Acupuncture may be an ancient medical art, but it retains its relevance in the modern era as a more holistic mode of treatment, especially for patients who can no longer utilize Western medicine to cure pain and illness. What does an acupuncturists’ career look like on a daily basis? Joining Dr. Richard Marn to share her personal experience in the field is Bianca Beldini, DPT, MSOM, Lac, SFMA, Dipl.Ac. NCCAOM. Starting out as a physical therapist, Bianca got a degree in Acupuncture at the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City. To this day, she runs a successful practice in NYC that offers a modern take on this ancient practice. Listen in and learn why acupuncture can be a viable career option for you and what things you need to learn and prepare for to be successful in this business.
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Acupuncture: An Ancient Art For Modern Day Illnesses With Bianca Beldini, DPT, MSOM, Lac, SFMA, Dipl.Ac. NCCAOM
I have a question for you. Do you know what an acupuncturist is or even what an acupuncturist does? This episode gave me a much deeper understanding of this profession. At times during this episode, I could almost visualize what it’s like to place an acupuncture needle. That’s how descriptive sometimes this episode will be. It is one of those occupations where the patient and the acupuncturist see immediate results. How is that? Let’s read further.
In this episode, we’re going to meet Bianca Beldini. She has been working as an acupuncturist for many years. She first started her journey at NYU College as a pre-med student, but she eventually transitioned into a physical therapy career. She went into PT school in the Netherlands, which is an interesting story that we’re going to get to learn about. After that, she worked for several years as a physical therapist. She then went on to the Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City to get a degree in Acupuncture. Since that time, she has gotten degrees in oriental medicine and also finished a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. She also obtained a certificate as an aromatherapist and is a holistic health coach.
Over the years she has been a faculty member of the Tri-State College of Acupuncture. She is also the founder and owner of several businesses, such as the Beldini Physical Therapy, Sundala Wellness, Trigger Point Seminars, and Sundala Wellness Coaching. Over the years, she has taken care of many celebrities, athletes and dancers. She’s been featured in many articles, magazines, TV shows, and her own YouTube channel and TikTok. On those platforms, she has been creating some creative videos, but all things related to health, wellness, fitness, and acupuncture. Bianca has definitely been successful in running her business and marketing, but that’s because she has been phenomenal at treating patients. Let’s meet Bianca.
I like to welcome Bianca to our show. How are you doing?
How are you?
I’m so happy you are guests with his show. As you may not know, I’ve known Bianca for over a decade now. I got to say, I’m happy you are here because I love what you do. I’m a big fan. In fact, when we met, I was a patient of yours. I came to because I was looking for acupuncture treatment. I thought you were wonderful, professional and I thought it was just a great experience. I don’t know if I told you this but went to another acupuncturist before you, but I did not like their style and their technique or the effectiveness. When I had treatments with you, I actually fell asleep during the treatments, and it just such an awesome feeling. Before we get to you explain a little bit of how and why that would happen. I would like to learn and tell everyone what exactly is an acupuncturist? Because that’s how I approached you as your occupation even though you’re doing a lot of other things. What are your responsibilities?
This is a big question because I think acupuncture covers a lot of stuff. It’s an ancient medical art, the way I like to think of it. It’s over 5,000 years old. In our modern society, it bridges the gap between when
A patient can no longer utilize Western medicine, IE drugs or ways to get out of pain. They search for a more holistic, ancient philosophy of treatment, but it’s this interesting way that it bridges the gap between the two. Acupuncture is the act of utilizing very small needles that are probably as thin as a hair and you insert them into areas in what we call meridian points. those meridian points are very specific to different organ systems of the body.
The way I like to describe it is when a patient comes in, they give me their list of symptoms, and then I choose a specific point to shift and change their body so that we could press the reset button. Because my belief system is when we’re babies, we don’t have any trauma yet. We don’t have any issues yet. As we get older and we deal with more traumas, whether there are emotional, physical, mental, we start to build up walls and build up resistance. When you come to see me, it is my job then to figure out where all of those dams have been placed, so that I can actually insert a needle into an area to release that tension to release that dam so things start to flow better.
As a physician, that’s not how we are taught about the body, not typically. Is this derived more from an Eastern or Asian background?
That’s where it came from it. For most of us, when we are schooled, we are educated in what’s known as traditional Chinese medicine, TCM. That’s something that we have to learn as the basis of our studies. At the end of our education, we have to sit down for a national board exam, and it’s based on traditional Chinese medical protocols, philosophies, basis, diagnostic principles, and it’s very unique to this particular medicine.
You’ve had to take an exam before you could start practicing this.
It’s a pretty grueling exam. It’s a month to study for. It incorporates a practical exam as well in front of physical examiners as well as sitting down for many hours asking you questions about the very specifics around why you choose the points that you do or what protocols would you use for X, Y and Z. Yes, it’s a pretty involved exam. That is what will get you licensed.
Obviously, you’re using very fine and small needles on patients. How does that look like? What is your day typically like? The idea of putting needles on the body makes people very anxious, of course. How does that happen in terms of making people feel comfortable when you first see them? What do you tell them before you even start?
Many new patients that I see come to me and the first thing out of their mouth is, “I just want to let you know, I totally freaked out by needles.” I’m like, “That’s okay, so am I. don’t like hypodermic either.” That’s the difference. Most people have a representation of needles as a hypodermic needle that’s going into your muscle or vein for blood draw. The difference between the two is that hypodermic needles are hollow and they’re serrated versus an acupuncture needle which is literally as thin as your hair and it’s solid. When it goes into the tissue, you don’t feel anything, it doesn’t serrate the fascia or the skin. It doesn’t create trauma, like a hypodermic needle was, which is why you don’t typically bleed when you take the needles out.
Are you saying people don’t even feel it going in when you initially do it?
It’s a quick tap that gets the needle into the acupuncture point. The act of needling itself, there are hundreds of techniques that an acupuncturist can do to that very needle to facilitate how they want the patient to feel. It’s very intricate. What’s interesting is that when I was a teacher at a college, I would watch so many students needle and it’s a refined technique. That’s how you make it not hurt.
When you have a patient come to your office and your facility, can you walk us through what typically happens when they first come in? What you’re doing, what you talk about and then what you do for them?
