The human heart is the center of a territory with no boundaries.
–Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée
About Thea Elijah
At the age of 17, after a difficult time of not fitting in, I left my home in NYC to stay with a friend in Chicago. Getting off the subway at the wrong stop, I found myself lost in the Vietnamese section of the city. I entered an herbal shop, and instantly fell in love—with the smells, with the sights, with the sound of herbs being smashed, cut or chopped, with the old man in the corner taking pulses and writing out herbal prescriptions, with something I cannot name, but which called to me like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
As I stood there, I promised my heart that I would learn all that I could about this medicine. For the next year in Chicago, I asked anyone who would talk to me about it, and learned as much as I could (including from numerous herbal experiments on myself, which I do not recommend!)
My next move took me to New England in 1986, where I took up work as an organic farmer. This gave me an in-depth and personal experience of the Five Elements! One winter day, I saw a poster for a talk on acupuncture by a new practitioner in town who had just completed acupuncture school, Lonny Jarrett. I attended, and we struck up an ongoing conversation/apprenticeship, continuing throughout the time that he was writing Nourishing Destiny, debating and discussing every aspect of that book.
During the time of that apprenticeship, I studied herbs with Ted Kaptchuk and studied pulses with Leon Hammer. Father Claude Larré and Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallé taught twice a year at the Traditional Acupuncture Institute (TAI), and for 6 years, I never missed a class. (Traditional Acupuncture Institute is now the Maryland University of Integrative Health.)
Finally, in May of 1993, I enrolled in acupuncture school at TAI, and also took the herbal program, which was led by Ted Kaptchuk. I repeated the herbal program a second time, and then a third. By the fourth time, I was hired to teach some of the classes, and the next year I was asked to be the Director of the Herb program.
At that time, the Academy of Five Element Acupuncture was facing a challenge in Florida. The state required an herbal program, and the founders wanted to comply without distracting from the focus on the Five Element method. They asked me to develop a program for them and to direct it. I found that I was able to create an herbal curriculum that was not only complementary to the school’s intent, but enhanced it.
For several years, I directed both school’s herbal programs. During that time, I was introduced to Sufism. In 1998, I began to study and then practice—and at one point was on faculty—at the University of Spiritual Healing and Sufism. For a few years, I came to every quarterly conference specifically to offer acupuncture to the highly developed souls who comprised the faculty and staff of the University. My comprehension of acupuncture and the energetics of each point was expanded and clarified by such an extraordinary clientele!
Over the years, I also learned substantially from several Five Element veterinarians about the embodied, non-verbal expressions of the elements. Body language, movement, voice tones, and other embodied and practical aspects of the Five Elements have become the foundation for Living the Elements, a practice of seasonal healing for everyone.
In 2006, I retired from herbal program directorship. I moved back to Vermont to raise my son, teach continuing education, and work in private practice. I have developed over 100 courses, including Whole Heart Connection, which incorporates my understandings from all that I’ve learned through these various interconnected disciplines. These practices infuse all of my work, from herbalism to acupuncture, to parenting, to social justice work, and spiritual healing.