In Depth: Meet Our Practitioners. Melani Eichenbaum, Acupuncturist

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Melani Kwan-Yok Eichenbaum. I am a lover of all things antiquated and elaborate, a relentlessly loving wife, an awe-stricken Tia and a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. 

How did you come to do what you do?

I have a Bachelors of Arts degree in Feminist Studies from UCSC. There was no greater pursuit to me at the time but to study along the minds of women who were speaking from a subversive perspective. Some of my favourite Feminist Theorists include Karen Barad and Donna Harraway, both of whom really had an emphasis on applying a Feminist framework into the arena of science and health. Feminism within the academic world becomes very esoteric and critical. There’s a real inquiry into how context informs value; for example, how does a specific culture define different forms of gender, of class, etc…how does a specific context produce different forms of identity. I was most deeply moved by the questions of how concepts of medicine, health, and science produce specific bodies of identities, and how this informs how we define pathology and how does this informs the idea of healing. 

Secondly, I have always had a very sensitive health constitution. I grew up with all sorts of allergies, digestive issues, some pretty severe gynecological issues, and all the emotional volatility that would mirror the body in that state of constant vigilance and discomfort. 

Feminist Studies gave me a lens to question structure and frameworks and the kind of ideas that would emerge out of those specific containers. Within the container of Allopathic medicine, I was sick, on every level. I was given way too many pharmaceuticals at a very early age and used multiple prescriptions daily up into my early twenties. 

At some point, I just got fed up. I felt like there had to be another framework and language to understand health and the body that didn’t prescribe these static diagnoses and definitions that fixed individuals into pathology for the rest of their lives. 

I encountered Chinese Medicine, in both research as well as treatment, and found that it was a very complete and nuanced system of understanding life, natural rhythms, and health that allowed the individual and the body for more dynamic experience, expression and thus a more dynamic approach to treatment. 

I found a “new”, VERY OLD, VERY ANTIQUATED way to approach my health concerns and found that in this system, I could achieve a state of well-being through the means of proper diet, lifestyle and practices.  I felt very passionate about being able to share my experience with others who had similar concerns or experiences.

Why do you continue to do what you do?

…Because Chinese Medicine is DENSE and so incredibly nuanced!! There are so many methods and schools of thoughts and lineages within the medicine that the more I study it, the more I am humbled by the degree to which this medicine has been developed, studied, and artfully passed down through writing as well as through oral tradition. It is a vast sea AND abyss of information and practices that I know I will not be able to conquer in a lifetime. But that’s part of the excitement for me, it’s like a lover, I can never know, but I want to keep getting to know for the rest of my life because I feel so enlivened in her presence.

Also, well-being is very much a practice. I am still as sensitive today, if not more so, than I was when I was much younger. My context, my environment, my situation is constantly changing and I feel like I have to meet the moment half-way with my own particular needs and considerations for my particular history of health. I’m getting to know myself, constantly, and how I go about taking care of myself is informed by the moment. 

For those who are new to the practice, what is acupuncture?

To simplify the experience, to a very basic level, acupuncture is the insertion of needles into points that lay on meridians, that belong to the specific organs, that correspond to the specific disharmonies as informed by the individuals signs and symptoms. 

The idea is that within these meridians there is an obstruction of energy and it is either accumulating as an excess imbalance or it is cut off and is manifesting as a deficiency imbalance. If we stimulate the right points, with the right intention, we can hopefully re-introduce proper balance and ease in the body. 

That is a horribly simplified explanation of acupuncture as a practice as well as an experience. My clients give the most lush and descriptive explanations of their actual experiences and for everyone it is so completely different. 

What might an initial treatment consist of?

It is mostly an interview. I very thoroughly cover your list of concerns and then delve into your current experiences, lifestyle habits, medical history, etc…to paint a very thoroughly articulated painting of you as an individual, so I can tailor make a treatment plan for you specifically. There will definitely be acupuncture, sometimes cupping, sometimes, moxa, sometimes herbs…for initial encounters, I like to keep it pretty simple. 

What might clients expect over time if they continue with the practice of acupuncture, with you?

Certainly, relief from their health concerns that they initially seek me out to focus on, but I often get a lot of feedback that sometimes some other health concern that was not as pressing that they perhaps didn’t mention also improved as a result of the treatments. More generally, I often have people tell me they feel more calm, relaxed, more vibrant, sometimes more uninhibited with their emotions and more energized. 

