Acupuncturist Maryam Ghasemi is a unique addition to BodaHealth. She has studied both in Iran and Canada; she is a teacher and a learner, and she has a foot in both Western medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine.
I interviewed Maryam to find out more about her background and how she became interested in Chinese Medicine.
Jeda Boughton: How do you describe what you do for people when they come to you seeking help with their health and wellness?
Maryam Ghasemi: First of all, I spend the time and communicate very well with my patients to understand the main source of their problem. Once I’ve made a diagnosis, I develop a treatment plan following the principles of Chinese medicine, but I also use my Western medicine background. Through my acupuncture treatments, I try to combine both systems of healing to give my patients the best results that I can.
JB: You’ve said you’ve been interested in healthcare since you were young, what sparked your interest?
MG: I spent my school-age years convinced that I would go into medicine. During my secondary and post-secondary education in Anatomy sciences I began working as a teacher’s assistant and eventually university professor alongside my peers and professors at the university.
JB: You have a Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Anatomy and a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Radiation Technology in Iran. What took you into those fields?
MG: Because I have always had a great interest in medicine, I started a bachelor of Medical Radiation Technology program. The program had many courses in anatomy, and I realized that my major interest was to continue learning more about anatomy. During that time, my peers always came to me when they had questions, and I recognized that I could transfer what I’ve learned to teach others.
JB: And now you are teaching anatomy to students of Traditional Chinese Medicine, how do you like working with students?
MG: through my knowledge of both worlds I can help bridge the gap, and encourage more students to actually get a better understanding of TCM, acupuncture and anatomy in a comforting and friendly environment.
JB: I remember, when I was a student, it was hard trying to comprehend two very different systems of healing. How do you like teaching? Is it a good change of pace from treating patients? Do you feel strongly about helping to train more TCM practitioners?
MG: I was an active and aware student, often the one that other students came to if they had questions or problems. There were many cases that students expressed their gratitude towards me for helping them solve problems and answering their questions. Past academic success in this area prepared me for the challenges ahead and helped me realize that I love teaching. It is exciting to observe the changing roles of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in our current medical system. I plan to enjoy every moment of this process because of my clear vision and goals which include contributing to the improvement of our TCM students’ education.
JB: Did your parents or relatives help shape your interest in healthcare?
MG: Growing up in a family with both health-conscious parents who are involved in community services, and committed to saving lives and helping people in need, made me a caring person. By dedicating myself to doing community and volunteer work, I’ve discovered my interest in becoming an acupuncturist and instructor.
JB: What kind of work did your parents do? Are they still involved in healthcare?
MG: My parents did volunteer work in healthcare, some of the people they worked alongside taught them a little about herbs and nutrition. So I learned some from them about natural medicine. They are retired now.
JB: Did you grow up in Iran? What was it like compared to living in Canada?
MG: Yes, I believe, where you live doesn’t matter most of the time. What’s important is how you live. For me, when I was living in Iran, I tried my best to achieve my goals and keep my priorities in line and this is the same since I moved to Canada.
JB: How popular is acupuncture in Iran? Do a lot of people access it as they do here in Vancouver? Being in a clinic on West Broadway in the healthcare corridor I know we are lucky to live and work in a place where Acupuncture is well known and well utilized, was this your experience in Iran?
MG: Yes, nowadays acupuncture is well known in Iran too. 10 years ago, there weren’t many clinics to help with acupuncture but, now there are more acupuncturists and more active clinics, the same as Canada. The only difference is in Iran just the medical doctors and health-related PhD holders can go into the acupuncture programs.
JB: How does this other training in Western medicine impact your understanding of Chinese Medicine? How does your Western scientific training assist your Chinese Medicine practice?
MG: Sometimes TCM can be a hard healing system to understand. Because I’m naturally compassionate and through my background in both Western medicine and TCM, I find that I can easily relate to people and help them understand some of the concepts and applications of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
JB: What sparked your interest in Acupuncture? Do you remember how old you were when you first heard about acupuncture?
MG: In 2013 a friend came back from India, where he was studying acupuncture. We spent a lot of time talking about acupuncture and what he experienced during his education. He was working with a lot of stroke patients. He introduced me to the doctor I worked with within Iran that does ear acupuncture. I received some treatments from my friend and the results were amazing. This was during the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation, and I began to have a fascination with TCM. When I discovered that I could combine my goals of working in the health care industry, pursuing a career that enabled me to have a positive impact on others, and my passion for TCM grew. I knew I had found my career path!
JB: I think it’s really common to have had first hand experience getting acupuncture before you decided to go into the field. I was also amazed by the results after my first acupuncture treatment. It was in the early 1990s and I really didn’t know much about acupuncture at the time. What other tools do you use in your practice? Do you use moxa, gua sha, tui na, herbs, etc?
MG: In the clinic, I mostly use Acupuncture, Tui-Na, and Cupping. However, what I use is different for each patient, and depends on their individual needs.
JB: Do you help your patients with nutrition, Dietary therapy or lifestyle changes? For example, do you use the Chinese medicine food cures system with your patients?
MG: Yes, it depends on my patients’ issues. Sometimes just changing a little in someone’s lifestyle such as eating and sleeping habits, I can see a tremendous change in their overall health condition. I often add nutritional advice to my treatments as well.
JB: Can you speak a bit more about your style of acupuncture and how it can help people with their health and recovery goals?
