Doing Good with TCM: Healing at San Quentin

The drive to help those around you to heal is nearly ubiquitous for any healthcare practitioner. What is particularly wonderful for those in the TCM discipline is the underlying approach to holistic health. A specialist such as, say, a gastroenterologist, has a tremendous capacity to help very specific problems thanks to an intensely narrow focus. It’s this same narrow focus that might restrict him from helping an individual achieve overall health. Branches of holistic medicine such as acupuncture and TCM have the benefit of addressing and encouraging progression towards overall health, which includes aspects of physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. This emphasis has helped many find solutions to lifelong problems, improved the lives of patients in ways they couldn’t have foreseen, and brought inner peace to those in need of it the most. These things considered, the following story is truly an inspirational reminder of the uniquely remarkable aspects of alternative medicine.

Students of American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine recently had the opportunity to attend a remarkable event unlike anything they experienced before. On Friday, August 22, 2014, they attended the 11th Annual Health Fair held within the walls of San Quentin State Prison to assist in providing healing modalities that can help those serving time in the facility with many of their issues. It was the first time ACTCM students attended the event. They joined other practitioners such as chiropractors, nurses, dentists, yoga and Tai Chi instructors to offer health education and services to life-sentenced inmates on a rare, once-per-year basis.

The fair is remarkably popular among inmates and lines for services stretched long around the practitioners. Many of the patients were receiving their first acupuncture treatments. For safety reasons, instead of using traditional needles, ACTCM students provided ear acupuncture seeds to accommodate the inmates’ chief complaints. The most commonly reported health issues included stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, pain, anger, trauma, testicular issues and toothaches. The men were instructed to keep the seeds in their ears and to rub their ears. Inmates were calm, respectful and showed a sincere interest in making deep, personal changes. They showed an interest in the work and processes. Many profound moments were shared between the inmates and ACTCM students. One man commented “Thank you for looking at me with compassion and treating me like a human being.”

Feedback from the inmates regarding the effectiveness of the treatments offered was impressive and positive. Many reported their pain completely went away after a few days. Some reported sleeping better and feeling more emotionally and mentally healthy. One experienced a complete cessation in symptoms after years of severe hyperhidrosis (excessive hand sweating) that forced him to wear plastic bags over his hands when writing or eating. Their stories illustrate the power and beauty of acupuncture, truly a medical art.

One of the ACTCM students present, Courtney Clouse, remarked that the experience was a strong reminder that there is far more that people have in common than the perceived differences and judgments that too often divide us. The fair served as a reminder that often, the power to heal is found within ourselves. TCM modalities encourage our own innate healing abilities and bring us back to balance and ultimately to inner peace. Watching these men with criminal, sometimes violent, pasts embrace this, and take their first steps to recognize their inner strength to bring about personal transformation seems like a wonderful metaphor for what TCM is all about.

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