I am often asked if it matters how long acupuncture needles are left in the body during a treatment. The overriding answer to this and to all questions pertaining to Chinese medicine is that everything matters. My belief is that the purposefulness of treatment creates order in the body. This occurs through the principle of resonance, which is governed by the Heart. Briefly, the creation of an orderly, resonating state will affect nearby systems. A familiar example of this is a tuning fork, which when struck will cause another fork of the same note to vibrate. This reflects the principles of resonance, coherence, entrainment, alignment, accordance, and correspondence. For more on this topic, see Propriety – The Virtue of the Heart.
Regarding the timing of acupuncture treatments specifically, there are no set rules for how long the needles should be left in place. Sometimes I leave needles in for 5 minutes, sometimes for 1 hour. But there is a reason for the 25 minute average. The Ling shu, or Spiritual Pivot, describes that the circulation of Qi through the entire circuit of acupuncture vessels occurs 50 times during a 24 hour period. Each complete circuit is approximately 111 feet long, and the rate of Qi flow through it is approximately 3 inches per breathing cycle. 13,500 breathing cycles occur during a 24 hour period. In an average person, it takes approximately 25 to 30 minutes for the Qi to circulate once through all of the vessels. Experientially, this is about how long it takes for most people to get into a deeply relaxed state during acupuncture, as well as during meditation or breathing exercises. Therefore, this is also the amount of time it takes to both produce and experience a meaningful shift in one’s energy, breathing, and mind.