Thoughts on Deepening our Relational Capacities in the Midst of Social Movements

To engage in social movements, activism or frontline work is to engage directly with the injustices of this world. To witness, participate, and to support each other during these painful times is a heroic act of nervous system disregulation. What we sacrifice and endure to be a part of justice moments needs to be held carefully and collectively. Restoring our capacity for relational connection — with ourselves and others — can be a potent resource for building resiliency in our movements for a more just world.

From a neurophysiology view, exposure to sensory information like injustice & harm doing, can shift our neuroception (nervous systems assessment of safety) out of social engagement and relational capacities (right brain, ventral vagal states), and into orienting and survival responses (left brain processing & dorsal vagal states). We may start to find that with our attunement and co-regulation abilities switched off (ability to connect and join nervous systems with others safely), that we start to feel isolated, feelings of fear arise, anger and anxiety increase, or the need to consume more media to try to rationalize our experience into safety. This can be further emphasized if you have a history of trauma or attachment wounds, as these neuro-pathways may already be deeply embedded, awakening our implicit experiences and bringing them to the surface.

With our survival instincts on guard, implicit memories awakened and relational capacity muted, we may be triggered more easily, move into anger before compassion with loved ones, or generally disconnected with the emotional states of people we encounter in our daily lives. This is normal and adaptive and a sign that your nervous system is trying to keep you safe the best way it knows how. But it is also for this reason, that we need to be mindful of the ways in which we participate in cultural somatics and the ability for us to perpetuate systemic oppression within interpersonal relationships or within our justice movements, in times of trauma and stress.

Some examples of what may shift you out of relational capacity may already be in your awareness and extend beyond your activism or frontline work: witnessing suffering, violence or injustice (directly & indirectly), experiencing personal harms, or structural oppressions like racism & sexism. Some experiences may be more subtlety embedding: increased external stimuli — loud noises, flashing lights, crowds. Media consumption like scrolling apps, news/tv, radio (as information floods the brain it shifts into left brain processes to file), basic needs not being met- food insecurity, financial stress, isolation, or being around others/in relationship with those who are dis-regulated.

Restoring our relational capacity should be at the forefront of our activism and justice movements because within that lies our individual and collective resiliency. Becoming relational — meaning in connection with others and our bodies — is simply a way to shift our brains orienting from survival to safety. The beautiful thing about this is that when we restore our nervous systems social engagement system, we are able to share and extend that felt sense of safety (ventral vagal state) with others (co-regulation) which impacts our relationships and communities, widening the window of tolerance all around us.

There are many ways to do this, and the resources you call on may change from situation to situation. Coming back to embodiment and relational states is a practice and should be approached with an openness and curiosity as to what is called for in the moment. You likely already have tools and practices through your innate wisdom, as we are all wired for connection. I like to think of these practices as two categories although both categories are overlapping and guide your nervous system to the same end .

  1. Relational practices — i.e. co-regulation & joining nervous systems with others to broaden your window of tolerance. These can be simple practices in your day to day interactions like being kind to others, making eye contact, smiling. Or more intentional practices like joined breathing exercises, physical touch and affection, hand holding, cuddling, joined pleasure & sex, eye gazing, dancing or movement with others, bodywork & acupuncture.

  2. Embodied practices: i.e.- Connecting us to our felt sense of safety in our bodies. Sometimes this can be harder for folks, especially if there is a history of trauma. If that feels true for you, start first with relational practices, to expand your window of tolerance in the presence of a trusted other. From there, try tapping into moments of your felt sense of safety while in connection. Embodied practices might include movement exploration or exercise, dance, stretching, mindful body scans, breathing exercises, bodywork, acupuncture, self touch & self pleasure.

Coming back to relational states can help us build resiliency, resist burn out, restore optimism and make community care more accessible. It can be centered in joy and celebration. It can feel like the antidote to the grief and uncertainty of working within justice movements. Over time, I hope it can become more central to our movement work.

We Need Our Planet

Acupuncture in Action with Kat: Conflicts Inside and Out

A peek into an acupuncture treatment with Kat Ao.

