Let that which we love
Be what we do
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
– Rumi

Pauline Sok Yin Hwang

I’m a social justice organizer turned Chinese medicine and meditation practitioner, who focuses on “care for caregivers and changemakers.” After experiencing the profound effects of traditional Chinese medicine and meditation on my own health, I now provide acupuncture, massage, herbs, nutrition, mindfulness, wellness & self-care coaching, and workshop facilitation. My late grandmother also practiced acupuncture, herbs and tai chi in Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto.

When I was 12 years old, my mother began to struggle with Bechet’s syndrome, affecting her mobility, speech and moods. My sisters and I took on caregiving responsibilities for her, our father, and our younger ones. With a large household of eight, frequent conflicts, and limited coping strategies, the strain and pain I felt was intense and unrelenting. Perhaps partly to escape, I buried myself in academic and volunteer commitments, achieving top marks and awards, and becoming known in my community as a youth activist.

Starting around 1996, I became politicized and active around global issues, focusing on the rights of immigrants, workers, women, tenants, queer/trans/LGBTQ folks, racialized and indigenous peoples, and youth. Feeling unable to change anything much at home, I felt more empowered creating action projects, and successfully campaigning against migrant worker deportations, inequitable neoliberal trade agreements, and corporate monopolies on my university campus. I had the privilege of travelling to the US, Europe, and East/Southeast Asia, learning from grassroots community organizers and activists who continue to inspire me. Though I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, my passion for social and environmental justice led to over 16 years work as a grassroots organizer, hotline counsellor, youth worker, popular educator, facilitator, and program coordinator.

At first, I didn’t realize the emotional and physical costs to my “caregiving and change-making.” In 2004, things started to fall apart. I was exhausted, discouraged, and frequently sick. I felt it was impossible to say no, resented the responsibilities I’d taken on, and (in hindsight) had entered a downward spiral, affecting everyone around me. I kept cutting more and more out of my overwhelming life – to no avail.

When half my face stopped moving (Bell’s palsy), my friend said, “Pauline, name ONE THING you do to take care of yourself!”  I had no answer – hadn’t even thought about it. A few sessions of acupuncture fixed my Bell’s palsy, but I finally realized I was burnt out. I hit rock bottom and felt utterly drained, negative, and unmotivated. I quit my job, the organizations I had built, left my partner and friends in Montreal, and hit the road searching for a better life.

To make a long story short, the following decade was a journey of renewal, learning, and balance. I’ve lived in California, China, and finally back in my hometown of Toronto. I unlearned old traumas and belief patterns through counselling, art therapy, energy work, spirituality and self-help.  I fell in love with insight (Vipassana) meditation, the daily practice of which woke me up and gave me a new lease on life. I (re-)discovered yoga, martial arts, dance, and the joys of being in my body.  I completely revamped my diet and recovered my immune system.  I heard the wisdom in nature, solitary hikes and long-distance bike rides.  And I developed new, less-draining, inspiring, and wholistic ways to work for fundamental social and environmental change.

Throughout my most difficult moments this past decade, I’ve turned to both traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and insight meditation for their ability to see and support my whole being – my mind, emotions, spirit and body.  When I faced a second bout of severe insomnia and low mood in 2009, my doctor recommended prescription anti-depressants. Reluctant to accept, I took a leap of faith in natural approaches, and found that six months of a (constantly updated) custom herbal formula, combined with weekly acupuncture and regular meditation, finally restored me to a state of balance I could sustain. I have now been exploring Chinese martial and internal arts (qi gong, kung fu, tai chi) for many years, and still take care of myself using acupuncture, massage, meditation, creative therapies, herbs, and Chinese therapeutic diet principles.

I now feel a vitality, vision, and self-awareness that I have literally never felt before. I feel energized, optimistic, grounded and productive (in a balanced way – knowing I love myself whether or not I achieve something). And while health and wellness is a unique journey for everyone, I feel grateful every day that I can now share this beautiful medicine with others (including my wonderful mother, who now enjoys regular acupuncture herself!).

Offering “care for caregivers and changemakers” is one of the ways I feel called to contribute to a healed humanity. I believe the personal is political. Individuals and families will have better health when we as society shift to prioritizing people over profit, and giving everyone fair access to opportunities, education, good jobs, healthy food and housing, nature, health and wellness. The fight against suffering, violence, oppression and discrimination, colonialism, environmental destruction, and economic injustice is in essence a fight to heal and reclaim our shared humanity.

I believe knowing and learning to care for ourselves (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually) ultimately helps us treat others better, improving our relationships at home, at work, in our movements and communities. Relating better to ourselves, to each other, and to nature (i.e. animals and plants), is absolutely critical to the work we do (in whatever way) to better this world. If I can support even one of you to sustain and thrive in your work and relationships, I feel all my efforts are worth it.

While I believe the best learning comes from experiencing life, I’ve also studied at: University of Toronto Schools, McGill University (Honours B.Sc., Cognitive Neuroscience), National University of Singapore, Jinan University in Guangzhou, and Tzu Chi University in Taiwan. I completed short-term training in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and in Peer Counselling through the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. I completed my acupuncture and TCM training at the Shiatsu School of Canada, the Institute of Traditional Medicine, and Eight Branches Academy of Eastern Medicine, and am currently completing a Master’s degree in Integrative Oncology at the Nanjing University of Chinese MedicineI’m also a certified Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA), a registrant of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO), and a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. Finally, I am part of a collective of peers who collaborate on multidisciplinary approaches to trauma-informed healing.