Close this search box.


How Can Acupuncture Help You

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. Simi Godagama, our guest today, she’s an acupuncturist. She’s a Marma therapist and an Ayurvedic practitioner. We got so much invaluable information today. You know how acupuncture has been on for forever, for thousands of years. How does freaking little needles inside your body help you heal?

Simi Godagama: So over centuries, really, acupuncture has built up a sort of empirical evidence and there’s a lot of evidence that actually shows how the mechanism of acupuncture can work from a Chinese perspective and an Ayurvedic perspective, it works on manipulating the Qi or the Pranic energy, the Prana that runs through your body. And this Pranic energy has almost a causeway, a network similar to the nervous system, similar to the circulatory system. There’s pathways that are on the limbs, on the central core of the body and on the head, the front and the back. These connections connect with one another a little bit like the underground tube map. When you’ve got that map in your mind, you know, you can get from A to B by using certain networks. And so the Qi works through these channels and there are these points that have been used, where it’s almost like an access point. So the needle inserted there can help manipulate the energy that runs through these channels, therefore also manipulate the Pranic energy and the Qi that runs through it. So that’s from a very nutshell viewpoint on Chinese theory. I’d say, from a western medical perspective, that research has found that when you insert a needle through the dermal layer of the skin, the top layer of your skin where you have the sensory nerves, to a certain depth, not very deep, there is a flushing of blood circulation around the point of that needle and an improvement of the Lymphatic, so there is drainage as well. So there’s almost a detoxing effect that occurs when a needle is inserted. Now, there’s also another theory that it is caused by micro trauma. You’re creating a little injury, a micro injury to the skin, and the body’s natural mechanism is to respond by sending blood and circulation into that area, which then helps to heal. So you’re actually sending all the healing agents to that part of the body that has been inserted with a needle. 

AB: Wow.

SG: Also, there is a dynamic to do with pain receptors. Research has found that there are chemicals that are passed through the nerves that this chemical changes. There is an actual change in the neurotransmitters that the body then perceives as pain. And these are dampened. It’s almost like a dampening of these barriers, so pain cannot be transmitted. And instead, the analgesic hormones, such as endorphins and opioids, which are relaxing hormones, are released around areas where needles are inserted. So when you have acupuncture, what we’re really doing is inducing a state of relaxation. When your mind and body is relaxed, it does what it naturally is very good at doing, which is to heal. 

AB: It’s interesting that you were talking about acupuncture in traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurveda, because I always thought that acupuncture had originated in China. A lot of the Ayurvedic practitioners I met actually said it originated as Marma therapy in India and then went with Buddhism from India to China. Is that right? 

SG: Well, there’s a slight debate on this matter. It’s an interesting one. I think that it’s good to know the history. Ultimately, it’s a case of who started something first. We’re not in competition. But what I can say is that there has been documented evidence of needle insertion within the textbooks, the original textbooks of Ayurveda, which are actually older than the Chinese philosophy of medicine. And so therefore, one can only argue that actually, if this method of treatment has been evidenced and it predates the Chinese theories, how did that come across? So you have to look at history, and you have to look at how healing methods were transported from one continent to another. And then we get into the subject of it. Yes, with Buddhism and the Silk Route, particularly from India and China to China, there was a lot of movement of trade, of spices, of knowledge and wisdom that then the Chinese were very, very sophisticated in how they developed acupuncture based on the meridians and based on organ meridians. But what is missing is the actual Chakra system. And that’s where Marma puncture comes in. 

AB: So explain a little more of what you’re saying, the difference between the traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture and Marma therapy. 

SG: Okay, so Marma, I would probably say Marma puncture, because we still use the needles. In traditional TCM acupuncture, it is based on the organ meridian. So the pathways that are related to certain organs, yin and yang paired organ systems, and these still can be quite deep, but aren’t as deep as what we call the Marma points, which are connected to the Nadi system and these are connected to the Chakras. So the Chinese don’t mention the chakras. They have highly developed a slightly more surface level of energy networks that you can use using acupuncture. So they have the set number of points that are known, but there are also some points which are actually lost. These lost points of puncturing is what the Marma points are, they’re really related to the Chakras, which are the original energy centres of the body from which actually get the meridians branching from there. 

AB: Do you ever do both together or do you kind of stick to one system when you start? 

SG: Absolutely. For myself, as I’m an Acupuncturist TCM style as well as a Marma therapist ayurveda style, when I see a patient, I will look at those organ interactions, I’ll look at the meridians, I’ll look at the deficiencies that are presented to me. But then I might look at the Ayurvedic diagnosis and that will give me an idea of the chakras that are at place. So, for example, if we’re having somebody come in with head and neck issues, musculoskeletal, then obviously, I will actually use points that help to enhance the chakras of that part of your body, which would be the throat chakra, the brow chakra, and the crown. It makes sense to include those energy centres in Chinese medicine, they don’t mention the crown chakra. 

