Leah's story: Community Acupuncture in action

Leah's community acupuncture story

It was March 2001, and I had recently moved from NYC back to the small town of Amherst, MA in the hopes of finishing up my undergraduate degree at UMass/Amherst. Before summer classes started in June, my dad, an avid cyclist, invited my sister and me to join him on a Cuban cultural exchange program that seemed right up my alley: 13 days of biking all over the island, with the ultimate goal of delivering much needed school supplies to small schools located in the Cuban mountains. A chance to experience a different culture, do some good, AND ride my bike. Perfect!

And oh, what a trip it was! From biking through the yearly crab migration to the ocean (crabs absolutely COVERED the road, claws at the ready to attack our bike tires), to sleeping in a beautiful open air house with the family pigs just outside my bedroom door, there was color, life and beauty everywhere. But what truly surprised me is that this trip opened my heart and my mind to something I had rarely thought about previously: acupuncture and cooperative therapies.

Community medicine in action

On day 11, we stopped in the town of Matanzas on the northern coast of Cuba and spent some time visiting local artisans and a farmer’s market. From there we were told we could visit a nearby medical clinic. My dad is a pediatrician who worked his entire career at hospitals in Minneapolis. Subsequently, I had spent a fair amount of time visiting him at work and was familiar with medical settings. “Well this might not be the most interesting place we visit in Cuba,” I confided to my sister, “but let’s go along because Dad seems interested.”  

We biked up to a slightly crumbling, faded two story concrete building and walked inside. There, we were welcomed by the clinic director, a friendly gentleman with graying hair. He offered a tour of his quiet clinic, as fresh breeze blew in through the open windows. I was expecting what I had seen in my dad’s hospitals: patients lying lethargically in their beds, hooked up to machines and dazed from medication.  

East meets west in the clinic rooms

First he brought us into a large room right off the entrance. Instead of listless patients in hospital gowns, I was shocked to see to several fresh faced young people who were practicing tai chi. “This is preventative medicine in action,” the director informed us. We climbed the stone stairs to the second floor to witness patients being treated with homeopathic preparations and chiropractic adjustments. In the last room at the end of the hallway six women sat very quietly in chairs. I cautiously peered into the room as the director explained to us, “These patients are receiving acupuncture. If you look closely they have needles in their arms, legs, and heads.” Some women dozed quietly with their needles in, while others looked at us and gently smiled. This was the first time I had seen what an acupuncture treatment looked like.

I turned to the director to comment, “Wow! I didn’t know you could use acupuncture in a medical setting like this,” and he replied, “Of course you can! Not only does acupuncture work well, it’s also much less expensive than ‘standard’ medical interventions. We can accommodate many people in this room, and they can all be treated simultaneously. In Cuba we use whatever works.”

Bringing it all back home

Fast forward to 2007. After graduating from college and practicing massage for a few years, I found myself drawn back to acupuncture and moved (once again!) to Minneapolis to begin my Master’s degree in Asian medicine.

During my education I trained for a few weeks in Tianjin, China at a teaching hospital. This medical setting could not have been more different from Cuba; the shiny halls of the hospital were long, crowded, noisy, and there was a noticeable lack of cooling ocean breeze. BUT, if you peered into one of the many treatment rooms you’d see a remarkably similar scene: many patients quietly sitting or lying on cots, receiving acupuncture together in the same space. Just like in Cuba, these patients and practitioners were participating what has come to be known in the U.S. as community acupuncture (or CA).  

Community Acupuncture here at Constellation clinic

Constellation Acupuncture & Healing Arts is integrating this time-tested model of treatment into our practice, and we are happy to announce we will be hosting CA events once or twice a month on Sundays. Treatments will be provided on a sliding scale of $10-$50, pay what you can, no questions asked (cards, checks, and cash accepted). All proceeds from each CA event will go to a different organization that benefits social, environmental, physical, and/or emotional well-being.

Pokes for Planned Parenthood is Sunday, October 1st from 12-4pm

We're excited to host our very first event at the beginning of October. Appointment times are every 15 minutes and start at noon, and we encourage you to book a time in advance! Come dressed in your most comfy, loose clothes that can be rolled up over your knees and elbows. Come with whatever ails you - we can treat it all, from back pain to allergies to headaches. You will be treated alongside others while lying back in a zero gravity recliner in our serene new clinic space.

