Electrician for the Body An article written by MelisaJones
When I walked into the office for my first interview with Camille Vardy, carrying my recorder and my typed sheet of questions, I thought I already knew what answers to expect. I had been going to Camille’s for acupuncture treatments almost every week for the past month. My mother, who is also a patient of Camille’s, introduced me to her when my anxiety problems did not improve. She thought that Camille would be able to help direct my energy into a more positive form. I had never given thought to how that was supposed to work and where it came from. I knew that it worked, for me at least, and that was pretty much it. After my interview with Camille Vardy, I realized that there is so much about acupuncture that people like me don’t know and misunderstand. Acupuncture is far from just a Chinese treatment involving needles. It is so much more complex. So what exactly is acupuncture? According to the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, acupuncture is “...a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing” and to to improve improve its functioning. This is achieved by inserting needles and applying heat to precise points on the body. The Chinese explanation of the treatment is that the body possesses many channels of energy, another name for these channels is “meridian”, that run in regular patterns within the body or over its surface. The scientific explanation of acupuncture is that by needling the points on the body, one can trigger the muscles, spinal cord, and brain to release chemicals that can either change the experience of pain or influence the body’s internal regulating system by triggering other hormones and chemicals. While acupuncture is usually associated with pain control, it can also be used to treat digestive disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological and muscular disorders, and urinary, menstrual, and reproductive issues. Sure, you can go online and look up the definition of acupuncture, but it’s much better to go and talk face-to-face with a seasoned practitioner, which is why I paid a visit to Camille Vardy.
Camille’s office is one of many inside of an office building located on San Antonio Circle in Mountain View. The building is built around a small garden with a tiny pavilion sitting in the middle, surrounded by green, leafy vines. Camille’s office is almost devoid of any sound. There is a set of chimes tied to her door handle that ring when you come in and they sound as loud as church bells. Numerous painted Chinese wall scrolls hang in her office and treatment rooms, along with plaques depicting Chinese characters, which are uninterpretable to me. Camille and I decide to have the interview in her small waiting room, over a small table on which sits a box of herbal tea. Camille is a tall woman with dark, wavy hair and glasses. She speaks in a relaxed, but precise and to-thepoint way about her career and her patients, and her voice is almost therapeutic. When Camille was 13 years old, she received a book on herbs and a book on nutrition, and from then, she knew that she wanted to go into some form of alternative medicine. When she was in her mid-20s, she received an acupuncture treatment from a long-time friend. She describes the experience as “profound”. “I got off the table and said “Wow, I want to learn how to do that”,” She recalls, “So I called up the school the very next day and I started in the very next class.” Camille had also studied in China and in New York for 6 years under a man named Jeffrey Yuen, who had an 88-generation lineage. Additionally, she attended Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, working on a 4-year Master’s degree program. “It’s actually a really hard program,” she says of her Master’s program. “There was an MD in my class who said it was harder than medical school, because you have to learn all of Asian medicine and all of Western medicine at the same time...we have to be able to deal with insurance companies, doctors, and Western patients who come in with diseases with Western names. They don’t understand the Chinese stuff, so we have to be able to translate it and create a relationship.” The program had 25-30 units a semester and Camille remembers studying 12-14 hours a day for 4 months in order to prepare for the 4-day licensing exam. Besides doing treatments at her office, Camille teaches acupuncture to “not-so-young adults” at Five Branches University. Most of the people she teaches are going into acupuncture as a second career, usually, because someone they know is an acupuncturist. When I ask her if there was more than one kind of acupuncture, she laughs. “Oh my gosh, there’s so many different kinds. People don’t realize...if you go to a doctor and you don’t like your doctor, you just change doctors. People here, if they go to an acupuncturist, they don’t like it, they say, ‘Oh, I tried acupuncture, I didn’t like it’, or ‘It didn’t work’...but we are as different, really, I mean...it’s an art form.” She then makes one of the best metaphorical descriptions I’ve heard outside of my Design and English classes, regarding acupuncturists. “We’re as different as different artists...you could say... “Here’s my set of paints”, but every single person that approaches those paints is going to do something different with it and that’s exactly what it’s like. I’ll teach a seminar...I’ll teach a bunch of techniques and pretty much every single person will come away with something a little bit different.” I asked her about the names of the different types of acupuncture. Camille tells me that the main type that is taught in the US is Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, which is just a small part of what Chinese medicine is historically, having come out of the Communist era. She goes on to describe acupuncture in the rest of the world, and I was surprised at how widespread the practice was.
