I had always filed acupuncture under, “Seems like something that’s beneficial, but really don’t see the need for it in my life.” Before coming to Asia, I frankly had little to no experience with Eastern medicine and I was relatively healthy with no real issues so I never felt the need to explore those avenues.
Then I moved to South Korea to teach English. While I remain relatively healthy, I’ve started to develop lower back pain due to an uncomfortable bed and long periods at a desk, interspersed with being on my feet for hours. I’ve also become an insomniac. One night, I happened to be chatting with a girl in my Korean language class and mentioned my troubles sleeping. My classmate told me how she had been getting acupuncture for her insomnia and other issues and it had really been helping her. There was also the added benefit of acupuncture being covered under the national health insurance, which made the cost of a session dirt cheap compared to what I would pay back in the States. A quick Google search places the cost of a session of acupuncture in my hometown is $60 to $150, whereas my sessions here cost about $7 to $12. Since the worst I’d ever heard about acupuncture was that it made no significant difference, I decided to give it a try.
I met my friend before my initial appointment and she walked with me to the clinic, which is located on the fourth floor of an office building in downtown Daegu. The Hoo Oriental Medicine and Wellness Clinic looked like any fancy day spa with wood paneling and soothing music playing. I filled out a short information form while I drank herbal tea and was then handed a pair of shorts with velcro on the sides and a shirt with velcro fasteners on the back. I changed in a locker room and then proceeded to be run through a couple of different tests.
My blood pressure was taken (normal) and then I moved onto the “Total Body Composition Analyzer” machine. One of the technicians entered in my height and age while the machine weighed me. Then I had to to hold onto two metal handles with each hand and stay very still for about two minutes. Apparently the machine was calculating my BMI, my fat to muscle ratio, etc. Finally, I was given a stress test where electrodes were placed on my ankles and wrist and I was told to lie still for five minutes. After all the tests were complete, I was given a pouch with a warm stone against my stomach and went to see the acupuncturist for my consultation.
The acupuncturist was very friendly and spoke flawless English, which is why she is very popular with foreigners in Daegu (unfortunately, even after a year in Korea and taking Korean language classes, my Korean is still woefully bad). We discussed the reasons I had come to see her and went over my results. My BMI and muscle to fat ratio were normal. My heart rate indicated I worked out (I do) and could handle stress and my stress levels were low. The tests indicated I had bad circulation (which I already knew) and that I have some artery blockage (which was news since I’ve been trying to eat very healthy lately). We then discussed treatment options and she recommended a foot bath, compression therapy, cupping and acupuncture.
So after my foot bath, I was lead into a room with several beds with curtains separating each bed. First, the technician placed what looked like ski pants around my legs (I later found out it was gradient sequential compression therapy). Basically it was like getting having one of those chair massages, but on your legs. The stockings started squeezing at my toes and then rolled and massaged up to my thighs.. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, though my toes got squeezed uncomfortably at times. This was to help with the circulation issues.
Next, I was asked to lie on my stomach while the technician placed cups along my spine and lower back. According to Wikipedia, is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin. Some forms use actual fire, but the clinic used electric pumps. Basically my skin was pulled tight and released over the course of 15 minutes. Like the compression therapy, it wasn’t uncomfortable per se, but it felt very weird. However, the steady rhythm was enough for me to doze off for a few minutes. Afterwards I was left with the circular marks that Gwyneth Paltrow was made fun of for many moons ago. They fade in a couple of days, but it’s prevented me from wearing anything that shows my back because from a distance, it looks a bit like bruising.
Finally came the main event. My acupuncturist came out and showed me the needles she would be using which thankfully weren’t very big. Then she proceeded to place the needles on my lower back, up my spine, on my neck and my ankles. It didn’t hurt too badly when she inserted the needles; it just felt like a little pinch. Some spots where she put in the needles hurt worse than others. What I realized was very important was to find a comfortable position before the acupuncturist inserted the needles because I didn’t like the idea of shifting around with needles sticking out of me. I continued lying there for 15 minutes and then the session was over.
After doing the sessions once a week for about four weeks, I think it has helped a bit. I’m not necessarily sleeping longer, but I feel more rested. My back issues seem to have improved also. I’ll probably cut back to doing sessions every couple of weeks, but as of right now, I feel no need to stop.