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Gabi Masek of Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs

By Aryn Henning Nichols | Winter 2022-23

Everything about Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs welcomes folks in. Dozens of plants perch in the sunny windows, backdrops for comfy seats, wellness products, and a collection of herbal goodness.

Patients visit owner Gabi Masek, licensed acupuncturist and diplomate of Oriental Medicine*, at her downtown Decorah clinic to heal, grow, or find new energy through a variety of styles of acupuncture, Chinese herbalism, tuina, moxibustion, cupping, gua sha, and more. 

Gabi Masek at Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs in downtown Decorah, Iowa. / Photo by Aryn Henning Nichols

Are some of these words completely new to you? You’re not alone, and that’s totally okay – Gabi is passionate about Chinese medicine and healthcare, and is more than happy to talk through any and all treatments. Having some needle trepidation? Don’t worry – there’s a lot more to Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs than pokes. So what exactly happens at an appointment? 

“During your first visit we will conduct an in-depth assessment of your health,” Gabi writes on her site, wildcraftedacupunture.com. “Talking about sleep, appetite, digestion, diet, pain, bowel movements, emotional disharmonies, and menstrual cycle (if applicable!). All of these factors help me understand what is going on with your system to formulate a Chinese medicine diagnosis that guides how to best support your body in its healing.”

The clinic has supported many people in Decorah and surrounding communities since opening in March of 2017. Wildcrafted is one of three accredited acupuncture clinics in this town of 8,000 people – an amazing, and a bit unusual situation for a rural community. It speaks to the area’s emphasis on this type of healthcare, Gabi says. 

Gabi’s caring attitude and creative nature is evident throughout her business, from homemade pouches that hold her practical and useful Chinese Trauma Kits, to the tiny information sheets that accompany a crystal purchase, to product labels of her own design that manage to encompass both information and beauty. 

There are two size options for Gabi’s Chinese Trauma Kits. Pictured is the smaller version. Gabi sews each unique pouch herself! / Photo by Aryn Henning Nichols

Read on to learn about how Gabi boomeranged from Decorah to Seattle and back again to start her business, Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs, and don’t miss her Chinese Medicine Tips for Winter Wellness below.

*Ed Note: When I asked Gabi how to write her credentials, here’s what she said: “I have a Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MAc.OM) from Seattle Institute of East Asian Medicine and am a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac) in the state of Iowa as well as a nationally board certified Diplomate of Oriental Medicine (Dipl.OM) through the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). So it ends up being: Gabi Masek, L.Ac, Dipl.OM, when I’m official!”

Name:  Gabi Masek
Age: 39
Business: Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs
Years in Business: 6 years in March 2023!!!
Business address: 111 Winnebago St
Website: www.wildcraftedacupuncture.com

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

In 2010, after seven years in organic farming, I had significant pain in my low back due to a repetitive stress injury and started seeing Brenda Harris, L.Ac for acupuncture (another amazing acupuncturist here in town!). It was transformative learning about my body from a different perspective while feeling seen and heard by my practitioner; I saw her on and off for other reasons over a few years’ time and at one of my appointments she recommended I consider going to acupuncture school. After much deliberation, I did! I applied to a few different acupuncture schools and ended up relocating to Seattle, WA for three years. During this time, I worked in a really busy clinic and observed with several acupuncturists in private practice, and I could see owning a private practice was hard work but everyone also seemed immensely fulfilled. I went back and forth during my master’s program about starting my own practice vs. joining a practice, and after a move back to Decorah the stars aligned in such a way that I found my amazing clinic space (with the most stellar landlords) and decided to take the plunge into small business ownership!! It has been incredibly empowering (also: stressful, scary, exciting) to create my own career path and job, and I am so grateful for everyone who has helped birth and sustain this business!

Treatment rooms are super cozy. / Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

Oh my goodness, I really love just about everything about it! I LOVE the creativity involved, the constant evolution that’s required to continue growing as a person, practitioner, and business owner, getting to know the amazing people I am privileged to work with, the freedom to create my own schedule and be generous with time off for professional growth and learning as well as personal retreats/staycations to unwind, process, catch up, and enjoy life. There is always something to learn, something to improve, a challenge to navigate – no day is ever the same and I appreciate that. I feel really privileged that I have been able to make the decision in my business to prioritize my own health and wellness and never feel like I have to compromise that. 

