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Acupuncture 101

57 years old and an acupuncture virgin. It seems all my friends, except my pal yoga teacher Susan Malcolm, had tried it. One day Susan texts me…”I’ve found the one!” Susan found relief from pain with three acupuncture treatments over the past month. While a little skeptical, I was curious to try this ancient modality.

I Googled Laura Flowers and found out she holds a Master of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine where she is now on the faulty and teaches in the Herbology Department. Good start.

I called Laura to make an appointment. I liked her efficiency right away. After a brief introduction we set up a date and she sent me forms via email to fill out in advance so that we could get to work right away.

Her sunny and spare office was on the east side of Union Square. When I arrived, we sat down and discussed my medical history. For years I’ve suffered from interrupted sleep and anxiety. The kind of anxiety where I’d wake up in the middle of the night with to-do lists swimming in my head. Or, I’d go to sleep feeling there was more I needed to take care of before I could rest. This anxiety contributes to a short fuse and a hot temper. I figured acupuncture might help in combination with meditation and other forms of therapy to abate these feelings.

She took my pulses (one right wrist and one left), looked at my tongue and we discussed my relationship to needles. “Do you want to see them?” It seems some people want to see the needles ahead of time and some don’t. I did and she explained the different lengths and how they are used. The smaller ones are generally used on the hands and feet where nerve endings are close to the surface.

My left pulse was a little weak and my tongue was a bit red and wet. These indications as well as my stated symptoms and medical history help Laura plot a course of treatment.

After taking off my pants and shirt…underwear on…I lay on a massage table face down. Laura swabbed my back with alcohol and felt my vertebrae, using them as a map to my energetic channels. My Qi was blocked and needed to be unobstructed, she explained.

I felt a slight twinge on my back as she placed the needles, nothing like the set of vaccination shots I had received earlier this year in anticipation of a trip to India, more like a slight pinch. Some felt stronger than others but it didn’t have as much to do with their size as their placement. Because Qi was being stimulated, and some places are more blocked than others, the blockages or resulted in sensitivity or some pain.

After putting about 16 needles in, including two in my trapezius muscles to relax them, "a New Yorker necessity,” Laura placed a Mylar sheet over me and turned on some soft chanting and let me rest for about 15 minutes. After just a minute or so I found that I was no longer conscious of the needles, just the Mylar that was keeping me warm on an early November afternoon.

Then Laura took out the needles and I turned over. Gently she put in more needles and another 15 minutes of rest. Laura told me she was working on my gallbladder channel. This channel helps with sleep patterns.

I wondered how she decides where to put these needles. She works with both an individual’s bony landmarks like the vertebrae, pelvic rims and occipital ridge combined with a certain amount of intuition to get the placement just right. Different channels govern different physical and emotional states. For instance the kidney channel would be important in fertility and immunity. That doesn’t mean she puts needles in my kidneys when I have a cold. But along an energetic pathway that clears up congestion.

Laura, a Westerner, first tried acupuncture under duress. A dancer with a knee injury and a fear of needles, she went to a Zero Balancing therapist for help. The therapist was also an acupuncturist and during a treatment she asked Laura if she could try helping her through acupuncture for a nagging hamstring pull. Laura begrudgingly said yes and was immediately taken with its healing power. And when I left Laura’s office the first time I walked right into the Union Square Farmer’s Market feeling euphoric with a very high degree of sensitivity to light.

Since that initial exposure, I’ve returned to Laura several times. She continues to work on my anxiety and sleeplessness, she helped clear out a winter cold and we’ve added attention to sore muscles and joints. We’ve also put Chinese herbs in my daily regimen, Suan Zao Ren Tang, and the positive effects have been evident.

At first I was seeing her once a week and now I see her every other. Every time I go we discuss the different energy channels...this week it was the urinary bladder channel to help increase water efficiency. Last week we discussed what it means to not be Chinese and a female practitioner. Laura, who has visited China and is deeply immersed in Eastern philosophy doesn't think you have to be Chinese or a man to be good at this. She related a story about a patient who had been seeing a Chinese male doctor for over a year to help with amenorrhea, an absence of periods. The patient came to Laura who took a different route for treatment and the patient's condition was helped in two visits.

An acupuncture virgin no longer, I continue to be fascinated by where my new relationship with needles and Qi will take me.

-- Brette Popper

Laura Flowers is located at 32 Union Square East. You can email her at For more information check out her website, by clicking here.

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