Acknowledging the Source

There is much to celebrate in the upcoming holiday season. In this time of giving and gratitude, I want to add another to your list--Dr. Miriam Lee. Her birthday is December 8 and she would have been 92 years old. She is an important figure for community acupuncture and Chinese medicine in general. She is directly responsible--along with Governor Jerry Brown--for making acupuncture legal to practice in California. This happened in 1976.


Two years earlier she had actually been arrested for treating patients without a license. It is a great story, really, as the patients who filled her office daily, also filled the courtroom “to protest being denied access to the only medicine which had helped them, and to insist that they had a right to choose to be treated with acupuncture” (xii, author’s preface, Insights from a Senior Acupuncturist). At one point, when she was treating out of her home, so many people were waiting on her staircase that it broke!


As community acupuncturists, we hold her in high regard as one of our Liberation Ancestors. The way she had to learn to treat--given the demand for her services--informs how community clinics are set up and often we use the protocol she developed. She created a simple, effective needling strategy to handle the high volume of people seeking treatment. In her memoir, Insights of a Senior Acupuncturist (1992), she explains “By 5 AM there were 4 or 5 people waiting in their cars to get in. So for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, I saw between 75 and 80 patients a day, 14 to 17 patients an hour” (x).


Her main protocol was a set of 5 points, used bilaterally: Large Intestine 11 and 4, Lung 7, Spleen 6, and Stomach 36. When we use it, we happily document this in our charts as ML 10. Often I am asked if we can treat more than one condition at a time and my answer is always yes. Perhaps it is better to focus on 1 or 2 things rather than 5 or 6, but acupuncture is powerful. I love its simplicity and elegance to stimulate change and self-healing in the body. All the points are multi-functional and are often doing things beyond what I am intending to use them to treat.


Miriam Lee died on June 24, 2009. From what I hear, she was a humble and rare teacher and I am so grateful for her generosity in sharing what she learned with others. She was a life-long student herself, always studying to get better to help her patients. I have had the good fortune and time to study with one of her main students, Susan Johnson, LAc, who continues to share Miriam’s legacy and also what she learned directly from working in Lee’s busy clinic.


I am grateful for ancestors like these and grateful to the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) who are engaged with social justice, who shine a light on the radical history of acupuncture, and who developed and openly shared how to create the healing spaces of community clinics.