. You don’t have to stress about it or become obsessive about every niggling sensation, but you do need to learn if those symptoms mean you’ve hit your weak point, and it’s time for a course correction.

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