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What makes us different

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Southtowns Acupuncture

We have been in Western New York for 5 years, most of which was served in extreme rural Allegany County, before we opened our present location in Hamburg. In that fantastic, challenging, remote location, we really came into our own professionally, having worked on so many difficult health conditions.  We also defined our mission and came to understand what I’ll call our “True North”, or our defining principles of service to humanity and commitment to our profession.

A lot of people are part time acupuncturists.  It isn’t an easy profession to define, is greatly misunderstood, and lacks much of the support that other professions enjoy.  But this is what we do full time – this is who we are, and that commitment will be evident from the minute you walk into our office.

Flexible Approach

It may come as some surprise to you that there are actually a wide variety of approaches acupuncturists can take in their practice.

As this profession is little understood, it is frankly our fault (as a profession, not personally) that we do a poor job of trying to clarify this to the public.  But I frequently find myself explaining to people that if they have tried other acupuncturists, we are likely to be quite different.  So if you have tried another acupuncturist somewhere and it “didn’t work”, it would be incredibly short sighted of you to not try again elsewhere.  (Of course, often it takes multiple visits to find improvement, regardless of where you are getting your acupuncture done).  Of course, with our practice you have the choice of seeing Sarah or Kevin, and we have no problem at all if you’d like to try us both at different times as we each bring our own sensibilities and nuanced skills to the table.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”) is the catchphrase you’ll often hear.  The terminology is appropriately changing with the times… For example our school recently changed its name from the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine to the Seattle Institute of East Asian Medicine.  And this is so appropriate, with many different approaches from Japanese, China, and Korea to name a few.

You will find that we have an flexible, eclectic approach that draws from a number of different theories, ideas, and traditions, all of which can work (often together at the same time).  Basically, we also follow what we’ll call “TCM” for lack of a better word.  But we often practice other acupuncture approaches (Japanese, shonishin pediatric methods, scalp acupuncture, cosmetic facial rejuvenation, electrical stimulation, distal approaches such as Dr Tan), and of course we practice several related therapies, such as cupping, guasha, tuina medical massage, food therapy, qi gong and of course the grand mother of it all, Chinese Herbalism.

One treatment with us often will have you receiving more than one therapy, it really all depends on what is appropriate.


You not only can receive an eclectic array of bodywork and acupuncture from us, but you also have highly effective Chinese herbal formulas available to you.

Chinese herbology is a stunningly complex and successful field, and maybe less that half of all acupuncturists in practice in the United States practice with herbs at all.  Herbs are a gigantic part of our practice, and herbal medicine is in our mind, a fundamental part of the healing equation.

During the duration of our training, we exhaustively went through multiple texts of Classical Chinese medicine and translated them and discussed our translations with experts in the field.  (Most notably, the Shang Han Lun, or “On Cold Damage” which is a herbal text relevant to a cold weather climate similar to Buffalo).  As a matter of fact, our teachers are the ones who wrote the textbooks in many cases.  We were trained from among the best American instructors and got our information directly from the Chinese classic sources, like the Shang Han Lun and Wen Bing.

If you glance in our office, you will see about 100 formulas, with an additional 200 single herbs for modifications.  It is one thing to simply prescribe a Chinese formula… and selecting the best formula is a great (and fun) challenge.  But once you have a formula that works, we can also modify the formula with our extensive selection so it is truly individualized to your specific case.  A modified formula, when it is called for, will be far better than an unmodified formula.

Finally, I would add that we only recommend herbs for those we think will be helped by them.  We are not into sales – we are into improving your health using the knowledge and tools at our disposal.


It seemed a little silly to include a section on cupping.  However, having been in the Buffalo region for the better part of a year now, we have learned that practically no one in this region has received running cupping using glass fire cups.  This is just about the only cupping we do, and in Seattle, it was the only kind we were familiar with or trained in.  It is highly effective and feels amazing.  Virtually everyone loves it and asks for it, which is no problem if it is appropriate and you make sure to ask us in advance so we have time.

