An International Life: An Interview with Mary Elizabeth Wakefield
I met Mary Elizabeth Wakefield during her class last summer in Seneca Falls, New York at the Finger Lakes School of Chinese Medicine. I was inspired by her confidence and passion as a teacher of Constitutional Facial Acupuncture and delighted to share her compelling history with all of you.
JW: Can you share with us some of your biographical information and how you became an acupuncturist? What did you do prior to becoming an acupuncturist? Where did you go to school?
MEW: I was born in a little town near Lake Michigan in the Midwest. It was a small "Dorf", or village, as they would describe it in Germany, with a total population of only 3,000 people. It seemed that every season of the year in that village, would play havoc in some way with my allergies. The summers were hot and humid; winters were dry and cold, and replete with snow, the spring blossomed forth with pollen, and autumn's multicolored dry leaves caused me to have difficulty breathing.
I not only had food allergies, but I also developed a serious case of asthma, eczema and hay fever. In between the bouts of coughing and wheezing, I was singing. Whenever I heard music, I would imitate it, sing and dance. The singing exercised and fortified my Lung Qi, increasing my breath capacity, and the sheer joy of this spontaneous and free expression lifted my spirits.
Throughout my entire early musical career, while I was singing and attending music academies, I had also discovered a passion for health, vitamins and juicing, characterized by the maintenance of an allergy-free diet, and use of herbs to achieve a good constitutional balance. This was the outgrowth of my childhood experiences of illness; I took care to be conscious about my health, and also began to explore alternative healing modalities. To me, there was always an implicit link between music and medicine.
I ultimately began an international operatic career with guest appearances in Germany and Austria, followed by further engagements in Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, working with Columbia Artists here in the States, on tour, etc. I also began to pursue my initial study of shiatsu, craniosacral therapy, polarity therapy, and later, massage therapy at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
I lived as an American expatriate in Tokyo for three years. I encountered a very fine Japanese acupuncturist, who gave me treatments. I was very impressed with the gentleness of these treatments and the power of the Qi moving throughout my body. I promised myself that, when I returned to New York, I would study acupuncture. I applied to Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City in Greenwich Village, and the rest is history. The minute I graduated from Tri-State I began practicing and teaching. Because I had been in the theater all these years and was used to the performing arts, I was drawn to learning more about facial acupuncture. I became fascinated by the face's capacity for emotional expression and the transformational power of Shen/Spirit that naturally radiates forth from it, which can be re-kindled through the process of facial acupuncture treatments.
JW:What is the greatest discovery you made while working on someone or while teaching?
MEW: One particular instance comes to mind. When I was teaching the Eight Extraordinary Meridians during a seminar on the West Coast, I emphasized the power of Chong Mai, as the progenitor of the other channels, to address cellular memory, intergenerational patterns addictive behavior and abuse issues. In the practicum session, one young woman, after having been needled with Chong Mai, had a particularly emotional reaction, sobbing wildly and fleeing the room after the needles were removed. I followed her upstairs, and when I gently questioned her about this response, she related that the needling of Chong Mai had elicited the remembrance of a date rape experience, precipitated by a young man drugging her with Rohypnol.
Interestingly, she had instinctively chosen to work with this young man because he resembled that person who was responsible for that incident three years earlier. However, she was not conscious of her choice at the time; nevertheless, she was obviously ready to process this violation, which had been lodged in her cellular memory.
I recommended that she go home, write in her journal, try to relax and process what she had experienced, and return to the class the next day. When she rejoined the group, she seemed much more peaceful, and it was apparent to me that she had successfully begun the process of integrating that painful memory. I then requested that she first explain to the young man who had been her treatment partner that it was not his fault that she experienced the adverse reaction to the treatment, and second, that she choose another partner with which to work, which she did.
Several years ago, a 67-year-old man, possessed of a genetically hardy constitution, came to me for treatment following the surgical removal of a benign brain tumor at the base of his brain. This tumor had been pressing on the trigeminal nerve on the right side of his face. During the surgery, the cranial nerves which innervate the right side of the face had been severed. Consequently, he had sensory nerve damage — tingling, numbness, pain, burning and – and presented with hearing loss in the right ear, a complication resulting from the surgery. He also complained of a red, painful, right eye.
I used facial motor points to address his symptoms, which his doctors had calmly assured him would persist for the rest of his life, and could only be palliated with various drugs.
After four weeks, the pain, discomfort and redness in his right eye had abated considerably. Witnessing these results, his doctor decreased his dosage of the drug Lyrica, which blocks nerve pain. Despite these observable and beneficial changes, the doctor could not be convinced that acupuncture was the cause of the reversal of the symptoms. After two months, the numbness, tingling sensation, and burning had ceased to bother him. We continued to work intensively for six months, on a maintenance basis, with the face and also relevant body points. Eventually, he noticed that the left side of his face appeared more noticeably droopy than the right.
