Holistic Healing & Art Therapy

Hope SmilesI’ve had the chance to think about whole-listic healing for many months now. I shared before here on the blog that practicing holistic therapy allows me to not only work with clients who open themselves to healing on many levels – emotional, spiritual, physical – but to heal myself in the process.

Even Kona, my darling dog, would attest to how much healthier she and I have gotten since I started working with people. (If she could speak English, which we’re working on, she’d say, “Mom’s in such a better mood these days! My life is better too because she has a lot more energy and patience!”).

All kidding aside… a post a few months back talked about art therapy and having the space in my days to create, which is what I do constantly.

I believe at the time I wrote that art saved my life.

I mean, there are many ways to die… and please don’t turn away at this point if I’m getting a little woo-woo and heavy — I have a good point. I believe we can die spiritually and emotionally. It might not result in a physical death (at least not right away), but it does mean we live in quiet desperation.

This is not to say I don’t still struggle emotionally and spiritually. As we all do, I feel the grief of losses, the empathy for others that sometimes reaches near-unbearable levels, and the everyday varieties of, well, things just not going the way I’d hoped.

I’ve been creating feverishly these past few months, have wholly embraced the art journal and mixed media art trend, and once again get to have the ‘beginner’s mind’ that yogic traditions talk about.

Recently, I started recording YouTube mixed media art videos. After the urging of a couple friends who said I’d love it, I finally got brave enough to start making videos. The journey has, and I’m sure will continue to be, a humbling, inspiring, and fun way to spend precious time.

I don’t want to abandon MyJoyfulHealing, so I will continue to post here, though it might be less frequently as before. Because I post a video a day (sometimes two), I’ve started a new blog within the Joyful blog, Hapa Chick Creative.

I hope you will stop by there and say hello, poke around, and see if you find something that interests you. I assure you, I won’t try to sell you anything. But I’d love to be a part of this other aspect of whole-listic healing: art therapy.

It works. And – as a favorite artist, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, says, everyone is an artist. If you doubt that, think back to when you were a kid and you got to play with finger paints or watercolors, tempera paints or even pudding paint! (Yes, it was a big thing in the 80’s! Do kids still use pudding paint? I hope so…)

You were an artist. You slid your fingers over the page, mixed colors, maybe drew a picture of your house with a tree outside and a dog in the front yard. You intuitively knew how to do it then. And you still have the ability. It’s still there, because it’s innate.

I love you all and I hope that, wherever you are on your healing path, you might be moved to pick up a pencil or a marker and draw a doodle. Do it while you’re on hold with the doctor’s office. Whenever – just make a small scratch into that artistic part of yourself. Please let me know how it goes.

With Love,



Do What You Love and the Weight Loss Will Come

Leap of Faith - Krabi Thailand

Leap of Faith – Krabi Thailand (Photo credit: Mr Chris Johnson)

Hmmm… that’s a pretty bold statement to make. Of course we have all heard that the money will come if we find what we love and delve into it. But weight loss? Hard to believe, but a healthier body has been one of the unexpected  benefits of doing what I love.   For many years, I did what I loved which, at the time, was teaching children. I resigned myself at the outset of that career that I would likely not make much money in the field for a long time, if ever. My mom, who recently retired from a 35 year teaching career, eventually made an excellent living doing what she loved. That was after decades of her commitment in the classroom in addition to getting a master’s degree about 15 years in.

I remember those long months when Mom taught during the day and went to night school to earn that degree. I was twelve, my sister eight. At the end of those stressful months, she spent a summer wrapping up her class work at UC Davis. My father, sister and I accompanied her on some of those summer days and took bike rides through the city. Davis being one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, it was a magical summer.

My mother was and is a determined and driven person. Given her upbringing and her entrance into the United States at eight years old, knowing no English, she went through an assimilation that I can hardly fathom. In Ohio, where she and her family first landed, she was a Chinese girl who learned English quickly by following her teacher’s writing and speech. Again, I can’t imagine what that must have been like, to look around at a classroom of Caucasian children who might never have seen a Chinese person before. She must have felt like an alien in every sense of the word.   Still, she persevered by working hard in school and even harder in her strict father’s Chinese restaurant at night. She eventually earned a degree at UC Santa Barbara and continued her early childhood development classes at CSU Sacramento, where she met my father.

At the end of her two years both teaching and earning her masters, her body went into shock. She experienced a strain in her neck that made her unable to walk or stand for weeks. She went on to eventually become a master teacher and led seminars, math nights for the community, and to this day, has friendships with her former students and their families.

How did she do it? How did she make her way through her arduous life and arrive to the spiritual, seemingly indestructible woman she is today? I wonder at this miracle all the time. She inspires and motivates me simply by being.

My mother also developed breast cancer in 1997, which she beat. So her accomplishments came with other struggles.To me, health is no less important than a master’s degree, helping children, or healing people through holistic therapy. This has been a hard-learned lesson for me and for her.

