By Lisa Elaine Held
While acupuncture has grown in popularity in New York City alongside the wellness craze of the past decade, it’s still hard to know where to go if you’re looking to try tiny needles to address back pain, fertility, or anxiety. So, it was only a matter of time before someone made the standard acupuncture clinic over to fit into the world of boutique fitness and Drybar.
WTHN, in the Flatiron District, reflects the current Instagram aesthetic of the wellness set (all white, tons of plants, neon sign), offers convenient booking, and has a treatment menu that speaks to busy professionals.
All of it is in service of presenting acupuncture as not just a treatment you seek out when something in your body has gone terribly wrong, but as a regular preventative practice a la foam rolling or facials.
“In ancient China, you saw your acupuncturist when you were well, and they kept you well,” says co-founder Dr. Shari Auth. “The thing is about us New Yorkers is that we’re on such an intense hustle every week, weekly acupuncture helps our body reset and gives our mind the time to heal.”
The WTHN Experience
“We really want to make Chinese Medicine more accessible to people,” Dr. Auth says, and that starts with the design. The front desk area serves as a beauty- and supplement-apothecary, with a blue neon “take your herbs” sign and a beauty bar where you can try products and take selfies in front of a mirror that’s clearly designed for it. In the waiting area, a plant wall stretches above minimalist-but-comfy gray seating. Books like High Vibrational Beauty are placed strategically around.
The treatment menu is organized into three sections. “Prevent” offers options like “Loosen Up” for sore muscles and “In the Clear” for immunity. “Heal” is more targeted, with “Sleepyhead” for insomnia and “Trust Your Gut” for digestion issues. “Glow” includes just one treatment aimed at improving your complexion. Dr. Auth said the most common reasons WTHN clients show up are stress and pain, while women’s health concerns, digestion, sleep, and anxiety are not far behind.
Whatever your choice of treatment and your particular complaint she also says the treatment will be customized to you.
When I got to my room (which wasn’t really a room—the acu rooms are almost like big cubicles, a la the setup of Stretch*d and Heyday), my acupuncturist asked detailed questions about my sleep, diet, work, and lifestyle, even though the only thing I asked her to address was my neck and shoulder pain.
Will Acupuncture Help You?
“Acupuncture can’t help but help you in a multitude of ways because it brings your body into balance,” Dr. Auth says. That notion and the Chinese Medicine explanation of how acupuncture works—by helping energy called qi flow through the body—aren’t acknowledged by Western medicine. Still, scientific studies suggest that it does work in terms of pain relief, regardless of the mechanism. And many people swear by its efficacy for issues like fertility and digestion.
Overall, like a lot of alternative medicine treatments, the evidence is a little all over the place, and depending on the kind of expert you ask, you’ll get a different answer. But if you go to a qualified practitioner, it’s generally safe.
During my visit, I talked about the tension I carry in my neck and shoulders that leads to pain and posture issues. My acupuncturist felt my shoulders and said she needed to “release” the muscles. That involved some uncomfortable trigger point work, and then I actually felt the muscles relax. Then, the needles were in, and I laid there for half an hour with sound therapy pulsing through headphones.
My neck and shoulders felt better almost immediately, and the relief continued for at least a week. Dr. Auth says that’s because with muscle tension, acupuncture is going to “increase circulation locally, which is going to help bring healing nutrients to the muscle as well as circulate out toxins…and it’s a natural anti-inflammatory, it will interrupt the inflammatory pathway, and then increase your body’s natural painkillers to decrease pain as well.” All of those things are major exaggerations of what science can offer in terms of evidence, but man, I was standing up straight and feeling great.
I was also supremely relaxed, and I couldn’t tell you if it was because tiny needles were circulating my qi, or because I never stay still for 30 minutes while listening to extremely relaxing music.
In the end, then, whether WTHN is worth the investment and right for your modern life and ailments (and Instagram story) is going to be up to you.
(Photos: Lisa Elaine Held)