Healer of the Month: Brave Life Acupuncture

This month, I have the honor of introducing you to your ‘Ohana community member and Denver healer – Joanne Chang with Brave Life Acupuncture. Joanne uses ultra-fine needles, essential oils, manual therapies, and deep listening to access the wisdom of the body and promote healing. She will create a safe, sacred space for your body to rest and reset, while bringing conscious awareness to the inner workings of the soul and spirit.

To get started, Here’s a quick intro video from the ‘Ohana Instagram.

Joanne: Hello Ohana Community, I’m so excited to chat with you all this month about Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and alchemical healing.

My road to becoming an acupuncturist was long and winding. My first career was in the business world, and as a first generation Chinese American the edict in my home growing up was always focused on money and stability. This was understandable given that my parents were immigrants who had experienced war and scarcity — but it didn’t leave much space for creative living and dreaming. I tried really hard to find work in the corporate world that I could enjoy and identify with, but when I finally landed my “dream job” at Google which came with lots of perks and generous compensation and I still felt disgruntled, I knew it was time to make a change.

My first marriage ended in 2010, when I was 33 years old. It was a rough and tumultuous process, but so much of what I needed to reclaim for myself was fueled by the explosion of that ending. I quit my job, went to burning man, and left the country on a solo exploration. Nine months later, I returned feeling more whole and ready to embark on a purpose-driven life, one in which my work could be symbiotic with my desire to seek harmony, truth, and meaning. I chose Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture because I fell in love with the foundational principals of yin and yang, polar opposites that also need each other, transform into each other, and cannot be entirely separated. This dance between polarities speaks so much to what our work on this planet entails: the ability to hold the tension of opposites so that a new possibility can be born. We are a multi-dimensional process of ongoing change and transformation. We are living polarities in constant motion.

There is so much that I love about this medicine. I love that it views mind, body and spirit as an integrated whole — no part of our being is separate from the rest. I love that it believes in the body’s innate ability to heal itself, that we as practitioners are not healers as much as helpers. I love that it has a magical quality to it, that it requires faith in something we cannot see, that a needle inserted into a precise place in the body can touch us in profound ways and allow for the unfolding of our destiny. I love that it is gentle, natural, and powerful, that it brings us into our bodies and relaxes the nervous system as we commune with our Self and allow the busy mind to take a much-needed break. I moved around a bunch while I was in acupuncture school, starting out in San Francisco, taking a stint in Berkeley, CA, and ending up in Colorado. I graduated from CSTCM in 2019 and have spent the last few years studying alchemical healing and acupuncture with Lorie Dechar. Her work has really inspired how I practice and my focus on transformative vs. restorative healing.

Ohana: This is such a beautiful story. I love how you talk about acupuncture and it’s deep connection to us (as the little bit of magic that goes into it too, I love all things magic!) For anyone who doesn’t have a full understanding of what acupuncture is, can you provide an overview of acupuncture and how it works?

Joanne: Of course. There’s a lot of depth and dimension to acupuncture but I’ll try my best to make it concise!

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine sterile needles into specific points in the body to bring about a desired shift. There are many different styles and systems of acupuncture, but the most widely used is based upon meridian pathways, or channels of energy that move through our body. There are 12 primary channels (6 yin, 6 yang), named after organ systems: Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Heater, Gallbladder, and Liver. These channels carry Qi (life force) and vital substances throughout the body, from the deepest level of the organs and bones to the superficial layers of the muscles and skin. The channels do intersect their respective organs — but it’s important to make a distinction between the physical organ as we know it in Western medicine, and the energetics of the corresponding channel in Chinese medicine (CM). They are very different. In CM we are often working with the energy of the channel and organ vs. the organ itself. Each channel has a role to play in balancing and promoting the body’s vitality, and each is connected to one of the five elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, or Metal. Each has its own affinity for certain mental processes, emotions, seasons, archetypes, etc. and like yin and yang, they are in constant relationship with one another. Acupuncture points are specific places along these channels where the Qi is more concentrated, where vital substances flow more abundantly. The insertion of a hair-thin needle into an acupuncture point signals the mind, body, and spirit to call on the intelligence of that point’s particular nature, and combined with the acupuncturist’s care and intention, can bring about powerful and effective change.

Using the channels, acupuncture allows us to treat complex conditions using points on the hands and feet, for example, or points on the back. There are 8 other channels called the Extraordinary meridians that I won’t get into (yet), but I use these a lot in my practice for psycho-spiritual and emotional work. From a Western medical perspective, acupuncture has an effect on the central nervous system which affects the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that ease pain and help us feel calm and relaxed. The insertion of the needle also creates a micro-trauma, which signals the body to increase energy and blood flow to the area. But there is so much that acupuncture can do, that science is unable to explain. This is the magic of it. Often acupuncture is the thing that can help people heal from chronic unexplainable conditions that Western medicine doesn’t know how to treat.

Ohana: “Often acupuncture is the thing that can help people heal from chronic unexplainable conditions that Western medicine doesn’t know how to treat.” This is usually my go-to suggestion for anyone struggling with a health problem that western medicine hasn’t been able to fix. ESPECIALLY when it comes to women’s health (Menstrual/menopause), there is so much that acupuncture can do there! I personally have used it for hormone balance and anxiety issues, specifically.