Many of us see “cup marks” on athletes and movie stars.  This comes from getting the suction on the cup and leaving it there.  Usually, you will see many of the marks on a person, because the therapist has left multiple cups on the back at the same time.  This is stationary cupping, because pretty much the cups stay there.

Our approach may also leave marks, but we use a “running” technique which takes more of our time and expertise with you.  For example, say we are cupping your back, either for pain or lung congestion or allergies or the like.  You will be lying face down shirtless or in a gown on our massage table.

Your back will be drizzled with high quality organic grapeseed oil and this prepares the skin to both receive the cup, and also allows it to glide (or “run”) on your back smoothly.

Once on your back, we can potentially slightly adjust the cup (let out a little air) or redo the cup to get a stronger suction – it depends on your comfort level.  We slowly move over and over tender and sore areas, opening up those channels and releasing the muscle and fascia layers.  It feels like a “reverse massage” because instead of being kneaded and pushed, these layers are being suctioned and pulled, but ever so slowly so as to allow for the body to unleash the tensions gently and deeply.

Having done running cupping on literally hundreds of people, we can say that virtually all of them love it, and almost everyone far prefers it to stationary cupping.

In skilled hands, we can easily find where the congested areas are, and so can you because these areas will be sore.  Over the course of several weeks, you will find that the congested sore spots become much less so.  You will feel magnificent, and the results are likely to last a good long time.

If you are interested in reading more about running cupping, PLEASE read some of the following essays.      (We particularly recommend “A Cupping Mark is Not a Bruise” or “Mending the Fascia with Modern Cupping”.)

Closing Thoughts

People have lots of choices these days, but by choosing acupuncture you are choosing a traditional medicine that has been around thousands of years, not a few decades.  Consider that acupuncture has many hundreds of years to evolve, change, improve, and grow.   This is the main medicine for millions of people and it has never gone away in the modern medical world, particularly in Asia.

We also have a fairly deep knowledge of and interest in other complementary medicines.  Though we may not practice them ourselves, we may offer suggestions of other therapies to try.  Between the two of us, we can probably come up with several dozen other therapies or practices that may be also helpful to you… for example, cranial sacral may be also good for stress or migraines.  The Alexander Technique may be a good addition for neck pain.  We love to share our knowledge with you if it makes clinical sense!

Please give us a call if you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment!  We hope to see you in our clinic or in the community soon!


Spring Things

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This month, inspired by the strange weather of the past several weeks, as well as the hope for warmer weather, we will focus our attentions on the Spring and what it means for our wellbeing and happiness.

There is a rhythm to life.  Despite snowy April days, it is certain that the natural warming of the Earth will occur soon enough.  The basic rhythm of life is depicted in the yin-yang symbol.  The symbol and the ideas behind it are applicable to so many aspects of life, everything really if you think deeply enough about it.  The idea is that there are two complementary natural energies – yin, and yang – and they endlessly transform into one another, like day transforms into night, the turning of the seasons, etc.

Another fundamental concept of Chinese medicine is that of the “five elements”.  Spring is the time of “Wood” element (the other elements are water, metal, fire, and earth).  However, I think that “wood” is a poor translation.  When I think of wood, I think of something dead already, something cut into lumber or burning in a fire.  Tree more describes the living, expanding, powerful nature of this element.  Above, we have shown  the character for Tree/Wood in Chinese, pronounced “Mu”.

As Chinese characters are generally pictographic in nature, you can see how we have a number of key elements… the trunk, the roots, and the branches, shown in the character.

And trees are how this essay started.  Those in the Southtowns may remember in the past 2 weeks we had intense windstorms.  These storms knocked down 2 trees in our yard.  Here is an image of our fallen friend…  You can see how tall the tree is!

Using the yin-yang idea here, the yang energy of the tree is very built up, because it is tall. However, a tree is more than just trunk and branches… it is also the root, which is the deep, yin aspect of the tree.  Here is a picture of that.

