Neil Bernardi-Wright, L.Ac., FABORM
Alana Ramey-Bernardi, L.Ac. 
 Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine

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What is a treatment like? All visits start with a check in to see how you are doing- changes in symptoms, questions, or new concerns. The treatment itself involves lying on a massage table. We will usually check your pulses and have a look at your tongue, these being very useful diagnostic tools in Chinese medicine. We may do further palpation. Then we insert the needles, put on some relaxing music and leave the room. We may check in with you after 15 minutes or so. For most patients, the needles are in for about 25-30 minutes. After removing the needles we do a brief check in, give you your herbs if you are in need of any and send you on your way. Most patients find the experience to be very relaxing and enjoyable.

Does it hurt? We can thank modern manufacturing technology for changing the experience of acupuncture. The main needle we use is 0.16 of a millimeter thick. As a comparison, human hair varies between 0.04 and 0.25 millimeters in thickness, so you can see we are talking about a very thin needle. The sensation is totally different from getting an injection or a flu shot. Even our most needle-phobic patients find within a visit or two that they become very relaxed during the treatment; it’s not unusual for people to fall asleep while the needles are in.

Will my insurance cover acupuncture? Many insurance plans offer acupuncture coverage. We can check for you, and we offer full insurance billing services for our patients.

Are the needles sterile? We use only pre-sterilized, single use, disposable needles.

How long does it take? We generally do a comprehensive health history during the first visit so it usually takes longer than subsequent visits. We will also have you fill out some paperwork before your first visit which takes most people 10-15 minutes- if you like you can download this from our website, just click on the “forms” tab, and fill them out before you arrive. In general, initial treatments take about one hour and thirty minutes including the paperwork and the treatment itself, while follow-up visits take about an hour.

How does acupuncture work? This is the most common question we hear. We have 2 ways to answer it, which we call the traditional and the modern explanations.

Traditional- When you attend acupuncture college, this is the explanation you are most likely to be taught. It is draws on ideas presented in the oldest and most highly respected text in Chinese medicine, the Huang Di Nei Jing or Yellow Emperors Inner Canon, written over two thousand years ago. It introduces something called “qi” (pronounced “chee”), often translated into English as “energy” or “life force” but these terms are poor matches so we prefer to stick with “qi”. Qi is described as circulating through the body in channels or meridians. It interacts with your physical body- anything that effects your physical body will affect the flow of qi and vice-versa. So, if you have ill-health it means the flow of qi has been adversely affected and it is the goal of acupuncture to correct that and thereby restore you to wellness. Neither qi nor the channels it flows through can be directly seen or measured, so science has been unable to verify its existence. Some people have a hard time believing something works if science can’t explain it. For those people, our second explanation may be more helpful.

Modern- This explanation is borrowed from Dr. Yoshio Manaka, one of the most influential acupuncturists of the 20th century. He begins with the idea that we evolved from single celled organisms, and that those organisms had regulatory mechanisms that were vital to their survival and well-being. As they evolved into more complex multi-cellular organisms their regulatory mechanisms adapted and became more complex. Keep in mind that nature doesn’t throw away anything useful; the regulatory mechanism for a microscopic creature serves as the foundation for whatever that creature evolves into. As complex as the human body is, our metabolism, our well-being, and our perceptions of the world are all dependent on systems that were derived from the simplest forms of life. Science has done a good job of identifying the larger regulatory pathways that have evolved relatively recently, but the older systems remain buried under layers of evolution. These systems are still in place helping to maintain us, we just can’t see them. Acupuncture works with these aspects of our bodies.

Manaka also gave qi a new and modern translation. He described qi as information that our regulatory mechanisms use to regulate our physiology, the language that these systems use to do the work they do. 

            Computers may serve as a good analogy. When you turn on a home computer you see an operating system- Windows, or Mac, or perhaps Linux. If your computer doesn’t work properly you probably call tech support, and they help you strip away this superficial presentation to see some of the more basic systems that run the computer. There are people who can dig deeper if need be, who know that the computer is regulated by a tremendous number of simple logic circuits. This level of regulation of the computer compares with the level of regulation of our bodies that acupuncture works with. Science has discovered the “Windows” level of regulation but hasn’t yet found the older, deeper levels.



The language of the computer is binary code, a series of ones and zeroes, very simple at its core, which is used to create very complex instructions telling the computer what to do in any given situation. Qi can perhaps be compared to binary code.


What sorts of laws govern acupuncture? In California all healthcare, including acupuncture, is regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. You must graduate from a 4 year accredited Masters Degree program and then pass a board exam in order to practice in this state; some other states use an exam administered by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists. Both Neil and Alana passed the California State and National exams. It is also required by the state that acupuncturists take 50 hours of continuing education every 2 years, comparable to physicians. California is unique in comparison to most other states in that acupuncturists are required to be trained in Chinese herbology as part of their licensure.

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