What is acupuncture good for? 

I am a primary care provider. Anything you would see your medical doctor for, you can also see me. And while Acupuncture is one large branch in the system of Chinese Medicine, we will also use other branches such as dietary recommendations, herbal formulaes, and lifestyle modifications in order to support your specific case. 

How does acupuncture work?

See Above, “…what is acupuncture?” 

Are you a 'healer'? What does a healer do? What does it mean to heal? What does it mean to be healed?

I’ve always had a very difficult time accepting this title for what I do. I am certainly not doing the healing, the client is. I have been given a very structured lens to help facilitate and translate what a person might be going through, so they can better integrate what they experience in order to achieve a more balanced state of equanimity. 

What does it mean to be “healed”? This is a difficult question. Only because, I don’t think what I’m going to say is what most people want to hear. Yes, some things, go away—some digestive imbalance that might be easily ameliorated by avoiding a certain food and giving the body a chance to recover a state of equilibrium is one form of healing. But there are certain traumas-physical and emotional that will leave the individual forever changed. And especially with severely traumatic emotional experiences, they become these omniscient forces that relentlessly accompany us into every context we find ourselves. I do not believe we can ever “get over” these experiences. Rather, I believe our relationship to these experiences can change and they can even act as tools to inform our present and pave our future. I believe “healing” is to be ability to dynamically relate to our whole selves, especially our darkest traumas and deepest fears. 

As a receiver of acupuncture, does it matter if I know how it works? Is there any particular intentional stance, or practice, I should cultivate while receiving acupuncture?

It doesn’t really matter how familiar a person is with Chinese Medicine or acupuncture before they receive treatment. In fact, sometimes I encounter individuals who have all sorts of preconceived notions as to how the treatment SHOULD play out, either as informed by reading something on the Internet or working with some other practitioner. The experience is then either very jolting or disappointing for them based on whatever expectation they held to the experience before coming in to see me.  Acupuncture will be different for everyone and the effects and effectiveness of the treatments can also greatly vary depending upon your specific dynamic with your practitioner. 

In terms of holding intentionality for the treatment, I think it is actually best to just go with where the experience takes you. Again, often times, it is not what you would expect to encounter and any practice or intention you hold might actually override the moment and cause a state of discomfort. A very simple example I have is a first-time acupuncture client of mine, once told me that they were fighting off trying to sleep the whole time, when in fact if their body needed to direct them towards sleep in that moment, it was probably the direction which was most conducive to their state of being. That’s a very simple example. I get other examples where people are transported to a very specific place in time in their past and they just keep trying to “clear the mind” and again, the treatment becomes this struggle, which is the last thing I really want someone to be experiencing on my table. 

I feel anxiety around the thought of needles being stuck into my body. What is that about? How might I relate to that anxiety?

Acupuncture is not for everyone. If you try it out and the needles just really freak you out, or you find that laying down for an extended period of time really makes you feel uncomfortable, I do not recommend coming back. Again, no one needs to struggle in order to attain well-being. There are a plethora of modalities out there that can help you attain the same goals that you might want to pursue with Chinese Medicine or acupuncture. 

When you stick the needles in, it often hurts, and a feeling of tension or constriction or holding arises around the needle. What is that about? How might I relate to that tension?

So, interestingly enough, that is the sensation we are going for when inserting the needle. This is the concept of “de qi” or “grasping the qi”. Depending upon the person and the specific point, “de qi” can be experienced as achy, tingling, heavy, tense or expansive. This sensation indicates that we have made contact with the qi or vital energy of the point. This is believed to ensure more effective treatments and results. The sensation can be a bit intense, but it should not be intolerable. I check in often with my clients as to how they are relating to the sensations they feel and if something feels way too intense, I often back the needle out the tiniest bit, and that makes the biggest difference in comfort. 

If you can be with the intensity of it, I recommend being with it. During the treatment, you will often times find that the sensations will change drastically and move throughout the body and to different points. As tiny and thin as these needles are, if you hit the right points, some very drastic shifts can happen in the body in a very short amount of time. This is why so many people attribute acupuncture as a reliable source of pain relief. 

