It came as a surprise to me how many of my colleagues are nervous about acupuncture: When I mentioned to them I was trying it for the first time, the reactions ranged from shudders to “yikes” faces to full freak-outs at the idea of needles going into one’s face.
It never really occurred to me to be nervous about acupuncture. Haven’t I seen it a hundred times on TV? And there, everybody always looks perfectly contented, even as they lay there stuck through like life-size voodoo dolls. In fact, I was excited about the possibilities here. Could acupuncture fix maladies for which nothing else seemed to work? Like my tight—aching, knotted, miserably tight—shoulder and neck muscles? My dry eye condition? My bad knees? (Do I sound like I’m 90 years old? I’m 33.) Science seems to think so: The most recent word in medical journals suggests that acupuncture does help relieve chronic pain. I was ready to believe.
And anyway, I really just wanted to know what it felt like to have a bunch of tiny needles stuck in me at once.
I got to find out one sunny Tuesday at Juju Organics Spa, where acupuncturist Gabrielle Applebaum has just begun doing treatments three days a week. Gabrielle is a sweet woman, very soothing of voice, and we spent the first 40 or so minutes needle-free, just talking. First, we talked about her (graduate of the Chinese Medicine program at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies in Glenside, and also of the University of Chicago and Harvard); then it was about me. Her series of questions involved some typical western-medicine queries—what prescriptions do I take; what ailments run in my family—and also some eastern medicine ones—do I run hot or cold; what emotions dictate my disposition; plus a little more than I care to share with you, Internet, about various bodily functions.
Gabrielle looked at my tongue (a map of the body, she said). She showed me a complicated map of the body and its energy points, and gave a brief explanation as to how “everything comes together” and how the goal of acupuncture is to change how your body reacts physically to things that cause problems, that you see change once the body changes its reactionary patterns.
She mentioned that sometimes people have odd dreams after acupuncture, how they feel tired, how they might be more emotional. I thought that none of these would apply to me; after all, when I get flu shots I never feel a hint of any flu-like symptoms afterward. I am immune to such things, I figured.
When needle-time finally arrived, I laid on the bed (top off, pants on, face down). There was a lot of checking in—is my temperature okay? My comfort level okay?—and then the needles went in. Honestly, I don’t know why they even call them needles; it just seems like bad PR. They’re so tiny, there’s not even a sting. The word “pinch” might even be too strong. There is no pain. It feels … a little weird. But not bad. Sorta nice.
The first round of pokes was purely diagnostic—the body will have a reaction based on energies behind the needles if there is some sort of imbalance, Gabrielle said. She inserted the needles gently, and then left me in the peaceful, softly lit room to drift off. I fell into a semi-sleep, the sort where you have visions that feel like dreams, but aren’t really quite. Mine were weird. I saw old boyfriends riding on roller-coasters. I saw Princess Kate turn into a dragon. I saw a giant birthday cake with candles like fireworks.
When Gabrielle came down to gently inquire about how I was doing and examine my needles, I felt fine, but hazy. I was pretty with-it for the second round of needles, the part aimed at loosening those awful muscles. She called this part the “cheap thrill” because, as the needles dug into my muscles and loosened everything up—again, no pain, more like a pinch from the inside—I felt an immediate, gratifying release. It felt weird, but it also felt great. I have no idea what the needles did to my internal energies, but a week later, my muscles still feel better than they did before the appointment.
When I got up, I felt weak. For one quick minute, I thought I might faint. Back at the office, a colleague told me, “Wow, you look beat.” I felt beat, like I’d been hit by a Septa bus. Later, at dinner, I described the troubles one friend is having selling his house, and I started to cry. I cried again on the way home when my husband said something sweet to me. When I finally made it home, I slept like the dead.
The next day, I woke up feeling loose and rested.
Gabrielle followed up: How did I feel? I told her I didn’t know how tiny needles I couldn’t even feel could possibly do so much inside me. I told her I didn’t know what they did inside me, but that I’m going to go back. And maybe this time we can work on the dry eye.
Acupuncture treatments at Juju Organics is $120 for the first hour-and-a-half session and $90 for each subsequent session. To make an appointment, call 215-922-3235.
Community Acupuncture Makes Treatments Available to All