Dim lights, soothing sounds of nature and the heated table evoke an instant Zen that makes this 30-minute appointment resemble a spa visit. I'm getting the stress treatment, but most people turn to this Chinese therapy for its pain-reducing and anti-inflammatory effects to treat arthritis, migraines or even reduce the effects of chemotherapy.
As Jamie Starkey, lead acupuncturist and program manager at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine, inserts the first of 15 hair-thin needles, I feel nothing. One pierces my left foot. "Oh, that pricks," I yelped, surprised. One needle slides between my eyebrows and I wince. "It's not supposed to hurt," Starkey says and moves it to my scalp.
A surge of energy pulses through me. The Chinese call it qi. It's actually a chemical release. "We are basically manipulating the nervous system," Starkey says. "The brain starts to release a natural opiate called endorphin."
Charges zip around my body. That needle on my left foot sharply zings. Then one in my left hand zaps.
I'm suddenly woken from my trance when Starkey removes the needles. A bead of blood forms on my left foot, but she assures minor bleeding is normal.
Despite lingering tenderness, I'm relaxed and oddly energized — feelings I rarely have. And stress? It seems far away.