Eye of the needle

Minya DeJohnette. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

I have a needle in the crown of my head, at least four in my neck, three on each calf and two in each foot. I am a little afraid of needles — though these are quite slender and barely pinch going in — and I have a strong belief that a 70-year-old Chinese doctor with at least 50 years of acupuncture study and practice under his belt is the only guy qualified to stick 13 needles in my body. But in this moment, I am more relaxed than I have been all year, a lifetime of stress washed away in the elevator up to the office (only because it is not my first time). The calm swept in when I lay on the table. And I know I will return for more treatment with acupuncturist Minya DeJohnette.

Being pretty uneducated about Acupuncture, I am eager to learn more about her craft and she is willing to share. Acupuncture originated in China, as a shamanistic oral tradition, generally practiced by women. With the movement from Taoism to Confucianism, and written documenting vs. teacher student transmission, the once heart-centered approach to Acupuncture took on a more scientific route, focusing on the set pathways through the body, creating a sort of energetic blueprint from which to work. The Taoist approach, which Minya practices, reaches back to the roots of the tradition, retaining a connection to the shamanistic work that it originated with, while utilizing the benefits science had to offer the practice.

A good portion of Minya’s work is in locating the transmission of a pattern within her client, understanding what the condition is, and where it originated. It is believed in Taoist Acupuncture that often disease is an energetic response to an external invasion, be it a cold or reaction to an experience having disrupted the “Chi” which is considered to be the life force that flows through each of us. Recognizing the connection between, emotional, physical and spiritual health and an assessment of the pulse, the clarity of the eyes, pallor, and tongue color, among other factors allows her to make an informed decision about how to assist a patient. And with the use of properly placed needles, and accompanying treatments “Gua Sha” and “Cupping,” Minya assists many people on their way to healing.

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The music playing is set at exactly the right decibel to give the patient the option to listen or not. Just quiet enough to tune out if you like, and just loud enough to hold you to the planet when the relaxation sets in. This is not a mistake. Minya has chosen the music specifically and purposefully set the volume level. Her choice of simple Japanese flute in the treatment room is perfect yet she jokes about what she could be playing.

“If I played my personal choice in the office, it would be Kind of Blue and similar recordings, but Miles just doesn’t seem to be universally accepted as a relaxing music option.”

Like many a Woodstock child, Minya has an intimate relationship to music and its healing properties. Her parents, Jack and Lydia DeJohnette, raised her and her sister Farrah in a home atop a mountain, filled with music. It wasn’t the Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash singing through the house. It was artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett and John McLaughlin. Reggae goes as far back as she can recall and long before Bob Marley was a household name. While Minya was growing up, her father Jack was establishing himself as one of the most influential jazz musicians of our time, and he raised his family with that influence.

“Music has the power to alter your state of mind, and it’s lasting. It’s something that gets inside of you and changes you,” says Minya. “I was lucky to have come up with the exposure I had to music and culture — I didn’t know it at the time, but when I got to college and the people around me were just discovering the music that I had been raised on, I realized how fortunate I was.”

Minya went to Antioch College in Ohio for Liberal Arts, but while most of her peers were testing out their freedom and partying like college students usually do, Minya saw little point in continuing just for the sake of finishing what she began.

“I saw no reason to be in school not knowing what I wanted to do. It is great to have the opportunity; it just didn’t seem appropriate to waste time and money when I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to study.”

She landed in Western Massachusetts where, inspired by friends, she learned quite a bit about graphic design, teaching herself what they couldn’t. With the help of a Woodstock friend, she took a job in a Manhattan design firm. Though it was not her field, it eventually came in handy when it was time to develop her logo, her business cards, brochures, sign, and website. Minya has had a hand in every aspect of the clinic.

 

In 2002 Minya met her honey Pablo Surman in Woodstock when he was on his first U.S. tour with both of their dads. His father, John Surman, is a longtime musical collaborator of Jack’s. Actually, though neither remembers it much, they first met at age five while on tour in Oslo with their fathers, but didn’t see each other again until 2002.

