[The Decolonizing Medicine Podcast S01E04. Original release date August 22, 2021.]
Jamee: You are listening to the decolonizing medicine podcast. We will be exploring the intersections of decolonization and healing work with Black and Brown practitioners involved in a variety of modalities. I am your host, Jamee Pineda, coming to you from Piscataway territory otherwise known as Baltimore, Maryland. My ancestry is mostly Tagalog and some Chinoy, but I was raised here on Turtle Island. I am also a queer non-binary trans person and a practitioner of Hilot and Chinese medicine. The guest for this episode is Christian Totty. Christian is of Black and Cusabo ancestry. She was born, raised, and currently resides on the traditional homelands of Kiickapoo, Shawandasse Tula, and Myaamia relatives in the Northwest Ohio region. Christian is the founder of LOAM Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine and is the first woman of color to own and operate an acupuncture clinic in the area. She founded LOAM in 2018 as the culmination of her intersecting curiosity in culture medicine and ecology. Christian also has advanced training in diversity, equity, and inclusion; urban farming; and breath work.
Jamee: I am so excited for this next guest, Christian Toddy. Christian I've been following you on Instagram and seeing all the amazing offerings that you're putting out there. It's just so wonderful to actually be able to have a conversation with you about decolonizing medicine, one of my favorite topics. So how are you how are you feeling this morning?
Christian: I'm feeling pretty good this morning. Also really excited to chat about this very important topic.
Jamee: Yeah, cool! So, um, how did you get into healing work? What was your journey around that?
Christian: Yeah, I like to say that it really began with the fact that on both my mother and my father's side, my grandparents, great grandparents, they were all farmers. And so on my dad's side I come from sharecroppers from Kentucky, but they also share cropped in Ohio actually or did sharecropping in Ohio. And my grandmother's side they lived in rural Ohio and, you know, they were just farmers and so when I grew up during sort of my early years, young child before school started, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandmother always kept a garden and so I would basically just help her and anything that she didn't have in her garden we would go to farmers markets in the summer or as late in the season as we possibly could just to pick fresh produce. So she really taught me about having a relationship and a connection with land. And then, sort of as the years went on, I started off in non-profit, that's primarily my sort of career background if you will. There just kind of came a time when I asked myself the question, "How can I help or do this work in a different capacity?" I was primarily doing administrative support as well as outreach. When I asked myself that question I looked into programs and so I started with massage therapy. So I got my license and worked with a chiropractor, had my first acupuncture session, and then from there I kind of developed or really rekindled an interest in East Asian medicine studies. I've been interested in the philosophy and the theory for a long time and then paired with my upbringing, you know with my grandmother and my grandparents, I started to try to weave together these things that I was interested in had a passion for and just kind of didn't know how exactly to do it. So it really began when I when I kind of took that leap in my mid-20s around that time to kind of explore what it really what it really meant and what healing really is and how to reconnect healing in the healing ways of my people, but also understanding the healing ways of other indigenous medicine and other people of color.
Jamee: That's so lovely. You're hitting healing work in all different realms. It's not just food or it's not just body work. It's all integrated into your experience which for me that's like really how traditional medicine is practiced, where holistic means it's involved in all aspects of our lives and it's involved in how we connect with each other.
Jamee: So I really really love hearing about that. So what are the modalities that you are practicing now?
Christian: Yeah. So primarily I still integrate, you know, the massage therapy. It just, it did not leave me and so and a lot of that is really about paying attention to somatic, I guess, responses that people have. And so it's certainly connected with East Asian medicine, acupuncture, and other modalities such as herbal medicine and cupping and gua sha, and even a little bit of sound healing. I did a breath work training last November. It's actually about a year after my father had passed so it was quite auspicious the timing. But I found, thankfully, or the person that I trained with sort of came to me, if you will, a woman of color. I was really thankful to find that training because a lot of the training for breath work is unfortunately not done by people of color at least at the present moment. So I did the training. It was a really intensive experience and so now I'm sort of incorporating that as well. And breath work has been extremely transformative. It certainly sort of shaped and shifted my meditation practice which I also try to incorporate with folks that I see in my my private practice. And then something else that has sort of, I think, I'm just sort of re-igniting or just really trying to acknowledge and embrace it is that sometimes I receive messages. And it often happens, for me at least, around death and grief and and it'll just be - oftentimes it comes in the form of a question when somebody either walks in or when they're on the table and I'm like, this is a really random question. ls this question for me is it for them? So, you know, I'm just like let me get out of the way. I ask it usually or at least now I've started to ask it and most of the time it's been something that somebody needed to be asked. I've tried to let myself kind of like get my ego out of the way and let that kind of modality, if you will, kind of come to the forefront, too. Because I realized it's something that I can't - I can't quiet. I did for a long time, so yeah.