I specialize in orthopedic myofascial pain disorders or symptoms. I do have a subspecialty in women’s wellness, digestion and in your typical organ dysfunction patterns, but the typical patient of mine is very orthopedic myofascial pain oriented.
When you say myofascial just because some people may not understand what that means.
Myo being muscle and fascia being the connective tissue or saran wrap the covers muscle tissue. This is something that I tell the patient so I can give them a visualization of what I’m going to be doing. If you’ve ever seen a chicken breast and you’ve noticed this white, dense pack tissue that fits around the meat of it, that’s fascia. The type of treatments that I use are acupuncture to stimulate the blood supply as well as the limbs to move, but also to release the tension that that saran wrap has around the muscle itself.
My typical patient that comes in is the professional dancer, the professional baseball player, the competitive triathlete, the runner, the marathoner. When they come to me, it’s usually with a very specific complaint, such as something like, “Every time I run, I have extreme calf pain. I have pain at the bottom of my foot. If I see a dancer, I have a hamstring pull.” That’s my specific caseload of patients. When they come in, they’re quite educated because they’re at a level where they understand their bodies, and they need their bodies to work. I may get a professional picture that comes and says, “I’m going to the World Series, and I need to get on the mound. I can’t move my arm, we need to get this arm moving.”To be able to fully connect with the patient and help them guide their body to a better place is about as good as running to a finish line. Click To Tweet
If that new patient comes in and says, “I have calf pain,” what I’ll do is I’ll get detailed in my questions with them. What very specific movements can you reproduce your discomfort? Is it going uphill? Is it going downhill? What kind of shoes are you wearing? What kind of sneakers? How often do you change them? I’m getting in touch with as much as we can to hone in on what their issue is and functionally breaking down where we can find their biggest discomfort. From there, I’ll take them through a series of movement patterns and I’ll be able to discern what muscle maybe not firing, over firing or the biggest issue that they’re having. A lot of times it could be something like they’re suffering from heel pain, and I won’t even needle their heel, or even touch their foot. I’ll evaluate the structure and their biomechanics of their foot and find that it’s coming from the calf. It’s this intricate way of evaluating someone’s biomechanical movement, and then using my needle and technique to release the tension in that chain to help them have a decrease in pain.
You spend at least a first appointment going and reviewing. It’s like a physician’s office, your physical history, and they also doing a physical before you even apply any needles to the patient.
My first visit is typically an hour and a half. The first half an hour is true one-on-one, just talking. Because if I don’t understand where their breakdown is coming from, I’m going be a rat in a wheel, I’m not going to be able to get it. The more that they can have a conversation with me, the more it’s going to allow me to understand. I call myself the biomechanical FBI agents. I’m searching for where their biomechanical movement breakdown is occurring, and then can I take my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, movement and kinesiology, the study of movement and then can I fit that into their dysfunctional pattern at that moment?
After you evaluate them you say, “I can isolate it to this particular area.” What happens then? What’s the treatment look like if you could visualize it for the people that might be reading?
Let’s give an example of somebody with heel pain, like the runner with heel pain or Achilles tendonitis. After I’ve gone through history, then I have them do a series of movements. For me to evaluate all the joints that are related to their movement patterns, I figure out which movements are dysfunctional, and then I get them on the table. Once I get them on the table, for instance, somebody with foot pain, I may have them face down and then I put my hands on them. This is all before needles happen. What I’m checking for is the integrity of their tissue. What is their muscle tissue feel like? Is it tone? Is it placid? Do they not have a lot of muscle tone? Is there a weakness in their muscle tissue? Is there pain? I want to touch along that area and see where exactly are you feeling pain. Can I reproduce it just by touching it? Is it reproducible by movements? Those things give me clues. I’d get my hands on them. I’ll do a little bit of manual work on them.
What do you mean by that?
I put my hands on them and maybe massage the area, maybe gua sha the area. In Chinese medicine, Gua means to scrape and Sha means to move stagnation. Just like I said, the fascia, that saran wrap, when the muscle tissue is irritated, it will swell a little bit in the saran wrap and it won’t allow fluids or blood to move between those two layers. That too causes inflammation and pain. If I can start the treatment with a supple tissue, it’s going to make the tissue better and the patient’s going to be able to handle the treatment better. It’s almost like pressing the tissue for me to now come in with a needle. Once I do all that, and I see where their biggest issue is and where the tissue needs to be most TLC there, then I’ll explain to them what’s going on. I’ll say, “We’re going to start the needling process now.” I sometimes show them. I’ll ask them, “Would you like to see what this is before I start?” Some say yes, some are inquisitive. Some say, “No, absolutely not, I might feel I’m going to pass out.” I’m like, “That’s okay because you’re already laying down.”
I’ll swab the point just to clean the skin, and then I’ll take the needles out and I’ll insert them into very specific points. I don’t just do myofascial release technique with my needles, but as an acupuncturist, I also support their system. Before they come in, they’ve filled out a form. It’s probably about ten pages long, and it asks a lot of questions beyond why they’re coming in, including digestion and sleep. For women, it’s menstrual cycles, libido, everything from how much water do you drink to any organ system? What I’ll do After I’ve read that, and when I’m about to insert the needles, I’ll put in very specific acupuncture points to support their underlying root cause. In Chinese medicine, we say that there’s a root and there’s a branch treatment. I’m treating their root system, their organ dysfunction] as well as treating their myofascial pain issues. They’re getting a twofer.
If they had come with a heel or lower leg problem, is there always an organ that you find is correlated with that because you are trying to address this other organ system?
This is where it gets complex in Chinese medicine. Something like the healed pain, if it’s a bone-related pain, let’s say a bone spur, then we’re working on the kidney meridian. If it’s muscular, we’re working on the spleen meridian. If we’re working on pain, we’re actually moving the chi or the energy of the liver. I’m not just treating the symptomatology of the actual pain discomfort, but I’m also working on the underlying factor of how can I support their bones? How can I support their muscles system? How can I support their fascia? How can I dissipate any stagnancy that’s causing their pain?
You’ve decided where you need to put the needles. You place the needles while they’re laying down, whether they’re on their back or stomach. How long does that usually take in terms of placing these needles and what happens after that?
