Anthony Giovanniello grew up in an Italian-American household in Queens, NY, but for as long as he can remember, he says he’s had an affinity for Asian culture.
“My parents thought they picked the wrong kid up from the hospital,” says Giovanniello laughing. “We were Catholic. So Friday nights we used to order all these vegetable dishes at the Chinese restaurant. They always sent me to pick up the food, but I would take so long because I would spend so much time talking to the owner about China.”
His parents let him embrace his love of everything Asian, however. Giovanniello started his first yoga class at 15, and then took martial arts, and finally when he was 19, he took his first trip to Japan.
“It solidified my understanding that my love of Asia was more than this life,” says Giovanniello.
Today, at 60, he is an acupuncturist at a clinic in Nashville, Tenn., as well as the founder of the non-profit Acupuncture Ambassadors which organizes sustainable acupuncture schools, training programs and treatment clinics for the care of refugees, victims of violence, and the poor around the world. In October, he will be going to help heal the trauma victims of the Nepal earthquake.
“I love Nepal – it’s one of my favorite places in the world,” says Giovanniello. “Thank God my friends are alive, but most of them are homeless.”
He says he’s been to Cambodia, Vietnam, and many other places throughout Asia, but Nepal is where he goes most often.
“I’ve been four times years in that past 10 years,” says the soft-spoken healer. “I feel at home there. The first time I went there was in 1998. It was this incredible feeling. There was a square where the King of Kathmandu had his court, and when I walked out of the taxi, I started crying like I came home.”
Giovanniello says he knew he wanted to be an acupuncturist when he was 20 – right after he had his first acupuncture treatment.
“But then I realized there were no schools to study acupuncture in the U.S. around 1980 – you had to go to China,” says Giovanniello. “You probably spend 5 or 7 years there, and then you come back and maybe you don’t find a job. So I put that idea to the side.”
Since he grew up playing music and was in a band through his 20s, he was very familiar with recording equipment. It made sense to start a career in audio production. Eventually, he became a soundtrack supervisor for the animated television series, “Thunder Cats.”
“I loved the animation which came from Japan, but late in 1999, I was in a place where life didn’t work anymore,” Giovanniello remembers. “I thought, ‘If I don’t do this acupuncture thing it’s never going to happen.’ I was 45. I went back to school in January 2000…I was determined to graduate by the time I was 50, and I did. I have a skill, but I feel it’s more of a calling, because I’m passionate about it.”
He explains that acupuncture – a form of alternative medicine involving inserting thin needles into the body at specific acupuncture points – was originally created side by side with the Chinese religious tradition of Daoism.
“You embrace the earth and nature and believe that mankind is at one with nature,” says Giovanniello. “Most won’t say it’s a spiritual practice, but it can be if you allow it. It works on animals and they have no belief systems. Most thoroughbreds have their own acupuncturists.”
He says the most memorable moment of his career so far was when he was working on the streets of Nepal, and a woman brought her 30-year-old son who had been such a severe alcoholic that he ruined his liver and was crippled.
“They came in a cab, and he needed four men to pick him up. He screamed the whole way being carried,” remembers Giovanniello. “We thought the needles were going to hurt him so I thought the best I can do is do ear acupuncture. He laid there for a couple of hours with the needles in his ears. The second day he came, and he was a little better, not screaming. He came every day. By the fourth day, he got himself onto the bed himself. By the fifth day, we were putting needles everywhere, and by the sixth day, he was walking himself to the cab. Acupuncture allows your body to kick in the hormones we already have to heal our own bodies. At the end of 7 days, he was still very weak, but he was able to get himself into the cab. It was an amazing transformation.”
He says he started his non-profit organization, right in his living room, when he realized that acupuncture was more of a calling than a business.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” reflects Giovanniello. “My first ‘get my feet wet’ mission was in a Navajo reservation in Arizona. I went there, and it solidified everything to me. It is interesting, fun and helpful..it gets me up in the morning.”
Currently, Giovanniello works five days a week at the clinic, and his two days off he spends fundraising for Acupuncture Ambassadors.
What piece of advice about life would he tell his younger self if he could?
“I would tell my younger self never to be afraid of doing what you thought was right.”