Yesterday a young man booked his first acupuncture session, looking for relief for an aching upper back muscle. Over half way into the treatment, he mentions the point I just used, the eighth in the session, is the first that’s actually felt like a needle (the previous points didn’t bring on a needle-like sensation). This cued me to explain one of my favorite features of Japanese-style acupuncture: If the short-term goal is to help our bodies out of a stressed state that causes pain, then the process has to be just as stress-free. In other words, healing is a process.

Back to the treatment. I explained how tension on his right hip, abdomen, and left shoulder can contribute to that nagging upper back. To test that I used points that released these distal tensions. And that nagging spot also toned down. So some myofascial connections were there. I listen to his story and we agreed the persistence of the pain (seven years!) didn’t seem to line up with what started it. And so I offered a possible pathophysiological explanation that may line up with the myofascial tensions. This cued me to explain two more great things about J-style: 1) musculoskeletal anatomy interacts with internal functions. In short, everything’s connected. 2) The long-term goal is to help our bodies respond appropriately to our present contexts. In short, change happens.

The hour ends and he feels different, like the conflict between him and his back has shifted. Results can happen when we respect that: a) healing is a process, b) everything’s connected, and c) change happens. These principles are relevant beyond an acupuncture treatment, and it’s that integrity between how we live in our bodies and what’s in our external environment that can be so inspiring. I’m grateful for communities that live by these principles and stand up for our future. And hope that in our own way as acupuncturists and as receivers of acupuncture, we contribute to something better.

6 Reasons To Get Acupuncture After Surgery (Even if it was a long time ago)

1. Speed up healing time – Acupuncture focuses on optimizing your nervous system’s autonomic responses to stress. When the nervous system is in balance, we can reduce systemic inflammation and ensure your immune responses are switched on and targeting the correct tissues. Treating local areas affected by surgery – usually with heat rather than needles – restores circulation, bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the damaged tissue to be repaired. Ultimately speeding natural healing responses and recovery time.

2. Release and prevents scar adhesions– Adhesions are like snags in the underlying fascia around the incision site. They present as bumps, uneven dermis, discoloration, numbness, tingling or pain on or around the scar. Scar adhesions block circulation and energy flow and have been linked to some chronic postoperative conditions like pain, headaches, and depression. Japanese Acupuncture protocols never needle the scar directly but instead around and sometimes under the scar, and heat for circulation, and bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the scar site with a combination of Moxa, infrared heat and/or diode rings or ion pumping cords.

3. Integration of trauma – whether or not you were awake for surgery or remember the original incident that preempted surgery, your body holds the implicit (out of direct cognition) somatic memory of being injured/sick and operated on. The trauma is held in a network of neural pathways in subcortical levels of the brain and may be reawakened with direct or subconscious stimuli. This can present post-op as depression/sadness, mood swings, anxiety, flashbacks and ghost/phantom pain. It may also mean lowered windows of tolerance to daily stimuli such as minor stressors, loud noises, or full work schedules as the nervous system remains in a state of overstimulation or hyper-vigilance. Acupuncture helps by stimulating the Dorso-lateral Prefrontal Cortex (part of the brain the stores traumatic memories) to release the “bracing” tension from the nervous system – where the nervous system is stuck in “fight or flight” – and helps to form new neuropathways (over time) around feelings of safety.

4. Detox anesthesia and pain management medications– Most commonly an anesthesia and/or pain meds will be administered during a procedure. These can be hard for the liver to metabolize, congest lymph, interfere with digestion and/or tax the kidneys. Kiiko style acupuncture has specific protocols for detoxing medications, reducing systemic toxicity, and restoring digestive functioning.

5. Rebalances after organ removal: Surgeries to remove organs such as the gall bladder, appendix or fibroids leave an imbalance from left to right in the inner workings of the fascia through the abdomen, which can throw off the alignment and tension patterns in the deep core abdominals. Based on the principals of Chinese medicine and Japanese Hara Diagnosis, these stagnant areas can eventually lead to constriction around organs and impaired function, but can also be released again with the right choice of treatment to counter-balance and release adhesions.