This is where it gets interesting too because I can insert the needles that are very specific to their root cause. If it’s like a spleen, a kidney and liver, those are easy to place. What I do after I placed those, I go back to the fascia, I go back to the muscle system that I think is causing their biggest issues. It could be just typically more than one muscle. Because biomechanically, I look all the way up the chain. Let’s just say somebody that has a foot issue, I may release the calf, the hamstring, move up to the glutes and the low back and start to see how there are actual connections between the head to the foot because we’re one mobile unit. You can’t move one part of your body with or without the other part of your body wherever it is up or down the chain, contracting, stabilizing or mobilizing. Once I put those acupuncture needles into the points for the organs, I go in now to the muscle tissue.
What I do is I’ll palpate or I’ll feel for areas of constriction in the fascia, in the muscle. Usually, I get a confirmation by an area that feels ropey or tight. Some people can connect to it, like, “I feel is like there’s a knot in my tissue. It feels like a big lump.” Usually, that’s a confirmation of what we call a trigger point. That trigger point then is also quite tender when you press on it. Sometimes it’s so tender that it can refer pain to either below or above the area of congestion. This is where it becomes a little bit more time consuming because the technique of my needle and completely changes at this point. Once I find this area, and I’m palpating it or touching it, strumming the muscle. I’m trying to facilitate something called a twitch response. The only way that I can describe that for somebody that’s doesn’t have a twitch response at this moment would be like if you’ve ever experienced your eye is twitching. It’s the twitchiness of a muscle.
When I touch the muscle and facilitate a twitch response, that is a confirmation to me that says there’s an active trigger point in that area. Going back to when I evaluated them already, in my mind, I’ve said, “These are the muscles in the calf that can refer pain to the heel.” Through experience, education and teaching right away, I can name those muscles just like you could name a medication that you need to give to a patient. Once I know that those muscles are indicated, I double-check to see if there’s a twitch response. If there’s a twitch response, let’s insert the needle. I insert the needle and do a very specific needling technique that’s similar to tapping, but a non-rhythmical tapping. What I’m doing is putting the needle in through the skin through the fascia to the muscle, like where X marks the spot exactly where they’re getting that twitch response.
Once I can connect to that myofascial bundle, that hyperactive bundle of muscle activity. I get in there, put the needle in and what we say release that constriction. It’s a non-rhythmical movement of the needle. It’s in and out, up and down, non-rhythmical movements. Once that happens, I’m creating a tiny little bit of micro-trauma in the tissue. I’m creating histamine in a very focal area of that muscle. The histamine increases blood supply, it brings in oxygen. If you look at the biomechanics of the muscle itself that has a trigger point, it’s typically hypoxic. Meaning, it’s been lacking oxygen. It’s been irritated, agitated, getting tightened and inflamed. If I can bring energy and circulation and blood live to that muscle to that trigger point, it dissipates. What happens when it dissipates and it’s a huge confirmation is this massive twitch response. It almost looks like the muscle and just gives up and it says, “You win. I’m relaxed now.” You can see an immediate change in the muscle. You can feel an immediate change in the relaxation response to the tissue. It never ceases. I’ve been doing this for many years. When the patient has immediate confirmation of, “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” It’s like the tweety bird starts going and there are massive bells and whistles going off in the room. and you know it just huge smile, “I can’t believe you just got rid of my pain.” That’s the most amazing part of what I do, I think. That happens every day.
How does that feel that what you’re doing when you see that in the immediate result? What was that like for you?
There’s nothing like it. I’m a competitive athlete. It’s just about as good as running to a finish line. It’s to be able to fully connect and be present with the patient that’s on my table. To fully connect and be present and have compassion for their limitations and their pain, and then to help guide their body to a place where it doesn’t have to be so contracted anymore. There are no words for it. It has brought me to tears before.
You’ve been able to take care of patients where in one or few sessions or at the end of the session, do you see immediate relief and the patient feels immediate relief as well?
Can you give us an example, a scenario or actual real-life example without any patient identifiers where you left an impression on you on what you did and what happened after that even if it took a few sessions?
I think one of the biggest memories that I have of a moment like this, and mind you, these happen a lot. I’ve been doing this for many years, so there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t have a patient in my office where this happens to. Especially new patients where maybe they can’t move their arm because they have frozen shoulder and then I release the subscapularis, which is one of the muscles of the rotator cuff and then all of a sudden, they gain 30 degrees of extra rotation in their shoulder. Their eyes go wide, and it’s so satisfying for me. I think the biggest moments that I’ve had in my career, she has become since then a very dear friend of mine.
She was a Broadway performer. They brought back Chorus Line. She started rehearsals I had seen her through rehearsals. It was a very grueling show for her physically in her body. She would have to do these high kicks and throughout the whole time she was on stage, she developed some microtrauma in her hamstrings. She was saying, like, “I might need PRP injections, and I might need surgery.” The show was closing, it was a run of a few years. About two weeks before it closed, she called me in tears and said, “Bianca, I don’t think I’m going to make it to my last show.” I said, “No, you didn’t come this far to not make it to your last show. I will do whatever I can to get you to make it to your last show.” I was away for the weekend. I think I was up in Saratoga because at the time that I would go to Saratoga with the New York City Ballet and treat them during the summer there for a few weeks when they were performing. I left Saratoga early, I came home. It was a Sunday. I don’t usually work on Sundays, but it was her final performance. I think it was on Tuesday night.The biggest skill that anyone in any medical profession should possess is being a good listener. Click To Tweet
I called her up and I said, “Do you want to come here?” She lived close by where I was living at the time. She’s like, “You don’t work Sundays.” I said, “I’m working this Sunday because I want to make sure you get to your final performance.” She did. She’s like, “Bianca, I have been stretching, rolling, in PT, I just cannot lift my legs above 90 degrees, and I can’t get on my final performance. My agent said that we can just have a fill-in.” She broke down and I had so much compassion for her because she was injured during the show and she was saying looking forward to this finale.
She’s trying to get to the finish line.
