When I started at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, I was given a benefits package**. My coworkers helped me to use my benefits package, not just for health care but also for self-care. And so my adventure on new ways to care for myself began!
Once I got my teeth cleaned, and some of my basic health care needs met, I started to explore my self-care options. I realized I seriously needed a massage, and my coworkers and friends raved about a community acupuncture centre named Six Degrees Community Acupuncture.
Now, I grew up in the western medical model. When I have a headache, I take an Advil. When I am sick, I down some cough syrup. Acupuncture? Needles in my body? Uh, no thank you. Another bit of context is that it takes me a while to trust a healer. I’ve had lots of them: doctors, therapists, counselors—and some have been whack. So going to an acupuncture clinic didn’t just make me have to learn a new healing method, it also made me have to learn to trust a new practitioner.
Because of the many rave reviews and suggestions for a great massage, I booked an appointment. The acupuncturist asked me questions about my health and asked me what I wanted. I said a massage. And so she gave me one. I walked out of there after the first visit light as air.
The next time I went back was the same: I left feeling calmer, elated, feelings of clearness and weightlessness. And the next time was like that, and the time after that.
Soon, I enjoyed many visits where my practitioner was open to hear me talk about anything, always asked me what I wanted to work on (in terms of massage) and left me feeling relaxed and taken care of.
After many appointments, my acupuncturist asked me if I wanted to try acupuncture. My acupuncturist had been so nice to me … so I let her poke me. I felt like I owed her. She was an acupuncturist, after all, and massage was not her specialty. She made sure all the conditions in where I received my treatment were on my terms and always asked for consent about everything. She didn’t pressure me at all, but out of my own guilt in my healing, I did it.
She stuck one needle in each hand, in the chubby place between my thumb and forefinger. I put my hands on the table below my head and finished the treatment with another thorough massage. And breaking the seal on acupuncture is one of the best decisions for my health I have ever made.
I have been a client of Six Degrees Community Acupuncture for six years now. I don’t only use acupuncture for self-care, I use it for ongoing and preventative healthcare. I have seen Six Degrees grow from a small, one-room clinic to a multi-room and multi-function holistic health care centre. Six Degrees offers community acupuncture, counseling, yoga, martial arts, massage and a safe place for healing. They work on a sliding scale and are dedicated to providing affordable acupuncture to anyone who wants it.
I had the great pleasure to connect with Susanda Yee, one of the original acupuncturists at Six Degrees to ask about the centre and its impacts on community health. Here’s what she had to say!
Tell us the story of how Six Degrees Community Acupuncture started for you.
SD came about from a vision of mine and other friends in my 20s in the 90s. I wanted to open a health centre for women that would focus on women’s health and offer a range of natural health services. The centre and our practice would be guided by an anti-oppressive framework. It would be concerned with access and be able to offer the masses acupuncture and other natural therapies. Holism to the fullest would be our challenge and accomplishment. That’s about twenty years ago. One of the things that keeps happening lately is old friends, colleagues, and clients coming in and reminding me of this vision. Along the way, this vision would be carried out in different ways according to what I was doing at the time, and where I was in my development as a community worker and health practitioner.
My background is social work and as a community activist issues around women’s health started to become very important. My focus at the time was: women of colour, racism, other isms, HIV/AIDS research, women and media, queer rights.
As a practicing acupuncturist, what is your philosophy around work?
Guiding philosophies are: traditional Chinese medicine, feminism, and Taoism/Buddhism.
What is community acupuncture? Why do you think it is effective?
When I started to practice acupuncture I was really taken with the experience of having my Qi moved. It opened new insight of how energy works. It seemed to me that in all of my community work and the times and events that fulfilled me as participant or coordinator were often imbued by “good energy.”
What is good energy? The activists that I grew up with and seemed to be the healthiest had some kind of special “spirit” and “grounded-ness” at the same time. Years later, I trained as a NADA specialist after I experienced what collective Qi felt like. Community Acupuncture became the best tool for social change. This was something I could do and preserve myself with. I could bring acupuncture like this to as many groups and communities so people could feel the power.
I was exhausted by the prevailing notion in activist settings that we need to fight and obtain power. Community acupuncture has demonstrated to me that the power is here. It resides in each of us. Many of us need help to experience this.
A strong therapeutic effect - All living things generate magnetic and electrical energy. Acupuncture increases the flow of these energies, which aid in healing. All living things exchange energy. When people receive acupuncture together, electrical and magnetic energy is collectively magnified and its therapeutic value increases.
Affordability & accessibility - A sliding fee scale allows more people to access acupuncture and to use it as a preventative, long-term health practice.
Less isolation - Being treated in a group is a powerful social experience. To be in the quiet presence of others during a treatment reminds us that we are not alone. Reducing isolation can strengthen a person’s resistant to disease.
Six Degrees is a community hub. All types of folks go there and it offers so many healthcare services. How did this come to be? What was your ‘recipe’ for creating this community-based space?
In short, Lamia and I really believe in the basic necessity of community in our personal lives and in our work as health practitioners. We know this is key in social/political movements to change. We also know this is fundamental to healing, especially as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioners. Lamia and I are committed to bringing all sorts of people together. Six Degrees is a gathering place of communities who know this too, and for those who will re-member the power of this collective Qi. Also, we really like people.
Obviously acupuncture, counseling services, yoga, martial arts and massage are all tools for healing. How do you think these tools foster healing for communities at large?
We want to rock “integrative health” to include medicine for our body, mind, and spirit. We want to provide and mix different disciplines to bring the most and the best to Toronto. Our programming reflects the diversity of this city. We have so much traditional and conventional medicine. We challenge ourselves on the concept of holism. Being a whole person all the time is healing so let’s offer services that respond to the whole person. We want our communities to have access to this.
** A benefits package is something that ought to be given to all people who hold a job in Canada but it is not. My benefits package includes services that my place of employment paid additionally to an insurance company for, which included additions to my health care: if I need glasses, my benefits package will pay for part of it; when I go to the dentist, it is covered under my benefits. This means I don’t have to pay out of my own pocket for some additional health services.