By Nicole Berrie
AT BONBERI, WE ARE BIG PROPONENTS OF a clean diet and plenty of exercise, but just as important is a rigorous schedule of self-care and bodywork. Bodywork you say? No, we’re not referring to the Morgan Page dance anthem Body Work, rather we mean shiatsu massage, infrared sauna, rolfing and the like. In addition to the aforementioned treatments, I typically get weekly acupuncture and cupping sessions to treat muscle tension, tight shoulders and keep my “qi” or energy flowing freely. And I’m not alone. (See Gwyneth, Jennifer and the league of Hollywood starlets who have boasted their cupping marks like triumphant warrior princesses on the red carpet.) Below, we spoke to Catherine Cusumano who treats everything from migraines to insomnia, about the ins and outs of acupuncture. Cusumano, who received a Master of Science in Acupuncture in New York, has studied Traditional Chine Medicine, Japanese and trigger point release style acupuncture–the latter which involves needling your tightest muscles until it produces a spasm for release. (If you’ve seen an episode of Homeland, you might know what to expect–in the best way, of course.)
When did you discover acupuncture as a form of healing?
I was a new massage therapist in my late twenties when I woke up in the middle of the night and my hands where clenched in a spasm. I couldn’t move my fingers at all. I was immediately concerned because this was a new career and it looked like it was already over. I asked everyone I knew what they thought I should do about it and someone said “try acupuncture”. After four treatments, not only did I not wake up with spasms in my hands but I had no pain in my arms or hands at all. I decided that acupuncture was what I really wanted to be doing. I did some research and found that in addition to healing physical pain, it was great for anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues and a variety of other things.
What are the biggest misconceptions about acupuncture?
The biggest misconception I encounter about all forms of healing, not just acupuncture, is that we have been conditioned to believe if we can’t feel our discomfort we are healthy. This is far from true. You are already in the early stages of injury or dis-ease often before you ever feel it. Our bodies are wired both mentally and physically to fend off discomfort for a period of time. Adrenaline kicks in when we have pain and we can “power through it”. Do that enough times and then you bend down to tie your shoe and seemingly, out of nowhere, you can’t straighten up. Your back pain didn’t start with the shoe incident, it likely started months, possibly years before. The pharmaceutical industry would like to you to believe that if you take their pill and you don’t feel the symptoms of your complaint, you are healed. Deep within our consciousness we all know this is not true. But we allow ourselves to believe it because it’s easier than all the changes one would have to make to truly heal.
What is the most common complaint among new acupuncture patients?
That’s too hard, “I don’t have time for that.” My response is always the same. It took time to get sick/injured/depressed and it takes time to heal. There is no magic bullet; no hypnotic trance; no mantra. If you want to change your health, your pain, your weight, you’ll have to change the behavior that led to this outcome.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Yes and no. If you are seeing a practitioner because you are healing from a physical accident like a car accident or a repetitive strain injury, then the likelihood is, yes, there will be some discomfort involved. As with any other style of treatment, communication is key. You should ask all the questions you have and don’t be afraid to veto a suggestion if you know you won’t be able to handle it. Some styles of acupuncture are more direct and can be very intense. Have your practitioner walk you through what to expect and have a safe word. You say it, the practitioner stops.
How often should someone get acupuncture?
In China, people get acupuncture daily, sometimes more than once a day if they are treating a specific illness or injury. For most people in the West, that isn’t realistic. Daily is best if you are treating something specific, acute or chronic. But if you can’t do daily, weekly will suffice. However, you will have to be more proactive in your own care outside of the treatment room to make the treatments optimally effective and long lasting.
What are the common benefits of acupuncture?
Better sleep, digestion, sex, mental clarity, energy and mood. I know, it sounds too good to be true but all these things are supposed to work well when they are in balance.
How does it help with sleep?
We have been conditioned to think insomnia is normal. It’s not. It’s an adrenal over-function brought on by too much lighting, too much sugar, too much processed foods and too much mental activity. Acupuncture softens adrenal function and over time can help reset it to a lower more natural level. Of course, turning your lights down at home shortly after dark and going to bed at the same time every night will also help prolong the benefits.
How does diet affect the body’s energy or chi?
Diet is the probably the single most important component for day to day good health. At this point, most people know that consuming too much sugar, in any form, caffeine, drugs, alcohol, etc., depletes energy. The suggestion I make eating foods as close to their natural state as possible, which requires less energy to digest. The more processed, the more exhausting it is because your body has to work so hard to break it down. Additionally, the more processed the less nutritional value it has. So you’re using energy to break down something that’s not giving back. It depletes you.