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It’s the needles, stupid, in FT Undercover


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Modern Acupuncture’s needles, shown on white plate, can intimidate.

It’s the needles, stupid. That’s the phrase that comes to mind when asked why more people don’t try acupuncture. But at Modern Acupuncture, everything is designed to soothe anxieties. Erica, a certified acupuncturist, unwraps a pack of three-inch needles (OK, that part didn’t really reduce my panic, except maybe for the antiseptic packaging.) She settles me in a lounge chair in the beautifully appointed “Zen Den,” no need to remove clothing. “Needling,” as she calls it, takes three to five minutes, and then you relax for 20 or 25 minutes—you might even fall asleep, or so I was told. (No such luck for me, a notorious list-maker-in-my-head.) The needles do hurt, especially the one in the top of my head and in my ear, but it was nowhere near awful. Afterward, was my aged face restored to luminous beauty, as the before-and-after videos at the front desk showed? No, that would take two sessions per week for the next six weeks, plus maintenance. (A Pathway Plan costs $69 per month for two sessions per month.) But I did sleep like a rock that night, as promised, and had no nightmares about needles.

The upshot: Modern Acupuncture has a clear shot at bringing the ancient Eastern practice to the Western masses, especially with its professional technicians that bolster nervous first-timers’ confidence.—BE


Testing franchises is the coolest part of my job, and checking out US Cryotherapy, recently added to an Experience Fitness gym, was the latest, most literal example. The owner, Tom Davidson, told me what to expect as we watched a customer head into the deep freeze. The room was a crisp 180 degrees below zero. She jumped, kicked and paced, while I wondered if it was a joyful squirming. When my turn came, they set the timer for 3 minutes and opened the door as I bravely stepped in. Hoo boy! The initial blast was shocking, but not overpowering. I began my own dance/pacing routine to get my core temp down, but also as an involuntary survival mechanism. My eyes widened as icicles formed on my arm and leg hairs. When it was over, I emerged a superhero in a billowing cloud of steam. Using an infrared thermometer, they showed my skin temperature dropped 30 degrees—I felt invincible. They told me how many calories I burned, and that I would feel hungry and elated for a while. That was an understatement—I felt like the Kool-Aid man ready to blast through walls. Pricing depends on location, but the average for first-timers is $29 to $35.

The upshot: There’s something special about life below zero, and it’s about time somebody franchised it.—TM


Tom Kaiser

Tom Kaiser checks out the cryotherapy chamber at an Experience Fitness gym.

When ‘stone’ is in the company name, expectations for a hot stone massage are high. Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa didn’t disappoint, and the option to go one step further with a Himalayan salt stone massage is just one example of the many premium add-on services that help Hand & Stone stand out in the franchised spa space. Whether or not the touted benefits of improved sleep and balancing of the body’s electromagnetic field and central nervous system are actually realized, the experience itself is deeply relaxing and the ideal antidote to what was a frigid February evening in Minnesota. The therapist was skilled in using the heated stones to deftly knead away knots from head to toe, and the stone’s natural salt properties give an extra exfoliating element. Well worth the steep $110 price tag. The treatment room itself was basic, with dim lighting and standard soothing instrumental sounds. Employees are professional and welcoming, and Hand & Stone adds some ambiance to its reception area with a fireplace, plus an offering of water or rosehip tea.

The upshot: Hand and Stone’s advantage comes in its wide array of spa services, from massage with specialty add-ons to an unexpectedly extensive list of skincare options, even including hair removal and phototherapy. Online booking for most services is another plus.— LM

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