I never thought "floating" would be a word I'd use to describe walking through (the crazy) Piccadilly Circus in London, England. However, after an hour spent with acupuncturist Ka Hang Leoungk at her tranquil treatment room, I felt the most relaxed I had in months — maybe years.
I booked an appointment for acupuncture to see if it could help with my sleep. Although this ancient practice is often associated with improving aches, pains, or injuries, it’s becoming more and more common as a treatment for stress related conditions. In fact, Ka Hang has seen a huge increase in patients coming to her with anxiety, and it now makes up 40 percent of her practice. "Stress and anxiety is now a very common element of modern city living, especially London," she says. "A lot of my clients work in high-pressure industries, and the uncertainty over [the] past few years has definitely had a trickle down effect."
Although for the majority of my life I’d taken sleeping through the night for granted, during my mid-twenties, I suddenly found myself waking three, four, or five times in the night. I'd be tossing and turning, going to the bathroom, having an existential crisis, and then repeating the whole routine. I became accustomed to waking up tired and groggy. Ka Hang explains how this type of thing isn't something to just put up with and that it’s normally caused by underlying anxiety, something I’ve also suffered with. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when the body is fighting stress on a daily basis, other functions such as sleep quality, end up being compromised.
This is where the acupuncture comes in. The premise of the practice is based on channel theory. Essentially, it’s the idea that qi (pronounced chee) travels in pathways (or channels) through the body. "When this qi is blocked, weak, or disrupted, it can result in illness or pain. Acupuncture works on rebalancing the body’s qi naturally without medication," Ka Hang explains. In terms of treating anxiety, acupuncture works to restore the flow of qi. "It’s like trying to make the choppy waves smoother for the boat. Over time, this makes your body much more able to handle the anxiety. We aim to calm the system down so it’s not always in fight-or-flight mode, so then the body can take care of itself," she continues. Western medicine might still struggle to explain why acupuncture works for so many people, but significant observational studies support its validity. I quickly find that whenever I talk to someone about my experience, I’m nearly always met with a similar tale that's happened to them or someone they know.
How Acupuncture Works
The session itself is pretty straightforward. It started with Ka Hang looking at my tongue (a key diagnostic tool within traditional Chinese medicine) and then a 15-minute consultation where I answered questions about my diet, lifestyle, medical history, and emotional wellbeing. Next, I lay down and she placed a number of needles in different parts of my body. As someone who is pathetically squeamish and hates needles, I was skeptical about how well I would fare at being a human pin cushion. However, I barely noticed when the hair-fine needles were placed into my skin. I also didn’t feel them at all throughout the session, so much so that when I stood up at the end, one needle was still in place. Whether it was Ka Hang’s calming presence or the acupuncture at work, once the needles were in, I felt immediately calmer. As the session went on, my whole body felt heavier and heavier, and I could feel myself almost falling asleep.
Once my 45 minutes were up and I made my way back into the real world, I felt significantly lighter, as if a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That night I slept deeply and solidly, but in the week that followed, I soon fell back into bad habits.
I booked an appointment to see Ka Hang several weeks later (most people book a block of multiple sessions), and it was after the second visit when I noticed the real difference. The follow-up session was nearly identical to the first, and as the needles were placed in my skin, I felt the same sense of zen once again. In the nights following the treatment, I continued to sleep solidly and without interruption.
Almost two months later, I can't quite believe my luck. Sleeping disruption-free has become my new normal. Despite the occasional night when old patterns reappear, I tend to wake up feeling more energized and subsequently, much less frazzled. I only wish I’d tried it sooner.
This post was written by Elizabeth Bennett. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.