Unpacking Your Wellness Journey by Mari Udarbe Han

Have you taken the time to think about Unpacking Your Wellness Journey? The year 2020 woke up the world.  We were forced in so many uncomfortable situations. Being forced into lockdown made us rely on social media to connect with each other more than ever before.  As a result, we could no longer look away from the social injustices that are still alive and well today: the continued erasure and mistreatment of Indigenous communities in Canada, anti-Black racism, gender-based violence against women and especially trans women and the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic – to name a few.

If we want to see an end to these injustices, we must be the drivers of change.  It starts with unpacking and unlearning our identities because we all have been socially conditioned.  We were all born into the very system designed to oppress and exert power over others.  Once we acknowledge how we show up in this world, we can choose to use our privilege to stand in solidarity against injustice.


So, what does all this have to do with wellness?



As wellness practitioners, we are fortunate to be able to share our knowledge and passions in service of others.  It is our responsibility to name behaviour that could be causing further harm to the individuals we claim we are trying to help.  We must advocate in correcting these harmful behaviours in ourselves, our peers and our mentees. 

As wellness clients, we are privileged to be able to seek treatment and counsel so we can improve our quality of life.  We must recognize when this privilege is at the cost of another individual who is marginalized or experiencing any type of oppression.

The ability to access and receive compassionate care is a human right.  If you stand for the right to health, then you must stand up for collective wellness and stand against social injustice

May is Asian Heritage Month.  I would like to pay homage to Asian medical practices which we have co-opted into Western medicine today. 

The most common example that many of us may have experienced is the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices such as Acupuncture, cupping or gua sha.  TCM is rooted in Taoist philosophy by treating the individual holistically and with an aim to restore balance and harmony of the body’s vital energy, called “qi”.  Our qi is made up of opposing forces, yin and yang which both complement and contradict each other.

  • Acupuncture is the practice of inserting and manipulating needles into particular points on the body which lay along meridians, or energy channels. 
  • Cupping is a form of therapy that involves the suction of the skin and the surface muscle layer to stretch and be drawn into a cup which is believed to optimize blood flow.
  • Gua Sha is a technique using a smooth-edged tool, such as pieces of jade, which is pressed and stroked on a lubricated area of the body until a mark appears (this mark is called “petechiae” in English, or “sha” in Chinese)

As a physiotherapist, I have been fortunate to learn Acupuncture and Cupping and have been able to incorporate these techniques into my physiotherapy treatments.  Although there are Traditional Chinese Medicine schools in Canada, many practitioners are able to certify in these TCM practices with non-TCM organizations.  Including myself.  Because Acupuncture has been researched for years on its efficacy of treating pain and injuries, this ancient practice has been westernized for our own benefit and gain.  It has inspired modern approaches such as “dry needling” which is the insertion of needles in specific trigger points to relieve pain.  This applies to anatomical principles rather than true TCM.   

If you incorporate Acupuncture into your care, it is important to acknowledge the co-opting of this ancient practice.  Personally, I’ve taken ownership of this truth and made myself accountable by continuing to learn.  I’ve committed to honouring the history by explaining the roots and philosophy of Acupuncture to my patients.  I do not claim to be an expert or a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and make it a point to center local TCM practitioners, especially to those individuals who only want to receive Acupuncture or to pursue therapies that may be more aligned with TCM principles.

I would also like to note that Cupping is also part of TCM.  The Western medicine world now uses the term “myofascial decompression” interchangeable with Cupping.  In unpacking my own identity as a Filipina-Canadian, I’ve learned that cupping was also an Indigenous healing practice of the Philippines known as “Ventosa.”  The Philippines is a South East Asian country which had pre-colonial healing practices including midwifery, herbalism, energy medicine and mysticism.  Similar to TCM, the traditional Philippine approach to medicine also takes a holistic view of the individual, including environmental factors that affect one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  If you take the time to learn and stay curious, you would find that many ethnic groups from Asia share the same approach when it comes to healing and wellness.

This is an invitation for you all to look at your wellness journey:

What are your favourite wellness practices?

Are any of these rooted in cultures or ancestry other than your own?

Are you profiting off the communities and bodies from which these practices originate from?

How can you honour these cultures?

How are your keeping yourself accountable from causing further harm?

Whether you receive Acupuncture treatments, participate in yoga, practice meditation or other Ayurvedic principles, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and commit to staying accountable to how you can do better.  Complacency is no longer an option.  Health is every human’s right. 

Let’s be the drivers of change and there’s no better time to start, than right now.

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