If you like how that sounds, you'll love that we have even more CA fundraising events scheduled! On October 29 from 12-4pm we will host Pokes for Harvey, fundraising for Organize Texas, a direct relief agency helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. On November 12 from 12-4pm, you can help increase access to mental health support for queer and trans youth through Pokes for RECLAIM. We're adding new events all the time, so stay tuned! 

Click below to sign up now - these events are sure to be popular.

I look forward to seeing you there! 


What happens during an acupuncture treatment?


"Am I going to look like the guy from Hellraiser?"

"I don’t know about acupuncture - What if I’m afraid of needles?!"

"Do I have to lie as still as a board when the needles are in?"

These are just some of the common questions people ask me when they’re in my office for their first acupuncture treatment.

Yeah, acupuncture is getting more and more commonplace nowadays (even my Grandpa had acupuncture for a painful hip almost 10 years ago), but it’s still a pretty bizarre thing for many, many people.

Today I’m going to demystify an acupuncture treatment for all y’all. Help you to see what my devoted patients see. Understand why I can have a new patient going from being a nervous wreck about the thought of needles in their body one second, to blissfully snoozing away on the table 30 minutes later.

So, what really happens during an acupuncture appointment?

If it’s your first time (Ooh, you acu-virgin you!), you’ll take a seat in a comfy chair, I’ll get you a glass of water or tea, and then we’ll start out with your typical doctor’s office boredom. Yep, paperwork. Acupuncturists in Minnesota are licensed by the MN Board of Medical Practice, which means I follow many of the same rules and regulations as any other doctor’s office. I’ll go over your privacy rights and the acupuncture consent form with you and then we’ll be past the boring stuff and onto the reason you’re here!

One of the reasons people love getting acupuncture is that they’re not used to a medical practitioner actually taking the time to really get to know them and their health story. During your first treatment we’ll easily spend up to 40 minutes chatting about your medical history, your current symptoms - I’ll even want to hear about your diet, sleep, stress, and anything else that might be affecting your health.

After I get to know you better than a first tinder-date, I’ll take a look at your tongue and feel your pulse. No, I’m not counting your pulse rate - although I will make note if it’s especially fast or slow. When I’m feeling your pulse I’m actually feeling for the quality of your pulse. Does it feel taut like a guitar string? Or soft and squishy like a sponge. There are tons of variables that I’m feeling for when I take your pulse - all of which give me even more diagnostic information.

Same goes for looking at your tongue. (And no, please don’t scrape your tongue before an acupuncture treatment! That coat means something to me! And seriously, I look at tongues all day long - no need for embarrassment here.) The shape, color, and texture all tell me things! Just from looking at your tongue, I can tell how you’re pooping, how you’re sleeping, or how stressed out you’ve been feeling!

After the interrogation (oops, I mean interview and tongue/pulse diagnosis), it’s #needlenap time!

I generally ask patients to either wear loose clothing or to bring a change of shorts/t-shirt with them so I can have easy access to elbows and knees. (Lots of great acupoints around those elbows and knees!) Then you’ll lie down on my super comfy, heated massage table (yep, you read that right, this is the ultimate adult nap-time) and I’ll get started.

The treatment itself consists of ultra-thin, sterile, disposable needles inserted gently by yours truly into specific areas of the body. I generally explain to people that the insertion feels like a tiny mosquito bite - nothing like a shot from a doctor! The needles I use are crazy thin (thinner than a dog’s whisker) and incredibly comfortable.

Once the needles are in, there are a range of sensations you might feel. I’ve heard everything from “I feel light - like I’m floating,” to “My arms are like a ton of bricks right now.” My favorite was when a patient told me that it felt like “water bubbling from a stream.” Seriously! How freaking awesome is that? I always make sure to tell people that if any of the needles feel painful or uncomfortable, to let me know right away and I’ll take it out and re-do it. There’s no reason that you should feel any discomfort in one of my treatments (that’s just not my style).

Once you’re all set, you can lie back and relax. And don’t worry - even though you have needles in, you don’t have to be perfectly still. If you have an itch - scratch it! I don’t want you hopping off the table with a bunch of needles in you, but shifting your weight around to get more comfortable or scratching an itch on your nose is really no big deal. Your comfort is key. You may even doze off a bit! This deep sense of relaxation really helps stimulate the body's innate ability to heal.

