We are far more capable of healing ourselves and being healthy than we might think. That’s a key takeaway from a recent Instagram Live conversation between Mab & Stoke founder and CEO Christina Mace-Turner and Tracey Abbott, founder of Refuge Acupuncture in Denver, Colorado. Abbott’s interest in acupuncture grew when she witnessed firsthand how it helped her husband, who has MS, go from wheelchair to walking down the aisle on their wedding day. She enrolled in Chinese medical school and fast-tracked her business plans when she saw what a need for healing emerged over the past year. Learn more about Abbott’s journey, the power of acupuncture, and more:  

Christina Mace-Turner:  What led you to acupuncture and entrepreneurship?

Tracey Abbott: For me, it’s a love story. My husband, Chris, and I met when we were nine years old in Alabama and then we went in different directions in life. He went to Florida to start playing professional tennis and I ended up overseas for 10 years working in the corporate [world].

Six years ago I gave a TEDx speech in my hometown of Birmingham. Chris made a comment on the picture [on social media] and we reconnected. He had been diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis and went from walking with a cane to a wheelchair. At that time there was no Western medicine for this condition and a friend suggested acupuncture. Through six months of routinely going to acupuncture plus love plus diet and looking at the body as a whole, he walked down the wedding aisle to me unassisted on January 1, 2016.

Acupuncture got him out of a chair and kept him out of a chair six years later. I then looked into going to Chinese medical school myself. It’s a four year program, a doctorate, and I’m in year two. I opened Refuge in order to bring more healing to the world.

CMT: Part of what really strikes me about your story is something I’ve encountered a lot working in a plant-related world: I think there’s an oversimplification of the power of alternative therapies for healing. What do you find in terms of misconceptions about acupuncture? 

TA: I think one of the misconceptions is that I could go to a weekend class and learn how to stick needles in people. That’s not what this is about, it’s a four-year program. It’s double the length of my MBA plus a year—it’s a lot of school. Acupuncture is 5,000 years of science.

There’s also this misconception that the power is in the hands of the doctor. In America we hold doctors above ourselves, meaning that in order to get to health we have to go through another person who knows more than we do. I think in Chinese medicine, what I really love is this idea that your body has everything it needs to heal itself. And what we’re doing is we’re using tools in order to guide energy back into alignment so that your body can hold space and time to heal itself. Although it takes us four years to learn how to do that, it’s the patient working with their own strength inside that really allows this to work. There has to be belief that it can work, but it also gives the patient much more power over their own healthcare than we might otherwise believe.

CMT: I do think that power dynamic [between doctors and patients] is a real issue and it undermines our confidence that we are capable of caring for ourselves in many ways. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need allopathic medicine. One of the joys of living in a modern world is we get to blend these things as needed. But I always think of Hippocrates [who said] first the word, then the plant, then the knife.

TA: Exactly. We absolutely believe in complementary alternative medicine. We also use Western medicine when needed. We’re just not looking for the blue pill to solve everything. I think that there is a lifestyle that, put together, really gives patients a great control over their health and helps people live the best lives they can between heaven and Earth.

CMT: What are the types of things that are especially well-treated with acupuncture?

TA: The number one thing that brings people into acupuncture is pain. And it is excellent for both chronic and for acute pain. An acute pain example would be, I have a really terrible headache, I come to acupuncture. Most of the time I can get rid of that headache within the hour that I’m there. [Treating] chronic illness can take longer. Generally we say that within five sessions, you should be able to see a marked difference.

Other things that it handles [include] women’s health. An MD called me the other day and asked if there was anything we could do with breech babies. And of course we can, we have a point in acupuncture [that] will turn breech babies. Gastrointestinal is another really big area. I struggle with a lot of that and acupuncture has helped me tremendously. 

CMT: Do you find that it’s helpful for people who suffer from migraines and who are going through hormonal fluctuation? 

TA: Yes. One reason that herbs are an important part of our acupuncture practice is that herbs really work on the hormonal system. Acupuncture is going to tackle your central nervous system and then herbs are going to go into your endocrine system. That’s why we like the two together. Every time people come for a treatment we give them a product from Mab & Stoke and most people are taking herbs home with them.

CMT: Let me switch gears a little bit and ask you about starting a business. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and what are you most excited about?

TA: I’m opening a healthcare business when I’ve not worked in healthcare and we’re still in COVID. So if you combine those things, I think it’ll give you an idea of how hard this was. You’re always building late at night, building on weekends, not a lot of social life to get it up off the ground. 

[I’ve been able to do it] because my mission is so clear to me in wanting to bring healing in the world. In a way, the space sort of designed itself. I got out of bed at two in the morning and drew [the space] on a piece of paper and it’s probably about what it looks like today. I think that I’ve just been holding the pen for the universe to write this story. 

CMT: I think that humility and sincerity of mission is very common for people who go into healing fields. When I find being an entrepreneur is just insanely hard, there is something so inspiring about the thought that you could do some simple things and make the quality of somebody else’s life so much better. And when I’m feeling frustrated or down, I think about that and it just picks me back up. 

TA: Me too.

CMT: How did you figure that out the parts that were new to you? 

TA: [My strategy] was 187 lines on a spreadsheet of all the stuff that needs to get done. And then what I started realizing is every day you learn something new that you didn’t know you needed to do. One of my classmates told me to get up every day and put one foot in front of the other and that’s literally what I’ve done. I’m all for strategy and for planning it out and then no doubt the most important skill an entrepreneur has is the ability to flex and to not be stuck on one particular idea or one particular way things are going to go because honestly, things change. 

CMT: How do you feel most alive?
TA: I’m always trying to put health at my center. That really is the thing that lights my fire. I’ve been in health and wellness a long time, I’m a marathon coach, I’ve coached the New York marathon, I’ve watched people do impossible things and I think if I had to leave everybody with one message it’s that we are far more capable of healing ourselves and being healthy than we might think. From who we hang around with, to what we put in our mouths, to who we allow to treat us. And I think all of those things together are what makes me a person who is able to have the energy to have a caregiving role with my husband, to start this business, and to also have a day job. Oh, and I go to a Chinese medical school at night. It takes a lot of very careful management of my own energy and what I choose to spend it on and what I choose to block it from and I think energy is the source of everything.