11 Mar Interview with Injae Choe
Meet Injae Choe
Injae Choe PhD LMT is a nationally board-certified bodyworker, licensed in NY and CT. He holds a doctorate in Psychology with emphasis on neuroscience and emotional processing. Injae is an expert on root-cause approach to chronic illnesses and is a pioneer of manual therapy for gut bacteria rebalancing. He is a coach of personalized holistic wellness.
WESTPORT & FAIRFIELD COUNTY CT
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Siobhan: Welcome, Injae. I find it so interesting how we have come full circle. Your lovely wife, Maureen, was my very first customer at ORGÁNACHS on the first day I opened in 2016. I’m so happy to have met both of you and have your friendship.
What is SUGI ACUPRESSURE and how can it benefit people?
“SUGI” is a style of therapy that my father coined some 60 years ago when he first put his own spin on a time-tested ancient form of traditional Eastern medical bodywork therapy. “Su” means hand and “Gi” means energy, as in a form of universal vital force.
Since I started devoting myself some 15 years ago on a full-time basis to this style of acupressure that my dad taught me, I’ve formally named my practice by Sugi Acupressure as a business name/entity (see www.sugiacupressure.com). I see clients four days a week in NYC and a couple of days in Westport, CT.
Now, any form of “acupressure” should first and foremost be a versatile style of manual therapy that closely emulates acu-puncture. The only major difference should be that whereas acupuncture uses the insertion of needles to target specific channels of energy that course through our anatomy and physiology, acupressure uses firm but comfortable pressure delivered through the therapist’s fingers (and sometimes forearms and even feet) to access the same channels and points.
On the surface, acupressure could look like massage or chiropractic or Rolfing or orthopedic manual therapy, etc. But these are just overlaps—each modality does have its unique emphasis. Massage targets more the skin and superficial surfaces, chiropractic is mostly focused on the spine, Rolfing addresses the fascia-connective tissue in joints, etc. Acupressure perhaps resembles orthopedic manual therapy the most in a clinical context. The difference though is that, unlike in orthopedic therapy, acupressure—and Sugi Acupressure, in particular —is predicated on recognizing that there’s a natural vital force potential that needs to be fully expressed in a human body (or any living organism) in order for a person to be healthy.
This vital force has been called Chi (or Qi) by the Chinese. In Korean and Japanese, it’s pronounced “Gi” (with a hard “g”) and that’s a component of the name Su-Gi.
The way Sugi Acupressure can benefit people is by adopting a holistic approach. I do my best to collaborate with the client to treat not only symptoms but to keep diving deep to uncover the true root cause of the client’s condition. This is especially true for chronic illnesses that are persistent and hard to shake. I view every treatment session (around 45 or 60 minutes) as a new opportunity for further exploration and healing. Meanwhile, I have a benchmark of getting all my new clients to a significant new level of health within 3 sessions. Thereafter, the client ideally will return only for maintenance and prevention. Over time, my clients reach a heightened level of self-awareness and learn to place their illness and ailments in a larger, better-informed life context. They appreciate that we can fall in and out of different states of health, that an illness is not static or permanent, but is rather a process that we can track and improve on all the time. And that “miraculous” recoveries can happen more often than not.
Siobhan: I came to see you for a few sessions and immediately felt you had a presence and an energy that could help me. Although I did not have a chronic issue, the physical pain I endured from an accident was relieved from your treatment. I was happy to learn about you and your practice from a customer of mine and to know that I had this resource to recommend to other people.
Tell us a bit about your professional background and what brought you to this work?
Before I chose to devote myself to Sugi Acupressure full-time, I had always been giving acupressure treatments to clients on a part-time basis, since I was in college. Over the years, I’ve kept eclectic interests and have previously worked in the finance industry and in Silicon Valley. Those were indeed exciting careers, but my inner voice got louder and louder over time, telling me to take the leap and pursue the most personally satisfying occupation possible for the rest of my life. That inner voice directed me to come full-circle, back to the “family business” of acupressure—to my dad’s delight, I might add.
Along my journey, I also wanted to better understand how to help my clients bridge the mind- body connection. To that end, I pursued in-depth studies at the New School for Social Research in NYC which eventually earned me a PhD in psychology with an emphasis in neuroscience.
I feel blessed to be doing what I do. This is a job I can’t wait to get out of bed to do every single morning. It really doesn’t feel like a job or arduous work at all. It’s an occupation in the way it “occupies” my time, but I view it mostly as a practice, in the best senses of the word. As I work on people, I have my eyes closed 90% of the time, better to enable me to tune into the client’s Chi flow with my hands, as I get into a meditative flow state myself. It’s the most beautiful thing—I get paid to do meditation all day long. I get to boost my own health as I help my clients achieve their optimal health!