Do I have had so much compassion for that? She came over and I worked on her for three hours. It’s not uncommon at all. I did everything I could with my hands, the gua sha tools, and with my needles. Finally, I said, “The muscle relief. I want you to get into a hot bath. I just don’t want you to do anything for the next few days.” Tuesday morning, she called me and she said, “I have an extra ticket. I love for you to come. I’m going to make it to my last show.” I showed up with her then-husband, and I watched her final performance on that stage. I don’t think I sat in that audience without tears running down my face for the entire two hours on stage. It was not just like this confirmation of her experience of pushing through this comfort zone and the injury that she had. It was also such a testament to how powerful this particular work is and how it transpired. For me to be part of that journey with her I get choked up thinking about it.
You were empathetic, sympathetic. Your technique of acupuncture as a tool you’d think got her to that point where she could perform. You mentioned it briefly how she was thinking about surgery. Do you find acupuncture has helped people avoid it, or even just delay it? Does that something that acupuncture you found to be helpful?
It’s interesting because I started my career as an acupuncturist after I was a physical therapist. This was back in the early 2000s. I remember canvassing all the ortho doc that would refer patients to me as a PT to get them to understand this myofascial trigger point release and how it can help their patients. What happened along the way was I amassed many physicians that would refer patients to me. What’s neat is when the patient comes in, they’ll say you know, “Doctor, so-and-so wanted me to see you first before they scheduled surgery because they thought maybe you can help me with acupuncture.” It’s another big plus for this medicine because it’s a way for us to as practitioners of acupuncture to be instead of the last place that patients go to it’s becoming the first or second-line before they even consider having surgery.
Are there parts of your job and career that are a bit not exciting, a bit mundane?
Just like any other medical professional, note writing and the incessant notetaking. Every little detail, every little thing can get monotonous and tedious. If I’m treating 50, 60, 70 patients in a week, I’m also writing 50, 60, 70 notes. It’s not just my time face to face it the patient, but now it’s also at the end of my day, on a Friday or the weekends. I use an electronic medical record software system. It’s on my computer. It’s a HIPAA regulated software systems so it’s encrypted. It’s not like taking home a chart. When I used to work at the hospital, you’d stay writing charts for hours. This gives me the opportunity to say, “On a Sunday night, I can sit down and finish my medical notes,” but I think the worst of my job is the medical notes.
On a typical day, how many patients do you actually take care of for acupuncture?
I want to say on an average, 15 to 20.
Is that a full day for you? That’s like an eight-hour day at least or so.
Because I own my own practice, I work from 12:00 until 8:00, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I work for four days, but I don’t give myself a lunch break. I don’t give myself a note-taking break. It’s on. I’m there to treat patients. It’s not just 32 hours of treating patients but tacking on all the excess stuff like note-taking and stuff, it could be about 45 to 50 hours a week in total.
You mentioned that you have your own place in practice, which I know about, but is that the usual venue for people that are doing acupuncture as a career that they’re working on? Are they work in institutions? What are the different venues that people can work in or not?
I think that because acupuncture is so unfortunately standalone practice, because I graduated so long ago, it was our only venue. I remember being a second-year student in acupuncture school and the teacher saying to us, “There’s 50 of you, and only five of you will ever be full-time five years out after you graduate.” I was like, “That’s a crazy statistic.”
That sounds competitive.
I was like, “He’s obviously talking about me because I’m going to make a success out of myself.” Luckily, I did. There’s plenty of student colleagues that I had in my class that no longer practice. It’s interesting because you pay a lot of money for your education, and the competition, especially in New York City’s gotten more and more dense. It’s a hustle. When you own your own practice, you have to be constantly out there marketing yourself, learning new ways of getting out there and learning new ways to connect. I think to answer your question, where does one work? Unfortunately, you don’t see many hospitals that have it. It’s one of those professions that you have to make it happen for yourself.
It’s not like you’re often an acupuncturist you’re affiliated with the institution or the referring patients or some other medical practice. In some way, it’s like your own business, your own.
It’s 100% my own business. Looking back on it now, I’m in for many years. I wish that I took a business class. I wish that I understood more about how to run my own business and how to how to work finances the right way like an accounting course or things like that because I think for now, kids that are in high school, college and stuff. It’s more normal for kids to want to be entrepreneurs at this point than it ever was when we were growing up. Certainly, when our parents were growing up because everyone worked for a corporation. We’re moving into this more independent dynamic of working. What we’re dealing with now, even with quarantine and whatnot. There’s a lot of us that are small business owners, and it’s a very difficult time for us. It’s learning how to keep yourself financially afloat when times are not so flourishing.
With that in mind, Bianca, you mentioned learning some business skills, are there any other qualities, other skills or even just a mindset of your colleagues that flourish in your career? You’ve alluded to it already, but could you describe it more once you’re in this field, what do you think allows some people to succeed and some not too?
I think it is also because I’ve been a teacher at the acupuncture college. From a very emotional perspective, I think compassion is one of the most important things. Social skills are probably even more important. I’ve watched I’ve had students that came to intern with me to watch them interact with patients. Sometimes it’s awkward. Their social skills are awkward maybe because I’m standing there as their teacher. Obviously, they could be a little intimidated, which I get, but I think one of the biggest things, and this goes across the board in any medical profession. You have to be a good listener. If you’re not a good listener, you jump the gun, you put words in someone’s mouth, you could miss the diagnosis completely. Those are skills that either you have or you don’t, but hopefully, maybe you could learn them.
I think it’s a constant assessment of, is the patient getting better? Is it because of the patient? Because maybe they don’t necessarily want to get better. People do have emotional attachments to their physical pain or is it something that you’re doing or you’re missing the boat? I’ve had students in my office where I have a conversation with my patients, and they would didn’t let the patient talk. I’m like, “They are missing every opportunity to find out what’s going on, but they’re so focused on what they have to say that they’re missing the patient completely.” That’s what makes a successful practitioner and I don’t think that falls in just the acupuncture category. I’ve seen plenty of doctors that don’t talk and listen.
As an acupuncturist, are there avenues? Are there other opportunities that are available to someone in acupuncture that they could consider going into? Much like an internal medicine doctor can go into cardiology or pulmonology. Is there something like that with acupuncture?