As you can see, the root system is totally underdeveloped, and so while it had a great deal of yang expansive upward energy, it did not have the deep yin to ground it properly, and down it came.

And so it goes with our own wellness.  We must strive to maintain a relative balance of yin and yang energy in our own life.  The yang energy of our own life isn’t how tall we are (like the tree), but what we do in our lives, our activities or output.  We of course need an active life, but if we do not have the adequate time of rest, recovery, and nurturing yin energy, then we will be susceptible to the inevitable environmental stressors of our own life, like the tree was to the external wind.  For us, it might be work, stress, family, chronic illness, etc.

To counterbalance this we must cultivate yin within our own life.  Yin is the quiet, deep, nurturing aspect of life.  There are many examples and please find your own interpretation of this, but you could consider a practice of yoga, meditation, qi gong, tai chi, stretching, reading great books, walking slowly in nature, gardening, turning off the phone TV or Internet, eating wholesome food quietly, going to bed early, etc.   These things don’t just happen, we have to make a conscious effort to cultivate and value them in our life.

Spring is a yang time.  The earth is warming, the days are lengthening.  It is a naturally a time to stretch out like the tree and grow like the plants around us.  It is a wonderful time to try new activities, clean the house out and discard things that don’t make us happy. This Spring, cultivate deep yin and try some new activities!

Coming Soon – Facial Acupuncture.

After many years, Sarah is taking the plunge and will be offering cosmetic facial acupuncture soon.  Please let us know if you may be interested in this, and look for more information coming soon including pictures, pricing and packages.

Thank you for your support. 

The New Organ

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If you’ve been watching the news lately and managed not to be sucked into the vacuum of political news and commentary, you may have caught an interesting article several weeks ago about a “new organ” dubbed the “Interstitium”.

We’ll link the article at the end of this post, but it was on national media and I caught it for several weeks prominently on

Basically, this new organ is considered to be a collection of spaces… the fluid filled spaces that populate the body.  Normally, microscope-studied tissue samples are dehydrated tissues… so the fluidity of the samples weren’t really observed.  However, the scientists used a new microscope technique detailed in the article and they applied it to living, non-dehydrated tissues.  It was there they were able to see these fluid filled spaces in great detail.

My first notion was a quote I frequently think of…. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”  This is from Shakespeare, but that story really isn’t that important.  The gist of the quote, which resonates so very well with me as an acupuncturist, is that life itself is an adventure, and that it should be approached always with the most open of minds.  Here we go again with a paradigm-shifting discovery, yet one that has been discussed for thousands of years in Asia as the San Jiao or “triple burner”.

The San Jiao is perhaps the most unusual “organ” in Chinese Medicine.  We have the more obvious sounding organs, like heart, liver, lungs… but then there is the San Jiao.  What is it? It appears from the ancient literature that it has always been a most complex and debated idea of body physiology.

From the Nan Jing, Chapter 31… “How is the triple burner supplied and what does it generate?  Where does it began and end?  At which places in the body might one treat the triple burner?  Is it even possible to know these things?

It is said that the triple burner “holds the office of irrigation design; the water passages issue from it“.  (Su Wen, Ch 8).   It is also said that the triple burner “has a name but no form.” (Nan Jing, Ch 38).  All these quotes give us the idea that it is widespread, a combination of space and fluids that wrap and network throughout the body, behaving in a consistent manner (like an organ) but lacking what we typically have defined as the look and feel of an organ.

Generally, it is believed that the triple burner is fluid filled cavities throughout the body.  This system is critical to the transformative power of qi and contains a particular kind of “Source” Qi in it.  It is important to the movement of qi throughout the body, and is described as controlling it’s flow and movement, descent and entering into the organs of the body.  It also manages to control water and fluid passage through the body.

Is the Interstitium the Triple Burner?  Perhaps.  We will no doubt “learn” more and more about the Interstitium as months go by… I certainly hope so.  Science is especially excited that it may help us understand how cancer can spread throughout the body.  But like Horatio, it would be best to approach this also with a sense of wonder and delight.  Traditional Chinese Medicine has spoken eloquently of the San Jiao or triple burner for thousands of years.  For those that had the eyes to see, this has long been established, respected and understood.  This is good to remember in these coming days as old ideas fade away and new approaches are found.  Knowledge and wisdom are quite different.  What is the most important to you?



