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Meet Lisa Nicholson of Eastern Body Therapy in Banker’s Hill and Park West

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Nicholson.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Originally from Albany, NY, I grew up in a medical family. My father was a dentist and pharmacist who completed his dental training while enlisted in the Army and my uncles were physicians and psychologists. I always knew I wanted a career in medicine, but could never quite get excited about the conventional side. As a psychology major with a pre-med focus, I took a detour from medicine to pursue a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, then worked as a substance abuse counselor and vocational rehabilitation case manager for the next 8 years.

My years working as a counselor convinced me more than ever that the mind and body are intimately interconnected, and it is impossible to heal one without the other. This brought home the need to look beyond the compartmentalization of conventional medicine.

As a former competitive swimmer and consummate gym-rat who could bench press my body-weight and sling free-weights with the guys, I took my first yoga class in 1992 as a way to learn focused stretching to balance the rigid strength weight lifting created. In my very first class I noticed how, depending on the pose, my internal temperature and body sensations were radically different. Intriguing! A talk with my teacher after class introduced me to the concept of “energy” as it applied to the body, and I was hooked. I threw myself into the study of yoga, completing teacher training through the Kripalu Institute in 1994. I still love yoga and practice regularly. Other athletic pursuits have included a 7 year obsession with rock climbing, and more recently, ultra-distance cycling. In 2015 I completed the event Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200 kilometer ride with a 90 hour time limit. I’ve backed off some since then, but routinely ride 200 kilometers or more (125 miles!) a few times per month.

My yoga practice taught me first-hand how the mind and body are connected, and set up a lifelong fascination with the overlap between body, mind, and spirit so elegantly interwoven in Asian medical systems. When I healed my own significant back injury with a combination of chiropractic, massage, and yoga (acupuncture hadn’t found its way to Albany, NY yet!), I knew I had to pursue Asian medicine as a new career. In 1995 I enrolled in the Traditional Oriental Medicine program at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, ditched my corporate Rehabilitation Counseling job, moved to San Diego, and never looked back!

I started my business, Eastern Body Therapy, as a second year acupuncture student, after being laid off from a rehabilitation counseling job for the second time. I had been working one shift/week at a local massage establishment, and initially bumped that up to 4 shifts. But the “spa” walked a thin line between “therapeutic massage” and “adult entertainment” and I very quickly tired of the ensuing work dynamic. Thankfully, I had a few loyal “therapeutic” customers who were as disturbed as I was about the extracurricular activities happening at that establishment. When I rented a one-room office, shared with a classmate, I had 4 clients who followed me to my new location. I dropped a few classes, maxed out my student loans to pay rent, and said a whole lot of prayers the first year. I literally gave myself 6 months to be seeing 6-7 people a week. If I couldn’t pull it off, I would have to drop to part time school and find a full-time job. Despite a master’s degree in counseling and 15 years of dental assisting experience in my Dad’s office, I was effectively unemployable in California without completing a 2 year education program in either substance abuse counseling or dental assisting – both of which I had enough experience to TEACH, but neither of which would grandfather me in despite abundant experience, so I would have been working as a group home counselor or retail at minimum wage. Let’s just say I was HIGHLY motivated to make my massage business work out!

I’m not sure how it happened, but I did manage to build the business up enough to survive the rest of school without having to get a job. By the time I graduated, I was seeing about 20 people/week as a holistic health practitioner, recommending herbal supplements and nutrition changes to my clients, and had a waiting list for acupuncture once I got a license. Thankfully, I passed the CA acupuncture licensing exam on the first try, and had a license in August of 2000 so I was able to jump right in. My “roommate” and I quickly outgrew our one room office, moved to a slightly bigger space in the same building, and had outgrown that within a year of getting our acupuncture licenses. We moved to my current location in June of 2001. She has since relocated to the east coast. The space is a little too big for just me, so I now share the office with an esthetician who also has a busy practice.

Acupuncturists are required to complete 50 continuing ed credits every 2 years to keep our licenses, so I’ve done tons of post-graduate study over the last 17 years. Highlights include a 300 hour course in Acupuncture Orthopedics, many courses in Functional Endocrinology, craniosacral therapy, and even classical Chinese herbology. I’ve always had a general practice, but because of my backgrounds in athletics, orthopedics, and psych my tribe tends to include people with chronic pain, athletic and work-related injuries, anxiety, depression, chronic autoimmune diseases, and PTSD.

