By :Melissa Murphy
For Marcia Thomas, a happy accident changed the trajectory of her life.
While struggling to find the answers to a laundry list of ailments that included headaches, chronic migraines, infertility issues, back pains, eczema, and allergies, Marcia concluded that Western medicine just didn’t have the answers she was seeking. It was then that she decided to look within. By turning her focus inward, Marcia found healing–both physically and spiritually–through the properties of Chinese medicine.
Today, she is the founder of MarZen, a practice that specializes in Chinese medicine and dietetics, natural therapy, Western and Eastern herbology, acupressure, and sound therapy.
But this wasn’t always the path Marcia saw for herself. As a former educator in social services, a need for a career change led her to exploring an introductory course on Chinese medicine at the suggestion of a friend. Though the topic initially sounded exciting for someone in need of a pivot, it also promised to deliver the answers she sought about the issues that continued to grow beyond her control.
After completing the first course, Marcia signed up for the entire program. That program then led to her starting her own practice, and that practice eventually evolved into her becoming an educator at the very institution that had sparked her new love; a natural evolution that came at the perfect time in her life.
Now immersed in the world of Chinese medicine, Marcia acknowledges that her initial motivations were to heal herself, and extend that knowledge to those within her family. And that’s exactly what she did. While completing her studies, she was able to gain the knowledge needed to heal her symptoms. “[And] by the end of the program,” she adds, “I realized that I no longer was suffering from my ailments.”
So, what exactly is Chinese medicine? While its practices have existed for over three millennia, at its core, “Chinese or alternative medicine looks at the holistic (whole) body in front of you, as opposed to just the compartments of the human body,” as often seen in Western medicine. What this means is that each consultation seeks to explore the individual–internal and external factors–rather than narrowing in on just the issue itself.
She goes on to explain that “it’s a combination of not just the physical body that’s in front of you, but also the spiritual body, the emotional body, and the mental body [as well]. It looks at diet and lifestyle, [allowing] every element of the body to be taken into consideration.” To truly understand the cause of an illness, Chinese medicine seeks to first understand the body it exists within.
Gaining such insight continues to be personal for Marcia because she knows that the issues she battled persist within both her family, and her community, at large. As she deepens her understanding of these more holistic approaches, her aim, she expresses, remains to “help bring us, my community, back to our roots. Bring us back into our bodies, and in communion with each other. When we heal, the community heals.”
What makes this approach more remarkable are the many overlapping elements that exist across the Caribbean, and by extension, the African diaspora. Of Guyanese heritage, Marcia vividly recalls hearing her mother, grandmother, or aunts warn of keeping your neck covered to avoid catching a cold. While the advice always felt blasé to a younger Marcia, her studies revealed the existence of acupressure points behind the neck which causes a person to become more susceptible to catching a cold if exposed to colder temperatures.
But the parallels didn’t stop there. Additional cross-cultural similarities can also be found in a lot of our foods. According to Marcia, “understanding the energetics and the actions of various foods and herbs is integral in our overall health and wellness.” For example, the popularity of hibiscus leaves, or sorrel, is a staple in Caribbean cuisine, but also highly revered in Chinese medicine. Marcia explains that, “in herbology, it’s known for its antiviral properties, and is a great dietary addition for those in warmer climates due to its ability to regulate body temperature.”
Yet, despite the overall benefits of Chinese medicine, there’s still an undeniable disparity in the number of Black people who partake in its practice. This is especially true for Marcia who continues to be the only Black educator at Ecole Setsuko where she teaches. Not being able to see anyone who looked like her was an initial struggle for her after she completed her first course. There she questioned, “where can I, this Black, English speaking female, find a place within Chinese medicine?”
Change came with the realization that, in seeking this deeper understanding, she wasn’t simply learning about Chinese medicine, but, as she puts it, “…learning about traditional medicine, as a whole. It was about marrying traditional wisdom, and not isolating it to just Chinese medicine.”
With her presence, she is a testament to how far this knowledge can reach.
The next step for Marcia is to ensure the knowledge doesn’t stop with her. There’s a need for this information to be accessible, especially for those within underrepresented communities in this space. While class sizes are still small, and attendance may offer more diversity, it’s important that these practices are not only seen, but are given the same space within our healing, preventative, and recovery process as Western medicine.
For now, Marcia is getting the word out about the benefits of traditional medicine through word of mouth, and intimate mini sessions. But, there’s so much more in store. Her hope is to expand across Montreal’s Black community to highlight the several holistic, diet, and wellness benefits that exist, especially as many seek alternative forms of healing, due to limited access to today’s medical system.
As a natural therapist, she also understands the need to delve deeper into our intergenerational traumas, highlighting how necessary it is for us, as a community, to create a new lane for what true healing can look like through the implementation of a healthier lifestyle.
Those closest to her reap the benefits of personalized lifestyle support with routine planning, which seeks to offer more balance to life’s many demands, and meal-prepping where she teaches new ways to reimagine cultural staples through the use of healthier ingredients; offerings that will soon be made available on a wider scale.
For Marcia, she fervently believes that “we are all connected; a part of this huge microcosm.” By introducing traditional Chinese medicine and a more holistic lifestyle to a new audience, her wish is that we are all able to “reconnect with our roots–to our bodies–and become grounded within our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. Chinese medicine has the ability to heal, not just ourselves, but our families and communities. And as many of us strive for these connections, I hope that I have a place in assuring that healing process.”