Episode 024: An Introduction to Acupuncture with Emily Chui

An Introduction to Acupuncture

In this episode I’m joined by Emily Chui. Emily is an herbalist and Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine who focuses on addressing the emotional well-being of her patients, which shows up in women’s health issues, digestive issues, sleeping disorders, and stress, which are all closely related to one another. In her practice, Emily practices classical theories to treat modern living health issues using gentle acupuncture styles and herbal protocols. You’ll hear Emily share what acupuncture is, share a brief overview of some of the foundational principles of TCM and what you can expect in an acupuncture session.


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Naomi Nakamura: Back in 2012, I was going through a pretty bad IT band injury and I had been going to physical therapy at UCSF in San Francisco for months and this happens to be where they have their RunFit Clinic, which is entirely focused to the sport of running. And a lot of the physical therapists there are marathon runners themselves and experienced in treating running-related injuries. So I thought I was in pretty good hands. But it got to the point in my treatment where my physical therapist didn't think she could help me anymore because my body just wasn't responding. So, she referred me to an acupuncturist and that was my first exposure to Chinese medicine.

During those visits with my acupuncturist at that time, she would start our sessions by looking at my tongue and my fingernails and then she'd write down all these notes and I was always curious as to why she looked at those things and what she saw and what they indicated. And I didn't really understand what acupuncture was all about, but I knew that I felt so much better after my sessions, so I continued going even after my injury had healed until that particular acupuncturist moved out of the area.

Fast forward three years later to the summer of 2016 and I was still struggling with trying to figure out and understand what was going on with my body. And I knew that stress was a big problem for me and I remembered how relaxed I used to feel after my acupuncture sessions and it was really hard for me to tap into that heightened state of relaxation on my own. So, I turned to Google to find a licensed acupuncturist in my local community and that's where I found Emily, who I have now been seeing almost every week since then. And Emily is this week's guest.

Emily received her doctoral degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine from Five Branches University in San Jose, California. And before becoming licensed to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine, she completed an externship program at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. So, Emily has had the opportunity to not only study with some of the top acupuncturists and herbalists in the United States, but she's also had the opportunity to study with some of the best traditional Chinese medicine doctors in China.

Besides specializing in pain management, Emily also focused on addressing the emotional well-being of her patients, which shows up in so many different ways from women's health issues to digestive issues to sleeping disorders and stress, which are all so closely related to one another and so familiar to me. So, in her practice, Emily uses classical theories to treat modern living health issues using gentle acupuncture styles and herbal protocols, too. And she's also trained by the Acupuncture Without Borders to serve first responders and victims in the wake of natural disasters, using community-style auricular acupuncture to treat stress and trauma. I didn't know that. That's pretty cool.

She also studies and practices Qigong and in her free time, she likes to travel with her family. So, Emily has a brick and mortar practice, an in-person practice, in San Carlos, California on the San Francisco peninsula and she takes pride in providing the community with the highest level of care to maintain their health and a balanced state. So, this being my second stint of acupuncture, this time around for me is totally different from the first time. Because I know more about holistic health and how every system in our body is connected and I've done more learning about seasonal eating and Chinese medicine. So I feel like this time around, I'm getting a lot more out of the experience, because I've put more effort into understanding it.

You'll hear me say in this interview a few times how my weekly one-hour session with Emily is the most relaxing hour of my week and it truly is. And I believe just having that relaxation hour in and of itself is just so healing to my body. So I thought I'd bring Emily on the show to just share briefly what acupuncture is, give you a brief introduction to it, some of the basic practices and beliefs of Chinese medicine, and then also what you can expect in your first visit if you've never had acupuncture done on you before. So, it's a really interesting conversation. I hope you enjoy it. And without further ado, let's get to our interview.

Hi Emily, welcome to the show.

Emily: Hi Naomi. Thank you for having me here on your show.

Naomi Nakamura: Thank you for joining me again. For the listeners, we actually recorded this interview back in November and I had some technical difficulties, so I appreciate you joining me again to re-record this.

Emily: No problem.

Naomi Nakamura: So you are my personal acupuncturist.

Emily: Yes.

