A Conversation with Acupuncture Center Toronto
This conversation was recorded early 2020, before the world went into lock down, before face-to-face meetings (like this one) were not possible. A lot has changed, but our love and passion for all things Chinese medicine has not. Two local Toronto businesses met to have a little chat about awareness in self-care, shifting trends, the love of our industry; a lot remains the same.
Sarah: I am Sarah Kreitzer. I’m a registered acupuncturist. I’m the founder and clinic owner of Acupuncture Center Toronto (ACT).
Beatrice: Tell us a little more about ACT?
S: The practice has been around for almost 20 years since 2003. It was just me once upon a time, and now we have probably one of the largest teams in Chinese medicine in Toronto. We are a full-suite Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic and offer moxibustion, Japanese moxibustion, gua sha, fire cupping, tuina, shiatsu, and, of course, clinical acupuncture and cosmetic acupuncture.
B: For someone who has never participated in acupuncture or Chinese medicine, could you walk through a typical session at ACT?
S: When people book an appointment, they get connected with their therapist in an introduction call and answer any questions patients may have about the treatments and about their condition. After the introduction call, we therapists imagine what allied therapies could accompany acupuncture that would really help that person’s condition, like cupping or body work. It varies from patient to patient.
B: How often should someone come in for treatment?
S: After their first appointment, we will have a better sense how many treatments a patient needs. It usually depends on how acute or how severe it is and how long they have been dealing with the problem. It also depends on a patient’s goal. Some people just want a quick fix, and other people use acupuncture as a method of preventing a health problem. With our clinic, we don’t believe in pressuring the patient. We let them know how many treatments they need and why, then we leave it up to them.
B: It is a very customizable treatment plan according to the patient, and that’s the beauty of TCM. It is not a one-button fix unlike Western medicine. TCM offers a really customizable approach to each patient – no patient is the same. No body is the same.
S: I think that is part of the elegance of TCM, whether it’s Chinese herbs or acupuncture. Every patient has their own energetic reset we facilitate. We don’t believe we are magical healers. We push the right buttons and hit the right spots with the needles so that the patients’ own healing mechanism can kick in.
B: I think TCM is a really poetic method to switch up how people think their bodies work. Often, we go to the doctor and say, “Doctor fix us, doctor heal us”, but what TCM say is that you are your own healer. Practitioners just shift aspects into certain directions to get your own body to do what it is naturally supposed to do.
S: It is interesting when we have people that are skeptical coming in [to the clinic], rightly so. How would anybody understand that when you press or needle a point that a healing function will activate. I was certainly a skeptic when I was a student, and it was until you start actually receiving acupuncture, herbs, or Chinese medicine that you realize this is so valuable and this really works. You are not just blocking out a symptom like a pharmaceutical would, you are looking at a patient and taking into consideration their mental health, their emotional state, whether they are overworked, their digestion, how they sleep, what stressors are in their life. Their lifestyle is part of their health, not just the symptoms.
B: You mention that people are overworked and overstressed. Do you find that is a common trend of modern life?
S: There are certain conditions we see time and time again. I think it’s from over working and not taking enough time for yourself. When I first started my practice 20 years ago, I was seeing a lot more digestive conditions. While we still treat a lot of digestive conditions, but I think there has been an increase in people taking care to make sure what they eat is healthy and eating less sugar, maybe less dairy, maybe less gluten/wheat. All these things can cause dampness and heat that bung up the digestive system.
The one trend we continue to see is eating too much cold food despite it being viewed as healthy. For example, eating a diet high in vegetables is great, but eating raw vegetables, salads, cold smoothies especially in winter and in the morning is a big no-no. It is important to have awareness at what time of the year it is, what kind of constitution a person may have. This why Chinese medicine is so amazing because it really listens to how every body is different, every climate is different ever season is different, and how food is medicine.
There has been a lot of diet health trends that are probably better than eating a bunch of junk food, but at the same time, these cleanses need to customized according to their body type, according to their constitution. Often people come into the clinic and say “I’m on a juice fast”, yet they are always cold, they have trouble waking up in the morning, they are sluggish, they have low metabolism, and it’s December and are drinking all these cold juices first thing in the morning. It is really telling.
