Acupuncture is an ancient medicine.
In the interest of making 2010 our year of wellness—Daphne Oz is on the case to find the ultimate in total mind, body and spirit care. Here, she offers up some of what may be the most interesting, innovative and effective examples of holistic therapy today.

She's already explored aromatherapy—now, she's going deeper with the 5,000-year-old Chinese healing art of acupuncture.
Just so everyone knows what acupuncture is, we're talking about inserting needles of all different sizes into various points around the body—on purpose—with the goal of healing by releasing blocked energy and restoring equilibrium. Now, I've had a couple acupuncture sessions, but I'm definitely no expert. So I enlisted the help of Michelle Spina, a master in the field and someone who has helped me personally unblock, rejuvenate and relax on multiple occasions with her deftly wielded needles. You don't believe me now, but you will.

I met Michelle while I was covering Soho House's Wellness Week in New York City in January. At that time, I wanted her to help me treat some digestive issues I was having: I'm still getting the hang of this whole gluten-free thing, and she was going to see if she could help me revive proper functioning with a few pricks. (Michelle also customizes treatments for everything from anti-aging to fertility to weight loss...I want to try them all! Well, I might leave the first two for a bit further down the line, but good to know what's out there!)

I've been to acupuncturists before, but I wasn't about to let her start probing me before I made sure she did, in fact, know what she was doing. From a few simple questions sprouted an incredibly informative, wonderfully illuminating dialogue about the many uses of acupuncture and Spina's particular take on how her patients ought to feel about the whole affair.

"I basically teach self-healing. When you're in balance, your symptomology doesn't show up and you feel your best," Spina says. "My goal is to educate my patients so that, once I get them to the healing point, they can keep themselves there without me." Few drug companies feel so strongly about actually healing the patients that shell out money hand over fist for their products—after all, if your customers get better, who's going to buy the drugs? I asked Michelle what her incentives were for this self-sabotage. "My entire practice is based on referrals," she says. "Happy, satisfied patients are the best advertisers." Good enough for me.

Oh, and for the record, Spina also has a medical background, deals regularly with conventional medical doctors in her practice and is a master of many forms of acupuncture, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and French/German—each of which employs different needle gauges and point selections. Not only that, she is also schooled in other traditional Chinese medicine techniques such as gua sha, cupping and moxibustion and is an all-around knowledgeable woman.

So what is acupuncture exactly, and why are so many alternative health aficionados flocking for their weekly or bimonthly prickings? As Spina explains, Chinese medicine is based on a balancing act of yin—the feminine, calm, cooling, subtle, substantive, hormonal, grounded, settled quality in each of us—and the yang—the masculine, energetic, mobile, powerful counterweight. Treatments in Chinese medicine are predicated on the movement of qi (pronounced "chi," which is the life force or vital energy) and blood.

On a spectrum from left to right, it would read, "Yin, Blood, Qi, Yang." The yin provides the catalyst that moves qi, the qi moves blood and the blood moves yang. Yin and yang would be useless without each other, and healthy men and women need to find a balance of both to promote proper flowing of qi and blood.

How does acupuncture factor in? When qi or blood are blocked or imbalanced somewhere in the body, it creates pain, dysfunction and sometimes disease. Some might be familiar with the Chinese practice of linking certain external points with internal organs—for instance, the webby portion between your left thumb and pointer finger is commonly linked to the head. The needles used in acupuncture stimulate certain crucial points along the body in order to open up qi blockages where any exist and encourage blood flow. The selected points correspond to the meridians that divide the body—12 main, bilateral meridians and eight randomly spaced meridians.

Acupuncture, therefore, is the art of being able to properly select needle positioning so that energy begins to once again flow properly through the body, correcting any imbalances and allowing natural healing to occur.

In order to prepare the "point protocol"—or needle map—she would apply to my body, Spina begins with the "tongue and pulse" technique typically used to ascertain problem areas and energy blockages. When finding my point protocol, Spina first took my pulse. With three fingers on the inside of each of my wrists, she alternated pressure to her pointer, middle and ring finger. After about five minutes, she announced that I had a good pulse, but that it was slightly "damp." I had no idea what this meant, but she said that there are 12 pulses Chinese medical practitioners observe, each with 28 different qualities. That was about as in-depth as we got. Then she looked at my tongue, both top and bottom. She was analyzing its size, shakiness, color and sublingual vein formations. She scribbled some things on her notepad and told me to lie down.

Now, the fun part. Fifteen or so tiny needles were stuck into my hands, arms, legs and feet. The first was the worst, I'm told, because I was really blocked up. But I went numb almost immediately, and the rest were barely noticeable—a testament to Michelle's finesse. Once all the needles were in, Michelle left the room to allow me 20 minutes to "cook." At first, the buzzing was faint. But by minute five, I had a full-on electrical circuit going through my body. To actually feel the amount of energy generated in your body is both incredible and oddly relaxing. You're also not allowed to move, so that certainly helped. I was out like a light—or, I guess, I was on like a light, but asleep—within minutes. Needles as soporifics, who knew?

For someone who, as a small child, had notes in her medical charts for having severely injured the shins of several attending doctors who tried to give me shots, getting 15 needles insertions in one sitting was relatively painless—for both Michelle and me. Its a testament to her special acupuncture technique, which is a trade secret that I swore not to give away. But hopefully the acupuncturist in your area will have special techniques of his or her own!

In sum, the goal of the acupuncture—and Chinese medicine as a whole—is to bring you, the patient, into balance, teach you how to stabilize there and then send you on your way. Sounds like exactly what we need to get us on our way in this healthy new year!

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.


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