I'll admit it. I'm sometimes a little... tense. Okay, maybe more than a little, and maybe more than sometimes. But as anyone with chronic anxiety will tell you, it's hard to be relaxed when you're scanning every room for exits, re-analyzing emails at 2 a.m., and trying to work through the nervous knot in your stomach 24/7. To cope, I use CBD in all forms, meditation, massage, and prescription medication. They all work for me—but only to varying degrees, and often for only so long. Recently, I've been looking for something to use in conjunction with more "traditional" anxiety therapies, but access to wellness experts in the past year has been limited. Thankfully, ORA is trying to change that.
ORA's NYC location is tranquil, inviting, and modern—all clean lines and soothing colors. But if you can't make it down (or up) to NoHo, they'll bring the healing to you virtually. ORA is a full-service wellness spa that offers acupuncture, acupressure, cupping, and gua sha—plus teas and tonics. They're even launching luxury take-home bath salts (coming soon) through the ORA E-Shop. First opened in March 2020, the company quickly decided to offer virtual healing sessions and kits for those seeking relief without in-person contact.
What ORA Does
Kimberly Ross founded ORA after a life-changing acupuncture session with healer Gabriel Sher, now ORA's Director of Acupuncture. After seeing immediate pain relief, she made it her mission to share the benefits of acupuncture along with other Traditional Chinese Medicine practices with her community. "Acupuncture is not just a treatment for the physical body, it is also mental and spiritual, making it a whole body self-care experience," Ross says, and the same goes for acupressure. "Even a few minutes to practice acupressure can change your day. For example, applying pressure between the base of your thumb and index finger for five minutes can help to relieve pain and headaches, and massaging the space right between the two eyebrows for up to five minutes can relieve general anxiety before a big meeting."
Acupressure, which stimulates different points in the body with magnets, beads, seeds, hands, or other pressure-focusing tools, is an important tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and its positives effects on pain and stress are well-documented. According to Gabriel Sher, who's studied extensively both in the U.S. and China, the goal is to realign imbalances, which is often emotional tension manifesting as physical pain. Because acupressure delivers many of the same benefits as acupuncture without actually penetrating skin surface, it's something virtually anyone can do—with guidance, of course. ORA offers pre-packaged acupressure bundles ($25) to be used during a virtual acupressure session conducted over webcam. To try and hack away at some of my own stress, I logged on with Sher, kit in hand, to experience a virtual session myself.
What to Expect
For patients, Sher first goes through a very thorough series of questions to establish some baseline information about each patient, including diet, sleep, energy, temperature, menstrual cycles, and more. "Those are all extremely important when diagnosing," he explains. Once Sher knows what he's working with, the physical part of the session begins. To kick things off, I was instructed to stick out my tongue for evaluation, not unlike when your primary care doctor whips out a wooden depressor. Sher told me that redness in the tongue can actually reveal a lot about how individuals deal with stress, anxiety, and pain. "The tongue tells you everything about the body," he told me during our virtual session. "If the tip of your tongue is really, really red, it means you're an overthinker, anxious, overanalyze. And if the side of the tongue is really red, it tells you if you're frustrated or angry or irritable or stressed. It's kind of the difference between someone who, if they got in a fight, would cry versus somebody who would get irritable or frustrated."
After clocking redness on the tip of my tongue (I'm practically a professional crier), we worked on some anxiety-relieving points to help combat stress. For my demo, Sher walked me through a few different points also explained in the kit's accompanying literature, and we focused on one found just south of the inner wrist, in between two tendons. Sher explained that particular point is one often used to relieve nausea or vomiting but is also great for general anxiety, overthinking, and stress dreams. The kit came complete with magnet beads pre-affixed to stickers for ease of application, and I followed Sher's lead, sticking two to those points in my wrists. The magnet can be left on for the entire day, stimulated with light pressure. Sher also stressed the importance of symmetry, as I applied them; "everything in Chinese Medicine is about balance."
Next, we moved the next pressure point, ears, for which ORA's kit provides tiny rhinestone seeds that make acupressure feel like wearing some cute jewelry. (For a more minimalist look, you can peel the jewel off to reveal a tiny gold dot instead.) "Ears are pretty amazing because they go to the brain," Sher tells me. "We use them a lot. When people come to ORA, the first thing we always do is put in two ear points that are calm spirit points. The ears are extremely effective so we use a combination of four points, three emotional points and one for pain." Sher suggests using a magnifying mirror and the kit-included forceps to take a good look at your own ears while applying the seeds. The kit also comes with a comprehensive chart with images and descriptions of where to apply each piece, making locating the correct spots easy.
The sensation was a little intense, but it definitely feels good. The real effects, though, don't come until after Sher and I have already hung up. I noticed an easy, loose-limbed feeling when taking a walk about an hour later, as it dawned on me that I was feeling like I took some anti-anxiety medicine without actually having taken any. I was relaxed, and all it took was a 30-minute video call and some strategically-placed magnets and beads.
The Bottom Line
"Happy healing!" is a sign-off often used by ORA, but I didn't grasp the significance after my first session. The practice of acupressure is about seeking harmony internally and externally, which is very different from the pain-relievers or other symptom-stopping tools I'm used to. Healing is just that, a full correction. Though I have a feeling it might take a few more (possibly several) sessions to fully heal me, only therapy sessions have left me feeling as optimistic and unburdened as this ORA consultation, a comparison Ross says she hears frequently. "The greatest part about acupuncture is that you don’t have to have a chronic health condition to benefit from it," she explains. "It is truly a universal treatment that can bring positive change and well-being for any person."
Monson E, Arney D, Benham B, et al. Beyond pills: acupressure impact on self-rated pain and anxiety scores. J Altern Complement Med. 2019;25(5):517-521. doi:10.1089/acm.2018.0422