I never thought floating would be a word I'd use to describe walking through manic Piccadilly Circus. However, after an hour spent with acupuncturist Ka Hang Leoungk at her tranquil Neal’s Yard treatment room I felt the most relaxed I had in months, maybe years.
I had booked in for acupuncture to see if it could help with my sleep. Although this ancient practise is often associated with improving aches, pains or injuries, it’s becoming more and more common as a treatment for stress related conditions. In fact, Ka Hang has seen a huge increase in patients coming to her with anxiety, and it now makes up 40% of her practice. ‘Stress and anxiety is now a very common element of modern city living, especially London. A lot of my clients work in high pressure industries and the uncertainty over past few years has definitely had a trickle down effect,’ Ka Hang commented.
While for the majority of my life I’d taken sleeping through the night for granted, during my mid twenties I suddenly found myself waking three, four or five times in the night. Tossing and turning, going to the loo, having an existential crisis and then repeating the whole routine. I got accustomed to waking up tired and groggy. Ka Hang explains how this type of thing isn't something to just put up with and that it’s normally caused by underlying anxiety - something I’ve also suffered with on and off. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, when the body is fighting stress on a daily basis other functions, such as sleep quality, end up being comprised .
This is where the acupuncture comes in. The premise of the practise is based on channel theory. Essentially it’s the idea that qi (pronounced chee) travels in pathways (or channels) through the body. ‘When this qi is blocked, weak or disrupted it can result in illness or pain. Acupuncture works on rebalancing the body’s qi naturally without medication,’ Ka Hang explained. In terms of treating anxiety, acupuncture works to restore the flow of qi. ‘It’s like trying to make the choppy waves smoother for the boat. Over time this makes your body much more able to handle the anxiety. We aim to calm the system down so it’s not always in fight or flight mode, so then the body can take care of itself.’ Western medicine may still struggle to explain why acupuncture works for so many people but significant observational studies support its validity. And I quickly find that whenever I wax lyrical to someone about my experience I’m nearly always met with a similar tale that's happened to them or someone they know.
The session itself is pretty straightforward. It started with Ka Hang looking at my tongue (a key diagnostic tool within Traditional Chinese Medicine) and then a fifteen minute consultation answering questions about diet, lifestyle, medical history and emotional wellbeing. Next up I lay down and she placed a number of needles in different points across my body. As someone who is pathetically squeamish and hates needles I was sceptical about how well I would fair at being human pin cushion. However, I barely noticed when the hair-fine needles were placed into my skin and I didn’t feel them at all throughout the session- so much so that when I stood up at the end one needle was still in place. Whether it was Ka Hang’s calming presence or the acupuncture at work, once the needles were in I felt immediately calmer As the session went on my whole body felt heavier and heavier, and I could feel myself nearly drifting off.
Once my 45 minutes were up and I made my way back into the real world I felt significantly lighter, as if a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That night I slept deeply and solidly through the night but in the week that followed I soon fell back into bad habits once again.
I’d booked to see Ka Hang again a couple of weeks later (most people book a block of multiple sessions), and it was after the second visit when I noticed the reall difference. The follow up session was nearly identical to the first was and as the needles were placed in my skin I felt the same sense of zen once again. In the nights following the treatment I continued to sleep solidly and without interruption.
Nearly two months later and I can't quite believe my luck. Sleeping disruption free has become my new normal. Despite the occasional night when old patterns reappear, I tend to wake up feeling more energised and subsequently much less frazzled. I only wish I’d tried it sooner.
For more information about acupuncture check out Ka Hang's website, Pointspace.
60 minutes acupuncture sessions at Neal's Yard Remedies cost £95.