Be more with less

An area of life where minimalism forms a perfect synergy is health. When minimalist ideas are applied to how we care for ourselves, healthy lifestyle choices become intuitive and medical decisions are more in our control.
On our journeys toward optimum health, sometimes we need a gentle NUDGE. Acupuncture, because it is by definition minimalist, is the ideal helping hand.

Acupuncture is low-cost. One of the fundamental tenets of minimalism is to shun excessive spending. And yet American healthcare is the poster child for excess. We over test; we over medicate; and we over emphasize insurance coding at the risk of sound medical decisions. Of course, many aspects of modern medicine can be lifesaving, but as a whole, the system has become bloated and disproportionately beneficial for those who can or choose to spend a lot of money. Acupuncture is an antidote to many of the financial complexities that prevent us from getting the care we need. Not only is acupuncture an effective way to trim current costs on prescriptions, but as a preventive medicine, it also decreases long-term spending on the chronic conditions that can be financially debilitating as we age. The expense of acupuncture education combined with the lack of acupuncturist jobs within mainstream medical settings has unfortunately driven up the cost of acupuncture as well. But there are currently 166 full-time community acupuncture clinics throughout the U.S. In addition, many nonprofits and community gathering places offer affordable acupuncture. Most of these clinics charge sliding-scale fees (usually between $15 and $40), where people pay what they can afford, or are donation-based.

Acupuncture works with what you’ve already got. The driving idea behind acupuncture is that we’re already in possession of everything we need to be well. Sound familiar? Minimalists abide by the same philosophy. Buying a third flat-screen TV for the kitchen might appear to help a hardworking family decompress during dinner. It blocks out distracting stressors and eliminates pressure to make conversation. In the same way, popping a pill every time heartburn strikes offers fast, easy relief and erases the need to contemplate why the problem has become chronic. Instead of introducing an external substance to mask symptoms, acupuncture “wakes up” or redirects the body’s own healing mechanisms to resolve underlying imbalances. Most of us already have all the tools we need to have a meaningful, TV-less dinner with loved ones—voices, imagination and curiosity. Similarly, acupuncture takes what’s already there and rearranges it into something positive.

Acupuncture requires limited equipment. In his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, author Atul Gawande says our healthcare system would be better off investing in performance improvement than continuing to throw money at the latest new technology. He says, “We have not effectively used the abilities science has already given us.” Acupuncture has been around for 5,000 years. It has been keeping people healthy long before MRIs and CT scans became the norm for even slightly confusing symptoms. Minimalism doesn’t require much in the way of equipment—in fact, the less the better. Acupuncture is the same way. Needles and cotton balls are pretty much all you need (for extremists, even the cotton balls are optional). As Gawande points out—and as minimalists know better than anyone—if we could just get better at utilizing and appreciating the quality things we already have, we might think twice before finding comfort in new fancy gadgets.

Acupuncture is individualized. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism, just as there is no universal cure for disease. Modern medicine is centered on the idea that the body can be broken down into anatomical structures, cells and molecules that, when diseased, require pre-determined interventions. Acupuncture takes a different approach: The human body is comprised of interdependent physical structures whose condition is affected by emotional and environmental factors. Acupuncture treatments are personalized to each person’s unique constitution and circumstances. Minimalism, like back pain, is different for everyone.

Acupuncture requires an investment. As is the case with minimalism, the world does not always make it easy to embrace acupuncture. People who choose to live minimally do so in the face of powerful corporations, relentless advertising, and societal pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Likewise, those who use acupuncture do it despite pooh-poohing from pharmaceutical companies, doctors, as well as family, friends and colleagues, most of whom regard mainstream medicine as the only acceptable form of healthcare. Acupuncture is not a quick fix; it (usually) does not solve problems overnight. Nor does it have millions of dollars of advertising behind it to convince society of its benefits. Acupuncture requires that we invest time and effort into listening to our bodies and giving them what they really need rather than what someone tells us they need. Acupuncture asks us to play an active role in our health, to participate in the process and take responsibility for the outcomes. This is not always easy, but, as minimalists know, it ultimately is the most rewarding path.

Sara Calabro is the founding editor of AcuTake, a website dedicated to improving acupuncture education and access.