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Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

In this episode

Maria Barrera, LAc joins Audra and Justin to talk about how her childhood and political activism led her to a life of healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine. She also shares how her cultural heritage has influenced her approach as a healer, and how parents can bring more health, healing, and thriving into their family’s daily practices.



About our guest

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist, and today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist specializing in pediatrics. She has trained with Dr. Ruth McCarty (from Ep. 5) in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is now the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, CA. She is also a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, CA and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association.

Show notes

  • 02:19 - MaxLove Project teamed up with Dr. Ruth McCarty to create the Ohana Project. It focuses on treating families affected by childhood cancer as a unit.
  • 06:34 - Qi is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s a vital energy that flows through the body and connects the individual to their surroundings and to others.
  • 12:15 - Click here to read “A Multi-Modal Family Peer Support-Based Program to Improve Quality of Life among Pediatric Brain Tumor Patients: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study.”
  • 20:16 - Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative in 1994 “to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California.” It was found unconstitutional by federal district court in 1999.
  • 30:45 - The California Dream Act helps undocumented students apply for financial aid to attend eligible California colleges, universities, and career programs.
  • 30:49 - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that allows certain individuals who meet program requirements to get request a grant of deferred action.”
  • 31:39 - Since 1986, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) “has since become one of the largest and most effective advocates for immigrant rights, organizing, educating and defending immigrants and refugees in the streets, in the courts, and in the halls of power.”
  • 34:55 - To learn more about the workshop Maria created, Unraveling the Undocumented Identity, click here.
  • 35:55 - The Dao or Tao is a Chinese philosophy from Confucianism that represents the path or the ethical and moral way that people should behave in society.
  • 53:29 - Acupressure is similar in practices to acupuncture, but the practitioner uses the pressure from their hands and fingers instead of needles.
  • 54:00 - Cupping uses glass cups that are heated with fire then placed onto the body. The heat creates a suction effect and this is believed to increase blood flow and qi.
  • 54:34 - Moxibustion is similar to acupuncture, but moxa wool or mugwort is burned on the meridians.
  • 54:41 - Combing is an extension of Tui Na massage which helps guide qi through the limbs and meridians of the body.
  • 01:01:27 - To listen to Ep. 2 with Jenny Walters, LMFT, click here.
  • 01:13:30 - Qi gong is a practice of energy work that involves different movements or symptoms to facilitate the qi coursing through and around the body.

Justin: Our guest today began her journey as a healer when as a child, she had to protect her younger sisters from bullies. Ever since then, Maria Barrera has had a calling for protecting the vulnerable. And Audra and I have had a first row seat in seeing how she puts this into practice today for children with serious health conditions.

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist. But today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in pediatrics. She's also trained in traditional Chinese medicine with our good friend, Dr. Ruth McCarty from episode five.

We met Maria while she was working with Ruth in pediatric acupuncture and Audra and I got to see firsthand how intuitive and connected Maria was with kids and parents who face some pretty challenging diagnoses.

Eventually, I had the pleasure of working with Maria on a study with Children's Hospital of Orange County, where we brought childhood cancer families together to receive acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine together in a supportive group environment. It was amazing to see how Maria brought families together and helped children heal and bond. I'll never forget that time.

Today, Maria is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, California, and a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California. She is also secretary of the board of trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association. And in this episode, we hear some amazing stories about how Maria's childhood led her into a life of service and healing, how she went from political organizing to Traditional Chinese Medicine, how her cultural heritage influences her approach to healing, and we get her recommendations for how parents can bring more health and healing and thriving into their daily practices. Without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Maria Barrera.

We got to know you through Open Mind Modalities. But then I think it was the Ohana Project that really kind of connected us together. Do you remember that?

Maria: I do. So I remember I started with Open Mind Modalities in, oh, my gosh, September 2018, I believe. So I was going in the office and I remember seeing you a lot, Justin, because you would go Saturday mornings, because that's when I was going. And I would, oh, I would also go Fridays. That's so true. And I just remember seeing Justin on Saturdays. But seeing Audra on Fridays.

And Audra was just always so like radiant and vibrant. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, who is that woman?” Like I just remember just, like being attracted to your energy, Audra. But yes, I think like when we started working together was during the Ohana Project. And that's when I just, I remember you presenting, Justin, because I don't think there was like a formal presentation out roots bart, but it was just like it all just kind of blended together. Then I learned, both of you were married and I was like, “oh, my gosh, what?”

Justin: Like, how is this radiant being over here married to this nerd?

Maria: No, what I liked about you, Justin, is you're just so light, your energy is light and happy and always like, you know, our intellectual conversations.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: You know, so I just individually thought both of you are amazing humans. And then I learned you're married. And I was like, “oh, my gosh, this is so wonderful.” So that was really nice. And honestly, I don't think I've got to say this to both of you, because we never got to say the goodbye. But you were like such an important part. I mean, you are, but like really such an important part for OMM to really feel like a family to me. Because I'm a practitioner there on Fridays and Saturdays. You know, we work alone. And, you know, the staff receptionist, obviously, that's my team. But to be able to see your work and be part of it, that's really what made OMM just feel so warm and welcoming to me. So I thank you both. I don't think I ever got to say that.

Justin: Oh, my gosh.

Audra: Oh, Maria, that's beautiful.

Justin: Really special to hear.

Audra: And likewise. You know, I think that we felt so integrated and it's so much less isolating. You know, when we had our first office that opened in Santa Ana, and it was wonderful because families would come in for the Broth Bank and all of that, it still felt like we were a little, we'd have events, you know, and try to connect in person that way. But once we teamed up with the OMM to open that office, we really got to build community around healing.

Justin: One thing that I wanted to do was give listeners a little bit of a context. So what Maria was talking about with the Open Mind Modalities office in Orange, California, just a couple of blocks from CHOC Hospital and MaxLove Project is our nonprofit that we started way back in 2011 when Max was first diagnosed. And it's had different offices over time, but we were lucky enough in what was it? 2017?

Audra: Yeah, Ruth and I started working on it in 2016. Easily, it took us well over a year probably to get in there.

Justin: And that's when we moved.

Audra: We co-located, yeah. We planned and looked at properties, planned to move in together and we actually committed together to an office space. It has a significant group treatment area or waiting room, if you would like. We have an exceptionally large waiting room, which is very rare for any type of office. Right, because just square footage wise and in Southern California is so expensive, it's hard to, you know, to afford that.

But because we're doing it together, MaxLove Project and Open Mind Modality, supports it every month to make sure that we have an area. We have beautiful, we have a reading nook, we have an area for kids to do their homework. We have all kinds of opportunities for families to sit on the couches together and to get treatment together. So it's a really, really beautiful space and something that is completely unusual.

And Maria, we had, we spoke with Ruth on the show recently, and we were talking about that magic of qi, really that power of this energy and how it was a realization for me that in group treatment, that is so much of what's happening, is this qi energy, this life force that is shared among everyone in the space as you’re nurturing and supporting qi like with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities, is also through the group environment. It's really beautiful. And it's the biggest hole that I've seen in what we've done with COVID having to empty out that space that we've committed to not use it for the past year.

Maria: Yeah, I think it's, I think, you know, as we were like laughing a lot like a minute ago and like, my eyes got filled with tears, there were happy tears, but I also feel that also happened right at this moment, too, because I feel safe with both of you.

And as a practitioner, I think a lot of practitioners right now are people that are caretaking, you know, the health of others, like it's really been difficult. There's so much grieving happening. We're in a mass grieving time. And so people are coming in so heavy.

And so you know, like you were mentioning about the qi, like as soon as a person comes into the room and they start talking. I'm just feeling it, like I'm feeling the sorrow or the grief or kind of that mixed emotion. I don't know what I'm feeling or why I'm feeling it. So I think the tears right now are just when you come into safe spaces, right like that Ohana Project. When we were in the waiting area there, there was something so powerful about collective healing. Right? Just as we're having a collective grieving right now. So I think that's the part that I see, I also feel that emptiness, like we're all hurting so much and it's so difficult to then not come together and process it together.

Justin: Oh, my god.

Maria: Yeah. And so I think even just doing what we're doing right now, just talking to each other and, you know, intentional space, I think that's also part of just what we need to do as a family or as any kind of collective. Just talk about how you're actually like feeling and processing and then laugh together.

And so I think well, I don't know. I'm just going to tie this in because that's what I'm feeling right now. But like that's why the Ohana Project when we did that spoke so much to me, because I think both of you know, I was a community organizer before I was an acupuncturist. And so I was a community organizer for immigrant rights, specifically for like undocumented young people and older. And when we would have what we call these membership meetings, where we talk about political updates and how to take action, but we would also talk about like what does it feel like to be undocumented, like what are you going through? And there was nothing like that sharing of stories together. And at the end of the meetings, we would do different things, sometimes we would hold hands and chant together.

Justin: Wow.

Maria: And that was so powerful. And so when it tied back, you know, now is an acupuncturist. And I actually made that decision to go from kind of being macro impact. Right. I would talk to hundreds, even thousands of people. I decided to switch to kind of like heal one person at a time. And that's what I, how it started. But I felt like the evolution, what's happening again and naturally.

Justin: Yeah. And that truly is it. I'm going back.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. I’m back to macro. But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online?

Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during COVID. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this COVID thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face-to-face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLoveProject.org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story. I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah...But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online? Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during Covid. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this Covid thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face to face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLove Project dot org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story? I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: And so, and I'm only referencing that, too, because it takes me back to being nine years old, I guess. And I shared the story that I, at 9 years old, or I was 11? I don't remember. I found myself having to stand up to these two bullies. And I just like stand up, like speak my voice. I had to beat them up. And that's the only fight I've ever been in.

Audra: In your entire life.

Maria: OK, so this is where, how I knew, you kind of like the healing part. I think the connection is because I experienced hardship. My heart has always been with anybody that's experiencing hardship like that feels just like a very high priority to me. Let's say there was like 10 people in the room and I know something or get a hint of somebody that, you know, I automatically feel like attracted or like I want to talk to that person more. So I was born in Mexico, in Jalisco. So like, you know where you get the key lime?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: And mariachi. Which is also kind of I would also say it's also kind of a privilege because we're a dominant community here in Southern California. You see like Mexican, Jalisco culture everywhere. So we're very much affirmed in like, you know, in our culture.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Mexican from Jalisco. Anyhow, so I came to the United States when I was 6 years old. And of course, like, you know, we didn't have much. So we moved in with my aunt into her garage, like her actual garage, just converted into a house or a little room. And I was four, four girls. And by this time, there was four of us and my parents. So we didn't have a bathroom in there.

So we had to like consistently knock and be like, “Hey, can I come in?” And so I had two older cousins, like three years older. And so there was this kind of like shaming on their part towards us, towards the daughters. And there was four of us, and I'm the oldest. And so this went on over a long period of time, like three years. And I just think one of the times it was just like it was just too much. So they, I don't think I put this in the story, but they were not only calling my little sisters names, they ended up like spitting at my little sister, like two of them.

Justin: That was in the story. It was like very vivid. Yeah.

Maria: I was so like I can, I was enraged. So I just chased both of them like down the street, like running hard. I don't even know how I ended up. But like basically the story in my memory ends like I have. I'm not proud of the violence. Basically I have my hands, like crammed into their hair like this, like don’t know how to describe that. Like gripping the back of their hair, like by their neck and like on their knees on the side of me. And so my aunt comes out, she's like, you know, “let them go.” And I didn't. I remember I stayed there for like a good hour until my mom got home.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Maria: And she was like, “let them go.” And I did. I think that's also like one of the things that this time and space is teaching all of us is that things are not black and white and that one thing doesn't negate the other. And so although this moment of like, it was like violence and fury, it really reaffirmed like I am a keeper of my sisters, which then really tied into like. Then I talked to them about what happened, and I would. So they just really tied into like I'm also their healer.

Justin: So, Maria, can you go into that talk? So you describe that talk that you had with your sisters.

Maria: Oh, my gosh. OK, I don't probably, don't remember it. I didn't reread that. But I just said, like, whatever people tell you about you, like that's not who you are. You are who you say you are. What did I say, Justin? So that you can tell me.

Justin: I don't have it in front of me. But what stuck with me, it was that message like, you are worthy, you are beautiful. You are strong. Like it was like I mean, it was like, really affirming and like you went back to them, you're like “you are not what those bullies said you are.” And that was really powerful.

Maria: I mean, it was just, it was so important to me to reaffirm that like to just remind them that one, we don't have to put up with people basically just abusing you, you know, and that then you don't internalize that. You remember that.

Justin: But to have that wisdom at 11 or 9.

Maria: I know.

Justin: Where did you get it?

Maria: I know. But I think it's again, because I would see my parents leave like at four in the morning, like because they had to catch the bus. You know what I'm saying? And they're tired. And then be like, I left this, you know, make sure like. So I just saw they’re like I don't even know how to explain it, because it's also not a fair thing. You know, like I don't, I think we keep romanticizing like hard work and sacrifice.

And I feel like I don't like that because it's cost people their lives. Like especially right now in COVID, like especially in California or Southern California. It's like the Latino community, like the working class is the one that has been mostly affected and not just like affected. It's like deaths, like, you know, like it's the highest rate of death is in the Latino community because of COVID.

And it's because of the overwork and the keep going even though you're tired. And so, I just think I was a kid that observed that and then just, it was just maybe connected to what I just said. Like I've lived a lot of lives. So I was alright. It was like inherent there. And it woke up really, really early. I also connected to like realizing when I was undocumented. So that's when I was 11, too. I was in fifth grade, and it was like Proposition 187 was trying to pass in California by Governor Pete Wilson. The fact that I even remember he was the governor.

And it was the time where they were trying to pass, I think it was a proposition, a statewide proposition to take all kind of public services with an urgent care, hospital, primary education for anybody who was undocumented. And I remember as a fifth grader, just imagining the principal calling my name on the intercom, coming to get me from my classroom and walking into the office and everybody watching me. Like that was what played in my mind, like, “Oh, my gosh, everybody's going to know I'm undocumented.” So I feel like all those things layered with whatever wisdom I was already born with, just, it was the alchemy, right?

Justin: Yeah. Oh, wow.

Maria: I need to be. Yeah. Yeah. Like I need to do something. Yeah.

Audra: Maria, it also strikes me or I'm curious around this that your cousins the bullies. Is it fair to say that they had pretty thoroughly internalized the racism and the narratives that were directed towards them and your family?

Maria: I think it was not racism, but the classism, right?

Audra: Classism.

Maria: Like, “Oh, they're poor and they're living in our garage.”

Audra: Right.

Maria: And as a child, you always unless you're directed a difference is something you exploit, unless you give it a direction like, “Hey, we don't say things about people's hair, like everybody's different.” I just think, you know, again, working-class parents on their end, they're not around either.

Audra: What I was thinking was that, you know, these kids in this family aren't it's family likely in Southern California? Was it, is it likely you saw this in some way, too? So if it's not, you know, if it's something that you don't have someone like you in your life to help you understand, like you did with your sisters and to help you work through this onslaught that's directed at.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: That you would internalize and very often in that internalization is also the acting out, not justifying at all, but just looking at that dynamic like space you're in as you're developing your activism, you're in a home, like with family that has surely been affected by these narratives and these messages.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: And you are the more recent immigrants coming in. And then this sort of this aggression and violence is directed towards you, you know, sort of as in that flow and you come on board as an activism and you're addressing some of the root causes of all of it. I see what you're saying.

Maria: Yeah. Yeah, I see what you're saying. Yeah. That’s 100% correct, that the recent immigrant and I don't even know if our skin was darker and all but yeah, that was 100%.

And like a lot of bullies, like they don't feel good about themselves. So they, you know, beat up on other people and that's what makes them feel good about themselves. So, yeah, I hadn't really inserted that before in my as I you know, my analysis of that. But that makes sense. The narratives that they had basically absorbed, unlike what a new immigrants to this country means.

Justin: How is your relationship with them today?

Maria: It's so funny, because I think this is telling of healing like it takes years and literally like a week ago now, putting them on blast, so sorry. One of them actually reached out to my sister and wrote her just like a text, like “I'm sorry for the way I behaved.” Oh, yeah. And yeah, it's beautiful.

Like I just feel like I was always healing. And it takes a long time, right? Because we're talking about time and now we're all in our thirties and. Yeah, late 30s. So we're talking about twenty-something years.

I think one of the things that I love about acupuncture, the fact that I'm a healer in a position like this is that I keep telling people that my patients are just, you know, because I'm in this position that healing doesn't have to take that long. And we don't have to hold on to things for years, like 20 years. That is a drain of our energy. That's a drain of our qi. And we're in, again, in a time of space with like all the movement that's happening in the world and our paradigms being shifted. Like now we talk about death like consistently, right, because people are passing. So it's like just remembering that it doesn't, you don't have to hold on to pain like this for a long, this long. Like healing could happen faster and not that fast is good, but rather you being a healed person is good. And then the sooner you're able to get there, the happier and lighter you'll be.

Audra: And in Maria, it sounds like you did not hang on to all of that that you endured with your cousins. It sounds like, I mean, you returned from that experience. You kind of took the power back. You know, you expressed yourself and you went home and you coached your sister. But it doesn't sound like you hung onto this. Like how did you know to do that? Or what was your healing response like as a kid?

Maria: I think, I don't think it was that I didn't hang onto it. I think it was like I was really busy with other challenges. Like in fifth grade was when I then became, I went from a bilingual education. Right. Because there is a distinction. Right. Bilingual education, is you look, you use your primary language to learn the second language. Right. English as a second language has been treated more of like, you have some kind of impairment in your learning because you don't know English. But anyway, at that school I went to, I was lucky. I was in bilingual education. And then fifth grade was when I was transitioned into complete English classes.

Anyway, so in fifth grade was when I was making my you know, the immigrant experience, what we call is like you're trying to immerse yourself now fully in the culture. So when my sister was not doing that, I kept kind of like shunning her, like she would try to talk to me in the playground. And I was like, “Hey, like go away.” Yeah. So then I became a bully to her and it's because I was trying to, I'm using the correct word is called immerse, but that's not the word I'm trying to think of, like…

Justin: Assimilate.

Maria: Assimilation. Thank you, Justin. The assimilation, as it's understood here in the states, is basically you strip yourself from your culture and anything associated, whether it's clothes, whether it's language, whether it's food. And then you become American or you're trying to become American. And it's so funny. My fifth-grade teacher was a super like American white woman. Her name was Miss Smith. And she would make, you know, you have to say the flag every day.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Well, she would not just make us do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We would sing like a patriotic song.

Justin: Oh, gosh.

Maria: So I literally know the United States, the United States, I love of my country, the United States. Alabama, and then…

Justin: Oh, my gosh, I can't even imagine. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Maria: So it was clear to me as a kid, like I made it, I need to stick with this. Whoever is trying to hold me back is not going to, not even if it's on my sister. So, you know how we talk about the healing. So like even to this day, like I tell my sister, “I'm so sorry.” And she's like, “Dude, I already said this like it's ok. Like it's ok.”

But like you as the perpetrator, like kids, like I still feel like I mean, not anymore, because like really in the last years, her and I have just you know, we're like this like peanut butter and jelly. And so we've always been peanut butter jelly, but there was like a little transition. But anyway, it's now until now, again, I'm 36 that I kind of feel like fully resolved with what I did. But again, it's something that when you hurt somebody like that, you know, like but you're a kid, it's like you know what I'm saying? Like it's not like I was trying to be mean on purpose. I was like surviving, I have to be accepted by this new crew, you know?

Justin: Yeah. So, Maria, I want to transition into acupuncture now. So, I mean, we got an idea for what kind of the first sparks of this healing journey or this journey to become a healer for you was. So when did acupuncture come on the scene? When did this as a specific modality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, become something that you knew was going to be your way into actually touching people?

Audra: And Maria, if you need to dip into the lifetime, that is between this trial, this fifth grade assimilation and get into your organizing. And I think you also had some spiritual work in between that to get to the answer to this question. Feel free to go there.

Maria: Yeah, that's so. Yeah, that's yeah. So leading up to how I even came across acupuncture, which really I should just say I stumbled upon it.

Audra: Ok, that’s great.

Justin: You were not searching for it. It just kind of hits you that out of left field.

Maria: And it literally did not set out there organizing for like six years, but being active for like 10 years because I became active when I was 17. Again, the undocumented piece, I needed to take action. I got involved with CHIRLA as a like student, high school student, activist. And, you know, it was not even though I was an activist, like the only reason why I went to that initial meeting was because I knew I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't get financial aid and my college advisor couldn't really help me, because at the time, there really wasn't anything.

Audra: There weren’t tools.

Maria: There's no California Dream Act. There's no DACA. We're talking about like 2000, yeah the year 2000. So we're still like undocumented young people. We're still following our parents' behavior, which is hide, don't cause a ruckus, like don't draw attention to yourself. So anyway, I talked to my college advisor. I mean, I was like a 4.2 honors AP, you know, marching band, you know, kind of profile. And so my college advisor was like, “yeah, that's great. Like, you'll do great.” And I was like, “oh, but I'm undocumented.” Like I felt trust enough to tell her she was wonderful. Miss Hop I love you. Like, oh, she was wonderful.

But that was like outside of her expertise. So that's when I was like, how do I need to do something? Anyway, I got a hold of this organization called CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. And the only reason why I went to the meeting was because the guy said, “Oh, yeah, and we have scholarships.”

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Maria: I was like, where's your money? But in that meeting, they're talking about legislation called 8540. And they were asking if somebody could speak at a press conference and share their testimony. And one thing that I've always done in my life is kind of follow what my body feels.

And so I remember feeling that like butterfly like belly heat, you know, I was like, well, like I just like I don't you know, I just my hand raised almost automatically. I mean, I'm from then on, I became one of the poster children for that campaign, and I say this kind of when I say the story, but like I probably cried most of the time during the press conference, like I would speak, but then just like the pain of like I'm just a young person trying to go to college, like why do I have to do all of this is like, why do I have to display my pain to make, to convince you?

Justin: But it was that display that was so powerful. I mean, that you were able to go there was always so powerful.

Maria: But now we're like so much more progressive and advanced that we're even as undocumented people are just people who don't fit the cookie-cutter is like, why do I have to be in pain and consistently try to convince you of my humanity, my inherent right to, you know, life happiness, you know, pursuit of happiness or whatever the Constitution says. And you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: Yes. During that time, it was appropriate. And exactly what you're saying, Justin. During that time, that's really what made it impactful. Like when I testified in front of like, I think was the Senate Education Committee, again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I had like the senators like there crying because here's this little 17-year-old Mexican girl crying.

Obviously, that experience changed my life. And so I went to UC Davis, started the first undocumented support group there. But again, it wasn't political for me. It was like I brought these people together because I wanted to hear them, because I wanted us to heal together. So just like their seeds each time of just like healing.

So I actually became a Christian during college. I was a Bible study leader. So I like held Bible study group, Bible study every week. So I would use the scripture and then gather people and then through the scripture, we would heal.

So what I learned in my experience is that anything is a tool for healing and not to diminish, you know, Jesus or Christianity like anything could be it. It could be over food or it could be over a sport like anything could be that inspiration, right. To heal. And then after that, that's when I started with CHIRLA. Again, political activists like this was the time that I was, it was my full-time job. Like this is what I did a day in, day out.

But even during that, I developed this, just different workshops. One of them that they still use now, which is like 10 years later. And it was it's called Unraveling the Undocumented Identity. So it was like an hour and a half workshop to like guide people through, you know, first thinking about it critically. And I can't remember right now, but I said undocumented. I made it a definition, I put it is a forced identity by a government to disenfranchise. And I put like three words, disenfranchise, disempower a group of people. So it's just like a made up. If you think about it, it's a made-up identity.

So that's when I learned my healing powers even more, because I did it as a group. And so I was completely burned out. I don't know. I was, what attracted me to acupuncture, ok, to be 100% transparent was the esoteric part of it, was the energetic part. It was like, oh, the qi, oh, I have points, energy points in my body that I can't touch but can do something for me or really the Tao.

The Tao is the approach that we are like body, mind, and spirit, and that we consistently have to be in balance with nature, which, you know, right before that, I had started to go to sweat lodges consistently. And again, I was blessed to be able to have that. And so learning about like the spirituality of first nation people, in this case, the Lakota. And so it kind of like just all connected really beautifully. So it attracted me for the energetic part. But like now maybe that I'm a practitioner. After four years, I'm going back to the energetic part, because the first four years, it's all because we're…

Justin: Technique.

Maria: A Western-dominated medicine, a country which is great Western medicine. I mean, you both know firsthand what Western medicine can do. You know, you had to have to be very linear, like learn this diagnosis. I like that. But now I'm able to bridge back even more around, like the energy part of like, hey, the food you eat is energy. Like it's you got to set an intention and your body and your qi, you got to basically, like Athena and I and, you know, my daughter, Athena, and I consistently like use sage to cleanse our energy, like to cleanse the qi, because, you know, the energy part we don't talk about a lot, but it's really part of our daily existence.

Justin: The thing that sticks out in my mind is you described like an energy in your belly when you went to the first organizing meeting. And so I just wonder, like just feeling these kind of big energetic surges within you. Is that what clicked when you heard about qi and when you heard about acupuncturists like, “Oh, like that explains this.”

Maria: It’s the funniest thing, Justin, because what clicked for me “Oh this is the medicine” I want to beat was when I was I got my first treatment and I was laying face up and I had gone because I wanted to work on regulating my menstrual cycle. So you're, it's so crazy you’re tying it in because he did belly points on me, and that's what I felt like. I felt the qi moving in my belly.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: I was like, “Oh, my god, like this unreal.”

Audra: Yes.

Justin: That's awesome.

Maria: 100 percent. Yes. I couldn't believe that like, well, so because he did the needles... He was really handsome too by the way.

Justin: That was the energy going on.

Maria: Yeah. Oh, I was married and I came home and I told my husband at the time the story, he's like…

Justin: Who is this dude?

Maria: And I was like, yeah. He's like, “Yeah, I could tell by the way you're talking about him.” But anyway... But like after, so anybody who gets acupuncture treatment, you're going to feel this like we'll do the needles and you'll begin to like, because this is my first time that I'm describing.

So you don't know what you feel. But as you lay there, like I just felt like these swirls in my belly, like in each point that he had done, I felt these swirls and I was like, “Oh, man, like this is real, like this is it.” So that's when I became a 100% committed to becoming a traditional acupuncturist, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.

Justin: That's awesome.

Audra: Oh, wow. Maria, this is so beautiful. I have to say, I kept getting these visuals as you were telling the story of your beautiful energy, you sharing this beautiful energy with everyone around you. And what really impacted me, too, in this assigned identity for you you have this assigned identity that this society and culture has placed on you.

And again and again and again and how you have had the critical distance and that core soul like who you are, that is completely tied with this energy that has been just such a secure part of your knowing about your life has allowed you to have a critical distance to say that's a point of identity that's not mine, or does it need to be mine, or I can take that on if I want, but I don't have to.

And so, I feel like so many people are like, oh, those sorts of people do that. Right. Those sorts of people go to Chinese medicine or those sorts of people do this thing, or though and I'm this sort of person. And we keep ourselves from experiencing so much in the world sometimes because we don't see ourselves as the sort of people who go and do these other things, right?

You were able to follow your soul in that energetic flow and your spirit to where you needed to go next and where you were being called next. And it just really impacted me as like I could almost see it as you were describing it.

Maria: Yes. I actually love that you're saying that because you're right, like does a Latina become a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, you know, and no, like that's not something that. But it actually just flowed and made so much sense for me because it was like it was healing.

