Finding a Quiet Space in Community Acupuncture

A new movement makes acupuncture more accessible and effective.

One afternoon a week I step into a dimly lit, nondescript storefront off of bustling 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, where, in short order, I will install myself in a recliner and nod off into a blissful state of unawareness. An endless loop of chanting monks plays over the sound system, and I’m surrounded by prone figures, lying motionless and silent. No, it’s not an opium den; it’s my neighborhood community acupuncture clinic.

Community acupuncture is a practice that is growing in popularity around the country, as it allows a practitioner to see multiple patients simultaneously in a large common room at a much lower cost. Most community acupuncture clinics charge patients on a sliding scale (usually ranging from $15-$40).

“Acupuncture is beneficial for so many everyday health issues but it must be given regularly for its full benefits to be reaped, said Ninah Hofmann, owner and acupuncturist at CA Works.

“Community acupuncture’s sliding scale makes regular treatment affordable to a large segment of the community,” Hofmann says.

Speaking from personal experience, I have successfully treated severe seasonal allergies, and occasional back pain with once a week treatments – something I could never afford to do if I were paying the usual cost of private acupuncture. In addition to a lessening of allergy symptoms and pain, I’ve noticed an overall increase in emotional well-being as a result of regular treatments.

Brenda Klein, a fellow client at CA Works told me, “I’m a walking testimony for regular acupuncture. It has had a profound affect on me. I’m a markedly different person and no longer suffer from the anxiety and stress I once did.”

I spoke to Courtney, another regular client at my clinic, who is using acupuncture to treat sickness from chemotherapy.

“I got sick the first week of chemo, but since then I’ve been coming to acupuncture from one to three times a week and it’s keeping me from being sick,” she said, adding, “No worries about this being a community clinic vs. a private room. Everybody goes in and focuses on themselves. It doesn’t matter who else is in the room, the neutrality of the space is great.

Acupuncturists like Hofmann aren’t going it alone, and community acupuncture isn’t just a trend borne of the recession. It’s a bona fide movement nationwide with its own cooperative called the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA), whose mission is to make acupuncture available and accessible to as many people as possible and to support those providing acupuncture to create stable and sustainable businesses and jobs.

Ninah thinks of community acupuncture as a sustainable business model for both herself and the community, but it’s much more than that. It provides the more intangible benefit of calm, serving as an oasis of relaxation in the midst of a frenetic neighborhood in a major city.

As Ninah says, “The community setting allows the community to come together in a quiet space to take care of themselves. This collective stillness is so uncommon in our fast paced culture and I think within this stillness there is something very therapeutic.”

Looking for community acupuncture in your area? Check out this map of Poca-affiliated clinics.

Image: Daveknapik

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.