Where the magic happens.

I first tried acupuncture two years ago as a total skeptic. A well-placed needle as a cure-all for stress, cramps, even allergies? Sure, whatever you say.

I left with my qualms mostly dashed, feeling lighter and chiller and, well, better. By the second time I tried it—this time after pulling a muscle in my shoulder—I was a bona fide convert. My acupuncturist had placed certain needles on a meridian in my right wrist that supposedly corresponded with my left shoulder. I’m not one to buy into all that, but I swear on my life, I felt near-instant relief. Suffice it to say, I got the point. (Sorry.)

Ever since, I’ve happily accepted any opportunity to become a human pin cushion. So it was that I found myself at the River Oaks outpost of Modern Acupuncture one recent evening, a ball of pure stress in the midst of a taxing move, multiple deadlines, and an extended visit from my well-intentioned-but-oft-infuriating mother. A dozen sharp objects puncturing my face, arms, and legs? Yes, please.

But seriously, if you’re one of the estimated 50 million Americans with trypanophobia—needle fear—don’t count acupuncture out just yet. The metal needles employed here are ultra fine, about the width of a human hair, and, I kid you not, painless. This is nothing like getting a shot or even an IV.

Of course, it helps to be in a non-clinical environment like Modern Acupuncture’s “Zen Den.” This is another realm separated from the commotion of the outside world by a pair of heavy doors that look like they might lead to a dojo (they really leaned into the Eastern imagery here). Instead, they’re a portal to a quiet, low-light room full of cozy, zero-gravity-style recliners separated by curtained partitions. At first, I’m slightly concerned with the lack of privacy—I’m facing a stranger in the midst of his own treatment—but I quickly realize no one here is aware of anything outside their own existence in this moment.

Here, acupuncturists speak in soothing near-whispers so as not to disturb the other clients, and the effect is akin to an ASMR video in the best possible way. Candles flicker beneath a row of mounted flat-screen TVs that play relaxing scenes on a loop: misty mountain ranges, tropical island vistas, cascading waterfalls. Your standard-issue desktop backgrounds, but they get the job done.

Enter the Zen Den.

Transfixed on an image of leaping dolphins, I settle in for 45 minutes of bliss. After whisper-speaking my ailments (stress, anxiety, and a dash more stress) to my acupuncturist, she expertly manipulates her needles on my person and a heavy warmth descends over me. She hits on something—literally—in my left wrist, and a tingling sensation floods my whole body. I think of it as the qi rushing through a block. Clearly, I’m fully indoctrinated here.

Together, the dolphins and needles are almost tranquilizing, and I spend the next near-hour hovering in a state somewhere between sleep and consciousness, but it’s pleasant—nothing like how I feel when I take melatonin, which I’d describe more like “trapped” and “acutely aware of but unable to control a series of vivid nightmares.” But that’s neither here nor there.

Time is suspended, so when the acupuncturist gently rouses me, it could’ve been three minutes or 24 hours. I think I’d like to stay here forever, but I turn my mind to the promise of the strawberry tea I pre-selected waiting for me outside the Zen Den.

One by one, my acupuncturist removes the needles and briefs me on her recommendations for future visits—aside from stress relief, I’m also here to try cosmetic acupuncture, which claims to help with everything from reducing fine lines and softening wrinkles to evening skin tone and toning facial muscles. At the very least, I know it’ll boost circulation—that’s one of the core benefits of the practice. And it’s way cheaper than Botox.

Modern Acupuncture operates Houston-area locations in River Oaks, Sugar Land, Clear Lake, Kingwood, and League City. Sessions start at $59 for walk-ins. 

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