It was healing for me to be reaffirmed in the things that my grandma used to do or my mom does to like tell me to drink a certain tea. Usually juxtapose like to know you should take this medication. The medication gets like this higher value and...

Audra: Right.

Maria: Yeah. And then it was like, oh, wait. So if I saw the cinnamon does help. And I was one of the things when I was applying to acupuncture school, like they asked me like, why do you want to, you know, I had to fill out an essay.

And that's one of and Justin you addressed this question to me was like I was like, oh, that's right. Like every time I'm getting sick, my mom would make canela, you know, cinnamon sticks tea and it would help me feel better.

And so come to the farm pharmacology book in TCM, which is like six inches thick. They have like ten pages on cinnamon, like the properties when it goes to, when it what dynasty it was used in, like the case studies. And it just reaffirmed that piece of like, yeah, our knowledge is true and real. It just, you know, because we were a country that was conquered because of our own inherent like, I don't know, civilization, no weaknesses like the Aztecs right. There were in fighting. So then come the Spanish. And it was just like the perfect moment for them to take over and the Aztec civilization.

But like we've always been a very rich country culturally, like in every way. And so it's been a very healing like and even like when, I have I don't know how to explain a feeling, but like women, I there's a lot of like, like I could think of my grandma or that maybe we’re like, oh, that's just weird. Like, why are you like, why do you say that works or are you thinking that like, I feel like every time I'm able to tell somebody confidently because I have this white coat or like this degree and they believe me, they're like, “Ok, yeah. You know what you're talking about.” I almost feel like I see my grandma smiling.

Audra: Oh, it's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. And that's been. Yeah. As of recent, actually, because so many times, like traditional healers in a lot of countries, especially women, are shunned as crazy or like the witch or whatever. And that's what I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine, which again, now we're like pushing are like the movement is to call it Eastern medicine or traditional Asian medicine.

It just, it was able to package it in such a way where it's not just the claim, like they have the pharmacology to tell you exactly. And the diagnosis and basically how to explain to somebody outside of just like, well, my grandma has been using it for, you know, 60 years and it works. So it's been a very wonderful and healing journey. And everything I'm telling you is so recent, like I'm talking about this word of like healing, like is literally is happening in the last like six months.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Maria: Mhm. Yeah. Because I feel like now I'm in a place as a practitioner where I'm where I feel like really comfortable with the medicine. I'm able to you know, when you're learning a craft or an art like this, you're diligently. I feel like now I'm able to kind of be a little bit more creative, especially with COVID.

Acupuncture and herbs can help treat symptoms of COVID. And so it's been really wonderful to kind of like go back to my books and remember, like what herbs are for what? And because now it's more about like talking about customized formulas, because that's the strength of TCM for when it treats symptoms of COVID. We're going by what the virus is doing to you versus kind of like…

Audra: A blanketed...

Maria: You know, like a same approach to everybody. But I love that I am TCM practitioner in Southern California and I'm a Latina because I felt like it was helping reaffirm a lot of the things that my culture already knows about herbs and like healthy eating or just like things like don't step on the floor if it's cold, like don't expose your back if there's wind. Like in TCM it like has that in so many of our books.

Audra: You were telling me like not to drink cold water, like in the office, you're like, “Don't drink the cold water.” Which I had nothing. I didn't know anything about that.

Maria: Yeah. So like the whole thought behind it is you want to have your body to be at homeostasis. Right? And so our bodies are at 98, you know, 98.6, 98.7. So you always want to have your body to be about that temperature, because that's like the optimal environment for circulation, digestion.

And obviously, there is exceptions in the sense, like if you're a woman who's in menopause, like you're going to get hot flashes. So you're going to want, or like, you know, like children or people after chemotherapy, they get so hot that, you know, they want to feel something cold.

Audra: You're balancing at that point. Right. Yeah.

Maria: You're balancing. And then that's when you also have to be sensitive as a practitioner, like you can't just be so, you know, hard-line. So most of the things we're always saying, it's like a general like principles to follow. But yeah. And then my mom would tell me that all the time, don't drink, especially if you're on your period. Don't drink cold stuff...

Audra: Really?

Maria: You know, and then now there's an actual diagnosis in TCM, in our books. There's an explanation. There's a formula for it that's called cold entering the blood chamber, which means cold entering the womb. It's so pragmatic. It's so like this is a symptom. These are the herbs. This is how you heal it, you know.

Audra: So you're finding these natural synergies and shared knowledge between TCM and your cultural heritage background, the things that your mother and grandmother were talking about.

Are you finding that now that you're in that flow of your own practice, you're getting more creative, like you said, are you able to bring your cultural heritage into your practice? Is that something that you kind of naturally do? Is it a point of conversation with some of your clients? Like what is that like for you?

Maria: Yeah, I think it's more of a point of conversation with the client, because I'll hear them say, “Oh, I thought that was always like a myth. Like my grandmother would always tell me that.”

Audra: Really?

Maria: I was like, no, it's not. Like one of the things I want to do is, well, one, go to China and be there immersed again. I didn't have the chance to while I was studying because I was a new mom, but also go to Mexico to learn like what are the traditional herbs there outside of kind of like these like other connections, you know, like I said, the cinnamon or the ginger stuff like that, because I think that will be like when it's actually customized, more like Mexican specific or not just Mexican, but like Latino-America type.

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: What are the plants that are native there? But then it goes the same way, like what are the plans that are native here? So like when I talk to herbalists here, they know a lot about the native plant. And I'm like, I don't know that.

Like what I know is what I specialized in was Chinese herbs. So I just no Chinese herbs. And so sometimes it surprises me. Well, for example, Bòhé. Right. That's how you say it in Pinyin Chinese. And it's like, oh, that's mint, you know what I'm saying? So an herbalist knows mint right off the bat.

And I'm like, because one of the questions Justin asked that I thought was interesting was like, what are you working on? Or like, what do you want to accomplish? I think that's one of the things that as now I’m in a, like a different space with the medicine. I do want to tie in learning more about like the native plants where I am. Right. Southern California and then long term, I'm actually going to Mexico and being able to learn some of the more healing practices there, because it's just so expansive, just the same way.

Like one of the things that like Mexican culture teaches is like this thing called “sustos”, which means freight, which means like some experiences, cause you're kind of your spirit or your soul to leave your bodies or you're going on every day like living and behaving. But something scared you to the point where you're you're like and this can be compared in psychology to some extent, like the child self. Right, where like you've left the child parts.

Justin: The parts, parts. Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. The parts. And then you, exactly. And you bring so there's like ceremonies to call back, you know, the soul…

Justin: The exiled parts.

Maria: To enticed it back, to enter. Now that it's safe. And so those kinds of like because a lot of that's amazing to me about like anxiety or they feel like I feel absent in my body. Like that's a description I hear a lot. And so like being able to like maybe tell them I wouldn't tell it to everybody because again, I have to play.

And Ruth knows this better than anybody, right? Because she's in the hospital. You have to play this balance where like you don't talk a lot about spirit or energy when you're doing or talking to somebody who came to you with a strictly Western diagnosis and they are just like, here, fix my back. So, you know, you don't bring all this other stuff, but like with the other patients that are like more intrigued than I can say things like that and would love to bring back some of the knowledge from Mexican healers.

Justin: So, Maria, you mentioned your grandmother and your mother, and to me, I sense this like lineage, this like connection to the lineage. And so when you became a mother, you are a mother now. Is there a specific way that you being a mom, you being a mother, has influenced how you approach medicine, healing this whole world that you work in?

Maria: One of the very traditional things Mexican culture teaches you, and it was actually kind of to a fault like so postpartum being indoors for 30 days was and has been a big teaching.

Sometimes it went like too extreme like I've talked to like older women who are like in their 60s, where like the mother to the daughter that gave birth, didn't let her shower for 30 days because of the cold, because of the water. But anyway, so could be a little bit extreme. But one of the things that I 100% followed instruction on was that like, my mom's like, “Ok, make sure you're resting 30 days.”

And so and because of TCM like and backed it up again, going back to the cold, entering the blood chamber type of approach, you're basically very vulnerable, like your bones literally expanded. So there's a lot of space in between, so cold and pathogens and wind and all of that can enter. So I made sure that, you know, didn't do anything for. And again, that's privilege right? I didn't have to work. My partner took care of me like all of that. So anyway, I did want to mention how like a practice then was affirmed by TCM. And then that's also why I followed it. And because I had the privilege of being able to follow it.

Working like being trained by a pediatric acupuncturist. Because I was a mom, I was, I became inclined to learn about kids. Right. Because I wanted to know. So I think like the mere fact that I was a mom automatically, or I became a mom, attracted me to pediatrics. Right. Because then I wanted to know how to help my own kid.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: I knew the medicine, but not like customized to a kid that, you know, I think we took one class, if that. One of the things that I love about TCM and children is that I could see how fast the qi moves.

So like I say, they have a bellyache or pain with children. Well, the approach is that, you know, you balance it out, right? Like needles are kind of, you know, very can be very invasive. So anyway, so we do acupressure with essential oils. Right. So I can tell you every single time. So I'll put the central oil on my finger and then place it on the acupuncture point and I can feel the qi under my finger is moving. And so once I stop, once I feel the qi stop, then I know it's time. I already did it. And that could be in 30 seconds to a minute.

And so, and I noticed that mostly always in children. I don't know if it's maybe because I do acupressure more on children or when I do the cupping. When I do like the flash cupping, I can feel, so children have high qi right. They're active. So their qi is like constantly moving fast. And so when I'm doing the flash cupping, it's like I'm moving that qi, pulling any of that access qi out so that they can feel calm.

And so one of the things that's, one of the things I just love about TCM, that it's so flexible and that we have so many modalities like, “Oh, they don't want acupressure. Ok, what about moxibustion? Oh, they don't want you know, they're not, they're scared of the fire in the mugwort? Ok, so then let's do the combing.” And so I just love how versatile it is and how I can just really modify it per child.

And I think like connected back to, you know, MaxLove or just like children who are experiencing cancer and cancer therapy. I feel I don't know if it's because they're filling my cup really, because I leave feeling so full. But like I also see how the points are just a treatment I'm doing. Helps them fill back up because a lot of the children who are oncology patients, they are forced for their body to be deficient, especially when they're doing chemo, because it's basically a toxin. Right? So it's like we're trying to kill the bad guy, but we're killing good guys, too.

So a lot of the time I just see how full like after treatment, you know, like just this past Saturday with the four-year-old, you know, patient, it's been like I think we're on treatment six, him and I. So finally, he's more comfortable and he was honest, but he doesn't like moxibustion, like he's scared of the fire. But we were able to like position him where he was like on his belly, on his phone. And so I was able to do like acupuncture point by the ankles, which is a kidney point, because we want to strengthen the kidneys and TCM like the kidneys are responsible for the essence, like the longevity. So anyway, like as I'm doing moxibustion, I and just seeing his, it's almost like I just see the energy like lift back up. So that literally just happened yesterday and that consistently happened.

So I've been really blessed to have Ruth like guide me and Dr. Ruth guide me and teach me. Because now it's like now I'm flying. Like now I just feel so comfortable with children and I'm able to just be just like the medicine. I'm able to be really versatile and flexible in order to help them, you know, in the best way that I can or know how.

Audra: And they sense that.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: And they love you, too.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: You know, they feel immediately comfortable with you. But I do think when I hear you hear you talking, and for our listeners who will be more attuned in this way, I think one thing that's amazing is that you are referring to the pharmacology book in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is an evidence-based approach that goes back over three thousand years in China that you're just seeing backed up by this various forms of indigenous knowledge and things that are passed down generation after generation.

And then what you're speaking of, too, is an intuitive knowledge. It occurs to me, like Maria, it sounds like you see the energy. You just know, you feel it, you feel it in your touch. You have your knowing, you're an energy healer, you're an energy worker. And it's really it comes through so powerfully in how you followed where the energy is needing care and different modalities for this. I think it's just so amazing.

So I love to know today what is, this is Justin's wording. I love it. What is the edge of your personal thriving journey for you right now? Like what are you working on right now? You mentioned the goals that you have, which almost reminds me of like a shaman journey. Like I love hearing about it, but what's your personal thriving journey's edge today?

Maria: Because I've known you and in an intimate and feel in a safe space. It's like this whole energy stuff, like I don't I haven't talked about it and I haven't articulated in such a way, like it's really like everything is so recent, like so like the ground, like my grandmother, like me, bring her up a lot. That's really because I had her dream of her like two weeks ago and it was so vivid and like or just like the energy part, like I hadn't actually articulated that that's what I do. I've heard Ruth kind of talk about it, but I've never associated and said that's what I see or that's how I feel.

Audra: That’s powerful.

Maria: Until I'm talking to both of you. So, I feel like, yes, I really do want to acknowledge that only because it is a very special thing in that sense, that it's like my first time, like owning that or seeing it…

Justin: Owning that, wow.

Maria: Especially in regard to the approach with children, like being ever like, yeah, I do feel that, like I fill their cup. Again, I was thinking maybe it's the whole thing. I feel filled up. Right, because you feel so gratified. But yeah. So a lot of things that are coming up or I'm saying is so like right now, in the moment, as like self-epiphanies.

Audra: That's an important acknowledgment, I think. And I'm really, really glad that you brought that up and just kind of so that we can hold the space for that. It's something that I have incredible awe and appreciation for, Maria. And I just kept getting these feelings and visuals. And it's like I could see and feel and hear what you're saying. It's kind of like a form of an awakening, I guess.

And I have a number of friends who are in various spaces in energy work and healing as well, who have not had paths, anything like yours. But it feels like a similar sort of journey. And it's one that I really appreciate. And it is like a calling. However is it you want to put it or whatever words you want to use or anybody would want to use, you know, religious or not. It is also calling.

Justin: And also, you know, we feel more comfortable with this language now than I feel like we have in the past. And part of it is our own journey. So The Family Thrive is all about expertise. And so we have Western medical doctors, we have dietitians, we have clinical psychology. And we have all of these Western-credentialed experts on.

But we also, in the spirit of truly integrative medicine, we also have people who have expertise in this other realm of, you know, that there's flowing energy and this flowing energy can be blocked. And, you know, we can openly talk about it. Let's talk about what this experience is actually like.

And so you're on here because you're an expert. Not only have you been trained in a modality that Western medicine does recognize. Right. Acupuncture is recognized to help with things like pain and nausea. But then there's this other part. I think you, I love the word that you use esoteric, you know, this like esoteric part. But there is nothing wrong with opening up to this part and saying like there's an energetic flow here and let's talk about it.

Audra: Yeah, I couldn't agree more in talking to Jenny Walters this week on this show and Dr. Ruth as well. The theme was right there. So Jenny found her way to basically psychotherapy. Right. And then her continued work growing as a therapist with energy work and energy healing. That's really important to her. And a similar awakening. And she was an artist before that. And she was like, I'm doing the same thing with this. It's the same thing that is occurring in me when I engage with art and when I engage in therapy and supporting people and healing. And I'm hearing the same thing with you.

You found different spaces throughout your entire life to engage in healing practices with others and to help people heal. It's definitely a life's calling, but to see like the awakening of the energetic in this space from like a healing modality where you can say acupuncture needles do this to say, I can see and feel and realize. And she is so powerful and alive in all of us. And I am tapped in and tuned into that. Like that to me is another level. It's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. So I'm going to, I guess we could end with that question. What I wanted to say is like, yeah, I'm culturally sensitive. I'm resilient. Right. And I've had a self-healing journey. Those things should be things that are just as valid. Right, as research in a sense, because not only am I an expert in my field, I'm also an expert in these things. You know what I mean?

I've overcome challenges. And now I'm a resilient human right. I'm culturally sensitive by default. Right. Because I grew up immigrant. I grew up “the other,” and I've had an intentional healing journey.

So you're right. We're only able to talk about this because of the time we're in. Right. When we're all kind of ok, let's open our mind to other realities or just other things that have worked that we've basically like shunned out. And as a woman of color and as a Latina, that's also kind of like I couldn't just be outright. Right. Like it's kind of like that saying like if it's all white, it's all right. You both have heard that, I think.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: I don't know who says it, but basically like because there's white healers saying, hey, like this works or that works or like energy workers like it's now they've set the stage or I don't have to be automatically dismissed because they've already established, ok, this you know, this works. And here then I'm like, yeah, this I don't have to prove this works anymore and I don't have to prove that then I can do it like I…

Audra: They put a suit on it so you can accept it.

Maria: Yeah, and so, you know, I feel like I do hope that wasn't insulting.

Audra: No.

Maria: Ok. Yeah.

Audra: Not at all.

Maria: So but no. But that's like the real kind of like always like kind of feels like that in the sense like somebody has to prove it. And it's usually has to be, but it has to be a white person, I guess the way that I've perceived it to be able to say, hey, this works, then I can come on the stage. But I feel like, again, all those things are shifting now where that doesn't have to happen. Right.

Audra: Thank goodness.

Justin: Right.

Maria: Right. And so that's what I love about what you guys are doing, because it is the integration that is going to help most people. Right. It's like being able to not just go to your Western doctor, like go to the holistic healing. I mean, and, you know, acupuncture after that. And then that is like the best marriage, you know, of it all.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: So the things that are kind of like the edge of my personal thriving journey right now is I'm being challenged again to ensure that I actually have a self-care balance. And why I'm saying this is because, like I was mentioning at the beginning, there's so much grieving happening.

And three weeks ago, I had a dear, dear friend of mine pass from COVID, and he was somebody that was really important to me. I met him when I was first—thank you. I was first an organizer with CHIRLA. And so he wasn't just a friend and he was like just one of the healthiest male figures I had ever encountered in my life. And just see, he was so intelligent and just kind of like I would pass by his office almost every day and every day was something different, like, “Hey, have you heard about like the Belgium worker strike?” Like, how do you have time to read about the Belgium strike right now? He was just like. And he's just like so loving and so giving.

And you know, like people always say, like really sweet things about people that have passed. But it's like I'm not just saying that because he passed, like I would have said all of this like in life if he was alive. And so when he passed it, just like triggered like a lot of the grieving that I was already kind of helping hold for all my patient base. And if you look at my patient base, like, you know, it's a lot of people. And it's not just because I talk to them like I also, I touch them. I have to palpate sometimes to find the acupuncture point. And so there's always an energy exchange.

And so really, like in the last days or even just beginning last week, I'm like, I really need to be serious about maintaining my self-care and so I really have a herbal formula. So I started taking that more consistently in my own wellness center. Oh, I haven't even said that I'm a business owner of my own!

Justin: Oh, that’ll all be in the introduction.

Maria: Yeah, Athena Acupuncture Wellness Center. So I subleased to an acupuncturist there. So I'm like, I need to, I'm going to sign up for Tuesday to get treatment. So that's really like a big challenge again, that how are you balancing when you're helping heal so many people? Like it really does pull energy away from you. For a good purpose, but there's ways to protect your energy, and then, you know, now that there's COVID, I always come and take a shower before I didn't do that. But like a shower is really like also symbolic, like the water cleansing.

So that's one of the things I'm really like being forced to look at again. Like how are you maintaining the balance of the energy you're giving to the energy you’re replenishing?

Audra: Oh, such a powerful thing.

Maria: Yeah, it's a big thing, because then what's the point like? You're as healthy, you can only be as healthy as you are. That's how you can demand somebody else to be healthier like you as a practitioner. And I feel like that's one of the like, kind of very important things like that I value as a practitioner to my stuff. Like I hold myself to a high standard. Like I can't be doing things. I can't be asking patients to do things that I don't do.

Audra: That you don't do. Right.

Maria: So it's been that's kind of like what's on the chopping board for me, like, ok, hey, so what's up? And I guess the last tone would be kind of just really stepping into this role again, of being on the macro of like being almost again in the public eye after doing that for so long. I really went introverted, married. I had my child, finished my masters and then started like practicing. So I was really kind of an introvert, into introverted space. And that was intentional. I wanted that. And I feel like the universe…

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Oh, another butterfly moment. Yeah.

Maria: That's a challenge, because again, because it's like you're Latina, you do acupuncture. Does acupuncture even work? Is that a real thing? Like what you invested so much in that? So like, do you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: So that's the challenge. And also kind of being able to embody what I already know. The embodiment is basically that all humans right now, we're basically midwives for like this new earth, this new world view, this new disposition that we're all being forced to become, which is like, you know, loving and compassionate and understanding.

And so being able to accept that and also then just display that those were the places that I'm ok, like I'm getting pushed and I'm flowing with it. And it's a beautiful thing. But again, like it could be, you know, uncomfortable with that. So being able to be on the world stage again as a healer, I…

Audra: Absolutely,

Justin: Mmm. I love it. I love it.

Audra: Absolutely. Because, yeah, what I'm seeing with this is how you have gotten really in touch with how you're a conduit for this energy. So in your self-care, you know, if you see there's an input and an output, you have to have the same size input as you have as your output. Right. You know, and you've got to cultivate that own inner garden and maintain that energy so that you can give and you are a conduit and you are the same thing on the macro level.

You are a conduit for that energy for humanity. You are telling young women all over that that look like, yes, this is this is an identity right here. Yes, I am a Latina healer, acupuncturist and mother and sister and daughter and all of these other things all at once. You know, and I am a part of bringing this next paradigm in the world and to humanity. And it's going to happen energetically. And you're like, I think this key. So for you, this embracing of that is so beautiful. And it's like I feel it from you. I hear it from you. You're in it.

Maria: Yeah. And I just need to own it.

Justin: And own it. Yes. Step into your truth.

Audra: I do want to ask you to tell us what acupuncture needles do you do. It's an important thing for our listeners who are still going to be like, ok, I want to go see a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. How do I do it? And how does it work? So I guess this is two parts. Let's get really pragmatic.

Maria, tell us how the needles work. And then, and I know you have a very simple explanation for it, because you explained it to me beautifully. And then secondly, tell our listeners if they're not local to you. What should they look for in somebody?

Maria: It’s funny you say local. That's exactly what I would approach it as like, if you're interested in seeing an acupuncturist, I would literally Google “acupuncturist” or “acupuncture near me.” And for example, if you're trying to go for your child or for, I don't know, menstruation or low back, you know, when you call them you could ask them, hey, you know, have you treated this before or do you feel comfortable treating this before? And that's, you know, like kind of like everything else.

I will look, you know, talk to them, see if I know their energy, but also, you know, like Yelp and Google reviews. Yeah, very formative, even when I'm picking my acupuncturist. And, but I think asking if they're comfortable with what you're trying to bring them is a really important question. If they say yes, then, you know, there you go. If not, you know, go on to the next.

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive, complete medicine that can basically treat any and all diagnoses with acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, Tui Na. And so it is a medicine that you can feel comfortable with because most things you can bring up, we will know how to treat. And if we don't, we will let you know.

But the acupuncture points themselves, you have like over 360 acupuncture points, and each acupuncture point has anywhere from two to six functions. And the acupuncture points are anatomically identified in your body. So we use your anatomy, whether it's your tibia bone or your femur, to identify the point. And we stimulate it with the needle or with moxibustion or with our finger. And the most beautiful part of it all, and this is what I tell my patients, is your body is a medicine, and I'm simply activating that medicine with the needle.

Justin: Wow.

Audra: That’s Awesome.

Justin: I love it.

Audra: Awesome; That was a beautifully succinct description.

Justin: And it's now like I, over the last year or two, I've come to understand psychotherapy in a new way. And it's the same thing as like the therapist does not have the answers there within you. And the therapist is there just to frame, just to ask the right questions. Maybe it's a sort of interpersonal like verbal pressure point that you have.

Audra: Right, right. Right, right.

Justin: But as far as like it is all within you. All of the healing occurs within you.

Audra: Yeah. Yeah, I love that.

Maria: Exactly.

Justin: We are just about out of time, so we need to ask you our regular podcast question. So these are three questions that we ask every single podcast guest. So, Maria, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Maria: I would say ensure your children are eating warm foods.

Justin: Warm.

Maria: That's what I would say, like, all right, warm food sounds random, but it's not like kids run hot. So they sometimes or a lot of times want cold food. And again, like going back to the TCM part like children, they're middle jowl, their digestive system is not fully developed yet. So when we're putting a lot of cold, it could actually dampen the body. So that's why a lot of kids will experience like the bellyaches are not good digestion or constipation. That's such a cool, sexy one. But if I come up with a better one, I'll let you know.

Audra: Ok, last quote that changed the way you think or feel.

Maria: Ok, so it's not a quote, but I'll go to the last person that has changed. How I think and feel has been the poet Rupi Kaur. I don't know if that's how you say it. Oh, my god, she's an and her book is called Milk and Honey. And the short answer is, I guess, is what person who writes, quote, has changed your life is Rupi. And she's a contemporary poet. Oh, thank you so much for that recommendation. I'm going to check her out. Actually, her latest book is called Homebody. So anyway, so it really aligns with this whole piece around like your body is medicine.

Justin: Yes. Beautiful. Ok, the last one. Now, I just always have to contextualize this question because for so many parents, especially in the era of COVID, you know, work from home and kids and the kids, you know, we're all just stuck together and we can feel like, “Oh, kids, oh, my god, I'm exhausted.” But we want to have this last question here to celebrate kids. And so what is your favorite thing about kids?

Maria: I love how raw they are.

Justin: Honest.

Maria: Yeah. Like they'll tell me like. So, for example, this young child that I told you about that I treated yesterday, I didn't trick him. He knew I was doing moxibustion and he would turn around periodically to be like, “Don't do that. That's mean.” You know, so like I just love that they're raw in their reactions, which I think could be like the hard part. So that would be that contempt, that patient, as practitioner. But what I love about kids overall is that they remind you to be a kid.

Justin: Yeah. Be present.

Maria: Yeah. Like why are you stressed right now about whatever you're stressed, right? Yeah. What's wrong with you? And then I'm like, “Oh, I have to do this.” And then she's and she just looks at me perplexed. And I was like, well, I guess I don't have to do that. And that's what I'd like… So I love that children are raw. Keep it real. My children remind you to be a child.

Audra: I loved that, Maria, thank you.

Justin: Maria, real quick before we go. If people want to if they live in Southern California and they want to get a hold of you so they can find you at Athena…

Maria: Acupuncture.me.

Justin: AthenaAcupuncture.me.

Maria: That's my website.

Justin: Beautiful.

Maria: And then my email is AthenaAcupuncture@Gmail. Both As.

Audra: You and your practice is in Whittier, correct?

Maria: My practice is in Whittier is called the Zen Acupuncture Wellness Center. And then I practice with Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California.

Audra: Awesome, Maria. It was so, so good to see you. We have so much more to talk about, too. So I'm really looking forward to the next time and the next time.

Justin: We would love to have you back.

Audra: And thank you for contributing to The Family Thrive. We're excited to be doing more and more with you. You're incredible. And thank you for including us in your journey.

Maria: I love that The Family Thrive is integrating all these types of healing modalities. I think that's what's going to change the way that we look at healing.

Audra: Awesome, thank you. I couldn't agree more.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

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Podcast Ep. 10: Tuning Into Intuition and Traditional Healing With Maria Barrera, LAc

Audra and Justin chat with the incredible Maria Barrera, LAc about her beginnings as a healer and how she navigates her Latina heritage and knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine to be the best practitioner she can be.

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In this episode

Maria Barrera, LAc joins Audra and Justin to talk about how her childhood and political activism led her to a life of healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine. She also shares how her cultural heritage has influenced her approach as a healer, and how parents can bring more health, healing, and thriving into their family’s daily practices.



About our guest

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist, and today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist specializing in pediatrics. She has trained with Dr. Ruth McCarty (from Ep. 5) in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is now the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, CA. She is also a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, CA and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association.

