A series of small, flexible needles ride the ridge of Mili Rauwolf’s leg as she rests on the table at the clinic. The thin pieces of metal bend easily as acupuncturist Gayla Woodenlegs’ hands manipulate them to find the perfect spot to relieve her patient’s pain. One by one, the needles go in easily, feeling less like being stuck by a needle and more like you’ve just brushed up against a thorn.
“She’s gentle,” Rauwolf said. “It doesn’t hurt at all. It can hurt, but it doesn’t with Gayla.”
Rauwolf waits patiently as Woodenlegs identifies the best points along her body to tackle her pain. She jokingly calls it her
“old lady pain” – aches and discomfort in muscles and joints. “I came in last week with shoulder pain and spasms. It was a 10,” Rauwolf said. “But I came in and told her to fix me, and by the time I left it was a three.”
Rauwolf is one of many who have turned to alternative medicine to seek relief from the over-prescription of drugs that all too often simply mask pain instead of addressing the root problem. She visits Woodenlegs’ clinic often, both as a preventative measure and for treatment when symptoms flare.
The points across the body are methodically chosen based on Rauwolf’s symptoms and what Woodenlegs knows will work for her long-term client. She needles her feet, legs and arms before leaving her to relax in the treatment room.
“It takes a little time,” Woodenlegs said.
The ancient medicine of acupuncture has been honed across the centuries, with the earliest records dating back to 100 A.D. B.C.E.
The complex art is based on an intricate knowledge of the human body and the methods and philosophies take years to learn. Classically trained acupuncturists must hold master’s degrees in the subject before they can be licensed, Woodenlegs said, and it’s a brutal exam. “It’s not a weekend class to get certified,” she said. “Some people may think it is, but we follow an intense curriculum.”
Acupuncturists hold that there are 361 points on the human body, each of which lies along one of 12 main meridians associated with the different organ systems, creating a vast network of intricate pathways throughout the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that your qi (pronounced chi), or life energy, travels along these pathways and when stress or illness happen, the energy can be interrupted or blocked.
That’s where acupuncture comes in.
Trained acupuncturists use bendable needles to manipulate the various points to help re-balance the flow of qi.
“It’s based on the concept of the yin and yang. You want to achieve balance,” Woodenlegs said.
Woodenlegs was introduced to acupuncture when her youngest daughter became ill as a baby. “Western doctors kept putting
her on the same medicines over and over again,” she said. “But she wasn’t getting better.”
The continued bouts of illness prompted Woodenlegs’ doctors to suggest that her daughter might have a compromised immune system or childhood cancer. “I called a friend crying and she told me to call an acupuncturist.”
At her wit’s end, she followed her friend’s advice despite reservations. “I wasn’t sure what they could do for me. But then they told me to drink these herbs and eat these foods since I was still nursing, and I did it and she got better,” she said.
Soon after, she decided to learn the art herself. Now, years later, even her grandchildren call her up and ask to be “needled.”
“It’s so great,” she said. “They’ve grown up with it, so they won’t have to suffer like I did as a kid.” She added that because of acupuncture she has been able to keep her children off antibiotics for the past 15 years.
“It’s fascinating. No one who walks in here is a textbook case,” she said. “I’ll be learning forever.”
Woodenlegs said that it usually takes a few treatments for patients to see results, but if you want to feel good, acupuncture is
a great solution. “Don’t wait until something is wrong with you. You want [to stay healthy],” she said. “Everyone is exposed to stress and we can’t change that, but there are ways a person’s body responds to it that can be changed.”
Woodenlegs operates a clinic in Ferndale, and also offers services in Blaine by appointment at BearHug Massage on Marine Drive (the small building facing the Blaine Harbor office). She accepts most types of insurance for her treatments, but recommends you call your provider ahead of time to make sure you are covered. She also offers community acupuncture, which are group sessions designed to cut costs.
For more info, call Woodenlegs at 360/739-9272.