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Balancing Needles and Cigars

SOMEHOW I always knew my executive pursuits would end with me lying face down on a massage table at Sage Hampton Spa in Wainscott, N.Y., naked except for a towel around my waist, perforated from head to toe by two dozen fine filiform Chinese acupuncture needles, splayed out like a road-killed porcupine beneath the winter moon.
I just never imagined it would all turn on a point called "Stomach 36."
Mikal Gohring, 59, a veteran acupuncturist with wire-rimmed glasses and a ponytail protruding from an otherwise shaved head, leaned across the massage table, brandishing yet another needle over my left shin.
"Breathe in, and then exhale," he urged in a soothing whisper.
I did as instructed, hoping for bliss. Mikal had told me that his prescribed respiratory routine would distract my mind from the impending puncture and align my yin better with my yang. But when he jabbed that 25th needle into my shin, my whole body seemed to go into spasm.
"Ouch!" I cried out. "That really hurts!"
"It's Stomach 36," Mikal replied. "It's one of the famous points in acupuncture that influences the functions of your internal organs."
I shuddered, second-guessing my sanity and my reasons for seeking acupuncture treatment. My ostensible motivation was to quit smoking cigars. Along with the obvious health considerations, there were new financial urgencies. The price of my brand of small cigars had soared to $15 a pack. I was going through at least five packs a week. I simply could not afford it much longer.
"Acupuncture won't make you quit smoking," Mikal reminded me. "The only way to stop is just to stop. But there's an aspect of your being that will realize his time may be limited, and he will rebel. Acupuncture will help you deal with what comes up."
Moments later, Mikal turned on a DVD of Gregorian chants, dimmed the lights and left me alone to allow the treatment to take effect.
The rebellious aspect of my being, heretofore known to me as my evil twin, Larry, immediately reared his needled head. My first executive pursuit, back in May 2005, reported on a renaissance in cigar smoking prompted by the then-booming economy. Feeling a fellowship with the likes of Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James E. Cayne, then the chairman of Bear Stearns, I had proposed four rules of cigar etiquette intended to counteract the antismoking police.
Now we had come full circle, and Larry was totally depressed. Arnold had morphed from a Republican governor of California into a de facto Democrat. Jimmy Cayne had suffered an ignominious fall. There was no such thing as Bear Stearns anymore, no such thing as a Wall Street investment bank, for that matter. Having once gorged on the kind of tobacco-wrapped stimulus packages that Dr. Freud favored, we now had to settle for a series of half-baked Washington bailout plans.
If Larry disdained the idea of quitting cigars, he believed that turning to acupuncture was downright kooky. I begged to differ. According to a 2002 survey by the National Institutes of Health, more than eight million people in the United States have tried acupuncture. It is legal in 40 states, and there are more than 11,000 licensed acupuncturists nationwide, plus another 3,000 medical doctors who practice the art.
Classified as a part of traditional Chinese medicine dating back more than 3,000 years, acupuncture is based on the principle of achieving health by balancing yin and yang, or opposing forces. Two crucial concepts are the qi (pronounced "chee"), often described as the flow of "vital energy," and the blood, variously described as both a liquid and a metaphorical flow. The goal is to regulate the qi and the blood by alleviating blockages, draining excesses and refilling shortages.
This spiritually charged plumbing operation relies on inserting needles into a patient's skin along 14 pathways known as "meridians" that wind across the body. The meridians purportedly correspond to specified internal organs like the lung, the heart, the pericardium, the spleen, the liver and the kidney. But as I discovered in the case of my shins and "Stomach 36," the insertion points and the corresponding organs do not necessarily occupy the same physical locations.
While many leading Western medical authorities remain skeptical about acupuncture, scores of patients have extolled its apparent effectiveness in treating low back pain, headaches, sciatica, dysentery, nausea and vomiting and certain forms of addiction. One of those satisfied souls referred me to Mikal Gohring, insisting that he could surely help me quit cigars.

Source: New York Times