—Founding Editor and In-House Acupuncturist
In honor of national women's history month, we want to continue to highlight incredible women in the TCM world. Today we hear from our very own Kai Yim L.Ac and MSTOM, a board-certified acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Along with treating our team and patients in clinic, she is a co-founder here at Five Seasons TCM! We are so grateful to have her on our team.
We know you’re the founding editor at Five Seasons TCM, but tell us a bit more about what you do?
My main profession is as an acupuncturist. I'll be returning to the clinical setting this month at Oak Point Health in Astoria. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been treating patients from my home clinic, but the last time I was in a formal clinic was almost exactly a year ago at a community clinic in the South Bronx. I am so looking forward to seeing patients again in that capacity, so if you’re looking for treatment, come through!
Currently, at Five Seasons TCM, I get to learn and lead in several different roles. In addition to editing the majority of the copy for the company, I’m currently HR director and in charge of our internship program. I also handle all orders, so I get to pack, ship, and craft those love notes our customers receive!
What made you decide to be an acupuncturist?
After a two-year break-up with America and a love affair with China and Hong Kong, I found myself back on US soil, planning to study naturopathic medicine. Straight off the plane, my mother took one look at me and told me if I were going to study natural medicine, I needed to live up to the part and start taking care of myself. All things considered, my body was still rebounding from a health crisis.
Shanghai’s air pollution and environment exacerbated my childhood eczema and I got so sick! Not like lie-in-bed-with-a flu-sick, but sick as in, my entire body, from my hands, back, butt crack, face, eyelids, and even scalp bloomed into a state of hot red inflammation. I was at the point where my face was beyond recognition! My spirit began to wane under the physiological stress, and I could feel depression inching its way in.
Eventually, I left China altogether, and moved down to Hong Kong; it was far less polluted with more nature access. As I explored and familiarized my senses with Hong Kong, I was re-exposed to much of the traditional medicine I was raised with but rejected. On hot summer days and nights I’d pick up a “cooling” tea (leung cha) 涼茶, to balance off the heat in my body. The familiarity was so comforting and I was in a place to receive all of it. After work, I’d book myself for deep tissue or TuiNa massages at least three times a month (they’re affordable in Asia for a reason -- massages are truly about body maintenance and health preservation, and not viewed as a treat or indulgence), and found myself visiting the local herbalist. It was here, my body and spirit found some opportunities to begin healing.
Back in the states, my mother suggested I go see an acupuncturist in Chinatown named Dr. Leung, a short stumpy woman; one of those old school practitioners who are somewhat brash and loud, and no BS, but sharp as a cleaver! One day in the treatment room she asked, “Why are you always able to come to your treatments so regularly? What do you do for work?” I supposed she wasn't accustomed to seeing such a young patient during her day hours. I told her of my plans to attend naturopathic school in Washington State. She looked me dead in the eyes and said in Cantonese, “My girl, you need to go study Chinese medicine!” She instructed me to attend The New York College of TCM (NYCTCM), a small college in Long Island, promising me she’d mentor me and sell me her practice upon graduating. That was all I needed to hear!
Kai graduating from The New York College of TCM (Mineola, NY)
What type of treatments helped you heal from when you were sick?
To be frank, I’ve been sick most of my life -- with each stage of life requiring different types of medicine and healing practices.
The four main things that maintained me through childhood eczema were:
- dietary therapy (largely TCM based): avoiding spicy foods, processed sugar, medicinal bone broths, scheduled eating times, etc,
- tea baths (literally boiling stockpots of black tea and using that as bathwater),
- and staying away from steroidal creams, but applying exceptionally thick yet natural moisturizers multiple times a day
After my return from China, I found myself on Yelp reading through dozens of raving reviews about this herbalist and acupuncturist who treated skin disorders, Dr. Daniel Yi. He himself is a lifelong eczema sufferer, so he can inherently understand the struggles of managing sensitive skin, skin conditions, and the psychological toll it can have on someone.
