Thanks to my first-generation Chinese parents, I’ve always considered myself fairly open to more Eastern ways of thinking when it comes to my health. (Case in point: I once allowed an Ayurvedic practitioner bounce sacks of milk up and down my naked body for an extended period of time in the name of detoxing.) As I’ve gotten older, I’m partly amused, partly gratified to see the Western world all of a sudden embracing the practices I grew up with. My friends excitedly discuss the effect “warming” foods have on their dispositions and ask me about things like jade rolling and gua sha—and honestly, I’m all for it. But even though I’m used to doing things like eating dried ginseng to boost my immunity, one thing I’ve always tried to avoid is acupuncture. The reason is simple: I hate needles. While my parents have their acupuncturist on speed dial (and once even tried to set me up with his son—true story), I’ve always chosen to stay far, far away from that practice, mostly because, why in the world would I willingly subject myself to being pierced and prodded with needles? I may be a masochist when it comes to certain things (i.e. looking at things I clearly I can’t afford online), but I draw the line at sticking needles into myself unnecessarily.
But being an adult means being open to having your preconceived notions challenged and changed (at least, that’s what I tell myself when I meet people who have never had boba), and acupuncture has become one of those things. Since I moved to New York from L.A. two years ago, it’s like someone pressed the fast-forward button on the pace of my life. Things feel like they move a mile a minute here in this city, and though it can be exhilarating in some ways, it can also be incredibly draining. I’m constantly, as my friends and I like to call it, “doing the most,” and though it’s definitely been life-enriching and given me plenty of fodder if I ever write a memoir (tentatively titled Hot Mess), my body often suffers the brunt of it. Which would explain why I found myself on the Upper East Side one day after work at the Juhi Center, willing subjecting myself to acupuncture in the hopes of feeling…just, better.
The Juhi Center
The Juhi Center is tucked away in a nondescript row of homes and small businesses on the corner of 61st and 3rd Ave, just a few blocks down from a plastic surgeon’s office; walk too quickly (like I did), and you just might miss it. Once you’re inside, you’ll see a small, comfortable waiting area and a narrow hallway that leads to a few private rooms where Juhi herself meets with her patients gives them personal consultations and performs acupuncture. A word about Juhi—she’s not like most doctors. Sprightly and incredibly warm, she started the Juhi Center as an alternative for people who may be seeking more holistic ways of healing—namely, because she experienced its effect in her life firsthand. Her non-judgmental perspective is probably the reason why celebrities, models and NYC's fashion crowd see her on the regular.
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 16, an inflammatory disease of the intestines,” she tells me during my visit. “My family had the opportunity to seek out the best in care. For three and a half years, my parents dragged me from one doctor after another in desperate search of an answer. Many of the extraordinarily well-trained physicians were able to keep me alive with high doses of medications.” The medication took its toll, however—by age 19, the intense drugs had a severe and irreversible effect on her organs. Her only option, according to her doctors? A colostomy. Desperate, her parents consulted her aunt, who was an oriental medical doctor in India, as a last-ditch effort to prevent her from having this life-altering surgery. Juhi flew to India and for the next two months, received acupuncture daily and was placed on an Ayurvedic diet specific for her disease and constitution. Then, the unthinkable happened. “In two and half months of following the prescribed diet plan and acupuncture regimen, I was in remission,” she says. “I’ve remained in remission with few and occasional flare-ups for nearly 20 years. I opened up the Juhi Center to be able to offer this option to people who are looking for help without costing them life-altering effects.”
It’s hard to eye-roll the life-changing effects of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine when you hear stories like Juhi’s. Since then, she’s made it her life goal to bring Eastern methods of healing to a wider audience, while not ignoring the many benefits of Western medicine—in fact, she thinks a mix of both can be the answer. “I modeled the center after Ayurvedic centers in India,” she says to me. “So, you have a personalized approach to wellness and healing from the best in both Eastern and Western medicine. You have the option of sitting down with a functional medicine MD, a Chinese medicine doctor, an Ayurvedic doctor, and a physical therapist and a nutritionist to come jump with a very personalized cohesive plan.” In other words, the Juhi Center is all about approaching wellness from a 360 perspective.
