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My Path to Alternative Medicine by Teodora Karaivanova

My first encounter with alternative medicine was during my freshman year in college.

I had just arrived in France to study “Foreign Applied Languages” and the pressure of being in a foreign country, being away from my family and trying to prepare for exams was starting to affect my concentration and peace of mind.  

The local bookstore was my next stop. In the self-help section, I found a flow of information on meditation, yoga, acupressure and herbal remedies. I discovered a whole new world under the category “alternative medicine” and was swept away by the profound realization that the harmony between body and mind is essential to both a healthy and a happy existence.

This realization might sound simplistic or obvious to some observers but for me it was a major discovery. I was brought up in a communist country where spirituality, well being and “non conventional” medicine were viewed as “imperialistic” and scientifically unfounded. Words like “meditation” or “herbal remedies” were synonyms with “occultism” , “voodoo”  or even witchcraft. My mother was a virologist and conversations about   parasites, viruses and bacteria during dinner were much more common then the benefits of curry powder or the position of down facing dog for digestion (this is just for the sake of argument...)

So here I was sitting on the floor of the University library and reading about the benefits of ginseng instead of writing my essay on “Grammatical difficulties in translating economic articles from English into Russian”.  I was hooked for life.

Since then my book shelves and video collection have moved into a new direction: a lot of book titles with the “how” word: how to prevent, how to cure, how to relieve…

The Pilates classes were followed by yoga and transcendental meditation classes. The medicine drawer was replaced by refrigerated alga and Pure Fresh Royal Jelly. Lavender body mist took the place of my beloved “Nina Ricci” perfume and my polyester blouse was replaced by organic cotton shirt (10% goes to the farmers in India)…

I was all over the place like a child in front of a candy store: after 18 years of “holistic” starvation, it was like I had discovered the world of Disney land. Oh, forgot to mention that in the meantime I got my master degree in France, won an ERASMUS scholarship from the European Union and found myself in Sydney, Australia as an exchange student. Then i made some stops in Nigeria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Paris, Florida…and in 2005 I landed in New York where I have been living since.

By now you are wondering if this it an essay on “why Pacific college” or an autobiography on “Teodora’s path to maturity”. The admission committee was insightful enough to require a two pages essay. So let’s move to the second page and answer the question, at last.

My interest in acupuncture started with a headache, my sister’s chronic migraines. Since childhood she was the “head” problem girl and I was the stomach one. While some over indulging dinners can still bring childhood memories back to my mind, my sisters headaches never run away. After several CAT scans, a life long money investment in Duane Reade label and their fashionable product “Excedrin for Migraines: Kate found herself in China town under the tender non- English speaking care of Mr. Chong. The language barrier was not a problem, it turned out needles are like music, if rightly tuned they touch you ( I know I am not applying for an English major but it sounds good).

Life has this annoying habit to always surprise you. After several IVF, IUA and other fertility prone abbreviations, I made my first visit to an acupuncturist, a wonderful lady who had to fulfill the role of gynecologist, psychiatrist, marital counselor and from time to time was even  able to stick some needles in my anxious and tired body.

While sitting one day at a Williamsburg bar with a friend of mine and complaining about life and indulging in self-pity, she turned towards me with a very simple question: do you like what you do? I was about to start my monologue on “it pays the bills, it is OK, I have responsibilities” but then I took a deep breath and paused. What do I think about often; always find the time to do, spend my money on? What is the thing that makes me forget time and that keeps me from distraction and absorbs all my attention? I did not have a clear answer but it was something to do with the human body, mind, healing, human interaction, being useful and compassionate to other human beings in pain and need. The whole holistic approach to “being” and healing, the symbiosis between mind and body...I was overwhelmed by excitement (it was a very convincing internal dialogue).

I must admit, my first choice of career change was to become a brain surgeon. Nothing holistic about opening a scalp but my mother was a doctor, why not me, I am just a late bloomer. Then I looked at my bank account, made some calculations and very quickly my enthusiasm evaporated. To calm myself down, i remember that Latin was not my strongest point  and there is a lot of it in medicine.

That is when becoming an acupuncturist came to mind (Mandarin was as scary as Latin, I was done with languages anyway). All the pieces fitted together: healing, helping people, the human body, energies….bingo. I turned to my friend and said out loudly “acupuncturist, I want to be a doctor in Oriental medicine”. I was sweating and excited (remember, we were at a bar, summer time on a terrace, sun is shinning, Guinness is floating..).  Almost a Hollywood ending until my friend fired the next question: “But how do you feel about needles”?

So there Pacific college, please teach me, inspire me and help me to feel good about needles.

Respectfully,

Teodora Karaivanova