Show notes

  • 02:19 - MaxLove Project teamed up with Dr. Ruth McCarty to create the Ohana Project. It focuses on treating families affected by childhood cancer as a unit.
  • 06:34 - Qi is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s a vital energy that flows through the body and connects the individual to their surroundings and to others.
  • 12:15 - Click here to read “A Multi-Modal Family Peer Support-Based Program to Improve Quality of Life among Pediatric Brain Tumor Patients: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study.”
  • 20:16 - Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative in 1994 “to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California.” It was found unconstitutional by federal district court in 1999.
  • 30:45 - The California Dream Act helps undocumented students apply for financial aid to attend eligible California colleges, universities, and career programs.
  • 30:49 - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that allows certain individuals who meet program requirements to get request a grant of deferred action.”
  • 31:39 - Since 1986, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) “has since become one of the largest and most effective advocates for immigrant rights, organizing, educating and defending immigrants and refugees in the streets, in the courts, and in the halls of power.”
  • 34:55 - To learn more about the workshop Maria created, Unraveling the Undocumented Identity, click here.
  • 35:55 - The Dao or Tao is a Chinese philosophy from Confucianism that represents the path or the ethical and moral way that people should behave in society.
  • 53:29 - Acupressure is similar in practices to acupuncture, but the practitioner uses the pressure from their hands and fingers instead of needles.
  • 54:00 - Cupping uses glass cups that are heated with fire then placed onto the body. The heat creates a suction effect and this is believed to increase blood flow and qi.
  • 54:34 - Moxibustion is similar to acupuncture, but moxa wool or mugwort is burned on the meridians.
  • 54:41 - Combing is an extension of Tui Na massage which helps guide qi through the limbs and meridians of the body.
  • 01:01:27 - To listen to Ep. 2 with Jenny Walters, LMFT, click here.
  • 01:13:30 - Qi gong is a practice of energy work that involves different movements or symptoms to facilitate the qi coursing through and around the body.

In this episode

Maria Barrera, LAc joins Audra and Justin to talk about how her childhood and political activism led her to a life of healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine. She also shares how her cultural heritage has influenced her approach as a healer, and how parents can bring more health, healing, and thriving into their family’s daily practices.



About our guest

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist, and today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist specializing in pediatrics. She has trained with Dr. Ruth McCarty (from Ep. 5) in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is now the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, CA. She is also a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, CA and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association.

Show notes

  • 02:19 - MaxLove Project teamed up with Dr. Ruth McCarty to create the Ohana Project. It focuses on treating families affected by childhood cancer as a unit.
  • 06:34 - Qi is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s a vital energy that flows through the body and connects the individual to their surroundings and to others.
  • 12:15 - Click here to read “A Multi-Modal Family Peer Support-Based Program to Improve Quality of Life among Pediatric Brain Tumor Patients: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study.”
  • 20:16 - Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative in 1994 “to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California.” It was found unconstitutional by federal district court in 1999.
  • 30:45 - The California Dream Act helps undocumented students apply for financial aid to attend eligible California colleges, universities, and career programs.
  • 30:49 - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that allows certain individuals who meet program requirements to get request a grant of deferred action.”
  • 31:39 - Since 1986, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) “has since become one of the largest and most effective advocates for immigrant rights, organizing, educating and defending immigrants and refugees in the streets, in the courts, and in the halls of power.”
  • 34:55 - To learn more about the workshop Maria created, Unraveling the Undocumented Identity, click here.
  • 35:55 - The Dao or Tao is a Chinese philosophy from Confucianism that represents the path or the ethical and moral way that people should behave in society.
  • 53:29 - Acupressure is similar in practices to acupuncture, but the practitioner uses the pressure from their hands and fingers instead of needles.
  • 54:00 - Cupping uses glass cups that are heated with fire then placed onto the body. The heat creates a suction effect and this is believed to increase blood flow and qi.
  • 54:34 - Moxibustion is similar to acupuncture, but moxa wool or mugwort is burned on the meridians.
  • 54:41 - Combing is an extension of Tui Na massage which helps guide qi through the limbs and meridians of the body.
  • 01:01:27 - To listen to Ep. 2 with Jenny Walters, LMFT, click here.
  • 01:13:30 - Qi gong is a practice of energy work that involves different movements or symptoms to facilitate the qi coursing through and around the body.

In this episode

Maria Barrera, LAc joins Audra and Justin to talk about how her childhood and political activism led her to a life of healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine. She also shares how her cultural heritage has influenced her approach as a healer, and how parents can bring more health, healing, and thriving into their family’s daily practices.



About our guest

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist, and today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist specializing in pediatrics. She has trained with Dr. Ruth McCarty (from Ep. 5) in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is now the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, CA. She is also a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, CA and Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association.

Show notes

  • 02:19 - MaxLove Project teamed up with Dr. Ruth McCarty to create the Ohana Project. It focuses on treating families affected by childhood cancer as a unit.
  • 06:34 - Qi is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s a vital energy that flows through the body and connects the individual to their surroundings and to others.
  • 12:15 - Click here to read “A Multi-Modal Family Peer Support-Based Program to Improve Quality of Life among Pediatric Brain Tumor Patients: A Mixed-Methods Pilot Study.”
  • 20:16 - Proposition 187 was a ballot initiative in 1994 “to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California.” It was found unconstitutional by federal district court in 1999.
  • 30:45 - The California Dream Act helps undocumented students apply for financial aid to attend eligible California colleges, universities, and career programs.
  • 30:49 - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that allows certain individuals who meet program requirements to get request a grant of deferred action.”
  • 31:39 - Since 1986, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) “has since become one of the largest and most effective advocates for immigrant rights, organizing, educating and defending immigrants and refugees in the streets, in the courts, and in the halls of power.”
  • 34:55 - To learn more about the workshop Maria created, Unraveling the Undocumented Identity, click here.
  • 35:55 - The Dao or Tao is a Chinese philosophy from Confucianism that represents the path or the ethical and moral way that people should behave in society.
  • 53:29 - Acupressure is similar in practices to acupuncture, but the practitioner uses the pressure from their hands and fingers instead of needles.
  • 54:00 - Cupping uses glass cups that are heated with fire then placed onto the body. The heat creates a suction effect and this is believed to increase blood flow and qi.
  • 54:34 - Moxibustion is similar to acupuncture, but moxa wool or mugwort is burned on the meridians.
  • 54:41 - Combing is an extension of Tui Na massage which helps guide qi through the limbs and meridians of the body.
  • 01:01:27 - To listen to Ep. 2 with Jenny Walters, LMFT, click here.
  • 01:13:30 - Qi gong is a practice of energy work that involves different movements or symptoms to facilitate the qi coursing through and around the body.

Enjoying this? Subscribe to The Family Thrive for more healthy recipes, video classes, and more.

Justin: Our guest today began her journey as a healer when as a child, she had to protect her younger sisters from bullies. Ever since then, Maria Barrera has had a calling for protecting the vulnerable. And Audra and I have had a first row seat in seeing how she puts this into practice today for children with serious health conditions.

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist. But today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in pediatrics. She's also trained in traditional Chinese medicine with our good friend, Dr. Ruth McCarty from episode five.

We met Maria while she was working with Ruth in pediatric acupuncture and Audra and I got to see firsthand how intuitive and connected Maria was with kids and parents who face some pretty challenging diagnoses.

Eventually, I had the pleasure of working with Maria on a study with Children's Hospital of Orange County, where we brought childhood cancer families together to receive acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine together in a supportive group environment. It was amazing to see how Maria brought families together and helped children heal and bond. I'll never forget that time.

Today, Maria is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, California, and a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California. She is also secretary of the board of trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association. And in this episode, we hear some amazing stories about how Maria's childhood led her into a life of service and healing, how she went from political organizing to Traditional Chinese Medicine, how her cultural heritage influences her approach to healing, and we get her recommendations for how parents can bring more health and healing and thriving into their daily practices. Without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Maria Barrera.

We got to know you through Open Mind Modalities. But then I think it was the Ohana Project that really kind of connected us together. Do you remember that?

Maria: I do. So I remember I started with Open Mind Modalities in, oh, my gosh, September 2018, I believe. So I was going in the office and I remember seeing you a lot, Justin, because you would go Saturday mornings, because that's when I was going. And I would, oh, I would also go Fridays. That's so true. And I just remember seeing Justin on Saturdays. But seeing Audra on Fridays.

And Audra was just always so like radiant and vibrant. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, who is that woman?” Like I just remember just, like being attracted to your energy, Audra. But yes, I think like when we started working together was during the Ohana Project. And that's when I just, I remember you presenting, Justin, because I don't think there was like a formal presentation out roots bart, but it was just like it all just kind of blended together. Then I learned, both of you were married and I was like, “oh, my gosh, what?”

Justin: Like, how is this radiant being over here married to this nerd?

Maria: No, what I liked about you, Justin, is you're just so light, your energy is light and happy and always like, you know, our intellectual conversations.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: You know, so I just individually thought both of you are amazing humans. And then I learned you're married. And I was like, “oh, my gosh, this is so wonderful.” So that was really nice. And honestly, I don't think I've got to say this to both of you, because we never got to say the goodbye. But you were like such an important part. I mean, you are, but like really such an important part for OMM to really feel like a family to me. Because I'm a practitioner there on Fridays and Saturdays. You know, we work alone. And, you know, the staff receptionist, obviously, that's my team. But to be able to see your work and be part of it, that's really what made OMM just feel so warm and welcoming to me. So I thank you both. I don't think I ever got to say that.

Justin: Oh, my gosh.

Audra: Oh, Maria, that's beautiful.

Justin: Really special to hear.

Audra: And likewise. You know, I think that we felt so integrated and it's so much less isolating. You know, when we had our first office that opened in Santa Ana, and it was wonderful because families would come in for the Broth Bank and all of that, it still felt like we were a little, we'd have events, you know, and try to connect in person that way. But once we teamed up with the OMM to open that office, we really got to build community around healing.

Justin: One thing that I wanted to do was give listeners a little bit of a context. So what Maria was talking about with the Open Mind Modalities office in Orange, California, just a couple of blocks from CHOC Hospital and MaxLove Project is our nonprofit that we started way back in 2011 when Max was first diagnosed. And it's had different offices over time, but we were lucky enough in what was it? 2017?

Audra: Yeah, Ruth and I started working on it in 2016. Easily, it took us well over a year probably to get in there.

Justin: And that's when we moved.

Audra: We co-located, yeah. We planned and looked at properties, planned to move in together and we actually committed together to an office space. It has a significant group treatment area or waiting room, if you would like. We have an exceptionally large waiting room, which is very rare for any type of office. Right, because just square footage wise and in Southern California is so expensive, it's hard to, you know, to afford that.

But because we're doing it together, MaxLove Project and Open Mind Modality, supports it every month to make sure that we have an area. We have beautiful, we have a reading nook, we have an area for kids to do their homework. We have all kinds of opportunities for families to sit on the couches together and to get treatment together. So it's a really, really beautiful space and something that is completely unusual.

And Maria, we had, we spoke with Ruth on the show recently, and we were talking about that magic of qi, really that power of this energy and how it was a realization for me that in group treatment, that is so much of what's happening, is this qi energy, this life force that is shared among everyone in the space as you’re nurturing and supporting qi like with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities, is also through the group environment. It's really beautiful. And it's the biggest hole that I've seen in what we've done with COVID having to empty out that space that we've committed to not use it for the past year.

Maria: Yeah, I think it's, I think, you know, as we were like laughing a lot like a minute ago and like, my eyes got filled with tears, there were happy tears, but I also feel that also happened right at this moment, too, because I feel safe with both of you.

And as a practitioner, I think a lot of practitioners right now are people that are caretaking, you know, the health of others, like it's really been difficult. There's so much grieving happening. We're in a mass grieving time. And so people are coming in so heavy.

And so you know, like you were mentioning about the qi, like as soon as a person comes into the room and they start talking. I'm just feeling it, like I'm feeling the sorrow or the grief or kind of that mixed emotion. I don't know what I'm feeling or why I'm feeling it. So I think the tears right now are just when you come into safe spaces, right like that Ohana Project. When we were in the waiting area there, there was something so powerful about collective healing. Right? Just as we're having a collective grieving right now. So I think that's the part that I see, I also feel that emptiness, like we're all hurting so much and it's so difficult to then not come together and process it together.

Justin: Oh, my god.

Maria: Yeah. And so I think even just doing what we're doing right now, just talking to each other and, you know, intentional space, I think that's also part of just what we need to do as a family or as any kind of collective. Just talk about how you're actually like feeling and processing and then laugh together.

And so I think well, I don't know. I'm just going to tie this in because that's what I'm feeling right now. But like that's why the Ohana Project when we did that spoke so much to me, because I think both of you know, I was a community organizer before I was an acupuncturist. And so I was a community organizer for immigrant rights, specifically for like undocumented young people and older. And when we would have what we call these membership meetings, where we talk about political updates and how to take action, but we would also talk about like what does it feel like to be undocumented, like what are you going through? And there was nothing like that sharing of stories together. And at the end of the meetings, we would do different things, sometimes we would hold hands and chant together.

Justin: Wow.

Maria: And that was so powerful. And so when it tied back, you know, now is an acupuncturist. And I actually made that decision to go from kind of being macro impact. Right. I would talk to hundreds, even thousands of people. I decided to switch to kind of like heal one person at a time. And that's what I, how it started. But I felt like the evolution, what's happening again and naturally.

Justin: Yeah. And that truly is it. I'm going back.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. I’m back to macro. But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online?

Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during COVID. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this COVID thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face-to-face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLoveProject.org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story. I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah...But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online? Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during Covid. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this Covid thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face to face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLove Project dot org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story? I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: And so, and I'm only referencing that, too, because it takes me back to being nine years old, I guess. And I shared the story that I, at 9 years old, or I was 11? I don't remember. I found myself having to stand up to these two bullies. And I just like stand up, like speak my voice. I had to beat them up. And that's the only fight I've ever been in.

Audra: In your entire life.

Maria: OK, so this is where, how I knew, you kind of like the healing part. I think the connection is because I experienced hardship. My heart has always been with anybody that's experiencing hardship like that feels just like a very high priority to me. Let's say there was like 10 people in the room and I know something or get a hint of somebody that, you know, I automatically feel like attracted or like I want to talk to that person more. So I was born in Mexico, in Jalisco. So like, you know where you get the key lime?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: And mariachi. Which is also kind of I would also say it's also kind of a privilege because we're a dominant community here in Southern California. You see like Mexican, Jalisco culture everywhere. So we're very much affirmed in like, you know, in our culture.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Mexican from Jalisco. Anyhow, so I came to the United States when I was 6 years old. And of course, like, you know, we didn't have much. So we moved in with my aunt into her garage, like her actual garage, just converted into a house or a little room. And I was four, four girls. And by this time, there was four of us and my parents. So we didn't have a bathroom in there.

So we had to like consistently knock and be like, “Hey, can I come in?” And so I had two older cousins, like three years older. And so there was this kind of like shaming on their part towards us, towards the daughters. And there was four of us, and I'm the oldest. And so this went on over a long period of time, like three years. And I just think one of the times it was just like it was just too much. So they, I don't think I put this in the story, but they were not only calling my little sisters names, they ended up like spitting at my little sister, like two of them.

Justin: That was in the story. It was like very vivid. Yeah.

Maria: I was so like I can, I was enraged. So I just chased both of them like down the street, like running hard. I don't even know how I ended up. But like basically the story in my memory ends like I have. I'm not proud of the violence. Basically I have my hands, like crammed into their hair like this, like don’t know how to describe that. Like gripping the back of their hair, like by their neck and like on their knees on the side of me. And so my aunt comes out, she's like, you know, “let them go.” And I didn't. I remember I stayed there for like a good hour until my mom got home.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Maria: And she was like, “let them go.” And I did. I think that's also like one of the things that this time and space is teaching all of us is that things are not black and white and that one thing doesn't negate the other. And so although this moment of like, it was like violence and fury, it really reaffirmed like I am a keeper of my sisters, which then really tied into like. Then I talked to them about what happened, and I would. So they just really tied into like I'm also their healer.

Justin: So, Maria, can you go into that talk? So you describe that talk that you had with your sisters.

Maria: Oh, my gosh. OK, I don't probably, don't remember it. I didn't reread that. But I just said, like, whatever people tell you about you, like that's not who you are. You are who you say you are. What did I say, Justin? So that you can tell me.

Justin: I don't have it in front of me. But what stuck with me, it was that message like, you are worthy, you are beautiful. You are strong. Like it was like I mean, it was like, really affirming and like you went back to them, you're like “you are not what those bullies said you are.” And that was really powerful.

Maria: I mean, it was just, it was so important to me to reaffirm that like to just remind them that one, we don't have to put up with people basically just abusing you, you know, and that then you don't internalize that. You remember that.

Justin: But to have that wisdom at 11 or 9.

Maria: I know.

Justin: Where did you get it?

Maria: I know. But I think it's again, because I would see my parents leave like at four in the morning, like because they had to catch the bus. You know what I'm saying? And they're tired. And then be like, I left this, you know, make sure like. So I just saw they’re like I don't even know how to explain it, because it's also not a fair thing. You know, like I don't, I think we keep romanticizing like hard work and sacrifice.

And I feel like I don't like that because it's cost people their lives. Like especially right now in COVID, like especially in California or Southern California. It's like the Latino community, like the working class is the one that has been mostly affected and not just like affected. It's like deaths, like, you know, like it's the highest rate of death is in the Latino community because of COVID.

And it's because of the overwork and the keep going even though you're tired. And so, I just think I was a kid that observed that and then just, it was just maybe connected to what I just said. Like I've lived a lot of lives. So I was alright. It was like inherent there. And it woke up really, really early. I also connected to like realizing when I was undocumented. So that's when I was 11, too. I was in fifth grade, and it was like Proposition 187 was trying to pass in California by Governor Pete Wilson. The fact that I even remember he was the governor.

And it was the time where they were trying to pass, I think it was a proposition, a statewide proposition to take all kind of public services with an urgent care, hospital, primary education for anybody who was undocumented. And I remember as a fifth grader, just imagining the principal calling my name on the intercom, coming to get me from my classroom and walking into the office and everybody watching me. Like that was what played in my mind, like, “Oh, my gosh, everybody's going to know I'm undocumented.” So I feel like all those things layered with whatever wisdom I was already born with, just, it was the alchemy, right?

Justin: Yeah. Oh, wow.

Maria: I need to be. Yeah. Yeah. Like I need to do something. Yeah.

Audra: Maria, it also strikes me or I'm curious around this that your cousins the bullies. Is it fair to say that they had pretty thoroughly internalized the racism and the narratives that were directed towards them and your family?

Maria: I think it was not racism, but the classism, right?

Audra: Classism.

Maria: Like, “Oh, they're poor and they're living in our garage.”

Audra: Right.

Maria: And as a child, you always unless you're directed a difference is something you exploit, unless you give it a direction like, “Hey, we don't say things about people's hair, like everybody's different.” I just think, you know, again, working-class parents on their end, they're not around either.

Audra: What I was thinking was that, you know, these kids in this family aren't it's family likely in Southern California? Was it, is it likely you saw this in some way, too? So if it's not, you know, if it's something that you don't have someone like you in your life to help you understand, like you did with your sisters and to help you work through this onslaught that's directed at.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: That you would internalize and very often in that internalization is also the acting out, not justifying at all, but just looking at that dynamic like space you're in as you're developing your activism, you're in a home, like with family that has surely been affected by these narratives and these messages.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: And you are the more recent immigrants coming in. And then this sort of this aggression and violence is directed towards you, you know, sort of as in that flow and you come on board as an activism and you're addressing some of the root causes of all of it. I see what you're saying.

Maria: Yeah. Yeah, I see what you're saying. Yeah. That’s 100% correct, that the recent immigrant and I don't even know if our skin was darker and all but yeah, that was 100%.

And like a lot of bullies, like they don't feel good about themselves. So they, you know, beat up on other people and that's what makes them feel good about themselves. So, yeah, I hadn't really inserted that before in my as I you know, my analysis of that. But that makes sense. The narratives that they had basically absorbed, unlike what a new immigrants to this country means.

Justin: How is your relationship with them today?

Maria: It's so funny, because I think this is telling of healing like it takes years and literally like a week ago now, putting them on blast, so sorry. One of them actually reached out to my sister and wrote her just like a text, like “I'm sorry for the way I behaved.” Oh, yeah. And yeah, it's beautiful.

Like I just feel like I was always healing. And it takes a long time, right? Because we're talking about time and now we're all in our thirties and. Yeah, late 30s. So we're talking about twenty-something years.

I think one of the things that I love about acupuncture, the fact that I'm a healer in a position like this is that I keep telling people that my patients are just, you know, because I'm in this position that healing doesn't have to take that long. And we don't have to hold on to things for years, like 20 years. That is a drain of our energy. That's a drain of our qi. And we're in, again, in a time of space with like all the movement that's happening in the world and our paradigms being shifted. Like now we talk about death like consistently, right, because people are passing. So it's like just remembering that it doesn't, you don't have to hold on to pain like this for a long, this long. Like healing could happen faster and not that fast is good, but rather you being a healed person is good. And then the sooner you're able to get there, the happier and lighter you'll be.

Audra: And in Maria, it sounds like you did not hang on to all of that that you endured with your cousins. It sounds like, I mean, you returned from that experience. You kind of took the power back. You know, you expressed yourself and you went home and you coached your sister. But it doesn't sound like you hung onto this. Like how did you know to do that? Or what was your healing response like as a kid?

Maria: I think, I don't think it was that I didn't hang onto it. I think it was like I was really busy with other challenges. Like in fifth grade was when I then became, I went from a bilingual education. Right. Because there is a distinction. Right. Bilingual education, is you look, you use your primary language to learn the second language. Right. English as a second language has been treated more of like, you have some kind of impairment in your learning because you don't know English. But anyway, at that school I went to, I was lucky. I was in bilingual education. And then fifth grade was when I was transitioned into complete English classes.

Anyway, so in fifth grade was when I was making my you know, the immigrant experience, what we call is like you're trying to immerse yourself now fully in the culture. So when my sister was not doing that, I kept kind of like shunning her, like she would try to talk to me in the playground. And I was like, “Hey, like go away.” Yeah. So then I became a bully to her and it's because I was trying to, I'm using the correct word is called immerse, but that's not the word I'm trying to think of, like…

Justin: Assimilate.

Maria: Assimilation. Thank you, Justin. The assimilation, as it's understood here in the states, is basically you strip yourself from your culture and anything associated, whether it's clothes, whether it's language, whether it's food. And then you become American or you're trying to become American. And it's so funny. My fifth-grade teacher was a super like American white woman. Her name was Miss Smith. And she would make, you know, you have to say the flag every day.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Well, she would not just make us do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We would sing like a patriotic song.

Justin: Oh, gosh.

Maria: So I literally know the United States, the United States, I love of my country, the United States. Alabama, and then…

Justin: Oh, my gosh, I can't even imagine. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Maria: So it was clear to me as a kid, like I made it, I need to stick with this. Whoever is trying to hold me back is not going to, not even if it's on my sister. So, you know how we talk about the healing. So like even to this day, like I tell my sister, “I'm so sorry.” And she's like, “Dude, I already said this like it's ok. Like it's ok.”

But like you as the perpetrator, like kids, like I still feel like I mean, not anymore, because like really in the last years, her and I have just you know, we're like this like peanut butter and jelly. And so we've always been peanut butter jelly, but there was like a little transition. But anyway, it's now until now, again, I'm 36 that I kind of feel like fully resolved with what I did. But again, it's something that when you hurt somebody like that, you know, like but you're a kid, it's like you know what I'm saying? Like it's not like I was trying to be mean on purpose. I was like surviving, I have to be accepted by this new crew, you know?

Justin: Yeah. So, Maria, I want to transition into acupuncture now. So, I mean, we got an idea for what kind of the first sparks of this healing journey or this journey to become a healer for you was. So when did acupuncture come on the scene? When did this as a specific modality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, become something that you knew was going to be your way into actually touching people?

Audra: And Maria, if you need to dip into the lifetime, that is between this trial, this fifth grade assimilation and get into your organizing. And I think you also had some spiritual work in between that to get to the answer to this question. Feel free to go there.

Maria: Yeah, that's so. Yeah, that's yeah. So leading up to how I even came across acupuncture, which really I should just say I stumbled upon it.

Audra: Ok, that’s great.

Justin: You were not searching for it. It just kind of hits you that out of left field.

Maria: And it literally did not set out there organizing for like six years, but being active for like 10 years because I became active when I was 17. Again, the undocumented piece, I needed to take action. I got involved with CHIRLA as a like student, high school student, activist. And, you know, it was not even though I was an activist, like the only reason why I went to that initial meeting was because I knew I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't get financial aid and my college advisor couldn't really help me, because at the time, there really wasn't anything.

Audra: There weren’t tools.

Maria: There's no California Dream Act. There's no DACA. We're talking about like 2000, yeah the year 2000. So we're still like undocumented young people. We're still following our parents' behavior, which is hide, don't cause a ruckus, like don't draw attention to yourself. So anyway, I talked to my college advisor. I mean, I was like a 4.2 honors AP, you know, marching band, you know, kind of profile. And so my college advisor was like, “yeah, that's great. Like, you'll do great.” And I was like, “oh, but I'm undocumented.” Like I felt trust enough to tell her she was wonderful. Miss Hop I love you. Like, oh, she was wonderful.

But that was like outside of her expertise. So that's when I was like, how do I need to do something? Anyway, I got a hold of this organization called CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. And the only reason why I went to the meeting was because the guy said, “Oh, yeah, and we have scholarships.”

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Maria: I was like, where's your money? But in that meeting, they're talking about legislation called 8540. And they were asking if somebody could speak at a press conference and share their testimony. And one thing that I've always done in my life is kind of follow what my body feels.

And so I remember feeling that like butterfly like belly heat, you know, I was like, well, like I just like I don't you know, I just my hand raised almost automatically. I mean, I'm from then on, I became one of the poster children for that campaign, and I say this kind of when I say the story, but like I probably cried most of the time during the press conference, like I would speak, but then just like the pain of like I'm just a young person trying to go to college, like why do I have to do all of this is like, why do I have to display my pain to make, to convince you?

Justin: But it was that display that was so powerful. I mean, that you were able to go there was always so powerful.

Maria: But now we're like so much more progressive and advanced that we're even as undocumented people are just people who don't fit the cookie-cutter is like, why do I have to be in pain and consistently try to convince you of my humanity, my inherent right to, you know, life happiness, you know, pursuit of happiness or whatever the Constitution says. And you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: Yes. During that time, it was appropriate. And exactly what you're saying, Justin. During that time, that's really what made it impactful. Like when I testified in front of like, I think was the Senate Education Committee, again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I had like the senators like there crying because here's this little 17-year-old Mexican girl crying.

Obviously, that experience changed my life. And so I went to UC Davis, started the first undocumented support group there. But again, it wasn't political for me. It was like I brought these people together because I wanted to hear them, because I wanted us to heal together. So just like their seeds each time of just like healing.

So I actually became a Christian during college. I was a Bible study leader. So I like held Bible study group, Bible study every week. So I would use the scripture and then gather people and then through the scripture, we would heal.

So what I learned in my experience is that anything is a tool for healing and not to diminish, you know, Jesus or Christianity like anything could be it. It could be over food or it could be over a sport like anything could be that inspiration, right. To heal. And then after that, that's when I started with CHIRLA. Again, political activists like this was the time that I was, it was my full-time job. Like this is what I did a day in, day out.