AB: You know, when I’ve been for acupuncture, sometimes needles have hurt a lot, sometimes, it doesn’t. And so much so that once I took my 17-18 year old daughter for acupuncture for something and she got so wound up about the needles, even before she got the needles, she was so tense that I think it just kind of all fell apart a little bit. So tell me a little bit about that. 

SG: Yes, and that’s quite common. I come across a lot of needle phobia, and I’m not surprised, actually, because the needles that we’re exposed to are quite large and the diameter is quite thick and it’s hollow. And that whole process of having a vaccine or having blood taken can be quite traumatic. And hence, when we think of acupuncture and we think of needles, it elicits that kind of fear. You think you’re going to get prodded by these big fat needles, but actually they are so thin and they are very flexible, almost like strands of hair. Some points, yes, can be a bit tender and others you will not even notice that they’ve been inserted. 

AB: That is fascinating. 

SG: One of the reasons is some parts of our body, especially if there’s been chronic injury or there’s been fibrotic tissue where the needle is inserted due to post operative scars and things like that. And if you’re putting a needle into tight tissue, you’re going to feel it a little bit more. There’s other zones of the body that are really fleshy and more fluid filled, so the needle will just kind of just blend in without a problem. Acupuncture insertion is a very quick procedure and most of the time with a skilled and professionally qualified practitioner, you won’t even realise the needles are in. Oftentimes patients will say, “right, I’m ready for the needles now” and I will say, “oh, they’re already in.” There are some points in acupuncture that I always start with, which are anti anxiety points to insert those ones first.

AB: Tell me something, is it normally sort of quick short term relief or do you use the needles for more chronic illnesses and ailments as well? 

SG: For chronic illnesses, definitely. And actually, if you look at the NHS nice guidelines, it actually states that acupuncture is very useful for long term chronic pain and that can include fatigue as well and also osteoarthritis of the knee, of the low back for migraine and tension headaches. There’s a plethora of different conditions but most acupuncturists will say it’s not limited to what is just stated on the NHS by the NHS and the national guidelines. 

AB: And you’ve seen mental health conditions?

SG: Absolutely. So a lot of patients that come in with depression or diagnosed depression and anxiety, panic attacks, this can be hormonal related as well. So I see various different stages of a person’s life, and especially for women’s health, which is what I focus a lot on, looking at the menopausal dynamic as well as the pubescent. So looking at children, young girls who are starting their periods, and there’s a lot of anxieties that are starting to be expressed as they’re becoming these young women and learning to manage their emotions. And acupuncture helps from the emotional perspective because in Chinese theory, every organ is a governor of a particular motion. I mentioned that we’re doing the organ meridian. So these energy lines that we’re manipulating are related to a specific organ. So for example, the heart is about joy. When you see a person, you can gauge either the presence of joy or the lack of joy. And usually in Chinese medicine, we look at the shen which is called the spirit of the heart. You learn as practitioners to recognise fellow human beings. And it’s amazing because you look at the whites of the eyes. In Chinese medicine, we say the eyes are the windows to the soul and you can see through the eyes and the shen how bright their chi is, how bright their prana is, how present they are. And that’s why, when we have an English language as well, we say, “oh, your eyes are glowing, you’re twinkling, you got a twinkle in your eyes,” We say that because we’ve got something to be really joyful about and it twinkles through our eyes. This is then governed by the heart meridian. So when we have a lack of joy, for example, heartbreak, it is something that is visible from the face, from the eyes, from how animated or unanimated we are, from the tone of your voice, you can see, because the heart meridian has a sound. What does a patient’s voice sound like? Is the voice really monotonous and very robotic and very dull and static? Or is it really quite sounding like a song? What is the organ that’s talking to me? So it’s not the person, it’s actually what is the organ and what is the energy of that organ saying to me. And you can find the dysfunction there or the stagnation there. And before you know and you ask a series of questions, they may have come in because they’ve got this migraine. And you ask a series of questions and you get to the root, which is they had a really difficult divorce or they’ve lost a partner or they’ve had grief, so you see the lack of joy. There are master points in acupuncture that help to process that emotion. I’ve had a breakthrough quite recently with a patient who was experiencing severe grief. She was feeling blocked. And she said to me, “Simi, I just can’t cry. I mean, I know this person is gone now, but for some reason I feel so blocked” and I asked her if she has a lump in her throat that she feels like it’s difficult to swallow. So this is the chakra of the throat. This is about expression. It’s about saying how we feel. So she’s got the grief, but it’s contained and it’s stuck and so I combined acupuncture or marmapuncture from the ayurveda perspective when working on her throat. Then I used the master point, lung seven, which is, according to TCM, the grief point. So the master point helps to bring out grief. And after about 15 minutes, she was gently starting to sob and the sob just grew to the point it started to go from a gentle sob to almost like a wailing sound, which was a very powerful release. You have to hold that emotion for the patient and then you have to encourage their body to process it. There are points in acupuncture that help you to sort out good things from bad things, things that are wanted as opposed to things that are no longer needed. And this is related to a particular organ, which is your small intestine. So this is very much related to physiology. For example, the small intestine, what does it do? It is the last port of call, apart from the large intestine, which reabsorbs water. The small intestine really needs to know what is useful in the contents of my bowel that I need to take nutrients from. What then descends to the large intestine needs to be evacuated. So it needs to know the small intestines efficiency lies in being able to process the necessary from the unnecessary. This relates to not just physiological function, but those who come in because they have an anxiety over making decisions. They keep making wrong judgments or they’re making these repetitive mistakes. All sorts of anxieties come from creating boundaries. So you hear that in a consultation. It’s learning to read between the lines as a practitioner, really. 

