AsianWeek Feature  
Amy was featured in both the print and web versions of AsianWeek magazine. The article is included below.

Free Your Qi

San Francisco acupuncturist applies Chinese medicine to performing artists

By Yafonne

Performing artists in the San Francisco Bay Area are reaping benefits from the 2,000-year-old art of Chinese medicine, thanks to a California licensed acupuncturist named Amy Hanks. Speaking perfect Mandarin Chinese, Hanks carries herself with a “still waters run deep” demeanor, calming even the most needle-anxious clients. Because of her bi-lingual Chinese-English fluency and solid grasp of Chinese culture, medicine and philosophy, more and more Bay Area professionals, including performing artists and Asian Americans, are turning to Hanks for specialized treatments that general Western medicine does not offer.

Take the case of Bay Area musician, 32-year-old Alvin*, who requested an immediate house call for acute nausea and vomiting. Four needles and 20 minutes later, Alvin’s ailments were gone. Later, he reported that his insomnia also disappeared. The same night he received Hank’s treatment, he says, he fell into a solid sleep for seven hours straight.

* The identity of each client has been changed to preserve their confidentiality, but all case symptoms and treatment results remain true.

Candice*, 45, a Bay Area radio announcer, sought treatment for an upper respiratory infection compounded by allergies. Her symptoms persisted for two months, even though she had tried taking antihistamines, cough syrups, and other over-the-counter drugs. Her cough worsened when she had to talk for longer stretches of time, compromising her work. Then, Candice discovered Chinese herbal therapy. After one week her coughing fits subsided, and her associated chest and back pain improved.

Amy Hanks performs acupuncture on one of her clients. Photo by J.D. Brumbach.

The success stories of Chinese medicine are as endless as the diseases it purports to cure. And for Bay Area performing artists in particular, it has become a viable alternative to Western medicine.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, Hank says, can be a gentle but potent means of treating many conditions that affect singers, musicians and dancers — from loss of voice, hoarseness or respiratory ailments to repetitive strain injuries, back and neck tension, and tendonitis. Chinese medicine can also remedy sprains, strains, arthritis and other injuries suffered by dancers, and even stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue and sleep disorders.

“Listening to the patient and helping them to achieve their health goals is important,” Hanks says. “The more involved or motivated a patient is, the better the results. It’s really the patient who does all the work. We’re just there to guide them. We just give them the information they need to get better.”

Qi Philosophy

Chinese medicine is based on the text Huang-di Nei-jing, or Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor, and the yin-yang theory, which describes how things function in relation to each other and to the universe in two polar complements.

Simply put, Chinese medicine is based on the concept of “qi” or “life energy”, which runs through the human body along regular pathways. Blockage of these energy pathways results in pain, illness or depression. Chinese medicine strengthens the body’s “qi” or vital energy, alleviates pain and boosts the immune system. Regular treatments can lead to enhanced focus and mental clarity needed for optimal artistic expression, as well as increased flexibility and stamina. During acupuncture treatments, often clients can feel their “qi” as sensations of energy move up or down a limb, where “qi” meridians are located.

Three Misconceptions of Chinese Medicine

Misconception 1:
“Acupuncture treats only pain and stress injuries.
While acupuncture is definitely effective for treating pain and stress-related injuries, acupuncture restores balance to the human body and can treat, in addition, many different kinds of digestive, gynecological, reproductive, skin and psychological disorders.

Misconception 2:
“Acupuncture needles are painful.”
Actually, the needles are so thin and flexible it does not even feel like getting a shot. The needles help rid the body of pain by manipulating the flow of “qi” to unblock blockages and restore physiological balance. At the most, the needles feel like a mosquito bite or a pinch. During treatment, which usually lasts 20-45 minutes, most clients feel a calm state of deep relaxation.

Misconception 3:
“You have to be sick to benefit from Chinese medicine.”
Far from it, Chinese medicine emphasizes prevention and health maintenance. Many people in China seek out Chinese medicine for periodic body “tune ups” every month or at the change of seasons to help their bodies make seasonal transitions far more smoothly. If they have a serious condition or problem, some even go everyday or every other day to maintain optimal health.

“In the beginning we do a fair amount of educating our clients about Chinese medicine. Many people don’t know much about it,” explains Hanks. “Getting an acupuncture treatment is a learning experience for many clients because they begin to feel new things in their body.”

Western medicine defines health as the absence of disease whereas Chinese medicine defines health as physical, emotional and spiritual balance. Western medicine is ideal for dealing with emergencies, heavy traumas, and broken bones, especially in cases that require surgery or high-technology equipment. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, has proven particularly effective for chronic conditions, such as treating pain without heavy drugs.

Moreover, Chinese medicine has universal applications, Hanks says.

“If you think about it, we’re all one person,” Hanks says. “We’re all one body. Yes, all bodies are unique, but we have the same organs. We are put together the same way. The external differences that we make such a big difference out of in this world aren’t that big. Each individual is unique, with his or her own constitution and directions where their body tends to get out of balance.”

Coming on the heels of sports medicine, performing arts medicine remains a relatively new field. Hanks, however, has discovered that many artists, such as dancers, have needs as specialized as those of professional athletes. “It’s a pretty new application of Chinese medicine,” she admits. “There were no such classes at my college. I first heard about it through friends and a few specialists who treat singers or dancers in China. But even there it’s not part of the medical school curriculum.”