What happens after an acupuncture treatment?

After you’ve been resting (or napping/meditating/counting the slats in the ceiling) for about 25 minutes I’ll gently wake you up and take all your needles out. Everyone always proclaims how much more relaxed they feel right away.

After you’re up and back to reality, I’ll have you drink a glass of water (and remind you to keep drinking more after you’ve left) and go over your treatment plan with you. The frequency of your appointments is totally dependent upon your specific situation. In some acute cases more treatments in a shorter amount of time is necessary, while in more chronic conditions, a longer treatment plan that includes herbs might be recommended. In general it’s good to plan on coming once a week for a month to “build up your dosage” and to help the treatments last longer. As your symptoms become less noticeable I’ll scale back the frequency to fit your body’s needs.

As for how you’ll feel later in the day - everyone reacts differently to their first acupuncture treatment. Some people feel a bit zoned out (almost as if you've had a couple at happy hour!) while others get a boost of energy. How you personally react will tell me a lot about your constitution and how I’ll proceed in future treatments. So always feel free to email me the next day and update me on how you’re feeling.

Either way, whether you feel relaxed or energized, I recommend you avoid vigorous exercise after treatment. Even though you might be thinking, "All I did was lay on a massage table and take a nap!" your body was working hard that whole time - moving a lot of energy and doing a lot of healing - all of which can be a little tiring. If you're determined to get in some exercise after your appointment, I suggest something gentle such as restorative yoga, tai chi, or a nice walk.

So there you go! An acupuncture appointment deconstructed. That’s not so scary after-all, right?

Do you feel like you have a better idea now of what goes on in a session? Do you still have more questions? I’d love to hear them (and answer them)!

Tell me in the comments what other questions you have about acupuncture!

Scared of needles? Try cups!


It's not uncommon for people to say to me, upon hearing that I'm an acupuncturist,

"That's so cool! I've always wanted to try that, but I'm too scared of needles!!"

Well, today's post isn't intended to change your mind just yet (although, did you know that most acupuncture needles are as a thin as human hair and will bend if you touch them?! Take a look at this photo for size comparison). Today, I want to tell you that getting "poked" isn't the only way to benefit from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). If you've looked around on my website, you've probably noticed that I provide many services in addition to acupuncture. Dietary therapy, herbal medicine, electrical-stimulation, moxibustion, and today's subject, fire cupping, are all effective parts of a TCM treatment.

You might be thinking to yourself,

"Fire cupping? That sounds scarier than acupuncture!"

A treatment based on negative pressure.

Well, it's only called fire cupping because the treatment uses heat to adhere round glass jars called cups to specific parts of the body. A flame is quickly inserted and removed from the cup to remove most of the oxygen and create a vacuum.  The negative pressure from the vacuum allow the glass cups to adhere to the skin, drawing both the skin and superficial muscle tissue upwards. This attracts blood, lymph fluids, and qi (energy) to the site in large quantities.  Local circulation is increased and fresh oxygenated blood saturates the tissue beneath the cups. This increased blood flow often leaves circular shaped redness or bruising on the skin after the cup is removed. The darkness of the mark depends on the amount of suction used, the length of time the cup is left on, and how tight or stagnant the underlying tissue was before treatment. Overall, fire cupping increases circulation, releases tight muscles, and breaks up congestion in the body.

But what does it feel like?

When cups are placed on the body and moved around they can feel like a strong deep tissue massage. Cupping should never be painful. Cups can be left on specific acupuncture points for up to 20 minutes, or massage oil can be used beneath the cups to allow them to glide over large muscular areas. People often compare fire cupping to an "inverted massage" and patients love how relaxed and calm they feel afterwards. I often use fire cupping when treating patients for stress, insomnia, and anxiety.

Fire cupping isn't just a spa treatment.

