Monday, February 27, 2017

Pamper Camper: Community Acupuncture

After beating yourself up on the road day after day, there's no reason to not pamper yourself a bit.  In any decent sized town, one can easily find massages (Chinatown), saunas, and/or hot tubs (hotels or gyms with free-trials).  Each of those is a great way to thank your muscles for all the hard work they do, as well as get them ready for the next few hundred miles.  That said, there is another affordable, effective, and readily available option out there for relaxation and recuperation: Acupuncture.

Most people have not had acupuncture.  For many, the thought of having needles shoved into their skin is just too painful, unnerving, or uncomfortable.  For others, it's too new-agey/hippie for their Western sensibilities.  For the rest, though, it's too expensive to try, sometimes costing over $100 for a treatment.  If you are in the first group, I assure you that the needles do not hurt, as they're extremely thin and are not put very far into the skin.  If you're in the second group, you're probably a lost cause.  Your stubbornness, which is likely rooted in fear of the unknown, is only going to make you miss out on positive experiences in life.  If you're in the last group, then at $15 per session, Community Acupuncture (CA) is exactly what you've been waiting for.

Photo Courtesy of West Philly Community Acupunture

You're probably thinking two things now: 1) What is Community Acupuncture, and 2) Why is it so cheap?  CA is a type of acupuncture that's done in a open, group setting, rather than in private rooms.  Since it requires less space to treat more people, costs are considerably lower, which means they can afford to offer sliding scale pricing based on what you feel you can pay ($15-$50).  Boom.  Asked, answered.

Now you're probably wondering about the "group" aspect of CA centers.  Are you imagining a bunch of naked people laying on rows of tables in a warehouse?  Like an upside down morgue?  Stop thinking that.  That's gross.  No, there are a couple ways the CA could be set up, but none of them involve group nudity (that I know of).  The center I go to is West Philly Community Acupuncture, so I'll use them as an example in the style of a guided meditation:
You're riding your bicycle in West Philly, careful to not ride into the tracks of the 11 Trolley.  When you reach 4636 Woodland Ave, adjacent to the Four Worlds Bakery, you lock your bike to the nearest sign post.  Mmm... that bread smells good, but do you know what you want even more than a fresh loaf of sourdough?  Acupuncture.  Bypassing a glutenous destiny, you open the front door to West Philly Community Acupuncture and are met with a friendly greeting.  Yes, you would like a treatment.  Yes, it is your first time.  No, you're not gluten intolerant, you just didn't have time to stop.  Yes, $15 seems reasonable.  You pay.  After filling out your first-timer paperwork, Sarah asks you what you would like to treat today.  You had read their FAQ earlier in the meditation, and tell her that you have sore muscles from riding your bicycle.  She says she can help with that.  You take off your shoes and follow her to the treatment room.  As the door opens, you're met with warm air and gentle hum of white noise machines.  Throughout the room are recliners in the reclined position with bodies reclining in those comfortably upholstered cradles.  Everyone's eyes are closed, either sound asleep or deep in meditation.  Sarah takes you to a vacant chair and you sit down.  She pulls the lever on the right side of the chair.  You are now one of the reclining bodies.  She begins placing needles in various parts of your body.  Your hands, your arms, your legs, your ears, the top of your head, and finally, one between your eyebrows/middle of your unibrow.  You didn't feel any pain as they went in, but that last one tingled a little and you can still feel it.  Stop focusing on it.  Think about something else, like pickles.  Why do they even make bread and butter pickles?  Who eats them.  Wait, why are you thinking about pickles?  You can't remember.  Good.  Sarah asks if you would like a blanket.  Of course you would.  Who wouldn't want a blanket.  She lays one on your legs and one on your upper body.  She really meant blankets when she said blanket.  Sarah leaves you to go check on one of the other bodies.  You look at the clock.  3pm.  You close your eyes for a moment and look back at the clock.  3:05pm.  How did that happen?  You close your eyes again.  3:15pm.  Time is warping.  Your mind melts into your body and your body melts into the recliner.  You are one with the recliner.  The recliner is one with the universe.  It is 3:30pm.  Your muscles are no longer sore, but only because you no longer have muscles.  Your muscles have been reduced from fibers to cells to atoms.  Atoms are mostly empty space.  You are empty space.  It is 3:45pm.  Pain cannot exist in empty space.  Nothing can exist in empty space.  But you exist in and as empty space.  It is 4:00pm.  Bodies are missing.  People have left.  Chairs are empty.  Your new neighbor looks to be asleep.  Maybe they are dissolving into the upholstered nothingness that is the universe.  You open your eyes wide and suddenly wake up.  You wiggle your fingers, then rotate your wrists.  Your atoms have recombined and as they had done so, they made slight changes in your configuration.  Your muscles are no longer sore.  The sore atoms are elsewhere in the universe, replaced by willing and able atoms.  They are ready to ride a bicycle.  You are ready to ride your bicycle.  Sarah walks into the room.  You make eye contact.  There is no talking, only eye contact.  She removes your needles and tells you to take your time.  You do.  Your brain atoms are still reconfiguring.  You take off your blanket and walk out of the treatment room.  You drink a cup of water and say goodbye.  There is talking in this room, but only at a reasonable volume.  Your bicycle is still locked outside.  The bakery is closed.  You decide to get a Banh Mi at Fu Wah instead.  You've chosen well.
Wasn't that great???  Don't you feel revitalized?  Like your mind and body have been reset and you can conquer a Vietnamese hoagie?  I told you it would be wonderful, and have I ever let you down.  There was no question mark at the end of that last sentence because there was no doubt in either of our minds.

Ok, just a little bit more about the CA.  Each center is individually owned, but they are all a part of the People's Organization for Community Acupuncture (POCA).  As such, they must adhere to certain POCA guidelines, which ensures that they must maintain certain standards.  If they don't, POCA will look into any problems/complaints and make sure they're resolved.  This also keeps the price down, as POCA sets the sliding-scale fee limits.  This also means that POCA can keep track of which centers are where and make a handy map for tracking them down throughout the United States.  There are so many (provided you don't live in an armpit of a state)!

Anyway, if you find yourself worn down in a city that has a CA center, do yourself a favor and stop in for a treatment.  Even if it doesn't magically fix your broken-down wreck of a body, it will at least make you feel really good for a few more miles.  Sometimes that's the best we can hope for.

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