Our New Video

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We have a couple new videos that were made.  They are useful because they give people a sense of our clinic space and they show short clips of running cupping, needletop moxa, and acupuncture.

Weight Loss, Food Dynamics, and New Years

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A great many people contact us interested in weight loss.  The solutions to this matter are complex and we wanted to write briefly on this topic.

In Chinese Medicine, each individual is truly viewed uniquely.  This is why there is no true magic “weight loss” formula of herbs.  But this is true for all conditions – everyone is viewed uniquely.  One approach using acupuncture or herbs for a case (say, of migraines) might be quite differently approached with a different person.  This may be true even if the people seem at a glance to be similar (for example in age, gender, etc).  Some of the expertise of Chinese Medicine is an ability to discern beyond what may seem obvious to others.  Palpation (careful touch) of the pulse, feeling along the meridians which flow on the arms and legs, and inspecting the tongue are all important steps in coming up with the true picture of a person’s health.

However,  for weight loss (and other conditions) there are a series of “typical” kinds of cases.  But as anyone can tell you, life isn’t like a textbook.  This is why while we can offer a few universal type bits of advice, to be more confident in making meaningful traction on a weight loss (or other) kind of case, people should plan to stick with a program for awhile.  This is another common problem people seem to have – impatience with what can be a lengthy process.  There are certainly fast, quick ways people resort to in order to lose weight (say, the “Lemonade Diet” – a book that can even be found in Wegmans), but without laying a firm foundation (of understanding and habit) the chances are great the weight will come right back, and with it depression and lack of traction.   More profound and personal and energetic changes need to occur, and acupuncture, herbal medicine, and our food therapy advice can help you make tremendous strides.  We are so fortunate to be here in this space, right next to the Kula Yoga studio.  A daily practice, such as yoga, can be so important to the process.  We are also next to InJoy personal training where the trainer works one on one with clients in a very private and safe environment.  If possible, please do try to begin a personal daily practice of yoga, meditation, walking, or exercise.  

In our clinic, we try to understand the root cause of your current health situation.  (Not just eating too much, but palpating and really deeply understanding your body’s presentation, and understanding the types and quality of foods you eat and when you eat them).  For different people, we may recommend different foods.  Foods carry with them different qualities, such as yin and yang.  Dependent on the time of year, the time of day, and the person themselves, different kinds of foods may be recommended to be the most sensible to maintain a healthy weight.

We frequently make this example.  In Chinese Medicine, the spleen is the organ most responsible for processing the foods we eat into vital, usable energy.  Some manifestations of a poorly working spleen include weight gain, low energy, and loose stools.  The spleen has certain preferences.  For example, there is a tendency for it to work best on a very regular eating schedule.  So, if you are able, please try to arrange meals to be at the same time daily.

The spleen is also easily damaged by the cold.  This is why there is a tendency for us to frown on icy drinks.  The Chinese culture has a longstanding love of tea.  Tea is supportive of the yang (warming energy) of the body, and is usually served warm.  There is actually a good bit of research about the consumption of tea as a benefit to losing weight, easily found online.  Please try to consume warming drinks and foods in the morning, especially in the cold months.

The morning is the yin time of day.  The winter is the yin time of the year.   In the morning, it is best to think of the spleen as a digestive fire.  If we consume something cold right away when we rise, this is not energetically ideal for the proper functioning of the spleen.  Everyone is an individual, but this is more or less universally true.  We recommend people refrain from cold drinks, cold yogurts, kefir, etc., in the morning.  Start your day out with something warming – warm grain cereal for example, and your spleen will be better off.  Ginger tea is an excellent choice, or if not that any other tea drunk warm.

