TAHOE CITY, Calif. — “I don’t see how sticking a few needles in me is going to do anything,” said a young Tyler Lapkin.
When his mother suggested acupuncture to treat his back pain, the 16-year-old hesitated. But when painkillers and anti inflammatory medications didn’t alleviate the pain caused by a skiing accident, he decided to try acupuncture — a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine
“With the first needle that went into my back I felt something go all the way to the top of my head,” Tyler remembers of his first experience.
Tyler said exposure as a teenager “planted a seed.”
EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
Now Tyler is a California Board licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with an office in Tahoe City. A lot of Tyler’s job, he said, consists of educating people about acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In his practice, Tyler teaches patients about their own body, its ability to heal itself and bringing awareness to daily living.
“It’s not just about putting needles in someone,” he said. According to the Mayo Clinic website, www.mayoclinic.com, Traditional Chinese Medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe your energy flow will re-balance.
“What this medicine has taught me is that things are always changing and when you’re not able to embrace change — that’s when you see big problems.”
In addition to being a graduate of Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, Calif. where he spent four years earning his Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tyler trained in Hangzhou China at Zhejiang Medical University.
“It’s such a different experience,” Tyler said of his time in China. “Just going to Chinatown in San Francisco doesn’t really prepare you for it.”
Tyler learned to ride his bike through the heavy traffic of Hangzhou and how to treat patients using needles and herbs. The acupuncturist said he learned much about China’s philosophies and the differences between the East and West’s ways of understanding the world. Tyler believes that both, especially in the field of medicine, can learn from each other. Lapkin incorporates both philosophies into his practice.
“We have a lot to learn from them in terms of possibilities,” Tyler said. Watching a stroke patient be treated with herbs was one instance that surprised him and opened his eyes.
“China has a lot to learn from us,” he said, adding Western health principles that are taken for granted here, such as hygiene and refraining from tobacco use, are less considered in China.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Outside of his office in Tahoe City, Tyler works with patients at the Gene Upshaw Tahoe Forest Cancer Center in Truckee. When he treats patients with acupuncture, Tyler said he isn’t attempting to cure them of cancer, but trying to make their lives a little better during the treatment. On Tuesday evenings patients look forward to seeing Tyler and receiving acupuncture that minimizes the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
“It’s about connection,” he said. “Just to be heard and have someone who is willing to hold that space for them. Their doctors may not have the time.”
Tyler said working with patients in the Cancer Center can be emotionally taxing, but also inspirational. He works with patients with all types of cancer.
“It’s amazing to hear their stories,” he said. “It’s a privilege for me to be able to work with them, even if it’s just palliative care.”
Hope Ortman, a patient at the Cancer Center, first began treatment with Tyler one year ago. Along with yoga, meditation, a change in diet and exercise, weekly massages and counseling, Hope said the holistic approach to health has helped her turn hers around completely.
“You want every tool in the tool kit you can get your hands on to move through and move on,” Hope said.
Hope received 12 acupuncture treatments over a period of eight months and said she felt little nausea and no lethargy, both common effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Tyler takes time with each and every patient, Hope said, describing him as “one of the most gentle men (she’s) ever known.”
Hope feels he is taking the “whole person into account, allowing you to be exactly who you are.”
His work in Chinese clinics, a Balinese birthing center and now at the Cancer Center has allowed Tyler to help patients approach their own health from a different perspective.
“If I can get people back to their lives and maybe get people to think differently or with more awareness then I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
When the acupuncturist isn’t working with patients he pursues many passions that “put me in my bliss and allow me to connect with my own heart.”
Tyler is a musician, a writer and photographer, a cook and an avid free skier. He believes in getting out of his comfort zone daily and also is an avid traveler.
“I get inspiration every time I go out and meet new people and see new things. Sometimes it’s new in an uncomfortable way and that makes you grow,” he said. “…In health terms people who aren’t fulfilled are the ones who are going to be in trouble.”
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If I can get people back to their lives and maybe get people to think differently or with more awareness, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Tahoe City Acupuncture