In 1998 Michelle graduated from Meiji College of Oriental Medicine in San Francisco, CA, having studied acupuncture and Chinese herbology. In addition, she attended a 500-hour yoga teacher training course, also in California. Since that time, she has served as the only acupuncturist in Ligonier, PA for over 20 years. She also studied informally with Ligonier’s only practicing shaman. In 2014, she and her family moved to the Western Slope of Colorado, where she worked in an integrative, alternative clinic for 2 years. During that time, she ramped up her yoga teaching certification to include pilates. Currently, she works in 2 different clinics in Latrobe and Greensburg. She has successfully treated thousands of patients of all ages and medical issues. Her yoga training has guided her to teach in a wide variety of places, including Latrobe hospital, Ligonier YMCA, several yoga studios, many gyms, private clubs, and people’s homes. Chinese medicine, acupuncture, yoga, and shamanism are her unique tools to help you on your path toward wellness.
Welcome, Michelle Bouchard, LAc, RYT! Thank you for joining us for Acupuncturist of the Month!
So, how long have you been practicing acupuncture for, and what are your specialties?
I started practicing in 1999, so more than 20 years now. Hard to believe! I don’t say that I “specialize” really, but I do find that during the last 20 years, my patient draw has been akin to my own health-awareness. Because I am currently through menopause, my focus and interest lie with other menopausal women.
What inspired you to become an acupuncturist?
Natural health has always interested me. I am not one to run to the doctor for every small thing that happens with my own health. I have a very strong sense that whatever problems arise, there are natural ways to deal with them. Chinese herbalism and acupuncture are unique in the approach that they are looking for ways to balance the body, not manipulate it. The basis of Chinese medicine includes an understanding that the body has its own capability to heal. In undergraduate school I gravitated towards Zen Buddhism philosophy courses. I took Japanese as a language course just for the fun of it! Chinese medicine really found ME.
We understand you have written a book! That’s amazing! Tell us more about what led you to write your book. What can acupuncturists, and patients, expect to learn from reading it?
I think because I have been practicing this medicine for so long, I found myself repeating certain phrases, definite themes as they relate to Chinese medicine. Oftentimes my patients wouldn’t or couldn’t understand quite what I was saying until I was able to explain it more simply and fully. That is how the book was born. I also wanted to have something in writing to be able to show my teenage children what kept me away from being a full-time mom! The book is a culmination of my yoga training, my Chinese medicine understanding, and my life-long study of the natural world. In particular, the book is a simple dive into the seasons as they relate to Chinese medicine. I hope those reading the book will be able to apply some easy lessons in how better to live with less stress. I hope other acupuncturists will find the book useful to get difficult concepts across to their patients in easier-to-understand ways.
For other acupuncturists who desire to publish their own book one day, what advice would you give them?
I tried to make this book as user-friendly as possible. Chinese medicine is still gaining momentum as a viable alternative to Western medicine. In order to bridge the gap, I believe practitioners are in the unique position to make the medicine more accessible and more fun! I LOVE the work that I do. I hope that comes through in my book, and if there is a book that is calling you to be written, I say “do it”!
On your journey to become an acupuncturist, what obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
I live and work in a rural Pennsylvania town. I have seen a shift happen, definitely in the last 5 or so years, but in the beginning, my biggest challenge was the image people had of acupuncture. I have been called a “Witch Doctor” on more than one occasion. I learned to develop a thick skin and keep practicing what I know. I tried to keep walking the walk and talking the talk. In that way, I have had people tell me (years later) how much I have influenced them by my example.
How has having yoga in your practice helped your patients achieve optimal results?
Wow! That’s a whole other big conversation! Yoga is in my heart. I have been a student of yoga longer than I have known Chinese medicine. Simply put, yoga is its own form of healing and living.
Tell us more about Shamanic Guidance, and why you decided to implement it in your practice?
This goes back to my basic love of nature and all things natural. The natural world has so much to teach us if we stop and listen. For me, shamanic guidance is a way to connect to the spirit world, where I believe we all originate. It has been a helpful tool in my own life. It has helped me access spirit connections for times when I feel alone or disconnected. I credit my shamanic guidance to helping me first get pregnant, more than 18 years ago.
Share a recent success story you had with a patient. What acupuncture points, herbs, or other interventions (meditation, yoga, nutrition, etc) did you use to help them achieve results?
One of my favorite patients, who I have known for almost all of these 20 plus years, is a person who normally operates from a place of high anxiety. Within the past 5 years, she has regularly gotten bi-monthly acupuncture. There is no magic acupuncture point (there are several), there is not one magic intervention (although she started out as a yoga student of mine). I just keep reminding her to not go over the cliff of anxiety. I think, by my own example, by my own calming presence, she has seen a different way.