What are some of the most common conditions that you treat with acupuncture?

Joanne: I’m so glad to hear that acupuncture has helped you! As a complete system of healing, acupuncture is able to treat a wide range of issues. Some of the most common things people come to me with include stress and anxiety, insomnia, depression, headaches, digestive issues, burnout, women’s health, and chronic pain.

In many cases, these conditions point to imbalances at the psycho-emotional and psycho-spiritual level, so while we work to address the symptoms we also get curious about the root cause and the messages and stories that are held in the body unconscious (and in our dreams!). It’s amazing how our bodies hold information that our conscious minds are unaware of, and it’s totally possible for us to access this information with the right intention and care.

This is how transformative healing happens — not just treating the symptoms so that we can continue operating in the way we used to know, but deeply listening to what our bodies are telling us so that we can process and heal the messages and traumas that have been stored in our tissues. (edited)

I think it’s also important to note that the way Chinese medicine views symptoms and dis-ease is very different from Western medicine. The reason you might have digestive issues and headaches and mood swings in Chinese medicine could be the result of an imbalance called “Liver Qi Stagnation”. If we treat this through a selection of specific acupuncture points and herbs, it can alleviate an entire category of symptoms whereas in Western medicine these conditions would be treated separately with different drugs or protocols. Diagnostically, we are treating the whole person’s mind/body/spirit by looking at overarching imbalances, how they are affecting the organ/element/channel, and how they affect our ability to live in alignment with our authentic self.

It is because of this holistic lens that CM can treat things that Western medicine cannot. And I’m not knocking Western medicine, it definitely has its place and we are fortunate to have both!

Ohana: With acupuncture being so specific to each person and taking the whole body into account, unlike Western Medicine that compartmentalizes things, How do you approach individualized treatment plans for your patients?

Joanne: That’s a great question.

Every person is unique, and when creating a treatment plan there are a lot of considerations. This is why It’s important to get a clear picture not only of the primary concern, but of the whole person and their history. During the first session, we spend the first 30 minutes discussing your health and wellbeing from all angles: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Everything from diet, lifestyle, digestion, sleep and energy to your work, dreams, emotional life, trauma, physical pain, menstrual patterns, etc, even if it doesn’t seem to be related to your reason for coming in.

In my practice we are always looking at patterns, and how the different organ systems, elements, channels, and spirits affect each other. Everything is connected. The selection of acupuncture points is going to be different for every person, because your unique alchemy is unlike anyone else’s, and there are hundreds of points to choose from. It really becomes an art in terms of point selection, and I often lean into my intuition or body felt sense in that moment to help guide the process. I incorporate essential oils into most sessions, and again the selection of oils is highly intuitive. I also like to include other modalities, such as body work, cupping, moxa, gua sha, estim, inner sensing, and dreamwork, and if appropriate an herbal formula or custom essential oil blend may be recommended.

Frequency and number of visits is dependent on the person and their condition, but my preference is for the first three sessions to be weekly or every other week because the treatments build on each other and need some consistency in order for a shift to take place. Of course, it’s entirely up to you and your own intuition and circumstances to guide the work. I am here to support your process!

Ohana: This method sounds so wonderful. The personalized approach is just something we’re so not used to with Western medicine. Are there any misconceptions about acupuncture that you frequently encounter?

Joanne: I think the main misconception is that acupuncture doesn’t work because it’s not scientifically based.

Acupuncture was founded over 3,000 years ago and has its roots in ancient Taoist philosophy, which is very different from the modern medical system of today. While there have been thousands of studies proving the efficacy of acupuncture and “when” it works, science has struggled to prove “how” it works, and that is a challenge for the Western mind to grasp. There is a certain amount of faith that we have to hold when interacting with this medicine, a trust in that which we cannot see or directly measure, which in my opinion is what gives acupuncture its power; but for some it’s too far removed from the concrete material world we have learned to accept and be immersed in.

I’ll be honest, even I find myself surprised when patients tell me they’ve slept better than they have in years after just a session or two, or when they experience a profound emotional release with the insertion of a single point. Acupuncture is and has always been experiential — we might not be able to measure it with sophisticated tools, but we can witness powerful shifts in people who are willing to trust in the ancient wisdom on which it was founded and participate in a holistic and potent healing process.

Ohana: Joanne, thank you so much for sharing all of this information this month! There is so much to acupuncture I know we could go on forever. If anyone from the ‘Ohana community is looking to learn more or try it out, how can they get in touch with you and what offerings do you have?

Joanne: It’s an honor to be a part of the ‘Ohana community and to be invited into this conversation. Anyone interested in learning more about acupuncture or alchemical healing can schedule a free 20-minute consult with me, or by sending me a private message on Discord. And all members of the ‘Ohana community receive 20% off their first 90 minute session. I am excited and hopeful about how this work can help bring us into the next evolution of consciousness and look forward to sharing more of it with this wonderful community. Thank you again!

Learn more about our Denver Healers in our Healer’s Directory