Over the years, I’ve treated many patients for a variety of conditions. Some I remember well, others have faded a bit in my memory. However, I clearly remember my first patient on my first day of acupuncture practice.
She was a lovely woman who was suffering from severe sciatic pain, a condition that is often effectively treated with acupuncture. I remember the day because I was nervous and my mind was chaotic. I was in awe that after years of study and practice, I was seeing my first patient who would actually pay me for doing what I loved to do.
It was awkward; the flow of the appointment was off because I hadn’t treated anyone in my new space before. I left the window blinds open as I needled her lower back, butt, and legs, only remembering to close them halfway through the session. The treatment felt disorganized and unfocused, even though I knew what I was doing. Not surprisingly, the patient didn’t respond very well to that day’s acupuncture treatment.
To this day, I have continued to treat patients with sciatic pain and piriformis syndrome with points and techniques similar to that first treatment. And my patients get better. The difference? It’s what I would call intention.
What is intention? It can be described in a number of ways, but to me it’s a purpose or guiding principle for that particular moment in time. Intention is the message that I send out into the universe about what I want to have happen. It syncs my heart and mind and guides my actions. Intention isn’t really about setting goals. I believe intention is very immediate, where goal setting is about motivation and plans for the future. Intention feels very in the moment to me.
But can intention affect the healing process? I believe so, and here’s how:
- Intention demands a clear diagnosis and a well thought out treatment plan, based on the underlying cause of their problem. This is about the why. If I don’t know why my patient is experiencing their symptoms or illness and what I’m doing about it, I’m merely throwing darts at their symptoms.
- This clarity of diagnosis and treatment gives rise to the expectation that my actions will be effective. I talk this through with my patients. I tell them my plan for the session, and during the treatment, I explain the purpose of each acupuncture point I’m using and why I’m using it on them. By doing this I’m conveying my expectations—my intention—for their healing.
- Intention transforms chaos into focus. The pain and emotional impact of a patients’ suffering can make them feel very overwhelmed and out of control. By sorting through the layers of their disorder and determining both an underlying cause and a treatment strategy, we both feel like there’s a clear path forward.
- Intention mobilizes the power of the mind. We know through reams of research that the mind is a powerful tool in both developing illness and in the healing process. By adding intention into the mix, I’m employing the healing power of my patient’s mind to help them get better.
The bottom line is that Chinese medicine can offer some very effective healing modalities. However, whether it’s acupuncture, Chinese herbs, food therapy, or cupping, I believe that intention is the secret sauce that focuses the treatment and instills confidence in the healing process. When I think back to my first patient on my first day, I realize that my nervousness and unfamiliarity with the treatment space left no room for clear intent. But in the years since then, I’ve learned to focus my mind on the healing at hand. Chinese medicine can be a powerful system of healing, and combined with intention, it can be even more so.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com