Employ talented people and empower them to do a great job. I have many faults, but I’m not a micromanager. I have some very talented colleagues, and I’m constantly amazed by their ideas and creativity. They bring talents to the table that I don’t possess, and I’m grateful.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jill Blakeway.
Jill Blakeway is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM), a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist (LAc), and clinical herbalist practicing energy healing for over 20 years. Jill founded the Yinova Center in NYC in 1999 and acts as Clinic Director. Blakeway is the co-author of Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility, the author of Sex Again: Recharging your Libido and recently published her third book Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing. She was the first acupuncturist to ever give a TEDTalk, at TEDGlobal in 2012.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I had a conventional upbringing in a small town in the north of England and seemed destined to live a quiet rural life in my native Yorkshire, with an AGA stove and a pile of kids and dogs. So no one is more surprised than me that I married an American and have lived most of my adult life in a foreign country, practicing Chinese medicine and writing books about health and healing.
Looking back, my life-path owed more to chance than planning. I was a single Mom with a small baby who decided to recover from a difficult divorce by taking a temporary job in Florida. In Florida, I first experienced Chinese medicine and became enthralled by Taoism’s explanation of human consciousness and its role in healing. That interest led me to an eventual Doctorate in Chinese medicine, and a career as an author, business owner, acupuncturist, and herbalist.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s something of a cliche for a British person to quote Winston Churchill, but I’m fond of the quote, “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” When we’re faced with a painful situation, it’s human nature to contract, often to the point of inertia. In the early days of my business, every curveball seemed to derail me. However, over the years, I’ve learned that handling the unexpected is my job, and I’m more able to take unpleasant or unwanted experiences in my stride. When I feel myself contract in response to the cards life has dealt me, I consciously choose to expand instead and have found that changing my reaction creates an energetic movement towards resolution and progress. But Winston said that better than I can!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As we’re talking about managing change, it makes me think about the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tsu. Even though it was written in the 6th Century BC, it is rooted in such a deep understanding of the human condition that it is as relevant today as it always was.
During the pandemic, I opened my copy of the Tao Te Ching randomly and came upon this from chapter 76:
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
To me, this passage is a reminder that holding fast to our views is not a form of strength but weakness. Suppleness requires us to live in the present moment and gives us the flexibility to respond to change with greater ease.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Immediately before the pandemic, my experience was one of momentum and growth. My third book Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing, had just been published a year earlier, and I was in negotiation to host a TV series based on my experiences whilst writing the book.
Yinova, the company I founded, was in a good place with a great team at the helm. The company had completed a seed round of financing the previous year, and we had grown into three thriving centers in New York offering Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and bodywork.
My first book, Making Babies: A Proven Three-Month Program for Maximum Fertility, established Yinova as a source of integrative fertility advice and treatment. Although, as a practice, we treat everyone from tiny babies to senior citizens, we’re known for our reproductive specialty. We are sought out by people looking for help with a range of problems, from PMS to morning sickness to menopause.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Our appeal is our relaxing centers, experienced practitioners who listen carefully, and the quality of the acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine people receive. And until March 2020, we were expanding to keep up with the demand for our integrative approach and the efficacy of the hands-on medicine we provide.
So it was quite a shock to realize that we were going to need to be “hand-off” for an indeterminate amount of time. Early on, we decided to keep paying our team for as long as we had the money to do so. This was obviously a morally correct course, but also a good business decision. The clinical team is highly-qualified and experienced. Many of the team members have been working for Yinova for over a decade, and their institutional memory is important as we bring on and train new clinicians. In short, our team is our most valuable resource, and we wanted to support them.
Although we are known as an acupuncture practice, we have always practiced the whole system of Chinese medicine, which as well as acupuncture, includes exercise, dietary, and lifestyle coaching based on the timeless principles of East Asian medicine and prescribing herbs and supplements. Because of our specialized fertility knowledge, we are a particularly beneficial resource for people trying to conceive.
So within a week of closing our centers, we opened our virtual practice and online pharmacy. Initially, we aimed to provide continuity of care for our existing patients, many of whom had been seeing us weekly for many months. We wanted to maintain our connection to them and provide them with specifically tailored herbal medicine as we had always done. We began to meet with patients over a HIPAA compliant video link and realized that so much of the counseling we offer is easy to do virtually.
Our herbal pharmacy had only operated in-house because we prescribe a uniquely tailored formula for each patient, and to do that, we need to see our patients. However, as we could still see our patients, albeit virtually, the pharmacy moved to one of our Clinic Directors’ basements, and it’s administration moved online. We became adept at meeting with patients virtually to offer support and advice and then prescribing herbs and supplements to be sent overnight.
We realized that there was a demand for fertility advice at various price points. As a cheaper alternative to virtual wellness and herbal medicine consults, we added a Fertility Coaching and Support Group, led by Senior Yinova Practitioners, a group that meets weekly for 8-weeks to work through a curriculum based on my book Making Babies. Our first group’s feedback was so positive that we decided to make this combination of group support and coaching into a permanent Yinova service.
