I was lying back in one of four living room recliners arranged in a circle, with strangers relaxing in the other chairs, all of us with our sleeves and pants rolled up and shoes and socks off. I was staring at the Donald Duck bed sheets draped over my neighbor’s chair when Rebecca Rizzetta, co-owner of San Francisco Community Acupuncture, sat down to review the symptoms that had brought me here: an irregular period, anxiety, and dizzy spells. (Acupuncturists might be able to recognize symptoms of an imminent cold or flu before you do: read 7 Things an Acupuncturist Knows About You After Just One Appointment).
Though I wasn’t sure what it would be like to make like a pincushion with a roomful of strangers, I decided to give it a try. It was much more peaceful than I’d expected. The only sounds were the soft whispers of Rizzetta, making her rounds to each patient—and the occasional snore. When it was my turn, Rizzetta began placing short, sterile needles all over my body: on my wrists, a few on the tops of my feet, several along my bare arms, and one in the center of my forehead.
Each needle Rizzetta applied offered a different sensation—some were warm, others almost pulsating. By the time she was done applying the set, I felt a deep heaviness take over my body. For the next 30 minutes, it was nap time. Meanwhile, Rizzetta moved on to the next person.
“Acupuncture works best when people come in regularly, and we wanted to offer a scale that allowed more people to be treated with the frequency needed to truly heal,” says Rizzetta, who opened the clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District in 2007. “Some chronic conditions respond best to weekly treatments, while some acute injuries heal best with three treatments in one week. We realized we couldn’t ask our patients to come in weekly or multiple times in a week if we were charging $100-plus for a treatment.”
According to the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, there are more than 130 community clinics in the U.S. Rizzetta sees a wide variety of people come through her door: college students with PMS, retirees with knee pain, grocery clerks, software engineers, skateboarders, and housecleaners. By the time my session was up, a day laborer had come in for his time in the chair.
Did community acupuncture do anything for me? After a dozen weekly sessions—something I’d be hard-pressed to pay for if the sessions were private— my menstrual cycle became more regular, and my dizzy spells and anxiety had quieted down, so I’d say yes. And while my most severe symptoms have subsided, sometimes I still go in for a quick tune-up, knowing that I’ll be in good company.