Naomi Nakamura: And when I tell people that I see you weekly, I get a lot of questions about it. So first of all, why don't you just tell us, what is acupuncture?

Emily: Yeah, so well acupuncture is just one of the many modalities that's used in Chinese medicine. So, in acupuncture, we use needles, really tiny and small, and they are retained in the body points for about 20 to 30 minutes to work with your energy for healing, basically.

Naomi Nakamura: Okay. And for those of you who are wondering, it does not hurt. I'm sure you get that question a lot.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah and actually it's not painful and it's supposed to be pain-free, too, especially when you are resting with the needles, the most that you might feel is when I put in the needles, you might feel a prick of it and then the feeling should be gone by a couple seconds later.

Naomi Nakamura: Yeah and a lot of times, I don't even feel the prick. I don't even feel it at all. But I will say, it is the most relaxing hour of my week.

Emily: Yes. That's great.

Naomi Nakamura: So what drew you to practice acupuncture?

Emily: So, well I first got interested in Chinese medicine and acupuncture when I was little. I grew up in Hong Kong, so my mom would take me along to her appointments and what was really fascinating to me was that the TCM doctors who were able to just get information without really talking to you, like knowing the Chinese culture, they don't really like talking to you too much. But they would just take your pulses and look at the tongue and then there they go. They would write you a formula or they would know what points to put in, so that was really fascinated to me and that's how I really started looking into learning about it on my own and eventually I made that as my career, too.

Naomi Nakamura: I love it. So you mentioned the pulse and the tongue, which I'm very curious about. So, when I saw my first functional medicine doctor, she also did a lot of, I think they call it muscle response. So she worked with the pulse a lot as well as my biologic dentist, so why don't we start with the pulse? What can you tell from the pulse and then also what can you tell from the tongue? Because I always look at my tongue and I don't know what it is I'm looking for.

Emily: Yeah, so basically the pulse and the tongue, what we're looking for is different systems to confirm our diagnosis. But I'm more interested in taking pulses, so I will start with that. So when I take the pulse, it's looking at the images. It's not like when you go to a Western doctor where they just look at the speed or your heart rate. It's actually the image of the pulse that we're looking at and when you're in a perfect, healthy condition, it's supposed to be like a sine wave move. And so, we're human beings so all of us are not really that in balance. There will be little blockages here and there, maybe some kind of deficiency or something that we need to move the energy through. So when I take the pulse, I'm actually just looking at that image and what my goal is for each treatment is to balance it out. To bring it back to the sine wave.

Naomi Nakamura: So what brings this out of balance from a Chinese medicine perspective?

Emily: Well, there are a lot of different things. I would say the number one big thing for now would be stress. Emotional being, when we're in stress then everything just gets stuck and our energy gets stuck that way too. And then also, our diet. People are more health-conscious now what they are eating but then there are still a lot of people who are not yet doing that. So, that can be a problem too and I would say another thing would be sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, that's one thing but then there are also people who just stay up late at night, not really having a good quality sleep. And that can definitely hurt our system and bring us out of balance.

Naomi Nakamura: So that's not very different from Western medicine.

Emily: That's true. Yeah. I would say Chinese medicine, Western medicine, we're still doing the same thing. We want to bring our body in homeostasis, in balance. So, it's just the theories, the way we treat is different. But then eventually, we still want to be healthy, right?

Naomi Nakamura: Right. So what are those basic principles of Chinese medicine? Because I know you look at the different organs of the body, but I think you have a different way of looking at them. So if you could maybe explain that a little bit.

Emily: Yeah, yeah. I would say the really basic principles really go down to yin and yang, just like Tai Chi symbol, just yin being more materialistic and yang being more functional. So, when we say yin, we relate to the blood, the body fluids, the essence, just the materials in the body. And yang would be the energy force to move these yin materials and just creating the flow of it. So, what was your other question? Sorry.

Naomi Nakamura: So what are the basic principles of it? Because I know that you talk about, for example, with the different seasons, every season has different organs that you focus on. So can you explain that a little bit?