But even during that, I developed this, just different workshops. One of them that they still use now, which is like 10 years later. And it was it's called Unraveling the Undocumented Identity. So it was like an hour and a half workshop to like guide people through, you know, first thinking about it critically. And I can't remember right now, but I said undocumented. I made it a definition, I put it is a forced identity by a government to disenfranchise. And I put like three words, disenfranchise, disempower a group of people. So it's just like a made up. If you think about it, it's a made-up identity.

So that's when I learned my healing powers even more, because I did it as a group. And so I was completely burned out. I don't know. I was, what attracted me to acupuncture, ok, to be 100% transparent was the esoteric part of it, was the energetic part. It was like, oh, the qi, oh, I have points, energy points in my body that I can't touch but can do something for me or really the Tao.

The Tao is the approach that we are like body, mind, and spirit, and that we consistently have to be in balance with nature, which, you know, right before that, I had started to go to sweat lodges consistently. And again, I was blessed to be able to have that. And so learning about like the spirituality of first nation people, in this case, the Lakota. And so it kind of like just all connected really beautifully. So it attracted me for the energetic part. But like now maybe that I'm a practitioner. After four years, I'm going back to the energetic part, because the first four years, it's all because we're…

Justin: Technique.

Maria: A Western-dominated medicine, a country which is great Western medicine. I mean, you both know firsthand what Western medicine can do. You know, you had to have to be very linear, like learn this diagnosis. I like that. But now I'm able to bridge back even more around, like the energy part of like, hey, the food you eat is energy. Like it's you got to set an intention and your body and your qi, you got to basically, like Athena and I and, you know, my daughter, Athena, and I consistently like use sage to cleanse our energy, like to cleanse the qi, because, you know, the energy part we don't talk about a lot, but it's really part of our daily existence.

Justin: The thing that sticks out in my mind is you described like an energy in your belly when you went to the first organizing meeting. And so I just wonder, like just feeling these kind of big energetic surges within you. Is that what clicked when you heard about qi and when you heard about acupuncturists like, “Oh, like that explains this.”

Maria: It’s the funniest thing, Justin, because what clicked for me “Oh this is the medicine” I want to beat was when I was I got my first treatment and I was laying face up and I had gone because I wanted to work on regulating my menstrual cycle. So you're, it's so crazy you’re tying it in because he did belly points on me, and that's what I felt like. I felt the qi moving in my belly.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: I was like, “Oh, my god, like this unreal.”

Audra: Yes.

Justin: That's awesome.

Maria: 100 percent. Yes. I couldn't believe that like, well, so because he did the needles... He was really handsome too by the way.

Justin: That was the energy going on.

Maria: Yeah. Oh, I was married and I came home and I told my husband at the time the story, he's like…

Justin: Who is this dude?

Maria: And I was like, yeah. He's like, “Yeah, I could tell by the way you're talking about him.” But anyway... But like after, so anybody who gets acupuncture treatment, you're going to feel this like we'll do the needles and you'll begin to like, because this is my first time that I'm describing.

So you don't know what you feel. But as you lay there, like I just felt like these swirls in my belly, like in each point that he had done, I felt these swirls and I was like, “Oh, man, like this is real, like this is it.” So that's when I became a 100% committed to becoming a traditional acupuncturist, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.

Justin: That's awesome.

Audra: Oh, wow. Maria, this is so beautiful. I have to say, I kept getting these visuals as you were telling the story of your beautiful energy, you sharing this beautiful energy with everyone around you. And what really impacted me, too, in this assigned identity for you you have this assigned identity that this society and culture has placed on you.

And again and again and again and how you have had the critical distance and that core soul like who you are, that is completely tied with this energy that has been just such a secure part of your knowing about your life has allowed you to have a critical distance to say that's a point of identity that's not mine, or does it need to be mine, or I can take that on if I want, but I don't have to.

And so, I feel like so many people are like, oh, those sorts of people do that. Right. Those sorts of people go to Chinese medicine or those sorts of people do this thing, or though and I'm this sort of person. And we keep ourselves from experiencing so much in the world sometimes because we don't see ourselves as the sort of people who go and do these other things, right?

You were able to follow your soul in that energetic flow and your spirit to where you needed to go next and where you were being called next. And it just really impacted me as like I could almost see it as you were describing it.

Maria: Yes. I actually love that you're saying that because you're right, like does a Latina become a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, you know, and no, like that's not something that. But it actually just flowed and made so much sense for me because it was like it was healing.

It was healing for me to be reaffirmed in the things that my grandma used to do or my mom does to like tell me to drink a certain tea. Usually juxtapose like to know you should take this medication. The medication gets like this higher value and...

Audra: Right.

Maria: Yeah. And then it was like, oh, wait. So if I saw the cinnamon does help. And I was one of the things when I was applying to acupuncture school, like they asked me like, why do you want to, you know, I had to fill out an essay.

And that's one of and Justin you addressed this question to me was like I was like, oh, that's right. Like every time I'm getting sick, my mom would make canela, you know, cinnamon sticks tea and it would help me feel better.

And so come to the farm pharmacology book in TCM, which is like six inches thick. They have like ten pages on cinnamon, like the properties when it goes to, when it what dynasty it was used in, like the case studies. And it just reaffirmed that piece of like, yeah, our knowledge is true and real. It just, you know, because we were a country that was conquered because of our own inherent like, I don't know, civilization, no weaknesses like the Aztecs right. There were in fighting. So then come the Spanish. And it was just like the perfect moment for them to take over and the Aztec civilization.

But like we've always been a very rich country culturally, like in every way. And so it's been a very healing like and even like when, I have I don't know how to explain a feeling, but like women, I there's a lot of like, like I could think of my grandma or that maybe we’re like, oh, that's just weird. Like, why are you like, why do you say that works or are you thinking that like, I feel like every time I'm able to tell somebody confidently because I have this white coat or like this degree and they believe me, they're like, “Ok, yeah. You know what you're talking about.” I almost feel like I see my grandma smiling.

Audra: Oh, it's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. And that's been. Yeah. As of recent, actually, because so many times, like traditional healers in a lot of countries, especially women, are shunned as crazy or like the witch or whatever. And that's what I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine, which again, now we're like pushing are like the movement is to call it Eastern medicine or traditional Asian medicine.

It just, it was able to package it in such a way where it's not just the claim, like they have the pharmacology to tell you exactly. And the diagnosis and basically how to explain to somebody outside of just like, well, my grandma has been using it for, you know, 60 years and it works. So it's been a very wonderful and healing journey. And everything I'm telling you is so recent, like I'm talking about this word of like healing, like is literally is happening in the last like six months.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Maria: Mhm. Yeah. Because I feel like now I'm in a place as a practitioner where I'm where I feel like really comfortable with the medicine. I'm able to you know, when you're learning a craft or an art like this, you're diligently. I feel like now I'm able to kind of be a little bit more creative, especially with COVID.

Acupuncture and herbs can help treat symptoms of COVID. And so it's been really wonderful to kind of like go back to my books and remember, like what herbs are for what? And because now it's more about like talking about customized formulas, because that's the strength of TCM for when it treats symptoms of COVID. We're going by what the virus is doing to you versus kind of like…

Audra: A blanketed...

Maria: You know, like a same approach to everybody. But I love that I am TCM practitioner in Southern California and I'm a Latina because I felt like it was helping reaffirm a lot of the things that my culture already knows about herbs and like healthy eating or just like things like don't step on the floor if it's cold, like don't expose your back if there's wind. Like in TCM it like has that in so many of our books.

Audra: You were telling me like not to drink cold water, like in the office, you're like, “Don't drink the cold water.” Which I had nothing. I didn't know anything about that.

Maria: Yeah. So like the whole thought behind it is you want to have your body to be at homeostasis. Right? And so our bodies are at 98, you know, 98.6, 98.7. So you always want to have your body to be about that temperature, because that's like the optimal environment for circulation, digestion.

And obviously, there is exceptions in the sense, like if you're a woman who's in menopause, like you're going to get hot flashes. So you're going to want, or like, you know, like children or people after chemotherapy, they get so hot that, you know, they want to feel something cold.

Audra: You're balancing at that point. Right. Yeah.

Maria: You're balancing. And then that's when you also have to be sensitive as a practitioner, like you can't just be so, you know, hard-line. So most of the things we're always saying, it's like a general like principles to follow. But yeah. And then my mom would tell me that all the time, don't drink, especially if you're on your period. Don't drink cold stuff...

Audra: Really?

Maria: You know, and then now there's an actual diagnosis in TCM, in our books. There's an explanation. There's a formula for it that's called cold entering the blood chamber, which means cold entering the womb. It's so pragmatic. It's so like this is a symptom. These are the herbs. This is how you heal it, you know.

Audra: So you're finding these natural synergies and shared knowledge between TCM and your cultural heritage background, the things that your mother and grandmother were talking about.

Are you finding that now that you're in that flow of your own practice, you're getting more creative, like you said, are you able to bring your cultural heritage into your practice? Is that something that you kind of naturally do? Is it a point of conversation with some of your clients? Like what is that like for you?

Maria: Yeah, I think it's more of a point of conversation with the client, because I'll hear them say, “Oh, I thought that was always like a myth. Like my grandmother would always tell me that.”

Audra: Really?

Maria: I was like, no, it's not. Like one of the things I want to do is, well, one, go to China and be there immersed again. I didn't have the chance to while I was studying because I was a new mom, but also go to Mexico to learn like what are the traditional herbs there outside of kind of like these like other connections, you know, like I said, the cinnamon or the ginger stuff like that, because I think that will be like when it's actually customized, more like Mexican specific or not just Mexican, but like Latino-America type.

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: What are the plants that are native there? But then it goes the same way, like what are the plans that are native here? So like when I talk to herbalists here, they know a lot about the native plant. And I'm like, I don't know that.

Like what I know is what I specialized in was Chinese herbs. So I just no Chinese herbs. And so sometimes it surprises me. Well, for example, Bòhé. Right. That's how you say it in Pinyin Chinese. And it's like, oh, that's mint, you know what I'm saying? So an herbalist knows mint right off the bat.

And I'm like, because one of the questions Justin asked that I thought was interesting was like, what are you working on? Or like, what do you want to accomplish? I think that's one of the things that as now I’m in a, like a different space with the medicine. I do want to tie in learning more about like the native plants where I am. Right. Southern California and then long term, I'm actually going to Mexico and being able to learn some of the more healing practices there, because it's just so expansive, just the same way.

Like one of the things that like Mexican culture teaches is like this thing called “sustos”, which means freight, which means like some experiences, cause you're kind of your spirit or your soul to leave your bodies or you're going on every day like living and behaving. But something scared you to the point where you're you're like and this can be compared in psychology to some extent, like the child self. Right, where like you've left the child parts.

Justin: The parts, parts. Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. The parts. And then you, exactly. And you bring so there's like ceremonies to call back, you know, the soul…

Justin: The exiled parts.

Maria: To enticed it back, to enter. Now that it's safe. And so those kinds of like because a lot of that's amazing to me about like anxiety or they feel like I feel absent in my body. Like that's a description I hear a lot. And so like being able to like maybe tell them I wouldn't tell it to everybody because again, I have to play.

And Ruth knows this better than anybody, right? Because she's in the hospital. You have to play this balance where like you don't talk a lot about spirit or energy when you're doing or talking to somebody who came to you with a strictly Western diagnosis and they are just like, here, fix my back. So, you know, you don't bring all this other stuff, but like with the other patients that are like more intrigued than I can say things like that and would love to bring back some of the knowledge from Mexican healers.

Justin: So, Maria, you mentioned your grandmother and your mother, and to me, I sense this like lineage, this like connection to the lineage. And so when you became a mother, you are a mother now. Is there a specific way that you being a mom, you being a mother, has influenced how you approach medicine, healing this whole world that you work in?

Maria: One of the very traditional things Mexican culture teaches you, and it was actually kind of to a fault like so postpartum being indoors for 30 days was and has been a big teaching.

Sometimes it went like too extreme like I've talked to like older women who are like in their 60s, where like the mother to the daughter that gave birth, didn't let her shower for 30 days because of the cold, because of the water. But anyway, so could be a little bit extreme. But one of the things that I 100% followed instruction on was that like, my mom's like, “Ok, make sure you're resting 30 days.”

And so and because of TCM like and backed it up again, going back to the cold, entering the blood chamber type of approach, you're basically very vulnerable, like your bones literally expanded. So there's a lot of space in between, so cold and pathogens and wind and all of that can enter. So I made sure that, you know, didn't do anything for. And again, that's privilege right? I didn't have to work. My partner took care of me like all of that. So anyway, I did want to mention how like a practice then was affirmed by TCM. And then that's also why I followed it. And because I had the privilege of being able to follow it.

Working like being trained by a pediatric acupuncturist. Because I was a mom, I was, I became inclined to learn about kids. Right. Because I wanted to know. So I think like the mere fact that I was a mom automatically, or I became a mom, attracted me to pediatrics. Right. Because then I wanted to know how to help my own kid.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: I knew the medicine, but not like customized to a kid that, you know, I think we took one class, if that. One of the things that I love about TCM and children is that I could see how fast the qi moves.

So like I say, they have a bellyache or pain with children. Well, the approach is that, you know, you balance it out, right? Like needles are kind of, you know, very can be very invasive. So anyway, so we do acupressure with essential oils. Right. So I can tell you every single time. So I'll put the central oil on my finger and then place it on the acupuncture point and I can feel the qi under my finger is moving. And so once I stop, once I feel the qi stop, then I know it's time. I already did it. And that could be in 30 seconds to a minute.

And so, and I noticed that mostly always in children. I don't know if it's maybe because I do acupressure more on children or when I do the cupping. When I do like the flash cupping, I can feel, so children have high qi right. They're active. So their qi is like constantly moving fast. And so when I'm doing the flash cupping, it's like I'm moving that qi, pulling any of that access qi out so that they can feel calm.

And so one of the things that's, one of the things I just love about TCM, that it's so flexible and that we have so many modalities like, “Oh, they don't want acupressure. Ok, what about moxibustion? Oh, they don't want you know, they're not, they're scared of the fire in the mugwort? Ok, so then let's do the combing.” And so I just love how versatile it is and how I can just really modify it per child.

And I think like connected back to, you know, MaxLove or just like children who are experiencing cancer and cancer therapy. I feel I don't know if it's because they're filling my cup really, because I leave feeling so full. But like I also see how the points are just a treatment I'm doing. Helps them fill back up because a lot of the children who are oncology patients, they are forced for their body to be deficient, especially when they're doing chemo, because it's basically a toxin. Right? So it's like we're trying to kill the bad guy, but we're killing good guys, too.

So a lot of the time I just see how full like after treatment, you know, like just this past Saturday with the four-year-old, you know, patient, it's been like I think we're on treatment six, him and I. So finally, he's more comfortable and he was honest, but he doesn't like moxibustion, like he's scared of the fire. But we were able to like position him where he was like on his belly, on his phone. And so I was able to do like acupuncture point by the ankles, which is a kidney point, because we want to strengthen the kidneys and TCM like the kidneys are responsible for the essence, like the longevity. So anyway, like as I'm doing moxibustion, I and just seeing his, it's almost like I just see the energy like lift back up. So that literally just happened yesterday and that consistently happened.

So I've been really blessed to have Ruth like guide me and Dr. Ruth guide me and teach me. Because now it's like now I'm flying. Like now I just feel so comfortable with children and I'm able to just be just like the medicine. I'm able to be really versatile and flexible in order to help them, you know, in the best way that I can or know how.

Audra: And they sense that.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: And they love you, too.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: You know, they feel immediately comfortable with you. But I do think when I hear you hear you talking, and for our listeners who will be more attuned in this way, I think one thing that's amazing is that you are referring to the pharmacology book in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is an evidence-based approach that goes back over three thousand years in China that you're just seeing backed up by this various forms of indigenous knowledge and things that are passed down generation after generation.

And then what you're speaking of, too, is an intuitive knowledge. It occurs to me, like Maria, it sounds like you see the energy. You just know, you feel it, you feel it in your touch. You have your knowing, you're an energy healer, you're an energy worker. And it's really it comes through so powerfully in how you followed where the energy is needing care and different modalities for this. I think it's just so amazing.

So I love to know today what is, this is Justin's wording. I love it. What is the edge of your personal thriving journey for you right now? Like what are you working on right now? You mentioned the goals that you have, which almost reminds me of like a shaman journey. Like I love hearing about it, but what's your personal thriving journey's edge today?

Maria: Because I've known you and in an intimate and feel in a safe space. It's like this whole energy stuff, like I don't I haven't talked about it and I haven't articulated in such a way, like it's really like everything is so recent, like so like the ground, like my grandmother, like me, bring her up a lot. That's really because I had her dream of her like two weeks ago and it was so vivid and like or just like the energy part, like I hadn't actually articulated that that's what I do. I've heard Ruth kind of talk about it, but I've never associated and said that's what I see or that's how I feel.

Audra: That’s powerful.

Maria: Until I'm talking to both of you. So, I feel like, yes, I really do want to acknowledge that only because it is a very special thing in that sense, that it's like my first time, like owning that or seeing it…

Justin: Owning that, wow.

Maria: Especially in regard to the approach with children, like being ever like, yeah, I do feel that, like I fill their cup. Again, I was thinking maybe it's the whole thing. I feel filled up. Right, because you feel so gratified. But yeah. So a lot of things that are coming up or I'm saying is so like right now, in the moment, as like self-epiphanies.

Audra: That's an important acknowledgment, I think. And I'm really, really glad that you brought that up and just kind of so that we can hold the space for that. It's something that I have incredible awe and appreciation for, Maria. And I just kept getting these feelings and visuals. And it's like I could see and feel and hear what you're saying. It's kind of like a form of an awakening, I guess.

And I have a number of friends who are in various spaces in energy work and healing as well, who have not had paths, anything like yours. But it feels like a similar sort of journey. And it's one that I really appreciate. And it is like a calling. However is it you want to put it or whatever words you want to use or anybody would want to use, you know, religious or not. It is also calling.

Justin: And also, you know, we feel more comfortable with this language now than I feel like we have in the past. And part of it is our own journey. So The Family Thrive is all about expertise. And so we have Western medical doctors, we have dietitians, we have clinical psychology. And we have all of these Western-credentialed experts on.

But we also, in the spirit of truly integrative medicine, we also have people who have expertise in this other realm of, you know, that there's flowing energy and this flowing energy can be blocked. And, you know, we can openly talk about it. Let's talk about what this experience is actually like.

And so you're on here because you're an expert. Not only have you been trained in a modality that Western medicine does recognize. Right. Acupuncture is recognized to help with things like pain and nausea. But then there's this other part. I think you, I love the word that you use esoteric, you know, this like esoteric part. But there is nothing wrong with opening up to this part and saying like there's an energetic flow here and let's talk about it.

Audra: Yeah, I couldn't agree more in talking to Jenny Walters this week on this show and Dr. Ruth as well. The theme was right there. So Jenny found her way to basically psychotherapy. Right. And then her continued work growing as a therapist with energy work and energy healing. That's really important to her. And a similar awakening. And she was an artist before that. And she was like, I'm doing the same thing with this. It's the same thing that is occurring in me when I engage with art and when I engage in therapy and supporting people and healing. And I'm hearing the same thing with you.

You found different spaces throughout your entire life to engage in healing practices with others and to help people heal. It's definitely a life's calling, but to see like the awakening of the energetic in this space from like a healing modality where you can say acupuncture needles do this to say, I can see and feel and realize. And she is so powerful and alive in all of us. And I am tapped in and tuned into that. Like that to me is another level. It's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. So I'm going to, I guess we could end with that question. What I wanted to say is like, yeah, I'm culturally sensitive. I'm resilient. Right. And I've had a self-healing journey. Those things should be things that are just as valid. Right, as research in a sense, because not only am I an expert in my field, I'm also an expert in these things. You know what I mean?

I've overcome challenges. And now I'm a resilient human right. I'm culturally sensitive by default. Right. Because I grew up immigrant. I grew up “the other,” and I've had an intentional healing journey.

So you're right. We're only able to talk about this because of the time we're in. Right. When we're all kind of ok, let's open our mind to other realities or just other things that have worked that we've basically like shunned out. And as a woman of color and as a Latina, that's also kind of like I couldn't just be outright. Right. Like it's kind of like that saying like if it's all white, it's all right. You both have heard that, I think.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: I don't know who says it, but basically like because there's white healers saying, hey, like this works or that works or like energy workers like it's now they've set the stage or I don't have to be automatically dismissed because they've already established, ok, this you know, this works. And here then I'm like, yeah, this I don't have to prove this works anymore and I don't have to prove that then I can do it like I…

Audra: They put a suit on it so you can accept it.

Maria: Yeah, and so, you know, I feel like I do hope that wasn't insulting.

Audra: No.

Maria: Ok. Yeah.

Audra: Not at all.

Maria: So but no. But that's like the real kind of like always like kind of feels like that in the sense like somebody has to prove it. And it's usually has to be, but it has to be a white person, I guess the way that I've perceived it to be able to say, hey, this works, then I can come on the stage. But I feel like, again, all those things are shifting now where that doesn't have to happen. Right.

Audra: Thank goodness.

Justin: Right.

Maria: Right. And so that's what I love about what you guys are doing, because it is the integration that is going to help most people. Right. It's like being able to not just go to your Western doctor, like go to the holistic healing. I mean, and, you know, acupuncture after that. And then that is like the best marriage, you know, of it all.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: So the things that are kind of like the edge of my personal thriving journey right now is I'm being challenged again to ensure that I actually have a self-care balance. And why I'm saying this is because, like I was mentioning at the beginning, there's so much grieving happening.

And three weeks ago, I had a dear, dear friend of mine pass from COVID, and he was somebody that was really important to me. I met him when I was first—thank you. I was first an organizer with CHIRLA. And so he wasn't just a friend and he was like just one of the healthiest male figures I had ever encountered in my life. And just see, he was so intelligent and just kind of like I would pass by his office almost every day and every day was something different, like, “Hey, have you heard about like the Belgium worker strike?” Like, how do you have time to read about the Belgium strike right now? He was just like. And he's just like so loving and so giving.

And you know, like people always say, like really sweet things about people that have passed. But it's like I'm not just saying that because he passed, like I would have said all of this like in life if he was alive. And so when he passed it, just like triggered like a lot of the grieving that I was already kind of helping hold for all my patient base. And if you look at my patient base, like, you know, it's a lot of people. And it's not just because I talk to them like I also, I touch them. I have to palpate sometimes to find the acupuncture point. And so there's always an energy exchange.

And so really, like in the last days or even just beginning last week, I'm like, I really need to be serious about maintaining my self-care and so I really have a herbal formula. So I started taking that more consistently in my own wellness center. Oh, I haven't even said that I'm a business owner of my own!

Justin: Oh, that’ll all be in the introduction.

Maria: Yeah, Athena Acupuncture Wellness Center. So I subleased to an acupuncturist there. So I'm like, I need to, I'm going to sign up for Tuesday to get treatment. So that's really like a big challenge again, that how are you balancing when you're helping heal so many people? Like it really does pull energy away from you. For a good purpose, but there's ways to protect your energy, and then, you know, now that there's COVID, I always come and take a shower before I didn't do that. But like a shower is really like also symbolic, like the water cleansing.

So that's one of the things I'm really like being forced to look at again. Like how are you maintaining the balance of the energy you're giving to the energy you’re replenishing?

Audra: Oh, such a powerful thing.

Maria: Yeah, it's a big thing, because then what's the point like? You're as healthy, you can only be as healthy as you are. That's how you can demand somebody else to be healthier like you as a practitioner. And I feel like that's one of the like, kind of very important things like that I value as a practitioner to my stuff. Like I hold myself to a high standard. Like I can't be doing things. I can't be asking patients to do things that I don't do.

Audra: That you don't do. Right.

Maria: So it's been that's kind of like what's on the chopping board for me, like, ok, hey, so what's up? And I guess the last tone would be kind of just really stepping into this role again, of being on the macro of like being almost again in the public eye after doing that for so long. I really went introverted, married. I had my child, finished my masters and then started like practicing. So I was really kind of an introvert, into introverted space. And that was intentional. I wanted that. And I feel like the universe…

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Oh, another butterfly moment. Yeah.

Maria: That's a challenge, because again, because it's like you're Latina, you do acupuncture. Does acupuncture even work? Is that a real thing? Like what you invested so much in that? So like, do you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: So that's the challenge. And also kind of being able to embody what I already know. The embodiment is basically that all humans right now, we're basically midwives for like this new earth, this new world view, this new disposition that we're all being forced to become, which is like, you know, loving and compassionate and understanding.

And so being able to accept that and also then just display that those were the places that I'm ok, like I'm getting pushed and I'm flowing with it. And it's a beautiful thing. But again, like it could be, you know, uncomfortable with that. So being able to be on the world stage again as a healer, I…

Audra: Absolutely,

Justin: Mmm. I love it. I love it.

Audra: Absolutely. Because, yeah, what I'm seeing with this is how you have gotten really in touch with how you're a conduit for this energy. So in your self-care, you know, if you see there's an input and an output, you have to have the same size input as you have as your output. Right. You know, and you've got to cultivate that own inner garden and maintain that energy so that you can give and you are a conduit and you are the same thing on the macro level.

You are a conduit for that energy for humanity. You are telling young women all over that that look like, yes, this is this is an identity right here. Yes, I am a Latina healer, acupuncturist and mother and sister and daughter and all of these other things all at once. You know, and I am a part of bringing this next paradigm in the world and to humanity. And it's going to happen energetically. And you're like, I think this key. So for you, this embracing of that is so beautiful. And it's like I feel it from you. I hear it from you. You're in it.

Maria: Yeah. And I just need to own it.

Justin: And own it. Yes. Step into your truth.

Audra: I do want to ask you to tell us what acupuncture needles do you do. It's an important thing for our listeners who are still going to be like, ok, I want to go see a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. How do I do it? And how does it work? So I guess this is two parts. Let's get really pragmatic.

Maria, tell us how the needles work. And then, and I know you have a very simple explanation for it, because you explained it to me beautifully. And then secondly, tell our listeners if they're not local to you. What should they look for in somebody?

Maria: It’s funny you say local. That's exactly what I would approach it as like, if you're interested in seeing an acupuncturist, I would literally Google “acupuncturist” or “acupuncture near me.” And for example, if you're trying to go for your child or for, I don't know, menstruation or low back, you know, when you call them you could ask them, hey, you know, have you treated this before or do you feel comfortable treating this before? And that's, you know, like kind of like everything else.

I will look, you know, talk to them, see if I know their energy, but also, you know, like Yelp and Google reviews. Yeah, very formative, even when I'm picking my acupuncturist. And, but I think asking if they're comfortable with what you're trying to bring them is a really important question. If they say yes, then, you know, there you go. If not, you know, go on to the next.

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive, complete medicine that can basically treat any and all diagnoses with acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, Tui Na. And so it is a medicine that you can feel comfortable with because most things you can bring up, we will know how to treat. And if we don't, we will let you know.

But the acupuncture points themselves, you have like over 360 acupuncture points, and each acupuncture point has anywhere from two to six functions. And the acupuncture points are anatomically identified in your body. So we use your anatomy, whether it's your tibia bone or your femur, to identify the point. And we stimulate it with the needle or with moxibustion or with our finger. And the most beautiful part of it all, and this is what I tell my patients, is your body is a medicine, and I'm simply activating that medicine with the needle.

Justin: Wow.

Audra: That’s Awesome.

Justin: I love it.

Audra: Awesome; That was a beautifully succinct description.

Justin: And it's now like I, over the last year or two, I've come to understand psychotherapy in a new way. And it's the same thing as like the therapist does not have the answers there within you. And the therapist is there just to frame, just to ask the right questions. Maybe it's a sort of interpersonal like verbal pressure point that you have.

Audra: Right, right. Right, right.

