Our Envisioning the Future blog series gives you a glimpse of some of the exciting and diverse careers and opportunities our ACTCM graduates are pursuing. Our alumni share their stories, experiences, and advice with you. Get to know what motivates them, our ACTCM community—and be inspired!
Dr. Kristina Yotive earned her Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine degree (’15) and her Doctorate of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (’18) from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM). We recently chatted with her about what it’s like to work with a professional ballet company, how she found her niche treating performers, and some of her fondest memories from ACTCM.
Tell us about your current practice and your career path after graduating from ACTCM.
I’m Dr. Kristina Yotive and I have a practice in San Francisco in the Outer Sunset. I’ve been in practice now for four years. I knew right away that I wanted to open my own practice. I work with patients in my office, but I also do a lot of traveling in my practice. I work on-site at Smuin Ballet with professional dancers, and I have done clinics for some tech companies as well.
In school, I knew that I wanted to focus in sports medicine—and it’s now a big focus in my practice. Currently, my target patients are mainly performers. I treat a lot of ballerinas and some people who do circus and gymnastics. I also treat other athletes, such as those who play soccer in a league or just for fun on the weekend. My focus is treating active people who rely on their bodies. I help them heal and prevent injury so that they can do their jobs.
I enjoy using TCM to treat athletes because you can so beautifully combine the treatment of both physical and mental. There’s a lot of trauma associated with injury, and repetitive injury often comes from not clearing that trauma. It’s important that I help patients realize that they can break up with an experience of injury and move on, and not let that pain define them. There are also times where I may also not be able to completely fix a problem, but could, for example, aid in recovery after surgery. The patient may still not be able to perform or compete, but it helps them to feel that they are still taking care of themselves.
I think that’s what sets TCM apart from any of the other alternatives patients could turn to, like physical therapy or massage. Many physical therapists are using acupuncture by dry needling or trigger point therapy, which is effective and great. But they don’t know the elemental components, the constitutional components, tongue and pulse, or how to use herbs, which all together provides so much more than just triggering the muscle.
How did you come to study TCM? Do you think what you did before influences your current practice?
I was living in NYC for 12 years and was a professional dancer. I danced Off Broadway. I also did film and television for a while. I was sick all the time and on five medications to manage my asthma. Each medication came with a side effect that I had to manage with another medication. I ultimately went to see an acupuncturist and was given lifestyle recommendations and herbs, which allowed me to get off most of my meds. I was using my inhaler four times a day, and now I only use it once. I was so impressed by the medicine, and that experience led me to want to learn mor, and eventually study at ACTCM.
Before I started working with dancers, I was so gung-ho on working with basketball players. I even had a daily positive affirmation: drawing basketballs. I was interning with an acupuncturist who was at the time working with the Golden State Warriors. One time I was in the clinic and this 7-foot-tall college basketball player walked in, and I just prayed, “please let that be my patient.” And it turns out, they did give him to me because everyone knew how obsessed I was with working with basketball players. However, I remember feeling so overwhelmed treating this super-tall basketball player. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was sweating badly, totally bombing. He got on the table with knee pain, and I tried to put a needle in, but his muscles were just huge. I had to use a 2.5-inch needle. The physicality of working with someone that tall was exciting, but also didn’t feel right and wasn’t what I had imagined.
Working with dancers though, was a kind of lock-and-key experience: I got to do sports medicine and work with super-muscular athletes, but I was still able to manage their bodies. I guess I just fell into working with dancers, and it was magical. It’s perfect because I speak dance. They can tell me they landed a jeté wrong and I’ll know what they’re talking about. I understand the movement that was happening when they got injured. I also know what it’s like to be a performer and get injured. I have a lot of empathy for artists. It’s scary because there’s always someone who can come into your role if you don’t get better from your injury.
What’s it like working with Smuin Ballet and professional dancers?
If you’ve ever worked in theater, you know that a theater community is like family. Smuin Ballet has been amazing, and they’ve taken me into their company wholeheartedly. They are also so happy to have acupuncture as one of their treatment options alongside massage therapy, physical therapy, and pilates. They have so many options, yet I know they are so grateful for acupuncture.
At first, the dancers would come to see me in my private practice. But just this past season, I started working in their facility. Every other Tuesday, I go from 8am to 12pm and see as many dancers as I can. They each have 15 to 20-minute slots. I don’t give a full treatment, but it’s similar to how I typically work with them backstage during performances. I don’t needle, and mostly use gua sha, tui na, cupping, kinesio taping, and stretching. I use a lot of tools. Much of the tui na I do, I learned from John Ellis at ACTCM. I always take pulses and occasionally look at tongues. It’s a time where I can also diagnose the dancers and advise them to get further treatment in my office later in the week.
When I see them regularly, the goal is to prevent injury. Being on-site allows me to monitor the physical and mental health of the dancers. When I treat them during performances backstage, a lot of the work I do is to help them quickly get to a place where they can perform. I pinch myself all the time knowing that I have this opportunity to work with the dancers in this way and offer them this medicine. I get to sit backstage and watch shows from the wings. Even though I’m not dancing anymore, I really still feel a part of this team.
Any advice for current students or alums who are interested in working with dancers or other athletes?
Study your anatomy every day. Get the apps, play the games, color the books. It’s so important to understand the language of the body. I also recommend finding a cadaver lab where you can see, touch, and feel everything. I was able to place my finger into a carpal tunnel or pleural space. Learning that way is so different from just reading a book. I personally also enjoyed my time studying in China and would recommend that others intern there. It was eye-opening to see how TCM is practiced in the hospitals.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of starting your own practice?
When you’re starting out, be patient and know that the right people will find you. It wasn’t a straight path for me working with dancers, but now I really feel like I’m doing my life’s work.
What is your fondest memory from your time at ACTCM?
Working in the ear clinic. I loved working with Pam Olton, Joey Bennett, and a patient population that really relied on us for their medicine. I saw amazing things happen with the medicine. Patients who were having psychotic episodes who would calm down immediately after placing a Shen Men in their ear. We were able to treat patients who might not have had access to health-care otherwise. The ear clinic really made a difference in our community.
Interviewed by Rachele Lam.