We asked Ausra to explain to us a little more about what acupuncture is, and how it might fit into the health and recovery options for dancers.
Good health is important to everyone — no matter what kind of work someone does, injury and illness never make it any easier. For dancers, injury and illness are especially challenging, because the physical and mental demands of dance require such a high level of performance to begin with. Yet the very nature of professional dance makes injury a constant hazard, and even minor injuries can have a major impact on a dancer’s ability to move as they would like.
In most of the western world, when someone is ill, they are normally expected to look for a cure from the traditional approaches of western medicine. The treatment of injury, on the other hand, has become more broad over the past several decades. Besides the conventional medical school disciplines of orthopedics and surgery, treatment — sometimes even prescribed by western physicians — can now include a wide variety of approaches: physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, massage, nutrition and more.
Increasingly, that list of possibilities can include acupuncture. Acupuncture is unique among modern treatment methods in that it doesn’t approach injury and illness differently; its approach is based on an understanding of how the health of the body, and of a whole person, is a function of balance and energy. We asked Ausra Januseviciute, who is a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Solis Acupuncture and Wellness in Evanston, to explain to us a little more about what acupuncture is, and how it might fit into the health and recovery options for dancers. Here’s what she told us:
One of the main foundational differences between eastern and western medical systems is that eastern medicine was founded on the basis of prevention, as opposed to addressing illness after it occurs.
Johnny Nevin: Many people know of acupuncture, but as a medical system its foundations are very different from the western medical principles that people are more familiar with, at least outside of Asia and Asian communities. There is a general idea that it involves a treatment with needles, but even that is misleading, since acupuncture needles are something completely different from the needles used in western medicine. Can you explain a little more about what acupuncture is, and how it works as a system of healing?
Ausra Januseviciute: Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Oriental Medicine — it originated thousands of years ago through the meticulous observation of nature, of the cosmos, and of the human body. It has been continuously refined through the clinical experience of over two-hundred generations of practitioners. Over the centuries, it developed into the system that is used today.
Eastern medicine looks at the person as a whole. It considers not only the physical body, but also the mind, the emotions and the spirit, as each part plays an important role in the health and well-being of an individual. Traditionally, Eastern medicine has used four main diagnostic pillars: interviews, observation, smell and palpation. These days the approach is more integrative —if a patient has any tests done by a western physician they are definitely taken into account.
In acupuncture, fine needles are used to stimulate specific points of the body, to re-establish the proper function of muscles, nerves, blood vessels, glands and organs. A modern view of this process is that the body responds to this treatment with the activation of self-healing mechanisms and the restoration of homeostasis. This response includes a number of different benefits — the release of physical and emotional stress, the activation and control of immune and anti-inflammatory mechanisms, the acceleration of tissue healing, and pain relief. As far as the actual process is concerned, many people are surprised to learn that acupuncture needles are extremely thin and flexible — not at all like hypodermic (injection) needles, which are big and hollow. Acupuncture needles are 0.10 – 0.20 mm in diameter— not much more than the thickness of a human hair!
One of the main foundational differences between eastern and western medical systems is that eastern medicine was founded on the basis of prevention, as opposed to addressing illness after it occurs. It is said that in olden times, a physician was paid if they were able to address the potential issues before they manifested into tangible symptoms. But if a patient became ill, their physician was committed to treating them without payment — because that meant that the physician had missed something.
The human body is an amazing system that is always trying to repair itself in order to reach homeostasis. However, sometimes it needs some help — that’s were acupuncture comes in.
Johnny: In dance, there is a very common awareness of what is referred to as ‘energy’, but the way that the term ‘energy’ is understood in Chinese medicine and acupuncture is more specific. Can you tell us more about what this understanding of energy is in acupuncture?
Ausra: The healing system of acupuncture is based on the concept of vital energy, which we call Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), which flows through all things. In the human body, Qi flows along pathways called meridians. The system of meridians can be compared to the water flowing in a river. Any disturbance in the smooth and harmonious flow of Qi can result in pain or illness. There are twelve main meridians that branch out into smaller channels, connecting to each other and all the parts of the body, including organs and tissues.