Emily: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Right. Our different organ systems in Western medicine we have our internal organs and in Chinese medicine we have basically the same things, but then we look at them differently. Basically, we like to use them as different pathways to treat different diseases, if you will. And then there are paired organs, too. So there's the yin organ and there's your yang organ and there's a pair of it. But when we treat the patterns or the disease, we would look at not only the organ system that's affected but we would also look at the other ones, because they are all connected. And so, how the five elements chart is everything is connected to one another and if there's a imbalance in one of the systems, we have to do something else in another system, you would be able to get back into that system.

Naomi Nakamura: So the yin and the yang.

Emily: Right. Yeah. Basically, that's the basic principle. That's the first thing we learn in school, too.

Naomi Nakamura: The yin and the yang. So that's really interesting. So, maybe you can walk us through ... For me, I saw you for digestive issues. So what would the yang organ be for that and what would the yin organ be for that?

Emily: To put it really simply, in a simple form-

Naomi Nakamura: We like simple.

Emily: Stomach would be the yang. Yeah. Stomach would be the yang and spleen would be the yin organ. But in Western medicine, we don't really talk about the spleen. Spleen in Chinese medicine, is actually a big organ that we like to look at, especially in the digestive system because those two organ systems, they are in the center of our body, so they actually feed other systems, too.

Naomi Nakamura: Much like in the way we know in Western medicine that the digestive system is pretty much the second brain of the body, so everything else feeds off of the digestive system.

Emily: Yeah, yeah. But if you think about it, if you don't eat, you can't really function. So that's really important.

Naomi Nakamura: Right. I don't think it's so way out there as some people think because I think when you understand these basic principles, you can kind of see the correlations between the two. I think that they're just ... The terminology and just the different approaches are a little bit different, but I don't think there's a whole lot of difference because we're all ... It's just the human body.

Emily: Yeah, yeah. Like I said earlier, it's just a different way of treating, but down the line we still just want to get back in balance.

Naomi Nakamura: So what are the common issues that acupuncture can help with?

Emily: I would say most people come in for pain and then they would realize that, oh, it's not just for pain. So they would want to work on other stuff, too. And another big area that people would like to work on is stress and emotional well being, and then the digestive system, digestive diseases.

Naomi Nakamura: So I talked about how I went through acupuncture the first time probably about five years ago and I went for pain, because I had some running injuries and my physical therapist actually couldn't help me anymore and suggested that I go see an acupuncturist and that's why I did. And my whole mindset was about fixing this pain, but really now my whole approach is yes, you're helping my digestive system. But if I can somehow tap into that parasympathetic nervous system and get into a relaxed state, it will help those other things, too.

Emily: Right and that's actually one of the more important things that happen during the treatment, too, is you going into a really deep relaxation mode and that's important because that's how our body can best receive the treatment. Because when you're not really relaxed then your qi is not quite moving, too.

Naomi Nakamura: And that's what I found for me. Like I said, it honestly is the most relaxing hour of my entire week and I am not someone to relax easy or I never took naps, but just after you put the needles in and you just let me go for 20 or 30 minutes, it's like I feel like a new person.

Emily: Right. Yeah. That's great.

Naomi Nakamura: Now, are there any particular people who acupuncture is best for? Is it really for anyone?

Emily: I would say it's for anyone because our body is the same. It's made up of qi and blood, mainly. And then we just want to increase their blood flow, their circulation in the body, in order to treat patterns, the unique patterns that we identify from the pulse and the tongue.

Naomi Nakamura: Okay. Now you also use something else on me that I'm really curious in knowing more about and that's the moxa.

Emily: Yeah, so moxa is actually in the word acupuncture in Chinese characters, so there are two parts of it. So really, acupuncture is made up of the two things and moxa is just burning of an herb called mugwort and just burn the herb and then use it in a little tool called tiger warmer and the smoke and the heat will penetrate in the body, working just like needles. Also, because it's an herb, it also has an impact of having herbs going into the body, just like picking herbs. But instead of ingesting something we're just using it externally on the body.

Naomi Nakamura: Through the ... So, through the skin, just like the needles.

Emily: Right, right. Yeah. Yeah.

Naomi Nakamura: I have to say, I find it really soothing and I know you said that a lot of people don't mind the smell, because there is a distinct odor to it. I don't mind it.

