- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

For much of my life, acupuncture held a dubious position in my mind next to infomercial products, psychic hot lines and other enterprises I deemed "shady."
Of course, I knew next to nothing about the ancient healing art, save what I gleaned from television. And if "The Brady Bunch" didn't cover it, I didn't know about it.
So when I was volunteered recently to undergo an acupuncture session for this story, I felt less than elated.
Fortunately, my psychic counselor said it was a good time of year to try new experiences.
Acupuncture is the Chinese practice of using tiny needles to alleviate pain and disease by stimulating various pressure points.
My acupuncturist, Teresa Liu, proved a wise choice for my journey into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which involves herbal therapies as part of its practice.
For starters, Miss Liu studied acupuncture in her homeland at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where she also earned a degree in medicine.
More important, she inserts needles into her patient with all the flair of Bill Bradley on the campaign trail. Her lack of drama settled my nerves. Her breadth of knowledge on the subject allayed any other fears I had brought to her Acupuncture & Natural Care Center in Adelphi.
"A lot of medicines doctors don't know how to explain," Miss Liu says in her thick accent about acupuncture's positive results. There are enough satisfied clients to ensure acupuncture's place in the Western world.
Though she has been in the United States for 10 years she's a Maryland board-certified acupuncturist Miss Liu seems a bit mystified by English-based humor; a few jokes from me and a photographer fell flat on her office floor. Watching some "Brady Bunch" reruns might be what the doctor ordered.
Acupuncture purports to alleviate pain caused by arthritis, ulcers and countless other conditions by manipulating the body's energy flow through about 800 designated points. It allows the body to heal itself by releasing endorphins through its needle pressures.
Miss Liu, who opened her practice three months ago, recommends 12 acupuncture sessions to correct a person's "chi" his or her vital life energy.
My first acupuncture session proved to be more of an introduction than a life-altering event. Though I usually kvetch about one ache or another, that day I stood before Miss Liu virtually pain free.
Having a clean bill of health hurt. I longed for a cranky knee I could submit to her healing touch.
She typically begins by testing a client's cholesterol and glucose levels in addition to conducting a brief interview to get a feel for the status of the person's health.
We skipped such formalities. She might become disappointed in me if my blood tests revealed a McDonald's french-fry level above the legal limit.
Once I hopped up on her examining table and readied myself, she put on her game face.
"The first thing they think of the needle is pain," she says of new patients. "No, no, it's very safe. I'll show them."
Indeed, the .18-millimeter-thick needles cause no discomfort. Only the needles placed along my ear caused a flutter of sensation, but even that couldn't wring a mild expletive from my lips.
She inserts each needle into place without warning. The sensation at times is like a mosquito bite. She doesn't ask if it hurts. She knows it doesn't.
Miss Liu flitted around me matter-of-factly, as if nothing possibly could go wrong. Her lack of a bedside manner was her bedside manner. It was refreshing.
Still, when she tap-tapped a needle into the pocket of skin near my throat, my body clenched. We're taught that needles, by their nature, cause pain, draw blood or both, if your doctor is preoccupied with paperwork at the time. Acupuncture needles, though, are razor-thin and when inserted properly, very rarely draw blood.
Rather than being unpleasant, having my body lined with a dozen needles was fascinating. When you have spent a lifetime avoiding sharp objects and you're lying there with a dozen of them sticking out of you with no consequences, it's glorious.
A new twist to the age-old practice involves employing electric current to stimulate the needles rather than manually twisting them. The electricity provides more consistent stimulation.
Miss Liu attached red and black "jumper-cable" style clamps to the needles poking out from my arms, then set the charge at a relatively low setting.
For an instant, I expected a jolt so strong it would convulse my body and turn my hair white. Instead, I felt my forearm muscles quiver slightly with every wave of current.
This method began about 20 years ago, Miss Liu explains.
The thought of a new wrinkle in a practice thousands of years old is both refreshing and scary, but I felt no ill effects from the electricity.
In China, acupuncture's storied history is taught along with the energy points and other essential elements a practitioner must know.
"You have to learn a lot of old culture," Miss Liu says.
Many of Miss Liu's clients hail from South and Central America, where, she says, water purity is less than ideal. Painful kidney stones often result.
"A lot of people come here without insurance… . They need help," she says. Some insurance carriers cooperate with her office and its clients. Others don't.
That trend is improving slowly, says Heejung Seung, director of admissions for the Maryland Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Bethesda.
Miss Seung says acupuncture practices are flourishing around the District, particularly drawing area seniors who may have exhausted traditional remedies.
After my session, I felt somewhat invigorated. The only indication that I had gone through a therapy-type experience was that my shoulders felt tired, as if I had served too many aces the day before with each arm.
Perhaps it was the twitching from the electric current running my upper body through an imaginary workout.
Having gone through the acupuncture process, I almost can't wait for the next time I wrench my knee lunging for a forehand smash or a sinking line drive.
Miss Liu, along with her needles and centuries-old wisdom, will be waiting for me.

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