Our flexibility came from a genuine desire to care for our patients, and I think it was this heartfelt wish that made it seem effortless to create new infrastructure to meet new challenges. In many ways, it reminded me of my early days in business, when we were doing everything for the first time and took change and growth in our stride.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I’m not sure I had one. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. The whole Yinova team just kept putting one foot in front of the other until we’d created a new way of doing the job we love.
I knew we had created something engaging when I realized that our website’s unique monthly visitors had tripled during the pandemic. We kept ourselves busy and had a lot of fun by making videos, hosting webinars, and participating in social media events. Our motivation was to be a resource for our patients during a difficult time. Still, I soon realized that we were attracting people from all over the world who want to be part of our community.
The pandemic made it possible for anyone to feel connected to us, whether they watched a cooking segment on Instagram live, attended a free seminar on immunity, came to our monthly online book club, or read a blog article on at-home self-care. Many new people became our customers from that initial connection, buying supplements from our online store, joining a coaching group, or meeting with a Yinova practitioner to troubleshoot a health issue.
How are things going with this new initiative?
After three months, our clinics reopened, and we could see our patients in person again. And they came back straight away. Our fertility specialty attracts a particular type of determined and knowledgeable consumer. They understand and measure the value of what we do, and they were delighted to see us again and come in for acupuncture and bodywork.
Reopening during a pandemic meant developing a new approach operationally. We slowed down our schedule to avoid people waiting in our waiting rooms; we trained our staff to use PPE and employ enhanced cleaning procedures. Part of our new approach includes meeting with our patients virtually as well as in person. All initial consultations are now done by videolink to cut down on time spent talking in the treatment room, and I think we’ll continue to do this even when the pandemic ends because patients tell us they prefer it.
And given the hardship people have endured, we have looked at ways of reducing the cost of both virtual wellness sessions and in-person treatments while offering maximum support and community. That idea inspired a newly launched monthly membership scheme, which offers discounted in-clinic or virtual services and community events online.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This pandemic has made me grateful, not for a specific person, but for a team. There was a time when Yinova was just me. I treated the patients, answered the phone, and cleaned the office at the end of the day before going home.
I sometimes romanticize those days in my head, but the truth is, it was lonely. In the intervening years, Yinova has grown into an organization with a team of skilled and enthusiastic people. When we all work together, we create something bigger than any of us could build alone.
We had to be nimble in 2020, which was made easier because we are an experienced team who are used to working together. As we created new ways of working, our operations team responded by creating new workflows, manuals, and training so the team could adapt. Our finance department worked out how to cut costs where we could and navigated us through financially. Our marketing team enthusiastically set about the task of keeping us connected to our community by generating helpful content and finding innovative ways for people to connect to us. Our clinicians used all of their knowledge and experience to create new ways of helping people. Our administrators kept the show on the road and made sure we still had fun as a team by helping us meet virtually for yoga practice, meditation, and happy hours.
If I was on my own, there is no way I could have done any of this, so right now, my focus is on what we are capable of creating not as individuals but as unique components of a bigger whole. I’m grateful to be a small part of a vibrant organization full of talented people.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Our minds are often unreliable because they are programmed by past pain. So in business, I have learned to factor in how my body feels. When I’m making a decision, I ground myself and ask myself what would “feel” like a clear action. Since I started to do that, my business has grown, and my life has been less stressful.
2. My job is to put out fires! In my early days in business, I used to get thrown off by every curveball, which resulted in unnecessary stress. Then one day, it dawned on me that putting out fires is my job. Now when an unexpected issue arises, I think, “Oh! A fire. I will put it out!” and then I move on with my day.
3. Forgive and move on. Human beings are a bit of a wildcard, and their behavior can be hurtful. Over the years, I’ve been stolen from, lied about, and lied to. I’ve found that it helps to remember that other people’s projections, and their resulting choices, have very little to do with you. These days I move people out of my life without rancor.
4. Allow some time for stillness. I get my best ideas when I’m relaxed and quiet. No one will schedule space for you to be creative, so you have to make that time for yourself.
5. Employ talented people and empower them to do a great job. I have many faults, but I’m not a micromanager. I have some very talented colleagues, and I’m constantly amazed by their ideas and creativity. They bring talents to the table that I don’t possess, and I’m grateful.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
When I think of this time, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. A lot of what has happened has been outside all of our control, and that is anxiety-provoking. Still, once you identify and accept the inevitable and go with the flow, it frees up your mind to focus on having a creative response to change. We started this interview with Tao Te Ching and Lao-tsu’s thoughts on the importance of flexibility. Cultivating that flexibility is an antidote to anxiety.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Our society emphasizes individuality; I’d like us to be more aware of how we are connected.
In my book, Energy Medicine, I looked at research that showed that people’s heart-waves show up in other people’s brain-waves. Or an experiment where two people were put into separate MRI machines and when one thought of the other their brainwaves syncThese experiments suggest that our hearts and brains’ energy fields can — and do — reach others. We are, in essence, in quiet collaboration with one another.
We are affecting each other in ways that science is just beginning to explain, but with that knowledge comes a responsibility to be collaborative and kind.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Russell Brand is making a huge difference by speaking his truth and sharing what he’s learned. I find him inspiring.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!