I report symptoms or issues or concerns that I take to be located in a specific part of the body. You stick needles in seemingly unrelated places, far removed from the seeming source of the symptom. What are you doing?

So there’s a saying in Chinese Medicine, that if the head hurts, you treat the toe. Often times, sharp, acute pain, is an over accumulation of energy in one location. When you work on the furthest point of the body from your affected area, you draw that excess energy into the rest of the body to recreate a more steady and even flow of energy, which will reduce the accumulation and energy obstruction, which is causing the pain. 

But really, what technique I use will completely depend on that individual’s presentation, pattern of disharmony and how long they have been experiencing their pain. There are so many different causes of physical pain including trauma, repetitive motion, nerve damage, tissue damage, joint inflammation, etc…every single one of these presentations will elicit a different kind diagnosis and thus treatment.  

As a regular receiver of acupuncture, how might I support or integrate your work with daily practice or lifestyle choices? What do you the acupuncturist need from me as a patient?

I usually write out a list of recommendations for each person after their initial appointment. My hope is that they will try some of the recommendations and see if their issues improve. Coming in regularly and often to acupuncture is also key, especially during the first few weeks of treatment in order to really get an idea as to how well the acupuncture or herbs are working. Ideally, the incorporation of my recommendations during the time in between the appointments and taking the herbal formulas regularly, will elicit the best results. 

Do you receive acupuncture yourself? Why?

Yes, I do. I get it regularly in order to be reacquainted with the role of playing receiver of the modality that I practice. I also look up to my acupuncturist, as a practitioner and as an individual, so it is powerful to receive her perspective as well as her care. 

As to the reasons why I go, that’s a bit personal to discuss within an interview. I’m a bit more dynamic with my answer with individuals in session though; if I think it is appropriate to their case. 

What are you trying to embody/cultivate in your own life/ being? Do you have practices, teachers, traditions etc. that support you in this cultivation?

Wild dynamism and grounded consideration. 

I believe that life is a relationship of polarities and everything in between. I believe that we should strongly consider the things that we are drawn towards as an indication of our broadest ability but also place value on the things that limit that expression or direct our focus. 

My main container for this cultivation is my marriage. I was never drawn to the idea of marriage until I met my husband. We became best friends very quickly as we realized we could spend hours together just talking about anything. We shared a lot of common esoteric interests and had similar ways of relating to them. We realized very quickly that we could be our full selves with one another and that the boundary of our relationship could act as an intense, yet very loving container for our inevitable evolution as individuals. 

I used to be a dancer and performer for the last 11 years until I stopped recently, to focus my life more inwardly. I replaced the highly technical, extremely physically demanding practice of Odissi with Mysore Yoga, just in the last few months. Mysore has a very structured container in terms of its sequencing, but within that structure, there is a lot of room for refinement in strength, flexibility and awareness, if you allow it. There’s a level of engagement that is demanded of me which makes me feel like I need to show up fully. It’s challenging, like a long-term relationship. ;) It also really allows me to engage with my edges, the limits of my body and to see those edges change.

How does your own cultivation relate to the work you do as an acupuncturist?

I think any job that requires social interaction and job performance requires some dance of personality and professionalism. I think 50% of the effectiveness of acupuncture lies in the relationship between the client and practitioner. If you as a client, do not feel comfortable with your acupuncturist, your treatments will not be as effective as when you do feel really understood as an individual and receptive and trusting of your practitioner’s care. With that in mind, I know I cannot be everyone’s acupuncturist. But with which the people, I do get along, it becomes a mutually inspiring as well as dynamic space of interaction, where the focus is their process of well-being as a client, and the deepening of my understanding of myself as a practitioner. 

 

Dispatches from the Float Ambassadors: Jane Chen

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Jane Chen, co-founder and CEO of Embrace

Why I float:

Floating is amazing because it really helps to put my mind at ease and bring me stillness, in a way that even meditation cannot at times. My deepest periods of being in a meditative state have been during my floats. I have found that during my most stressful moments, only floating helps to completely clear my mind and bring it to state of thinking about nothing, which is quite remarkable. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never done it, and has found that is has helped to deepen my meditation practice. For those new to meditation or who want to try it, floating is a great way to to know the desired state you want to achieve.