Justin: But as far as like it is all within you. All of the healing occurs within you.

Audra: Yeah. Yeah, I love that.

Maria: Exactly.

Justin: We are just about out of time, so we need to ask you our regular podcast question. So these are three questions that we ask every single podcast guest. So, Maria, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Maria: I would say ensure your children are eating warm foods.

Justin: Warm.

Maria: That's what I would say, like, all right, warm food sounds random, but it's not like kids run hot. So they sometimes or a lot of times want cold food. And again, like going back to the TCM part like children, they're middle jowl, their digestive system is not fully developed yet. So when we're putting a lot of cold, it could actually dampen the body. So that's why a lot of kids will experience like the bellyaches are not good digestion or constipation. That's such a cool, sexy one. But if I come up with a better one, I'll let you know.

Audra: Ok, last quote that changed the way you think or feel.

Maria: Ok, so it's not a quote, but I'll go to the last person that has changed. How I think and feel has been the poet Rupi Kaur. I don't know if that's how you say it. Oh, my god, she's an and her book is called Milk and Honey. And the short answer is, I guess, is what person who writes, quote, has changed your life is Rupi. And she's a contemporary poet. Oh, thank you so much for that recommendation. I'm going to check her out. Actually, her latest book is called Homebody. So anyway, so it really aligns with this whole piece around like your body is medicine.

Justin: Yes. Beautiful. Ok, the last one. Now, I just always have to contextualize this question because for so many parents, especially in the era of COVID, you know, work from home and kids and the kids, you know, we're all just stuck together and we can feel like, “Oh, kids, oh, my god, I'm exhausted.” But we want to have this last question here to celebrate kids. And so what is your favorite thing about kids?

Maria: I love how raw they are.

Justin: Honest.

Maria: Yeah. Like they'll tell me like. So, for example, this young child that I told you about that I treated yesterday, I didn't trick him. He knew I was doing moxibustion and he would turn around periodically to be like, “Don't do that. That's mean.” You know, so like I just love that they're raw in their reactions, which I think could be like the hard part. So that would be that contempt, that patient, as practitioner. But what I love about kids overall is that they remind you to be a kid.

Justin: Yeah. Be present.

Maria: Yeah. Like why are you stressed right now about whatever you're stressed, right? Yeah. What's wrong with you? And then I'm like, “Oh, I have to do this.” And then she's and she just looks at me perplexed. And I was like, well, I guess I don't have to do that. And that's what I'd like… So I love that children are raw. Keep it real. My children remind you to be a child.

Audra: I loved that, Maria, thank you.

Justin: Maria, real quick before we go. If people want to if they live in Southern California and they want to get a hold of you so they can find you at Athena…

Maria: Acupuncture.me.

Justin: AthenaAcupuncture.me.

Maria: That's my website.

Justin: Beautiful.

Maria: And then my email is AthenaAcupuncture@Gmail. Both As.

Audra: You and your practice is in Whittier, correct?

Maria: My practice is in Whittier is called the Zen Acupuncture Wellness Center. And then I practice with Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California.

Audra: Awesome, Maria. It was so, so good to see you. We have so much more to talk about, too. So I'm really looking forward to the next time and the next time.

Justin: We would love to have you back.

Audra: And thank you for contributing to The Family Thrive. We're excited to be doing more and more with you. You're incredible. And thank you for including us in your journey.

Maria: I love that The Family Thrive is integrating all these types of healing modalities. I think that's what's going to change the way that we look at healing.

Audra: Awesome, thank you. I couldn't agree more.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: Our guest today began her journey as a healer when as a child, she had to protect her younger sisters from bullies. Ever since then, Maria Barrera has had a calling for protecting the vulnerable. And Audra and I have had a first row seat in seeing how she puts this into practice today for children with serious health conditions.

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist. But today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in pediatrics. She's also trained in traditional Chinese medicine with our good friend, Dr. Ruth McCarty from episode five.

We met Maria while she was working with Ruth in pediatric acupuncture and Audra and I got to see firsthand how intuitive and connected Maria was with kids and parents who face some pretty challenging diagnoses.

Eventually, I had the pleasure of working with Maria on a study with Children's Hospital of Orange County, where we brought childhood cancer families together to receive acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine together in a supportive group environment. It was amazing to see how Maria brought families together and helped children heal and bond. I'll never forget that time.

Today, Maria is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, California, and a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California. She is also secretary of the board of trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association. And in this episode, we hear some amazing stories about how Maria's childhood led her into a life of service and healing, how she went from political organizing to Traditional Chinese Medicine, how her cultural heritage influences her approach to healing, and we get her recommendations for how parents can bring more health and healing and thriving into their daily practices. Without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Maria Barrera.

We got to know you through Open Mind Modalities. But then I think it was the Ohana Project that really kind of connected us together. Do you remember that?

Maria: I do. So I remember I started with Open Mind Modalities in, oh, my gosh, September 2018, I believe. So I was going in the office and I remember seeing you a lot, Justin, because you would go Saturday mornings, because that's when I was going. And I would, oh, I would also go Fridays. That's so true. And I just remember seeing Justin on Saturdays. But seeing Audra on Fridays.

And Audra was just always so like radiant and vibrant. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, who is that woman?” Like I just remember just, like being attracted to your energy, Audra. But yes, I think like when we started working together was during the Ohana Project. And that's when I just, I remember you presenting, Justin, because I don't think there was like a formal presentation out roots bart, but it was just like it all just kind of blended together. Then I learned, both of you were married and I was like, “oh, my gosh, what?”

Justin: Like, how is this radiant being over here married to this nerd?

Maria: No, what I liked about you, Justin, is you're just so light, your energy is light and happy and always like, you know, our intellectual conversations.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: You know, so I just individually thought both of you are amazing humans. And then I learned you're married. And I was like, “oh, my gosh, this is so wonderful.” So that was really nice. And honestly, I don't think I've got to say this to both of you, because we never got to say the goodbye. But you were like such an important part. I mean, you are, but like really such an important part for OMM to really feel like a family to me. Because I'm a practitioner there on Fridays and Saturdays. You know, we work alone. And, you know, the staff receptionist, obviously, that's my team. But to be able to see your work and be part of it, that's really what made OMM just feel so warm and welcoming to me. So I thank you both. I don't think I ever got to say that.

Justin: Oh, my gosh.

Audra: Oh, Maria, that's beautiful.

Justin: Really special to hear.

Audra: And likewise. You know, I think that we felt so integrated and it's so much less isolating. You know, when we had our first office that opened in Santa Ana, and it was wonderful because families would come in for the Broth Bank and all of that, it still felt like we were a little, we'd have events, you know, and try to connect in person that way. But once we teamed up with the OMM to open that office, we really got to build community around healing.

Justin: One thing that I wanted to do was give listeners a little bit of a context. So what Maria was talking about with the Open Mind Modalities office in Orange, California, just a couple of blocks from CHOC Hospital and MaxLove Project is our nonprofit that we started way back in 2011 when Max was first diagnosed. And it's had different offices over time, but we were lucky enough in what was it? 2017?

Audra: Yeah, Ruth and I started working on it in 2016. Easily, it took us well over a year probably to get in there.

Justin: And that's when we moved.

Audra: We co-located, yeah. We planned and looked at properties, planned to move in together and we actually committed together to an office space. It has a significant group treatment area or waiting room, if you would like. We have an exceptionally large waiting room, which is very rare for any type of office. Right, because just square footage wise and in Southern California is so expensive, it's hard to, you know, to afford that.

But because we're doing it together, MaxLove Project and Open Mind Modality, supports it every month to make sure that we have an area. We have beautiful, we have a reading nook, we have an area for kids to do their homework. We have all kinds of opportunities for families to sit on the couches together and to get treatment together. So it's a really, really beautiful space and something that is completely unusual.

And Maria, we had, we spoke with Ruth on the show recently, and we were talking about that magic of qi, really that power of this energy and how it was a realization for me that in group treatment, that is so much of what's happening, is this qi energy, this life force that is shared among everyone in the space as you’re nurturing and supporting qi like with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities, is also through the group environment. It's really beautiful. And it's the biggest hole that I've seen in what we've done with COVID having to empty out that space that we've committed to not use it for the past year.

Maria: Yeah, I think it's, I think, you know, as we were like laughing a lot like a minute ago and like, my eyes got filled with tears, there were happy tears, but I also feel that also happened right at this moment, too, because I feel safe with both of you.

And as a practitioner, I think a lot of practitioners right now are people that are caretaking, you know, the health of others, like it's really been difficult. There's so much grieving happening. We're in a mass grieving time. And so people are coming in so heavy.

And so you know, like you were mentioning about the qi, like as soon as a person comes into the room and they start talking. I'm just feeling it, like I'm feeling the sorrow or the grief or kind of that mixed emotion. I don't know what I'm feeling or why I'm feeling it. So I think the tears right now are just when you come into safe spaces, right like that Ohana Project. When we were in the waiting area there, there was something so powerful about collective healing. Right? Just as we're having a collective grieving right now. So I think that's the part that I see, I also feel that emptiness, like we're all hurting so much and it's so difficult to then not come together and process it together.

Justin: Oh, my god.

Maria: Yeah. And so I think even just doing what we're doing right now, just talking to each other and, you know, intentional space, I think that's also part of just what we need to do as a family or as any kind of collective. Just talk about how you're actually like feeling and processing and then laugh together.

And so I think well, I don't know. I'm just going to tie this in because that's what I'm feeling right now. But like that's why the Ohana Project when we did that spoke so much to me, because I think both of you know, I was a community organizer before I was an acupuncturist. And so I was a community organizer for immigrant rights, specifically for like undocumented young people and older. And when we would have what we call these membership meetings, where we talk about political updates and how to take action, but we would also talk about like what does it feel like to be undocumented, like what are you going through? And there was nothing like that sharing of stories together. And at the end of the meetings, we would do different things, sometimes we would hold hands and chant together.

Justin: Wow.

Maria: And that was so powerful. And so when it tied back, you know, now is an acupuncturist. And I actually made that decision to go from kind of being macro impact. Right. I would talk to hundreds, even thousands of people. I decided to switch to kind of like heal one person at a time. And that's what I, how it started. But I felt like the evolution, what's happening again and naturally.

Justin: Yeah. And that truly is it. I'm going back.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. I’m back to macro. But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online?

Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during COVID. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this COVID thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face-to-face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLoveProject.org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story. I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah...But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online? Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during Covid. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this Covid thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face to face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLove Project dot org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story? I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: And so, and I'm only referencing that, too, because it takes me back to being nine years old, I guess. And I shared the story that I, at 9 years old, or I was 11? I don't remember. I found myself having to stand up to these two bullies. And I just like stand up, like speak my voice. I had to beat them up. And that's the only fight I've ever been in.

Audra: In your entire life.

Maria: OK, so this is where, how I knew, you kind of like the healing part. I think the connection is because I experienced hardship. My heart has always been with anybody that's experiencing hardship like that feels just like a very high priority to me. Let's say there was like 10 people in the room and I know something or get a hint of somebody that, you know, I automatically feel like attracted or like I want to talk to that person more. So I was born in Mexico, in Jalisco. So like, you know where you get the key lime?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: And mariachi. Which is also kind of I would also say it's also kind of a privilege because we're a dominant community here in Southern California. You see like Mexican, Jalisco culture everywhere. So we're very much affirmed in like, you know, in our culture.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Mexican from Jalisco. Anyhow, so I came to the United States when I was 6 years old. And of course, like, you know, we didn't have much. So we moved in with my aunt into her garage, like her actual garage, just converted into a house or a little room. And I was four, four girls. And by this time, there was four of us and my parents. So we didn't have a bathroom in there.

So we had to like consistently knock and be like, “Hey, can I come in?” And so I had two older cousins, like three years older. And so there was this kind of like shaming on their part towards us, towards the daughters. And there was four of us, and I'm the oldest. And so this went on over a long period of time, like three years. And I just think one of the times it was just like it was just too much. So they, I don't think I put this in the story, but they were not only calling my little sisters names, they ended up like spitting at my little sister, like two of them.

Justin: That was in the story. It was like very vivid. Yeah.

Maria: I was so like I can, I was enraged. So I just chased both of them like down the street, like running hard. I don't even know how I ended up. But like basically the story in my memory ends like I have. I'm not proud of the violence. Basically I have my hands, like crammed into their hair like this, like don’t know how to describe that. Like gripping the back of their hair, like by their neck and like on their knees on the side of me. And so my aunt comes out, she's like, you know, “let them go.” And I didn't. I remember I stayed there for like a good hour until my mom got home.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Maria: And she was like, “let them go.” And I did. I think that's also like one of the things that this time and space is teaching all of us is that things are not black and white and that one thing doesn't negate the other. And so although this moment of like, it was like violence and fury, it really reaffirmed like I am a keeper of my sisters, which then really tied into like. Then I talked to them about what happened, and I would. So they just really tied into like I'm also their healer.

Justin: So, Maria, can you go into that talk? So you describe that talk that you had with your sisters.

Maria: Oh, my gosh. OK, I don't probably, don't remember it. I didn't reread that. But I just said, like, whatever people tell you about you, like that's not who you are. You are who you say you are. What did I say, Justin? So that you can tell me.

Justin: I don't have it in front of me. But what stuck with me, it was that message like, you are worthy, you are beautiful. You are strong. Like it was like I mean, it was like, really affirming and like you went back to them, you're like “you are not what those bullies said you are.” And that was really powerful.

Maria: I mean, it was just, it was so important to me to reaffirm that like to just remind them that one, we don't have to put up with people basically just abusing you, you know, and that then you don't internalize that. You remember that.

Justin: But to have that wisdom at 11 or 9.

Maria: I know.

Justin: Where did you get it?

Maria: I know. But I think it's again, because I would see my parents leave like at four in the morning, like because they had to catch the bus. You know what I'm saying? And they're tired. And then be like, I left this, you know, make sure like. So I just saw they’re like I don't even know how to explain it, because it's also not a fair thing. You know, like I don't, I think we keep romanticizing like hard work and sacrifice.

And I feel like I don't like that because it's cost people their lives. Like especially right now in COVID, like especially in California or Southern California. It's like the Latino community, like the working class is the one that has been mostly affected and not just like affected. It's like deaths, like, you know, like it's the highest rate of death is in the Latino community because of COVID.

And it's because of the overwork and the keep going even though you're tired. And so, I just think I was a kid that observed that and then just, it was just maybe connected to what I just said. Like I've lived a lot of lives. So I was alright. It was like inherent there. And it woke up really, really early. I also connected to like realizing when I was undocumented. So that's when I was 11, too. I was in fifth grade, and it was like Proposition 187 was trying to pass in California by Governor Pete Wilson. The fact that I even remember he was the governor.

And it was the time where they were trying to pass, I think it was a proposition, a statewide proposition to take all kind of public services with an urgent care, hospital, primary education for anybody who was undocumented. And I remember as a fifth grader, just imagining the principal calling my name on the intercom, coming to get me from my classroom and walking into the office and everybody watching me. Like that was what played in my mind, like, “Oh, my gosh, everybody's going to know I'm undocumented.” So I feel like all those things layered with whatever wisdom I was already born with, just, it was the alchemy, right?

Justin: Yeah. Oh, wow.

Maria: I need to be. Yeah. Yeah. Like I need to do something. Yeah.

Audra: Maria, it also strikes me or I'm curious around this that your cousins the bullies. Is it fair to say that they had pretty thoroughly internalized the racism and the narratives that were directed towards them and your family?

Maria: I think it was not racism, but the classism, right?

Audra: Classism.

Maria: Like, “Oh, they're poor and they're living in our garage.”

Audra: Right.

Maria: And as a child, you always unless you're directed a difference is something you exploit, unless you give it a direction like, “Hey, we don't say things about people's hair, like everybody's different.” I just think, you know, again, working-class parents on their end, they're not around either.

Audra: What I was thinking was that, you know, these kids in this family aren't it's family likely in Southern California? Was it, is it likely you saw this in some way, too? So if it's not, you know, if it's something that you don't have someone like you in your life to help you understand, like you did with your sisters and to help you work through this onslaught that's directed at.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: That you would internalize and very often in that internalization is also the acting out, not justifying at all, but just looking at that dynamic like space you're in as you're developing your activism, you're in a home, like with family that has surely been affected by these narratives and these messages.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: And you are the more recent immigrants coming in. And then this sort of this aggression and violence is directed towards you, you know, sort of as in that flow and you come on board as an activism and you're addressing some of the root causes of all of it. I see what you're saying.

Maria: Yeah. Yeah, I see what you're saying. Yeah. That’s 100% correct, that the recent immigrant and I don't even know if our skin was darker and all but yeah, that was 100%.

And like a lot of bullies, like they don't feel good about themselves. So they, you know, beat up on other people and that's what makes them feel good about themselves. So, yeah, I hadn't really inserted that before in my as I you know, my analysis of that. But that makes sense. The narratives that they had basically absorbed, unlike what a new immigrants to this country means.

Justin: How is your relationship with them today?

Maria: It's so funny, because I think this is telling of healing like it takes years and literally like a week ago now, putting them on blast, so sorry. One of them actually reached out to my sister and wrote her just like a text, like “I'm sorry for the way I behaved.” Oh, yeah. And yeah, it's beautiful.

Like I just feel like I was always healing. And it takes a long time, right? Because we're talking about time and now we're all in our thirties and. Yeah, late 30s. So we're talking about twenty-something years.

I think one of the things that I love about acupuncture, the fact that I'm a healer in a position like this is that I keep telling people that my patients are just, you know, because I'm in this position that healing doesn't have to take that long. And we don't have to hold on to things for years, like 20 years. That is a drain of our energy. That's a drain of our qi. And we're in, again, in a time of space with like all the movement that's happening in the world and our paradigms being shifted. Like now we talk about death like consistently, right, because people are passing. So it's like just remembering that it doesn't, you don't have to hold on to pain like this for a long, this long. Like healing could happen faster and not that fast is good, but rather you being a healed person is good. And then the sooner you're able to get there, the happier and lighter you'll be.

Audra: And in Maria, it sounds like you did not hang on to all of that that you endured with your cousins. It sounds like, I mean, you returned from that experience. You kind of took the power back. You know, you expressed yourself and you went home and you coached your sister. But it doesn't sound like you hung onto this. Like how did you know to do that? Or what was your healing response like as a kid?

Maria: I think, I don't think it was that I didn't hang onto it. I think it was like I was really busy with other challenges. Like in fifth grade was when I then became, I went from a bilingual education. Right. Because there is a distinction. Right. Bilingual education, is you look, you use your primary language to learn the second language. Right. English as a second language has been treated more of like, you have some kind of impairment in your learning because you don't know English. But anyway, at that school I went to, I was lucky. I was in bilingual education. And then fifth grade was when I was transitioned into complete English classes.

Anyway, so in fifth grade was when I was making my you know, the immigrant experience, what we call is like you're trying to immerse yourself now fully in the culture. So when my sister was not doing that, I kept kind of like shunning her, like she would try to talk to me in the playground. And I was like, “Hey, like go away.” Yeah. So then I became a bully to her and it's because I was trying to, I'm using the correct word is called immerse, but that's not the word I'm trying to think of, like…

Justin: Assimilate.

Maria: Assimilation. Thank you, Justin. The assimilation, as it's understood here in the states, is basically you strip yourself from your culture and anything associated, whether it's clothes, whether it's language, whether it's food. And then you become American or you're trying to become American. And it's so funny. My fifth-grade teacher was a super like American white woman. Her name was Miss Smith. And she would make, you know, you have to say the flag every day.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Well, she would not just make us do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We would sing like a patriotic song.

Justin: Oh, gosh.

Maria: So I literally know the United States, the United States, I love of my country, the United States. Alabama, and then…

Justin: Oh, my gosh, I can't even imagine. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Maria: So it was clear to me as a kid, like I made it, I need to stick with this. Whoever is trying to hold me back is not going to, not even if it's on my sister. So, you know how we talk about the healing. So like even to this day, like I tell my sister, “I'm so sorry.” And she's like, “Dude, I already said this like it's ok. Like it's ok.”

But like you as the perpetrator, like kids, like I still feel like I mean, not anymore, because like really in the last years, her and I have just you know, we're like this like peanut butter and jelly. And so we've always been peanut butter jelly, but there was like a little transition. But anyway, it's now until now, again, I'm 36 that I kind of feel like fully resolved with what I did. But again, it's something that when you hurt somebody like that, you know, like but you're a kid, it's like you know what I'm saying? Like it's not like I was trying to be mean on purpose. I was like surviving, I have to be accepted by this new crew, you know?

Justin: Yeah. So, Maria, I want to transition into acupuncture now. So, I mean, we got an idea for what kind of the first sparks of this healing journey or this journey to become a healer for you was. So when did acupuncture come on the scene? When did this as a specific modality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, become something that you knew was going to be your way into actually touching people?

Audra: And Maria, if you need to dip into the lifetime, that is between this trial, this fifth grade assimilation and get into your organizing. And I think you also had some spiritual work in between that to get to the answer to this question. Feel free to go there.

Maria: Yeah, that's so. Yeah, that's yeah. So leading up to how I even came across acupuncture, which really I should just say I stumbled upon it.

Audra: Ok, that’s great.

Justin: You were not searching for it. It just kind of hits you that out of left field.

Maria: And it literally did not set out there organizing for like six years, but being active for like 10 years because I became active when I was 17. Again, the undocumented piece, I needed to take action. I got involved with CHIRLA as a like student, high school student, activist. And, you know, it was not even though I was an activist, like the only reason why I went to that initial meeting was because I knew I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't get financial aid and my college advisor couldn't really help me, because at the time, there really wasn't anything.

Audra: There weren’t tools.

Maria: There's no California Dream Act. There's no DACA. We're talking about like 2000, yeah the year 2000. So we're still like undocumented young people. We're still following our parents' behavior, which is hide, don't cause a ruckus, like don't draw attention to yourself. So anyway, I talked to my college advisor. I mean, I was like a 4.2 honors AP, you know, marching band, you know, kind of profile. And so my college advisor was like, “yeah, that's great. Like, you'll do great.” And I was like, “oh, but I'm undocumented.” Like I felt trust enough to tell her she was wonderful. Miss Hop I love you. Like, oh, she was wonderful.

But that was like outside of her expertise. So that's when I was like, how do I need to do something? Anyway, I got a hold of this organization called CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. And the only reason why I went to the meeting was because the guy said, “Oh, yeah, and we have scholarships.”

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Maria: I was like, where's your money? But in that meeting, they're talking about legislation called 8540. And they were asking if somebody could speak at a press conference and share their testimony. And one thing that I've always done in my life is kind of follow what my body feels.

And so I remember feeling that like butterfly like belly heat, you know, I was like, well, like I just like I don't you know, I just my hand raised almost automatically. I mean, I'm from then on, I became one of the poster children for that campaign, and I say this kind of when I say the story, but like I probably cried most of the time during the press conference, like I would speak, but then just like the pain of like I'm just a young person trying to go to college, like why do I have to do all of this is like, why do I have to display my pain to make, to convince you?

Justin: But it was that display that was so powerful. I mean, that you were able to go there was always so powerful.

Maria: But now we're like so much more progressive and advanced that we're even as undocumented people are just people who don't fit the cookie-cutter is like, why do I have to be in pain and consistently try to convince you of my humanity, my inherent right to, you know, life happiness, you know, pursuit of happiness or whatever the Constitution says. And you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: Yes. During that time, it was appropriate. And exactly what you're saying, Justin. During that time, that's really what made it impactful. Like when I testified in front of like, I think was the Senate Education Committee, again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I had like the senators like there crying because here's this little 17-year-old Mexican girl crying.

Obviously, that experience changed my life. And so I went to UC Davis, started the first undocumented support group there. But again, it wasn't political for me. It was like I brought these people together because I wanted to hear them, because I wanted us to heal together. So just like their seeds each time of just like healing.

So I actually became a Christian during college. I was a Bible study leader. So I like held Bible study group, Bible study every week. So I would use the scripture and then gather people and then through the scripture, we would heal.

So what I learned in my experience is that anything is a tool for healing and not to diminish, you know, Jesus or Christianity like anything could be it. It could be over food or it could be over a sport like anything could be that inspiration, right. To heal. And then after that, that's when I started with CHIRLA. Again, political activists like this was the time that I was, it was my full-time job. Like this is what I did a day in, day out.

But even during that, I developed this, just different workshops. One of them that they still use now, which is like 10 years later. And it was it's called Unraveling the Undocumented Identity. So it was like an hour and a half workshop to like guide people through, you know, first thinking about it critically. And I can't remember right now, but I said undocumented. I made it a definition, I put it is a forced identity by a government to disenfranchise. And I put like three words, disenfranchise, disempower a group of people. So it's just like a made up. If you think about it, it's a made-up identity.

So that's when I learned my healing powers even more, because I did it as a group. And so I was completely burned out. I don't know. I was, what attracted me to acupuncture, ok, to be 100% transparent was the esoteric part of it, was the energetic part. It was like, oh, the qi, oh, I have points, energy points in my body that I can't touch but can do something for me or really the Tao.

The Tao is the approach that we are like body, mind, and spirit, and that we consistently have to be in balance with nature, which, you know, right before that, I had started to go to sweat lodges consistently. And again, I was blessed to be able to have that. And so learning about like the spirituality of first nation people, in this case, the Lakota. And so it kind of like just all connected really beautifully. So it attracted me for the energetic part. But like now maybe that I'm a practitioner. After four years, I'm going back to the energetic part, because the first four years, it's all because we're…

Justin: Technique.

Maria: A Western-dominated medicine, a country which is great Western medicine. I mean, you both know firsthand what Western medicine can do. You know, you had to have to be very linear, like learn this diagnosis. I like that. But now I'm able to bridge back even more around, like the energy part of like, hey, the food you eat is energy. Like it's you got to set an intention and your body and your qi, you got to basically, like Athena and I and, you know, my daughter, Athena, and I consistently like use sage to cleanse our energy, like to cleanse the qi, because, you know, the energy part we don't talk about a lot, but it's really part of our daily existence.

Justin: The thing that sticks out in my mind is you described like an energy in your belly when you went to the first organizing meeting. And so I just wonder, like just feeling these kind of big energetic surges within you. Is that what clicked when you heard about qi and when you heard about acupuncturists like, “Oh, like that explains this.”

Maria: It’s the funniest thing, Justin, because what clicked for me “Oh this is the medicine” I want to beat was when I was I got my first treatment and I was laying face up and I had gone because I wanted to work on regulating my menstrual cycle. So you're, it's so crazy you’re tying it in because he did belly points on me, and that's what I felt like. I felt the qi moving in my belly.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: I was like, “Oh, my god, like this unreal.”

Audra: Yes.

Justin: That's awesome.

Maria: 100 percent. Yes. I couldn't believe that like, well, so because he did the needles... He was really handsome too by the way.

Justin: That was the energy going on.

Maria: Yeah. Oh, I was married and I came home and I told my husband at the time the story, he's like…

Justin: Who is this dude?

Maria: And I was like, yeah. He's like, “Yeah, I could tell by the way you're talking about him.” But anyway... But like after, so anybody who gets acupuncture treatment, you're going to feel this like we'll do the needles and you'll begin to like, because this is my first time that I'm describing.

So you don't know what you feel. But as you lay there, like I just felt like these swirls in my belly, like in each point that he had done, I felt these swirls and I was like, “Oh, man, like this is real, like this is it.” So that's when I became a 100% committed to becoming a traditional acupuncturist, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.

Justin: That's awesome.