Chinese Ways

Hanks grew up in the East Bay surrounded by a pre-dominantly Asian American culture. At age 16, she started to study Tai Chi and Tui Na, Chinese medicine massage, under a Chinese teacher who was also an acupuncturist. At his clinic, she observed clients who were healed through herbs and acupuncture.

Summer Tip

Hanks suggests drinking lukewarm mung bean soup as an alternative to ice cold drinks and foods. According to Hanks, all herbs and foods have temperatures associated with them, such as “cooling” mint and “warming” ginger.

“Asian culture emphasizes warm and cooked foods. Refrigeration is an invention from the last 100 years. Our bodies are not made for eating cold things,” she says. “A lot of people who eat too much cold get loose stools, which can cause chronic low energy. The Chinese try to counteract that by eating warm cooked foods. In Chinese medicine, cold damages the spleen qi energy, which is the fuel that aids the entire digestive process. Mung bean soup is warm, yet cools the body down. It will not harm the spleen qi.

“I thought it was so remarkable,” recalls Hanks. “It just captivated me, especially the ideas within Chinese medicine and culture that could bring benefit to people in this country.

“But it’s a grueling process,” she says, recalling her four years of training at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. “It’s like medical school in terms of the amount of material that has to be mastered: first year, precise anatomical locations, 400 acupuncture points, where and how to needle, how deep and in what direction, plus 360 to 400 individual herbs, their functions and dosage. It’s an incredible amount of memorization. There are over 100 exams in the first year.”

Hanks’s early fascination with Chinese medicine led her to Taiwan and China at age 17, where she lived for two years in the mid-’80s, becoming fluent in Mandarin at the National Taiwan Normal University. She received her undergraduate degree in Asian Studies from U.C. Berkeley and her master’s degree from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, San Francisco, where she is now an adjunct faculty member.

“I’ve been back here 14 years, and things have changed a lot. In the early ’80s when my interest in Chinese medicine started, people looked at me like I was from Mars. They thought I was nuts,” she now laughs in hindsight. “It was something people joked about. I learned to be selective in who I talked to about my interest.”

Acupuncture has gained even greater approval, as techniques for treating AIDS patients have been developed. Since 1992, the College Community Clinic has been under contract with the AIDS Office of the San Francisco Department of Public Health to provide medical care to people with HIV, using acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and qigong, with funding provided by the Federal Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (C.A.R.E.) Act. This service now serves as a model for Chinese medicine care for people with HIV.

In addition, the National Institute of Health, Office of Alternative Medicine, sponsors Chinese medicine studies, according to Hanks.

“In one study at the University of Maryland, older people with arthritis observed more pain relief after using conventional Western medicine and acupuncture. In another study… women with depression treated with acupuncture improved significantly.”

Treating Artists

Hanks has noticed that a lot of performers struggle to balance their health while making a living with their art. Often times, they run up against obstacles that threaten or even force them to give up their careers.

Five principles of the Yin and Yang Theory

1. All things have two aspects: a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect.

2. Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang.

3. Yin and Yang mutually create each other.

4. Ying and Yang control each other.

5. Yin and Yang transform into each other.

Source: The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted Kaptchuk.

“In order to contract, It is necessary first to expand. In order to weaken, It is necessary first to strengthen. In order to destroy, It is necessary first to promote. In order to grasp, It is necessary first to give.”

~ Lao Tzu, Chinese sage and philosopher

“I’ve talked to a lot of thwarted musicians and performers,” she says. “If we can catch them at those early stages and help them, who knows what they can go on to do? They don’t have to give up their careers because of medical problems that can be treated.”

Hank dreams of setting up a community fund where successful performing artists with economic stability can help support a younger generation of emerging performers here in the Bay Area.

But for now, she is just focused on building her private practice and helping her clients, like Lemon DeGeorge, 50, a musician who earns a living as a tree trimmer.

“My work … is hard on the body,” DeGeorge says. “I fall a lot and get injuries. I found acupuncture works for keeping me in shape. Because of the repetitive nature of my work, I get tendonitis, which means the overuse of certain muscles in my arms and legs. Acupuncture really clears those up … It keeps my energy up and prevents me from getting sick on long tours.”

Singer Wendy Parker, 29, says acupuncture helped relieve her insomnia. She first tried the technique at Hanks’s Open House in April.

“I was kind of scared at first,” she says. “When she came to me and inserted two needles, I hardly felt them at all. Listening to some music I found it deeply relaxing. After 15 minutes, I felt like I was in a deep seat of well being, and fell asleep. I suffer from insomnia. It comes and goes over the last six or seven years. That night I slept so well — it was great.”

Says Hanks: “I think every form of medicine has a lot to offer. People should do a lot of research first to decide which is best suited for them. Try and make sure the information you get is from quality sources. Anyone who has a semi-serious condition should see an MD first to rule out the possibility of a serious life-threatening disease that may require Western medicine’s serious procedures. Interview practitioners. Ask them what they think they can do for you. Make sure they have good credentials.”

Article ©2001 AsianWeek. Reproduced with permission.

© 2002 Amy Hanks