Where alternative health practitioners thrive

PHOTO: A Still Point practitioner at work on a patient. Photo provided by Still Point.


When Jon Hoffschneider first met the woman who was to become his health lifeline, it was by pure chance, but the moment stands out clearly in his memory.

“I shook her hand as we were introduced, and I remember her telling me something like, ‘Your Chi is off,’” said Hoffschneider, 48, who was running an errand in the same building where Carolyne Pion, founder of Family Acupuncture Associates on Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, practiced acupuncture.

Hoffschneider recalled a former roommate who, years ago when he was diagnosed with a severe chronic digestive disease, had urged him to try acupuncture.

“I was really out of sorts emotionally and physically,” Hoffschneider said of that first meeting with Pion. “I thought – ‘well, it couldn’t hurt.’”

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When the healthcare architect and 14-year Takoma Park resident went in for his first acupuncture session, the delicate needles in his forehead triggered a physical and emotional sensation he still has trouble describing.

“It was like a cool veil had been draped over my head,” Hoffschneider said. “It was a layer of calmness, a loss of edginess.”

That was just over three years ago, and Hoffschneider has been seeing Pion every two weeks since. He says the regular treatments have helped him with low blood sugar, too. Sometimes, when a hypoglycemic episode comes on unexpectedly, he closes his eyes and tries to recreate the calming acupuncture environment, and the episode dissipates.

Hoffschneider is one of three types of people who seek out alternative medicine, says Jane Grissmer, founding director of Crossings: A Center for the Healing Traditions in Silver Spring, MD.

“There are people who have tried everything and nothing else works, and ones who want to see what their bodies can do and if they can heal themselves before doing Western meds,” said Grissmer, who has practiced and taught alternative medicine for 35 years. “The third category is people we’ve been seeing for 30 years who want to keep coming and taking care of themselves as an ongoing way of healing, growing and being vital.”


Founder Jane Grissmer and director Barbara Glenfield at Crossings in Silver Spring. Photo by Bill Brown.

As a pioneer of the alternative medicine movement during the 1970s and ‘80s, Grissmer has seen the marketplace for acupuncture, massage therapy, and other holistic health and wellness services in Takoma Park blossom and spread throughout neighboring areas. When she first opened Crossings at 1 Columbia Avenue in Takoma Park in 1992, “there was nobody,” Grissmer says.

Today, the city is known for a thriving alternative medicine scene, with four acupuncture clinics in under a half-mile stretch on Carroll Avenue alone. Residents see ties between that proliferation of businesses and the simple, holistic lifestyle and beliefs of the Seventh-Day Adventists, whose mark on the culture and identity of Takoma Park remains visible more than a century after the town became home to the church’s world headquarters.

Diana Kohn, president of the heritage group Historic Takoma, said a counter-cultural approach to wellness is deeply ingrained in the Adventist faith.

“Health and wellness are a primary component of their religion – your body is a temple to God, and focus on health honors God,” Kohn said. “It’s less alternative health care than an alternative health philosophy.”

While Adventist philosophies may have set the stage for a town that’s unusually friendly to alternative medicine, the Western embrace of Eastern methods is still relatively young. Grissmer remembers when practitioners were setting up shop in their garages.

“Jane is one of the originals, whether she likes it or not,” joked Barbara Glenfield, a manual physical therapist and director at Crossings.

When Grissmer opened the Center, the professionalization of alternative medicine was still underway. Public understanding and acceptance of Eastern medicine was very limited, and in many ways it was seen as “unscientific and wishy-washy,” Glenfield said.


Jane Grissmer working on a patient at Crossings. Photo by Rose Creasman Welcome.

Grissmer founded Crossings hoping be on the forefront of the field’s maturation.

“I wanted to create a place that would both anchor and house the healing traditions through time, so that they did not get lost and dissipate,” said Grissmer, who was part of a group of students that helped found the Tai Sophia Institute — now the Maryland University of Integrative Health in southern Howard County – after attending the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in England in the late ‘70s.

Crossings found friendly neighbors and a receptive audience in Takoma Park. But after a decade nestled in the restored federal-style house on 1 Columbia Avenue, space constraints and a desire to reach the “unchurched” – people who hadn’t had much exposure to Eastern healing methods — prompted its founders to move the business to Silver Spring.

From their current location on Fenton Street above Whole Foods Market, Crossings now houses more than 20 practitioners who offer a host of services from natural prenatal health care to psychotherapy. The majority of their clients are still local, Grissmer says, but people also drive in from Annapolis, Baltimore and Northern Virginia. Some come by train from as far as Richmond.

Client needs have changed a lot over the years, but recently, Crossings is seeing more people who are seeking out alternative medicine first or as a continuing lifestyle commitment instead of a last resort.


Emily Jacobs at Body Mind Spirit MFR and Therapeutic Massage. Photo by Bill Brown.

