Adventures with Vouchers: Acupuncture and Cupping

Since moving to London, I’ve signed up for some mailing lists through Time Out London and Amazon. I get daily emails with a ton of vouchers for different things, basically like a Groupon. Being new to the city and looking for unique experiences, I’ve purchased a whole lot of these vouchers. Then generally I wait until they’re about to expire before I scramble to get an appointment. Typical avid wanna-go-do-see! procrastinator.

Today I went to a…spa? clinic? place for my first experience of acupuncture and cupping.

I walked in and immediately knew it was not going to be a “spa” experience. The waiting area was clinically pedestrian. There was no small tinkling fountain in the corner, just a line of claustrophobically jumbled bamboo chairs that ended with a tired looking white leather armchair, slightly slashed on the seat. Just as I handed over my voucher, three police officers walked in on a “routine inspection” which clearly terrified the staff, as no one wanted to admit they were the manager. The police asked about insurance policies and client records (the staff claimed to keep lists of clients’ names, birth dates, and procedures, but nobody even asked my name, let alone made me sign any liability release forms). The lady officer in charge asked if there were locks on the doors to the “exam” rooms, to which the Chinese girl responded no, no locks, because that would be…unsafe? (she asked, hoping it was the right answer.)

Soothing.

I then had a “consultation” to discuss my procedures. A very stern Chinese lady doctor, who did not speak English, took the pulse in both my wrists (could they be different?) while another lady translated for us. There was no talk of chi or energy or mental state…I don’t know what I was expecting. Mysticism, something inexplicably magic, I suppose. I said I carry tension in my back, particularly my right shoulder blade. After this two and a half minute in-depth discussion, we moved to the procedure room, where the lady doctor told me to “Take it off” before leaving the room. As I was still wearing my jacket and purse, I was unclear on what to take off. She told me to “take it off” again when she returned, and I finally figured out my shirt had to go.

I laid down on a table, face down…down down, my nose smashed into the table because there was no face hole. As she began applying the needles, I couldn’t really breathe because of my smooshed face. The needles were barely noticeable as they went in, but it was a mildly strange sensation once they were all inserted. She turned on a dim, delicate paper lamp, shaded with a sunflower pattern, pressed play on a CD of generic new age music and left me alone.

I skooched my face up in order to avoid asphyxiation, and noticed the lovely cut out wallpaper, patterned with trees and reeds. The CD started to skip immediately. As I find nothing soothing about faux Native American sounds, I didn’t mind, though it was an abrasive sound and I almost got up to get my iPod out of my bag. I didn’t want to disturb the needles, however, so I stayed still and concentrated on finding a comfortable position that allowed breathing. With my arms up under my head, my shoulders started to cramp.

Relaxing.

I eventually discovered there was in fact a face hole in the table, it was just covered by the hygiene-maximizing paper sheet running down the table.

I lay like that for about forty-five minutes, not feeling much of anything except my rapid heartbeat. Through a fluke of timing, this appointment came on the heels of being broken up with by a very nice man, and I suppose I had been hoping for some real external pain to mitigate my broken heart. What I wanted, I imagine, was a tattoo, the grinding sound of the needle gun drilling into my red raw skin.

Comforting.

Unless I concentrated very hard, I barely felt the needles. Every now and then a wave of tingly giddiness would pass over my head, the same feeling as children get when they pretend to crack eggs over each other’s heads and run their hands down their hair, simulating a drippy yolk (did anyone else play that game as a kid?). It’s a feeling I enjoy, but it didn’t ebb and flow as neatly as the ocean, just sporadically, beyond my control.

I don’t know anything about acupuncture – I like to jump into these situations uninformed so the magic can really hit me full force – but I thought there was supposed to be more doctor involvement, or needle manipulation. Maybe that’s a different voucher.

Eventually a not-doctor came back and removed my needles, and set about suctioning cups onto my back, drawing my skin up into puckers. This is supposed to draw out toxins and promote healing by stimulating blood flow. It hurt more than the needles, so I liked it. The woman couldn’t get the cups to suck on to certain parts of my shoulders because of my tight muscles.

Tranquility.

I laid there for another fifteen minutes with the cups, and then after a very aggressive hard sell to buy further sessions or some nice smelling body oil (it’s not like I can reach my back to massage myself) I was out the door, my back pockmarked like I’d been attacked by a lazy octopus.

It's hard to take a picture of your own back.

It’s hard to take a picture of your own back.

The woman asked if I felt the toxins being released, if I felt the stress being pulled out by the needles. Oh yes, I said.

But I did not.

Still my back might feel less tense, a little looser. Maybe that’s just because I got off my bed where I sit getting gouged by my wrought iron headboard when I write.

So does anybody have any experience with acupuncture or cupping? What are they supposed to do?

Scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0

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Categories: London | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Adventures with Vouchers: Acupuncture and Cupping

  1. Not sure about the cupping thing! Tho’ clearly you now have a story to tell over drinks… especially with the police bit…

    Now acu’ptr I’m OK with – as an Eastern treatment it does have some medical backing of potential benefit but generally for pain relief… not so much a massage alternative.

  2. OMG hilarious!! I’m so sorry the needles and cups didn’t do the trick, but it did make for a really funny piece of writing, dear Adventurer…. 🙂 (Lastly: you may be happy to learn that the ‘yolk dripping down your hair’ game is equally popular in Israel. Universality ftw).

  3. Cassie Apthorpe

    I’ve always wondered if the suction cups actually do anything! That sounds like an incredible comfortable, relaxing, and enlightening experience.

  4. Bill Brinkert

    This piece was hysterical! I loved it. I hear they do the cupping thing in Finland, too. Only there they use a razor or lancet to pierce your skin first so that the suction actually draws out blood.

  5. I’ve always wanted to do that!

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