I was put on a four-month-long treatment of herbal formulas, drinking pouches of decocted herbs. Each month targeted a different stage of recovery: first dispelling wind, clearing heat, and removing blood stasis. Then, it moved to blood and yin nourishing and regenerating tissue. In most forms of medicine, the skin is still very difficult to treat and requires specialization. Dr. Yi had a deep understanding of internal relationships between organ systems and internal mechanisms at play. If you’re looking for a cure from external steroidal creams or a lab-created pill, you’ll likely be disappointed in the short-lived relief and suffer much longer than needed. I send many of my patients to see him, and cannot recommend him enough!
While in Hong Kong, I ended up on a yoga date, and was introduced to the yogic traditions. But instead of dating the guy, I ended up taking up the practice almost religiously, squeezing in 2-3 asana classes a day in between and after my shifts at a local cafe. The physical practice proved to be addictive (as we have seen worldwide); it re-centered my minds’ attention back into my body, helping me metabolize so much of my life up until that point. Within the yogic practices, I found exceptional teachers who would ask the right questions and point to a different vantage point at which to take in my life. I learned pranayama or breath-work, which cured me of my seasonal asthma and relieved me of the general anxiety that muddled my vision. The breath has allowed me to gain access and control of my nervous system, teaching me how to self-regulate and self-soothe. You always have this potent medicine with you.
How did you get involved with Five Seasons TCM?
Have you ever heard of StripXpertease? Yeah...not many have. But in 2018, this is where Zoey and I found each other. I was spraying the room with cheap perfume and putting out strobe lights. 'Cause you know...mood!, when Zoey, with her striking tattoos, walked into the dance studio. Intrigued, I struck up conversation with Zoey while T-Pain bumped and 5-inch heels clacked in the background. While we waited for class to end, I was floored to discover her young but potent career as a TCM nutritionist, and she learned that I was a TCM student. It felt a bit predestined, her and I meeting. Before the night ended, I already knew the power and potential she possessed, and I gave her one line of advice. I told her to attend Chinese medicine school when she was done with NYU. From then, we wouldn't see each other often, but stayed connected through my volunteering efforts at her dinners as an extra set of hands.
Zoey and I did not end up collaborating until long after our first meeting. Last summer, I was learning about homesteading and living in the Catskills at Surprise Hill Farm, when Zoey reached out, asking if I’d write an ebook on Congee, to help launch her new company. A month and a half later, the book was complete and posted as the first ebook on our website. After the farm closed for the season, I returned back to the city and joined Zoey and our micro team of women! It has been a short, but delicious journey thus far. I especially love learning from our creative interns, while I encourage them to share and explore, and refine their ideas.
Do you have any TCM-based routines that you use daily?
In addition to self-treating with acupuncture, I’ve adopted a weekly moxibustion (a type of heat therapy) routine to boost the Yang and Qi in my body! My body craves warmth and I can tire easily, so I definitely cut out cold and raw foods for the most part. My mother and I live in the same building, so when the pandemic hushed life to a whisper, we got into a ritual of doing full-body moxibustion for one another. For my mother, I do moxa over immunity points like Stomach 36 or Zu San Li/足三里, which is the point equivalent to the bone broth of acupuncture! Doing daily acupressure here is also great!
Kai performing Moxibustion on SP3
Point Location of ST36, 足三里 | A Manual of Acupuncture by Peter Deadman
One morning in Shanghai, walking through an outdoor shopping arcade, I noticed a group of older Chinese men sitting outside a small shop on wooden stools. In their hands they held what looked like massive cigars, and smoke billowed around them. I found it so strange that at 10 am, these men would sit there, puffing on massive tobacco sticks. At the time, I was clueless that they were actually performing moxa on themselves. If you look at the legs of traditional, long-time TCM practitioners and some elderly, they have scars on their ST36 points from using the direct and scarring forms* of moxa to keep their immunity high. Moxa in general improves circulation, reduces inflammation, increases white blood cell count (WBC), produces a pain-relieving effect, and has many many more functions that I won't list here! It's one of my favorite treatments.
*In Canada and America, we do not perform Scarring or Blistering
Moxibustion. Moxa will be removed immediately when patients feel a warming sensation halfway or two thirds into the treatment. This will not cause blisters or scars to form when done correctly.