Lessons from floating:

I am generally very claustrophobic and have horrible night vision, so being in the float tank has always been a little scary for me. I usually leave the door ajar just a little bit to let some light in. A few months ago, while I was floating, the door closed completely without my realizing it. Because I was a bit disoriented and my body had shifted position a bit, it was unclear to me which way the exit was. I started to panic: what if I was locked in the float chamber? In my state of panic, I started to tell myself to calm down, which was only serving to make me even more panicked. I finally said to myself instead, "it's ok to be scared." By accepting the fear, rather than judging myself for it, or forcing myself to feel any differently than I did in that moment, I was finally able to calm down. I found my way to the exit and pushed the door open, relieved to see the light flooding into the chamber. While this is certainly not the point of floating, I think it was a good reminder of mindfulness, which to me, is being aware and accepting how you are feeling in each moment, and treating these feelings with peace and equanimity - rather than casting judgement or trying to force them to be any different than what they are.

 

ADVENTURES IN THE TANK

ADVENTURES IN THE TANK

Micha Peled, Director / Producer / Independent Film Maker, Teddy Bear Films

How do you describe NOTHINGNESS? Words fail. At least they do me.

But that’s the premise of floating. Eliminate all sensory stimulation, even gravity, and lsee what happens when you physically feel nothing at all.  

It was with this notion that lowered myself into the lukewarm waters of Zazen’s floatation tank. 

At first, the water is cold. Actually, it’s the air that’s cold. The parts that are not submerged are caressed by the wisp of a cool current. My head bumps lightly against the soft wall a few times as I’m swayed back and forth in the water. 

In “Altered States,” Ken Russell’s 1980 sci-fi cult movie, William Hurt plays a mad scientist who self-experiments in a flotation tank. But he goes in fully loaded on psychedelic substances. I, perhaps overzealously, deny myself any pharmacological assistance in the name of scientific integrity. In the movie, Hurt comes out of the tank completely bonkers,  Hollywood, as usual, offering no insightsinto real life situations. So I’m on my own on this.

In the meantime, things are getting more comfy. My body has adjusted and now the temperature is perfect. I settle in, laying still, my limbs stretched out but not touching anything. It’s effortless. My body is fully relaxed. Now, I have to deal only with my mind, which is racing. Here comes a review of the day. Then the familiar To Do list, ravenously claiming items into its fat belly. Who, what, when. Is this what happens to the minds of the few people who get to float up in space? I hope not. 

One theory goes that in eliminating our sense of gravity, the floatation tank frees our mind.  Much of our brain activity is tied up with constantly performing gazillions of calculations for muscular activity required to negotiate our gravity-burdened universe. Since we don’t need to do this heavy mental lifting in the tank, we become aware of a deeper layer of minute and subtle muscular tensions, knots and hot spots in our body. 

Flotation takes me somewhere else. Focusing on the physical aspect of no-sensation allows the frenzied list-making in my mind to dissolve into a weave of relaxed daydreams. They are very vivid and my eyes remain open, staring into the vast darkness. I touch nothing and nothing touches me. I hear nothing till a loud knock signals that my hour is up.

Back in my street clothes, I feel strangely calm, but I also have a distinct sensation of walking taller, more upward, like after a very good massage. Living for years with chronic back pain and related neuropathic issues, this feeling of a relaxed and straight spine is heaven-sent. On a physical level, I feel wonderfully transformed. The rest will have to wait till the next time.

 

Dispatches from the Float Ambassadors

Frank E., Float Ambassador, CIIS Graduate Student, Zazen Manager

Things just didn't feel right and I didn't know what was wrong with me. I had all the usual trappings of modern life held together with one of those painfully fake smiles, yet I couldn't ignore the fact that I constantly felt empty inside. While this is probably how every self help author beings, this time it was happening to me. With no one in my family willing to have a real conversation about what was wrong, I turned to talk therapy for help. 

Harboring a harsh inner critic, I initially felt a great deal of self judgment around the idea of sharing my deepest and most personal feelings with a complete stranger. Yet I later realized that a psychotherapist was the perfect person to do that with. Who better to explore the depths of my mind with than someone who has traveled into the darkest regions of their own psyche and made it back. I felt comforted by the idea of having a sherpa to walk with me down the windy and unknown path of my inner life.