Once again, it’s interesting because we’re all educated on the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. What’s interesting is that depending on the school that you choose to go to, acupuncture colleges are pretty independent of one another. Even though they all teach the basis, they also have offshoots of specialties. Somebody might resonate with a Japanese acupuncture style and start to be honed in on how do Japanese acupuncture works. It’s quite different in using a different gauge, needles and different diagnostic tools. Somebody might be more of what we call five-element approach and that’s this more psycho-emotional aspect. Each organ system has to do with a different emotion. Depending on how somebody comes in, an acupuncturist that works in that realm might say, “They have felt pain because they’re dealing with X, Y and Z emotion,” and treat it that way.Nobody thinks about getting into a career in acupuncture unless they have experienced it before. Click To Tweet
The beautiful thing about this medicine is that we are a whole unit. We are mind, body and soul. We can’t separate it. It’s that psycho-emotional piece and I felt it before. I’m a competitive triathlete. When I have an injury, it makes me bummed out. It makes me sad and emotional. You can’t separate the physical body from feeling emotions around it. What’s unique and cool about this profession is that you can treat from all these different ways and you can specialize in those things. Those that specialize in women’s health and fertility issues. There are herbalists that believe in supplementing the root system with Chinese or biology, whereas myself I went to the herbal program and did my years in my in the herbal pharmacy, but I’m non-compliant when it comes to taking anything. I don’t even take vitamins with much compliance. It would be a farce for me to say, “I need you to take this X, Y and Z herb when I can’t even do it.” That to me doesn’t feel right. My medicine is such a reflection of who I am as a person and my advocacy.
As someone who grew up in a very westernized type of thinking in terms of medicine, is it hard for someone to pick up this career in this occupation? Because it’s a very different approach to how you look at health, wellness and the person’s body, especially if you grew up in this in the United States. How did you even get interested in acupuncture and said, “I’m going to go with this route,” because you also said you were a physical therapist. How did this all start for you?
I was strictly indoctrinated into our Western medical mindset 100%. I was an athlete in high school, I went to NYU undergrad, I swam for the swim team, and I was pre-med. That was my track.
You also do triathlete too.
Yes, but I swam collegiately. As you know, pre-med especially at a place like NYU your caseload is ginormous, Physics, Calc, Chem, Bio, Lab, you’re taking twenty credits in one semester and you’re thinking. I would imagine it’s almost like once you get to med school, you can finally have a little reprieve. That pre-med course curriculum is intense. I was on the pre-med track. I didn’t come from money. NYU was very expensive. I worked while I was in school. I decided to get an internship on top of my studies on top of my job.
I wound up getting an internship at what was the old hospital for joint disease, I think that actually became the Hospital for Special Surgery if I could make the connection. It was on 18th Street down 3rd Avenue. I volunteered there, and I happened to get put in the physical therapy inpatient rehab. I met the PT, the gentleman that was heading the program, and he took me under his wing. I found myself enamored by what he was doing with these patients. The first patient that I saw him work with had this halo in his head and he had a traumatic neck injury.
For the people who don’t know a halo is a metal frame that you fix to your head for a procedure or a study.
He was healing and they were trying to heal the bones. I was sitting there with my mouth open, like, “You’re going to touch him?” I was so blown away by how beautiful this man was in his ability to help these people heal. Right then and there, it’s single-handedly shifted my need to go to medical school. That was it. That’s when I shifted gears and I said, “As an athlete, as somebody who moves my body and who could not imagine waking up and not being able to move my body. How can I learn the skills to help somebody heal?” That’s where my journey began.
You’re a pre-med and you had an a-ha moment in college to go to physical therapy. What happened at that point?
It was this crazy thing because I was loaded up with all these credits and I said, “Let me take some summer classes just to lighten the load a little bit.” I wind up taking Organic Chemistry and Physics at Kean College at the time in New Jersey, it’s now Kean University. I met a guy in my Organic Chemistry class. His name is Gerard and he said to me, “You’re thinking about going to physical therapy. Did you know that the American Physical Therapy Association has this pilot program, and they’re working with this company that are sending students overseas to the Netherlands to learn this kind of osteopathic approach to physical therapy?”
Mind you, I was maybe twenty years old. I was like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” At the time, there was no Google, there was no website. I had no computer, nothing. I didn’t have a cell phone. I literally called the American Physical Therapy Association and I said, “Do you have a student membership?” I wasn’t even in PT school yet. I just was proactive and said, “I’d love to get your magazines and get an understanding of what you do and what it’s like to be a PT.” This is all serendipitous. The very first magazine that came to my house and I remember laying on my bed. Instead of reading Teen Beat Magazine. I was reading the APTA student membership.
What does that stand for?
It’s the American Physical Therapy Association, a student magazine. There was a picture of a windmill and these three girls sitting in front of it. The title page was PTs Overseas in Holland. I felt this electric shock go through my body because this is what my friend Gerard was talking about. It was like divine intervention. I came to school the following day because summer school was like, Monday through Friday of Organic Chemistry from hell, it was intense. I got to the school and said to Gerard, “I saw this article about the PTs.” He said, “They’re actually coming. The APTA is putting together this thing two weeks from now with this company. Do you want to go? We can go and check it out.”
I did. They had us bring our resumes, which was all of our school records because who had a resume at twenty? We got there and the next thing I know, they called me in for an interview. I went for my interview and this was August and I was on a plane in January to the Netherlands. I didn’t even know what they spoke. The world wide web was nothing. Everything was so big and expansive. I got there with 23 other American kids and I was there for close to four years. I learned probably from the most brilliant minded osteopathic physicians and PTs about an approach to physical therapy. That was just unique to that culture. I learned a new language. It was truly probably the most amazing four years of my life.
That was four years of physical therapy education. Did you not work there?
I couldn’t know because I couldn’t get a visa.
Is that program still in place?
I think it’s part of their international program. I’m not sure. I graduated in ‘97. It was many years ago.
Was acupuncture even on your mind at that time?
No, I didn’t even know what it was. In ‘97, I graduated, I came back to the United States, I moved back home to New York, and wound up getting a job. My first job as a physical therapist at Bellevue Hospital. That was an intense time. I was treating everything from orthopedic outpatient, psychiatric, geriatric psych to the NICU. It was being in the trenches and that was my first two years of being a PT. It whipped me into shape. I saw things that I never wish to ever see again from more of like a psychiatric perspective because that’s very difficult medicine especially when you’re rehabilitating someone and they’re psychiatrically not sound. That was tough.
