EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with intuitive healer Sarah Emily Sajdak. Sarah is the founder of Beauty Acupuncture and uses Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to work with clients. She has a doctorate in Chinese Medicine with a specialized diploma in dermatology and is nationally board certified in traditional Oriental medicine, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine, holding state licensure in California and New York. Read about her holistic approach to medicine to draw on the benefits of both Western and traditional Chinese medicine.
AW: How did you become interested in Chinese medicine and acupuncture?
SES: When I was little I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up but at the same time I had a history of headaches, and what I didn’t know at the time, migraines. So every time I went to the doctor, they were like, “Oh, nothing’s wrong with her, she’s fine,” but meanwhile I was having a lot of those strange sensations. I was having tunnel vision or weird spots, needing to cover my head and ears, and very intense pain from them.
I was sad because I wanted to be a doctor but doctors don’t do anything, so why would you be a doctor? — like a child’s brain — and I ended up going to music school. I transferred to NYU and was studying anthropology to medical anthropology, French studies, cultural studies, just a variety of liberal arts and at the time one of my friends was getting acupuncture, so I thought I’d try it, it sounds cool, and it goes along with my medical anthropology studies, world medicine.
I would get probably two or three of what I thought were headaches a week at the time, probably migraines, and after one acupuncture session, I didn’t have any headaches for a month, and my whole life changed. It was through personal experience. I can be a doctor who actually helps people, and I know Western medicine has its place, but for me, in that particular situation, Western medicine was not helping at all, so it was great to find a medicine that provided very effective, very fast solutions.
At the time I could only afford to go once a month, so I went once a month to acupuncture, and I just felt better and better, and my whole life changed.
AW: That makes me think of one of my Vassar friends who had really debilitating migraines that affected her academic study–she had to drop classes and take leaves. At one point she couldn’t even leave her room or turn on the lights because it was too intense. And obviously, she was going to the doctor, trying to figure out what was wrong with her and they tried a bunch of different meds (some worked better than others).
SES: A lot of the meds gave me different side effects, like they would make me sleep for 4-8 hours or they’d make me throw up and be really dizzy, so I didn’t have a headache but now I was so dizzy I can’t stand up. So what’s the point?
AW: Right, it doesn’t seem to make you functional either way.
SES: Until recently, there wasn’t a generic migraine medicine. I do have emergency pills for flying or emergency situations, and those pills used to cost me $40 or $50 per pill with health insurance. But if you think about it, $40 to buy back a day or two…luckily I could afford it and my migraines are under control at this point, so maybe I take one pill a year now. But now they’re also generic and about three dollars a pill – but the medicine’s also not very good for you, so it’s just very difficult.
AW: I had a question related to what you were talking about – what do you think traditional Chinese medicine has to offer that Western medicine doesn’t?
SES: Western medicine is excellent for emergency situations like broken bones — an EMT wraps you up and drops you off at the hospital and they sew you up and fix you. In cases of trauma, you have a laceration, they stitch you up, and it’s great. And Western medicine is also great for diagnosis — they can tell you what’s wrong with you by looking at your blood, testing hormones, testing vitamin levels.
But they often don’t have solutions. Western medicine doesn’t look into lifestyle. I’m sure you’ve gone to the doctor and you’re like “Is there anything I can eat differently” and they’re like, “no, doesn’t really matter” but you and I both know if you eat ice cream for three days you’re going to feel horrible and you’re hyper and can’t focus at the same time.
For traditional Chinese medicine, we use acupuncture, we use lifestyle, we use energy medicine, herbal medicine. We use tuina, like acupuncture massage. We have a lot of different solutions to offer people, so I always encourage people to see their PCP to get the diagnosis, to get what’s wrong with them according to Western medicine, and then we can move energy with acupuncture, herbs, all the other things. My goal is to always see people less and less, to empower people to heal themselves with the help of Chinese medicine.
AW: I think about this a lot too because my parents are Chinese immigrants. My dad’s a scientific researcher, but I think there’s an interesting relationship with balancing both. I think my mom has always just had more trust in Chinese medicine than Western medicine – part of it is probably financial because it’s so expensive to go to the doctor in the U.S. – but she prefers things like cupping and acupuncture over invasive surgery.
SES: That’s amazing and if you look on PubMed — it’s a scientific Western medicine database — they have more and more studies for Chinese medicine, mindfulness, [and] yoga lately.
It is contradictory, but it’s hard to do double-blind, randomized studies on patients with Chinese medicine because each session is based on the person. The model of “you have a headache, you take Tylenol, you feel maybe better” doesn’t work in Chinese medicine. You’re this person, we’re going to treat you this way with these points specific for you. If you and your mom both had a cold, you might get some points on your hand, and she might just get some on her face depending on maybe she has sinus congestion and you’re having more a sore throat, so we do the points a little differently even though it’s the same cold and even though you’re related and probably have similar bodies in a certain sense.
I think the proof is in the results. More of the results are subjective. You can get objective numbers like what is your pain today, 10, what is your pain tomorrow, 4, but it’s still subjective no matter how objective you get it. It’s harder to replicate results in Chinese because it is so individualized.
