For a long time, acupuncture has been a luxury that only the affluent could afford but practitioners like Evan Schwartz, L.Ac. are changing that. His facility Hudson Valley Community Acupuncture is part of a national growing wellness model aimed at providing quality care for a fraction of the price. It accomplishes this by offering personalized treatment in a group setting and its benefits exceed being easy on the wallet. “Something happens when you treat people in a group,” says Evan. “There’s a comradery, there’s a community that you’re building around healing.”
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE
If you’re not familiar with acupuncture, it’s a centuries old practice, centered around the belief that energy “chi” travels through us. When our systems are in balance we experience a state of health. In contrast, disease or dis-ease is a sign that our energy has been thrown off course. During a treatment an acupuncturist will stimulate different points of the body in effort to get your chi back on track. This is often done with the insertion of thin flexible needles. I’m oversimplifying a bit but you should read more about it here and know that this form of traditional Chinese medicine is one of the few complementary/alternative treatments that western doctors are becoming open to. There have been a number of studies dating back to the fifties where scientists have tried to understand why it has helped quell nausea (very helpful for cancer patients dealing with chemo), ease menstrual pain and even joint pain. Some call it a placebo effect, others cite the release of endorphins that flood the system when the needles enter the skin. There has been some research showing that it effects how the body computes stress. In any case, there is something very real behind it and of 2007, 14 million Americans reported using it as part of their health care routine.
HUDSON VALLEY COMMUNITY ACUPUNCTURE
Evan, who’s been an acupuncturist for a decade, adopted the community based model in 2009 after going to a seminar by Lisa Rohleder, author of Acupuncture is Like Noodles. She’s considered a pioneer in the movement, being one of the first to find a solution to make treatments more accessible to the public. On average, acupuncture costs between $60 to $120 per visit and several sessions can be needed to feel results. It’s a costly ritual that’s hard to sustain for both patient and practitioner. When times get tight, like during the recent market crash, people stop coming. Practices don’t survive. The group model changes that by offering rates that are more inclusive. Affordability means more people can seek treatment which in turn means more acupuncturists can keep their door opens.
Along with being sustainable this style of treatment is ethical and speaking to Evan you get the feeling that this was a big lure for him to make the switch. He believes healing is for everyone, not just those who can pony up. He works on a sliding scale, ranging between $20-$40 per visit. A lock box is provided in the front office where patients can slip their money into after their session. “This is another part of the community model,” he explains. “When you’re charging on a sliding scale you want people to feel comfortable with how much they are paying. The lock box allows people to pay on that scale anonymously…The idea is to separate the medicine and the money. Medicine and money should be two separate things.”
Evan does everything himself. He treats, books the appointments, when someone pays he points them to the box or passes over the credit card swiper and then walks to another area in the room so patients can pay at their own discretion. It’s a very different experience than what you might find at a more traditional establishment. Treatments last between 40 minutes to an hour and include a consultation beforehand. He asks about medical history, diet, sleeping patterns. There’s actual conversation. It’s medicine the way it should be.
The reason I’ve come to Evan is because I’ve been sick for most of the year. Around the end of March I started experiencing a swelling in my abdomen that couldn’t be explained. The smallest amount of food made me feel like I had swallowed a cockapoo. I was in pain and went to doctors of a variety of specialties. It was a miserable few months with no concrete answers. Even when the bloating dissipated things were still very off. Blocked bowels and slow digestion has been a chronic problem for me and I was beyond tired of it. Being sick all the time is depressing. With my medical bills stacking up I began to research alternative forms of treatment and on a health forum someone mentioned acupuncture. I remembered picking up one of Evan’s business postcards a few years prior.
During my initial visit (which he was kind enough to let us photograph) I tell him what I’ve been experiencing in the type of graphic detail that only people in the medical world can seem to listen to without grimacing. He listens, no judgements. He makes suggestions on alterations to my diet and explains to me about the points we are going to stimulate to bring my system to a more harmonious state. He brings me back to where all the reclining chairs are and after inserting 19 needles total, covers me with a blanket and lets me kickback.
And I really kickback. People describe acupuncture in many different ways, from feeling high to just uber relaxed. Evan tells me it’s common for patients to fall asleep. I don’t fall asleep but I do seem to be suspended in that strange twilight place one tends to go right before they conk out. I feel a lot of strange sensations in my stomach which range from tingling to a sometimes intense heat. I try to move my right arm but it feels like there’s a weight strapped to it. This is also a common feeling.
You’re probably wondering what the needles feel like. It’s a misconception that you don’t know they’re going in and Evan tells me that before he starts. But that’s okay, he explains, because you want to be feeling something. The insertion itself is more like a brief pressure oppose to the prick you’d experience when having blood drawn. It’s not painful. There are twinges or a quick spasm of a muscle that seems non connected to where a needle is going. But that’s the thing with acupuncture and Chinese medicine in general. Everything is connected.
On a typical day there would probably be at least one person being treated in the room with me. Evan schedules patients so there’s some grace period between each appointment. One person gets set up and while the treatment is taking affect, another comes in, has their consult and joins them in a nearby chair. Serene as a spa, it’s intimate without feeling intrusive. Soft instrumental music plays in the background.
When it’s over I feel very chill. Very relaxed. When I go to bed that night I sleep like the dead. The next morning, I feel a shift in myself. I’m not clutching my stomach or reaching for more digestive tablets. My bowels clear. I eat without discomfort. In a few days my skin (which had been breaking out since my digestive system went on the fritz) clears up. I gain a level of health that I haven’t had in months and all it cost me was an hour of my time and less than I pay to have my hair cut.
Business models like the one at Hudson Valley Community Acupuncture are slowly but surely growing in popularity. “I would never go back,” says Evan of how he use to practice. “I reach people who would never come for acupuncture otherwise…People need healthcare that they can afford.”
Hudson Valley Community Acupuncture is located 1214B Hopewell Ave (Rt 52) in Fishkill, NY. It is opened Monday through Saturday. Visit its website or call 845-220-8435 to book an appointment.
This story originally appeared in The Mighty Mite.
Hudson Valley based writer.