Audra: Oh, wow. Maria, this is so beautiful. I have to say, I kept getting these visuals as you were telling the story of your beautiful energy, you sharing this beautiful energy with everyone around you. And what really impacted me, too, in this assigned identity for you you have this assigned identity that this society and culture has placed on you.

And again and again and again and how you have had the critical distance and that core soul like who you are, that is completely tied with this energy that has been just such a secure part of your knowing about your life has allowed you to have a critical distance to say that's a point of identity that's not mine, or does it need to be mine, or I can take that on if I want, but I don't have to.

And so, I feel like so many people are like, oh, those sorts of people do that. Right. Those sorts of people go to Chinese medicine or those sorts of people do this thing, or though and I'm this sort of person. And we keep ourselves from experiencing so much in the world sometimes because we don't see ourselves as the sort of people who go and do these other things, right?

You were able to follow your soul in that energetic flow and your spirit to where you needed to go next and where you were being called next. And it just really impacted me as like I could almost see it as you were describing it.

Maria: Yes. I actually love that you're saying that because you're right, like does a Latina become a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, you know, and no, like that's not something that. But it actually just flowed and made so much sense for me because it was like it was healing.

It was healing for me to be reaffirmed in the things that my grandma used to do or my mom does to like tell me to drink a certain tea. Usually juxtapose like to know you should take this medication. The medication gets like this higher value and...

Audra: Right.

Maria: Yeah. And then it was like, oh, wait. So if I saw the cinnamon does help. And I was one of the things when I was applying to acupuncture school, like they asked me like, why do you want to, you know, I had to fill out an essay.

And that's one of and Justin you addressed this question to me was like I was like, oh, that's right. Like every time I'm getting sick, my mom would make canela, you know, cinnamon sticks tea and it would help me feel better.

And so come to the farm pharmacology book in TCM, which is like six inches thick. They have like ten pages on cinnamon, like the properties when it goes to, when it what dynasty it was used in, like the case studies. And it just reaffirmed that piece of like, yeah, our knowledge is true and real. It just, you know, because we were a country that was conquered because of our own inherent like, I don't know, civilization, no weaknesses like the Aztecs right. There were in fighting. So then come the Spanish. And it was just like the perfect moment for them to take over and the Aztec civilization.

But like we've always been a very rich country culturally, like in every way. And so it's been a very healing like and even like when, I have I don't know how to explain a feeling, but like women, I there's a lot of like, like I could think of my grandma or that maybe we’re like, oh, that's just weird. Like, why are you like, why do you say that works or are you thinking that like, I feel like every time I'm able to tell somebody confidently because I have this white coat or like this degree and they believe me, they're like, “Ok, yeah. You know what you're talking about.” I almost feel like I see my grandma smiling.

Audra: Oh, it's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. And that's been. Yeah. As of recent, actually, because so many times, like traditional healers in a lot of countries, especially women, are shunned as crazy or like the witch or whatever. And that's what I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine, which again, now we're like pushing are like the movement is to call it Eastern medicine or traditional Asian medicine.

It just, it was able to package it in such a way where it's not just the claim, like they have the pharmacology to tell you exactly. And the diagnosis and basically how to explain to somebody outside of just like, well, my grandma has been using it for, you know, 60 years and it works. So it's been a very wonderful and healing journey. And everything I'm telling you is so recent, like I'm talking about this word of like healing, like is literally is happening in the last like six months.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Maria: Mhm. Yeah. Because I feel like now I'm in a place as a practitioner where I'm where I feel like really comfortable with the medicine. I'm able to you know, when you're learning a craft or an art like this, you're diligently. I feel like now I'm able to kind of be a little bit more creative, especially with COVID.

Acupuncture and herbs can help treat symptoms of COVID. And so it's been really wonderful to kind of like go back to my books and remember, like what herbs are for what? And because now it's more about like talking about customized formulas, because that's the strength of TCM for when it treats symptoms of COVID. We're going by what the virus is doing to you versus kind of like…

Audra: A blanketed...

Maria: You know, like a same approach to everybody. But I love that I am TCM practitioner in Southern California and I'm a Latina because I felt like it was helping reaffirm a lot of the things that my culture already knows about herbs and like healthy eating or just like things like don't step on the floor if it's cold, like don't expose your back if there's wind. Like in TCM it like has that in so many of our books.

Audra: You were telling me like not to drink cold water, like in the office, you're like, “Don't drink the cold water.” Which I had nothing. I didn't know anything about that.

Maria: Yeah. So like the whole thought behind it is you want to have your body to be at homeostasis. Right? And so our bodies are at 98, you know, 98.6, 98.7. So you always want to have your body to be about that temperature, because that's like the optimal environment for circulation, digestion.

And obviously, there is exceptions in the sense, like if you're a woman who's in menopause, like you're going to get hot flashes. So you're going to want, or like, you know, like children or people after chemotherapy, they get so hot that, you know, they want to feel something cold.

Audra: You're balancing at that point. Right. Yeah.

Maria: You're balancing. And then that's when you also have to be sensitive as a practitioner, like you can't just be so, you know, hard-line. So most of the things we're always saying, it's like a general like principles to follow. But yeah. And then my mom would tell me that all the time, don't drink, especially if you're on your period. Don't drink cold stuff...

Audra: Really?

Maria: You know, and then now there's an actual diagnosis in TCM, in our books. There's an explanation. There's a formula for it that's called cold entering the blood chamber, which means cold entering the womb. It's so pragmatic. It's so like this is a symptom. These are the herbs. This is how you heal it, you know.

Audra: So you're finding these natural synergies and shared knowledge between TCM and your cultural heritage background, the things that your mother and grandmother were talking about.

Are you finding that now that you're in that flow of your own practice, you're getting more creative, like you said, are you able to bring your cultural heritage into your practice? Is that something that you kind of naturally do? Is it a point of conversation with some of your clients? Like what is that like for you?

Maria: Yeah, I think it's more of a point of conversation with the client, because I'll hear them say, “Oh, I thought that was always like a myth. Like my grandmother would always tell me that.”

Audra: Really?

Maria: I was like, no, it's not. Like one of the things I want to do is, well, one, go to China and be there immersed again. I didn't have the chance to while I was studying because I was a new mom, but also go to Mexico to learn like what are the traditional herbs there outside of kind of like these like other connections, you know, like I said, the cinnamon or the ginger stuff like that, because I think that will be like when it's actually customized, more like Mexican specific or not just Mexican, but like Latino-America type.

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: What are the plants that are native there? But then it goes the same way, like what are the plans that are native here? So like when I talk to herbalists here, they know a lot about the native plant. And I'm like, I don't know that.

Like what I know is what I specialized in was Chinese herbs. So I just no Chinese herbs. And so sometimes it surprises me. Well, for example, Bòhé. Right. That's how you say it in Pinyin Chinese. And it's like, oh, that's mint, you know what I'm saying? So an herbalist knows mint right off the bat.

And I'm like, because one of the questions Justin asked that I thought was interesting was like, what are you working on? Or like, what do you want to accomplish? I think that's one of the things that as now I’m in a, like a different space with the medicine. I do want to tie in learning more about like the native plants where I am. Right. Southern California and then long term, I'm actually going to Mexico and being able to learn some of the more healing practices there, because it's just so expansive, just the same way.

Like one of the things that like Mexican culture teaches is like this thing called “sustos”, which means freight, which means like some experiences, cause you're kind of your spirit or your soul to leave your bodies or you're going on every day like living and behaving. But something scared you to the point where you're you're like and this can be compared in psychology to some extent, like the child self. Right, where like you've left the child parts.

Justin: The parts, parts. Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. The parts. And then you, exactly. And you bring so there's like ceremonies to call back, you know, the soul…

Justin: The exiled parts.

Maria: To enticed it back, to enter. Now that it's safe. And so those kinds of like because a lot of that's amazing to me about like anxiety or they feel like I feel absent in my body. Like that's a description I hear a lot. And so like being able to like maybe tell them I wouldn't tell it to everybody because again, I have to play.

And Ruth knows this better than anybody, right? Because she's in the hospital. You have to play this balance where like you don't talk a lot about spirit or energy when you're doing or talking to somebody who came to you with a strictly Western diagnosis and they are just like, here, fix my back. So, you know, you don't bring all this other stuff, but like with the other patients that are like more intrigued than I can say things like that and would love to bring back some of the knowledge from Mexican healers.

Justin: So, Maria, you mentioned your grandmother and your mother, and to me, I sense this like lineage, this like connection to the lineage. And so when you became a mother, you are a mother now. Is there a specific way that you being a mom, you being a mother, has influenced how you approach medicine, healing this whole world that you work in?

Maria: One of the very traditional things Mexican culture teaches you, and it was actually kind of to a fault like so postpartum being indoors for 30 days was and has been a big teaching.

Sometimes it went like too extreme like I've talked to like older women who are like in their 60s, where like the mother to the daughter that gave birth, didn't let her shower for 30 days because of the cold, because of the water. But anyway, so could be a little bit extreme. But one of the things that I 100% followed instruction on was that like, my mom's like, “Ok, make sure you're resting 30 days.”

And so and because of TCM like and backed it up again, going back to the cold, entering the blood chamber type of approach, you're basically very vulnerable, like your bones literally expanded. So there's a lot of space in between, so cold and pathogens and wind and all of that can enter. So I made sure that, you know, didn't do anything for. And again, that's privilege right? I didn't have to work. My partner took care of me like all of that. So anyway, I did want to mention how like a practice then was affirmed by TCM. And then that's also why I followed it. And because I had the privilege of being able to follow it.

Working like being trained by a pediatric acupuncturist. Because I was a mom, I was, I became inclined to learn about kids. Right. Because I wanted to know. So I think like the mere fact that I was a mom automatically, or I became a mom, attracted me to pediatrics. Right. Because then I wanted to know how to help my own kid.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: I knew the medicine, but not like customized to a kid that, you know, I think we took one class, if that. One of the things that I love about TCM and children is that I could see how fast the qi moves.

So like I say, they have a bellyache or pain with children. Well, the approach is that, you know, you balance it out, right? Like needles are kind of, you know, very can be very invasive. So anyway, so we do acupressure with essential oils. Right. So I can tell you every single time. So I'll put the central oil on my finger and then place it on the acupuncture point and I can feel the qi under my finger is moving. And so once I stop, once I feel the qi stop, then I know it's time. I already did it. And that could be in 30 seconds to a minute.

And so, and I noticed that mostly always in children. I don't know if it's maybe because I do acupressure more on children or when I do the cupping. When I do like the flash cupping, I can feel, so children have high qi right. They're active. So their qi is like constantly moving fast. And so when I'm doing the flash cupping, it's like I'm moving that qi, pulling any of that access qi out so that they can feel calm.

And so one of the things that's, one of the things I just love about TCM, that it's so flexible and that we have so many modalities like, “Oh, they don't want acupressure. Ok, what about moxibustion? Oh, they don't want you know, they're not, they're scared of the fire in the mugwort? Ok, so then let's do the combing.” And so I just love how versatile it is and how I can just really modify it per child.

And I think like connected back to, you know, MaxLove or just like children who are experiencing cancer and cancer therapy. I feel I don't know if it's because they're filling my cup really, because I leave feeling so full. But like I also see how the points are just a treatment I'm doing. Helps them fill back up because a lot of the children who are oncology patients, they are forced for their body to be deficient, especially when they're doing chemo, because it's basically a toxin. Right? So it's like we're trying to kill the bad guy, but we're killing good guys, too.

So a lot of the time I just see how full like after treatment, you know, like just this past Saturday with the four-year-old, you know, patient, it's been like I think we're on treatment six, him and I. So finally, he's more comfortable and he was honest, but he doesn't like moxibustion, like he's scared of the fire. But we were able to like position him where he was like on his belly, on his phone. And so I was able to do like acupuncture point by the ankles, which is a kidney point, because we want to strengthen the kidneys and TCM like the kidneys are responsible for the essence, like the longevity. So anyway, like as I'm doing moxibustion, I and just seeing his, it's almost like I just see the energy like lift back up. So that literally just happened yesterday and that consistently happened.

So I've been really blessed to have Ruth like guide me and Dr. Ruth guide me and teach me. Because now it's like now I'm flying. Like now I just feel so comfortable with children and I'm able to just be just like the medicine. I'm able to be really versatile and flexible in order to help them, you know, in the best way that I can or know how.

Audra: And they sense that.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: And they love you, too.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: You know, they feel immediately comfortable with you. But I do think when I hear you hear you talking, and for our listeners who will be more attuned in this way, I think one thing that's amazing is that you are referring to the pharmacology book in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is an evidence-based approach that goes back over three thousand years in China that you're just seeing backed up by this various forms of indigenous knowledge and things that are passed down generation after generation.

And then what you're speaking of, too, is an intuitive knowledge. It occurs to me, like Maria, it sounds like you see the energy. You just know, you feel it, you feel it in your touch. You have your knowing, you're an energy healer, you're an energy worker. And it's really it comes through so powerfully in how you followed where the energy is needing care and different modalities for this. I think it's just so amazing.

So I love to know today what is, this is Justin's wording. I love it. What is the edge of your personal thriving journey for you right now? Like what are you working on right now? You mentioned the goals that you have, which almost reminds me of like a shaman journey. Like I love hearing about it, but what's your personal thriving journey's edge today?

Maria: Because I've known you and in an intimate and feel in a safe space. It's like this whole energy stuff, like I don't I haven't talked about it and I haven't articulated in such a way, like it's really like everything is so recent, like so like the ground, like my grandmother, like me, bring her up a lot. That's really because I had her dream of her like two weeks ago and it was so vivid and like or just like the energy part, like I hadn't actually articulated that that's what I do. I've heard Ruth kind of talk about it, but I've never associated and said that's what I see or that's how I feel.

Audra: That’s powerful.

Maria: Until I'm talking to both of you. So, I feel like, yes, I really do want to acknowledge that only because it is a very special thing in that sense, that it's like my first time, like owning that or seeing it…

Justin: Owning that, wow.

Maria: Especially in regard to the approach with children, like being ever like, yeah, I do feel that, like I fill their cup. Again, I was thinking maybe it's the whole thing. I feel filled up. Right, because you feel so gratified. But yeah. So a lot of things that are coming up or I'm saying is so like right now, in the moment, as like self-epiphanies.

Audra: That's an important acknowledgment, I think. And I'm really, really glad that you brought that up and just kind of so that we can hold the space for that. It's something that I have incredible awe and appreciation for, Maria. And I just kept getting these feelings and visuals. And it's like I could see and feel and hear what you're saying. It's kind of like a form of an awakening, I guess.

And I have a number of friends who are in various spaces in energy work and healing as well, who have not had paths, anything like yours. But it feels like a similar sort of journey. And it's one that I really appreciate. And it is like a calling. However is it you want to put it or whatever words you want to use or anybody would want to use, you know, religious or not. It is also calling.

Justin: And also, you know, we feel more comfortable with this language now than I feel like we have in the past. And part of it is our own journey. So The Family Thrive is all about expertise. And so we have Western medical doctors, we have dietitians, we have clinical psychology. And we have all of these Western-credentialed experts on.

But we also, in the spirit of truly integrative medicine, we also have people who have expertise in this other realm of, you know, that there's flowing energy and this flowing energy can be blocked. And, you know, we can openly talk about it. Let's talk about what this experience is actually like.

And so you're on here because you're an expert. Not only have you been trained in a modality that Western medicine does recognize. Right. Acupuncture is recognized to help with things like pain and nausea. But then there's this other part. I think you, I love the word that you use esoteric, you know, this like esoteric part. But there is nothing wrong with opening up to this part and saying like there's an energetic flow here and let's talk about it.

Audra: Yeah, I couldn't agree more in talking to Jenny Walters this week on this show and Dr. Ruth as well. The theme was right there. So Jenny found her way to basically psychotherapy. Right. And then her continued work growing as a therapist with energy work and energy healing. That's really important to her. And a similar awakening. And she was an artist before that. And she was like, I'm doing the same thing with this. It's the same thing that is occurring in me when I engage with art and when I engage in therapy and supporting people and healing. And I'm hearing the same thing with you.

You found different spaces throughout your entire life to engage in healing practices with others and to help people heal. It's definitely a life's calling, but to see like the awakening of the energetic in this space from like a healing modality where you can say acupuncture needles do this to say, I can see and feel and realize. And she is so powerful and alive in all of us. And I am tapped in and tuned into that. Like that to me is another level. It's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. So I'm going to, I guess we could end with that question. What I wanted to say is like, yeah, I'm culturally sensitive. I'm resilient. Right. And I've had a self-healing journey. Those things should be things that are just as valid. Right, as research in a sense, because not only am I an expert in my field, I'm also an expert in these things. You know what I mean?

I've overcome challenges. And now I'm a resilient human right. I'm culturally sensitive by default. Right. Because I grew up immigrant. I grew up “the other,” and I've had an intentional healing journey.

So you're right. We're only able to talk about this because of the time we're in. Right. When we're all kind of ok, let's open our mind to other realities or just other things that have worked that we've basically like shunned out. And as a woman of color and as a Latina, that's also kind of like I couldn't just be outright. Right. Like it's kind of like that saying like if it's all white, it's all right. You both have heard that, I think.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: I don't know who says it, but basically like because there's white healers saying, hey, like this works or that works or like energy workers like it's now they've set the stage or I don't have to be automatically dismissed because they've already established, ok, this you know, this works. And here then I'm like, yeah, this I don't have to prove this works anymore and I don't have to prove that then I can do it like I…

Audra: They put a suit on it so you can accept it.

Maria: Yeah, and so, you know, I feel like I do hope that wasn't insulting.

Audra: No.

Maria: Ok. Yeah.

Audra: Not at all.

Maria: So but no. But that's like the real kind of like always like kind of feels like that in the sense like somebody has to prove it. And it's usually has to be, but it has to be a white person, I guess the way that I've perceived it to be able to say, hey, this works, then I can come on the stage. But I feel like, again, all those things are shifting now where that doesn't have to happen. Right.

Audra: Thank goodness.

Justin: Right.

Maria: Right. And so that's what I love about what you guys are doing, because it is the integration that is going to help most people. Right. It's like being able to not just go to your Western doctor, like go to the holistic healing. I mean, and, you know, acupuncture after that. And then that is like the best marriage, you know, of it all.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: So the things that are kind of like the edge of my personal thriving journey right now is I'm being challenged again to ensure that I actually have a self-care balance. And why I'm saying this is because, like I was mentioning at the beginning, there's so much grieving happening.

And three weeks ago, I had a dear, dear friend of mine pass from COVID, and he was somebody that was really important to me. I met him when I was first—thank you. I was first an organizer with CHIRLA. And so he wasn't just a friend and he was like just one of the healthiest male figures I had ever encountered in my life. And just see, he was so intelligent and just kind of like I would pass by his office almost every day and every day was something different, like, “Hey, have you heard about like the Belgium worker strike?” Like, how do you have time to read about the Belgium strike right now? He was just like. And he's just like so loving and so giving.

And you know, like people always say, like really sweet things about people that have passed. But it's like I'm not just saying that because he passed, like I would have said all of this like in life if he was alive. And so when he passed it, just like triggered like a lot of the grieving that I was already kind of helping hold for all my patient base. And if you look at my patient base, like, you know, it's a lot of people. And it's not just because I talk to them like I also, I touch them. I have to palpate sometimes to find the acupuncture point. And so there's always an energy exchange.

And so really, like in the last days or even just beginning last week, I'm like, I really need to be serious about maintaining my self-care and so I really have a herbal formula. So I started taking that more consistently in my own wellness center. Oh, I haven't even said that I'm a business owner of my own!

Justin: Oh, that’ll all be in the introduction.

Maria: Yeah, Athena Acupuncture Wellness Center. So I subleased to an acupuncturist there. So I'm like, I need to, I'm going to sign up for Tuesday to get treatment. So that's really like a big challenge again, that how are you balancing when you're helping heal so many people? Like it really does pull energy away from you. For a good purpose, but there's ways to protect your energy, and then, you know, now that there's COVID, I always come and take a shower before I didn't do that. But like a shower is really like also symbolic, like the water cleansing.

So that's one of the things I'm really like being forced to look at again. Like how are you maintaining the balance of the energy you're giving to the energy you’re replenishing?

Audra: Oh, such a powerful thing.

Maria: Yeah, it's a big thing, because then what's the point like? You're as healthy, you can only be as healthy as you are. That's how you can demand somebody else to be healthier like you as a practitioner. And I feel like that's one of the like, kind of very important things like that I value as a practitioner to my stuff. Like I hold myself to a high standard. Like I can't be doing things. I can't be asking patients to do things that I don't do.

Audra: That you don't do. Right.

Maria: So it's been that's kind of like what's on the chopping board for me, like, ok, hey, so what's up? And I guess the last tone would be kind of just really stepping into this role again, of being on the macro of like being almost again in the public eye after doing that for so long. I really went introverted, married. I had my child, finished my masters and then started like practicing. So I was really kind of an introvert, into introverted space. And that was intentional. I wanted that. And I feel like the universe…

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Oh, another butterfly moment. Yeah.

Maria: That's a challenge, because again, because it's like you're Latina, you do acupuncture. Does acupuncture even work? Is that a real thing? Like what you invested so much in that? So like, do you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: So that's the challenge. And also kind of being able to embody what I already know. The embodiment is basically that all humans right now, we're basically midwives for like this new earth, this new world view, this new disposition that we're all being forced to become, which is like, you know, loving and compassionate and understanding.

And so being able to accept that and also then just display that those were the places that I'm ok, like I'm getting pushed and I'm flowing with it. And it's a beautiful thing. But again, like it could be, you know, uncomfortable with that. So being able to be on the world stage again as a healer, I…

Audra: Absolutely,

Justin: Mmm. I love it. I love it.

Audra: Absolutely. Because, yeah, what I'm seeing with this is how you have gotten really in touch with how you're a conduit for this energy. So in your self-care, you know, if you see there's an input and an output, you have to have the same size input as you have as your output. Right. You know, and you've got to cultivate that own inner garden and maintain that energy so that you can give and you are a conduit and you are the same thing on the macro level.

You are a conduit for that energy for humanity. You are telling young women all over that that look like, yes, this is this is an identity right here. Yes, I am a Latina healer, acupuncturist and mother and sister and daughter and all of these other things all at once. You know, and I am a part of bringing this next paradigm in the world and to humanity. And it's going to happen energetically. And you're like, I think this key. So for you, this embracing of that is so beautiful. And it's like I feel it from you. I hear it from you. You're in it.

Maria: Yeah. And I just need to own it.

Justin: And own it. Yes. Step into your truth.

Audra: I do want to ask you to tell us what acupuncture needles do you do. It's an important thing for our listeners who are still going to be like, ok, I want to go see a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. How do I do it? And how does it work? So I guess this is two parts. Let's get really pragmatic.

Maria, tell us how the needles work. And then, and I know you have a very simple explanation for it, because you explained it to me beautifully. And then secondly, tell our listeners if they're not local to you. What should they look for in somebody?

Maria: It’s funny you say local. That's exactly what I would approach it as like, if you're interested in seeing an acupuncturist, I would literally Google “acupuncturist” or “acupuncture near me.” And for example, if you're trying to go for your child or for, I don't know, menstruation or low back, you know, when you call them you could ask them, hey, you know, have you treated this before or do you feel comfortable treating this before? And that's, you know, like kind of like everything else.

I will look, you know, talk to them, see if I know their energy, but also, you know, like Yelp and Google reviews. Yeah, very formative, even when I'm picking my acupuncturist. And, but I think asking if they're comfortable with what you're trying to bring them is a really important question. If they say yes, then, you know, there you go. If not, you know, go on to the next.

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive, complete medicine that can basically treat any and all diagnoses with acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, Tui Na. And so it is a medicine that you can feel comfortable with because most things you can bring up, we will know how to treat. And if we don't, we will let you know.

But the acupuncture points themselves, you have like over 360 acupuncture points, and each acupuncture point has anywhere from two to six functions. And the acupuncture points are anatomically identified in your body. So we use your anatomy, whether it's your tibia bone or your femur, to identify the point. And we stimulate it with the needle or with moxibustion or with our finger. And the most beautiful part of it all, and this is what I tell my patients, is your body is a medicine, and I'm simply activating that medicine with the needle.

Justin: Wow.

Audra: That’s Awesome.

Justin: I love it.

Audra: Awesome; That was a beautifully succinct description.

Justin: And it's now like I, over the last year or two, I've come to understand psychotherapy in a new way. And it's the same thing as like the therapist does not have the answers there within you. And the therapist is there just to frame, just to ask the right questions. Maybe it's a sort of interpersonal like verbal pressure point that you have.

Audra: Right, right. Right, right.

Justin: But as far as like it is all within you. All of the healing occurs within you.

Audra: Yeah. Yeah, I love that.

Maria: Exactly.

Justin: We are just about out of time, so we need to ask you our regular podcast question. So these are three questions that we ask every single podcast guest. So, Maria, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Maria: I would say ensure your children are eating warm foods.

Justin: Warm.

Maria: That's what I would say, like, all right, warm food sounds random, but it's not like kids run hot. So they sometimes or a lot of times want cold food. And again, like going back to the TCM part like children, they're middle jowl, their digestive system is not fully developed yet. So when we're putting a lot of cold, it could actually dampen the body. So that's why a lot of kids will experience like the bellyaches are not good digestion or constipation. That's such a cool, sexy one. But if I come up with a better one, I'll let you know.

Audra: Ok, last quote that changed the way you think or feel.

Maria: Ok, so it's not a quote, but I'll go to the last person that has changed. How I think and feel has been the poet Rupi Kaur. I don't know if that's how you say it. Oh, my god, she's an and her book is called Milk and Honey. And the short answer is, I guess, is what person who writes, quote, has changed your life is Rupi. And she's a contemporary poet. Oh, thank you so much for that recommendation. I'm going to check her out. Actually, her latest book is called Homebody. So anyway, so it really aligns with this whole piece around like your body is medicine.

Justin: Yes. Beautiful. Ok, the last one. Now, I just always have to contextualize this question because for so many parents, especially in the era of COVID, you know, work from home and kids and the kids, you know, we're all just stuck together and we can feel like, “Oh, kids, oh, my god, I'm exhausted.” But we want to have this last question here to celebrate kids. And so what is your favorite thing about kids?

Maria: I love how raw they are.

Justin: Honest.

Maria: Yeah. Like they'll tell me like. So, for example, this young child that I told you about that I treated yesterday, I didn't trick him. He knew I was doing moxibustion and he would turn around periodically to be like, “Don't do that. That's mean.” You know, so like I just love that they're raw in their reactions, which I think could be like the hard part. So that would be that contempt, that patient, as practitioner. But what I love about kids overall is that they remind you to be a kid.

Justin: Yeah. Be present.

Maria: Yeah. Like why are you stressed right now about whatever you're stressed, right? Yeah. What's wrong with you? And then I'm like, “Oh, I have to do this.” And then she's and she just looks at me perplexed. And I was like, well, I guess I don't have to do that. And that's what I'd like… So I love that children are raw. Keep it real. My children remind you to be a child.

Audra: I loved that, Maria, thank you.

Justin: Maria, real quick before we go. If people want to if they live in Southern California and they want to get a hold of you so they can find you at Athena…

Maria: Acupuncture.me.

Justin: AthenaAcupuncture.me.

Maria: That's my website.

Justin: Beautiful.

Maria: And then my email is AthenaAcupuncture@Gmail. Both As.

Audra: You and your practice is in Whittier, correct?

Maria: My practice is in Whittier is called the Zen Acupuncture Wellness Center. And then I practice with Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California.

Audra: Awesome, Maria. It was so, so good to see you. We have so much more to talk about, too. So I'm really looking forward to the next time and the next time.

Justin: We would love to have you back.