From there, I still was not even knowing what acupuncture was. It wasn’t on my radar. The one thing that I didn’t understand in our country at the time was how PTs didn’t have direct access. If we were the ones that were the most educated and rehabilitate, why couldn’t a patient just come to us? Why did they need to go through a physician as a gatekeeper to tell the patient that they need to be seen by a PT? Most physicians, even an orthopedic physician, their greatest surgery, they’re great at doing things to help diagnose and give different treatment options, but they’re not that experienced in rehabilitation skills. If we were the ones most educated, why would we not have direct access? I was at a crossroad five years as a PT and I was like, “This is not working for me. I want more autonomy. I want more independence with my patients.” I know how to get them better, but I don’t want to have to go through loopholes. at the time, I was like, “Let me look into schools.” I was 28 at that time so I was considering taking the MCAT I was like, “Maybe I just have to go back to med school.”
You have been working as a physical therapist for several years now. You’re thinking about going back to school so you could get more autonomy.If you want to be a great acupuncturist, you need to dedicate 100% of your time to your studies. There’s no way around it. Click To Tweet
Also, gather more loans, this and that. I wound up looking into schools, and a very good friend of mine. He was an osteopath. He was here in the States. I was like, “An osteopath. That’s like the perfect physical therapists.”
It was still osteopathic physician.
They know so much about rehabilitation, myofascial, orthopedic conditions. It seemed like a perfect fit for me. I was looking into osteopathy, naturopathy and all sorts of different things. I was starting my competitive journey as a triathlete at the time. I was on my triathlon bike a lot and I was starting to experience a lot of neck pain. That neck pain was causing some radiculopathy, which is the pain in the arm and numbness in my hands. I was young, I was only 28. I went to a doc and I said, “Can I get an MRI? Do you think maybe this is a herniation?” He’s like, “No, you’re too young. Let me give you X, Y, and Z pills.” I’m just like, “It’s not my thing. I’m not taking pills.” It just so happened the next day I walked into my office as evaluating a patient. They had neck pain, they had radiculopathy, they have numbness in the knees and arms and of the blue, I say this a lot to patients, “What else are you doing besides what I’m treating you for? Who else are you seeing? What other practitioners are you seeing?” She said, “I see an acupuncturist.” There was the a-ha moment number two.
I swear to God, it was almost as if I heard it in like an echo. I was like, “Are you seeing what? What is that? Where?” I was in New York City. I’m like, “The only acupuncturist I knew were in Chinatown.” It was so far and different that you’re like underground hippies went to acupuncture back in the ‘80s. That wasn’t mainstream at all. At this time, there was Google. I went home that night and I started to Google search acupuncture in New York City, and I found to school. I said, “There’s actually to acupuncture schools in New York City. This is fascinating.” I went to one, and it was very medicalized. It wasn’t for me. Everyone was walking around with white lab coats, and I was like, “I want more autonomy.” The other school, which doesn’t exist anymore got me because the gentleman that owns the school talked about trigger points and myofascial release. It was like I was sitting on the edge of my feet because like, “He’s talking my language.” He’s saying that I could manipulate tissue that I do already with my hands, but I could do it more effectively, and with a bigger outcome and a faster outcome with a needle. That was it.
They had a student clinic, and I went because I said, “I’ve never had acupuncture, so how can I be an acupuncturist if I’ve never had acupuncture.” I signed up to go to that school. I was worked on by a student team because it was like a student clinic. I laid on the table, and they evaluated me and they said, “It’s clear that you’ve got trigger points in your upper trapezius which is a muscle on top of your shoulder and your neck.” I’m laying on the table and I was so nervous. My eyes were closes, I was trembling like, “It’s a needle.” I go back thinking it’s the hypodermic and it’s not. I’m having this whole response and they put a needle in and all of a sudden, I felt this massive sump. I felt like my whole shoulder move.
It was like involuntary movements. My eyes are closed at this point, and I said, “Why are you pouring liquid on my arm?” Because that’s what it felt like. Here, they were students and they didn’t even know what I was asking them because they couldn’t interpret what was going on like, “What do you need liquid? There’s no liquid. We’re not even touching you.” What’s so fascinating is when I opened my eyes and they were all standing there looking at me. I felt this unbelievable warm liquid almost filling my arm like you would fill a sock. I was like, “I feel amazing.” It’s almost as if my dead arm was woken up again. I had this profound moment.
I got home from there and went to sleep that night. For about one year I was waking up in the middle of the night with a dead arm. My arm would fall asleep because my neck was so tight. I would wake up and it would be almost be woken up by a nightmare like, “Your arm is dead wake up.” I went to sleep that night, and it was the first night in one entire year that I slept through the night and I didn’t have any arm pain. I called the school the next day and I said, “I don’t know what happened yesterday, but it was like a miracle. I need to know how to do this because this is a massive wow factor.” That was it. I started my journey that’s September and the rest is history.
You experience something that profound that you said, “I want to be part of this.”
There was no way I was not going to be part of it.
Do you think other people felt that same way too, and that’s how they have gone to acupuncture?
I do want to say yes because the majority of the colleagues that I went to school with, we all had a very similar a-ha moment that brought us there because it’s so not mainstream. Nobody thinks like, “I’m going to go to school to become an acupuncturist,” unless you’ve experienced it before or your parent, a cousin, an aunt or an uncle is an acupuncturist before. Kids nowadays don’t have much exposure to that unless their parents are open to it.
Nowadays, compared to when you were a student, is it just still two years for acupuncture school?
No, it’s a three-year acupuncture program, four-year Master’s which is what I did. I did a dual Master’s. It was three years just for the acupuncture part. It was a combined two years on top of that. I took my first year of herbal program in my third year of acupuncture school, and then the fourth year was all herbal, but then I still had to take my board exam to sit for my acupuncture boards in order to practice acupuncture. Now though, because education has moved so quickly, and there’s so much forward movement with academia, studies and research, that it’s moving to a doctoral program, just like physical therapy. When I went to PT school, it was only a Bachelor’s. There’s not even talk about Master’s yet. Now, it’s an entry-level doctoral program. There’s no more Bachelors or Master’s.
How does someone get into acupuncture school? What’s the expectation of the typical time commitment, especially since you were trained some students not too long ago? What’s the education process like?
