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Nicoya Peninsula: Pins and Needles

Destination: Santa Teresa

Acupuncture has gained a great deal of respect in the medical community over the past decade. What used to be classified as an experimental therapy is now considered a legitimate science. Needles meant to redirect energy are inserted into the skin along a series of 12 meridians, or circuits in the body, depending upon the ailments a particular patient is suffering.

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This is based upon the Chinese concept of "qi" (pronounced "chee"), or life force, that flows through us all in perfect harmony. When that harmony is disrupted, an illness is born. Acupuncture is designed to combat discordance, sickness, and suffering by re-aligning this flow.

Precisely how and why acupuncture effectively alleviates pain is a subject of debate. Some western experts theorize that the needles release endorphins in the body; others believe it promotes neurotransmitters to send nerve impulses to the brain. Traditional Chinese philosophy credits spiritual and metaphysical forces with acupuncture's success. Yin and yang, cold and hot, slow and quick, passive and active energies must remain balanced or the body becomes sick.

I had the opportunity to experience my first session in an open-air pavilion along Santa Teresa's thoroughfare, while listening to the sounds of the Pacific.

Norwegian-born Ragnhild Kragseth was my therapist, and she began the treatment with a synopsis about her experiences as a doctor.

I was relieved to discover that the woman who was about to stick needles all over my body had undergone five years of study in Norway, followed by a stint as a volunteer at a Chinese hospital. She checked my tongue to see how my organs were functioning, as well as my pulse in three places on both wrists. Her diagnosis was that I was a well-functioning person.

Next came a short questionnaire concerning my medical history. I explained my ailments, and Ragnhild set about the healing process. I am not afraid of needles, and she informed me that I was more relaxed than most of her patients. Each rapid insertion of the needle felt like concentrated pressure, but not quite a needle. I realized that they look much more intimidating than they actually are. If I didn't know that Ragnhild was poking sharp objects into me, I would have thought someone was pinching me, or pricking me with a stick.

Once all the pins were in (a normal first-time patient gets 2-4 pins. Ragnhild gave me 19!), she wiggled them around in my skin until I felt the qi: a pleasantly warm, tingling sensation, which sometimes shot all the way up to another point of entry. After 10 minutes my body felt decidedly better.

After 20 I felt like applesauce, almost as if I were sinking into the ground. Then it was over. I thoroughly enjoyed the sensation as she pulled the needles out. In some places I could still feel residual energy and wasn't sure if the pin had actually been removed or not. Stumbling out of the studio felt like I was floating, as if in a dream state. This euphoria lasted about 15 minutes, and the positive effects on my back remained through the next day.

Later that night Franz, one of yesterday's kite surfing instructors, invited me to visit the cabins of Pachamama. Here I climbed up an impossibly steep incline leading to a shell of a building where he used to reside, before opting to move closer to his cozy bungalows for rent near the sea.

From this elevated vantage point I truly found the most spectacular view in Mal Pais: I was able to see mountains and rainstorms spotting the horizon, a pair of whales swimming, pelicans hunting, people surfing, and the sun setting in the distance.

Nicoya Peninsula: Pins and Needles in Pictures

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