Lumbered with a sizeable dose of trepidation, I zoom over to the master of needle, Joel Key’s house to willingly become a human pin cushion and perhaps nullify my qualms with those pointy assassins.
Since graduating in physiotherapy from Birmingham University, Joel has been plying his trade in Buenos Aries, London and now in Ho Chi Minh City. As a musculoskeletal therapist, Joel helps his clients with muscle and joint problems through manipulation, mobilisation and, as I’m about to find out, acupuncture.
As I don’t have a specific ailment Joel explains that during the session he will be targeting my meridian points.
“These are points along a channel in the body that can be linked to diseases or problems. By manipulating these points you can release stagnant energy in the body,” he says.
Yin and Yang
The meridian is a concept central to traditional Chinese medical techniques. It claims that there are twelve main meridian points in the body found in the hands and feet that are connected to vital organs; for example, by manipulating a certain point in the hand it is believed you can heal a disease in the small intestine.
According to this practice, health is explained as a state of balance between the yin and yang, with disease ascribed to either of these forces being unbalanced or blocked. The yang force is an immaterial energy, whereas the yin counterpart is blood. This concept is also used in martial arts and tai-chi. Although acupuncture's origins in China are uncertain, one unlikely explanation claims it was employed after some soldiers wounded in battle by arrows were cured of chronic afflictions that were otherwise untreated.
Although by no means a 100 percent advocate of traditional Chinese techniques, Key has seen how acupuncture can benefit his clients.
“Although acupuncture remains controversial among medical researchers, I have found it to be a very effective form of pain relief,” he explains. “Many of my clients come to me with sports injuries.By inserting needles into key points on the body I can ease their pain and after a series of sessions take it away. Also, more generally the process releases endorphins in the same way that exercise or laughing does. By freeing this chemical clients get a positive sense of well-being.”
Down to business. I strip off my t-shirt and, trying to be nonchalant, casually toss it over my shoulder. As this gesture appears to go unnoticed, I try to exude some manliness with a couple of sumo-esque slaps to the chest, this too is clearly ignored.
So with images of pin-head from the Hellraiser movies rolling round my mind Key sets to work. He inserts the first needle into the top of my left shoulder, I flinch but manage to retain the mewling I expected to succumb to. Now an inch deep in, the initial needle sticks out of me like a porcupine spine. Joel needles my other shoulder, before moving onto the hands. He probes the soft skin between my thumb and forefinger, it stings and I note the clear absence of any sense of well-being, but perhaps I’m jumping the gun.
It’s not surprising my chi; the vital life force in the body is still in tatters when I’ve come armed with my usual batch of cynicism and a dread of piercing. One creepy effect is that my now needled hands feel literally pinned to my thighs. I don’t dare try and move them. The jabs to both feet have the same effect. Feeling semi-crucified I take a deep breath and try to restore some faith in Joel’s skilled, latex-clad hands.
Ascending up my rooted legs, two more needles are inserted into the top of each calf. My veil of relative calm is cast aside when I let out an S&M-style grunt before the second needle finds its resting place.
Wanting to see the process through, I agree to a final two to be put into the nape of my neck. Although a wee bit too close to my brain for comfort, these needles have an unusual but soothing effect. What feels like cold blood is shifting around inside my head and down my neck. I feel perhaps my being is etching closer to a state of serene equilibrium.
“I think he’s had enough,” he claims.
The statement couldn’t be more apt and the needles are carefully removed. When I inform the acupuncturist that I don’t really feel any different after my taster session he is far from surprised.
“As you didn’t have any pain to combat, I didn’t manipulate the needles. Also they were not inserted for a long enough time. Acupuncture is an accumulative process. It takes time to have the desired effect,” says Joel.
Driving home I feel a dull throb in the base if my neck known as dai-chi, a sensation felt when the right part of the meridian has been stimulated. Although still eternally doomed to be squeamish when confronted with a needle, it’s definitely been a real eye-opener to learn about the healing effects of a process that dates back as far as 109 B.C.
www.jgkphysiotherapy.com (under construction at the time of writing)
Dr Ciro Gargiulo
Institute of Traditional Medicine
273-275 Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan