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Harnessing the power of the mind to make the body better

This month, we've highlighted conversations with wellness practitioners who may enlighten your path to more peace. Today, meet clinical pharmacist Joni Larrabee. Joni is also credentialed to perform a type of auricular acupuncture, and as a certified yoga instructor, she's yoga family to me. As the pandemic shook the foundation of our yoga teacher training program, Joni kept us all grounded by questioning norms, sharing her medical expertise, and making us laugh. As a clinical pharmacist for the Army, Joni gives people Battlefield Acupuncture, also known as auricular therapy or ear acupuncture. When she agreed to have this conversation, I was all ears.

What does Battlefield Acupuncture mean - when someone comes off the battlefield, or is it the battlefield of the mind, or both?

Wow, I like that phrase. It's a type of auricular acupuncture that involves putting needles in your ear to elicit a similar response to regular acupuncture but in a short, quick, easy way. It can be done actually on the battlefield if needed but also we use it now for chronic pain or even acute pain in a clinic setting. It allows us to use less medication or less procedures on patients. Is this treatment available for anyone to get?

It's pretty much available to anyone who's interested, except pregnant women who are more susceptible to side effects. There are a lot of people in the community who do it. This particular protocol means there are a certain set of points done in a certain order - generic pain points and generic nervous system reset points. There are other protocols that different facilities use for multiple reasons like trauma, anxiety, and smoking cessation. How did you get into the clinical acupuncture space? As part of the pain clinic for the Army, we get to go to training at big multidisciplinary conferences where you'll have yoga teachers, therapists, and doctors. The lectures get everybody speaking the same language because we all come from different disciplines. One of the training's that was offered was Battlefield Acupuncture. I've been doing it five years now. It's low risk and really high benefit for a lot of people. What are the benefits? In our clinics it's mostly used for pain, but if you have a patient who's in pain very often, they may have anxiety or other mental health conditions that are made worse by chronic pain. If you can treat the anxiety component of the pain, like fear of pain happening when they do things, it can have a snowball effect in a really positive way. Same thing with smoking cessation or addiction protocols. Part of the problem is a fear of something bad happening in the future. If you can give them a couple of points that help them tolerate or get through that, their whole day is better and whatever the problem is gets better. There's a huge psychological component to it as well. What does the procedure feel like and how long does it take? We use a type of needle that stays in your ear for a few days. It almost looks like a little gold ear piercing ring so it's very small. You can use both ears or just one. You'll hear a little click and feel a little pinch because it's a needle going into the skin. There's a tiny bar on the end that will help it stay in your ear. The regular acupuncture needles are very fine and will stay there for just a few minutes. This gives prolonged contact time. Most people tolerate it really well but for some people it hurts their ears too much, or they're fine getting the procedure but the way they lay down at night is too bothersome for their ears. After the needles fall out in a couple of days to a week, you need to let your ears heal back before you can get it again. How long does the treatment last? Everybody is different. Usually what we find is that this can be preventive for someone who has a chronic pain condition or migraine headaches frequently. The relief can last a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. Many people come in every two to three weeks for a few sessions and then they're able to space it out, or even stop for a while and come back in six months or whenever they feel the need. We are starting to use it ahead of surgery for some people which I think is fantastic. All ages? I'm not allowed to perform it on small children, but anyone who can sit still and mentally understand that it will hurt for a split second and then get better can benefit. Is there anything that gets under your skin about doing this work? Some people have an unrealistic expectation that this is going to cure them of whatever their pain condition is. It's not a cure, it's a treatment. If it lasts for two weeks and it brings your pain down to a tolerable level, I think that's a huge benefit. But if you're expecting anything to solve chronic pain forever, it's just an unrealistic expectation. Sometimes people come to us with unrealistic expectations of what this is going to do. That can be frustrating. What's most rewarding about doing this work for you? This is amazing. I'm a pharmacist and I have a lot of training in medications and I use medications. I would prefer not to see people on chronic medications if I can avoid it. This is a great tool that patients can use to take control of some aspect of their treatment and really see the benefits. I've had people doing pushups in the hallway and people hug me because they can run again -- people who can actually function and be part of their lives when they couldn't before. It's pretty fast and can give you so many benefits. What's next for you my friend? Next I'm moving to England with my husband and daughter. I don't know if I'll be working or teaching yoga or spending time with my daughter, but I'm ready for the new adventure. How do you see the acupuncture and yoga complementing one another? Ah, they're in the same idea of harnessing the power of the mind to make the body better.

I'm a pharmacist. I think medications are good. I think we should use them the way that they're intended to be used. We're so lucky to have all of these different options so that you can find the best one for yourself. I really think there's a lot with yoga and meditation.

People are starting to pay attention to options like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture a lot more now, rather than expecting a pill to fix everything.

La's reflection: Yoga and acupuncture are both a breath away to create a free flow of energy. Acupuncturists may refer to our life force as Qi, whereas in yoga we connect with our life force through the breath or prana, according to "Incorporating acupuncture into your yogic lifestyle is a way to further remove blockages, cultivate wellbeing on all levels, and help accelerate the healing process."

If acupuncture can complement the work that I do on my yoga mat, take my practice to a deeper level, and elevate my transformation, I'm all ears.

Pictured: Joni performing ear acupuncture on our incredible yoga teacher trainer, Jenn

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