After some time on separate continents, Minya moved to England so that they could be together. There she finally began her relationship with Acupuncture at the International College of Oriental Medicine. It was something she had considered, though finances and the course of life had previously disallowed her from pursuing it. Pablo continued his work as a sound engineer, primarily with guitarist John Scofield. Since his work allows him to live anywhere, they returned to the United States at the end of a year, where Minya began a three-year Masters Degree program at the Swedish Institute of Acupuncture (now part of Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York). They married in 2004. When he is not on the road, Pablo is currently working with local drummer Craig Santiago on a live electronica duo, called Viva Pablo Santiago. Don’t be fooled by the word “Electronica,” you can feel the earth in every note. He and Minya live now in Stone Ridge.

 

In the beginning of 2008, inspired by her approach, Minya joined forces with acupuncturist, Hilary Thing who was operating her office in Kingston in a community style. Soon after that, Hilary moved her practice to Accord and Minya took over Kingston Community Acupuncture, continuing to operate as a “clinic;” providing clients with affordable care and the same kind of attention they are accustomed to receiving with holistic/preventative treatment. There is a large and still growing “Working Class Acupuncture” (WCA) movement started about ten years ago by a group of practitioners in Portland, Oregon. Although Minya is not a part of their organization for a few different reasons both political and practical, she highly respects them for starting it. The commitment to all patients needs rather than exclusivity to people with financial means, is at the center-point of the concept.

Unlike the WCA business model where people are treated in recliner chairs in a circle, using mostly reflexology acupuncture points on the extremities, Hillary Thing had chosen to do full body treatments using massage tables, separating them with screens for semi-privacy. Minya is committed to this model and continued with it when she took over the practice in Kingston. The main room has five tables, each separated by a Japanese shoji screen to create privacy between patients.

“I just followed Hillary’s lead because it works really well. Amy Benac runs a community clinic in New Paltz using the same setup. I treat up to five people an hour who pay on the sliding scale of $20-$40 after the first treatment. Other similar clinics have varying sliding scales. If this business model was not sustainable for me, or the others I know who use it — we wouldn’t be able to continue doing it. I could charge more, but I enjoy being able to charge less. That is very important to me.”

In the clinic setting, Minya is close and available for any needs while patients are in her care. She moves gently and earnestly between them and each of her patients feels like they are the only one in the room and part of something bigger.

 

Since beginning to study, Minya has come to find a lot of similarities between western and Chinese medicine. For example the connections between diabetes and the spleen form a relationship that has long been recognized in Chinese medicine, well before the connection was made in Western Medicine. If there was more advancement in the study of Acupuncture in allopathic medicine, the latter might recognize the former for its values.

Unfortunately, Acupuncture has a reputation for being esoteric and this belief creates a kind of a barrier. Still, Minya receives clients upon the recommendation of local doctors for relief of pain and stress with the understanding that with relief, patients are better able to heal. Minya is also a licensed massage therapist, and puts extra focus on pain management and sports injury recovery. Having taken courses on Acupuncture for the cancer patient at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Minya offers support for them as well. With grant assistance from the non-profit organization Breast Cancer Options, Minya is able to offer a number of free acupuncture treatments to women who are going through breast cancer treatment or suffering from treatment side effects. There is a Tai Chi Class with Steve Sharkey on Thursday Nights at 6:30pm, and upcoming workshops are planned.

She’s got some specific thoughts about living and working in the area where she grew up.

“It’s great to be back. But if you can get outside of your comfort zone and see something outside of Woodstock, you really should. It is so valuable for perspective,” she says. “I went away thinking I had grown out of where I came from. When I did grow up some, I got over myself and could see so many great things I had missed about this community. All of the things that I was so critical about in the past have faded.”++

 

Kingston Community Acupuncture is located on the 3rd Floor of 284 Wall Street in Kingston (The entrance is to the right of the Ulster County Board of Elections.)For more information or for an appointment, call 845-339-5653.

For more information about Breast Cancer Options, you can visit the website breastcanceroptions.org or call 845-339-HOPE (4673).

 

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