Depending on what symptoms and issues an individual has, specific points are chosen to move, redirect or enhance energy in a particular area of the body, which in turn promotes the body’s natural ability to heal and rebalance. The human body is an amazing system that is always trying to repair itself in order to reach homeostasis. However, sometimes it needs some help — that’s were acupuncture comes in.
Johnny: What kinds of health conditions do people come for treatment of? Can you tell us what kinds of health and injury issues — especially those that dancers might encounter — do you think acupuncture can help to improve?
Ausra: I see people with a wide range of conditions. Most people think of acupuncture for pain relief — and I see a good number of people with knee, back, and neck pain and with headaches. However acupuncture can treat so much more. I have patients coming for stress, anxiety, insomnia, digestive disorders, respiratory issues, allergies, fertility support and those who are undergoing cancer treatments. Being a dancer is demanding on the body. Acupuncture could be very helpful for general aches and pains, for recovering from injury, and for managing stress.
That, along with a desire to help people, led me to choose studying acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Johnny: Maybe you can give us a better idea of what acupuncture actually feels like — for many people, there is some apprehension about a treatment with needles. Is it painful or uncomfortable? Can you give us an idea of what someone could expect on a first visit, and what a course of acupuncture treatments might include in terms of time?
Ausra: Everyone has a different level of sensitivity when it comes to needles, but most people feel a slight sensation as a needle is inserted, and some don’t feel anything at all. An acupuncture treatement is quite relaxing; a lot of people fall asleep or drift off into a meditative state during the session. My youngest patient is six years old and the statement that he made after his first session was: “that was easy … and relaxing!”
During a patient’s first visit, I spend time getting to know them and their health concerns. I take a detailed health history, perform a physical exam and ask a wide range of questions about their symptoms, eating, exercise, sleep habits, emotional states and anything that may offer insight into their health. I also often employ diagnostic tools that are unique to acupuncture such as tongue and pulse diagnosis. The symptoms a patient has are put together like a puzzle, and they lead to a diagnosis based on patterns of disharmony. These methods of examination allow me to design a specific treatment plan for each individual.
The number of treatments will vary from person to person based upon individual needs. As part of the first visit, an appropriate course of treatments are discussed. In general, acute conditions of recent onset may only require two or three treatments. Chronic conditions usually require more treatments to achieve sustained results. Often a patient feels markedly better in a short amount of time, but more significant improvements are likely to occur incrementally.
Johnny: A lot of people would probably be interested to hear how you became interested in acupuncture, and what it was like to become certified — what developed your interest in this system of medicine, and what were the training and accreditation process like?
Ausra: I think I always had an interest in natural medicine and in understanding the human body. I grew up in Lithuania where I was surrounded by nature, and from my early days I learned about local medicinal herbs from my Mom and my Grandmother. I used to collect herbs for personal use as well as to sell it to a local pharmacy. In my early teens I bought a medical encyclopedia and started learning about the structure of the body and disease on my own. That, along with a desire to help people, led me to choose studying acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Many people do not realize the hours of schooling and training required to become a licensed acupuncturist. It takes four years to graduate from school, accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). The four-year program consists of 191.5 units and 3,510 credit hours of theory and clinical practice. Courses include: oriental medicine theory, acupuncture meridians and points, anatomy and physiology, herbology, Eastern nutrition and several semesters of clinical practice. It takes dedication and a strong desire to become an acupuncturist. But I cannot imagine doing anything that could be more rewarding than seeing people not only heal naturally, but in many cases discover new ways to enhance their own well-being.
For an extensive list of resources to learn more about Acupuncture, the Resources page at Solis Acupuncture and Wellness provides an excellent starting point.
There is more information about Ausra Januseviciute and Solis Acupuncture and Wellness at SolisAcupuncture.com, where you can find out about health conditions that can be treated with acupncture and read what some patients have said. You can also follow Solis Acupuncture and Wellness on Facebook.