By STACIE FANELLI
In a college lecture hall several years ago, Heather Poole Smith’s professor pulled up a picture of a lightning storm on a slideshow. “This is what people think acupuncture feels like,” he said. The next slide showed a serene beach. “This is what it actually is,” he said.
After a decade practicing the traditional Chinese medicine in Middletown, Smith has relocated Ancient Arts Acupuncture to 91 East Front Street in Red Bank, a building she calls a “hidden gem” of Red Bank for its scenic river view.
That’s helpful for her patients, most of whom benefit from a sense of tranquility, she said.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine involving the sticking of sterilized needles into meridians, or pathways, along the body that correspond to specific organs. It is known to relieve many types of pain and nausea as well as conditions like insomnia, allergies and even stress.
Smith’s specialty is fertility. She also performs treatments for the normal discomforts of pregnancy. Patients chronically ill with mental illnesses or physical aliments like cancer or multiple sclerosis can feel more upbeat after treatment, she said.
“People really are looking to not be on so many medications,” said Smith, who lives in Atlantic Highlands. After acupuncture, “most people will tell you right away that they feel a sense of well-being,” she said.
Acupuncture faces some criticism from those who say that it can’t have any legitimate healing functions because so much of its workings are still unknown.
To the skeptics, Smith says, “I just find it very egocentric to say that only Western medicine can be the real medicine…Why is it such a leap of faith to believe something that has been proven over and over for thousands of years?”
She explained that human DNA is still coded so primitively that, at a time of stress, “your body doesn’t know, ‘Am I running from a bear or is it just a bad day at work? And acupuncture gets in there and says, ‘Oh, it’s not the bear.'”
Though referrals for acupuncture are not required in New Jersey, Smith gets plenty. That’s because four of every five physicians recognizes its healing effects and recommends it to patients, she said.
“All medicine should be more of a team effort, a blending of styles,” she said.
On Tuesday, patient Tony Hannon of Port Monmouth visited the new office for a routine procedure to help with his lower back pain. He lay facedown on an extra-wide, extra-soft heated bed resembling a table used for massage, complete with a leg-support pillow. A heating lamp hovered over his feet. To his left, a painting of the Chinese character “harmony” took up the entire wall (the characters “health” and “love” decorate the other rooms). Wicker shelves housed medical supplies, Asian music played softly in the background and a tiny biohazard disposal bin sat discreetly among Buddha figurines and books on Chinese pediatric massage and new-wave geriatrics.
Hannon said he never feels any pain when eight to 10 tiny, flexible needles, barely thicker than hairs, go in or come out. In fact, he gets drowsy as they sit for 20 minutes.
Patients often fall asleep, Smith said. Snoring isn’t uncommon, either, and is easily drowned out by the white noise machines in each room, which help take away the typical antiseptic feel of a doctor’s office.
Smith’s waiting room, filled with Chinese art, decor and tea, also features a stuffed panda bear wearing a silk kimono. “Got Qi?” reads the sign he holds. He is the mascot of pediatric acupuncture enthusiasts, a third of Smith’s clients.
Acupuncture is missing one thing when performed on children, though: the puncture.
“Kids are moving targets, and needles aren’t really appropriate,” Smith said.
Instead, she uses shoni-shins, dull metal tools that don’t break skin at all, but still stimulate the same points as needles do on adults. Children are safe to poke at themselves and play with the tools while Smith teaches their parents how to get similar effects with a quarter.
A “needle-phobe” herself before completing school, Smith said she understands that people are hesitant to try acupuncture. And when many of her patients come in for the first time, it’s because they’re desperate for relief.
“A lot of folks say, ‘You’re my last hope. I don’t know what I’m going to do after this’,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen it fail.”
Ancient Arts takes the space formerly held by the New Jersey Vein and Cosmetic Surgery Center and, before that, Jewish Family and Children Services, said landlord Grace Greenberg.