Currently, she is on the edge of menopause, and in the past, she would have been hit by debilitating side effects. I’m not saying she doesn’t have occasional hot flashes, or headaches. I am saying she has learned to live from a place of flow and grace within the confines of being menopausal. In the past she would have seen her gynecologist more than necessary and maybe be on a host of medicines. Not only is she riding through this change without outside interference, she is doing it lovingly and with ease. She is a shining example now to her teenage daughter, who will walk her own path with more ease. It has been an honor to watch.
If you could share with the world your top five pieces of advice to obtain (and maintain) optimal health, wellness, and longevity, what would they be?
1. Keep moving. Every day, do something physical with your body. That is what it was designed for.
2. Get good rest. There are a myriad of ways to do this. Start by learning to relax through your day as much as you “go”.
3. Love everyone. The world is a bit warrior like these days and people often define themselves as “us vs. them”. Find something, one thing, to like about every single person you meet. Even though you may not agree with everyone, there will always be one thing you can like. Start there.
4. Love yourself. This should have been Number 1. And I don’t mean, in an egotistical way. Love your dark self as well as your light bright self.
5. Feed your body good fuel and it will perform better for you.
What makes you feel inspired about acupuncture?
It looks at the person as a unique being. Even two different people with the same diagnosis are unique. The circumstances that led them to where they are health-wise were unique to that person and the pathway out of it will be singularly unique.
Looking back, what advice would you have given to the younger version of yourself, who was just getting started in this profession?
I have been down some amazing paths. Sometimes, they didn’t feel amazing, but the path always led me somewhere else and, in the end, I was closer to where I wanted to be. I would tell myself to stand firm in my truth. Keep heading in the direction you want to go and eventually you will get there.
What keeps an acupuncture practice going?
Love of this medicine.
What are specific roadblocks to watch out for as a new acupuncturist?
Hard to remember back when I was new at this…
We have all occasionally had a patient come into our practice who is upset, frustrated, and a little angry. Maybe it’s from work, being stuck in traffic, or life in general – we have all been there! What advice would you give to fellow acupuncture students and/or colleagues on how to deal with situations like these?
Don’t be afraid to share things from your own life if what you want to share is helpful. What I think makes acupuncturists stand apart from Western doctors is their ability to walk alongside our patients, not above them.
What are your favorite acupuncture points, and why?
The four gates. Sad. But true. Liver qi stagnation translates as stress and I haven’t had one single patient from the very young to the very old who wasn’t coming to see me without stress.
Sometimes, the best resource for improving our skills is by learning from the other acupuncturists we meet along our professional journey. What is one thing you learned from a fellow acupuncturist or holistic practitioner that has helped you in your professional growth, or in your care for patients?
In Colorado I worked alongside some very talented holistic practitioners. I would say the one thing I learned, above all, is to truly listen to your patients. That is why they come to you.
The COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt had a significant impact on the acupuncture practice community and small businesses alike. How have you been handling the COVID-19 situation as an acupuncture practice owner and individual? What advice or wisdom would you like to share with other acupuncturists who are also navigating through these precarious times?
I work in a chiropractic office currently and it has really helped me personally have a grasp on the bigger picture in the world. I mean – being around other like-minded people. People need holistic healing now more than ever! Don’t stop doing what you know and love. I had to close for over 2 months during the quarantine and it was good for me to rest and reconnect with nature. But doing this job I know is impacting people, one patient at a time…
Do you have any daily habits or rituals that keep you at your “best-self”, both as an acupuncture practitioner and person?
I meditate, first thing, every morning. I practice hatha yoga almost every morning, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I’m not sure how I would be able to give to others if I wasn’t “giving to myself” first in these ways.
The kindest thing a patient said to you recently:
“I’ve learned a lot from you”.
The funniest thing a patient said to you recently:
“Don’t mind the fat when you’re putting that needle in” (Liver 13)
As an acupuncturist, what are you most proud of thus far in your professional journey?
That I’m still doing it, after all these years.
If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it be and why?
“Love Yourself. Its the best place to start” I think a lot of depression and addiction and anxiety comes from people who have a difficult time loving themselves.
What is your definition of success?
When people say things like “I’ve learned a lot from you”.
If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
The ability to stay connected to spirit. Its the place we start and the place we’ll end up. This human form is just the frosting in the middle part.
*Rapid fire questions! *:
Morning or night? morning
Tea or coffee? Tea. Have you met an acupuncturist yet who said “coffee”?
Sun or moon? Moon
Cupping or Tui na? Cupping
Yin or Yang? Yin
Meditation or exercise? Meditation
Instagram or Facebook? Facebook