6. Aids ligament, joint and muscle function: If you had surgery on a limb, the movement patterns are affected both pre- and post-surgically due to casting/bracing/crutches/immobilization. During the recovery period, the gait and movement patterns shift to protect the affected area as it takes time to heal. The body wants to prevent any further injury, which is necessary in the short-term but gets in the way of normal function later on. Without slow re-education that “yes, it is safe to move the area again”, the muscles may start to freeze in response to pain. This then creates a cascade effect of over-compensation methods throughout the body (i.e. hip hikes up during a step because knee or ankle won’t bend, which then affects the low back, ribcage, shoulders and neck). Acupuncture, in line with physical therapy, helps safely and gently stimulate the nerves to “wake up”, speeding up activation of inhibited muscles and restoring alignment.

General Nutrition Advice for the Changing Seasons

Traditional medicine practices, from which acupuncture was formed, comprises not only needle work but lifestyle, herbs and diet. As such it is important, when considering wholistic wellness, to take some nutritional precautions along with your prescribed acupuncture protocol. Below are the basic principals as a general guideline. If you wish to have a tailored nutritional protocol for your individual constitution, seek out the services of a qualified practitioner.

Thermal Natures of food: the classical medical texts talk about the stomach as being a “100 degree soup”. Any food that we ingest needs to be warmed and preferably cooked as to not “cool down” the soup. Thus lowering body temperature, lowering metabolism and expending extra energy on digestive processes. It is said that raw, iced and cool food (anything colder than room temperature) will injure the digestion and lead to imbalances such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, undigested food in stools, lassitude, fatigue and poor memory. In fact many scientists link the ancient advancements of fire cooking food to the evolution of brain size and cognitive function. Even more interesting to note that studies are now showing that up to 50% of women on raw food diets develop amenorrhea – a sign that the body does not have enough energy to carry a pregnancy. Although some may argue that raw foods have higher nutrient density, cooking foods actually increases the bioavailability (what our body can break down to absorb) of those nutrients. That is not to say never eat raw food, but in general it is good to eat in moderation and according to the season. (more on seasonal eating below)

Energetics of food: Much like thermal natures of food, energetics of food is important for maintaining the “100 degree soup” needed for proper digestion. In general fruits and veggies are cooler in nature, grains and legumes are neutral, meats and spices are warming. Dairy, sugar, fried/greasy foods, wheat, and alcohol are all considered damp in nature. Of course there are many exceptions but this is the simplified way of looking at it. Cooking foods can change the energetic nature. For example steaming veggies will be considered more easily digestible than eating a salad. It is for this reason that vegans and vegetarians need to pay extra attention to their digestive energetics by adding warming spices and cooking foods thoroughly.

Seasonal eating: In this way of wholistic eating it is also important to consider the seasons and natural environment in which you live. External influences can also influence the “100 degree soup”. Living in colder, damp climates like we do on the west coast means we need to take extra precautions in the winter to eat warming foods. While during the summer heat it is suitable to eat fresh fruits and salads to balance the bodies warmer energies. As we consider our bodies are in constant relationship with the natural world, in general, whatever is growing fresh seasonally in your area are good choices for the body.

Individual constitution: Most importantly is to eat according to your individual constitution. This is where seeing a qualified practitioner can be very useful for customizing therapeutic food protocols. In general though, it is quite intuitive. If you are cold all the time, fatigued, lack energy/appetite, have weak digestion, gas, bloating and loose stools – it is best to eat warming foods, cooked thoroughly and moderately spiced. If you are hot or warm most of the time, anger easily, prone to headaches and neck tension, constipation, heartburn, insomnia and anxiety – its best to limit consumption of meats, spices, coffee, alcohol and greasy foods. If you are sluggish, foggy headed, prone to excess weight gain, have feelings of chest distention, experience acne, cysts, PCOS, you should avoid wheat, dairy, sugar, processed and greasy foods, alcohol and fatty meats.

Extra food for thought:

-Cultural eating practices are important! What your ancestors evolved eating will have an affect on your constitution and ability to assimilate nutrients.

-If prone to weak digestion, adding spices to your meals or drinking spiced teas after meals can help the break down and bioavailability of nutrients and prevent bloating, gas, indigestion and loose stools.

-Adding quality ferments like water kefir, kraut, kimchi, Kombucha, and miso can help rebuild probiotics in the gut and intestines to aid in digestion.