AB: You know, you were talking earlier about chronic pain relief, acupuncture. I mean, it’s one of the few alternative therapies which is accepted – homoeopathy used to be there, but it was taken away somewhere along the way. What do you think of that? 

SG: I was actually an acupuncturist working for the NHS a number of years ago. And I think perhaps because of the way that acupuncture helps to manage pain and pain management is a huge burden at the moment for the NHS in terms of repeat prescriptions and the effects that it has long term on a person on their liver and kidney. So acupuncture helps as a natural alternative in reducing pain. And pain is one of the biggest conditions that we are experiencing globally, It’s the tip of the iceberg. So if we can eliminate what’s at the tip of the iceberg, perhaps we can start working on what’s underneath. 

AB: Now, tell me, in terms of clinical studies have there been a lot of studies which talk about the efficacy of acupuncture?

SG: Yes, there are a lot. If you go onto the British Acupuncture Council website, you’ll find plenty of research and you can also access the NHS website and there’s also lots of references there. There’s a lot of randomised studies that are being conducted which have proved that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain, for osteoarthritis and the knee. At the moment, we’ve got it for migraine, tension headaches and dental pain. It can be useful for dental pain and also post operative pain as well. So I have one lady who had to have a double mastectomy after having the mastectomy. She is now having horrendous pain around the scarring of her intercostals, around the rib cage where her breasts had been removed. Extreme pain, which then elicits a hot flush as well. So she comes in every week for a treatment and we’re getting some progress on her pain. 

AB: Do you find that you can get the same sort of benefits through pressing the points? 

SG: It’s effective. I used it for my little girls when they were babies. Acupressure is a wonderful thing to do and I love teaching it to the new mums that I treat. Non-invasive and very good for those who have a phobia for needles. But I would suggest, ultimately, moving towards the insertion, there are certain methods where you can rotate the needle and it doesn’t cause any discomfort or pain to the patient. We’re eliciting a connection between the needle and the meridian channel as well. And sometimes, you can feel that connection coming on and a patient will actually say, “oh, it feels like a little bit of a dull sensation here. What is that?” And I tell them that’s the chi connecting with the needle. 

AB: Oh, wow. We like to give people some tools that they can take away from this. 

SG: Okay, here we go. Tapping therapy is actually pretty much acupuncture, but you’re using a tap movement. Crown point connects between the front channel and the back channel. So it essentially goes through your whole core from the front and back. And this is the opening, this is the crown chakra, you want to just tap it. In the morning, wake up in bed and just tap your head for a few minutes. And you might want to engage in some deep breathing, it brings a lot of alertness to your mind, to your senses, and you want to especially in the morning when you’re feeling sluggish and groggy, you want to wake up. And people often reach out for their coffee instead of a coffee, have a powerful tapping session and you’ll find you’re not going to be reaching for that stimulant. So a lot of chronic issues come from a lot of overstimulation. A lot of exhaustion comes from our body, our energy levels peaking and then crashing down because of caffeine or other stimulants that we’re using. So this is something I often give, for my coffee addicts on the open side. So on the inner side of your wrist, not the outer side, you’ve got two lines. You’ve got this first line and then they’ve got a faint one underneath. If you put two fingers down from that line there is a point in between the two tendons and that’s where you apply a little bit of pressure or a circular movement on either side. And this is your emotional reset button.

AB: For anyone interested in trying acupuncture, how do you suggest where do you suggest they start?

SG: If you go within the UK, there are a few organisations that have registered acupuncturists. So it’s always a good place to start with a regulatory body that will have a practitioner that is listed as licensed and qualified. There are some practitioners, such as osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists, who also offer acupuncture as a part of the adjunct to their treatment. I would just double check whether they have had a full training of a three-year degree in acupuncture because there is a difference between that and trigger point therapy, which is often used in a lot of manual therapy modalities. And in that situation, you will only be getting acupuncture for muscles and it’s more superficial or effective, but not at looking at the chronic causes of problems. So for that, we would go for a licensed acupuncturist who has done a full three-year degree. 

AB: Such a wonderful chat. Thank you, Simi. I’m sure lots of people are going to rush out and try acupuncture. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you, leading your best life.