Interview with Jennifer Carino, acupuncturist

Recently, I interviewed my colleague, Jennifer Carino. She practices a different type of acupuncture in San Francisco. Even if you’re familiar with acupuncture, I think you’ll enjoy this interview.

“What got you into the field of acupuncture?”
I came from a family of healthcare providers and just grew up in that world. I was never fully interested in going there myself. But my boyfriend got diagnosed with a brain tumor, and something natural in me kicked in.

We of course, went the Western medicine route and agreed to surgery and radiation, and in addition to these treatments we both went to our acupuncturist/herbalist for regular treatments.

Along with other complementary and alternative medicine therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, and dietary changes, we also got rid of our microwave, anything made of plastic or aluminum in the kitchen, and plug-in electric alarm clocks near our bedside.

As I continued learning about complementary and alternative medicine, I became much more interested, and I learned that this is what I wanted to do.

My boyfriend became my husband. He had a second bout of brain cancer, so we’re going through that now. But he’s doing well. Each time it seems that my level of interest in healthcare gets deeper and wider.

With the first diagnosis 20 years ago, I decided to go to acupuncture school and with this this recent bout, I’m doing more meditation and sharing this with my current patients, too.

“Did your acupuncture school emphasize meditation?”
No. There was one instructor who taught a particular meditation about the “golden cheese” in his class. He was the only Japanese instructor in the school and the only one who incorporated some meditation into his class work and clinic time, too.

I followed him consistently throughout my clinic rotation to learn more, because he had a different way of teaching that I really connected with.

How they teach in Asia is different. They don’t tell you why. They show you and tell you what to memorize. And over time, and with practice you realize the why.

You have to pick up the “why” experientially. Which is a great way to learn, because it’s an in-depth, personal a-ha way of learning. It can come suddenly or
years later.

“Before acupuncture, what were you doing?”
I worked for a non-profit social justice organization in the city. My whole personal dogma was based on social justice in whatever form, whatever way. I was able to make a living working in an organization with those values.

I traveled the world talking about politics, history, womens’ rights, social justice, etc., and how U.S. policy influences these countries.

“What type of food do you like?”
Burmese, Japanese, Chinese, I seem to like Asian food. I like Indian food for its pungent flavors.

I love Burmese for the salads and the flavors and spices. I love Chinese because it’s exactly how we should be eating: little bit of meat for flavor, mostly vegetables, a light amount of carbs, colorful and nutritious.

I’ve been cooking a lot of these things, making it as healthy as possible. I’m dedicated to eating healthy and flavorful. I share recipes with patients. When I start my newsletter, I’ll share my recipes or ones I find.

People say food is medicine. It sounds trite, but it’s true. We eat 3-6 times or so per day and if we’re taking herbs we’re still eating way more often than we’re taking herbs so I like to suggest people start with a healthy diet and then look at herbs, otherwise we’re still practicing the way Western medicine does.

It’s funny, too; people always ask me if I like cooking. And I don’t. I enjoy eating well and healthy, so I cook. I don’t cook to relax. But I feel more relaxed when I eat well and nutritiously.

“What kind of music do you enjoy?”
I listen to jazz a lot. I love jazz. Jazz has been a big part of my life since college and continues to be so. I like listening to it at home, the office, seeing it live.

I really like Bjork. Part of it is her artistry, creativity. She’s not just a musician. I think of her as a performance artist. She captivates me with her pixie-like persona and her fearless creativity.

Her music videos are visually stunning. The creativity, the colors, the costumes, it’s all so inspiring.

“What experience has helped you to become a better person?”
Two major things. My husband’s one of them. He’s so consistently kind, thoughtful, and patient. And when I’m not, I’m reminded simply by his example. People are always telling him how lucky he is to have me, but I’m really lucky to have him.

The second major experience for me was when I spent a full year taking the Contemplative Caregiver Course at the Zen Center of San Francisco with other health care providers and family members providing care for their patients and/or loved ones.