As you can see, food therapy can be quite detailed.  If you are curious about this, and think you could be committed to trying out changes for at least a couple of months, then please contact us and we can schedule you.  Whatever changes you decide to make, you should stick with them for awhile.  There is a longstanding cultural tendency in China to begin a new practice for 100 days.  Whatever changes you make, therefore, try to maintain them for at least 3-4 months for them to “stick” best.  They will soon become second nature for you.

Remember it is the new year, 2018.  Already, people may feel that they have missed an opportunity to start a better habit.  But remember that it is also nearly the Chinese New Year, which starts in February.  Millions of people across the world celebrate this extraordinary festival of renewal.  It remains an amazing time to try new things and cultivate new habits.  Happy New Year!


Nativity Herbs – Three Wise Men

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We are now in the Christmas season, and it seems like a great time to offer a unusual “Chinese Medical” insight into a familiar Christmas story, that of the Three Wise Men. As the story goes, these distinguished visitors traveled very far from their homes to give homage and bring special gifts to the site of the newly born Baby Jesus.  They each bought a gift, which included Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

What curious gifts!  Most people tend to think of the gifts in a spiritual sense, for example, Gold is a gift for a King.  Other interpretations say that each gift represents some spiritual quality, such as prayer and virtue.

But what about viewing the gifts in a Chinese Medical perspective?

As it happens, both Myrrh and Frankincense are traditional Chinese Herbal medicines, often used in combination.  As a side note, this is one of the great differences in Chinese Herbology versus Western Herbal tradition… Chinese Herbs are most often given in carefully constructed combinations with each other, where such things as the temperature, flavor, and nature of the herb blends synergistically with its companion

Myrrh (Mo Yao) and Frankincense (Ru Xiang) are such a pairing.  What are they used for?  Not for something a newborn baby might typically need, but more what a new Mother might use to help her body recover from the trials of birth.    This pair of herbs are in the category of blood moving herbs, but they are also great pain relieving herbs, and could have been used either topically or internally.  These are herbs traditionally used in after-childbirth care.  They would have been considered highly expensive… rare and special gifts indeed.  One of the best gifts a child can receive is that their Mother is well cared for.  It seems that these men really were Wise!

A Word on Wind

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Traditional Chinese Medicine is natural.  That is pretty easy to understand.  Many patients come in to see us because that’s what they seek – a medical approach that has less side effects and less interventions than Western allopathic medicine.  In other words, an approach that is more “natural”.    Many people have a wish to live as naturally as possible, and acupuncture may be part of that approach.  Hopefully, other natural ways to live are also part of that approach, such as eating organically, moving the body more with gentle exercise (like qi gong or yoga), eating less processed foods in general, and enjoying more quality time with friends and family.

Another thing about Chinese Medicine which is interesting is that it is naturalistic.  By that, the body is closely related to nature.  Healthy physiology, pathology, and nature are all interconnected and can be understood through the prism of yin-yang, the relative balance we all carry within ourselves and see in the natural world around us.

Today I wanted to talk briefly about the element of Wind.

Here we are in Buffalo, and it’s hard to imagine at times a more windy place.  The winds are constantly buffeting our little house and sometimes I feel that the big bad wolf is outside our door trying to get in.

If we break down the ancient character for wind, we see that it is the origin (fan) of insects (chong).  The idea is that insects are born in the wind.  Perhaps to the ancients the insects seemed to “blow in” (fly) along the wind.  Today, the “insects” that are born in the wind are pathogenic “bugs” (bacteria and viruses) that make us sick.

Wind is something to be avoided.  In the “Ling Shu” (the Spiritual Pivot, a famous classic Chinese medical text), is the quote “the sages avoided the winds like avoiding arrows and stones”.

In Chinese Medicine, the body has a kind of defensive barrier surrounding it, what we might consider the immune system.  But wind can blow past it very easily – especially if the person is sick. In the system of acupuncture, the points traditionally had ancient names, which evoked something of the sense of the function of that point.  In the neck area that are three important points all with the name of “wind” in them.  “Wind Pool”, “Wind Palace” and “Wind Gate”.  The ideas are that these are places that the Wind can sneak in and pool, gather, reside, or be released.

