Olivia Wu ʼ07

Posted On - January 16, 2023

When most of us think of a relaxing massage, the mental image probably doesn’t involve knives. But for Olivia Wu ’07, knives and massage go hand in hand. In this first installment of the series Bruins in Unconventional Jobs, Wu discusses her soul searching journey of discovery through lineage and culture, and how it all led her to a unique occupation, running a healing center in Taipei, Light Program Red House, that offers knife massage as one of its self-care services. Be sure to watch the massage video at the end.

Olivia Wu: I am a Taiwanese-American from California. I went to UCLA and graduated with double majors in Design|Media Arts and Cognitive Science. As a student, I was fascinated by the creative process and the mind; however, I didn’t know how to put these two majors together as a career.
Olivia Wu ʼ07
After graduating, I didn’t want to go into clinical work or research and I didn’t want to pursue a career as an artist. I was lost, so I went on a trip. I flew to Taiwan, where my family is from, to do some soul searching and find my roots. Then I encountered the I Ching, a very ancient practice that dates back to 2600 B.C. It is derived from the observation of change.

I started practicing the I Ching as a way to find my own path, and this eventually led me to be of service to others as well. I wanted to engage with people on a wellness level, so I learned another ancient practice, the knife massage, which dates back 2,500 years to what is known as the Spring and Autumn period. Back then, the knife massage was practiced by monks who followed very disciplined lifestyles in order to offer this service. It was a lost art. The lineage is now preserved as more are practicing it. The practices of ancient I Ching and knife massage really spoke to me because they’re connected to my heritage. My soul-searching journey led me to an in-depth exploration of myself and my lineage.

UCLA Alumni: So, just how sharp are these knives?
Knife massage
Not sharp; these are blunt knives. In 500 B.C., practitioners didn’t use the knives that we use today but they had tools that held similar properties — mineral stones that were shaped into a fine surface to work on the pressure points and meridians across the body. And now in Taiwan, we use steel cleavers. These are unique knives used for the sacred practice only — so they’re not just any random knives. To offer the service, I follow a disciplined lifestyle of fasting, meditation, journaling and vegetarian diet. This allows me to be in a state of emotional and mental clarity to offer the sacred service. I am constantly observing and learning.

There’s not really any danger of actually getting cut and the service is being offered with positive intention. It does help if the participant is aware of their own health and shares that with me prior to the session. Mutual trust and respect are important. If the experience makes you nervous, I wouldn't recommend it, because our body tenses up when we are nervous and we can't relax.

Is there something that’s physically happening when the knives touch the body that is different than what you get in any other type of massage?

The sensation is different as it is a tapping rhythm. The knives have fine-line surfaces that can contact different areas of muscles, pressure points and meridian with precision. The rhythmic motion resembles water drops that are soothing and calming. Participants often share with me that they go into a meditative-like relaxed state of being half asleep and fully aware.

What are the physical results that you’ve seen on people?

Participants seem more relaxed after the session. Some feel lighter and some feel refreshed; everyone's experience is different. However, as with any long-term physical change, treatment entails a long period of changes in multiple areas, such as monitoring overall health, nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.

Had you done any other kind of massage?

No, I was interested in the practice and healing aspect rather than the massage aspect. The more I practiced, the more I became fascinated by our bodies as microcosmos, which led me to study and practice other aspects of healing work.

What is the best treatment approach, especially for those who are in pain?

It would be helpful to meet on a regular basis as a form of self-care. Pain can have different causes, so I do recommend participants seek out different kinds of health care support to understand what is causing the pain.

The essence of the practice is about holistic wellness, and the knife massage session is just one part of the whole. For those who come in regularly, we also discuss and work on fasting, meditating, clean eating, exercising and emotional healing. Our physical body is connected to our emotional body, and a holistic approach means learning and balancing it all.

Do you offer any other services?
I Ching
I offer the I Ching consultation to provide clarity and insight for entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders and international professionals. I also facilitate creative and healing workshops for individuals, companies and community groups. In recent years, I have been focusing more on social change for practicing self-care and discernment for wellness. These workshops help with inner awareness. The population that I work with the most are professionals, older adults, LGBTQ+ and AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders].

When did you start the healing center?

After about 10 years of practice, I started from a smaller space at the end of 2017. I moved to this current space in 2020, which is right next to the Red House in Taipei. This area is known for the LGBTQ community, which I am a part of. The Ximen district that we are in is also the busiest part of town. Our mission is to find peace in times of turmoil. And I think the center being in this bustling area really encapsulates this mission.
Light Program Red House
Are you finding that people need this even more than they did before COVID?

Yes, more than ever. After experiencing isolation during this stressful period, it is time to heal and recover. We are coming out of a three-year trauma, and there is a lot of emotional, social and self-discovery work to do.

How do you deal with some of the other major external forces in the world at the moment, such as war and other geopolitical conflicts, including threats to Taiwan’s independence?

All the turmoil has brought me to look inwards and ask the question, what is the true peace and anchor for myself? There are endless changes that can throw life off course and so many things that are outside of our control. As we face multiple crises together, it's not enough to just be smart, powerful or rich. It is also about being kind, respectful, empathic, brave and free.

We are facing turmoil collectively around the world, so we need to think collectively despite our differences. COVID has forced us apart but brought us all together at the same time, and it's time to act holistically about our unified reality.


If you know a Bruin who works in an unconventional job, let us know at ConnectFeedback@alumni.ucla.edu.

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