Emily: Yeah. Right. Right. I guess not until after, right? When you're having-

Naomi Nakamura: No, it doesn't even bother me afterwards. I think I just find the heat of it very soothing, so I just-

Emily: It is. Yeah.

Naomi Nakamura: Yeah. It doesn't bother me at all.

Emily: Good. Good. Yeah. I think some people would say that after because the smell can stick on your clothes and so it's not that nice. But even so, they want it because it feels so good.

Naomi Nakamura: Okay, so for someone who's never tried acupuncture before but might be interested in adding it to their healthcare routine or regime, what would you recommend or how would you recommend someone go about finding an acupuncturist who's reputable? What would you look for? What should someone expect from their first session?

Emily: I think for someone who have never had it yet, finding a person that you can connect with is important. Sometimes it might be covered by insurance, but then you should really find someone that you can connect with and that person-

Naomi Nakamura: On a personal level.

Emily: Right, yeah. I think that's more important than other things. However, if you're just starting out, you might want to try someone in your network that might cover it so that the money part is not in your mind. Then, I think on the next level, you should really find someone who can heal you instead of just going to somebody who might not be helping you but just paid for by insurance.

Naomi Nakamura: That's true. I actually found you on Google.

Emily: Okay.

Naomi Nakamura: I just Googled.

Emily: Yeah, I would say maybe look at Yelp reviews, look at other reviews, word of mouth, try to ask your friends around and see who's good for them and then you can try them out. Really try to look for someone who you feel beneficial.

Naomi Nakamura: And I actually want to point out to listeners as well, a lot of insurance plans cover acupuncture, which you may not realize. So, yes, I went out and found Emily through Google, but thankfully, she was in my network, so I see her every week because my insurance covers it. So that might be something if you are interested in trying out that check your insurance to see if they cover it. A lot of them ... I know Kaiser's an HMO in a lot of states and I do know that they cover acupuncture, so I would imagine a lot of other insurance providers also provide that coverage for their clients, as well. So definitely, if that's something you're interested in, that might be a benefit that you have that you're not taking advantage of.

Emily: I think Kaiser has their own acupuncture department, too, so you can get a referral from your doctor in Kaiser and then they can refer you out.

Naomi Nakamura: Yeah, so even HMOs are offering this, so I think it's a widely accepted form of treatment with most insurance providers. For someone who's never had an acupuncture treatment before, what can you tell them that they can expect in their first visit, to help them mentally prepare of what's to come?

Emily: You know, because it's needles in the body, some people might be nervous about it. But I would say try to be relaxed. The more relaxed, the better it is. And then you might feel tired after treatment, especially if you're a person who is always using your adrenaline. But you can feel tired or some people will tell me that they feel tired but they feel like they're having more energy. So it's like both. So just try to take it easy the day, drink a lot of water, just after other treatments, too, you want to let the toxins get out of the body and the treatment would still go on for the next two or three days because when we put in the needles, it's just activating the system. So your qi still moves after the needles goes out.

I would say if you're going in for a pain, then your pain can get more sensitive before it gets better. This is the kind of thing that I would always tell people to expect.

Naomi Nakamura: That's good to know. I know that for me, I mean the needles are so tiny that they really aren't anything to be afraid of. And I think what she was just described, that actually happens to me because I'm someone who doesn't relax. I'm type A. I'm always running on adrenaline and after our treatments, I've learned not to try and work out after our treatments, because for one, I am really relaxed and I had a really good nap. So while I do feel more energized, I don't have that, yes, let's go work out and I don't want to put that type of stress or pressure on my body after a treatment. So I always try to work out before our treatments or I just don't work out that day at all.

Emily: Yeah. That's better, I think.

Naomi Nakamura: So, Emily, how can people connect with you? I know you work locally, but you do have a website. So how can people just connect with you if they want to learn more?

Emily: Yeah. They can just go up to my website. My email and all my contact information is on there. They can also send me a message through the website, I believe.

Naomi Nakamura: Great. And I'll include links to all of those in the show notes. If you are in the Bay area and you are looking for an acupuncturist, Emily is in San Carlos, right on the peninsula.

Emily: Yes.

Naomi Nakamura: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us and for re-recording this interview with us. I am so appreciative.

Emily: Thank you. Thank you, Naomi.



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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.