Audra: And thank you for contributing to The Family Thrive. We're excited to be doing more and more with you. You're incredible. And thank you for including us in your journey.

Maria: I love that The Family Thrive is integrating all these types of healing modalities. I think that's what's going to change the way that we look at healing.

Audra: Awesome, thank you. I couldn't agree more.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Justin: Our guest today began her journey as a healer when as a child, she had to protect her younger sisters from bullies. Ever since then, Maria Barrera has had a calling for protecting the vulnerable. And Audra and I have had a first row seat in seeing how she puts this into practice today for children with serious health conditions.

Maria began her professional life as a political organizer and activist. But today, she's a mom and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in pediatrics. She's also trained in traditional Chinese medicine with our good friend, Dr. Ruth McCarty from episode five.

We met Maria while she was working with Ruth in pediatric acupuncture and Audra and I got to see firsthand how intuitive and connected Maria was with kids and parents who face some pretty challenging diagnoses.

Eventually, I had the pleasure of working with Maria on a study with Children's Hospital of Orange County, where we brought childhood cancer families together to receive acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine together in a supportive group environment. It was amazing to see how Maria brought families together and helped children heal and bond. I'll never forget that time.

Today, Maria is the founder and owner of Athena Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Whittier, California, and a pediatric acupuncturist at Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California. She is also secretary of the board of trustees for the California Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine Association. And in this episode, we hear some amazing stories about how Maria's childhood led her into a life of service and healing, how she went from political organizing to Traditional Chinese Medicine, how her cultural heritage influences her approach to healing, and we get her recommendations for how parents can bring more health and healing and thriving into their daily practices. Without further ado, here's our conversation with the amazing Maria Barrera.

We got to know you through Open Mind Modalities. But then I think it was the Ohana Project that really kind of connected us together. Do you remember that?

Maria: I do. So I remember I started with Open Mind Modalities in, oh, my gosh, September 2018, I believe. So I was going in the office and I remember seeing you a lot, Justin, because you would go Saturday mornings, because that's when I was going. And I would, oh, I would also go Fridays. That's so true. And I just remember seeing Justin on Saturdays. But seeing Audra on Fridays.

And Audra was just always so like radiant and vibrant. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, who is that woman?” Like I just remember just, like being attracted to your energy, Audra. But yes, I think like when we started working together was during the Ohana Project. And that's when I just, I remember you presenting, Justin, because I don't think there was like a formal presentation out roots bart, but it was just like it all just kind of blended together. Then I learned, both of you were married and I was like, “oh, my gosh, what?”

Justin: Like, how is this radiant being over here married to this nerd?

Maria: No, what I liked about you, Justin, is you're just so light, your energy is light and happy and always like, you know, our intellectual conversations.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: You know, so I just individually thought both of you are amazing humans. And then I learned you're married. And I was like, “oh, my gosh, this is so wonderful.” So that was really nice. And honestly, I don't think I've got to say this to both of you, because we never got to say the goodbye. But you were like such an important part. I mean, you are, but like really such an important part for OMM to really feel like a family to me. Because I'm a practitioner there on Fridays and Saturdays. You know, we work alone. And, you know, the staff receptionist, obviously, that's my team. But to be able to see your work and be part of it, that's really what made OMM just feel so warm and welcoming to me. So I thank you both. I don't think I ever got to say that.

Justin: Oh, my gosh.

Audra: Oh, Maria, that's beautiful.

Justin: Really special to hear.

Audra: And likewise. You know, I think that we felt so integrated and it's so much less isolating. You know, when we had our first office that opened in Santa Ana, and it was wonderful because families would come in for the Broth Bank and all of that, it still felt like we were a little, we'd have events, you know, and try to connect in person that way. But once we teamed up with the OMM to open that office, we really got to build community around healing.

Justin: One thing that I wanted to do was give listeners a little bit of a context. So what Maria was talking about with the Open Mind Modalities office in Orange, California, just a couple of blocks from CHOC Hospital and MaxLove Project is our nonprofit that we started way back in 2011 when Max was first diagnosed. And it's had different offices over time, but we were lucky enough in what was it? 2017?

Audra: Yeah, Ruth and I started working on it in 2016. Easily, it took us well over a year probably to get in there.

Justin: And that's when we moved.

Audra: We co-located, yeah. We planned and looked at properties, planned to move in together and we actually committed together to an office space. It has a significant group treatment area or waiting room, if you would like. We have an exceptionally large waiting room, which is very rare for any type of office. Right, because just square footage wise and in Southern California is so expensive, it's hard to, you know, to afford that.

But because we're doing it together, MaxLove Project and Open Mind Modality, supports it every month to make sure that we have an area. We have beautiful, we have a reading nook, we have an area for kids to do their homework. We have all kinds of opportunities for families to sit on the couches together and to get treatment together. So it's a really, really beautiful space and something that is completely unusual.

And Maria, we had, we spoke with Ruth on the show recently, and we were talking about that magic of qi, really that power of this energy and how it was a realization for me that in group treatment, that is so much of what's happening, is this qi energy, this life force that is shared among everyone in the space as you’re nurturing and supporting qi like with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities, is also through the group environment. It's really beautiful. And it's the biggest hole that I've seen in what we've done with COVID having to empty out that space that we've committed to not use it for the past year.

Maria: Yeah, I think it's, I think, you know, as we were like laughing a lot like a minute ago and like, my eyes got filled with tears, there were happy tears, but I also feel that also happened right at this moment, too, because I feel safe with both of you.

And as a practitioner, I think a lot of practitioners right now are people that are caretaking, you know, the health of others, like it's really been difficult. There's so much grieving happening. We're in a mass grieving time. And so people are coming in so heavy.

And so you know, like you were mentioning about the qi, like as soon as a person comes into the room and they start talking. I'm just feeling it, like I'm feeling the sorrow or the grief or kind of that mixed emotion. I don't know what I'm feeling or why I'm feeling it. So I think the tears right now are just when you come into safe spaces, right like that Ohana Project. When we were in the waiting area there, there was something so powerful about collective healing. Right? Just as we're having a collective grieving right now. So I think that's the part that I see, I also feel that emptiness, like we're all hurting so much and it's so difficult to then not come together and process it together.

Justin: Oh, my god.

Maria: Yeah. And so I think even just doing what we're doing right now, just talking to each other and, you know, intentional space, I think that's also part of just what we need to do as a family or as any kind of collective. Just talk about how you're actually like feeling and processing and then laugh together.

And so I think well, I don't know. I'm just going to tie this in because that's what I'm feeling right now. But like that's why the Ohana Project when we did that spoke so much to me, because I think both of you know, I was a community organizer before I was an acupuncturist. And so I was a community organizer for immigrant rights, specifically for like undocumented young people and older. And when we would have what we call these membership meetings, where we talk about political updates and how to take action, but we would also talk about like what does it feel like to be undocumented, like what are you going through? And there was nothing like that sharing of stories together. And at the end of the meetings, we would do different things, sometimes we would hold hands and chant together.

Justin: Wow.

Maria: And that was so powerful. And so when it tied back, you know, now is an acupuncturist. And I actually made that decision to go from kind of being macro impact. Right. I would talk to hundreds, even thousands of people. I decided to switch to kind of like heal one person at a time. And that's what I, how it started. But I felt like the evolution, what's happening again and naturally.

Justin: Yeah. And that truly is it. I'm going back.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. I’m back to macro. But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online?

Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during COVID. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this COVID thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face-to-face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLoveProject.org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story. I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: Yeah...But I think that's just part of like what is that for me in my life? Like I it's always about the macro and the you know, and just like the bigger impact. But Ohana was one of those moments that reminded me like, yes, the collective healing is the most powerful healing.

Justin: So for listeners, just to give them a little bit of context on what the Ohana Project was. So we partnered with CHOC Hospital to do a pilot study because we wanted to see well, to take one further step back. We saw the things that Maria is talking about with families coming together in the same space in this waiting room, which is, you know, much bigger than just a normal waiting room where families can be treated together. And there was so much love and healing and sharing and…

Maria: Power.

Justin: In this space. And so we wanted to know, how can we superboost this by also doing things like cooking classes and having an online component. And so we came up with this idea of the Ohana Project, which is really about can we put together something where families can heal together and not just one time during the week, but can we keep them together online? Can we bring them back to do yoga and cooking and, you know, really heal together as a community. And it was a beautiful project. It was a pilot project that we were hoping to learn from. And we have and we took a lot of the things that we learned there to build an app that has helped families during Covid. But, gosh, we cannot wait for this Covid thing to be done so we can all come back together and have that face to face component.

Audra: I just want to add that if anyone's interested, that study was published. Yes. And it is housed online at MaxLove Project dot org, the link to the original research.

Justin: If you go to the original Google Scholar and Google Ohana Project and Wilford because I'm the first author on the study, then it'll pop up and it's open access. There you go about it.

Audra: But it was during that time, Maria, speaking of this in your history and her story, that is so just amazing and it just fills me with so much joy and hope and I don't know. It has filled my cup continually to get to know you. And I remember we were at OJs birthday party.

Justin: Yes, I remember that. I learned so much about you.

Audra: We just could not stop talking. And I felt the same way when I met you. I was like, who is this beautiful, radiant, free! I remember thinking, she's so free, this free-spirited healer, and she's deep and free at the same time. Like it's just a wonderful presence. And, you know, I remember thinking because there's so much just in that that that is who you are, that you, you know, decided one day to become a healer in this modality tradition. And that's what you did. And getting to know you, I'm like “this woman has lived many lives in this lifetime.” You know, incredible. So can you tell us your story? I mean, tell us how things started out for you.

Maria: Well, I think one of the things that we were that, you know, when I was like filling out the paperwork, I think of, one of the questions was like, “when did you realize you were a healer,” right?

Audra: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: And so, and I'm only referencing that, too, because it takes me back to being nine years old, I guess. And I shared the story that I, at 9 years old, or I was 11? I don't remember. I found myself having to stand up to these two bullies. And I just like stand up, like speak my voice. I had to beat them up. And that's the only fight I've ever been in.

Audra: In your entire life.

Maria: OK, so this is where, how I knew, you kind of like the healing part. I think the connection is because I experienced hardship. My heart has always been with anybody that's experiencing hardship like that feels just like a very high priority to me. Let's say there was like 10 people in the room and I know something or get a hint of somebody that, you know, I automatically feel like attracted or like I want to talk to that person more. So I was born in Mexico, in Jalisco. So like, you know where you get the key lime?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: And mariachi. Which is also kind of I would also say it's also kind of a privilege because we're a dominant community here in Southern California. You see like Mexican, Jalisco culture everywhere. So we're very much affirmed in like, you know, in our culture.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Mexican from Jalisco. Anyhow, so I came to the United States when I was 6 years old. And of course, like, you know, we didn't have much. So we moved in with my aunt into her garage, like her actual garage, just converted into a house or a little room. And I was four, four girls. And by this time, there was four of us and my parents. So we didn't have a bathroom in there.

So we had to like consistently knock and be like, “Hey, can I come in?” And so I had two older cousins, like three years older. And so there was this kind of like shaming on their part towards us, towards the daughters. And there was four of us, and I'm the oldest. And so this went on over a long period of time, like three years. And I just think one of the times it was just like it was just too much. So they, I don't think I put this in the story, but they were not only calling my little sisters names, they ended up like spitting at my little sister, like two of them.

Justin: That was in the story. It was like very vivid. Yeah.

Maria: I was so like I can, I was enraged. So I just chased both of them like down the street, like running hard. I don't even know how I ended up. But like basically the story in my memory ends like I have. I'm not proud of the violence. Basically I have my hands, like crammed into their hair like this, like don’t know how to describe that. Like gripping the back of their hair, like by their neck and like on their knees on the side of me. And so my aunt comes out, she's like, you know, “let them go.” And I didn't. I remember I stayed there for like a good hour until my mom got home.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Maria: And she was like, “let them go.” And I did. I think that's also like one of the things that this time and space is teaching all of us is that things are not black and white and that one thing doesn't negate the other. And so although this moment of like, it was like violence and fury, it really reaffirmed like I am a keeper of my sisters, which then really tied into like. Then I talked to them about what happened, and I would. So they just really tied into like I'm also their healer.

Justin: So, Maria, can you go into that talk? So you describe that talk that you had with your sisters.

Maria: Oh, my gosh. OK, I don't probably, don't remember it. I didn't reread that. But I just said, like, whatever people tell you about you, like that's not who you are. You are who you say you are. What did I say, Justin? So that you can tell me.

Justin: I don't have it in front of me. But what stuck with me, it was that message like, you are worthy, you are beautiful. You are strong. Like it was like I mean, it was like, really affirming and like you went back to them, you're like “you are not what those bullies said you are.” And that was really powerful.

Maria: I mean, it was just, it was so important to me to reaffirm that like to just remind them that one, we don't have to put up with people basically just abusing you, you know, and that then you don't internalize that. You remember that.

Justin: But to have that wisdom at 11 or 9.

Maria: I know.

Justin: Where did you get it?

Maria: I know. But I think it's again, because I would see my parents leave like at four in the morning, like because they had to catch the bus. You know what I'm saying? And they're tired. And then be like, I left this, you know, make sure like. So I just saw they’re like I don't even know how to explain it, because it's also not a fair thing. You know, like I don't, I think we keep romanticizing like hard work and sacrifice.

And I feel like I don't like that because it's cost people their lives. Like especially right now in COVID, like especially in California or Southern California. It's like the Latino community, like the working class is the one that has been mostly affected and not just like affected. It's like deaths, like, you know, like it's the highest rate of death is in the Latino community because of COVID.

And it's because of the overwork and the keep going even though you're tired. And so, I just think I was a kid that observed that and then just, it was just maybe connected to what I just said. Like I've lived a lot of lives. So I was alright. It was like inherent there. And it woke up really, really early. I also connected to like realizing when I was undocumented. So that's when I was 11, too. I was in fifth grade, and it was like Proposition 187 was trying to pass in California by Governor Pete Wilson. The fact that I even remember he was the governor.

And it was the time where they were trying to pass, I think it was a proposition, a statewide proposition to take all kind of public services with an urgent care, hospital, primary education for anybody who was undocumented. And I remember as a fifth grader, just imagining the principal calling my name on the intercom, coming to get me from my classroom and walking into the office and everybody watching me. Like that was what played in my mind, like, “Oh, my gosh, everybody's going to know I'm undocumented.” So I feel like all those things layered with whatever wisdom I was already born with, just, it was the alchemy, right?

Justin: Yeah. Oh, wow.

Maria: I need to be. Yeah. Yeah. Like I need to do something. Yeah.

Audra: Maria, it also strikes me or I'm curious around this that your cousins the bullies. Is it fair to say that they had pretty thoroughly internalized the racism and the narratives that were directed towards them and your family?

Maria: I think it was not racism, but the classism, right?

Audra: Classism.

Maria: Like, “Oh, they're poor and they're living in our garage.”

Audra: Right.

Maria: And as a child, you always unless you're directed a difference is something you exploit, unless you give it a direction like, “Hey, we don't say things about people's hair, like everybody's different.” I just think, you know, again, working-class parents on their end, they're not around either.

Audra: What I was thinking was that, you know, these kids in this family aren't it's family likely in Southern California? Was it, is it likely you saw this in some way, too? So if it's not, you know, if it's something that you don't have someone like you in your life to help you understand, like you did with your sisters and to help you work through this onslaught that's directed at.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: That you would internalize and very often in that internalization is also the acting out, not justifying at all, but just looking at that dynamic like space you're in as you're developing your activism, you're in a home, like with family that has surely been affected by these narratives and these messages.

Maria: Mm hmm.

Audra: And you are the more recent immigrants coming in. And then this sort of this aggression and violence is directed towards you, you know, sort of as in that flow and you come on board as an activism and you're addressing some of the root causes of all of it. I see what you're saying.

Maria: Yeah. Yeah, I see what you're saying. Yeah. That’s 100% correct, that the recent immigrant and I don't even know if our skin was darker and all but yeah, that was 100%.

And like a lot of bullies, like they don't feel good about themselves. So they, you know, beat up on other people and that's what makes them feel good about themselves. So, yeah, I hadn't really inserted that before in my as I you know, my analysis of that. But that makes sense. The narratives that they had basically absorbed, unlike what a new immigrants to this country means.

Justin: How is your relationship with them today?

Maria: It's so funny, because I think this is telling of healing like it takes years and literally like a week ago now, putting them on blast, so sorry. One of them actually reached out to my sister and wrote her just like a text, like “I'm sorry for the way I behaved.” Oh, yeah. And yeah, it's beautiful.

Like I just feel like I was always healing. And it takes a long time, right? Because we're talking about time and now we're all in our thirties and. Yeah, late 30s. So we're talking about twenty-something years.

I think one of the things that I love about acupuncture, the fact that I'm a healer in a position like this is that I keep telling people that my patients are just, you know, because I'm in this position that healing doesn't have to take that long. And we don't have to hold on to things for years, like 20 years. That is a drain of our energy. That's a drain of our qi. And we're in, again, in a time of space with like all the movement that's happening in the world and our paradigms being shifted. Like now we talk about death like consistently, right, because people are passing. So it's like just remembering that it doesn't, you don't have to hold on to pain like this for a long, this long. Like healing could happen faster and not that fast is good, but rather you being a healed person is good. And then the sooner you're able to get there, the happier and lighter you'll be.

Audra: And in Maria, it sounds like you did not hang on to all of that that you endured with your cousins. It sounds like, I mean, you returned from that experience. You kind of took the power back. You know, you expressed yourself and you went home and you coached your sister. But it doesn't sound like you hung onto this. Like how did you know to do that? Or what was your healing response like as a kid?

Maria: I think, I don't think it was that I didn't hang onto it. I think it was like I was really busy with other challenges. Like in fifth grade was when I then became, I went from a bilingual education. Right. Because there is a distinction. Right. Bilingual education, is you look, you use your primary language to learn the second language. Right. English as a second language has been treated more of like, you have some kind of impairment in your learning because you don't know English. But anyway, at that school I went to, I was lucky. I was in bilingual education. And then fifth grade was when I was transitioned into complete English classes.

Anyway, so in fifth grade was when I was making my you know, the immigrant experience, what we call is like you're trying to immerse yourself now fully in the culture. So when my sister was not doing that, I kept kind of like shunning her, like she would try to talk to me in the playground. And I was like, “Hey, like go away.” Yeah. So then I became a bully to her and it's because I was trying to, I'm using the correct word is called immerse, but that's not the word I'm trying to think of, like…

Justin: Assimilate.

Maria: Assimilation. Thank you, Justin. The assimilation, as it's understood here in the states, is basically you strip yourself from your culture and anything associated, whether it's clothes, whether it's language, whether it's food. And then you become American or you're trying to become American. And it's so funny. My fifth-grade teacher was a super like American white woman. Her name was Miss Smith. And she would make, you know, you have to say the flag every day.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: Well, she would not just make us do the Pledge of Allegiance every day. We would sing like a patriotic song.

Justin: Oh, gosh.

Maria: So I literally know the United States, the United States, I love of my country, the United States. Alabama, and then…

Justin: Oh, my gosh, I can't even imagine. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Maria: So it was clear to me as a kid, like I made it, I need to stick with this. Whoever is trying to hold me back is not going to, not even if it's on my sister. So, you know how we talk about the healing. So like even to this day, like I tell my sister, “I'm so sorry.” And she's like, “Dude, I already said this like it's ok. Like it's ok.”

But like you as the perpetrator, like kids, like I still feel like I mean, not anymore, because like really in the last years, her and I have just you know, we're like this like peanut butter and jelly. And so we've always been peanut butter jelly, but there was like a little transition. But anyway, it's now until now, again, I'm 36 that I kind of feel like fully resolved with what I did. But again, it's something that when you hurt somebody like that, you know, like but you're a kid, it's like you know what I'm saying? Like it's not like I was trying to be mean on purpose. I was like surviving, I have to be accepted by this new crew, you know?

Justin: Yeah. So, Maria, I want to transition into acupuncture now. So, I mean, we got an idea for what kind of the first sparks of this healing journey or this journey to become a healer for you was. So when did acupuncture come on the scene? When did this as a specific modality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, become something that you knew was going to be your way into actually touching people?

Audra: And Maria, if you need to dip into the lifetime, that is between this trial, this fifth grade assimilation and get into your organizing. And I think you also had some spiritual work in between that to get to the answer to this question. Feel free to go there.

Maria: Yeah, that's so. Yeah, that's yeah. So leading up to how I even came across acupuncture, which really I should just say I stumbled upon it.

Audra: Ok, that’s great.

Justin: You were not searching for it. It just kind of hits you that out of left field.

Maria: And it literally did not set out there organizing for like six years, but being active for like 10 years because I became active when I was 17. Again, the undocumented piece, I needed to take action. I got involved with CHIRLA as a like student, high school student, activist. And, you know, it was not even though I was an activist, like the only reason why I went to that initial meeting was because I knew I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't get financial aid and my college advisor couldn't really help me, because at the time, there really wasn't anything.

Audra: There weren’t tools.

Maria: There's no California Dream Act. There's no DACA. We're talking about like 2000, yeah the year 2000. So we're still like undocumented young people. We're still following our parents' behavior, which is hide, don't cause a ruckus, like don't draw attention to yourself. So anyway, I talked to my college advisor. I mean, I was like a 4.2 honors AP, you know, marching band, you know, kind of profile. And so my college advisor was like, “yeah, that's great. Like, you'll do great.” And I was like, “oh, but I'm undocumented.” Like I felt trust enough to tell her she was wonderful. Miss Hop I love you. Like, oh, she was wonderful.

But that was like outside of her expertise. So that's when I was like, how do I need to do something? Anyway, I got a hold of this organization called CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A. And the only reason why I went to the meeting was because the guy said, “Oh, yeah, and we have scholarships.”

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Maria: I was like, where's your money? But in that meeting, they're talking about legislation called 8540. And they were asking if somebody could speak at a press conference and share their testimony. And one thing that I've always done in my life is kind of follow what my body feels.

And so I remember feeling that like butterfly like belly heat, you know, I was like, well, like I just like I don't you know, I just my hand raised almost automatically. I mean, I'm from then on, I became one of the poster children for that campaign, and I say this kind of when I say the story, but like I probably cried most of the time during the press conference, like I would speak, but then just like the pain of like I'm just a young person trying to go to college, like why do I have to do all of this is like, why do I have to display my pain to make, to convince you?

Justin: But it was that display that was so powerful. I mean, that you were able to go there was always so powerful.

Maria: But now we're like so much more progressive and advanced that we're even as undocumented people are just people who don't fit the cookie-cutter is like, why do I have to be in pain and consistently try to convince you of my humanity, my inherent right to, you know, life happiness, you know, pursuit of happiness or whatever the Constitution says. And you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: Yes. During that time, it was appropriate. And exactly what you're saying, Justin. During that time, that's really what made it impactful. Like when I testified in front of like, I think was the Senate Education Committee, again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I had like the senators like there crying because here's this little 17-year-old Mexican girl crying.

Obviously, that experience changed my life. And so I went to UC Davis, started the first undocumented support group there. But again, it wasn't political for me. It was like I brought these people together because I wanted to hear them, because I wanted us to heal together. So just like their seeds each time of just like healing.

So I actually became a Christian during college. I was a Bible study leader. So I like held Bible study group, Bible study every week. So I would use the scripture and then gather people and then through the scripture, we would heal.

So what I learned in my experience is that anything is a tool for healing and not to diminish, you know, Jesus or Christianity like anything could be it. It could be over food or it could be over a sport like anything could be that inspiration, right. To heal. And then after that, that's when I started with CHIRLA. Again, political activists like this was the time that I was, it was my full-time job. Like this is what I did a day in, day out.

But even during that, I developed this, just different workshops. One of them that they still use now, which is like 10 years later. And it was it's called Unraveling the Undocumented Identity. So it was like an hour and a half workshop to like guide people through, you know, first thinking about it critically. And I can't remember right now, but I said undocumented. I made it a definition, I put it is a forced identity by a government to disenfranchise. And I put like three words, disenfranchise, disempower a group of people. So it's just like a made up. If you think about it, it's a made-up identity.

So that's when I learned my healing powers even more, because I did it as a group. And so I was completely burned out. I don't know. I was, what attracted me to acupuncture, ok, to be 100% transparent was the esoteric part of it, was the energetic part. It was like, oh, the qi, oh, I have points, energy points in my body that I can't touch but can do something for me or really the Tao.

The Tao is the approach that we are like body, mind, and spirit, and that we consistently have to be in balance with nature, which, you know, right before that, I had started to go to sweat lodges consistently. And again, I was blessed to be able to have that. And so learning about like the spirituality of first nation people, in this case, the Lakota. And so it kind of like just all connected really beautifully. So it attracted me for the energetic part. But like now maybe that I'm a practitioner. After four years, I'm going back to the energetic part, because the first four years, it's all because we're…

Justin: Technique.

Maria: A Western-dominated medicine, a country which is great Western medicine. I mean, you both know firsthand what Western medicine can do. You know, you had to have to be very linear, like learn this diagnosis. I like that. But now I'm able to bridge back even more around, like the energy part of like, hey, the food you eat is energy. Like it's you got to set an intention and your body and your qi, you got to basically, like Athena and I and, you know, my daughter, Athena, and I consistently like use sage to cleanse our energy, like to cleanse the qi, because, you know, the energy part we don't talk about a lot, but it's really part of our daily existence.

Justin: The thing that sticks out in my mind is you described like an energy in your belly when you went to the first organizing meeting. And so I just wonder, like just feeling these kind of big energetic surges within you. Is that what clicked when you heard about qi and when you heard about acupuncturists like, “Oh, like that explains this.”

Maria: It’s the funniest thing, Justin, because what clicked for me “Oh this is the medicine” I want to beat was when I was I got my first treatment and I was laying face up and I had gone because I wanted to work on regulating my menstrual cycle. So you're, it's so crazy you’re tying it in because he did belly points on me, and that's what I felt like. I felt the qi moving in my belly.

Justin: Yeah.

Maria: I was like, “Oh, my god, like this unreal.”

Audra: Yes.

Justin: That's awesome.

Maria: 100 percent. Yes. I couldn't believe that like, well, so because he did the needles... He was really handsome too by the way.

Justin: That was the energy going on.

Maria: Yeah. Oh, I was married and I came home and I told my husband at the time the story, he's like…

Justin: Who is this dude?

Maria: And I was like, yeah. He's like, “Yeah, I could tell by the way you're talking about him.” But anyway... But like after, so anybody who gets acupuncture treatment, you're going to feel this like we'll do the needles and you'll begin to like, because this is my first time that I'm describing.

So you don't know what you feel. But as you lay there, like I just felt like these swirls in my belly, like in each point that he had done, I felt these swirls and I was like, “Oh, man, like this is real, like this is it.” So that's when I became a 100% committed to becoming a traditional acupuncturist, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.

Justin: That's awesome.

Audra: Oh, wow. Maria, this is so beautiful. I have to say, I kept getting these visuals as you were telling the story of your beautiful energy, you sharing this beautiful energy with everyone around you. And what really impacted me, too, in this assigned identity for you you have this assigned identity that this society and culture has placed on you.

And again and again and again and how you have had the critical distance and that core soul like who you are, that is completely tied with this energy that has been just such a secure part of your knowing about your life has allowed you to have a critical distance to say that's a point of identity that's not mine, or does it need to be mine, or I can take that on if I want, but I don't have to.

And so, I feel like so many people are like, oh, those sorts of people do that. Right. Those sorts of people go to Chinese medicine or those sorts of people do this thing, or though and I'm this sort of person. And we keep ourselves from experiencing so much in the world sometimes because we don't see ourselves as the sort of people who go and do these other things, right?