Has it been a smooth road?
Running a small business is NEVER a completely smooth road, lol. I started out taking a lot of worker’s comp patients. Many of my colleagues hate doing the reporting and paperwork required for worker’s comp, but with my rehab background, it came naturally for me. In 2004, there was a massive change to the worker’s comp laws in California, and 20% of my business vaporized instantly. It wasn’t enough to put me out of business, but it definitely caused financial hardship, and it took a few years to rebuild to the income I’d had.

I had one patient for years who LOVED acupuncture and came in twice weekly, every week, unless one of us was sick or out of town. He was in his later years, dealing with some substantial medical issues, and eventually passed away. Not only did I grieve his loss as a human – I really do get to know my patients and his presence in the office had been a constant for a number of years – it was also a financial hit which took some time to recover from.

The ACA has made more insurance companies “cover” acupuncture, but has created mountains of paperwork and reduced pay to practitioners substantially, AND many people now expect their insurance to cover acupuncture since their policy info says they have acupuncture benefits, but the fine print will say they only cover acupuncture for first trimester nausea or for dental anesthesia, so there isn’t really coverage for most people. I and my assistant spend way more time talking about insurance benefits/lack of benefits and explaining policy limitations than we used to – not something I ever expected to be doing. I’m out of network for most plans, and have definitely “lost” patients who wanted to have the extra savings of going to an “in-network” provider.

Running a small business takes an incredible amount of time. It’s not just the time spent seeing patients, it’s also the time creating marketing materials, engaging on social media, keeping up a website/blog with engaging content, staying on top of book keeping, taxes, insurance billing, supplies ordering – all the stuff which happens in the background to actually run the business part. Some people look at my office schedule of about 30 hours a week, and assume I live a life of leisure, but my work week is often 50-60 hours plus all the time it takes to train as an ultra-cyclist. Some weeks, it’s hard to keep up but it’s worth it!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Eastern Body Therapy – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My business provides outstanding acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, functional nutrition counseling, and craniosacral therapy. I’ve always had a general practice, but I especially love working with people who are experiencing musculoskeletal injuries, chronic pain, and psych issues like anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic stress, and PTSD. I’m mostly known for orthopedic/sports medicine and issues like anxiety/stress/PTSD.

Things I’m most proud of include:
~Surviving in business for 17 years of economic ups and downs. 2016 was my best year ever, and 2017 looks it will be up a bit from there, so the business is still strong and growing. I’m looking forward to making my first hires – full time front desk and another acupuncturist – by mid-2018.

~Providing top-notch customer service for all of that time

~Helping my patients heal on a deep level – not just the pain they came in with, but really connecting to their own inner healers so they not just recover but go on to live even more satisfying and fulfilling lives.

What sets me apart from others is my unique blend of training in acupuncture, orthopedics, functional nutrition, craniosacral therapy and counseling. Probably the counseling part is what REALLY sets me apart from other acupuncturists in the area. That allows me to really work at a body/mind/spirit level and address not just the current complaint, but the life patterns which led to the issue in the first place and now keep the patient stuck in a cycle of physical or emotional pain.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love being close to the beach and that we can do outdoor athletics year-round. We have a great community of ultra-distance athletes here in San Diego, so I have peers who like to do the same crazy stuff I do. I never get tired of walking at Torrey Pines, riding the coast and doing hill training in our local mountains, watching fireworks from Fiesta Island. San Diego also has a growing art community. I’ve been a glass lamp worker, and jewelry designer for years, and it’s easy to find new and challenging classes in the area. And I love that our beer and wine communities are exploding and becoming world-class.

What I like least about San Diego is the growing population density. Housing prices are so high that it takes way more income to survive here than in many other places. With my office on Balboa Park, I see the growing homeless population and find it disturbing how little support there is for people who can’t make enough income to pay rent and how little affordable housing there is. A few years back, when my business was going through a slump at the same time my husband got laid off from his job, I looked into low income housing for us and found a waiting list of almost 10 years. Thankfully, we had enough reserves to be able to coast for a while. It definitely got scary. We were able to turn our situation around and didn’t need to relocate to survive, but not everyone is that fortunate. I also get frustrated by more cars on the freeway and the impatient attitudes which come with that, more difficulty finding places to park, really inadequate public transportation, and lack of safe bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure. I know the city has plans to address public transportation and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, so hopefully this will improve soon!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
The close up needle photo is a stock photo from 123rf, and the images in the collage are from iStock photo. All other images are photos which I personally took.

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment


    August 10, 2019 at 2:00 am

    Lisa Nicholson is the only acupuncturist I trust
    She is very professional.

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