Jamee: That is so fascinating that grief is what is coming up for you a lot and association with death. I - for those of you who don't know, Chinese medicine has lots of correspondences between elements and body parts and also our emotions. So our respiratory system is very much linked to the emotion of grief and processes of dying and letting go. So it just to me that's it's so, it's just synchronizing in how you're practicing and where your skills are growing and becoming more and more abundant.
Jamee: I'd like to go back to talking a little bit more about the breath work. For you, what is breath work and what is it not?
Christian: Yeah, yeah this question is so good. Breath work let's let's talk about what it's not. It's not a hack. It's not an amendment to practice. It's not easy. Breath work is the practice. We might not recognize it as such or we might not be able to sort of pinpoint, if you will, that that's the work that we're doing, but even if, for an example, somebody starts a meditation practice from point A to point whatever, D, Z, your breath is gonna change. And even though you might not necessarily mark it or even notice it the breath is going to change. And certainly when we go through, as you mentioned, processes of grief and if somebody passes away or if something in our life shifts tremendously. I mean even in just in my experience of having a little one and that kind of grief that you go through for who you were before you had another soul come into your life who's entrusting you with their their wellness and their health and their healing in some capacity, right, there's a process of grief to that. And so I think that with breath work and being in connection with the lungs, the respiratory system, but also the way in which the breath can kind of shift our other systems in the body, the way that it opens us up, the way that it enables us to sort of tap deeper or more deeply into our sense of who we are on a really fundamental level, all of that really plays into, I think, what what it what it is, right? So we're kind of back to your question. It is a process of letting go. It is a process. It is a hard process. Breath work, I mean literally you're exercising your lung capacity and that's hard. A lot of us don't get the chance to or we forget to or we're not sure how to. And so that's why I really say that it's not easy and it's not an amendment and it's not a hack, right? You're not going to hack your way, or whatever, into better health, per se, by doing the breath work because you have to practice it consistently in order for those benefits to really solidify and to really sort of integrate and become a part of how you live and kind of shape who you are from that point, if that makes sense.
Jamee: Yeah, yeah. Would you mind going into a little bit more detail about what the benefits are? Why why do we need to pay attention to this?
Christian: Yeah, oh absolutely. So paying attention to the breath can help us in a variety of situations. Okay, first and foremost we might think of utilizing breath work when we're in moments of trauma or in moments where anxiety is high or stress is high. Those are helpful examples and when we can control the breath, it helps to regulate the breath. And something that I've been interested in terms of like a theory, I guess if you will, but really I think it's deeper than a theory. It's more of a cosmology that we definitely learned about, you know, as practitioners of East Asian medicine being fortunate to have studied this this legacy of knowledge something my professor certainly talked about while I was in school, but a concept that was solidified for me by the work of Dr. Edward Neal who runs the Neijing Studies in Portland, Oregon it's not a new concept that he's sort of, um, expressing, like I said it has deeper roots or it has historical roots, but it's this concept that the world operates in a breath motion pattern. And so that's kind of playing to what we were talking about earlier with the elements and the phases of the sort of the five phases or five elements and the way in which things manifest from the cosmos in our universe and it becomes more tangible as it moves toward the earth in our perception and our experience, right? So the lungs, you know, for an example, being a manifestation of of that um element of metal, right? And how metal is manifested or how it how it shows up in our lives as grief, as the sound of a voice, right? As a coin, you know, for an example, sometimes air, right, as well. And so the benefits of knowing that, or at least of practicing something that is connected to that, right, is that concretely what research shows is that breath work can help to reduce anxiety. It can help to decrease feelings of depression. It can certainly help to modulate the stress response and so that our body, mind, spirit can come into a more "rest and digest", if you will, as opposed to the "flight" or "fight" and "freeze". It can help with digestion. It helps with sleep. It can help also just with general well-being. And again it helps us to learn a lot about ourselves and to even heal kind of past traumas in the way that the sort of anatomy and physiology of what's happening when we're practicing the breath work, what happens when oxygen and carbon dioxide are, you know, sort of coming back into harmony or balance. That process has a sort of spiritual connotation as well and, um, most people who I talk with, who I've experienced breath work with, who I've either I've facilitated or I've been facilitated by, everyone has had a pretty transformative experience even if it's only four or five minutes. You know certainly those who go through training experience it, but, um, yeah, it has it has just myriad benefits that really resonate, in again, the mind body and the spirit.
