Acupuncture isn’t really into hard-and-fast rules. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. This is the beauty of acupuncture—it meets us wherever we’re at.
However, there are some general rules of thumb when it comes to preparing for an acupuncture appointment. All are tweakable based on your constitution and preferences, but in my experience, these guidelines tend to improve the treatment experience and outcome for most people.
Are you ready to get the most out of your next acupuncture treatment? Remember these eight things.
Avoid scheduling acupuncture before or after something really strenuous. You don’t need to be sedentary on either side of an appointment, but nor should you be going nuts at the gym or suffering through an extremely stressful meeting. Also avoid sandwiching—squeezing in acupuncture immediately between two other events—as this has a tendency to make you either late for or stressed out during your treatment.
This is an important one, and it’s something I get asked about a lot. Everyone metabolizes food at different rates, so adjust as you see fit, but a good guideline is to eat about two hours before an acupuncture appointment. You don’t want to show up really full, or after having eaten something heavy, fried or spicy, but do not go for acupuncture on an empty stomach. It can leave you feeling lightheaded or physically depleted. If you’re debating whether it’s too close to your appointment to eat, eat. Better to be a little full than distracted by hunger during your appointment.
Coffee is not your friend
That is not to say that coffee is never your friend, but coffee is not your friend immediately before acupuncture. If you have a morning appointment and can’t go without your morning cup, do what you have to do. But if you’re going for acupuncture later in the day, avoid coffee for at least two hours before.
Coffee is a stimulant. It has been shown to release norepinephrine and epinephrine, which kick your body into fight-or-flight mode. Acupuncture works to shift you away from that sympathetic (fight-or-flight) state and toward a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) one, so coffee inhibits the process. It also makes it difficult for the acupuncturist to get accurate readings on your pulse and tongue, since coffee increases your heart rate and stains your tongue.
Neither is alcohol
One of acupuncture’s greatest gifts is its ability to help us see more clearly. Not literally, as in improved vision (although it has been known to do that too), but it helps us see situations and our symptoms with more clarity. Alcohol does the opposite. It numbs us, takes the edge off, which during acupuncture is not a good thing. One goal of acupuncture is to bring more awareness to how we feel. Impairing the senses with alcohol is not helpful.
Remember where you’ve been
Before acupuncture, spend some time thinking about—or even making a list, if that helps—any significant medical events in your life. For example, family disease history, car accidents, broken bones, other serious injuries, long-term illnesses, surgeries, etc. Also make note of any medications you are taking currently as well as any that you took long-term in the past (e.g., birth control pills).
We tend to forget these things, or assume they’re irrelevant, but from an acupuncture perspective they help contribute to your overall picture of health. Your acupuncturist will want to hear about them. When in doubt about whether to include something, it’s always better to mention it.
Wear loose clothing
This is so the acupuncturist can easily access the places where he or she wants to place needles. It’s especially important if you’re going for a community acupuncture appointment, because treatments are performed in a group setting with clothes on. However, even for private acupuncture appointments, loose clothing usually makes things easier for you and the practitioner.
Even when we schedule wisely, there is still a tendency to leave at the last minute for appointments. This makes most appointments more stressful than they need to be, but especially with acupuncture, arriving at your appointment amped-up is counter productive. It’s similar to how coffee works against the process of calming the nervous system. When you rush into an appointment, your pulse is higher than normal, your mind is spinning, and you’re tense with worry about the prospect of being late.
Many of us already deal with these qualities during our regular stress-filled days—and they’re often the reasons for coming to acupuncture in the first place—so why make them worse by rushing? Regardless of when your appointment is, put it in your calendar as 15 minutes earlier. The worst than can happen is you sit for 15 minutes in a quiet waiting room. Finally, time and space to hear yourself think.
Turn off your cellphone
Last but not least, please turn off your phone. Not on vibrate. Off. Do it before your appointment actually starts, to avoid forgetting and/or getting distracted by a call or message immediately before you’re about to begin. This is your time and no one else’s. Make it count.
Some of these things are easy to forget. Create a pre-acupuncture checklist, something you can glance at on the days you have acupuncture, once first thing in the morning and again just before your appointment.