Guest – Justin Short – Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist

Justin Short is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist at the Wellness Connection in Aldie, VA. Acupuncture is a Chinese medical technique where the practitioner stimulates specific points on the body, traditionally, by inserting small, thin needles through the skin. I sought out Justin’s help when I was suffering from a long-term sports injury. I had gone through surgery and physical therapy, but was still in a lot of pain and just plain miserable. I was quickly approaching our international flight to England (back in June) when I reached the pinnacle of desperation. I didn’t know how I was going to make that long flight in the pain that I was poorly managing.

After enduring my injury pain for well over a year, I can finally say that I am pain free after just a few weeks of working with Justin. If you don’t believe in miracles, then you haven’t tried acupuncture.

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Justin has been an acupuncture practitioner in Virginia for six years. Prior to returning to Virginia, he resided in Colorado for three years as a student. (Acupuncture training is a four year program, but can be completed in three.) He explains, “I got into acupuncture through martial arts. A big part of [martial arts] is moving toward being healthy and improving and strengthening yourself. Not just learning to fight.” Prior to beginning acupuncture school, Justin had graduated college with a degree in philosophy and psychology. Post graduation, he admits that he didn’t know what he wanted to do professionally. He says, “I stayed by my [martial arts] teacher training, and then doing whatever I could. Eventually I got tired of just doing whatever and wanted to start a family. I wanted to go into [one] of the healing fields, so I looked at different kinds of hands on stuff… massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and osteopathy. A lot of my teacher’s students had gone on to become osteopaths.” Justin’s teacher did a lot of hands on healing instruction with his students, but Justin knew that he didn’t want to follow what he calls “the Western model”. He explains, “[Western medicine is] more of that idea of fixing problems. That’s good if it’s a really serious problem, but when it comes to the rest of your life, it’s not as useful. So that led me away from [osteopathy]. I didn’t want to do chiropractic [care] because it was still more Western. I didn’t want to do massage because I wanted to be able to support a family and I didn’t want to be worn out by the time I was 35. So that led me to acupuncture. Acupuncture and martial arts share the same underlying theory, so it was a pretty easy jump for me to make.”

Justin adds, “All medicine is going to have an aspect of science and art, but I think acupuncture is more art than most, and not in a bad way. There’s a lot more variety between practitioners in terms of skill level. The health and ability of the doctor doesn’t matter as much, if they’re just prescribing pills. But for things where it’s more hands on, then you still have more variety and variance in the skill level of the practitioner. So I think there’s a lot more of the art to [acupuncture].” He explains that the nice thing about acupuncture and martial arts as well is that they are life-long pursuits. He goes on, “I’ll never master martial arts. I’ll never master the medicine, but you get better and better. There’s always room to grow. It always keeps you pushing for [mastery] which ties into the art aspect of it. Like art, you never really master art, you just get better and better.” He adds, “A lot of the body work that I do works on [the patient], but it’s also training for me as well. I get to help people but I also get to work on myself when I’m working on people.”

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Justin shares that when he was in college he was part of a Christian group who would say that individuals should feel called to preach. That’s essentially what it is with health for him. He shares, “I just feel called to help, but also to talk about how to be better, how we can all be better. And it also keeps me honest. [It] keeps me trying to be better too. Makes sure I don’t get complacent.”

Justin explains that our world is not getting easier to live in healthfully. He works to help push people along in a more healthy direction. He explains, “As our world changes a lot, the idea is that if we’re stronger than we’re better able to handle all of the changes. On a global scale, when we’re stronger, than we do better.”

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Aside from just the mechanical side of acupuncture, Justin explains the treatment aspect of the medicine. The primary focus of acupuncture treatment is to make people feel better, but a large portion of the medicine is teaching people how to lead a better life. The focus is on teaching patients how to get healthy and stay healthy. Justin explains, “So we do the treatment to help them get healthy, but we also look at what kind of lifestyle changes they can make; you can do this more, stop eating this, add this, [do] this kind of exercise, so that they can make changes in their life to stay healthy. I want to try to get people out of the mindset of just coming in to fix problems. We want to get people more involved in their health.” For Justin, health is an active and ongoing practice. He says, “You’re not just healthy and you sit around and you stay healthy. You’ve got to work for it. There’s a lot coming at us that makes it really easy to just not be healthy and sit by and do nothing. A lot of our technology makes things really easy and so it’s really easy to just sit around and let things go.” Justin is motivated to get people more involved in staying healthy and taking more ownership of their health.

Acupuncture is just one aspect of Chinese Medicine. There’s treatment acupuncture, but there’s also the aspect of working out which is the martial art. There’s a dietary component and meditation. It’s really much broader than just the needles, so long-term, Justin would like to branch out into those areas of the medicine as well. He’d love to train people more in terms of a martial arts class. He adds, “Often times, with patients, I’ll tell them to do something like yoga, and yoga is good, [but on it’s own] it’s just not the best. But yoga is something that you can pick up pretty quickly. You can get more [from it] quicker than you can from internal martial arts or tae chi where it takes more [time in training] to get a lot of the benefits. It’s easier to pick up a [yoga] pose than it is to learn a whole [martial art] form.” He goes on to explain, “Yoga breaks down restrictions in the body, (which is good for flexibility), but it doesn’t build you up really. That’s where the internal martial arts comes in. It’s two parts, the breaking down and the building up. Yoga’s really good at breaking down. The [practice of] martial arts is best at building things up.” He explains another way to “build up” would be weight lifting, but shares that weight lifting builds up in a negative way where it creates a lot of restrictions in the body so you don’t move as well.   He adds that weight lifting contributes to less free range of motion, and balance in the body because you’re isolating a huge part of the body. He adds that weight lifting used as part of sports training could also be counter productive as the focus of the exercises may not be applicable to how you’re actually moving in the sport.