The entire back of the body is called the Greater Yang, or Tai Yang.  It is the more superficial part of the body, the first layer like the surface of an onion.  Because of this, it’s the first to be affected negatively by pathogens that sneak in.  There is an entire herbal treatise on this topic, called the Shang Han Lun, which sets a lengthy description of how cold enters the body and what happens when it progresses deeper into the body, gradually making a person sicker.

If you get sick from a cold, the idea in Chinese Medicine is that a cold pathogen snuck past your defenses.  Depending on the main symptoms a person is feeling (body ache, headache, fevers, runny nose, etc) there are different approaches to take to help you get better.  You want to release the pathogen, and usually that is done through sweating.

Because the body pores are open during sweating, one thing you’ll want to be very cautious of it going outside where more wind and cold can sneak into the already open and weakened body.  When a person is sick, they should be very careful of this.  If you must go outside while sick, dress very warmly and cover especially well the wind points along the neck and back.

The morale of the story is to appreciate the long history of wind’s negative influence on the body, especially in the winter.  One should dress sensibly, wearing warm scarves to cover these three “wind points” on the neck as well as cover the Tai Yang part of the body – the back.  It would also be a smart time to avoid drinking iced beverages.  In the winter, our family only drinks warm beverages.  Water is best served warm, like a moderate tea, in the cold weather.  There are many simple, common-sense ideas like this that we will be sharing over the winter months in our blog, newsletter, and social media.

In our clinics, we have a tendency to try to warm people in the cold months.  We have heated tables, a TDP heat lamp for the feet, belly, or painful areas of your body, and we often do moxa, a needle heating technique.  If appropriate, we may suggest an herbal formula too.

Wind may blow the turbines and bring a kind of cleaner energy to our region, but it is something that our bodies cannot process easily.  Guard against the wind and you will be in better health for it.  See you in the clinic or community!

The Body and Nature

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Chinese Medicine is, ultimately, an approach to best health through balanced living.   There are many approaches to balance that a person can take, such as being mindful of what we eat, doing some kind of exercise such as yoga or qi gong, receiving acupuncture or other bodywork, cultivating a sense of gratitude for the many gifts we have…the list goes on.   As the months go by, we will be writing about these and many more topics on our webpage and newsletter.

One idea that seemed timely to write about today is the idea of how the body interacts with nature.  Not only do we try to maintain good internal balance with a good diet and a positive attitude, etc., but we also are constantly interacting with the natural world.  This is well-pictured in this image below, which shows the tremendous interactivity between the internal body and the external world.  The picture is so wonderful because it shows just how intimate and interconnected this system views the body and nature.

There is balance also within nature, which is reflected in a kind of “natural qi” of the season.  We are leaving the time of Autumn dryness, reflected in the crumpling and descent of leaves, and we are entering the period of winter wind and cold, reflected in the lowering temperatures, the windy days and snow and ice that are soon to come.  These are natural seasonal changes.  Our bodies are of course vulnerable to these changes and we should take steps to bolster them.

Normally, it is our channel or meridian system that processes these environmental changes.  However, if we are weakened through illness or bad habits, we are more susceptible to “catching a cold”.  In the traditional views, this “pathogenic qi” can sneak past the body defenses of the channel system, literally riding the winds that blow at our back, and cause us to have symptoms such as sneezing, body heaviness, fatigue, headaches, and the like.  We get sick.  There are entire herbal treatises about just this process, such as the Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage), which is the source of so many of the most famous Chinese herbal formulas that we use in our clinic today.

There are certain protective measures to take now, especially during windy cold days.  Cover your neck with a warm scarf, wear a warm jacket or coat to protect your back, and do wear warm shoes or boots.  By covering our back and neck, we are protecting the first line of channel defense, the Tai Yang, or “Greater Yang” system.  By covering our feet, we protect the vulnerable Kidney Yang Qi, which is responsible for so much of our health and reserves.

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