To be “holistic” is, these days, to be soft-spoken and perfumed. This because the cynical boor that is our collective unconscious has bent the term “holistic” into an epithet for “neo-hippies seeking exotic medicines.”

But this caricature distracts from the rigorous and compelling set of considerations that define holist philosophies, systems-thinking and non-western health practices, such as yoga, meditation and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It also fails to consider the USA’s integral Asian and Latino communities, for whom alternative, holistic, “folk” medicine has always been an essential practice.

In order to get holistic about being holistic, Oakland’s newest acupuncture clinic, Shift Collective, is taking it to the next level. Having just finishing a successful crowdfunding campaign in July, they are now open in their new space and set to represent for “real” holistic.

Alternative Medicine Meets Alternative Business

Many of the most prevalent health concerns in the United States are related to both acute and chronic stress: hypertension, depression, obesity, PTSD, insomnia, IBS, anxiety, addiction, violence; and most of these go partially or wholly unresolved by western treatments.

Historically, the western model has segregated itself from health traditions that aren’t exclusively focused on the same narrow set of treatment modalities, and as a result, many “holistic” ideas about the importance of multifaceted approaches that account for the circumstances, as well as the symptoms of disease, are only now receiving attention for their impact on healing.

The term “holistic” is supposed to bring to mind an ethical or operational system that integrates many approaches to problem solving, a system that views the concern as inseparable from the context. Is it not, then, a natural and vital extension of holistic values that an acupuncture clinic would also be a worker-cooperative?

It is, according to Amy Mosley, Rona Luo and Jonlí Montes of Shift Collective. They see business practices, community affordability and multilingual accessibility as fundamental concerns of holistic medicine.

Shift Collective Clinic's Summit St. Offices, which it shares with several other small clinics.

Shift Collective’s Summit Street offices, which it shares with several other small clinics.

“Bringing that [holistic] philosophy out into the world using the model of a co-op has a lot of integrity,” says Jonlí, “The cooperative model is very similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine: everybody is important and everybody has a function that is crucial for the whole system to work.”

Co-ops Heal the Healer

Not only does the worker-co-op’s model serve as an extension of the big-picture value system inherent to holism, it also supports the healers’ ability to heal. What is commonly dismissed as “bedside manner” in hospital settings is a fundamental concern of alternative healing modalities such as acupuncture, body work, naturopathy, ayurveda, yoga, and meditation.

“It’s holistic medicine, there’s an assumption that when people are in pain it is difficult, they are in some amount of mental or emotional stress, and we always take that into account,” says Amy. It is therefore essential that the healers who work with such techniques are themselves mentally and emotionally healthy. As Amy put it, “It’s better for my patients because it’s better for me in a co-op; I can provide better care because I am happy about my work situation and I feel support from my colleagues.”

“Most acupuncture practitioners work solo, which is very isolating. We have a community that helps us provide the best care,” says Rona, who also works at Oakland’s Asian Health Services and says that members of the Chinese community seeking acupuncture treatment through their Medi-Cal and Medicare programs face waits of up to a year.

All three worker-owners of Shift Acupuncture Collective have backgrounds in social justice and community organizing. Amy is a founding member of the Rock Paper Scissors Collective here in Oakland, Rona worked as a labor organizer in New York City and helped start a pilot program to study the health risks of nail salon workers, and Jonlí was an organizer in his native Puerto Rico working on autogestión before moving to California and training as a healer.

Supporting What Supports You

As is true of many worker-cooperative businesses, Shift Acupuncture Collective has a decidedly community-oriented mission that places a premium on supporting the solidarity economy network. In addition to prioritizing multilingual accessibility and offering community acupuncture sessions that make treatment more affordable, they also source all of their herbal medicines from local, family-owned business 5 Flavor Herbs, and support community organizations by donating services to fundraising campaigns and providing discounted treatments to keep activists and community groups healthy, such as food justice workers, breastfeeding mothers and bicyclists.

The true holistic approach to health embraces all solutions, and seeks to balance them for the best possible outcome. The healers at Shift Collective are in fact all licensed primary-care providers who can refer their patients to other healing traditions when the illness calls for it.

They see this as not only an extension of holistic ideals, but also a practical consideration of healers in this community. “There’s such a lack of general medical practitioners, and we are here to fill a void that our community has,” says Jonlí. This allows their patients to see them without a referral from another doctor, and trust them as principal health managers that will prioritize health over dogma. Shift also provides dietary counseling, herbal therapy, shiatsu massage, moxibustion and cupping treatments.

To think holistically is to see the challenges of health, community, business and medicine as parts of the puzzling system, and to consider the solutions best that take all of these concerns into account. Not only is a worker-co-op a holistic system in that empowers its workers and supports its local community, it also ensures that as the organization works and grows, it will continue to be responsive to changes in the system it is trying to heal, and in its own ability to fulfill the core mission of providing affordable, accessible, healing healthcare.

“There is a healthful state the body is capable of in Chinese Medicine,” says Amy, “and there is an inherent healthful state we are capable of collectively. Helping individuals come into that space will hopefully help the community come into that space as well.”

About The Author

Eric is a freelance writer who covers Oakland's thriving New Economy movement, as well as local culture, community projects, and letters. As graduate of UC Santa Cruz he is essentially a socialist, but what does that even mean anymore, really? As a proud Oakland transplant from the PNW, Eric sees his work at Oakland Local as a small part of Oakland's battle to keep its identity, support all its peoples, and be prospering without plundering.

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