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A dream of Justin’s would be to work in athletic and physical training. He explains that a lot of people just don’t train correctly, training in ways that actually hurt their bodies. Many of us are taught to train in ways that, long-term, hurts our bodies. (Don’t I know it?!)   He would love to be able to assist in training athletes in more meaningful ways, but laments the work is tough to break into. He explains, “Where’s the place most sports are played? It’s in high school and you can’t get in there unless you know someone.”

I asked Justin, outside of acupuncture, what was intriguing him or drawing his attention these days. As much as he likes being healthy, he is a self-proclaimed nerd of sorts. What’s really big right now, and growing, is competitive computer gaming or e-sports. Organizations are paying tens of millions of dollars to just apply to be in e-sport leagues. It’s something that Justin has watched grow from being a bunch of kids in some guy’s house, to renting out Madison Square Garden. He explains that there are international e-sports tournaments that have more people tuning in to watch than the numbers watching professional baseball. Internationally it’s getting huge. He shares, “One thing that I want to do there is be like a team doctor [in part to] get the medicine out there, more [in the] mainstream. I think it would be really cool for me to take care of these players in terms of their training. It’s not like traditional sports where a lot of the injuries are very acute, [for example] a pulled ankle or a shoulder. This is more of a wellness type thing for these guys where they’re playing computer games for 12 hours a day.” (That is not good for you!) He adds, “So you’ve got to look at your long-term health. A lot of these players get burned out after two or three years because it’s so rough. There isn’t really any health component to a lot of these organizations because they haven’t got the resources since it’s such a young industry.” A dream job for him would be getting into one of these organizations and setting up a whole regiment for them to get their players healthy. But again he stresses that he doesn’t just want to get them healthy, because again, fixing problems is good, but he wants to go beyond that, building them up as much as possible.   Justin shares, “It’s the biggest thing that nobody’s heard of. Advertisers love [e-sports] because it’s that 15 – 25 age group that they want to get in on. A lot of changes in the infrastructure of the league are happening now to where everything is going to get big real soon. It’s something I might try and do.” Justin adds that he wants to do something that he enjoys, but he also wants to help educate people in Chinese Medicine so that acupuncture is not seen as “such a weird thing”. He also wants to help the idea of healthy living permeate the national consciousness so that more people are aware that there are options besides taking pills for everything.

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He wants people to feel empowered about their health and encourages everyone to take their health into their own hands to feel really good and have tons of energy. He shares, “I hear it all the time, “My knee hurts a little bit right now, I’m gonna have arthritis in some years.” And I’m like, “Well don’t just accept that. You can change that. Nothing is written in stone. You may have a little bit of scar tissue, but there’s nothing saying that you’re going to have arthritis. You can put it off, or you can make it be a lot less or you can get rid of it all together, without surgery, without pills”.” He explains that there are lifestyle things that we can all do to just be better. It was important to him to share that we don’t have to just accept that pills and surgery are the only options.

Says Justin, “You don’t have to settle for feeling rundown. If you have to have coffee everyday to pick yourself up in the morning, you don’t have to do that. You can do things in your life to help that. If there are things that you are required to do every day to feel just normal or to get through, figure out why is that? What could you be changing [so] you don’t have to do that? Often we [hold on to habits] because it’s the easiest thing to do. If you’re feeling tired, it’s easier to drink the coffee in the morning or all day to kind of pick you up than it is to change your whole lifestyle. But making those changes is going to mean longer life, happier life, healthier life.” The goal of Chinese medicine is to live your life in such a way (physically, mentally and spiritually) that you ultimately die happy, healthy and old.

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Justin is quite passionate about the concept that everyone can feel better than they do now. He shares, “No matter how good you feel, you can be better. If you feel sick and you feel rundown, you can be better. It takes effort but you can be better. Even if you feel great, you can still be better. That’s the training in martial arts part. In acupuncture we can get you kind of back to normal a little bit, but with the training that’s where you can go more extraordinary. What I tell patients all the time is that fixing the problem is fine, that’s good, but we’re looking to be great.”

Justin is so proud that he actually gets to help people and not just fix problems, but help them want to be more proactive about being healthy. He understands that you can’t force people to want to be healthy and realizes that it’s tough for everyone. He says, “We’ve all got to work through this. You know, figure out what works for you. No one is perfect. Everyone has their things. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be trying to get better.”

To contact Justin, you can email him at:  vahealthyliving@gmail.com

Wellness Connection – https://www.facebook.com/srwellnessconnection/

All photos obtained from Google Images.