“There’s so many different kinds...it’s been going on for thousands of years in the most populated place in the world...so that’s just in China, then you have Japanese acupuncture, you have Korean acupuncture, you have Vietnamese acupuncture, and also it’s been very popular in France and Germany as well as here...There’s a kind that comes out of England that’s 5-element that really focuses a lot on the emotional kind, so there’s many many different styles.” Camille herself actually practices very little TCM. She does Japanese acupuncture and more classical Chinese medicine which preceded the Communist era. After I ask her how acupuncture works, she churns out another impressive metaphorical description, breaking it down into terms I can understand. “I’m an electrician for the body...first of all, your brain is this huge reservoir of electricity and it shoots electricity through different parts of the body via the nerves,” she explains, “There’s electrical impulses that go through the nerves and those electrical impulses going through the nerves control your heart beating and the movement of your muscles and it controls nutrition in and out of the cells and waste products out of the cells... they call it “chi”, but it’s electricity. And what happens is, like any electrical circuits, sometimes there are blocks in the circuit...there are areas where there’s too much electrical energy built up in one place...and what we do with the needles is...we just move the electrical energy along so that it’s circulating again. But finding where to do that is what takes all the years of study.” Besides needles and Muscle Melting (relalignment of the body), Camille also works with Chinese herbs and not a lot with Western herbs. She does an extensive amount on nutrition. She believes health is something that comes from both the emotional and physical well-being of a person and offers counseling to her patients as well. Many people can benefit from acupuncture, as her clientele base shows; one of her patients was only 2 days old, another 96 years. Acupuncture is supposed to be very deeply relaxing, Camille says, and most people go to sleep during the treatment.
“...Your brain is this huge reservoir of electricity and it shoots electricity through different parts of the body via the nerves...like any electrical circuits, sometimes there are blocks... and what we do with the needles is...move the electrical energy along so that it’s circulating again.”
“The brain controls everything in the body, I can use the electrical energy to relax muscles, I can use the electrical energy to correct any kind of internal problems, so I work with heart problems, lung problems, digestive problems, I can work with diabetes and high blood pressure, with kidney problems, anything...once you control the electrical circuitry, you control the organs.” I asked her to share with me some of the common misconceptions people have about acupuncture. She starts with the most obvious one: the needles. People don’t often realize that the needles Camille uses are completely flexible and not much bigger than a hair. Another misconception people have is that acupuncture diesn’t have a lot of offer in comparison to Western medicine, even though acupuncture has years of tested evidence behind it in one of the most populated places in the world. The problem, Camille says, is translating the ancient language into modern, biochemical terms. When asked about how she handles her skeptics, Camille says very simply that she speaks to them in Western terms, never using the traditional Chinese language unless she is speaking to another acupuncturist. My last question is more personal: how did Camille see herself as differenct from other acupuncturists? Camille says that she doesn’t think other acupuncturists have the same viewpoint of bridging the gap between ancient and modern times and translating the language into biochemical language. Another difference is that Camille does do lab testing, even if she says acupuncture doesn’t need it, because sometimes it’s very useful. Besides the older practitioners that come from China, Camille is one of the senior practitioners. About to end the interview, I ask her one last thing: if she could choose one idea about acupuncture that she wished everyone would understand or know about, what would it be? Camille comes up with two points. One is that acupuncture is really about moving electricity in the body. Second is that Chinese medicine in general has a lot to offer and that practitioners haven’t learned how to communicate it, but Camille would like people to understand that there’s a huge amount in acupuncture that’s untapped. So what do Western doctors think about this practice? I interviewed Dr. Jean Lighthall and asked her about her stance on Eastern medicine. “I’m open to it,” she says, “I have a lot of patients who had something like back pain or other pain syndromes or, actually, a friend of mine’s daughter recently had some gastric reflux, like heartburn, and she went to acupuncture and it actually helped, so if that helps, that’s great, I’d rather see somebody do that than take a bunch of medications.” While she hasn’t specifically recommended acupuncture to any of her patients, because she doesn’t have the knowledge base to recommend it, she sees no harm in it. As for Eastern medicine being more integrated into Western practice, Dr. Lighthall says that, yes, absolutely, it should be taught, because it’s going to come up in practice and patients will ask about it. She observed that over the years, there’s more of an open mind in the medical profession towards Eastern medicine practices and, instead of being called alternative medicine, it’s complementary medicine, which makes it seem more like a part of the integrated medical practice. After my interviews were finished, I thought about what I’d learned and was surprised that there was so much more to Eastern medicine than a lot of people know. There are many different styles of acupuncture to choose from and many different techniques. So far, I had barely been brushing the surface of Eastern medicine.