Start each day by setting your intentions. Remember that the item on your to-do list that is shouting the loudest may not be the most important task; if you begin your day with a clear sense of your priorities, you can choose what to do based on what will move the mission forward.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, 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! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My career began with an instinct to help others; it was as broad and naive as that. But as my work took form — after studying East Asian medicine in graduate school, I practiced acupuncture in a hospice before starting my own practice in New York City — I became fascinated by the body’s ability to heal itself.
In 1999, I founded Yinova. I believe that people heal when they feel safe, so I aimed to create a tranquil place, free from judgment, where people can get care and advice while tackling their health challenges. We’re a family practice and we use Chinese medicine to treat everyone, from tiny babies to senior citizens. However, reproductive medicine is one of our specialties, and over the years, we’ve helped thousands of people realize their dream of having a family. My first book, Making Babies: A Three Month Program for Maximum Fertility, was published in 2009 and describes the methods we use at Yinova to help people conceive.
Today there are three Yinova Centers in New York, and Harper Collins just published my third book. It’s called Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing and is a distillation of everything I’ve learned in my career about how our bodies can be prompted to heal. These days a team of talented practitioners provides care at Yinova, but I still see patients myself. I still love my job as much as I always did because it’s enormously satisfying to help people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
In the early days of my practice as an acupuncturist, I had a patient named Andrew, who saw me weekly to treat his back pain. A year into our working together, Andrew came in for an appointment, acting more solemn than usual. When we sat down to chat, he told me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. But he had a dignified sense of optimism, and he was intent on regaining his health. At a certain point in our conversation, he looked at me and said: “I think we can turn this around together.”
I was terrified. I have never advised my patients to go it alone with acupuncture or any other healing medicine without the advice of a doctor, I am a firm believer in integrative medical partnerships. But Andrew was prepared for this. He’d agreed with his doctors that he could take three months — his cancer was at a stage that his doctors felt would progress slowly and needed only to be monitored during this time. So we crafted a collaborative regimen. I gave him weekly acupuncture treatments and worked out herbal preparations for him.
At this time, something else was happening in my practice. My patients and I had noticed that I had energy coming out of my hands that was palpable. And I began to understand that our bodies are filled with consciousness; that each cell knows who it is and what it’s supposed to do. Part of healing, I realized, is prompting that innate awareness. So although I was skeptical about it, I brought this healing energy to the forefront in my sessions with Andrew when I could.
Andrew and I discussed the importance of taking a holistic approach when attempting a health transformation of this kind. I advised him to explore past traumas and conflicts to surface unresolved emotional suffering, which can create areas of stuck energy in a person’s body; the lack of flow can make it difficult to turn the tide on one’s health. Committed as ever, Andrew contacted family members he’d been avoiding rather than confronting emotional difficulties. He turned toward his Catholic church community for support and reconnected with his sense of a mysterious force at work in the world. He focused on his diet and exercised regularly. Everything that I advised Andrew to do — the acupuncture, energy work, emotional healing, connection with spirit, Chinese herbs, healthy lifestyle — was designed to give him his best shot at recovery based on what I knew about the body’s innate intelligence and its desire to heal itself energetically.
At the end of three months, Andrew consulted with his doctor, who gave him another biopsy. To both of our astonishment and relief, it showed that there was no longer any cancer. When he tried to tell his doctors that he believed that acupuncture, as well as the terrible-tasting Chinese herbs he’d had to drink at my behest, had helped to make the difference, they brushed this aside, preferring instead to explain that he’d been one of the lucky ones who’d gone through “spontaneous remission.” Either way, fifteen years later, Andrew is still healthy; the cancer has not come back.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As my acupuncture business grew, I felt an increasing belief in my practice and an increasing sense of pressure. Though my abilities were expanding, I hadn’t yet learned how to manage them responsibly. I couldn’t bring myself to turn away a single patient, so I was booking sessions back-to-back, offering more of myself than I could afford to give; I was depleted and overwhelmed.
As healers, we’re no good to anyone if we allow ourselves to run dry, and I learned the hard way to prioritize my own health and take care of myself. These days, there is, if anything, more pressure on me. I have investors, a board, and a large team at Yinova, along with a career as an author. Although my days are full, I’ve never been as exhausted as I was at the beginning of my career because I’ve accepted I can’t do everything, and I’m in choice about where I direct my energy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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?
