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The Healing Cocoon Podcast

Antidotes for Anxiety with Acupuncturist and Yogini Maria Villella

The meeting point between East and West

Posted by:
Jacobie Gray

On this week’s episode of the podcast, we talk with Maria Villella, a nationally board certified acupuncturist. A member of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine, Maria’s work primarily focuses on hormonal health and she works closely with patients hoping to conceive (with or without IVF), pregnant and postpartum women, and menopausal women. She has taught yoga for nearly twenty years with the highest level of national teacher certification, ERYT 500, and has been on the teaching team for Loyola Marymount University teacher training program for over ten years. She has also been on the cover of Yoga Journal multiple times and created for Yoga Journal, Yogic Life, and Yoga Anytime.

The Italian Yogi

“Italy!” Maria answers with some classic Italian gusto when asked where her journey to acupuncture and yoga began. Her biological life didn’t actually begin in Italy, but familial roots and cultural patterns emigrated to both America and her childhood with her parents and grandparents. 

The traditional Italian culture is filled with beauty, pasta, and pretty solid gender roles. Although the lovely traditions of everyday-gourmet food and expressive hand-talking are treasures, the patriarchal structure of her household left her struggling with guilt, shame, and self-criticism. Still, the overall memory of her childhood is happy. Her family often took trips to Italy and the nearby islands, having everything they needed at the hands of her hardworking parents. 

But eventually Maria wanted to find her own identity outside of the staunch gender roles. She found herself searching for other perspectives on what it meant to be a man or a woman, and how the two relate to one another (not exactly a traditional Italian line of thought). What’s more, while her parents worked in very structured careers, Maria found herself in art school, eventually progressing into the healing arts and yoga. In a way, she sees how this was another rejection of her parent’s way of life, but her story grew into one of fusion rather than outright rejection.

Asian-American Fusion (with an Italian flare)

As Maria gathered more experiences on her journey, instead of swinging her pendulum all the way in the opposite direction of her upbringing, she became able to see the enormous value of the structured world of her parents and how it could be beautifully integrated with the arts, emotion, love, and other more subjective areas of life—a partnership, instead of a divide, between the divine feminine and the divine masculine. 

This mental framework made acupuncture naturally appealing to her, as it is truly both an art and a science. The yin and yang of her life experiences allowed her to hold space for a balance between eastern and western medicine. She has observed the focus on ‘cure’ rather than ’cause’ in the studies of western medicine, but has also seen western doctors practice medicine very artfully with the right intentions, and patients responding well under their care. Alternately, the tendency of the holistic world can be to passionately reject western medicine, which can translate into treatment becoming agenda-driven, which is not an ideal crosshairs for patients to be in. 

As far as Maria goes, she continues to ask, “What is this aversion? We need to embrace and integrate. I’m a synthesizer, thinking of how it can go together. Yoga and philosophy translate to a healing journey.”

The Awareness of Anxiety

In hindsight, Maria realizes she dealt with anxiety from a young age. But it wasn’t until her first yoga class during her college years, where she experienced a previously unfamiliar sense of peace and relief, that she realized she was truly battling daily anxiety. 

Driven by the desire to continue experiencing this newfound relief, she dove whole-heartedly into yoga. She also began to address her quintessential Italian diet of pasta, bread, prosciutto, and salami, instead embracing the power of whole foods, and eliminating foods that didn’t serve her. “I’ve found a balance that’s best for my body,” she says with a matured confidence. Adding that therapy has also helped her to process some backlogged anxiety contributors.

Anxiety and Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been a pivotal modality in Maria’s anxiety management. MRI studies of the effects of acupuncture show that it increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, where higher order thinking takes place. Conditions like anxiety and insomnia are almost always related to an underperforming frontal lobe. So acupuncture can help bring this area of the brain back to a functional level, easing the nervous system. Most physiological or psychological illnesses are rooted in the crucial frontal lobe, pointing back to all healing beginning, at some level, in the mind. There isn’t a sensational claim that acupuncture can heal everything, but it can serve as a guide back to ourselves, calming our nervous system, so we can find our way to healing.

Learn more about Maria at and find her on social media at @maria_villella.

For the full interview with Maria, listen via the link on this page,, or find us on Instagram @thehealingcocoonpodcast.