He then requested that we begin treating both sides of the face.
JW: Share with us your evolution from being a one-on-one practitioner to teaching around the world?
MEW: Teaching is, without a doubt, in my blood. You could say that teaching is in my DNA, in my Chong Mai. When people assemble in numbers, Qi is enlivened, creating the potential for magic to happen! Within this magic, there is an evolutionary leap of consciousness for the performer/teacher and the audience/students, as both become one in the act of being present and learning.
The possibility for change then arises, a capacity to transform and transcend previously existing ideas and forms. There is a saying that change has begun when the student has made the decision to come, i.e., to the seminar.
I also believe that truly inspirational teachers must have in them more than a little bit of the energy of the performer; otherwise, learning can devolve into a sterile, and possibly futile, endeavor. As you've learned from an accounting of my first career track, the life of an international performing artist is not that far removed from that of an international teacher of oriental medicine. Living in foreign countries when I was younger compelled me to transcend the somewhat parochial influences of my small-town upbringing, and irrevocably expanded my horizons.
JW: What is your favorite country in which to teach and why?
MEW: I'm very fond of Australasia; it is been our great pleasure to have been invited to Oz now for some eight years, and we have repeatedly presented seminars in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. We also love New Zealand. It's very different from Australia, and doesn't have all the potentially lethal critters — snakes, spiders, jellyfish, crocodiles, sharks, etc. — which I appreciate. However, both countries are extremely beautiful and the people are adventurous, open, and interesting. We will return "down under" yet again this November/December for a series of seminars, and probably jump across the Tasman Sea to present a couple of things in New Zealand, as well.
Another place I really like to teach is Japan. As I related previously, We also enjoy northern New Mexico, up in the mountains, both Northern and Southern California, and elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. Minneapolis is a great city, I have chosen Northwestern Health Sciences University in nearby Bloomington to be the home for our Second International Gold Standard Facial Acupuncture Certification Program in 2015-2016.
JW:What drew you into the field of facial acupuncture?
MEW: Due to my previous experience in theater/opera, and my history of asthma as a child, the twin emphases on the well-being and balance of the body and enhancing the natural expressiveness of the face were very important to me.
Moreover, facial acupuncture was a natural fit for someone like me, who had been accustomed to being constantly on stage. The face is the hallmark of our personal identity, and the single most important vehicle for the expression of human emotion through song and speech, and during the act of teaching. Without the wondrous motility of its structure, we would be unable to express feeling and authentic emotions, those that come from the heart and reflect the Shen. Therefore, I was always interested in a natural way of working with beauty expression, and life force.
JW: Share with us the process of writing your very thorough and impressive book, Constitutional Facial Acupuncture. How long did it take?
MEW: My book took about three years to write. The first year was comprised of the initial stage of research, which was extensive. And, over the next two years, I focused intensely on writing the book chapter by chapter, squeezing in this task during the brief respites from my customarily busy international teaching schedule. I wrote the book all over the world — in London, Sydney, Michigan, California, etc. The most difficult chapters were, undoubtedly, the initial conceptual chapters. Theory and protocol was easier to formulate, and transcribe to paper. I had my book edited by colleagues who were journalists and acupuncturist before the manuscript was finally delivered to Elsevier U.K. I was gratified to learn that, because of this extensive pre-editing, the book was in great shape, and, after only a couple rounds of revisions, it was ready for publication.
The paramount challenge that confronted me was to find my own unique voice. As the manuscript gradually began to appear, chapter by chapter, I learned to shut out that critical inner soundtrack, endeavoring to capture the authenticity of my knowledge, considerable experience and the wisdom that I have gained thus far in my career.
JW: How did you discover the Wakefield point on the scalp? Tell us more about that.
MEW: I actually discovered this point when I was working with droopy eyebrows. I realized that sagging eyebrows have a great deal to do not only with eyebrow area itself, but also with the entire scalp — the Galea aponeurotica. I also realized that a sagging neck may be the result of whiplash, a trauma to the back of the head, or a blow to the front. The flexibility the scalp is connected with, and balanced by, the movement of both the frontalis and the occipitalis muscles.
Others may have noted the significance of this nuchal notch in the occipitalis muscle, recognizing how useful it is in releasing the upper trapezius muscle, and the cervicals in the neck. However, I'm reasonably confident they have not had the singular honor of having this particular treatment point named after them by Japanese acupuncturists.
I did not initially refer to this area as The Wakefield Point; it was only when I taught my first seminars in Tokyo, and shared this information with my Japanese students and sponsors, that they bestowed upon it this particular designation. I am grateful to my Senseis and teachers, who have guided my life path in generosity and kindness, and my patients and students who have trust and faith in me.
To me, true beauty reflects the most profound depths of the soul and has no age limit!