Demetra Markis, L.Ac.

Hello, I’m Demetra Markis, and I’m happy to welcome you to my acupuncture and herbal practice. I love healthcare and health education, and I love working with people to help them find greater enjoyment in everyday life through health and wellbeing. My experience over the past twenty years of healthcare service has included traditional herbal practice, community and private acupuncture clinics, healthcare education and consultation, and providing volunteer services as an emergency medical technician to my rural community. To schedule in-person acupuncture or an online health consultation, please email info@coastalhillsacupuncture.org. To learn more about my training, please see my Professional CV available here.

As for the long story:

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My sister Stephanie and I, early 1980’s

My path to this practice has been informed by both fascination and suffering, as complicated as so many of our lives are. On the fascination side, when I was a child my mother worked in the office of an internist and she had a big red book called ‘Symptoms’ that I loved to page through, especially when I had a sore throat or ear infection. What if I actually had epiglottitis, or a brain tumor? It was astonishing to me that so many possibilities of illness existed.

At the same time, my father was becoming diagnosed with systemic scleroderma, which he lived with for 12 years before dying the summer after I turned 16. We were not a well-off family, and he continued to work as a diner cook well after becoming disabled by the disease, working on the grill from 1pm-9pm six days a week.

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My sister Chrissy, my dad, and I, 1988

My sisters and I were discouraged from talking to anyone about my father’s illness, and never really heard our parents speak of it, which created a heavy layer of fear and confusion around the reality of his disease. This fear would permeate my experiences with health issues for many years. 

My father’s eventual death from heart failure while visiting his parents in Greece was complicated by my mother’s sudden desertion of our family just a few weeks earlier, as she announced she was re-marrying and moved across the country. My sisters and I ended up scattered, and I spent the next two years living, variously, in a basement, a closet-turned spare room, and an attic, working full-time in a supermarket and hiding my housing instability from my teachers and friends so that I wouldn’t get shunted into the New York State foster care system, about which I had heard only horrifying stories.

A desire to survive can get many of us through otherwise unbearable circumstances, and with the help of a sympathetic guidance counselor I was able to get into college upstate on a theatre arts scholarship. During this time I began to seek answers to my questions about my father’s illness and why medical treatments were unable to help him. Through this seeking I became exposed to herbal medicine, and began to read whatever I could find on the subject. I was incredibly lucky to live near the Durland Alternatives Library, stocked with books on ethnobotany and plant medicine, which I would read and ponder while taking long walks in Ithaca’s many beautiful forests. The hours I spent reading and being immersed in the natural environment were incredibly healing.

Within a few years of graduating college, I had moved to the Bay Area in Northern California to pursue a music career, but after finding that unsatisfying, I decided to commit to a course of learning in herbal medicine. I started an apprenticeship program with Pam Fischer of the Berkeley Herbal Center. I felt that herbal medicine could be my path to meaningful work in the world, though working in the food service industry continued to support me.

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Early winter, 2003

The following year, seven months pregnant with my daughter, Lily, I slipped and fell hard on my left leg. The next morning I could hardly walk, and when my leg swelled to double its normal size, I ended up in the ER with what appeared to be a deep vein thrombosis in my leg. However, none could be found with an ultrasound (since believed to be in error), so I was discharged and advised to take an occasional ibuprofen and told that hopefully the incredible pain I was in would resolve when the baby was born.

I could not imagine what herbs I could take to deal with the pain and swelling that would be safe that late in pregnancy, so in desperation I turned to the yellow pages (still relevant in 2003!) and when I couldn’t find an open chiropractic office (it was a weekend), I found an acupuncture clinic that would see me that day. When I arrived at the acupuncture office, all of the signs were in Chinese, there were bags of herbs spilling out of overstuffed cabinets, and a baby happily kicked in a playpen in the crowded waiting room. The acupuncturists were a husband-and-wife team, neither of whom spoke English, and I did not speak any Cantonese or Mandarin. However, I was able to gesture to them what was wrong, and was led into a tiny room to lay on my side on a table, where several needles were placed in my arms and legs, and then I was left to rest quietly for some time. As I lay there, the constant pain eased back just enough that I could relax, finally, for a moment.

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Me and Lily, 2005

I returned to that acupuncture clinic daily for two weeks, then every other day until I was relieved of intense pain and able to walk again. By the time my daughter was 14 months old, I had enrolled in acupuncture school, at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, determined to add the powerful tool of needling to my clinical work.

As a student I was fortunate to study with several excellent teachers who were also kind and generous clinicians, including Aileen Huang, L.Ac. and Jung Kim L.Ac., who both showed a deep, genuine care for every student and patient they encountered, Pam Olton, L.Ac., who was my mentor in community medicine, and many others. I was also lucky enough to have a compassionate and skilled clinical psychologist, Shelley Scammel, Psy. D, as one of my professors, and from her learned valuable psychological techniques for creating supportive healing environments.

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Auricular clinic team with Pam Olton, L.Ac., 2008

I also was able to work with Dr. Scammel on a personal level, finally addressing the pain and trauma of losing my parents as a teenager with the profound treatment of EMDR.

