Chris Munstermann's health problems shaped his career as an acupuncturist
One man's family health struggles and loss of his best friend, have forced him to find compassion for himself so he can discover who he is.
Chris Munstermann, 32-years-old, grew up in the Deer Run area of Calgary, Alta. As a young boy, Munstermann faced a long line of hardships, which ranged from watching his best friend move away, to living with his mom as she battled cancer.
Due to these circumstances, Munstermann was thrust into an adult role early on.
"My oldest friend moved away when I was 13," says Munstermann. "That split was something I couldn't get over for the longest time."
Munstermann considers his childhood best friend to be his brother, having grown up as an only child, that brotherly-bond was the most important thing to him. When his best friend moved to Winnipeg, Man., he says he struggled with feelings of betrayal, which led to trust issues because of this scarring event.
When he was separated from his childhood friend, Munstermann's Mom also developed leiomyosarcoma, smooth muscle tissue cancer that worked its way into her jaw at the same time. He remembers taking on a caretaker's role when he was not at school because of his mom's condition.
But this was when Munstermann was first exposed to Chinese medicine.
"Because I was introduced to Chinese medicine at such an early age, I had an affinity for acupuncture when I attended the Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine," says Munstermann.
Munstermann's mother, Carol, used Chinese methods of healing to combat her condition, and he attributes this to being the reason for her success in overcoming her cancer in the course of a few years.
When Munstermann experienced problems with his liver and digestive system in junior high and high school, it made sense that he would turn to Eastern methods of healing because of his mom's experience with a Chinese herbalist.
"When I was introduced to it really young, the health issues I was having at the time didn't have an answer, but when I first got introduced to the Chinese medicine model, it helped me understand myself better," says Munstermann.
Although he wasn't aware of it at the time, these experiences would have a lasting influence on his natural proclivity for Eastern medicine and eventual turn to a spiritual reliance on crystals and esoteric science.
"Often it's personal issues that people haven't been able to resolve and in some of those cases, they are physical issues," says Dr. Colton Oswald, co-president and instructor at Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. He has witnessed many students' paths into Chinese medicine and healing practices, like acupuncture.
But following in his father's footsteps, Munstermann enrolled in the engineering program at Mount Royal College, where he completed a year in the program before Chinese medicine came into focus again.
At the time, he was searching for a more meaningful experience because of his sensitive nature. Munstermann left Mount Royal College and enrolled in the four-year acupuncture program at the Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine where he was the youngest student.
"Chinese medicine has given me the opportunity to help people through understanding the body on a more holistic level," says Munstermann. "And it's given me a base of action to be able to help people on many more levels than just on what Western medicine treats."
But in order to be able to assist people in overcoming their struggles, Munstermann has had to work through his own challenges.
"When you go through that kind of a process personally, you're able to help take your patients with you along the same journey," says Munstermann. "If I haven't mapped out the whole territory of what's beyond my current experience, I can't help someone shift into what could be beyond their current experience."
Oswald believes a good Chinese medicine practitioner should have an excellent memory, the capacity for critical thinking, great people skills for interacting with clients, a passion for helping people, but most importantly, compassion.
Munstermann reflects these characteristics. Oswald remembers when he was his student, "He was just totally into this and he was just so passionate about this right from the get-go."
Munstermann's greatest success story with acupuncture is his long-time patient, Garth Dyment.
He started with Dyment while he was still in Chinese medicine school. Ten years later, Munstermann is still treating Dyment and helping him navigate his own health issues, as he deals with two hernia surgeries and subsequent digestion problems.
"It hasn't been so much of 'wow, we've helped him manifest some new life', but it's like we're working to maintain that person's life," says Munstermann. "We're hoping to guide them along the process."
Dyment has recently been scheduled for a second hernia surgery in Toronto for early-2015, and Munstermann was involved in helping him determine the best location for this surgery.
As an acupuncturist, Munstermann assumes the role of a guide. He says his work with Dyment is also focused on connecting his mind, body and spirit relationship, which is more about maintaining a person's health and lifestyle than solely relying on medical practice to address the mental and emotional changes his body is going through.
This is an ongoing, lifelong process that has allowed Munstermann and Dyment to build a really good relationship.
"I always leave the room feeling different than when we started," says Dyment. "Acupuncture is something that's gotten me back on track after my hernia surgeries. I remember I came in one time, right after and I was really bloated from the surgery, and Chris was able to shrink the size of my stomach drastically. It didn't look like the same stomach after."
Munstermann works at two clinics, Back & Body Health in Altadore and The Relaxing Wellness Company at Deerfoot Crossing.
Lately, he is focusing on refining his practice on fertility acupuncture. He is in the process of expanding and tailoring his clinic practice to deal with this specific type of healing and patients.
- By Jesse Yardley and Amara McLaughlin