Here are a few ways cupping can be used therapeutically:

  1. Relieving tight muscles. Fire cupping is most widely known for relieving neck, shoulder, and back tension. Those photos of celebrities with circular bruises on their backs? That's from cupping. Does sitting at a computer all day long leave you with a stiff neck? Cupping is the perfect therapy for you.
  2. Improving respiratory health. One of the original uses of fire cupping was for treating pulmonary tuberculosis. Lucky for us, pulmonary TB is fairly rare these days, but respiratory ailments such as the common cold or bronchitis are as common as ever. Fire cupping helps break up congestion in lungs, allowing mucus to be easily expectorated. Has that back-to-school cold settled in your lungs? Cupping can help you with that.
  3. Relieving pain. In TCM, all pain is due to stagnation or obstruction. Blood, lymph, and energy get stuck, start to congest a specific area, and result in pain. Fire cupping strongly moves blood, lymph, and energy and can relieve pain quickly.  Do you suffer from sciatica or other low back pain? Cupping will give you the relief you're looking for.
  4. Increasing detoxification. Fire cupping stimulates lymph fluid circulation, helping the body rid itself of old toxins. Cupping also increases blood flow to the liver, one of the main detoxification organs, allowing it to work more effectively. Did you overindulge at the Minnesota State Fair this summer? A detox cupping massage can be a great accompaniment to a full detoxification program.

**Something to note: While firecupping is a popular and effective treatment, it's not suitable for everybody. Pregnant women, cancer patients, folks with circulatory issues on blood thinners, and people with severe dermatological issues should abstain from cupping.

Ready to try cupping for yourself? Book an appointment below:

Does acupuncture hurt?


Wanna know the #1 question I get asked when people find out I'm an acupuncturist?

"Does it hurt?"

OK, I get it. I say "needle" and the first thing that pops into your head is "pain." But acupuncture is known to treat pain, not cause it!

The simplest answer to your question is, "No." In fact, many of my patients fall into such a deep state of relaxation that they will often fall asleep on my massage table. A handful of them even snore! The rest of them get so zoned out during treatments, they get up afterward and feel like they've been at a Grateful Dead concert for way too long. Yep, they're acu-stoned.

Acupuncture treats pain - not causes it!

But wait, are you thinking "How can anyone sleep with needles in them!?"

Well, pretty easily it turns out. The sterile, disposable, stainless steel needles (or "pins" as some of my needle-phobic patients like to call them) are as thin as a dog's whisker and generally feel like a tiny mosquito bite when they puncture the skin. The needles I use have a tiny droplet of silicone on the tip so that the needle actually glides between the skin cells instead of puncturing them. They really are the most comfortable acupuncture needles on the market. 

Acupuncture needles are as thin as a hair and are basically painless.

I usually tell my patients that once the needles are in place, they might feel a variety of sensations: tingling, heaviness, warmth, etc. Some patients don't feel much at all and barely realize when I've started with the first needle. I always let them know that if they have any discomfort at any time during the treatment, never hesitate to let me know - I'll always adjust or remove the needle in question.

"What if I just can't do it? I'm too afraid of needles?"

Are you one of those people who has a zillion tattoos but is still totally freaked out by needles? (Seriously, I swear half my patients are covered in tattoos but still can't handle the thought of needles!) Well, have no fear because fire-cupping, and reiki, and essential oils, and health coaching (and on and on and on) are all here!  One of the wonderful things about acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine is that it uses a wide variety of methods (we call them modalities) to help bring about health and healing.  Obviously, while acupuncture needling is the most well-known traditional Chinese medicine modality, I have a lot of other tools in my toolbox and can always work with you to find the right form of therapy to help you get better.

Fire-cupping is a great alternative to acupuncture and most people compare it to a deep tissue massage.

But that's not my only other option. I often incorporate non-Chinese medicine forms of energy healing in my treatments as well, such as: essential oils, reiki, tuning forks, singing bowls, and guided meditation.

And don't even get me started on the herbs!

Chinese herbal medicine is what go me interested in acupuncture in the first place and will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, herbs are strong medicine! While acupuncture can produce quick and powerful effects, herbs are great for extending that effect between appointments - allowing the benefits of acupuncture to "hold" until the next session, while also addressing the root of the imbalance.

Food is medicine too.

Just as herbs were originally eaten in their whole form, food has a place in our medicinal toolbox too. Even a small change to the diet can bring about a large impact on our health. Just like Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."

So, the long answer to the short question of "Does acupuncture hurt?" ends up being : No, but if you really are too freaked out to try it, no biggie. Healing help is still available if you want it.

I want to hear what you think. Have you had acupuncture before? What did it feel like to you? Let me know below in the comments!