3. How about the worst?

As a small biz owner, with just me at the helm, everything falls to me – which as a Virgo is great (haha, IYKYK) and also can be overwhelming at times. I didn’t really realize how much I would constantly think about my business – when I was first starting out I worked on my business alllll the time – after hours, weekends, on vacation. I had to learn how to set healthier boundaries around my time and energy and sometimes still feel like I should be doing more, creating more – more more more. But honestly, relaxing more and doing MORE of the other things I love has helped make me a better practitioner and biz owner (practice what you preach and all that!). 

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

The early days of COVID in 2020 were really hard. I ended up closing the clinic for almost three months and the first two weeks of that I literally spent in bed crying and buffering my feelings with Netflix (some raw honesty here, this is a non-judgmental space, right!?). The mix of not knowing what the future was going to look like combined with a feeling of total helplessness amid the lack of information and fear was completely overwhelming. I gave myself time to feel into this because that felt important and then began figuring out how to move forward. I spent time photographing and adding all of the retail products to the website and feel incredibly fortunate that I have such wonderful community support that during this time folks shopped online and purchased gift certificates for future use. I don’t know if people really realize how much these small gestures during this time meant to those of us in business. It was literally a life line and every sale, every gift certificate, every person who booked an online appointment to receive support via diet + lifestyle suggestions, gua sha tutorials, qi gong recommendations, or herbal consultations so we could continue care was just a breath of life during a time I was really struggling.

The seating area out front features “shop dog” local art. / Photo by Aryn Henning Nichols

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I had some really amazing professors and mentors in my graduate program and they continue to inform how I think, practice, and navigate life. From 2017 to 2019 I volunteered for two to three weeks every September with a nonprofit one of my teachers, Daniel, founded. We set up a free clinic in rural Nepal providing acupuncture, and it was an incredibly potent time to pick his brain, learn from the other volunteers, and see an overwhelming number of people for care. I believe I grew exponentially as a human and practitioner during those trips. I have many other mentors I’ve studied or worked with over the years. If anything, I have a very hard time saying no to learning and diving into fun little rabbit holes – some which are clinically relevant, some business related, some to satisfy my own nerdy desire to just know more!  

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

Wow, this is the hardest question to answer so far!! My business grew really fast and I wasn’t really prepared for the rate that growth happened, which made the first year and a half a lot. One thing I wish I had known: that asking for help doesn’t mean you’re failing (I mean, I logically I know this but I didn’t really start living it until a few years ago). It’s taken me a while to get to a place where it doesn’t feel like a vulnerability, and had I embraced that earlier, I think there would have been much more ease and flow and a bit less stress and overwork!

The retail section of Wildcrafted Acupuncture & Herbs features many great wellness products, 
 including crystals & herb bundles. / Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols

7. How do you manage your life/work balance?

Honestly, over the years my work/life balance has become much more, well, balanced! My dogs definitely help remind me what’s important in life – moving, hydrating, being outside, living in the present. I have been able to schedule my days so that I always have time in the mornings to take it slow – enjoy some coffee (shhh) and breakfast, go for a nice walk with the dogs, and take in the seasonal changes in the neighborhood and trails systems. These were my non-negotiables when I initially sat down to create my schedule.  Having this consistency helps me feel grounded as I move into my work day, and creating time for unstructured movement and creativity in my personal life has really allowed my brain space to process, think, and ultimately be more creative in my business.  Recognizing this definitely helped in giving myself permission to slow down and create more firm boundaries around work and home life.  

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

The landscape of our corner of NE Iowa definitely keeps me inspired. I walk for at least two hours a day in almost all the weather we get, and I have to say that being connected to nature in that way, witness what’s sprouting, blooming, fruiting, the critters out and about, and the seasonal migrations definitely inspire me daily. I often have really good ideas and brainstorming sessions during these long walks – some I remember, some I forget, but it’s such wonderful time to let my senses take in the world around me while my brain plays. I’ve turned my entire yard, front and back, into gardens, and that also holds immense inspiration through the colors and cycles, dreaming what to change for the next season, seeing what does well and what needs more support – creating an incredibly varied landscape to share with the birds and insects has been so wonderful and a never-ending source of joy! My amazing group of acupuncture friends online definitely also keep me dreaming and inspired – we share about classes we’re taking, books we’re reading, pick each other’s brains about systems we’re using in our businesses and how they’re working (or not). I am a huge Mary Oliver lover, and the line in her poem The Summer Day – “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has stood by me through wonderful and challenging times and helps direct me when I’m feeling disconnected. And finally, I am inspired by everyone I work with – collectively they (you!) always keep me in wonder and that’s a lovely place to exist.

Check out Gabi’s Winter Wellness Tips!