B: There is no one-size fits all trick. What TCM asks is body awareness and of course that comes with educating yourself in some sort of way in order to know what the signs of dampness, what are the signs of heat. And speaking of constitutions, how are some simple ways people can figure out what they are? Or do they need to see a TCM practitioner to figure that out?
S: In general, everyone, especially Torontonians, need to reduce stress levels. There are many DIY practices one can do, but for very specific diagnoses, it is best to seek professional advice. We are a working city. I think it is a fun city, but I think the majority of Torontonians work very hard. We see a lot of people coming into the clinic that are just working too many long hours, may also have career stress, or other stressors in their lives. It really wears down the Kidney, and that can cause anxiety, insomnia, generally lethargy. Many people work out as hard as they can to “relax”, but we find that a lot of people are coming in with injuries from that as well.
It may not be accessible for all to take time off from work, or be able to afford a vacation or the spa, but it’s about finding ways to relax and have a little bit of a rejuvenation reset. Maybe it's coming for acupuncture, maybe it's having one of your support people in your life give you a massage, maybe it is some self-massage. It’s about finding ways that you can afford and manage to relax in your own way.
B: Something that I personally love about TCM in this day and age is marrying the traditional and ancient wisdom with modern knowledge and technology. It is a beautiful way to understand the body. Do you ever see a future where acupuncturists or TCM practitioners work in the same clinic as Western doctors?
S: I think it is already happening. One of our local hospitals and their OBGYNs send us referrals, because of the efficacy of moxibustion for facilitating breached position babies and overdue pregnancy. We do a lot of stimulating fetal dancing at the clinic!
B: We touched upon this earlier about DIY practices that people can do to relax. What your take on people self-administering acupuncture [without training]?
S: I would say it is inherently dangerous so there is a reason why acupuncture is regulated in the province of Ontario. If you don’t understand anatomy, you can really hurt yourself especially with self-administered acupuncture anywhere over your torso or your head. Your body between yours shoulders and your hips where all your internal organs lie is an absolute huge danger zone if you haven’t studied to be an acupuncturist. We also spend a lot of time studying technique that makes it less dangerous.
It is hard because in one way we want to encourage empowerment and agency around health, so I understand why people would want to do that, it just is a little bit riskier than people realize.
B: Perhaps acupressure is a safer alternative?
S: If you do your research, I think that a lot of the other auxiliary TCM modalities [gua sha, cupping, acupressure, moxibustion] can be alright. Just be reasonable.
We often will give patients home care suggestions on how to administer facial gua sha. Generally, people go easy on their face and we definitely recommend that if people are going to do self- gua sha or gua sha on a friend or family member, remember you can still bruise yourself. Just slow down, use less pressure, and take care. Maybe even take a course at the very least watch Youtube. We do acknowledge that not everybody can afford a one-on-one style of acupuncture appointment or even community acupuncture.
B: Again, it’s a great practice of body awareness and self-care. You mentioned that people can bruise themselves while doing gua sha. Our culture is always telling us to do more do it harder, harder is good, pain is helping, but sometimes it really isn’t.
S: Especially when you are not experienced doing that kind of thing on yourself, just air on the side of caution until you get better at it
B: Or until you get more education on the practice. Or just go see a professional at ACT!
S: Press on it, spit on it, put your knuckle in it, don’t needle it.
B: Ear seeds are a very popular purchase at The Herb Depot.
S: Ear seed are great alternative. They strongly activate and stimulate very important acupuncture points. You can treat the whole body with auricular acupuncture just making sure if you apply seeds to yourself, we advise that someone do it for you to make sure you have a simple and clear auricular ear map and to no leave ear seeds in for longer than a couple days. It can cause an infection [if left on too long] and to make sure before you apply auricular acupuncture seeds that the ear is washed and swabbed 3 times with 3 different cotton balls.
B: Do you specialize in any certain area at ACT, ie. women’s health, digestion, musculoskeletal?