While at ACTCM, I continued studying western herbal medicine, completing a distance course through the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine and taking every local plant walk I could. But I was drawn to the new practice model of community acupuncture, which used a group treatment setting to lower the cost of services and make acupuncture widely accessible.

I became deeply involved in the national community acupuncture organization, known as POCA, and within a few months of graduating school and passing the California licensing board exam, I opened Yerba Buena Community Acupuncture in 2010. YBCA went on to become the largest community acupuncture clinic in San Francisco, providing over 50,000 affordable acupuncture treatments in five years of practice and establishing a community center which still operates today as Tiny Needles.

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Yerba Buena Community Acupuncture clinic, 2012

I found I loved the endlessly creative process of running a business, and it grew from a solo practice to being open 7 days a week with a full-time staff of five clinicians and three office support staff, providing 15,000 treatments per year as well as bodywork, herbal, and educational services.

During this time I took on a leadership role in POCA, teaching continuing education classes in diagnostic skills, and clinic and patient management, and eventually becoming the transitional executive director for the organization as it went from being a non-profit into a patient-practitioner cooperative. It was a heady and busy time and my herbal work took a backseat to acupuncture and administration. At the same time, pressures were building up in my personal life as San Francisco became increasingly crowded and expensive. Eventually, I began to realize it was time for a major change.

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My daughter, Lily, and I, 2016

After 15 years in the crowded Bay area, I felt a ‘now or never’ sense of urgency in relocating back to the kind of natural, rural environment I had known as a child. I deeply missed being close to the living plants that had beckoned me into the practice of holistic healthcare, and I had long harbored a dream to cultivate medicinals for my clinical work. Deciding to take the risk, I took on my clinic office manager as a business partner with the goal of transitioning ownership and management of the clinic to her over the course of a year, and with a few thousand dollars in savings and my 10-year-old daughter in tow, headed north to Sonoma county on a friend’s recommendation of a work-trade situation on a rural ranch.

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Moving the flock, 2016

Enter scene left: a minor detour. I had left the city with the plan of establishing a small, biodiverse herb farm and creating a line of clinical products, but on the ranch I ended up getting swept into the existing projects. The ranch was owned by Starhawk, the writer who teaches permaculture rooted in spirituality and focused on social change in her nonprofit, Earth Activist Training After a few months of living there, I ended up both taking on the ranch management role and taking over the administration of the organization, as well as teaching with Starhawk in both the Permaculture Design Certificate course as well as in a new intensive we created called the Sacred Earth Apprenticeship.

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New brakes, 2016

I found that I loved teaching a variety of subjects, and I was thrilled to be learning an enormous array of life-sustaining skills as a ranch manager, including: how to dig out a blocked spring box face-down in the mud on a steep, forested hillside in the pouring rain; how to sprint up to the top of a ridgeline in heavy industrial rain gear to round up an unruly flock of frightened sheep and diabolical goats; how to eat well while being far below the poverty line (hint: raise chickens and grow greens); and how to fix my own car with basic hand tools and a good Haynes manual.

I kept learning too, taking a weekend wilderness first aid certification with Sam Coffman, and a short course in Chinese Herb Cultivation with Peg Schafer at her Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma. I also took a basic training course in Emergency Medical Response and joined my local volunteer fire department as an EMT.

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Sunrise with my cat, Noah, 2017

But juggling single parenting, homeschooling, ranch management, organizational management, volunteering, giving acupuncture to folks in their homes, and staying sane started to feel difficult. On top of that, I had the nagging feeling that I was putting off pursuing my own particular herb farm dreams because it was easier to help someone else with their dreams. Often I would watch the sun rise from the hillside below the olive orchard, gazing at the meadow to the east, feeling a little lonely, and trying to figure out how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be: living on a homestead of my own, working for myself again.

Dan and I in 2018

A few months later, I got in touch with a neighbor, Dan, who is a builder by trade, to see if he could help me with a building project I was coordinating for a neighbor. Dan came by for dinner to talk about that, and he stayed quite late, chatting. After he left, my daughter, Lily, then 13, said, “Well, well! Someone really likes you, Mom!” I laughed but Lily has always been very insightful. Within a short time, Dan and I had fallen in love, and Lily and I moved over to his homestead: that very meadow I was always gazing at during the sunrise.

Sheep at Milleflora Farm

Since then, Dan and I have established our homestead as Milleflora Farm, referring to the ‘thousand flowers’ of our many interests- herbs, flowers, heirloom vegetables, sheep, glass art, natural building, music, writing, and homesteading. After establishing our annual vegetable beds over the course of two years, we set out our first medicinal herb beds in early 2019. I took the Floret Farm workshop in small-scale biointensive floriculture in early 2020 with an eye toward adapting the techniques to medicinal herb cultivation, and the first beds of the quarter-acre herb farm were dug in January 2020. Summer of 2020 is scheduled to be our first season! Herbs will be available first through my clinical practice and ultimately via our online shop at milleflorafarm.com.

What mysteries the future brings; what insights the past reveals. Thank you for coming along on my journey. 

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