A lot of it is in a foreign language learning the pronunciation of and understanding the Chinese words and the characters, that’s a whole process within acupuncture school. It’s also a whole different way of thinking. It’s not linear. It’s very metaphorical, but yet there’s this beauty to it and a serial aspect of it. You’re learning the psychology, emotions, Chinese dietary theories and learning about the seasons and how they affect the body. If you want to be a great practitioner, you need to dedicate 100% of your time to your studies. There’s no way around it. It’s a complicated medical art, for sure.
In terms of school, Bianca is it still a four-year program now?
Yes, it’s a four-year program. Although, I’m so out of the loop now. Also, part of it as doctoral as well. You can have your four-year degree where you get your dual Master’s, which would then be a Master’s degree of Oriental Medicine. It’s an MSOM, but then on top of that, it’s another two years to get your DAC, which is a Doctor of Acupuncture.
The first four years, is that after college or that can be a college degree?
I believe that you need a bachelor’s degree. In many states, you need a bachelor’s degree in order to get into acupuncture school. I don’t believe there are any states anymore. I think when I was going to school, maybe one state had an associate’s degree to get in, but I don’t think that’s even the case anymore. That was so long ago.
What do you think is the sacrifice or obligations you had to take on to achieve what you’re doing right now? Because you did not take the traditional path of, “I’m going to go to school, finish school and then just start working.” You went in and out of that curriculum. Were there sacrifices that you think you had to make to get to where you’re at?
I think because I’m so unique in my situation, especially going to school in Europe. The sacrifices were huge, missing family, not being able to work and learning a new language. I think the sacrifice is how much do you want to get out of it? I’m a firm believer of what you put into something is what you get out of it. That’s is my schooling and education, it’s the way that I teach. It’s the way that I prepare for my students. It’s the way that I work as a competitive athlete. The more you sacrifice, the more rewards you get. It’s about moving past your comfort zone. It’s not something that doesn’t come easy because it’s so layered and it’s a complicated system. Once you can unravel it, know it, love it and embrace it, you’re going to be an awesome practitioner.
Is there anything that you would have done differently reflecting back on this since we’re talking about it?What you put into something is what you get out of it. Click To Tweet
I think I’m where I’m at because of what I’ve done. I’m at a point in my career because of the choices that I made. It’s not even a regret because I somehow figure it out as a small business owner. I wish that I would have taken more courses that would have guided me to understand owning a business in a better way. After at your school, I actually went back to get my doctorate in physical therapy and I finished that several ago. That was a whole other sacrifice for me because I had to sacrifice being partially out of my clinic not making money so that I could then get yet another degree but now I’m done. No more schooling for me.
It’s best for students to get a wide range of perspectives to make an educated decision no such as their career choice. What resources do you recommend that they look into, listen to, read about, organizations to belong to or venues to attend with regard to what you’re doing, which is not just acupuncture also wellness?
There’s so much more out there than we ever had growing up. We had to be super inquisitive, get out there on foot, call and be proactive about finding ways. Google’s always been our best friend in terms of research. I think that if we can look into the obviously the American Physical Therapy Association, there’s the Acupuncture Today there’s the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the NCCAOM. It’s our big governing body for acupuncture. I encourage students to get in and see if they can shadow may be an acupuncture. See if they could sit down and have one maybe a mentor. Acupuncture started as this, what they call barefoot medicine. It got passed on from generation to generation. There’s that cool aspect of it being sacred in a way, where there’s a lineage there. What I might choose to do for points somebody else that came from a different lineage might choose something completely different, but it works. That’s where connecting with the profession is so important.
Change is constant and you’ve changed with the times. You went to PT school. Even before that, you’re willing to go to the Netherlands in PT school, changing your perspective on what on wellness and getting to acupuncture. What changes do you foresee in your career, maybe not specifically for you, but your profession in the next few years, 1, 5, 10 from now, especially in light of the pandemic that we’re going through? What do you think will be changing because of that, or even besides that?
Medicine in general and the way that patients seek medical care has been changing so much even in the last few years with medical insurance changes. Medicare is now hopefully going to be getting approved for acupuncture, which is another gigantic leap to be able to treat that population because they could use it instead of being hyper drugged-out. They’re given so many medications that having some more natural approach to treatment. I’m hoping that things change in that way more people are able to find it and access it. It’s been very interesting with this whole COVID thing because acupuncture is a very physical art so as physical therapy. If you’re a manual therapist where you help people heal by putting your hand on them, whether it’s manipulating a joint, getting the swelling out of someone’s knee, so on so forth.
What has changed again, for me in particular is the use of, I’m calling it telewellness. I resisted it at first. It scared me at first, but it has been another very cool a-ha moment because I get now see the patient in their home. We get to work on things that maybe I wasn’t aware of. I did the telehealth call with a patient of mine who’s a drummer. It’s like he could bring drums into my office, but he brought me out to his drum set. It was so cool because I was able to evaluate how he was fitting, how he was moving his body. I get to do ergonomic evaluations with patients. Most people are sitting at their dining room table with a laptop and a weird chair position. I was able to change that in a patient.
They were having neck and arm pain. I was able to see the setup, get in there and be like, “We need to raise your screen. We need to lower your chair. We need to get your arms in this position.” He was like, “My neck doesn’t hurt just by changing the position.” I think what it’s doing is giving patients and us more access in a broader way. It’s challenging to the practitioner to be able to think outside the box and to not necessarily have to rely on their hand skills because this is a lifestyle medicine too. I want to show patients how to sleep properly. Show me your pillow. Let me see how you’re sleeping in your bed. Because you wake up every morning you have pain, so clearly something you’re doing in your sleep. Is that your pillows? Let me see your pillows. It’s giving me a whole different outlook on a patient when I don’t see them in my office. It’s been amazing.
Do you anticipate that this will be um, stay with your profession for a while, this telemedicine?
I would imagine, but there’s a lot of stipulations on it so I don’t know. I’m hoping that if a patient can’t get to me then I’ll always utilize this as an option because it works so well. I think I will be offering that now going forward as an option.
Bianca, is there any way that inspired you or inspires you?
It’s not one person. I think the inspiration for me comes from every single person, every single patient that comes into my office. I’m inspired by their story of how they’re searching for their own healing. Because there’s not one person that I don’t come across in my office that doesn’t have some sort of story that got them there. That to me is usually profound.
Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing now because even though we talked about acupuncture, you have a physical therapy degree, and you also got your doctorate, but you do a lot of other things, too besides that. I would only classify it as wellness, but is there a better way to describe what you’re doing right now in terms of how you help people?
It’s holistic wellness. I do nutritional counseling. I went to a two-year program that gave me a holistic nutrition degree. I’m also a triathlon coach. I have a specialty in coaching runners, as well as US Master’s swim certification. I’m like the oz behind the curtain when it comes to my business. I run my website. I do my own marketing. I started my YouTube channel. What COVID has done for me is I came into this quarantine with the intention of showing up to continue to treat patients, even if I couldn’t physically see them. I was inspired and I wrote it down in a notebook, how can I continue to treat patients and how can I go beyond just treating one?
I started to develop a video series of all the knowledge that I have, whether it’s about physical ailments, fertility issues, nutritional aspects or running ideas and I put that into a social media form. It’s interesting because I don’t know if you know much about TikTok, it’s this new thing that’s come out. From what I understood, it was like this teenybopper thing. I saw one of my PT colleagues post something. She had posted to Facebook because we’re antiquated now, and that’s what we use. She posted this thing on TikTok, and I was like, “That’s brilliant.” It’s a 15, 30 or 60-second clip that you can do. I totally did this as a social experiment for myself because I’m doing videos anyway. Why don’t I chop them up and put them into a series of health and wellness? I have 17,000 followers. My intention was just about sharing my knowledge. It’s been very cool to see how many people that are willing to open up to this stuff.
You’ve seemed to be a student of learning. You want to constantly want to learn not only about Western medicine but also what we would say Eastern medicine. Also, you’re learning about business and stuff. Are there any parting thoughts that you would provide a student interested in what you’re doing?
I would say that it would be important if they’re serious about looking into acupuncture schools, I would definitely suggest researching all the different schools and what their main philosophies are, whether or not they resonate with the students themselves. It’s very different where, if you want to go to med school, you’re pretty much going to get a very similar medical education. Whereas acupuncture school, like I said before, if you’re about learning physical medicine and myofascial release work, you might want to look into a school that has more of a heavy curriculum based on that. If you find that you want to go more into the psycho-emotional aspect, you look into schools like that. I think it is important for the students themselves to get super educated on the education that they’re seeking. Because that will then transform them into a better professional because they’ll be more connected to that profession that way.
There’s great variability within acupuncture looks like, too. Bianca, this was a fantastic conversation. I learned a lot. I just want to say thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me. Thanks for being such a cool open-minded MD because that’s what we need more of in the world right now.
I’m learning about a lot of things by talking to everybody. This is an eye-opening experience. Thank you for sharing some of the moments with us.
Thanks for joining us on this episode. If you want to find out more about Bianca, please check out her websites, contacts, social media. She can be found at her website, Sundala.com, or Facebook, Sundala Wellness. She’s also can be found on Instagram @BiancaBeldini, and also TikTok under The Wellness Guru. We have so many more valuable and wonderful guests in the lineup. I don’t want to spoil it, but what I want to tell you is for our next episode, we will talk to a pharmacist in Seattle. When I think of a pharmacist, one of the first images that I think of is a pharmacist at Duane Reade, Walgreens, Walmart or CVS. Someone basically in retail pharmacy, but the next episode will show us there are many other opportunities besides just retail pharmacy for a pharmacist. I hope you’ll tune in for next episode’s valuable episode.
- Bianca Beldini
- Tri-State College of Acupuncture
- Trigger Point Seminars
- YouTube – Bianca Beldini
- TikTok – The Wellness Guru
- American Physical Therapy Association
- Acupuncture Today
- National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
- Sundala Wellness – Facebook
- @BiancaBeldini – Instagram
About Dr. Bianca Beldini DPT, MSOM, LAc
Bianca began her career as a health care professional after her matriculation at New York University when she entered the Physiotherapie Department of the Hanzehogeschool van Groningen in the Netherlands in 1994. She was exposed to a European Osteopathic holistic health care model that would eventually shape her mindset and intentions of practice to incorporate a mind-body-spirit approach to her clinical and life goals. She studied a style of Physical Therapy that focused on strict manual skills (based on the works of Vladimir Janda and Dr. James Cyriax) in which she learned and experienced the effects of the power of human touch.
Bianca experienced the profound effects of Acupuncture and Oriental medicine after she suffered a neck injury in 2001. She received an Acupuncture treatment that removed her pain within 24 hours and with that experience, she began her quest to evolve her understanding of health and wellness from beyond the confines of western healing modalities.
On September 11, 2001, Bianca worked at the WTC and ran from what seemed to be the end of all she knew. She suffered severe post traumatic stress and her life changed dramatically. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine once again shifted her but this time on an emotional level and she emerged from the trauma with an entirely different perspective on life and healing.
Over the past decade, Bianca has been part of Academia in which she helped teach students the art of using Acupuncture and Dry Needling for all types of musculoskeletal complaints. She founded Sacred Space Acupuncture in NYC in 2004 where she specializes in Trigger Point Dry Needling, Dance / Sports Rehabilitation Acupuncture and Women’s Health and Wellness. She has cultivated many great professional relationships with prestigious doctors, surgeons, physical therapists and body workers in which she dialogues frequently about the health and well being of her patients.
Bianca presently works on dance royalty from NYC ballet, School for American Ballet and many Contemporary Movement companies in NYC. She has treated many professional football players from the NY Giants and also had the unique experience of touring the USA with USHER in 2011 during his O.M.G. tour. Recently she has been helping a major league pitcher return to his sport with a combination of her Acupuncture, Dry Needling and Physical Therapy manual skills.
In 2004 Bianca spent some time in Syros, Greece learning the art of essential oil distillation. She successfully earned her certification in Aromatherapy.
Bianca is also certified as a Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) practitioner. She loves treating the endurance and multisport athlete since she is a Nationally competitive Age Group Triathlete and is a certified Pose Method Run Technique Specialist. Bianca recently became a USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 coach. She created a CEU series of teaching weekends for fellow Acupuncturists in Treating the Multisport Triathlete with Trigger Point Dry Needling. She races Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman distances.