MG: With acupuncture, I have found that the most effective acupoints are around the walls of blood vessels, near main nerves, or near bones. These are anatomical areas from the western point of view that have the most nerve endings around them. When we put needles in those areas, the big pain message is transmitted to our brain more quickly. As a result, our brain secretes hormones and neurotransmitters like endorphins to calm down pain fast. It’s from that action that patients can see the results right away after treatment.
JB: What is your intake and treatment process when you are working with a client? Do you always start with one modality, such as acupuncture or does it depend on what their issue is?
MG: Usually I begin with a consultation before making any decisions about what modalities I would use. Depending on my diagnosis and my patient’s comfort level, I choose one or more modalities to start with. In most cases, I begin treating patients with acupuncture.
JB: Are there any specific injuries, imbalances or pain that you tend to treat a lot, or that your style of treatment works really well for, such as low back pain, osteoarthritis, rotator cuff problems, or internal medicine such as digestion, skin, stress, anxiety, fertility, etc?
MG: I have found that Chinese medicine works very well for a wide variety of problems. However, like western medicine, when the problem is acute, patients tend to see the results of their treatment faster than treating chronic problems—ones that they’ve had for a while. I work with patients who have all kinds of injuries and health conditions, but because I see effective results very quickly in patients with shoulder problems, such as rotator cuff problems and frozen shoulder. I also work with a lot of patients who are experiencing stress and anxiety. I particularly enjoy treating patients who have those conditions.
JB: Shoulder pain is very physical, while anxiety is a mental health condition. Do you find that TCM (or your treatment style) is better suited for physical conditions or mental health?
MG: I feel, here is the point that makes TCM different from Western medicine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are mostly looking at the body from an energy point of view. We believe, most of the time if there is enough smooth flow of energy in our entire body and channels, we wouldn’t experience any problem and if the energy is not enough or stagnated, depending on which channel or part of the body is affected, can show the problem in different ways sometimes as a mental issue and sometimes as a physical problem.
JB: You mentioned you have some interest in working with patients who have a lot of stress. How does your work help people who are under stress? What kinds of tools do you use for them?
MG: I feel acupuncture is one of the best tools for stress, depression, or anxiety problems. There are many effective points that can help my patients. I observed powerful results for many of my patients. For example, when we are under stress sometimes without noticing, we are contracting our muscles which is one of the reasons for body pain all over during stress. Being under stress for a long time can cause a contraction in our energy channels too, and it leads to disruption in the flow of energy. Here is where acupuncture can help to flow energy through the body and channels so we can feel relaxed physically and mentally.
JB: Do you use ear acupuncture, or seeds when treating stress and anxiety?
MG: I love using ear acupuncture and acupressure but it depends on my patient’s issue. Most of the time, I use a combination of body and ear acupuncture. Also, I teach my patients breathing techniques and ear massage to help with stress.
JB: Do you work with reproductive health? For example, what kind of work do you do with fertility patients and pregnant women?
MG: Yes, one of my favorite subjects is gynecology and TCM. Chinese medicine and acupuncture are amazing when it comes to women’s health. I help patients going through menstrual issues such as pain, irregular bleeding, nausea, infertility, etc. Patients with fertility problems, pre and post-pregnancy issues can benefit from acupuncture treatments. By nourishing the uterus to prepare it for housing a healthy embryo and maintaining the pregnancy, labor-inducing and helping with after pregnancy care. I love working with these patients.
JB: I have heard you say that you help patients bridge the gap between the Western and Eastern models of healing, what does that mean to you?
MG: Because of my background in western medicine and my Ph.D. in anatomy, when I’m treating patients, I’m not just thinking just about meridians and acupoints. I intimately know all of the tissue structures and movement (muscles, nerves, vessels, tendons, etc) in the area underneath the acupuncture points, too. During each treatment, I’m working from both points of view to achieve the best results.
JB: What kinds of things do you do for yourself to stay fit and healthy?
MG: I’m big on eating healthy food at the right times, getting regular exercise, especially walking, making sure I get enough sleep, and meditation.
JB: You already have so many skill sets and roles, and you are constantly adding more skills. Just wondering what’s next for you professionally? Are you planning on doing additional studies or courses or do you want to evolve in a particular area with your practice? How do you see the next few years rolling out?
MG: I am so busy working and learning! I have learned so much from each one of my patients. My continuing studies include learning different acupuncture techniques, and eventually, I would like to expand on my knowledge in the acupuncture field and turn my attention to the study of Chinese herbs.
JB: That’s exciting that you are going to add herbology to your expertise. As you know, it’s one of my favorite modalities! On a closing note, is there anything else you would like to tell people who are considering acupuncture?
MG: I feel, there are two important key points to see the effective results in fewer treatment sessions. First of all, Seek treatments during the acute stage of a problem, and secondly, commitment to finish the course of your treatment.
JB: Thank you Maryam! Though it has only been a short time, the Team is really enjoying getting to know you and working with you. We look forward to many more years to come!
About Maryam Ghasemi:
Maryam Ghasemi is a Registered Acupuncturist at BodaHealth in Vancouver. She received her training in TCM at the Tzu Chi International College in Vancouver. She also received her Ph.D. and Master’s in anatomy in Iran. In addition to treating patients at BodaHealth, Maryam teaches anatomy at Tzu Chi International College.
To learn more about Maryam visit her full bio here and stay tuned for more Practitioner Spotlight interviews from the BodaHealth team.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.