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Jamee: How does breath work relate to decolonizing and collective liberation?
Christian: Yeah, um, yeah. So I would be remiss if I would not bring in to the article by Tuck and Young. This article it's about, you know, decolonization is not a metaphor. I've read it and I've been rereading it and when I think about how, when I think about the process of decolonization, really what we're talking about is very concretely repatriating land to indigenous people. And so that native sovereignty. Native land is our primary focus, is the priority. As someone who is of mixed race, Black and Cusabo, my relatives who came from South Carolina were vanished, were classified as extinct, you know? Which is an odd feeling. It's an odd thing, reality, I guess? And to also be of African-American descent, you know the idea of being - my ancestors being brought here to a land that they didn't know. That they were chattel property, you know? And so at once in my head and since I've been little, even going back to what I was mentioning about my grandmother, holding this odd conundrum of being sort of this you know, wild, you know? You know, Indigenous people are often considered wild, if you will, and Black people are considered, you know, property. And so it's a juxtaposition that I don't take lightly and so, you know, I just wanted to mention that in your quest- in terms of your question because I think sometimes some of us don't necessarily think of our, of decolonization in that way and sometimes decolonization can be used as a metaphor for social justice or other movements for justice and it is not that. You know, not to say it doesn't include that, but it's something very specific. And in terms of breath work, with every exhalation we really have an opportunity to let go. And in in decolonizing, in decolonial work, no matter what it is we're talking about decolonizing, whether it's our mentality our, mental health, our systems, there is a process of letting go. There is a process of grieving and there needs to be that very palpable process of grieving and grief and letting go and we have an opportunity to practice that very clearly with breath work. And so when it comes to this kind of topic of breath work as it relates to decolonization, I think it's important to point that out just in terms of the way in which, for some of us, the term "decolonization" has become a metaphor and sometimes often a substitute for, or an umbrella term for, the work of social justice or other movements for justice. Um, and so and so too, you know, I don't take lightly sort of the reality of the people that I come from and their connection with land and how also land and breath are very connected. And how even in our studies of East Asian medicine there's almost a synonymous feeling or synonymous sentiment of the breath and spirit and how the breath moves through you. And so when it comes to decolonial work, or the work of decolonization, we literally have an opportunity with every exhalation to practice liberation and to practice what it means to be decolonial because the truth of the matter is that it takes a letting go. If we're really going to be decolonial in our thinking, in our action, we have to let go and we have to also go through the very palpable and real process of grief. And it does take, um, takes time, right? And it does take work. And what studies have also shown in terms of breath work is that a lot of us are not able or know how to take a really full exhalation. And so, you know, that means that we're emptying out our system of that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere and that process in and of itself is is challenging because there's there's a sense of, there's a real sense of letting go, there there's a real sense of not knowing, right? There's a little bit of an unknown when you're taking an exhale and you expect, of course, the inhale to come, right? But then there's that sense of, you know, unknown, I guess, or fear. What if, you know, um, even if we, you know, kind of were to practice it right now, you know, taking a full inhale to our greatest capacity and taking a full exhale to our greatest capacity? And I think about that too in relationship to everything that's happened with COVID, the pandemic. How we were sort of moved into a space of of slowing down and exhaling, like, you know, really exhaling, really taking a moment. I think all of us, you know, many of us would, you know, have come out of that experience knowing ourselves a lot better. And so yeah, that's the biggest thing, I think, is that we have an opportunity with breathwork to practice liberation in the way that we can internally revolutionize ourselves and that extends outward. Our beings are porous, right? And when we've done that kind of work it really does resonate and radiate outward.
Jamee: I love that. It's almost like a little bit of sympathetic magic where we start emulating that liberation that we want to see in ourselves and then by doing that, we are connecting to something greater and at the same time that something greater is also influenced, influencing us as well.
Christian: Absolutely. It's all about reciprocity. Yeah, yes.
Jamee: Yeah, even with yourself, right?
Christian: Yeah, oh my gosh all the time! All the time! You know, you just grow greater compassion for yourself. I don't know, do you have, um, do you practice breath work or do you have experience with it?
Jamee: Not as a standalone practice, but I do practice tai ji and qi gong so there is breath work involved in that. It's even part of some of the dance practice that I do as well. So I dance with Huraiti Mana which is led by Kalei Matsui. When she teaches, she teaches so much of the cultural context with the physical practice of dance and so it's just so great to learn about the different types of meditation and breath work that are also involved in that practice as well so we do hanu and ha. We do take a moment where we, I mean I can't even go into all of the information around it because it's not my story to tell, but we do take a moment to recognize how breath is life and how it connects us to each other and how sacred that is.
