The Universal Language of the Body: Performing Acupuncture in Guatemala

by Amy Miley LAc, MSOM |

The Universal Language of the Body: Performing Acupuncture in Guatemala

Global Healthworks is a volunteer based 501(c)(3) organization that provides integrative healthcare services to the under-served both in the US and abroad.  To understand the health of the people being treated by this incredible organization, you need to understand the country.  Guatemala is a mountainous region in Central America, spotted with active volcanoes and crater lakes with a colorful culture rich in Mayan tradition.  The spirit of Guatemala feels new and vulnerable, like an adolescent teenager trying to figure out who they are.  Maybe this is because the median age is only 20 years old, as the population is slowly rebuilding after the nearly 40-year civil war that scarred the country and ended in 1996.  There is a palpable feeling of underlying trauma in the adults here, as almost everyone was affected.  More than half of the population lives in poverty and illiteracy with little to no access to healthcare so highly treatable conditions often go untreated, and general healthcare seems to be luxury that few can afford. 

At the end of May I was fortunate enough to be invited to serve on a jornada with Global Healthworks Foundation, and I am so grateful that I took the opportunity. These jornadas are run by a team of local healers and promoted and facilitated by community members. The people I got to meet are resilient, grateful, and extremely community minded.  They need the care that GHF provides and are receptive to lifestyle suggestions that will improve their health. 

The Language of the Body

Let’s start at the language gap.  I understand very little Spanish and speak even less, so I anticipated a challenge.  What I didn’t expect was my ability to listen to each patient by what their body told me, without words.  My skills in tongue, pulse and palpation diagnosis seemed to heighten.  The trained intuition came into play, and I was able to understand what treatment principles needed to happen.  I think it’s easy to get weighed down by the complexities of western disease diagnosis and forget the simplistic knowledge that Chinese Medicine holds.  What a gift it was to be able to treat each patient by the true nature of their bodies. 

Some of the most common complaints were “gastritis” with heavy, burning pain along the Ren channel from 11-15, chronic urinary tract infections among all ages of women, musculoskeletal pain from the physical and repetitive nature of work, and some level of anxiety or depression.  I saw very little signs of stagnation-based heart disease, but there did seem to be a prevalence of stroke and epilepsy – no doubt more from a root of deficiency rather than excess. 

There was almost no obesity, but dampness did prevail, probably from a combination of climate and a convenience-based diet heavy in dairy and processed sugar.  I found it striking that there were more tiendas full of processed food and soda than stands of fresh produce – in a country that grows a large portion of US sold produce.  There has been a campaign by many processed food companies to peddle their “food” as easy & quick alternative to cooking – not unlike what happens in America.  Soft drinks are sold as health neutral and a good alternative to water.  Solid nutrition is a luxury and an asset that has not been widely taught.  Luckily, the dedicated team with GHF provides nutritional and lifestyle education to the members of the communities they treat.



What I realized when journaling about my experience, is there is almost no way for me to share this story humbly.  I enjoy such privilege here in Colorado, I have so many gifts, that to see this is to shine it through my screen of good fortune.  This experience in Guatemala feels genuine and lasting, and my greatest hope is that I was able to give someone half the change that they gave me.  Thank you to the mom who brought her two year old daughter fighting a high fever and ear infection, thank you to the woman who had suffered the stroke which left the entire right side of her body paralyzed, thank you to the young man with delirium tremors trying to stay sober. 

Thank you to the wonderful team of bodyworkers at GHF, JuanJo, Angel, Tomy, Gato, Sebastiana and Claw.  Thank you to the community of Xela, Guatemala.  You’ve enhanced my practice of Chinese medicine in profound ways.


Amy Miley is a licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist, with additional training in Women’s Health, fertility, pre-and post-natal care, and menopause.  Her own experience with illness and treatment led her to holistic health, and later to build a career in traditional Chinese medicine.  She is currently working towards doula and pre-natal yoga certifications.  A Colorado native, Amy loves hiking, bird watching, and exploring the world with her husband and daughter.  You can learn more about Amy at

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