Last week, I was walking home from the train when I noticed a sign outside City Acupuncture, the spa and wellness center which moved into the storefront on the corner of Bedford and Lexington Ave. in June, months after SCRATCHbread shuttered in October (R.I.P.). The sign was a promo for $19 for an hour of acupuncture, and it certainly caught my eye.
Until that moment, I’d largely ignored the new business, as it was no longer a place where I could procure the most buttery, delicious shortbread for $2, or a scrumptious breakfast mess of grits, pesto, bacon, soft-boiled egg and kale. Although I’ve never done acupuncture, I know that it’s generally quite pricey — on average, $80-$120 per hour session at a private practice, and $40 at a community practice, according to City Acupuncture’s blog. $19 for an intro session was certainly a steal. Should I try it? I was a little skeptical — at that price, was I going to get stuck with (and by) an intern?
But because I’ve been pretty stressed out, on the hunt for a new apartment — which, in New York, is its own special nightmare — and I do have consistent soreness in my hip flexor and IT band and piriformis muscle, due to being a runner who doesn’t stretch or do yoga enough, I figured I’d be brave and go for it. Besides, my day had already been shot to hell by an embarrassingly debilitating hangover; surely at the very least, acupuncture would help alleviate that?
City Acupuncture, which has two other locations, one on Fulton St. in Downtown Manhattan and another in the East Village, offers what’s known as community-style acupuncture, which means treatment isn’t offered in a private room, but instead in one large space with curtains as dividers. (Note: The promo is offered through Labor Day; after that, first sessions are $24, and subsequent appointments, $40.)
This is a way to keep costs down for clients as well as the business, according to licensed acupuncturist Kate Henderson, who co-owns City Acupuncture with licensed massage therapist Darrin De Feo. It’s a relief that a new business opening in Bed-Stuy — especially a spa, which many associate with high-priced pampering — would make it a point to offer affordable services.
My session began with a 10-minute consultation, during which I briefly told Henderson my assorted woes and why I’d sought out acupuncture that day. I also completed a form detailing my medical history, and signed a waiver. Henderson told me she would focus on treating my stress (hangover I suppose got lumped into that category) for the first 30 minutes, and then focus on my muscle pain for the final 20 minutes.
She then led me to the treatment room, which I would share with another client, who lay on an adjacent spa table — but the room was dimly lit, cool and quiet (the policy is to turn off your cell phone and keep talking to a minimum) and since you’re not getting naked, there’s really no need for full privacy. On a stifling hot August afternoon, you’ll mostly just feel thankful that you get to lie down and space out in an air-conditioned spa, all for less than $20.
I was initially wary of the prospect of being pricked all over with needles. But now that I’ve done it, I can confidently say that it does not hurt. The needles are as thin as a human hair and really only slightly sting for the first 10 seconds or so. In my opinion, it feels like a tenth of the discomfort of getting a shot at the doctor (granted, everyone’s level of pain tolerance is different).
I lay down on the treatment table, and Henderson inserted the needles at different points throughout my body, from the center of my forehead, to my wrist, to the side of my knee, to the top of my foot. When I asked her how she decided where to put the needles, she explained that in traditional Chinese medicine, the body is viewed as an interconnected energy system, with different acupuncture points serving as, well, points of entry to tap into that system. What I had told her about my symptoms of stress during our consultation dictated the exact locations she decided to stimulate.
As a newbie to acupuncture, at first I found it to be an odd situation, lying down in the semi-dark for 30 minutes with tiny needles stuck all over me. It’s an extremely vulnerable position to be in, but it gave me more relief than anxiety, once I realized, I was totally off the hook for the next half hour: you really can’t be expected to do much when you’re pricked all over and prostrate. For the first 10 minutes or so, I experienced that feeling of, wait, what should I think about right now?! Before mentally checking out and relishing the time out of mind.
As far as sensations? I’d say I felt a little bit of tingling, and some lingering stinging from the needles. I definitely felt spaced out mentally, but it’s hard to say whether that was an effect of the needles or just the circumstances of lying there, doing nothing (or, again, my hangover). After a few minutes, Henderson came in to check on me (if you feel uncomfortable at any point, she will adjust the needles) and then after 30 minutes, I flipped over, resting my head in one of those face cradles, (like at a massage parlor), while Henderson treated my hip, lower back and piriformis.
This part of the session was really neat. Henderson inserted the needles at different trigger points in my muscles’ tissue, causing them to “jump,” or pulse for a few beats, which felt amazing. Henderson explained that was because the needles were stimulating the muscle’s natural reflexes. Ostensibly, the needles will loosen up the fascia, or the layer of tissue between the muscle and skin, relieving tension and tightness. I did experience some relief in these areas for at least a few hours after treatment.
So what is acupuncture actually supposed to do to your body?
“It affects the central nervous system in such a way that it’s allowing the normal ‘fight or flight’ state that most of us are in all the time — especially living in the city, especially people who have inflammatory conditions or are suffering from chronic pain — to calm a little bit, giving pain or stress relief,” Henderson told me.
Acupuncture, which has been around for more than 2,000 years, is a popular treatment for people suffering from a range of ailments and conditions that cause them pain. As is the case with other forms of alternative medicine—cupping!—many view it as a pseudoscience, attributing any perceived results to the placebo effect, although there is some scientific evidence that it can be beneficial.
I walked out of there, feeling loose and spacey, not necessarily better or worse than before. So, I’d say the jury’s still out on whether or not my one acupuncture session mitigated my mental or physical woes, (it’s rare to see results after only one session), but I definitely recommend it as a relaxing way to spend an hour, especially if you’re hung-over, anyway. Dare we say, $19 acupuncture > brunch?
City Acupuncture, located at 1069 Bedford Ave. in Bed-Stuy, offers affordable acupuncture, massage, herbal consultations, yoga and cupping.