Emily Jacobs, who’s been in business at Body Mind Spirit MFR & Therapeutic Massage in Takoma Park for just over a year, says that’s a sign of greater public acceptance of and demand for alternative medicine.

“Even though I haven’t been in Takoma Park long, I still see the need for it,” said Jacobs, a licensed massage therapist who practices myofascial release, a soft-tissue therapy for treating chronic pain. “There’s so much in the news about alternative medicine and treatment, about people trying to get away from pain medicine, people trying to find what’s right for their bodies. People want to connect with a therapist.”

Jacobs was working out of her apartment in Southwest D.C. before a space in Takoma Park above Roscoe’s Pizzeria on Carroll Avenue opened up. About 80 percent of her clients are locals, she says.

Like most practitioners, Jacobs always encourages her clients to seek out the right combination of care – including a balance of Eastern methods with Western medicine – for their particular needs. That meant a blend of therapy and acupuncture for Amy, a social worker turned stay-at-home-parent in Takoma Park, who sought out acupuncture when she became pregnant in 2014. Amy had been getting massages and craniosacral therapy for over 10 years to help with physical pain and stress-related tension. When severe morning sickness kept her from taking her regular antidepressant, her therapist recommended Robin Gordon at Crossings, who specializes in prenatal and postnatal care.

Emily Jacobs at her practice’s entrance around the side of Roscoe’s restaurant in Takoma Old Town. Photo by Bill Brown.

“[Robin] has such a nurturing and healing presence, and the acupuncture helped me tremendously,” said Amy, who preferred not to give her last name. “I was having a hard time working full-time with my depressed mood and morning sickness, and the acupuncture definitely helped me stay sane and able to function in a way I wasn’t before.”

Amy says her circle of friends has mixed perspectives on Eastern medicine, but her Takoma Park neighbors are especially supportive of alternative methods. Local practitioners make the same observation.

“People in Takoma Park are very open-minded. They’re interested in taking care of themselves and trying things,” said Jacobs, who also practices in Northwest D.C.

Tori Paide, whose business The Still Point Spa took over the building at 1 Columbia Ave. in 2007, agrees with that particular feature of the Takoma Park community.


Lori Chletsos Spa Manager at Takoma Park Still Point. Their Columbia Avenue location was once occupied by Crossings. Both outgrew the space. Photo by Bill Brown.

“People here have a commitment to care for their wellness and health and be proactive about it. Seven out of 10 times, clients have come in for a problem and realized, ‘I could keep doing this and stay well,’” said Paide, whose burgeoning practice will move to 6 Grant Avenue by October. “And that is very unique to Takoma Park.”

Paide has also watched the marketplace change from a front-row seat. When she graduated from acupuncture school after abandoning a career in international development, she was frustrated by the lack of comfortable, professional spaces for practitioners to work in the D.C. area. It was a different scene back then, she said: You might have to be treated in your acupuncturist’s basement, or pay for a “superficial” massage at a spa more concerned with beauty than bodily harmony.

The Still Point has since expanded to locations in Clarksville and Columbia, though its Takoma Park business uniquely subleases space to other practitioners.

“It was really important to me to find a place where practices could grow as a business and find a way to support themselves,” Paide said.

Lori Chletsos Spa Manager Inside Still Point. The spa is waiting to move to a new location on Grant Avenue in Takoma Park. Photo by Bill Brown.

As the alternative medicine scene matures, businesses are also seeing more acceptance from insurance companies. The number of insurance providers that will reimburse or allow services such as massage or acupuncture has increased significantly since she started out, Paide said. The same is true at Crossings, where Grissmer says their longstanding collaboration with the wellness center at Discovery’s world headquarters in Silver Spring has recently resulted in Crossings practitioners being added to the insurance package for Discovery staff.

H&W-300X250The Takoma Voice/Silver Spring Health & Wellness Guide lists local health practitioners and fitness/exercise centers, studios and merchants. Support your unique local businesses!

Still, says Hoffschneider, the slow pace at which insurance providers are embracing alternative medicine is a deterrent for would-be clients.

“What I hear from people is that they believe in alternative methods, but are battling insurance,” Hoffschneider said.

In that sense, Hoffschneider considers himself – and his Takoma Park neighbors – spoiled.

“I was walking down Carroll the other day and looking at all the therapists, acupuncturists … you have access to it all here,” Hoffschneider said. “If I have friends who hesitate about Eastern medicine, it’s because of insurance or distance. For me, it’s a 10-15 minute walk.”

About the Author

Rose Creasman Welcome
Rose is a California transplant who covered local news in San Diego. She taught, mentored and edited student reporters at a semester-long journalism training program on Capitol Hill for three years. She's also spent time as a freelance copyeditor and writer for nonprofit publications and magazines. Today, she's working in public health communications and sharpening her multiplatform reporting skills as a Master's student at University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She lives in Takoma Park with her husband and one-year-old son.