Christian: Yeah for sure. I feel that. Yeah.
Jamee: So my next question is what would you like listeners to take from this conversation we're having right now?
Christian: Yeah to get curious about your breath, to get curious about yourself, and to utilize your breath as a way to explore and to ask questions, for sure. I would definitely say also that the breath again is... is a way to tap into sort of internal change, internal transformation, and I assume that many of the folks who are listening are interested, of course, in and doing decolonial work in thinking and in action. And so it just is an opportunity that is, while challenging, it is there for you all the time and you can tap into it and you can you can utilize it even if it's as simple as just slowing down your breath. That's one of the greatest things that they have found in terms of, you know, research studies that had that can be most beneficial is just slowing down the breath. There's a great book called Breath, by James Nestor. Predominantly a lot of the research on breath, at least that I know of that's out there sort of mainstream public, is done by predominantly white folks, white men. But there are a lot of people of color and a lot of queer and trans people, I think, coming into leadership when it comes to breath work. So I'm excited to see folks step into those roles or move into those roles, I should say. But it is a really helpful book because it provides a historical context, what happens anatomically, physiologically. It even provides a sort of connection with our early moss and plant relatives, if you will, about their relationship to oxygen and carbon dioxide in in the breath and how we've evolved from that and ties in eating and sleeping as well and how the breath is involved. So it's just a really thorough book. But yeah, I would say beyond the research part, just see what it feels like to slow down your breath and, even if it's just for one minute, just see how that feels and to note that and to know that you can always...you can always return to that. And that in returning, you're doing the work of - you're doing courageous work. You're doing the work of you're doing ancestral work and that's important. And we need you to do that, you know? We need people to be their full selves you, know?
Jamee: Oh thank you for that. So Christian, where can people connect with you and learn more about your work or any upcoming events that you're doing?
Christian: Yeah thank you for asking. I'm pretty much active especially on Instagram, but folks can also find me on my website to my healing studio and there you will find some resources including books, like curated book lists, of just text that I love that I always return to. There are study opportunities as well. I do meditation and breath work on Insight Timer and it's free to use if you have that app whether it's on your phone or on your desktop, whatever device. I also provide workshops for community via sort of virtual spaces such as Zoom and so those are a couple of the ways. I also offer prints through my visual medicine um print shop and really those are those are meditations for me. I've been been a photographer for a long time. It's kind of helped to process everything that we kind of talked about with, you know, coming where I come from, who I come from, and my lived experience. And so yeah, they're just little sort of meditations of ways to help calm the nervous system, but um those are also available.
Jamee: That's so lovely. Thank you so much for being here today
Christian: It was my pleasure. It was so good to see you and to talk with you.
Jamee: Christian, which BIPOC group or individual would you like to uplift and give some visibility to in the context of decolonizing medicine.
Christian: Yes, yes. So when I think about decolonizing medicine of course I see a connection to reimagining our relationship to land and to reconnecting, of course, to land and one organization that is working on this front in truly essential ways is the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust or NEFOCLT. I've been blessed to have some relationship with them since about 2020 and they continue to inspire me in all that they do. Basically the work of the land trust is a hybrid model land trust. It brings together community land trust model as well as a conservation land trust model. And really, again, it's about reimagining land access as well as this conservation peace and stewardship of communities and ecosystems and really the goal is of manifesting a community vision that uplifts global Indigenous Black and people of color and their relationships with the land and skills and life ways. So this, you know, certainly has deep resonance for me, but also I think it's something that I'm excited to see more of in terms of, you know, this these models that are being sort of implemented and the work in this way of restoring and again repatriating land. I'm excited to see how they continue to grow and as well as how they kind of shape the landscape, quite literally, for other organizations to move into that work as well.
Jamee: For those wanting to get more information about the land trust their website is nefoclandtrust.org and I will also link to that in the show notes.
Jamee: In an effort to make The Decolonizing Medicine Podcast more accessible to folks we are now on YouTube with captions. Since I am the one doing the captioning myself, there will be a bit of a delay getting them out on YouTube. So thanks so much for your patience on this.
Jamee: Maraming salamat for listening to the Decolonizing Medicine Podcast. Music is by Amber Ojeda, Hed Kandi, and Rocky Marciano. Big thanks to Laurenellen McCann, my sweetie and fabulous audio engineer, and all our listeners and supporters out there. If you want to find out more about my work head over to linktr.ee/jameepinedahealingarts. Ingat!