Walking out from an acupuncture session most likely have you feeling on cloud nine; feeling warm and fuzzy. The sun seems brighter and the grass is greener. Someone just cut you off in line? Instead of feeling pissed, you simply shrug your shoulders and go on about your day. We acupuncturists like to refer to this as the ‘acu-high” - a desired perk when the parasympathetic nervous system is being activated.
What To Expect After An Acupuncture Session
During an acupuncture session, mood-enhancing hormones and neurotransmitters production are stimulated. Serotonin floods the system, and this happiness hormone boosts our mood, improves digestion, sleep and cognitive functions. Similarly, endorphin production is increased, and this natural painkiller can ease physical pain and discomfort. Meanwhile, cortisol, the stress hormone that contributes to symptoms of anxiety and depression are reduced. These are reasons why the majority of people feel great after an acupuncture session.
A small number of people can feel lousy especially after the first acupuncture session. Or even feel like symptoms are amplified. After All, healing is not linear, it’s possible for symptoms to get worse before they get better. This is because acupuncture starts to move stagnant Chi in the body (whether physical or stuck emotional energy) in new ways that your body is not used to. This is especially true for people who are highly sensitive, OR tend to internalize their emotions, with unprocessed trauma or/ and prolonged disease and toxins stored in the body. If this happens to you, do not freak out. Simply report the symptoms to your acupuncturist and your future sessions can be adjusted accordingly.
Tips To Make The Most Out Of Your Session
So when you get home from acupuncture, how can you best take care of yourself and make the most out of your treatment? Here are my advice:
Eat clean. As your body starts to eliminate toxins and immune responses are triggered, try not to consume food that can become a burden on the system. Some examples are processed food, saturated fats and sugary food. Instead, opt for nourishing and light meals that will go easy on the digestion; giving space for the body to eliminate built-up toxins and/ or correct any imbalances.
Minimize stress for the day. Maybe you feel rejuvenated after your acupuncture session and want to power through that work deadline. However, I’d recommend trying your best to avoid mentally stressful situations for the rest of the day. Acupuncture leaves your mind light and clear. Putting yourself in a stressful situation will trigger the sympathetic nervous system back into overdrive, and is counterproductive to what we try to achieve in a session.
Do avoid the cold. If it is cold and windy outside, bundle up and stay warm after your treatment. Since acupuncture speeds up your circulation and puts your body in a relaxed state, you might become more sensitive, and it will be a shock to the system to be exposed to extreme cold.
No rigorous workout. Do not go to a challenging HIIT class immediately after acupuncture. As acupuncture already works to speed up your blood and Chi circulation, physically straining exercises can result in dizziness or over-exhaustion. Gentle movements such as restorative yoga are okay, and encouraged.
Stay away from alcohol and caffeinated drinks. It is best to hydrate your body prior to, and post acupuncture. Acupuncture speeds up metabolic activities in the body, hence initiating the detoxification process. (Super normal to have a bowel movement after a session!) Hydration will further aid to flush toxins and move lymph fluids. On the other hand, caffeinated drinks and alcohol dehydrates the body. Caffeine also activates the sympathetic nervous system, and hence counters the effects of acupuncture.
I don’t need to emphasize the fact that alcohol taxes the liver. To make matters worse, alcohol is a neurotoxin and an immunosuppressant, hindering immune responses and nerve responses, both of which acupuncture aims to optimize.
The Bottom Line
Acupuncture is all about supporting the body and optimizing its metabolic processes so it can re-balance and heal. As a rule of thumb, simply enjoy some mindful connection with yourself post acupuncture. Be those unprocessed emotions that simmer up or any unfamiliar physical sensation. Listen to your body. Show yourself some genuine self love.
*A version of this article was first published on MindBodyGreen