-If digestion Is a chronic ailment we always recommend seeing a naturopath or family doctor for further testing of intestinal overgrowth (SIBO, candida), parasites, food allergies or thyroid/autoimmune conditions in addition to your acupuncture protocols

Autoimmune disorders and acupuncture, part two

Acupuncture and Walls

Connections are everywhere, which makes boundaries even more significant. For autoimmune disorders such as celiac and Type 1 diabetes this means the small intestine wall. The purpose of the intestinal wall is to distinguish between what should be absorbed and what should be excreted. To do this well also requires adapting. These tasks are what doesn’t happen as well in problematic guts, measured in abnormal units of trans-epithelial electrical resistance1. Acupuncture reorganizes electrical imbalances in fascia all over the body. It does the same on the walls of the small intestine and the fascia connected to it. The result of this is that the immune-CNS communication reacts more appropriately.

Acupuncture and Boundaries

Acupuncture improves gut structure to improve mental function. These changes resonate beyond the gut and into the upper brain. In Chinese Medicine theory, a healthy mind is able to make sense of our experiences and separate what we need from what we don’t need. Beyond ourselves, a healthy mind can extend this to others and be critical of unjust relationships. In my practice I sometimes see a version of the Stolen Sisters in overworked health-care workers. I see a version of the Highway of Tears running through Victoria in the form of chronic pain and dismissed health issues. No doubt much less profound than what First Nations communities live with. My hope is that as we connect with our pain we gain the strength to stand with others.


1. Fasano, A. Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseases. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Jul. 1258(1): 25-33. Accessed from: on Feb. 21, 2017.

A social justice mural by Victoria High School artists.

Autoimmune disorders and acupuncture, part one

It affects more women than men. Some professionals act on it but the problem persists. On an individual scale this refers to autoimmune disorders.

Autoimmune disorders happen when one’s immune system hurts the ones it’s closest to (much more than the poke of an acupuncture needle). It’s often undiagnosed. And sometimes test results are inconclusive. Following the symptoms can be a chase all over the body: aching joints and cardiovascular risks (rheumatoid arthritis), depression and feeling cold (thyroid imbalances), and uncomfortable digestion and infertility (celiac). Medications for these and other autoimmune disorders work as immunosuppressants1. Acupuncture can work in conjunction with medications. As a result the goal is to improve our innate ability to protect ourselves.

Autoimmune is interdisciplinary

But perhaps the symptoms seem all over the place because of how we look at it. So connect the dots. Autoimmune disorders can be understood as a problem relating to immune-neuro-endocrine interactions. It seems that a better understanding of autoimmune disorders comes from interdisciplinary perspectives on conventional medicine2. Notice how much more vulnerable you are to viral infections at stressful times; you know the nervous system affects immunity. And because autoimmune disorders are more prevalent in females than males, the endocrine system can’t be ignored. Research has shown that sex hormones can affect not only the number of immune cells but also their functions. But an explanation for the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in women is still unclear3.

Acupuncture is Interdisciplinary

If you’re a case where your autoimmune disorder doesn’t neatly fit the specialist boxes of conventional medicine, acupuncture can be a safe and effective therapy. Chinese Medicine’s perspectives are more in line with interdisciplinary research. And acupuncture makes the concept that everything is connected clinically relevant. In Chinese Medicine organizes the body into systems that each have a key role in the creation, circulation, and recycling of blood4. And so when immune responses that depend on blood circulation are overactive or underactive the diagnosis looks at what are behind these. With this in mind, a thorough treatment means finding how your medical history influences your current immune problems.

Image: A part of the 2016 social justice mural outside the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by Victoria High School artists.

1. Delves, P.J. Autoimmune Disorders. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Accessed from: on Feb.16, 2017.

2. Petrovsky, N. Towards a unified model of neuronendocrine-immune interaction. Immunology and Cell Biology (2001) 79, 350-357. Accessed from: on Feb. 21, 2017.

3. de Vos, P., M. Faas and B. Melgert. Sex Hormones and Immunoregulation. Posted on July 12, 2011. Accessed from on Feb. 16, 2017.

4. Chen, Y. Nei Wei Qi Represents Immune System in TCM, Part 1. Acupuncture Today (2008) vol.9, issue 5. Accessed from: on Feb. 16, 2017.