At my most overwhelmed, I recalled a book called Conversations with God, a friend had once left behind in my home. I’d picked it up and skimmed the first page — and found I couldn’t put it down. Despite using the word “God,” the author offered nondenominational, nonjudgmental guidance that spoke to me and put words to some of the most powerful experiences in my energy work. I reached out to Neale Donald Walsch, the author of that book, under the auspices of a work project having to do with the variety of ways we define God. However, when we finally connected, we talked instead about how drained I felt and the anxiety I had about the future. In the middle of our conversation, perhaps sensing that I was not at a point where I would be embarking on a new project of any kind, Neale asked me point-blank, “Do you need a mentor?”
And we began our enlightening friendship. Neale’s advice and insight helped shape my attitude to business and life. Through Neale, I developed a non-dual view of our consciousness — that at some level, we are all one. I began to understand that our egos create an illusion of separation and division, which disconnects us from our fellow human beings. Healing is about connection, and I owe much of my practice to Neale’s advice to choose love and expansiveness, in even the most challenging circumstances.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
As I wrote Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing, I began to understand that we affect each other in ways that science is just starting to measure. I quoted research that showed that when two people talk to each other, one person’s heart waves can be seen in the other person’s brainwaves.
I also reviewed an experiment where two people were put in separate MRI machines, and when one thought about the other, their brainwaves showed evidence of synchronization. That’s the same experience we’ve all had where we think of someone, and then they text us. We are creating loose connections with people, a phenomenon that scientists call resonant bonding.
I wondered what was happening when I was with a patient and whether the connection is measurable. So, I submitted my body to science! We took an EEG of my brain and an EKG of my heart while giving an acupuncture treatment and found that my heart and brain go into what’s called internal coherence and emit the same frequency. At that point, thanks to mirror neurons, the patient’s heart goes into coherence with mine, and when we’re all emitting the same frequency, we create a bond that allows information to be passed between us.
The silent collaboration between human beings has broader implications than the therapeutic relationship, however. Engineers at Princeton University designed a machine, called a Random Event Generator that could be changed by the human mind. They found that when people focused on it with a shared emotion the effect was measurable. Love and compassion created the most powerful effect on the machine, but fear and contempt were also powerful and made a measurable change.
At a time of great political unrest, the implications of this are huge. At the level of consciousness, our emotions affect each other, and fear and cruelty can spread like a virus. There has never been a more important time to choose compassion and kindness.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Start each day by setting your intentions. Remember that the item on your to-do list that is shouting the loudest may not be the most important task; if you begin your day with a clear sense of your priorities, you can choose what to do based on what will move the mission forward.
2. Make time to move. I have a puppy who needs a lot of exercise, and I find that a daily walk is a great way to deal with stress and gives me time to think and plan.
3. Plan a daily digital detox. We all need space to be creative, and the constant pinging of emails and messages is distracting. I turn off notifications for at least part of my workday and schedule set times to get back to people.
4. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, focus on moving your diaphragm. We all breathe more shallowly when we are anxious, and it adds to our stress. When I feel out of control, I breathe into my abdomen and focus on how my diaphragm moves as I breathe slowly and fully.
5. Practice mindful eating. We’re all guilty of eating whilst surfing the internet or watching TV, and many of us eat on the run. This kind of mindless eating leads to overeating, so I’ve learned to eat slowly and focus on my food. It makes me enjoy my meal more and is a form of meditation that is easy to fit into my day.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There is an aspect of our health that we take for granted; our bodies are intelligent and have an awareness that operates outside of our minds. Our bodies respond to most stressors by adapting. Every organ system synchronizes its efforts with other organ systems. This ability to communicate and coordinate is what the Chinese called qi, and in India was known as prana.
In fact, most major cultural traditions identified a vital energy that governs physical and mental processes and provides all living beings with a blueprint for health and abundance. My recent work has involved teaching my patients to harness this innate intelligence to prompt their bodies to heal.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started,” and why?
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.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
It’s hard to choose between these because they are all important. Still, mental health concerns me most right now because a lack of balance on an individual level underlies many of our other problems as a society.
As healthcare practitioners, we have seen a rapid increase in people suffering from mental and emotional problems. The causes are numerous and include political polarization that leads to mistrust and contempt. The clickbait nature of news on social media exacerbates this because fear and hatred are powerful motivators. Throw into the mix a global pandemic resulting in a long lockdown with social isolation, and we have a recipe for emotional dysregulation.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!