Stepping into Norva's office, I felt instantly at ease. It's clear not only from her space, but also from her calm and balanced demeanor that Norva is a healer. Shenshu Acupuncture is indeed an oasis from the zoo of NYC's midtown, and the journey through the world Norva left behind to found it, is an inspiring one. From the backstages of broadway to the streets of Guatemala, take a walk in Norva's shoes....
Nativen: First off, where are you from?
Norva: I grew up in Dallas, but I was born in Michigan.
Nativen: Do you think growing up in Dallas affected your choice to pursue acupuncture?
Norva: No. I grew up a dancer. I ended up going into the theater and became a stage manager. When I decided to leave the industry, it was because I felt like my life was becoming my job, instead of my job being an aspect of my life, and I wanted to change that.
Nativen: When did you realize you wanted to be an acupuncturist?
Norva: I was working on Broadway and was supposed to take a show I'd been working on from workshop through to production. At the last minute, I got a phone call that they had decided to go a different route. Later I found out that that person didn't go a different route, she just decided, because it was her first big, big show, to hire her friend. I was really exhausted at the time, and I was like, "what am I doing this for?” I hadn’t had a week off in four years! That was when I was done with the industry.
Meanwhile, health was always something that I was really interested in and focused on, so I first looked at being a nutritionist. But being a nutritionist in America has nothing to do with food. It has to do with chemicals and compounds; it's a science degree—a very long science degree. I decided that wasn't the right route.
I got into acupuncture on a whim. A friend was studying Chinese medicine. I loved the idea that someone can come in with a headache and I wasn't going to just give them a pill, but that we were going to figure out how to get the headaches to never come back again. I literally got the idea, looked into schools and within two weeks was in class. I had never even had acupuncture, which was crazy!
Nativen: What do you love most about living in New York, and how do you think that's integral to the work that you're doing?
Norva: I think there's an element of possibility, always. Even if someone feels stuck, in a moment that can change. I’m not sure what New York adds to my job other than the fact that people are very open to healing. I could always move to a place like Detroit where there’s not so many acupuncturists and offer a service that's not offered there, and create great change.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York City?
Norva: I don't have one favorite restaurant, I think what I love about New York is that there are so many favorite restaurants.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Norva: Central Park. That's my backyard. I live on the north side of the park; it's so much quieter.
Nativen: How about a hidden gem in New York?
Norva: This summer, it feels like Fort Tilden has been my hidden gem, even if it's not so hidden. To be able to go to the beach every weekend and live in New York City is kind of amazing.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in New York?
Norva: A lot of teachers come through New York. Some of the biggest influences in acupuncture either live in New York or come through New York very frequently, so access to further education and other points of view is generally readily available.
Nativen: What part of the process in the work that you do brings you the most joy?
Norva: To change somebody's quality of life for the better is what it's all about. Somebody who comes to an acupuncturist generally has been to multiple doctors for that condition before they come. To help somebody change something that they didn't think was changeable, something that Western doctors have just given up on, that's where it's all about. That, ultimately, is what attracted me to Chinese medicine, this idea that I could actually change people's lives. When I first started getting into it, everybody was like, "Oh, it's so different. It's so different. It's such a change." But the way I see it, I just stage-manage people's individual lives now.
Nativen: How about struggle? What is the greatest struggle in the work that you do?
Norva: There's this element of, "Am I doing my best? Am I giving this person the best healthcare? Am I approaching this the best way?” that’s always in the back of my head. Also, working on myself, always. I really don't feel that I can work on someone else, or guide someone else, if I'm not willing to do the work myself.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?
Norva: I've created a life at this point in time that I keep doing all the things I want to do. When I want to do something, I make it happen. I've really built the life I've always wanted to live.
Nativen: I don't know if you listen to music when you have patients, or to get yourself in the mood when you're working?
Norva: Wah, W-A-H, an artist who does mantra-type songs. The music becomes something that's just in the background. It's something that actually takes out the noise of the city.
Nativen: What are 3 words that sum up your work?
Norva: Gratifying, openness and change.
Nativen: Is there anything you do with your work to connect with the community?
Norva: I used to volunteer in Brooklyn and give free care, but then we lost our space. I also go to Guatemala once a year and do aid work there. Because of the logistics in the United States, it's actually easier to go to a place like Guatemala and provide healthcare there than it is here. In Guatemala, we can treat 1500 people in a week. The bureaucracy in the States makes it much more difficult to even get to put something like that together. Which, I think is really sad.
Nativen: What's the most helpful advice you've received, or what's the advice that you would maybe give to a young person who's looking to pursue their own thing, or maybe develop a business?
Norva: Be like water. A stream starts as a small little trickle. Though you may come across a dam some day, in the end, you're going to get to something bigger, but you have to go with the flow sometimes. Just to be open to where it's going to take you.
Nativen: Do you have a hero, someone who's influenced your work in a big way?
Norva: My colleague Dan Wunderlich was a big influence in setting up my practice, and business-wise, and how to begin to work. He's now become a good friend of mine, and I work with him in Guatemala.
Nativen: What are three objects you can't live without?
Norva: A good shower. Is that an object? A comfortable bed, and it's not an object, but it's something I think is really important, and that's just love.
Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler
Edited by: Kristin Knox (This interview has been condensed & edited)
all images copyright of Nativen