How acupuncture checks your second brain

In Japanese-style acupuncture (Chinese Medicine comes in all shapes and styles here in Victoria B.C.) understanding what’s behind any health concern requires feeling your abdomen, also known as your second brain. This is the enteric nervous system (ENS) in medical terminology. And because form follows function, how your gut brain responds to stress can relate to structural imbalances.
The ENS senses internal changes and initiates immune, digestive, hormonal, and emotional responses. From the esophagus to the large intestine, the various organs of the ENS are surrounded by fascia. And like layers of an onion fascia keeps our organs, bones, muscles and skin together. Fascia are full of mechanoreceptors that coordinate how our muscles move (or don’t move), maintain postures, and muster strength. Acupuncture works on the fascial lines (or meridians) that have become less stress-tolerant from chronic strain or old injuries. The goal is to restore agility in the neck, shoulders, abdomen and hips. Resolving these clears the clutter of sensory overstimulation to the ENS, and parasympathetic ‘rest and repair’ system. And better form leads to better function. This video talks about this mind-gut connection, and this research reminds us of the power of gut instincts.
A gentle acupuncture treatment may seem to focus on the surface, but the effects run deep.

Hey Victoria BC, we need a better way of letting go.

Sincerely, us now and in the future.

We’re on to the next phase of resolving our regional sewage problem. On a smaller scale, new research is clearing up how waste management happens in our bodies. The glimphatic system is a recent discovery that explains what happens with all the glucose our brains use. This system functions best during sleep, which explains the importance of sleep to cognitive functions. The glimphatic system also requires good lymphatic circulation.

Acupuncture puts this theory into clinical practice by diagnosing and improving connections between our head and the rest of our body. This means paying attention to new and old head injuries from sports or motor vehicle accidents, and assessing their impact on our current health concerns.

If you’ve noticed being less healthy since that major or minor incident, try a gentle approach that shifts your brain and body into working together better.

Acupuncture: Move Beyond Your Mystery Diagnosis

If you or someone you know have been left with unanswered questions by x-rays or lab results, consider the following…

A study published in the June 2011 issue of the British Journal of General Practice found regular acupuncture to be helpful for people with symptoms that are unexplainable by Western medicine. This research was carried out because medically unexplainable physical symptoms are common and often difficult to treat.

The study focused on 80 adults who visited their general practitioners at least eight times per year, mostly for chronic musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, headache, or mental health concerns. They were directed to see a licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and received an average of nine acupuncture sessions over six months. The results were impressive; most of the participants reported improved health immediately and up to a year after receiving acupuncture.

The recommendations of this research: acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment that can be combined with Western Medicine. If you’re still unsure about acupuncture, ask yourself: if not now, when?

Use a Registered Acupuncturist in Victoria BC.

Acupuncture helps! Victoria BC Testimonials.

Acupuncture works wonders for most poeple! Here’s what others in Victoria BC have said:

Having been misdiagnosed by several medical professionals for multiple bowel issues I made a personal choice to explore other forms of health care and therapy. Katrina was referred by one of the top alternative health care professionals. Within the first few sessions I was physically feeling better, there was a complete shift of energy within me.  I have been experiencing less pain as well as improved sleep patterns, which has also allowed my body to continue to heal. Katrina is not only extremely knowledgeable and inquisitive but very intuitive with her personal approach. – S.S., ~ 40 years old


When I started my first session with Kat I was nervous and I had a headache. I was reassured it would be fine and not painful. Her calm personality and warm sunlight streaming though the window made this experience very relaxing. After my sessions I always felt content and lighter. We worked on where these headaches were coming from (neck issues and hormonal). With our ongoing sessions they became better and better. The one unexpected result that came to me was acupuncture was allowing my body to get out of the habit of a headache. – P.M., ~ 50 years old


I was really surprised by how relaxing acupuncture is.  I was so nervous about getting it done, as I am squeamish about needles, but Kat made the experience stress free and very relaxing!  I was even more surprised by how effective it is.  I didn’t expect to get such quick and effective results.  After trying everything I could think of to alleviate my back pain over the past ten years, I had finally given up and learned to live with it.  After four sessions with Kat I am pain free.  There was virtually no pain with acupuncture and only a sense of healing afterwards. It was the most relaxing healing experience I have ever had. – A.D., ~ 30 years old