You were able to follow your soul in that energetic flow and your spirit to where you needed to go next and where you were being called next. And it just really impacted me as like I could almost see it as you were describing it.

Maria: Yes. I actually love that you're saying that because you're right, like does a Latina become a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, you know, and no, like that's not something that. But it actually just flowed and made so much sense for me because it was like it was healing.

It was healing for me to be reaffirmed in the things that my grandma used to do or my mom does to like tell me to drink a certain tea. Usually juxtapose like to know you should take this medication. The medication gets like this higher value and...

Audra: Right.

Maria: Yeah. And then it was like, oh, wait. So if I saw the cinnamon does help. And I was one of the things when I was applying to acupuncture school, like they asked me like, why do you want to, you know, I had to fill out an essay.

And that's one of and Justin you addressed this question to me was like I was like, oh, that's right. Like every time I'm getting sick, my mom would make canela, you know, cinnamon sticks tea and it would help me feel better.

And so come to the farm pharmacology book in TCM, which is like six inches thick. They have like ten pages on cinnamon, like the properties when it goes to, when it what dynasty it was used in, like the case studies. And it just reaffirmed that piece of like, yeah, our knowledge is true and real. It just, you know, because we were a country that was conquered because of our own inherent like, I don't know, civilization, no weaknesses like the Aztecs right. There were in fighting. So then come the Spanish. And it was just like the perfect moment for them to take over and the Aztec civilization.

But like we've always been a very rich country culturally, like in every way. And so it's been a very healing like and even like when, I have I don't know how to explain a feeling, but like women, I there's a lot of like, like I could think of my grandma or that maybe we’re like, oh, that's just weird. Like, why are you like, why do you say that works or are you thinking that like, I feel like every time I'm able to tell somebody confidently because I have this white coat or like this degree and they believe me, they're like, “Ok, yeah. You know what you're talking about.” I almost feel like I see my grandma smiling.

Audra: Oh, it's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. And that's been. Yeah. As of recent, actually, because so many times, like traditional healers in a lot of countries, especially women, are shunned as crazy or like the witch or whatever. And that's what I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine, which again, now we're like pushing are like the movement is to call it Eastern medicine or traditional Asian medicine.

It just, it was able to package it in such a way where it's not just the claim, like they have the pharmacology to tell you exactly. And the diagnosis and basically how to explain to somebody outside of just like, well, my grandma has been using it for, you know, 60 years and it works. So it's been a very wonderful and healing journey. And everything I'm telling you is so recent, like I'm talking about this word of like healing, like is literally is happening in the last like six months.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Maria: Mhm. Yeah. Because I feel like now I'm in a place as a practitioner where I'm where I feel like really comfortable with the medicine. I'm able to you know, when you're learning a craft or an art like this, you're diligently. I feel like now I'm able to kind of be a little bit more creative, especially with COVID.

Acupuncture and herbs can help treat symptoms of COVID. And so it's been really wonderful to kind of like go back to my books and remember, like what herbs are for what? And because now it's more about like talking about customized formulas, because that's the strength of TCM for when it treats symptoms of COVID. We're going by what the virus is doing to you versus kind of like…

Audra: A blanketed...

Maria: You know, like a same approach to everybody. But I love that I am TCM practitioner in Southern California and I'm a Latina because I felt like it was helping reaffirm a lot of the things that my culture already knows about herbs and like healthy eating or just like things like don't step on the floor if it's cold, like don't expose your back if there's wind. Like in TCM it like has that in so many of our books.

Audra: You were telling me like not to drink cold water, like in the office, you're like, “Don't drink the cold water.” Which I had nothing. I didn't know anything about that.

Maria: Yeah. So like the whole thought behind it is you want to have your body to be at homeostasis. Right? And so our bodies are at 98, you know, 98.6, 98.7. So you always want to have your body to be about that temperature, because that's like the optimal environment for circulation, digestion.

And obviously, there is exceptions in the sense, like if you're a woman who's in menopause, like you're going to get hot flashes. So you're going to want, or like, you know, like children or people after chemotherapy, they get so hot that, you know, they want to feel something cold.

Audra: You're balancing at that point. Right. Yeah.

Maria: You're balancing. And then that's when you also have to be sensitive as a practitioner, like you can't just be so, you know, hard-line. So most of the things we're always saying, it's like a general like principles to follow. But yeah. And then my mom would tell me that all the time, don't drink, especially if you're on your period. Don't drink cold stuff...

Audra: Really?

Maria: You know, and then now there's an actual diagnosis in TCM, in our books. There's an explanation. There's a formula for it that's called cold entering the blood chamber, which means cold entering the womb. It's so pragmatic. It's so like this is a symptom. These are the herbs. This is how you heal it, you know.

Audra: So you're finding these natural synergies and shared knowledge between TCM and your cultural heritage background, the things that your mother and grandmother were talking about.

Are you finding that now that you're in that flow of your own practice, you're getting more creative, like you said, are you able to bring your cultural heritage into your practice? Is that something that you kind of naturally do? Is it a point of conversation with some of your clients? Like what is that like for you?

Maria: Yeah, I think it's more of a point of conversation with the client, because I'll hear them say, “Oh, I thought that was always like a myth. Like my grandmother would always tell me that.”

Audra: Really?

Maria: I was like, no, it's not. Like one of the things I want to do is, well, one, go to China and be there immersed again. I didn't have the chance to while I was studying because I was a new mom, but also go to Mexico to learn like what are the traditional herbs there outside of kind of like these like other connections, you know, like I said, the cinnamon or the ginger stuff like that, because I think that will be like when it's actually customized, more like Mexican specific or not just Mexican, but like Latino-America type.

Audra: Absolutely.

Maria: What are the plants that are native there? But then it goes the same way, like what are the plans that are native here? So like when I talk to herbalists here, they know a lot about the native plant. And I'm like, I don't know that.

Like what I know is what I specialized in was Chinese herbs. So I just no Chinese herbs. And so sometimes it surprises me. Well, for example, Bòhé. Right. That's how you say it in Pinyin Chinese. And it's like, oh, that's mint, you know what I'm saying? So an herbalist knows mint right off the bat.

And I'm like, because one of the questions Justin asked that I thought was interesting was like, what are you working on? Or like, what do you want to accomplish? I think that's one of the things that as now I’m in a, like a different space with the medicine. I do want to tie in learning more about like the native plants where I am. Right. Southern California and then long term, I'm actually going to Mexico and being able to learn some of the more healing practices there, because it's just so expansive, just the same way.

Like one of the things that like Mexican culture teaches is like this thing called “sustos”, which means freight, which means like some experiences, cause you're kind of your spirit or your soul to leave your bodies or you're going on every day like living and behaving. But something scared you to the point where you're you're like and this can be compared in psychology to some extent, like the child self. Right, where like you've left the child parts.

Justin: The parts, parts. Yeah.

Maria: Yeah. The parts. And then you, exactly. And you bring so there's like ceremonies to call back, you know, the soul…

Justin: The exiled parts.

Maria: To enticed it back, to enter. Now that it's safe. And so those kinds of like because a lot of that's amazing to me about like anxiety or they feel like I feel absent in my body. Like that's a description I hear a lot. And so like being able to like maybe tell them I wouldn't tell it to everybody because again, I have to play.

And Ruth knows this better than anybody, right? Because she's in the hospital. You have to play this balance where like you don't talk a lot about spirit or energy when you're doing or talking to somebody who came to you with a strictly Western diagnosis and they are just like, here, fix my back. So, you know, you don't bring all this other stuff, but like with the other patients that are like more intrigued than I can say things like that and would love to bring back some of the knowledge from Mexican healers.

Justin: So, Maria, you mentioned your grandmother and your mother, and to me, I sense this like lineage, this like connection to the lineage. And so when you became a mother, you are a mother now. Is there a specific way that you being a mom, you being a mother, has influenced how you approach medicine, healing this whole world that you work in?

Maria: One of the very traditional things Mexican culture teaches you, and it was actually kind of to a fault like so postpartum being indoors for 30 days was and has been a big teaching.

Sometimes it went like too extreme like I've talked to like older women who are like in their 60s, where like the mother to the daughter that gave birth, didn't let her shower for 30 days because of the cold, because of the water. But anyway, so could be a little bit extreme. But one of the things that I 100% followed instruction on was that like, my mom's like, “Ok, make sure you're resting 30 days.”

And so and because of TCM like and backed it up again, going back to the cold, entering the blood chamber type of approach, you're basically very vulnerable, like your bones literally expanded. So there's a lot of space in between, so cold and pathogens and wind and all of that can enter. So I made sure that, you know, didn't do anything for. And again, that's privilege right? I didn't have to work. My partner took care of me like all of that. So anyway, I did want to mention how like a practice then was affirmed by TCM. And then that's also why I followed it. And because I had the privilege of being able to follow it.

Working like being trained by a pediatric acupuncturist. Because I was a mom, I was, I became inclined to learn about kids. Right. Because I wanted to know. So I think like the mere fact that I was a mom automatically, or I became a mom, attracted me to pediatrics. Right. Because then I wanted to know how to help my own kid.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: I knew the medicine, but not like customized to a kid that, you know, I think we took one class, if that. One of the things that I love about TCM and children is that I could see how fast the qi moves.

So like I say, they have a bellyache or pain with children. Well, the approach is that, you know, you balance it out, right? Like needles are kind of, you know, very can be very invasive. So anyway, so we do acupressure with essential oils. Right. So I can tell you every single time. So I'll put the central oil on my finger and then place it on the acupuncture point and I can feel the qi under my finger is moving. And so once I stop, once I feel the qi stop, then I know it's time. I already did it. And that could be in 30 seconds to a minute.

And so, and I noticed that mostly always in children. I don't know if it's maybe because I do acupressure more on children or when I do the cupping. When I do like the flash cupping, I can feel, so children have high qi right. They're active. So their qi is like constantly moving fast. And so when I'm doing the flash cupping, it's like I'm moving that qi, pulling any of that access qi out so that they can feel calm.

And so one of the things that's, one of the things I just love about TCM, that it's so flexible and that we have so many modalities like, “Oh, they don't want acupressure. Ok, what about moxibustion? Oh, they don't want you know, they're not, they're scared of the fire in the mugwort? Ok, so then let's do the combing.” And so I just love how versatile it is and how I can just really modify it per child.

And I think like connected back to, you know, MaxLove or just like children who are experiencing cancer and cancer therapy. I feel I don't know if it's because they're filling my cup really, because I leave feeling so full. But like I also see how the points are just a treatment I'm doing. Helps them fill back up because a lot of the children who are oncology patients, they are forced for their body to be deficient, especially when they're doing chemo, because it's basically a toxin. Right? So it's like we're trying to kill the bad guy, but we're killing good guys, too.

So a lot of the time I just see how full like after treatment, you know, like just this past Saturday with the four-year-old, you know, patient, it's been like I think we're on treatment six, him and I. So finally, he's more comfortable and he was honest, but he doesn't like moxibustion, like he's scared of the fire. But we were able to like position him where he was like on his belly, on his phone. And so I was able to do like acupuncture point by the ankles, which is a kidney point, because we want to strengthen the kidneys and TCM like the kidneys are responsible for the essence, like the longevity. So anyway, like as I'm doing moxibustion, I and just seeing his, it's almost like I just see the energy like lift back up. So that literally just happened yesterday and that consistently happened.

So I've been really blessed to have Ruth like guide me and Dr. Ruth guide me and teach me. Because now it's like now I'm flying. Like now I just feel so comfortable with children and I'm able to just be just like the medicine. I'm able to be really versatile and flexible in order to help them, you know, in the best way that I can or know how.

Audra: And they sense that.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: And they love you, too.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Audra: You know, they feel immediately comfortable with you. But I do think when I hear you hear you talking, and for our listeners who will be more attuned in this way, I think one thing that's amazing is that you are referring to the pharmacology book in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is an evidence-based approach that goes back over three thousand years in China that you're just seeing backed up by this various forms of indigenous knowledge and things that are passed down generation after generation.

And then what you're speaking of, too, is an intuitive knowledge. It occurs to me, like Maria, it sounds like you see the energy. You just know, you feel it, you feel it in your touch. You have your knowing, you're an energy healer, you're an energy worker. And it's really it comes through so powerfully in how you followed where the energy is needing care and different modalities for this. I think it's just so amazing.

So I love to know today what is, this is Justin's wording. I love it. What is the edge of your personal thriving journey for you right now? Like what are you working on right now? You mentioned the goals that you have, which almost reminds me of like a shaman journey. Like I love hearing about it, but what's your personal thriving journey's edge today?

Maria: Because I've known you and in an intimate and feel in a safe space. It's like this whole energy stuff, like I don't I haven't talked about it and I haven't articulated in such a way, like it's really like everything is so recent, like so like the ground, like my grandmother, like me, bring her up a lot. That's really because I had her dream of her like two weeks ago and it was so vivid and like or just like the energy part, like I hadn't actually articulated that that's what I do. I've heard Ruth kind of talk about it, but I've never associated and said that's what I see or that's how I feel.

Audra: That’s powerful.

Maria: Until I'm talking to both of you. So, I feel like, yes, I really do want to acknowledge that only because it is a very special thing in that sense, that it's like my first time, like owning that or seeing it…

Justin: Owning that, wow.

Maria: Especially in regard to the approach with children, like being ever like, yeah, I do feel that, like I fill their cup. Again, I was thinking maybe it's the whole thing. I feel filled up. Right, because you feel so gratified. But yeah. So a lot of things that are coming up or I'm saying is so like right now, in the moment, as like self-epiphanies.

Audra: That's an important acknowledgment, I think. And I'm really, really glad that you brought that up and just kind of so that we can hold the space for that. It's something that I have incredible awe and appreciation for, Maria. And I just kept getting these feelings and visuals. And it's like I could see and feel and hear what you're saying. It's kind of like a form of an awakening, I guess.

And I have a number of friends who are in various spaces in energy work and healing as well, who have not had paths, anything like yours. But it feels like a similar sort of journey. And it's one that I really appreciate. And it is like a calling. However is it you want to put it or whatever words you want to use or anybody would want to use, you know, religious or not. It is also calling.

Justin: And also, you know, we feel more comfortable with this language now than I feel like we have in the past. And part of it is our own journey. So The Family Thrive is all about expertise. And so we have Western medical doctors, we have dietitians, we have clinical psychology. And we have all of these Western-credentialed experts on.

But we also, in the spirit of truly integrative medicine, we also have people who have expertise in this other realm of, you know, that there's flowing energy and this flowing energy can be blocked. And, you know, we can openly talk about it. Let's talk about what this experience is actually like.

And so you're on here because you're an expert. Not only have you been trained in a modality that Western medicine does recognize. Right. Acupuncture is recognized to help with things like pain and nausea. But then there's this other part. I think you, I love the word that you use esoteric, you know, this like esoteric part. But there is nothing wrong with opening up to this part and saying like there's an energetic flow here and let's talk about it.

Audra: Yeah, I couldn't agree more in talking to Jenny Walters this week on this show and Dr. Ruth as well. The theme was right there. So Jenny found her way to basically psychotherapy. Right. And then her continued work growing as a therapist with energy work and energy healing. That's really important to her. And a similar awakening. And she was an artist before that. And she was like, I'm doing the same thing with this. It's the same thing that is occurring in me when I engage with art and when I engage in therapy and supporting people and healing. And I'm hearing the same thing with you.

You found different spaces throughout your entire life to engage in healing practices with others and to help people heal. It's definitely a life's calling, but to see like the awakening of the energetic in this space from like a healing modality where you can say acupuncture needles do this to say, I can see and feel and realize. And she is so powerful and alive in all of us. And I am tapped in and tuned into that. Like that to me is another level. It's beautiful.

Maria: Yeah. So I'm going to, I guess we could end with that question. What I wanted to say is like, yeah, I'm culturally sensitive. I'm resilient. Right. And I've had a self-healing journey. Those things should be things that are just as valid. Right, as research in a sense, because not only am I an expert in my field, I'm also an expert in these things. You know what I mean?

I've overcome challenges. And now I'm a resilient human right. I'm culturally sensitive by default. Right. Because I grew up immigrant. I grew up “the other,” and I've had an intentional healing journey.

So you're right. We're only able to talk about this because of the time we're in. Right. When we're all kind of ok, let's open our mind to other realities or just other things that have worked that we've basically like shunned out. And as a woman of color and as a Latina, that's also kind of like I couldn't just be outright. Right. Like it's kind of like that saying like if it's all white, it's all right. You both have heard that, I think.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: I don't know who says it, but basically like because there's white healers saying, hey, like this works or that works or like energy workers like it's now they've set the stage or I don't have to be automatically dismissed because they've already established, ok, this you know, this works. And here then I'm like, yeah, this I don't have to prove this works anymore and I don't have to prove that then I can do it like I…

Audra: They put a suit on it so you can accept it.

Maria: Yeah, and so, you know, I feel like I do hope that wasn't insulting.

Audra: No.

Maria: Ok. Yeah.

Audra: Not at all.

Maria: So but no. But that's like the real kind of like always like kind of feels like that in the sense like somebody has to prove it. And it's usually has to be, but it has to be a white person, I guess the way that I've perceived it to be able to say, hey, this works, then I can come on the stage. But I feel like, again, all those things are shifting now where that doesn't have to happen. Right.

Audra: Thank goodness.

Justin: Right.

Maria: Right. And so that's what I love about what you guys are doing, because it is the integration that is going to help most people. Right. It's like being able to not just go to your Western doctor, like go to the holistic healing. I mean, and, you know, acupuncture after that. And then that is like the best marriage, you know, of it all.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Maria: So the things that are kind of like the edge of my personal thriving journey right now is I'm being challenged again to ensure that I actually have a self-care balance. And why I'm saying this is because, like I was mentioning at the beginning, there's so much grieving happening.

And three weeks ago, I had a dear, dear friend of mine pass from COVID, and he was somebody that was really important to me. I met him when I was first—thank you. I was first an organizer with CHIRLA. And so he wasn't just a friend and he was like just one of the healthiest male figures I had ever encountered in my life. And just see, he was so intelligent and just kind of like I would pass by his office almost every day and every day was something different, like, “Hey, have you heard about like the Belgium worker strike?” Like, how do you have time to read about the Belgium strike right now? He was just like. And he's just like so loving and so giving.

And you know, like people always say, like really sweet things about people that have passed. But it's like I'm not just saying that because he passed, like I would have said all of this like in life if he was alive. And so when he passed it, just like triggered like a lot of the grieving that I was already kind of helping hold for all my patient base. And if you look at my patient base, like, you know, it's a lot of people. And it's not just because I talk to them like I also, I touch them. I have to palpate sometimes to find the acupuncture point. And so there's always an energy exchange.

And so really, like in the last days or even just beginning last week, I'm like, I really need to be serious about maintaining my self-care and so I really have a herbal formula. So I started taking that more consistently in my own wellness center. Oh, I haven't even said that I'm a business owner of my own!

Justin: Oh, that’ll all be in the introduction.

Maria: Yeah, Athena Acupuncture Wellness Center. So I subleased to an acupuncturist there. So I'm like, I need to, I'm going to sign up for Tuesday to get treatment. So that's really like a big challenge again, that how are you balancing when you're helping heal so many people? Like it really does pull energy away from you. For a good purpose, but there's ways to protect your energy, and then, you know, now that there's COVID, I always come and take a shower before I didn't do that. But like a shower is really like also symbolic, like the water cleansing.

So that's one of the things I'm really like being forced to look at again. Like how are you maintaining the balance of the energy you're giving to the energy you’re replenishing?

Audra: Oh, such a powerful thing.

Maria: Yeah, it's a big thing, because then what's the point like? You're as healthy, you can only be as healthy as you are. That's how you can demand somebody else to be healthier like you as a practitioner. And I feel like that's one of the like, kind of very important things like that I value as a practitioner to my stuff. Like I hold myself to a high standard. Like I can't be doing things. I can't be asking patients to do things that I don't do.

Audra: That you don't do. Right.

Maria: So it's been that's kind of like what's on the chopping board for me, like, ok, hey, so what's up? And I guess the last tone would be kind of just really stepping into this role again, of being on the macro of like being almost again in the public eye after doing that for so long. I really went introverted, married. I had my child, finished my masters and then started like practicing. So I was really kind of an introvert, into introverted space. And that was intentional. I wanted that. And I feel like the universe…

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Oh, another butterfly moment. Yeah.

Maria: That's a challenge, because again, because it's like you're Latina, you do acupuncture. Does acupuncture even work? Is that a real thing? Like what you invested so much in that? So like, do you know what I'm saying?

Audra: Yeah.

Maria: So that's the challenge. And also kind of being able to embody what I already know. The embodiment is basically that all humans right now, we're basically midwives for like this new earth, this new world view, this new disposition that we're all being forced to become, which is like, you know, loving and compassionate and understanding.

And so being able to accept that and also then just display that those were the places that I'm ok, like I'm getting pushed and I'm flowing with it. And it's a beautiful thing. But again, like it could be, you know, uncomfortable with that. So being able to be on the world stage again as a healer, I…

Audra: Absolutely,

Justin: Mmm. I love it. I love it.

Audra: Absolutely. Because, yeah, what I'm seeing with this is how you have gotten really in touch with how you're a conduit for this energy. So in your self-care, you know, if you see there's an input and an output, you have to have the same size input as you have as your output. Right. You know, and you've got to cultivate that own inner garden and maintain that energy so that you can give and you are a conduit and you are the same thing on the macro level.

You are a conduit for that energy for humanity. You are telling young women all over that that look like, yes, this is this is an identity right here. Yes, I am a Latina healer, acupuncturist and mother and sister and daughter and all of these other things all at once. You know, and I am a part of bringing this next paradigm in the world and to humanity. And it's going to happen energetically. And you're like, I think this key. So for you, this embracing of that is so beautiful. And it's like I feel it from you. I hear it from you. You're in it.

Maria: Yeah. And I just need to own it.

Justin: And own it. Yes. Step into your truth.

Audra: I do want to ask you to tell us what acupuncture needles do you do. It's an important thing for our listeners who are still going to be like, ok, I want to go see a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. How do I do it? And how does it work? So I guess this is two parts. Let's get really pragmatic.

Maria, tell us how the needles work. And then, and I know you have a very simple explanation for it, because you explained it to me beautifully. And then secondly, tell our listeners if they're not local to you. What should they look for in somebody?

Maria: It’s funny you say local. That's exactly what I would approach it as like, if you're interested in seeing an acupuncturist, I would literally Google “acupuncturist” or “acupuncture near me.” And for example, if you're trying to go for your child or for, I don't know, menstruation or low back, you know, when you call them you could ask them, hey, you know, have you treated this before or do you feel comfortable treating this before? And that's, you know, like kind of like everything else.

I will look, you know, talk to them, see if I know their energy, but also, you know, like Yelp and Google reviews. Yeah, very formative, even when I'm picking my acupuncturist. And, but I think asking if they're comfortable with what you're trying to bring them is a really important question. If they say yes, then, you know, there you go. If not, you know, go on to the next.

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive, complete medicine that can basically treat any and all diagnoses with acupuncture, herbs, qi gong, Tui Na. And so it is a medicine that you can feel comfortable with because most things you can bring up, we will know how to treat. And if we don't, we will let you know.

But the acupuncture points themselves, you have like over 360 acupuncture points, and each acupuncture point has anywhere from two to six functions. And the acupuncture points are anatomically identified in your body. So we use your anatomy, whether it's your tibia bone or your femur, to identify the point. And we stimulate it with the needle or with moxibustion or with our finger. And the most beautiful part of it all, and this is what I tell my patients, is your body is a medicine, and I'm simply activating that medicine with the needle.

Justin: Wow.

Audra: That’s Awesome.

Justin: I love it.

Audra: Awesome; That was a beautifully succinct description.

Justin: And it's now like I, over the last year or two, I've come to understand psychotherapy in a new way. And it's the same thing as like the therapist does not have the answers there within you. And the therapist is there just to frame, just to ask the right questions. Maybe it's a sort of interpersonal like verbal pressure point that you have.

Audra: Right, right. Right, right.

Justin: But as far as like it is all within you. All of the healing occurs within you.

Audra: Yeah. Yeah, I love that.

Maria: Exactly.

Justin: We are just about out of time, so we need to ask you our regular podcast question. So these are three questions that we ask every single podcast guest. So, Maria, if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Maria: I would say ensure your children are eating warm foods.

Justin: Warm.

Maria: That's what I would say, like, all right, warm food sounds random, but it's not like kids run hot. So they sometimes or a lot of times want cold food. And again, like going back to the TCM part like children, they're middle jowl, their digestive system is not fully developed yet. So when we're putting a lot of cold, it could actually dampen the body. So that's why a lot of kids will experience like the bellyaches are not good digestion or constipation. That's such a cool, sexy one. But if I come up with a better one, I'll let you know.

Audra: Ok, last quote that changed the way you think or feel.

Maria: Ok, so it's not a quote, but I'll go to the last person that has changed. How I think and feel has been the poet Rupi Kaur. I don't know if that's how you say it. Oh, my god, she's an and her book is called Milk and Honey. And the short answer is, I guess, is what person who writes, quote, has changed your life is Rupi. And she's a contemporary poet. Oh, thank you so much for that recommendation. I'm going to check her out. Actually, her latest book is called Homebody. So anyway, so it really aligns with this whole piece around like your body is medicine.

Justin: Yes. Beautiful. Ok, the last one. Now, I just always have to contextualize this question because for so many parents, especially in the era of COVID, you know, work from home and kids and the kids, you know, we're all just stuck together and we can feel like, “Oh, kids, oh, my god, I'm exhausted.” But we want to have this last question here to celebrate kids. And so what is your favorite thing about kids?

Maria: I love how raw they are.

Justin: Honest.

Maria: Yeah. Like they'll tell me like. So, for example, this young child that I told you about that I treated yesterday, I didn't trick him. He knew I was doing moxibustion and he would turn around periodically to be like, “Don't do that. That's mean.” You know, so like I just love that they're raw in their reactions, which I think could be like the hard part. So that would be that contempt, that patient, as practitioner. But what I love about kids overall is that they remind you to be a kid.

Justin: Yeah. Be present.

Maria: Yeah. Like why are you stressed right now about whatever you're stressed, right? Yeah. What's wrong with you? And then I'm like, “Oh, I have to do this.” And then she's and she just looks at me perplexed. And I was like, well, I guess I don't have to do that. And that's what I'd like… So I love that children are raw. Keep it real. My children remind you to be a child.

Audra: I loved that, Maria, thank you.

Justin: Maria, real quick before we go. If people want to if they live in Southern California and they want to get a hold of you so they can find you at Athena…

Maria: Acupuncture.me.

Justin: AthenaAcupuncture.me.

Maria: That's my website.

Justin: Beautiful.

Maria: And then my email is AthenaAcupuncture@Gmail. Both As.

Audra: You and your practice is in Whittier, correct?

Maria: My practice is in Whittier is called the Zen Acupuncture Wellness Center. And then I practice with Open Mind Modalities in Orange, California.

Audra: Awesome, Maria. It was so, so good to see you. We have so much more to talk about, too. So I'm really looking forward to the next time and the next time.

Justin: We would love to have you back.

Audra: And thank you for contributing to The Family Thrive. We're excited to be doing more and more with you. You're incredible. And thank you for including us in your journey.

Maria: I love that The Family Thrive is integrating all these types of healing modalities. I think that's what's going to change the way that we look at healing.

Audra: Awesome, thank you. I couldn't agree more.

Justin: Hey, thanks for listening to The Family Thrive podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell two friends and head on over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts and give us a review. We're so grateful you've chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

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