In October 2017 Meridians acupuncturist Oran Kivity reaches a new milestone: he will have been in practice for thirty years. Meridians healer Ian Jin Yap sat Oran down and asked him some questions!
What inspired you to pursue acupuncture?
It was a simple chance meeting. I was living in a shared house and my housemate invited his BFF to move in. She was in the first year at acupuncture college and as soon as she told me what she was doing, a voice in my head went off saying ‘’I could do that!’’. With her encouragement, I enrolled the next year. So that chance meeting changed my life. There’s a symmetry to it though. I introduced her to her future husband and I was the best man at their wedding, so we did have a big impact on each other!
What was your motivation?
I had had a difficult adolescence and my early twenties had not amounted to much. I’d been a musician, playing electric guitar in bands. My mum had given up on me getting an office job and by the time I was 24 she was asking me train as a piano tuner (that way I’d ‘’still be connected to music’’) or as a traffic warden (‘’Good pay, flexible hours!’’).
Now, at the age of 25 I was going to do a three-year college course, and I was 100% determined to succeed. The funny thing is, I had no idea what a training or a career in acupuncture would be like. Literally, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Fortunately for me, it was an elevating and transformative process. I grew!
What was it like being an acupuncturist in 1987?
It was early days for the acupuncture profession and almost anything you did was kind of pioneering. It was a very exciting time because employers, charities and institutions had become informed enough and curious enough about acupuncture to want to set up a service but as no one had done it before, every decision and routine had to be developed from scratch.
I was the first acupuncturist to work at London Lighthouse with people with HIV/AIDS, I was one of the first acupuncturists to work in drug rehab and from there I was one of the first in the UK to work with alcoholics, one of my most satisfying roles.
Ten years later, I was in the first wave of people studying Japanese acupuncture in Europe. At one point, I was one of only six Toyohari practitioners in the UK! Like I say, it was a very exciting time!
What drew you to Japanese acupuncture?
I practised and taught Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture for more than ten years. That was my ABC of acupuncture and I spent nearly six months on study trips to China. Then I met my mentor Stephen Birch and he messed with my head, challenging me to think about acupuncture in very different ways to what I been taught.
Acupuncture feels magical. It doesn’t matter what style you practise. I mean, when you treat an acupuncture point with a needle, or moxa or just a button made of copper, and then someone’s pain disappears instantly, that’s a ‘’wow’’ moment! But as soon as I started learning it, I noticed that, for me at least, Japanese acupuncture felt more magical. It felt more subtle, more gentle but more daring and inventive than anything I’d learned up till that point. Put simply, I got more ‘wow’’ moments, every day.
After pursuing it for so many years, what is your takeaway?
In the UK I had a very rich acupuncture practice. As well as my private practice, I taught acupuncture at the University of Westminster, I worked for two half-days a week in a project for alcoholics and another two half-days a week in a drug rehab project. I was lucky enough to get into acupuncture publishing and had a great deal of work writing and editing acupuncture material. I even translated an acupuncture book from French into English. So being an acupuncturist gave me a number of hats to wear and a huge variety of things to focus on.
When I first moved to Malaysia, things were different. For a long time, I just worked in private practice and there came a time when I started to feel frustrated that the other kinds of work were no longer there, particularly teaching. Fortunately, as time passed, the world of acupuncture teaching opened up to me again, and I got to do trainings, not just in Europe and Indonesia but also in Japan, something of an honour! What’s more I found myself with two delightful and inspiring deshi (student-helpers) here in Malaysia, first Koki then Ryo,. Life became very fun!
So that would be my advice to anyone. Wear a lot of hats, change them every day, and have fun.
So what is it like to practise acupuncture in Malaysia?
It’s been a delight! I love the weather, even though the heat does cause problems for my ‘’hotter’’ patients. It was easier to earn a good reputation with the local Malaysian community here than in London. And with the expat community, networking is very easy.
Even here, we ended up being pioneers, starting a corporate acupuncture program that had never been done before. And we won some awards!
I remember you once shared the wisdom of one of your teachers that to build a practice you should simply practise your technique. What would your advice be to a young practitioner?
Yes, the late Yanagishita sensei! He gave us a lecture in Tokyo about how to build a successful practice. We all thought he was going to talk about promotions, getting PR, newspaper and media advertising and in fact, he did mention those things briefly but more to dismiss them than recommend them. His most important advice was, ‘’Practise your needle technique, so that you get really good. If you’re really good, people will recommend you and that’s how you will get true success!’’
Yanagishita sensei started his clinic at 6am and finished around 8 at night. He was an extraordinary practitioner, a tiny man with a huge heart, a bit like Yoda from Star Wars! He was also quite mischievous and very funny indeed. We all loved him. That’s his photo on my clinic room wall.
All I could add to his wisdom is that acupuncture should be fun. It should be enjoyable, for your patients, for your students and especially for you. It should be engaging and fascinating and wondrous. If it isn’t, if it’s routine, there’s something wrong. Keep that sense of wonder and people all around you will be enthused.
What’s your advice about health, given the many cases you have seen and worked with?
The Chinese discussed the causes of disease in the original acupuncture classics. There are external causes, such as being exposed to cold and wind and damp and there are internal causes, namely the emotions. 2000 years later, Louise Hay, who recently passed away, was saying the same thing: resentment is a really damaging emotion and we should learn to let go of anger.
But for me these causes of disease are the most obvious and the most discussed. What’s most interesting to me in the Chinese literature is what they call those causes of disease that are ‘’neither external, nor internal’’.
In many cases, this means lifestyle. Bad habits that come back to bite us as we grow older! My observation, and we have put this into this month’s newsletter, is that we have to move our bodies. Every day. We need to stretch, walk, run, lift or swim. If we don’t, we seize up, slowly getting stiffer and less mobile. For me, health is all about movement. Keep moving, stay healthy!
What’s the best part of your work?
I think there are very obvious rewards to being a practitioner. You get to help people! It really is priceless, when I see someone come back a week after their first treatment and their face breaks out in a smile. I know they’re feeling better!
As a kid I liked model making. I liked putting things together. I liked painting them. Of course, I liked setting fire to my model planes and throwing them out of windows too, but hey, what I’m trying to say is that even as a kid, I liked things that were thoughtful and took time to figure out and complete. Acupuncture is a bit like that too. It takes time to figure people out and results come slowly. But when they do, it’s satisfying. And with moxibustion, I still get to set things on fire!
Do you have any regrets?
Looking back over thirty years, I can’t say I really regret anything. If I could send a letter back in time to myself, I’d tell myself to start learning Japanese acupuncture sooner than I did.
I do wish I could have met Dr Manaka but he died before I came across his book. But I met his student, Stephen Birch and Stephen changed my life instead!
What’s your proudest personal milestone in your thirty years?
I’m proud of it all! After such a rocky start in my teens and twenties, my graduation as an acupuncturist was a really great moment in my life. Translating a whole book from French into English and seeing it published, that was another.
But I guess developing my own therapy with Ontake Warm Bamboo makes me most proud. We all want to contribute to our field and seeing my own personal style of treatment with Ontake spread slowly around the acupuncture world is something I’m pretty chuffed about…
What do you want for the future?
I see you didn’t say ‘’for the next thirty years!’’. Well, some people do work till they drop. I want to do more teaching. I’d like to do more writing. I want to continue helping people in clinic. And I want to continue wearing lots of hats. More of the same, please!