Siobhan: I admire and love your passion for what you do. I can personally relate to feeling blessed for what I do each day as well as it has brought me more than I ever anticipated. Can you speak more to the mind-body connection as this is something I have been studying. I feel there is more awareness recently about this connection or maybe it’s because I’ve become more aware of it.
Scientists have in recent years made numerous new discoveries of how exactly the different parts of our brains shape our thinking, behavior, and emotions. What’s particularly exciting to me is to see proof that we all have a great deal more potential for “neural plasticity” than we once assumed. In a health context especially, this should give all of us hope in trusting that “the diagnosis doesn’t determine our prognosis,” that we can optimize and maximize our healing potential.
My studies in neuroscience and my clinical experience have shown me that true, sustained healing starts with the client making a conscious effort to “realign” their body to their mind, and vice versa. Like any good workout, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at this. Soon you’ll be able to heighten your self-awareness and direct your mind’s eye toward your whole biopsychosocial environment, internal and external.
Another related ability you’ll develop is on the level of your autonomic nervous system (which regulates your internal organs independently from consciousness or voluntary control). The more you connect your mind to your body, the more you’ll be able to curb excessive non-adaptive “fight-or-flight” response to triggers as you stay stuck in your sympathetic nervous system mode. Instead you’ll learn to successfully switch over to functioning in your parasympathetic nervous system mode, commonly known as your rest and digest system. In other words, you can over time train yourself, in similar situations, to avoid panic and instead consistently attain a calm, mindful state. This will help you conserve energy, recover from stress, and elevate your mood.
How do you use functional medicine in your practice?
There are nowadays numerous functional medicine gurus out there doing incredible work, helping their patients by prescribing “food as medicine,” rather than prescribe pharmaceuticals or do invasive treatments. The food must be whole and organic, or grass-fed/grass-finished, etc. There’s also a great emphasis on prebiotics and probiotics.
Siobhan: Growing up I was given certain foods to recover from the flu or colds. I too believe in the power of food as medicine as well as preventative care.
How does Sugi Acupressure figure in such a context?
I feel like my brand of functional medicine gets at the same end goal. Whereas other functional medical doctors target the gut bacteria with the means described above, I work manually and directly on the gut bacteria, by using specific ways to work on the client’s internal organs. I have developed unique manual techniques that can quickly and effectively re-establish the health of the gut flora inside a client’s small and large intestines. My clients report that they can literally feel the billions of good bacteria in their gut finally winning the tug-of-war against the bad bacteria that have been wreaking havoc. These functional medical techniques that I use allow my fingers to reach all the nooks and crannies like nothing else can. Giving evidence to the notion that our gut system is our “second brain,” rich with its own intelligence and “gut feelings,” my abdominal therapeutic work on people often have the desirable side benefit of alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression as well.
On a personal level, you are a husband and a father — how has this changed your life and growth as a person?
Being a husband and a father to a 7-year-old daughter has been the greatest joy in my life and an eye-opener. I never anticipated how my wife would turn out to be my best buddy ever and that an innocent little child could turn out at times to be my greatest teacher of life lessons and reminders!
I love the fact that my wife is fully aligned with my philosophy on natural health and my daughter is already curious about our “family business.” If she happens to be around when you come for a treatment, don’t be surprised to hear her ask you if she could practice walking on your back as an assistant to her daddy!
How would you describe beauty?
First of all, kudos to Organachs for bringing your amazing, curated line of high-quality natural beauty products to the Westport community. We all benefit tremendously from being able to attain glowing skin and a healthy complexion without any damaging toxins or harsh substances. Great job and keep it up!
Siobhan: Thank you for your support and encouragement!
Factoid: The word “beauty” shares etymological roots with “beatification” which actually means to achieve happiness through meaningful effort and with reverence. If the Pope beatifies a deceased person, he is giving tremendous religious honor, almost designating sainthood, to that person. And if your name is Beatrice, you literally embody this beautiful notion! What that suggests is that to be beautiful, you should strive to do good to others and to be happy within your heart.
To me, beauty is more than just something subjective that’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s a direct barometer of your overall state of health! If your inner beauty shines through your face, you are healthy, as simple as that. So, even the facial treatments that many people request from me are just an extension of what I do for people already to clear their headaches and sinuses, or treat their TMJ pain. Beauty is thus a natural by-product and reflection of the good state of health underneath.
Finally, my own take on beauty is that true beauty is devoid of distractions of needing to be sexy or super attractive all the time. To me, true beauty in a person is best summarized by the following enduring qualities: dignity and inspiration. If you manage to carry yourself in life in a dignified manner, and draw inspiration from other people and beautiful things in nature, you will in turn naturally be able to project dignity and inspiration to everyone around you. And they will think you’re beautiful.
Siobhan: Beautifully stated. Thank you, Injae, for being my guest.
COMING TOGETHER THROUGH THE LOVE OF NATURAL BEAUTY, WELLNESS, FOOD, AND SUSTAINABILITY