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Soho House NY Wellness Week, Day 2: Acupuncture, Anyone?

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Soho House New York Wellness Week

Monday through Friday from 9am-2pm

Michelle Spina; http://www.michellespina.com/ 

Michelle Spina is a master practitioner skilled in the art of pulse diagnosis yielding highly effective results. Her intuitive nature and unique point protocols have made her a highly sought after practitioner and celebrity secret. Her practice is dedicated to a creative and integrative approach to health and wellness, with particular specialization in fertility enhancement. Offerings include acupuncture, gua sha, Chinese herbal consult and NAET energetic balancing.

60 min service: $100

Day 2: MICHELLE SPINA

By now it's clear that Wellness Week has taken over my life. I had dinner with a few respectable friends of mine last night, each of whom works a grueling job and/or is preparing for medical school, and it just felt so wrong telling them I'd spent from 11am to 5pm being pampered by some of New York's most talented holistic practitioners. Then again, it wasn't like it was all fun and games. In between sampling delectable raw, vegan delicacies from Organic Avenue (a convenient one block walk from Soho House, as I discovered yesterday) and being swathed in all the wellness information and treatment I could handle, I smelled like patchouli, had to eat pills that tasted like fish food, and was stuck with little needles all over my arms and legs. It was rough.

Or, it could have been. Had I not been in the practiced hands of one Michelle Spina, Oriental medicine extraordinaire.

I met Michelle inside one of the Cowshed's (Soho House's in-house spa) treatment rooms. Inside, oak planks paneled the walls (barn-chic!), and the spa's eponymous line of candles lit the room with a soft glow and warm, amber scent. Michelle was there, reading my chart.

"You have a stye? OK, go down to Kamwo, this Chinese apothecary between Mott and Mulberry, and buy about a half pound of Chrysanthemum flower heads. They're called Ju Hua ("jew yay")." She wrote it for me in Chinese. She is a six-foot tall blonde. "Take a handful of flower heads, throw them in a nice tea pot, and steep for 10 minutes. Use this as an eyewash, dipping a new cotton ball into the liquid and dabbing it on your eye. You can also drink it. It's good for everything."

Michelle just gained about 50 points in my book: friendly and forthright? Check. Knows a foreign language? Check. Shares awesome alternative medicine therapies and herbal cures? Check!!!

I should probably mention that I'm here today to see Michelle for acupuncture, ideally to treat digestive issues--she can customize treatments for anything from weight loss to fertility to anti-aging. She just also happens to be an expert in Chinese herbs, and likes to whip up hair tonics to brighten blondes and grow long, strong hair in her spare time.

A master of many forms of acupuncture--Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French/German, each of which employs different needle gauges and point selections--, in addition to Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques such as gua sha, cupping, and moxibustion, Michelle is very, very good at her job. She made me promise not to give away her special acupuncture technique, but suffice it to say that, for someone who as a small child had notes in her doctors' charts for having severely injured several attendings with direct kicks during shot administrations, my experience with having no fewer than 15 needle insertions in one sitting was relatively painless for both Michelle and me.

The goal of the Chinese medicine she practices is to bring you, the patient, into balance, teach you how to stabilize there, and then send you on your way. In Michelle's words:

"I basically teach self-healing. When you're in balance, your symptomology doesn't show up and you feel your best. 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 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. Happy, satisfied patients are the best advertisers."

So what is acupuncture exactly, and why are so many celebrities and health aficionados flocking for their weekly or bimonthly pricking from Michelle? As she explained, 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 ("chi", which is to say life force or vital energy) and Blood. If you picture a spectrum from left to right, it would read Yin, Blood, Qi, Yang. The Yang 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.

So 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 (eg. the webby portion between your left thumb and pointer finger is commonly linked to the head, etc). The needles stimulate certain points along the body (the selected points correspond to meridians that divide the body--12 main, bilateral meridians, and 8 randomly spaced meridians) in order to open up Qi blockages where any exist, and encourage Blood flow. Acupuncture, therefore, is the art of being able to properly select needle positioning such that energy begins to flow properly through the body again, correcting any imbalances and allowing natural healing to occur.

In order to prepare the "point protocol" (needle map) she would apply to my body, Michelle began with the "Tonge and Pulse" technique typically used to ascertain problem areas and energy blockages. Michelle first took my pulse. With three fingers on the inside of each of my wrists, she would alternate pressure to her pointer, middle, and then 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 with28 different qualities. Naturally, that was about as in depth as we got. Then she looked at my tongue, top and bottom. Apparently, she was analyzing how big it was, whether it shakes, it's 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, apparently because I was really blocked up. But it 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 5, I had a full on electrical circuit going through my body. To actually feel the amount of energy generated in your body is 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, anyway--within minutes. Needles as soporifics: who knew?

Basically, I have a major girl-crush on Michelle. She's a perfect combination of friend and healer, equal parts knowledgeable authority and empathetic teacher. The next time I see her, I'm going to go for one of the things on the menu I can't even pronounce. Bet it will be great!

Tomorrow, hear about the abdominal (fertility) massage I got from the darling Loretta Young. And yes, it's good for men, too.