Sun. Jun 4th, 2023

When a painful ski accident left Michelle Larivee with chronic neck pain, she turned to acupuncture for relief. She was so moved by its healing effects that she decided to co-found WTHN, a national chain of acupuncture clinics, with Dr. Shari Auth, who is herself a licenced acupuncturist of 20 years and board-certified herbalist.

Four years since launching, they now have two locations in New York City offering customized acupuncture treatments for over 300 conditions, and cupping and LED light therapy too. Taking a holistic approach to healing, they’ve also expanded the brand to include a line of supplements based on traditional Chinese formulas.

Aside from the bright and fresh aesthetic of the clinics, what sets WTHN apart is their affordable membership model. The most basic membership, which costs $85 dollars a month, gets members one session, $10 dollars off additional sessions, free add-ons like cupping and ear seeds, and 15% off products. With acupuncture increasingly accepted by health insurance policies, memberships are FSA/HSA eligible for reimbursement too.

But Larivee and Auth have not prioritized affordability and accessibility at the expense of quality—they require all WTHN specialists, referred to as ‘healers’, to be licensed acupuncturists with graduate degrees in Chinese medicine and have a minimum of three years of training. One such healer is Qihui Jin. Born in Shanghai, China, Jin moved to New York in 2018 to pursue his Master’s and Doctorate degree in Acupuncture at Pacific College of Health and Science. Not only is he an acupuncturist, he is also a certified social worker, Chinese herb gardener and New York City Master Composter—everything he does is rooted in a desire to heal.

We chatted with the healer to learn more about this increasingly popular alternative therapy.

Please explain the philosophy behind acupuncture.

Let’s talk about Chinese medicine before we get into acupuncture. Chinese medicine is ‘Zhong Yi’ in Chinese. ‘Zhong’ can mean moderate, which relates to eclecticism where the goal of health is balance—the balance of Yin and Yang, day and night, work and life, or left and right.

There are some important concepts in Chinese medicine and acupuncture besides this balance of Yin and Yang, such as Jing (essence), Shen (spirit and mind) and Qi (the foundation of life). Any imbalance of Qi can cause disease and illness. Qi can be deficient, stagnant and can sink or counter-flow. Qi runs in channels and regulates the body temperature, protects the body from external pathogenic factors, mediates different organs and is in charge of basic physiological activities.

You mention channels, which I know is an integral part of acupuncture. Can you explain how the channel system works?

Channel is called ‘Jing Luo’ in Chinese. There are 12 primary channels, eight extraordinary channels and 15 Luo collaterals. They were discovered at different times as Chinese medicine continues to unfold. Channels run on separate energetic levels in the body and function differently, but they interact with each other and are connected. Basically, the channel is where Qi flows.

How do you diagnose your patients and decide which acupuncture points to target?

Chinese medicine diagnosis can be determined by observation, smell and listening, and/or inquiry. Very often you will be asked to show your tongue, give your pulse and answer a very broad range of questions that address your sleep, temperature, appetite, urine and stool, etc. The practitioner will determine a pattern based on their knowledge of Chinese medicine theory. Different theories will guide us to target different points.

Tongue diagnosis looks at the color, shape, mobility and thickness of the tongue, and the color and thickness of the tongue coat, which indicates whether the person has an excess or deficiency in Yin/Yang, Blood/Qi or has any external pathogenic factors (we call them ‘evils’).

Basically, we don’t use any devices or tools to make diagnoses other than our sensory organs (eyes, nose, ears and touch).

After determining the patient’s pattern, we come up with a treatment principle, such as move Qi, tonify blood, nourish Yin, fortify Spleen, disinhibit urine or expel wind. Then we choose acupuncture points that address these actions to make changes.

What are the physical and mental benefits of acupuncture?

Rather to say our body and mind are connected, I would say mind and body are two different levels of existence. When acupuncture affects the physical body, it changes the mind simultaneously and vice versa. For example, if someone comes in with pain that has worsened with mental stress, I would treat the pain as well as stress. In Chinese medicine, it’s called ‘Liver Qi Stagnation.’

How do ear seeds work and what are the benefits?

Ear seeds are a type of auriculotherapy, which works with acupoints on the ear. Traditionally people used the plant ‘Vaccaria,’ that’s why they’re called ‘seeds.’ Nowadays, they are made of ceramic or metal. They’re placed on the ear over certain pressure points with tape or a sticker. They are very commonly used with acupuncture sessions to help sustain the effects of acupuncture between sessions. Ear seeds have benefits in treating substance abuse, pain, insomnia, obesity, anxiety and depression.

Are there benefits to using acupuncture over other body treatments like massage?

Absolutely! Although there are many types of massage (Thai, Swedish massage, Chinese massage known as Tui Na, shiatsu, for example), almost everything can be interpreted from the perspective of Chinese medicine. Acupuncture and massage are tools we use to access to the body and change its physiology. They can have similar or totally opposite impacts depending on how we perform them.

It’s important to note that acupuncture (and Chinese medicine) can treat a person by suppressing their symptoms, like pharmaceutical drugs do, or by creating a healing crisis for the body to release toxins. For example, it brings the symptom up to the superficial level (physically and energetically) which might be seen as getting worse at the beginning and then getting better eventually.

What are the most common conditions your clients seek to treat?

Sleep disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, muscle or joint pain, menstrual issues, obesity, side effects from cancer medication, autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

What would you tell clients who are afraid of needles?

First, I would emphasize how fine acupuncture needles are compared to other needles. These needles are finer than sewing needles. Then I would describe how that might feel. Most of the time it’s like a mosquito bite. A lot of time the patient can barely feel anything.

Do you think acupuncture is becoming more mainstream?

Yes, it is becoming more popular worldwide and I’m hoping it becomes mainstream. Historically, it has existed for over 2,000 years and maintained the vitality of the Chinese civilization. In the U.S., acupuncture is being integrated with other types of medicine in clinical practices, and the America Society of Acupuncture and some other non-profit associations of acupuncturists are working hard on acupuncture legislation. More people are seeking natural, sustainable and ecological medicine to prevent illness and maintain health. Acupuncture is a top choice.

Some interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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