S: The College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPO), the government body that regulates the practice of acupuncture in Ontario, really doesn’t allow us to claim to specialize in something. We are a general practice and we are probably the highest volume acupuncture clinic in Toronto treating everything! In our busy season from this past October (2019) to January (2020), over 1000 people came through our doors. You can imagine the magnitude and variety of health conditions and diseases that we treat in our clinic. However, there are certain issues each individual therapist has a special interest in.
B: Do you want to share?
S: Acupuncture is so miraculous for treating skin conditions and digestion. It is really not that difficult to really help people with IBS, Khrones, irritable bowel, etc.
[This practice] is also so amazing for bringing down heat in the body, and a lot of the skin conditions are inflammatory based like eczema, psoriasis, itching, dry skin. It is really easy to help people with those conditions. I also have a lot of experience and keen interesting treating pain management. The shoulder and the wrist and the ankles are probably my favourite joints and body parts to work on. I think because I have worked on them so much, it is just fun for me. Not fun that people are injured, but fun knowing that I can help them in relatively short amount of time
B: It gives that satisfaction that you can *snaps fingers* help someone, not in all cases obviously, but in some.
S: I think people are looking for relatively hassle-free, user friendly, and easy ways to take care of themselves that do not involve too much time or effort and that are passive. You set up an appointment for acupuncture or herbal consultation, walk out knowing that you have done something for yourself to take care of yourself naturally, and there are no harmful side effects. Even just making an appointment and coming in to any acupuncture clinic for one hours, it is amazing self-care. In the grand scheme of things, it is not all too expensive. Dinner for two, even just for ramen in Toronto can cost $70.
At ACT, we only staff therapists that have the same philosophy on the patient experience. #1 is making sure patients are comfortable and relaxed, and then healing follows. At our clinic, it is never a “no pain no gain” situation. We make sure that patients are heard and listened to, and as longs as it is safe, we are willing to do a modality that a patient feels that works for them. It should be a pleasant experience, and also you should be able to build a relationship with your therapist and feel like you look forward to spending an hour with them.
B: One thing that I find really interesting in trends of acupuncture is facial or cosmetic acupuncture. Thoughts?
S: People who wouldn’t come in for health reasons will sometimes come in for aesthetic reasons, and the secret with cosmetic acupuncture is we treat the whole body holistically. We don’t just put needles in the face and of course, all the things that we use as part of that treatment has a direct local effect on the face. People are willing to pay money for their face, but they are not as ready to do that for their health, but once they get here, they get the health experience. It feels like a secret backdoor entry point for people to engage with health when they come thinking about their face.
B: Sort of like a gateway drug into full body health.
S: We also include facial cupping and facial gua sha as part of our cosmetic services. You may not get it every single time, but certainly if your face could benefit from it and would enhance the cosmetic acupuncture session.
B: A personal question now – do you have a favourite ‘fix-all’ remedy?
S: Since I was a shiatsu student way back in the day, white flower balm has been one of my go-to's. I love it for a lot of digestive conditions since it has menthol and peppermint. If I am feeling nauseous or bloated, I apply it topically on my abdomen. I also put it in a huge pot of boiling water and stick a towel over my head and use it as inhalation for sinuses. I refer to it as the Chinese Vick’s vapour rub.
B: Final question! What was your first experience with The Herb Depot?
S: I have been and happen to live in Chinatown, and I have been for about 12 years. Even before I moved to Chinatown, The Herb Depot was one of those places that created a sense of wonder and it was always so fun. It is just a better experience than going into a generic drug store for me, personally, because I know I could safely try a lot of the stuff like patches if I had aches or pains, or some of the gua sha tools, especially when I was a student. Now as a Chinatown resident, it is super convenient and it is a lot cheaper. I am supporting a local business, and some of the people at the front counter know me and we joke around. They are very adorable and helpful people. I have always enjoyed coming here. It’s great to support another Toronto small business that specializes in Chinese medicine. We are all in it together.
It is an economical and easy way, especially those who live downtown Toronto, to access natural health products at a really good price.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
For more information about Acupuncture Center Toronto:
They are still open and operating!