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HEART TO HEART

Cornerstone Healing staff takes the time to listen to a patient’s needs

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Employing traditional Chinese therapies, a new sanctuary in Carroll Gardens offers its patients a couple of necessities that are often missing at the doctor’s office: time and compassion.

Certified acupuncturists and herbologists Anne Mok and Peggy Regis opened Cornerstone Healing in December with a commitment to making a patient’s visit - and even the waiting room - as soothing and relaxing as possible. The walls are painted a cool, celadon green and antique chests, bamboo stalks and wood bowls are carefully placed throughout. Mounted squares of fabric are the perfect finishing touches to the reception area and treatment rooms.

And lest they forget, a framed message in Chinese calligraphy hangs across from the reception desk reminding the acupuncturists that their mission is to practice with a "compassionate heart [and] compassionate skills."

"We want to be like the old family physician for the neighborhood, back when the family doctor knew the whole family," said Mok. "We want to be like that for the neighborhood."

When a patient arrives, they are immediately greeted with a smile and a warming cup of jasmine tea and asked to take a seat on a chair topped with a plump, silk cushion.

Patients are then asked to fill out an exhaustive, five-page medical history. In the initial consultation, every one of your aches, pains and worries is addressed by one of the acupuncturists.

"Your head is connected to the rest of your body," said Mok with a laugh, explaining that the 90-minute initial consultation helps them get to know their patient physically and psychologically.

Your tongue and pulse will be examined, and then it will be time to lay on the table and prepare to be "needled," as Regis calls it. (Acupuncture is actually the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the body at specific points shown to be effective in the treatment of particular health problems.)

Mok, a Chinese-American, and Regis, a Haitian-American, offer acupuncture, massage, herbal remedies and nutritional counseling to cure whatever ails their patients. Both say that herbal remedies were a common way to treat illness in their own families, and now they both claim success in employing all of these modalities in aiding everything from fertility to weight loss to quitting smoking.

"We are not just treating the symptoms, but the cause of the problem," explained Mok. "Traditional Chinese medicine treatments last longer and are more beneficial for the patient."

Mok said she started out in healthcare as a pharmacist. "People came back to me month after month, sick with the side effects from the medicine," said Mok who decided to further study the Chinese herbs she grew up with. Regis said she turned to acupuncture to help with her anemia.

Just as reflexology uses pressure on areas of the feet to aid with various ailments, Mok said that ears are equally sensitive and acupuncture there can help patients quit smoking or lose weight.

"You can treat the whole body with foot or ear acupuncture," said Mok. She explains that patients looking to stem addictions follow up their ear acupuncture treatment at Cornerstone Healing with tiny seeds, like poppy seeds, that are taped to their ears. Whenever they get a craving for that cigarette, or next piece of cake, they are to give the seed a bit of gentle pressure. Over time, the acupuncture, and use of ear seeds when away from the office, along with modifications in diet and lifestyle, will make a difference, said Mok, who also uses acupuncture and ear seeds to help patients overcome drug addiction at the Brownsville Multiservice Family Health Center.

"Generally people don’t have the time to come in for acupuncture more than once a week, so they can do it themselves with the ear seeds for another three to five days," said Mok. "The more you do it, the better, and there are no side effects."

Acupuncture can even treat grinding and clenching teeth at night, or temporomandibular syndrome (TMJ). When I went to my dentist for help, he told me there was nothing I could do but order a $700 custom-fit bite plate that I would wear to bed for the rest of my life.

Mok offered a lengthy consultation and performed acupuncture on my face (to loosen the tight muscles in my jaw line), suggested cutting out the caffeine, and gave me five herbal tea bags to relax me before sleeping (total cost: $93, future acupuncture visits and tea bags: $78). In addition to the 20 needles in my face, more were added to my feet, hands and wrist (to help a sprain). Mok left me with an eye mask and soothing music while my "chi" got moving. Regis offered a relaxing, 60-minute tui na massage, using deep-tissue massage strokes and acupressure (cost: $75) under a warming heat lamp.

This traditional Chinese approach to healing takes the whole patient into account and attempts to bring the patient back into balance.

I came away immediately relaxed, albeit with some tenderness in my jaw. A week later, although I haven’t stopped grinding my teeth, the intensity of grinding is diminished and I’m looking forward to a future visit. A combination of sleeping with a bite plate will protect my teeth, and future acupuncture visits will hopefully aid in diminishing the muscle tension and jaw popping altogether. (And I have the feeling that Mok and Regis would recognize me on the street, while my dentist might not know my name unless I moved into the summer house next door to his in the Hamptons.)

Everything about the experience at Cornerstone Healing is about balance. When coming in for a treatment they instruct patients, "Don’t have an empty stomach, but don’t have a full stomach." Their advice is very much about the time-honored mantra, "All things in moderation."

Mok and Regis are careful to stress that they work in conjunction with medical doctors.

"There are certain instances when antibiotics are certainly needed - or surgery," said Mok. "We work hand-in-hand with medical physicians and hopefully, in time, doctors will overcome the ’our medicine vs. your medicine’ way of thinking and feel that way, too. The bottom line is patient care, and whatever works for them. That’s what we want to do."

And they say that their treatments are only as effective as their patients - who have to be as careful about their sleeping and eating patterns as these acupuncturists are about where they place their needles.

For more information about Cornerstone Healing, see the Spa Directory.

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