Everyday Icon: Community Acupuncturist, Julie Johnson

Acupuncturist and community clinic owner Julie Johnson has created a space where anyone, regardless of their income verification, can receive the healing benefits of  her practice.
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Amanda Carter Gomes
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Acupuncturist and community clinic owner Julie Johnson has created a space where anyone, regardless of their income verification, can receive the healing benefits of  her practice.
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We have long sought acupuncture to treat a variety of physical ailments and for stress relief, but it was not until recently that we tried it in a community setting. Admittedly hesitant, we became instant converts after realizing both the financial and healing advantages of clinics that treat clients in one room, together. 

Julie Johnson is an acupuncturist and the owner of The Pin Cushion, a Seattle clinic that offers "Affordable Community Acupuncture". We were curious to learn more about the holistic benefits of this healing practice, so we sat down with Julie to hear her story  and glean a few tips for living a healthy and balanced life.

You have been a licensed acupuncturist for over 10 years, can you tell us about your path to the profession and why you decided to pursue a career in the healing arts?

My undergraduate degree was in Anthropology, and my favorite courses within that department were Religious Studies Classes. I've always been fascinated by what people believe in and how those beliefs and doctrines affect their behavior. In terms of a career path, I wanted to work directly with people, providing a service that was beneficial to their wellbeing. I also liked the idea of being self-employed. So studying and practicing Chinese Medicine was the best way to merge all of these interests. The principles of Chinese Medicine are rooted in Taoism. It is a beautiful medicine which integrates Taoist principles with nature and anatomy and physiology, and I get to be my own boss and be of service to people every day! And a day in clinic is a little like a mini course in anthropology.

For those who are unfamiliar with acupuncture, can you give a brief 101 on the method you are trained in, reasons for seeking treatment and benefits of the practice?

In grad school I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. After graduating I began to study The Balance Method, or channel theory, taught by one of the most renowned living acupuncturists of our time, Dr.Richard Tan. I fell in love with this method of diagnosis and treatment and it is the method I employ most consistently in my practice. I find that most people seek acupuncture for pain and stress management, so examples would be migraines, low back/neck/knee pain, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, arthritis, PMS/cramps, TMJ, anxiety, insomnia, seasonal affective disorder... the list goes on and on. People are often surprised by the wide variety of conditions that acupuncture can treat. It provides so many great health benefits because it reduces inflammation, strengthens the immune and digestive systems and calms the nervous system. And lying still in peaceful room full of people having the same experience is not a bad way to spend an hour of your day. I tell people if you are at all curious, try it because it can likely help you just feel generally better!  

You own, run and practice in a community clinic. What was your motivation for opening Pin Cushion? How does a treatment at a community clinic differ from a private session? 

Community Acupuncture refers to a style of clinic that treats people in a group setting and offers treatment on a sliding scale between $15-50, with no income verification required. It is also a movement. There is a big story here but I'll do my best to shrink it. About 10 years ago, a husband and wife team began a community clinic in Portland, OR called Working Class Acupuncture. They started the clinic because they wanted to make the medicine affordable to their friends, family and community. They felt that the going rate of $60-$120 was preventing so many people from getting acupuncture, especially at the rate required to really benefit from treatment, which might be several times a week. Turns out a lot of acupuncturists were facing the same frustrations (myself included), practicing a medicine that wasn't affordable to their communities, struggling to build a practice and retain patients, and feeling isolated within their industry and profession. I wanted to be able to treat all my musician, artist, student, retired, service industry friends who I knew would benefit from treatment but couldn't afford the boutique rates. Thus a movement was born. We have created our own approach, started a multi-level stakeholder cooperative and acupuncture school, and there are now over 200 community acupuncture clinics nationwide. People can find a community clinic near them by searching here.

What is one of the most common misconceptions people have about acupuncture? What is the most common reaction you get from a new client?

I think people have a misconception about the needles and what acupuncture can treat. When people think of needles they think of the needles used to inject or remove fluid from the body. Acupuncture needles are hair-fine, and depending on where they are placed on the body may be shallowly inserted. It's a fairly painless experience and most clients fall into a deep sleep or relaxed state during treatments. Acupuncture doesn't just treat pain, it can treat a whole host of less common conditions like stroke, sinus and bladder infections, peptic ulcers, and morning sickness. In fact The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for 72 different conditions.

What are a few, simple things we can all do to improve our health, well being and stress levels?

Here are my general recommendations for good health: Eat clean, pure, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Find a way to move your body on a regular basis, be it walking, gym workouts, yoga or Crossfit. Nurture your family and the relationships that matter in your life: spend time with the people you love and whose company you enjoy! Have a Zen guide, someone who can help you work through your stuff, might be a life coach, therapist or a particularly talented friend. Find a way to destress and check out on a regular basis, like getting an acupuncture treatment! Know yourself. Know your limits. Be intentional.   

You run a successful business, in a large bustling city, and also have two young children at home. What does work/life balance look like for you?

Work/life balance is a really personal thing. Owning a business and being a parent produce similar challenges. Someone or something constantly needs something from you. I take care of myself so I can take care of my family and my business. My family always comes first, but so many of my patients are like family to me. I was very intentional when setting up my business, that it would support me and my family. I do not see these two things in competition with each other, one really supports the other and it's that perspective that makes it a little easier to keep the pendulum in the middle. 

You are in the business of calming and nurturing peoples' health and energy; how do you stay grounded?

I am a Libra. I strive for balance in all things. I really don't like a rocky boat. In a way I'm lucky because I see the effects of stress and life choices and the toll that they can take on people's bodies and minds. So if I want to be the one giving the advice and practicing my healing art, I better practice what I preach (see above). I exercise regularly, I eat well, I foster my family and friend relationships, I get weekly acupuncture treatments and weekly life coaching sessions. I treat myself to facials every 2 months. I try to have these routines of self care in place so that I stay grounded. But it's challenging! Every working mom faces the same juggling challenges, and I think it's important to be connected with your tribe and share your experiences and support each other. I have a wonderful, supportive group of friends and I cherish those friendships--they are solid gold to me.  

Finally, what are a few everyday items you cannot live without?

Hmmm. Cheese sticks and matchbox cars to keep my kids happy. For me? Sunglasses, reading glasses, lip gloss, club soda. Unglamorous, but oh well.

p.s. Looking for ways to unwind and relax at home? Try one of our favorite apps!