12th Nov 2019
In the November issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now, Holly O’Neill faces her fear of needles to finally give the ancient Chinese medicine practice a go.
I first met traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and Escapada co-founder Maeve O’Sullivan a few months ago in the IMAGE office. We spoke about traditional Chinese medicine, and she stuck a gold ear seed in my ear, which can be pressed to release stress and tension. After a week, I liked how it felt so much (and looked, to be honest – I attempted to stick it back on loads of times after the adhesive wore off), I had it pierced – it’s called a Shen Men piercing – in Maria Tash in Brown Thomas. I didn’t realise at the time that this is a form of acupuncture.
“The earliest documents referring to acupuncture are dated to 100 BCE,” Maeve tells me in the Escapada Clinic in Dublin, ahead of my first acupuncture session, “but it wasn’t until the 15th century that bronze statues with acupuncture points, which are used today, were depicted.”
Acupuncture, I didn’t know, can solve a whole range of physical and emotional ailments. When Maeve asks what I’m here to heal, I’m not sure. “I treat everything from back pain to fertility to obstetrics to sinus problems to allergies.” Thankfully, each session kicks off with a lifestyle check, which is just as well because we identify my sleep is rubbish, I drink too much coffee, I spend too long in front of screens, and my diet is terrible. “The state of me,” I say to Maeve as we go through the questions. “Do you have enough needles?”
Maeve explains there are more than 300 acupuncture points in the body. “The number of acupuncture points was originally established to correspond to the number of days in the year: 365. Acupuncture points have high concentrations of nerve endings, mast cells, lymphatics and capillaries, all capable of triggering biochemical and physiological changes in the body.”
For my individualised prescription of points, Maeve decides on needles in the top of my foot, shins and wrist. I lie on a bed in my pants and a jumper, with a blanket over me. So what happens in the body when the needles go in? “When a needle is inserted, it stimulates the sensory receptor and sets off a chain reaction,” says Maeve. “The sensory receptor stimulates the nerve, which transmits impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. This complex system of interactions between the brain, hormones and glands is a powerhouse, responsible for regulating a number of bodily processes. One of the processes acupuncturists commonly work with is the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins – the body’s natural pain-killing hormones, thought to be 200 times more potent than morphine. Acupuncture is also used to release substances that relax the body and regulate serotonin.”
I didn’t think I had an issue with needles, until it came to the point where they were about to go in. “Is this going to hurt?” I ask in what I think is successfully feigned casualness.
The needles are about the width of a hair, but I remain suspicious about their ability to cause me pain. “Okay, I’m going to put the first needle in now,” Maeve warns. I tense my body and scrunch up my eyes like a toddler. “Aaand it’s in.” I don’t feel anything. She continues on for about ten minutes while I marvel at the lack of discomfort.
I picture myself falling off the bed and all the needles jamming into my body. Would I die? Asking this seems a bit overdramatic. “Can I put one needle in the top of your head?” Maeve asks. “In yoga, they try to stimulate here with a headstand, but we can do it easily with acupuncture.” I say no because the thought of a needle sticking out of the crown of my head seems a bit ick. “What about in between your eyebrows? It’s really relaxing.” This feels equally gross, but I can’t turn it down, having just said no to the top of my head. It doesn’t hurt a bit. I stare at the chandelier above. If it fell on me, would it shove the needle into my brain and kill me? Why am I obsessed with death? Can acupuncture fix this? Asking this also feels a bit dramatic.
Maeve leaves me then for half an hour, and when she comes back, I’ve stopped obsessing about death and feel like I’ve had a four-hour nap.
After the appointment, Maeve sends over a bespoke nutritional and lifestyle guide. “We sometimes forget that our body is a powerful self-healing machine,” Maeve tells me before I leave, “and Escapada’s mission is to encourage people to honour that and throw open their belief system of what health means.” Consider my belief system wide open.
Initial consultation and treatment, 90 minutes, €100, escapadaclinic.com.
Illustration by Laura Kenny.
This article originally appeared in the November issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now.
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