I’m really excited for the research that’s going to come out soon. I think there’s going to be a lot more targeted small studies, maybe not using acupuncture needles but I know when I was in high school I was obsessed with emotions and the physiological neurotransmitters — like what’s an emotion, is it a chemical neurotransmitter or is it an actual feeling? Even if you fake smile, there’s something about the way the anatomy is that allows the blood to flow in a certain way that then triggers neurotransmitters that will make you feel better, release serotonin, and then you feel better. So sometimes if you’re just sad and home alone you can fake a smile which is kind of silly, but it’s fascinating how the body is here to heal itself.
AW: I’ve studied some psychology and it’s interesting to hear about studies like one where people who held a pen in their mouth while they were reading a comic found it funnier than other people because they were forced to smile. Or these people who smile more and live longer. It’s interesting how that physical act interacts with whatever’s happening on the inside.
You talked about how you were first introduced to acupuncture. Did you have any mentors early in your career who really inspired you or guided you when you were getting started?
SES: Definitely. I took an extra year to get through Chinese medicine school — it’s normally four years, I took five. There’s not one person in particular but because of that extended time I was really able to choose the teachers I wanted to work with, so I was able to choose a lot of teachers who grew up in China who were eighth-generation acupuncture healers and worked here and had practices for like thirty years. I was really able to work with the masters — not that other people don’t have anything to offer — but I got really rich training from having so many experienced teachers.
AW: With COVID-19 and not necessarily being able to work with clients in the ways that you’re used to, what do you think working with clients on EvolvEd would look like in this kind of remote platform?
SES: I think it’s going to be really fun. I’ve started doing video consults which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When you start a regular traditional acupuncture session there is about a 15-minute talking period and then you get your acupuncture. My idea with forming a class here was to take the time that we talk and put that into the video. It’s great because I can access people who don’t know about Chinese medicine, especially on this platform. There’s not that many healers on here which is great. It can introduce people to a new form of self-healing.
I would encourage people to still seek out some sort of body work. You know if they’re in LA, New York, they can choose whoever and take it or leave it, but being an acupuncturist is more than the acupuncture — it’s those other pillars like the massage, the energy healing, the lifestyle, the diet, the herbs — all of that. We can do most of Chinese medicine without the physical touch part which is still very powerful.
AW: Do you think there’s a hierarchy in the medical world when talking about traditional Chinese medicine or Western medicine, with which one people think is more legitimate or effective, that you have to combat?
SES: I have people in both directions. I have people I beg to take an Ibuprofen when they get home which is funny and they’re like “You’re my acupuncturist, you should…” and as soon as the “you should” you know it’s a red flag. I find the benefit in both, but there are definitely people out there who are like “oh, I’m gonna try this acupuncture stuff because nothing else has worked” and ironically their M.D. referred them to me.
I think everybody needs to realize that everything has its place in life and in medicine, and you just have to figure out — if you break your leg, don’t come and see me. Come to me after you’ve been to the surgeon. That’s a very clear-cut example, but I get a lot of women who are trying to get pregnant but if the doctor says “You’re not going to get pregnant, you’re going to have to adopt, you’re going to have IVF” and those are things they don’t want. Well, come see me for three months, see what happens, and then either you get pregnant or I support you through the IVF and/or adoption process.
It gives you a bigger set of healing tools which I think is really empowering. I think traditional Chinese medicine has worked really well with Western medicine. Like I mentioned, Western medicine has all the tests, we have the tongue and pulse diagnosis, and it’s amazing how a lot of the time I’m like “Your pulse is like this” and then they’re like “Oh my god my doctor said my blood is like that too,” and you see, there’s something to this. It’s pretty fascinating.
AW: I like the perspective that they’re not conflicting approaches so much, but that they can work holistically to help you.
AW: Lastly, what is a superpower you would want to have?
SES: That I want to have or that I have?
SES: A superpower that I have, which can be very confusing, is I have really deep empathy, and I have physical empathy, so a lot of times my superpower in practice is somebody comes in and let’s say they have a migraine. I’ll get this sensation in my body, like in my hip, and I’ll say “But what’s happening in your hip?” and they’ll reply, “It’s so weird that you ask me that because I’ve had this hip problem for my whole life but nobody can fix it.” So there’s something intuitively in me.
It’s a funny story, there was one time (I’m not somebody who burps) and this one time I came out of the bathroom at work, and I just let out two really loud burps. I know a lot of people don’t believe this kind of thing, but this guy down the hall looked at me and I thought it was so weird. I walked into my office, and my patient had gotten there early and she was like “I don’t know what it is, I just can’t stop burping today.” I have a lot of really weird synchronicities like that.
That is for better or for worse, one of my superpowers, but it’s really you learning through qigong energy healing to protect yourself and what’s yours and what’s not yours. I’m sure you’ve had that with your family too, and I’m sure your mom has called you at some point saying “What’s wrong?” and you’re like, “How did she know?”
They’ve actually shown this in Western medical studies where they take cells from a mother and daughter. I don’t remember which cells or how but they had them in petri dishes. They had the daughter walk through a really dangerous neighborhood and the cells, even though they weren’t in the daughter’s body anymore, were still reacting and then the mom’s cells were reacting too.
We’re all more connected than we think, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Sarah is offering a variety of courses on EvolvEd to help you with intuitive healing, getting pregnant, color therapy, intuitive style/fashion, and skin health using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Follow Sarah on Instagram @aquariusacupuncture!