Through meditation, conversation, practice in our clinics, reading and journaling, we focused on mindfulness, compassion for others and for ourselves, and illness and death.

I never thought I’d spend three months meditating on illness and death, but I did. It changed my life. Simply recalling “The Five Remembrances” each day and for three months had me looking at life differently.

Life seemed to feel easier knowing that aging, illness, death and change were inevitable. I realize it probably sounds glum but somehow it isn’t.

My favorite line from these remembrances became, “My actions are my only true belongings; my actions are the ground on which I stand.”

That line impressed me. It’s about not grasping. We all grasp, but feeling these lessons on a deeper level has loosened my grip on what I think should be or what I want to have.

And after those three months of meditating on, “My actions are my only true belongings,” we actually decided to sell our house. It wasn’t serving us anymore, nor bringing us joy so we decided to let our biggest belonging go.

“What’s especially satisfying about doing your work?”
I feel it’s an outgrowth of my earlier experience in social justice, and in this case it’s about access to a healthy life and therefore happier community.

I’m working with individuals, one-to-one versus one-to-hundreds. We can see an effect within one hour versus waiting years for policy to change.

Just seeing people open up, and their willingness to share what’s truly affecting their health, in terms of their entire life. I find that is an honor to be part of that, to be trusted.

I feel like I get to learn so much about life. Life gets condensed and accelerated in terms of experience in the treatment room.

I can learn about life at my current age instead of waiting until I’m 80 to have heard this huge accumulation of life learning that people share with me everyday. It’s an accelerated life experience.

To me it’s just so fascinating to find a common thread. I learn about common threads among people and society by helping my patients.

For example, an electromagnetic field can affect people’s health. Last summer I treated 3 people who had severe symptoms like nausea, dizziness, insomnia, and ear pain.

I’ve been seeing that now with more people. So I can’t help but preach to people to put their phone on airplane mode and turn off their computer modem at night.

“What are your favorite issues or types of patient?”
My favorite client is the one who’s ready to do the work, ready to do their part, and interested in doing something new and different to address their issue holistically with a “w” and not just with an “h.”

When I work with someone, I want to know everything that may be affecting them. I don’t want to just give a treatment. I want to make sure we’re addressing this from every angle.

I love doing weight loss, cosmetic acupuncture, fertility, and pregnancy.

I really like working with women who may have a history of miscarriages. There’s nothing more joyful than helping a woman get pregnant and stay pregnant. That is, until delivery of course.

And I love turning breach babies in a non-invasive way, usually one treatment. It’s so gratifying because we get to save the mother and baby from surgery.

“What are some misconceptions about acupuncture?”
So many people think acupuncture will be painful. I practice a Japanese style with much finer needles and a lighter touch. My Japanese instructor would say to “let the chi come” and not to manipulate the chi to come.

That’s different than the more known Traditional Chinese Medicine approach.

I also use abdominal reflexes along with checking the pulse and tongue. I’m eliciting the patient’s interaction. When I press a particular area on their stomach that relates to their circulation, liver, immune system, etc., I ask the patient how it feels.

I can notice the change with pressure, but they subjectively can tell, too. They’re feeling it themselves.

It’s a teamwork approach. It takes a little more time per session, because I need to elicit the patient’s response. It can take a while if the patient’s new, because they’re learning how to get a feel for what I’m doing.

This approach is especially great for complicated cases like auto immune, thyroid, adrenal.

“What’s a simple health tip?”
Cook more meals at home.

Note from William
Jennifer is the first person I’ve interviewed in 2015, but I had such a fun time interviewing her, that I’ll be interviewing other healthcare professionals over the next few month.

If you’d like to learn more about Jennifer’s acupuncture practice, please visit

If you know a highly skilled healthcare practitioner who practices in San Francisco and has a good sense of humor, feel free to nominate them for a future interview. Just send me an email with their name, website, and why you think they’re awesome.


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