Around the same time I discovered isolation float tanks through an online documentary. Two hours after doing a quick google search I walked into Zazen's front door. I entered the tank for the first time without any idea of what to expect. A dark room, no lights, a sound proof tank, what was I thinking? Pushing past my fears I dove into the experience and entered into what felt like a warm hug from the salty ocean. Emerging on the other side, my entire body melted into relaxation as I finally experience what life without anxiety felt like.

After about my third float I quickly realized how useful the tank was for introspection and meditation. The difficult work of exploring my psyche with a talk therapist often brought up hard emotions that regularly thew me into a tailspin. Floating grounded me by allowing a spaciousness and clarity to surround the difficult feelings, while also allowing my nervous system to settle down. Sometimes I opted to float before my therapy sessions, creating a unique opportunity to move my awareness from the outer world into my inner experience. This process helped me witness the torrent of thoughts, worries, fears, beliefs and feelings that I often bypasses in life.

Over the year of floating and therapy I came to better know myself through exploring the conditioning, belief systems and "shoulds" I was handed down by older generations. Week after week I developed an awareness around my emotional states, growing my ability to hold boundaries and tell people how I felt in the moment. My life didn't exactly become a happily ever after story through this process, but now I have gained an awareness to choose a new way of being in the world. One that isn't preprogramed and entirely run by habit, rather now I can choose to relate to myself and others in an intentional and meaningful way.

The healing potential of combining therapy and float tanks are as close to magic as you can get. Having both available at Zazen has been one of the greatest gifts I have come across on my healing journey. There are few places in the world that offer this unique combination and that's one of the many reasons Zazen is a special place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxuZiqY5ypU

Dispatches from the Float Ambassadors

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Mirabai, Yoga Instructor and Kirtan Leader

I am a yoga instructor and teach a dozen group classes/week as well as maintain my own yoga practice.  I also play tennis, hike, swing dance, etc. so I'm very physical.  Floating helps me release muscular and emotional tension.

There's this concept called "Pratyhara" in yoga, where one withdrawals their senses to move closer to a meditative state.  The flotation tank is pitch dark, which calms my mind, and cuts out all sensory input and takes me there.  I get to be fully with myself, it's a gift for myself.  It takes courage to go deep within, and floating supports that.  

I find when I do it more regularly, it helps relieve deep layers of stress I didn't even know were there.  I find more peace within. There's a deeper letting go and a feeling of surrender when I float that I do not get anywhere else.  I was a regular receiver of Watsu at Harbin Hot Springs, and find Zazen to be a safe, clean substitute.  There's a healing atmosphere there and conscious community.

Blessings, Mirabai

Dispatches from the Float Ambassadors

Brittany B. , Zazen Float Ambassador, President & Co-Founder of Ritual Hot Yoga

"Six months ago I floated for the very first time. At this point in my life I was practicing yoga and meditation almost daily and was teaching anywhere from 10-12 yoga classes a week. One day after class a student of mine mentioned that they had been wanting to try floating and asked if I knew anything about it. At the time I had heard a bit about it, but had never actually tried it for myself. 

This conversation peaked my curiosity and I decided to do a bit of my own research on floating shortly after. Turns out there is a lot of research and literature around the topic and I became fascinated by what I believed could be the next wave of meditation. Interestingly enough my business partner and best friend beat me to the tank and came back raving about his experience with a gift certificate in hand for me to sign up for my very first float. 

Within the week I booked my first float. When you float, you are submerged in a pool of water filled with pounds of epsom salts that make your body feel weightless. As a result your body floats just above water. The water is warm, 93-95 degrees, and the tank is pitch black. You can’t hear, you can’t see, and there really is nothing to smell. With almost all of your senses deprived you have no choice but to concentrate on you and that is where the magic really begins. 

Within a few minutes of floating I became very aware of what the things that were racing in my mind. I could hear the way I talked to myself. The way my thoughts flowed rapidly from one topic to the next. My mind felt messy and busy. It was no wonder in my life outside of the tank I often felt stressed and overwhelmed. 

After 30 minutes inside of the tank I felt as if 3 days had gone by. I was very ready for this experience to be over and to distract myself again from all that was swirling around in my mind. It was right around this time that I noticed my mind softened and a sense of ease started to takeover my entire body. My mind didn’t feel so crazy and my body felt relaxed. “Is this what peace feels like?” I thought. I let go. I felt held. I felt calm. I felt connected. I felt like me. Oh how I had missed me. "