Highlighting Black Contemporary Pioneers in the Mindfulness Community
Neanta Parnell – Feb 28, 2023
Mindfulness is in part, being aware of self, our community, and how we interact with the world around us. Mindfulness is often intertwined with other personal development practices like yoga, meditation, and alternative medicine. In this way, mindfulness is like a lifestyle that is adapted to however it may manifest in each individual. For Aliya Stimpson, mindfulness is embedded in the practice of acupuncture.
Based in New York, Stimpson is a budding acupuncturist at the Pacific College of Health and Science. Although she has a busy schedule with clinic hours and herbal dispensary management, Stimpson took time to sit with Inner Strength instructor and communications associate, Neanta Parnell to discuss the connection between mindfulness and alternative medicine in the Black community.
As an introduction to the topic, Stimpson described acupuncture as a way to treat “acute and chronic situations” in a very broad sense. Acupuncture can be used as a treatment for physical and psycho-emotional situations in a way that assists the body in healing itself – more accurately, helping the body harmonize qi; the energy of the body. When in harmony, there is a healthy “freeflow” of energy. When asynchronous, there are “blockages and stagnation” of qi. There are also instances where there is an excess or deficiency of various aspects of qi.
With the flow of qi complicated in many ways, harmony is a common theme in the following interview. Read on to learn more about acupuncture, alternative medicine, and mindfulness, as well as Aliya’s aspirations as an acupuncturist for herself and the Black Community.
Stimpson: Hello everyone, my name is Aliya Stimpson and I am a graduate student at the Pacific College of Health and Science, studying my Master’s in acupuncture and Chinese medicine and I graduate this April, so I will soon be an acupuncturist.
Parnell: Wow! So cool!
Stimpson: Thank you. It’s been a long time coming.
Parnell: What would you say are your goals for acupuncture, for your personal journey and the Black community. That can be broad – who do you want to serve, how, in what way, why?
Stimpson: Yes! So, acupuncture for me has been a saving grace. Personally, I feel like I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do, which is facilitating helping people. That was always my goal. Originally I was going to be a surgeon and then I couldn’t deal with the lifestyle. I would not be able to sleep and so, going back to that idea of being able to balance things, I needed to be able to balance my work and life experiences. Acupuncture became very attractive because the people who do acupuncture have a good life [healthy work-life balance] , typically.
Now, the people that I wanted to serve are Black people, ideally. I’d like to be able to treat people who look like me because I feel like we don’t generally have access, or know about these opportunities – for people like me to treat them. [ At times], they [black community] just think: “ I’m sick but it doesn’t matter, I’m not gonna go to the doctor”. Those things are rooted in generational fear from being experimented on, from being treated poorly, not being listened to, not being heard, or believed [in reference to Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present]. So, while I understand the fear that could come from it, I’m hoping that by having more practitioners that look like you in the medical field [like Western doctors] as well as acupuncture, or any other alternative medical practice, I’m hoping that will encourage Black people and people of the BIPOC community to try new things out. And you know, once you tell one person you had a great experience and you tell your friends, you’re helping people more than you think. It’s important for us to have these experiences – to take that chance and try new things, even if it’s a little scary.
Parnell: And in relation to that fear that you mentioned – you know, growing up, that was something, that even my family experienced. They were like: “You don’t want to go to the doctor too much, you don’t really know what they’re doing”. And the communication between Western medicine doctors and the patient isn’t always the best. Do you think there is that same fear with alternative medicine in the Black, BIPOC community, or do you think that if there is a fear or aversion to alternative medicine, it’s only because they don’t know, rather than a distrust of the methodology? Does that make sense?
Stimpson: It does. And I think that they are kind of hand-in-hand because ultimately, when you’re a patient, you’re trusting somebody else for your care, so you have to have a sense of vulnerability in order to be able to receive that care. And in the past […] as a community – we historically have not been treated well. There’s a great book called, Medical Apartheid that really dives into this topic. I recommend everyone read this because – it’s hard to read, don’t get me wrong – but it explains where all this fear comes from. And it’s because we were experimented on – like for instance, the Tuskegee Syphilis Trials, Women’s Health with gynecology – where the Father of Gynecology comes from, violence against Black women, violence against the Black body – [all of] that does not go away. Even if you’re not personally receiving this experience, your family memory, your genes and your DNA is going to remember that fear. You might not even know why you feel this way because your generational trauma is impacting you in ways you wouldn’t expect. So, I think that for acupuncture while it’s different and it’s new, that part where you said: “it’s the newness – you’re not familiar with it”, can also play into that fear that people would have. […] That’s why I suggest people be a little courageous – it’s worth trying because it can be really beneficial.
Generational trauma can negatively impact the lens by which we view the world. With a history filled with injustice and cruelty that continues to affect the Black community, it is understandable the fear that surrounds medicine, alternative or otherwise. Read part two to understand how Black diasporic culture is rooted in alternative medicine, self care, and mindfulness with Aliya Stimpson.