But back to sticking needles in myself. Juhi asked me a series of questions about my health, diet and day-to-day life (not least of which include writing down everything I had eaten in the past 24 hours—eye-opening, to say the least). I told her that overall, I was just feeling slightly sluggish and run down—there wasn’t anything wrong, but I just felt like my body was barely scraping by. As with most New Yorkers, I was on the cycle of being constantly on-the-move and stressed out during the week, running on a mix of caffeine and adrenaline. On the weekends, I would let loose by pounding tequila sodas and going out with my friends. Rinse, repeat. Instead of tsk tsk-ing me like I was expecting, Juhi nodded and said that acupuncture was actually the perfect solution to try and balance everything out. “Acupuncture is an amazing tool for stress and anxiety and other things millennials are dealing with due to the change in environment and social media,” she said. “Acupuncture opens up blocked channels in the body and allows a healing process to begin. Combined with yoga and meditation, an acupuncture regimen can help keep anxiety to a minimum.” (You can read more about how exactly acupuncture works here, as well as its other benefits.) I asked her how often she recommends her patients get acupuncture—should it be a consistent thing, or is it something you get when your body starts feeling out of whack? She told me you can always get is when something is wrong, but she recommends doing it prophylactically to prevent issues from arising, “in the same way you’d take vitamin c to prevent a cold.”
The actual acupuncture wasn’t nearly as bad I had feared. I laid down on the raised table and Juhi quickly and efficiently placed the needles in different pressure points in my body, from my ears to my feet. I consider myself fairly sensitive to needles, and though there were certain places that I felt a little twist of discomfort, the needles themselves weren’t actually painful. Then, she placed a warm fuzzy blanket over me and told me to try and relax for the next 30 minutes, warning me I might feel a bit loopy. Instead, I just passed out. When she came back, I felt like I was coming out of a hazy, happy dream world. She removed the needles painlessly and told me that she always recommends her patients follow acupuncture by sitting in the infrared sauna for a few minutes. “The benefits of the infrared sauna are detox and weight loss, muscle pain, immune system boost, joint aches, and pain relief and a great tool and stress and anxiety,” she explains. “The sweating in the sauna can also help improve skin by shedding dead skin and improving blood circulation.” Sitting still in a cozy environment is something I’m particularly good at, so I happily followed her down the hallway and enclosed myself in the compact space. The first few minutes were pleasant as the sauna started heating up. This is nice, I thought. If this counted as detoxing, then I’d happily do this every day—tequila sodas be damned. As the sauna got progressively hotter, sweat started dripping off my body in rivulets. I don’t sweat that much naturally, so it was nice to feel like I was literally sweating out my Shake Shack binges and late nights. When I came out of the sauna, my skin looked like I had just gotten an hour-long facial—it was glowing from every angle, and my pores seemed to have disappeared. Even Juhi said my energy seemed different—like I was refreshed and renewed. Honestly, I felt reborn.
That night, I slept the best I had in a long time. It felt like the second my head hit the pillow, I melted off into dreamland. I ended up going back for acupuncture and infrared a few weeks later, partly because I wanted to start making it a part of my regular routine, and partly because I just wanted to catch up with Juhi (yes, she’s really that incredible). I appreciate that Juhi “gets it”—as in, doesn’t judge my diet (mostly consisting of Seamless orders) or penchant for an Aperol Spritz (or more) to unwind after a particularly stressful day. In fact, one of the main reasons I’ll be going back to the Juhi Center is because of something she said to me the first time I came in—basically, that I was allowed to enjoy life and do all these things, but to just “balance it out” by coming in for acupuncture whenever I could. “If you wear heels the day before, wear flats the next time,” she says. “In the same way, live your life in moderation, make healthy choices, be happy and know that acupuncture can recalibrate stressors that affect everybody, even while you’re having fun.” There’s also the fact that taking the time to do something good for my body and treating it right can feel empowering in and of itself. So yes, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m an acupuncture person now. And honestly, it feels so good.