A new breed of acupuncturists aims to make the age-old treatment available to more patients
Photograph by Yanik Chauvin/Shutterstock
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Good health and longevity can be yours — as long as you keep that inner balance in check. So goes one of the most basic tenets of traditional Chinese medicine. But what does it mean to have a balanced body, and how do we achieve and sustain this life-enhancing equilibrium?
A popular belief in Asian culture is that everything in the universe operates through the interaction of yin and yang — two opposite but interdependent forces. In the body, the Qi (pronounced chee) is the life-giving energy that fuels and regulates the body’s yin-yang cycles. Qi that becomes disrupted or blocked somewhere in the body — by stress, toxins, poor diet, trauma, negativity — causes an imbalance in the body, making it more susceptible to illness and discomfort.
Used for hundreds of centuries in Asia, acupuncture may restore and maintain that crucial balance and jump-start the healing process. The therapy involves placing sterile, thread-like needles in specific areas of the body to rejuvenate the corresponding energy channels so Qi can flow again. (The modern scientific explanation is that the needles stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals, which in turn alter the body’s experience of pain, or help regulate it.) Acupuncture is also favored as a preventative to promote relaxation and boost immunity before illness strikes.
In the U.S., mounting scientific evidence of acupuncture’s efficacy in treating and managing chronic pain, stress, allergies, reproductive issues and other ailments is prompting more nods from the allopathic community. A report by the National Institutes of Health, for instance, found “clear evidence” that the treatment is effective in treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and in alleviating postoperative dental pain. And while the media continues trumpeting acupuncture’s curative promise, Valleyites don’t have to look far to find a qualified, licensed acupuncturist.
Yet, despite the spotlight on acupuncture, some holistic healers say that too few people have yet to experience its healthful benefits. The reason, they say, usually boils down to one factor: cost. Acupuncture is not cheap. A single session costs about $65 on the low end but can be more than twice as much depending on where you go.
Kingston acupuncturist Hillary Thing said many health conditions require two or more sessions per week for several weeks before the problem improves significantly. A maintenance plan — wherein less frequent but regular treatments are given to achieve optimal health and healing — usually follows. Taken together, acupuncture therapy comes with a price tag many people just cannot afford.
“Insurance companies are not really getting any better at covering it. And it’s not covered by Medicare or Healthy New York or any of the lower-income plans, not even the simple plans that employers offer their employees,” says Thing, of Earthbound Herbs and Acupuncture in Kingston. “Honestly, the people who have the type of plans that cover acupuncture are the people who could probably afford the high price anyway.”
After practicing for 10 years and seeing about 13 patients a week, Thing felt disheartened with a business model that kept shutting people out. So she shuttered her practice and started anew with a completely different approach: community acupuncture.