One-time skeptic now embraces Chinese medicine

Michael Max


Michael Max was skeptical when a friend suggested in the early ‘90s that Max try acupuncture and Chinese herbs for his chronic respiratory problems. Still, nothing else had worked, so Max made an appointment at an acupuncture school in Seattle, where he lived at the time. 

“When the intern put in the first needle, something changed. The world felt different,” says Max, 53. “After getting several treatments, I got a cold and healed from it without getting a cough – that was a first.”

Today, Max owns Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic at 103 N. Taylor Ave. in Kirkwood, which opened in July 2009. He holds a Master’s of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine and he holds national certifications in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. He is licensed in Missouri and Washington. On his Web site (, Max writes a blog and offers general tips for healthy living.

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Born in Cincinnati, Max lived in St. Louis with his family when he was between the ages of 8 and 18. Last spring, Max moved here with his wife, Tracy Wang, after an extended trip to Asia. Max made time recently to talk about his work.

What did you know about acupuncture before you had that first treatment?

I had heard of it, but my initial response was skepticism. I always say that bad luck -lungs that never functioned well – brought me to this line of work. Once I started having treatments and taking herbs, I started reading about Chinese medicine. The more I read, the more curious I became.

What were you doing at the time?

I had a nice middle-class life in Seattle. I had a B.A. in liberal arts and a master’s degree in psychology, and I was working in computers, doing interesting work. But I had begun to ask myself if I wanted to continue in that field for the next 10 or 20 years.

And what was your answer?

The answer was no. When I asked myself what I would do instead, there was a whisper, “Chinese medicine.” It was never a shout, but it would not go away.

What was your response?

I argued with myself. I was in my early 30s. Why would I invite a big disruption into my life? It would cost a lot to go back to school and I didn’t even know if I could make a living at it.

So — this is how a nice Jewish man ends up practicing Chinese medicine?

Yes. I was methodical about it – I interviewed five acupuncturists and I interviewed people at all three schools of Chinese medicine in Seattle. I also spoke to that first woman who had treated me. She suggested I study Chinese medicine for three months, and after that I would either love it or I would not – but I would have my answer.

After you graduated, you practiced in Seattle for awhile and then spent five years studying in Taiwan and Mainland China. Your language skills are such now that you have translated a Chinese medical text into English. Talk about that.

Chinese medicine is an old, deep science – it’s been used in Asia for thousands of years to treat a variety of internal medicine issues, and here it is increasingly used both to treat pain and for promoting general well-being. If you can read Chinese, you can learn more about it.

What is fulfilling about your work?

All Chinese medicine treatments are customized to the individual. I help some people with some conditions get off their medications. I help people going through aggressive cancer treatments to tolerate treatments better – the World Health Organization recommends acupuncture for that – and I help women get through menopause without hormone-replacement therapy. I take hard-driving executives who eat stress for breakfast and give them an hour of calm. I help soldiers returning from active duty to sleep better and feel more comfortable in their own skins. I help people stop smoking.

Does acupuncture hurt?

On my Web site, I quote Jean-Paul Thuot, a Chinese-speaking Canadian acupuncturist and all-around wise guy who says that acupuncture is nowhere near as painful as biting your tongue, stubbing your toe, hitting your funny bone, a mosquito bite or getting a parking ticket. And it hurts much less than the anxiety over how much it might hurt.

Michael Max

WORK: Licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine

HOME: Kirkwood

FAMILY: Married to Tracy Wang, who works as office manager at her husband’s clinic

HOBBIES: Bicycling, sailing skiing, scuba diving

PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Founder and director of Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic and translator of a contemporary book on Chinese herbal medicine