Brahminy Kite in flight, Australia

Brahminy Kite in flight, Australia (Photo credit: Tatters:))

You know how they tell you to strap the oxygen mask on yourself before attaching it to your child’s face on the plane, in the horrific event that the plane goes down? It’s the same with holistic therapy, or for that matter any work that I’ve done. We cannot help others if we are in a weakened state, whether that’s on a spiritual level, emotional, physical or mental.

In the past year, I have been able to work for myself and set my own hours for the first time. Friends tell me eventually I will become an employer because working for oneself inevitably leads to outsourcing, which means you hire others to help your business grow and thrive. I don’t know if being an employer is in my future but I do know not having an employer has been liberating… another unexpected miracle.   What this work allows me is time and energy. And that freedom naturally found its way back to things I’ve always loved but had little time or energy to focus on: the arts. I’ve kept a journal and written short stories since I was little, but one thing I hadn’t done much of as an adult was paint, draw, craft, or do fun things with clothing.

Mixed Media - Opening Patterns

Mixed Media – Opening Patterns (Photo credit: Andreas Lehner 2013)

Last spring, I began dyeing clothes and experimenting with color on different fabrics. Mostly I used clothes I already had or found at thrift stores. It was an easy, inexpensive, and very fulfilling hobby. And then I wanted to do it all the time. This led to exploring mixed media, art journals, painting, drawing, making altered art, and putting together funky gifts and cards for friends that were proudly handmade.

Walking my dog in our neighborhood recently, I realized that my clothes fit in a comfortable way. My body moved differently. I felt so solid. A whole, completely filling out the space of my body in a way I had never experienced before. And I realized that my weight had remained the same for several months. It wasn’t something I tried to track; I learned a long time ago it was dangerous for me to keep a scale in the house because the number wreaked havoc on my self esteem.

So without knowing it, I had somehow managed to stay at roughly the same weight. This was confirmed on a recent doctor’s visit. And though it may seem insignificant to some, for someone who has had a lifelong battle with her weight and never maintained a stable weight for longer than maybe a few weeks’ time, this was a revelation.

Taking the initial risk of leaving teaching without a clear-cut plan of the next step, relying on my old standby of freelance writing for awhile, then being led into holistic therapy has all been a spiritual experience for me. The artistic part of me pushing itself out like a newborn, with all the open-eyed wonder and endless energy of a child, was a complete surprise. Then combining the two — my love for holistic therapy and energy healing with the artist that I believe we all have inside of us — effortlessly created a healthier body and, one would hope(!), a healthier mind.

Walk out on a limb that may seem unsteady but have the faith that you’re being steered in the right direction. We can’t always see what is ahead, but following your intuition will never lead you astray. Do it. It takes an enormous amount of courage sometimes. But trust.

How to Wake Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

English: Morning Sunlight Morning sunlight and...

English: Morning Sunlight Morning sunlight and mist through the trees Thetford forest north of Brandon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is about finding the thing, that thing, that keeps you going. Sound a little vague? I want to write about good days and how to even them out with the bad.

I almost didn’t write today because I’m in a crap mood. Nothing feels right today: The barking dog across the street is annoying rather than endearing. One of our own dogs here is healing from three surgeries and I almost can’t bear looking into his eyes. He is moving around quite well, considering what his body went through in the last few days. Yet seeing him lodges a lump in my throat.

I pushed myself through my sessions today, communicated with clients in not-my-usual upbeat manner. And I genuinely feel upbeat with them, most of the time.

But today is just not that day. So? Write about it. Write about how yesterday was spectacular and today is not. How do we pull ourselves through the days that drain us from beginning to end?

Last night, after working on a client and getting in some time to make crafty projects, I met with a friend at Desert Ridge for dinner and a little shopping. I gave her some belated birthday gifts, all handmade. An unexpected blessing that came as a job perk: I get to make things, artsy things, jewelry, clothes, whatever, during my downtime. And I have the energy to do it because my working hours don’t drain me. Most of the time.

Early this morning, my dog Kona nudged me awake and her wide eyes told me she needed to go outside right away. It was that hour in the morning when your eyes squint and the sun is a little too bright, at least if you aren’t naturally a morning person and prefer nighttime, like me.

From that point on, the whole day felt wrong. The knot in my gut persisted, didn’t lift even when I saw one of my favorite clients, who talks books and art and philosophy with me on his visits. On normal days, our conversations inspire and uplift. At 70, he has a lot of life experience and much to tell.

As the day now settles to dusk, I write this post because last night I had a thought. How do we find balance within ourselves when everything swirls around us in the world: what to make of Obamacare, poverty, war, sacrifice, death, grief, crying children, divorce, CANCER — and the list goes on.

Inspiration wall

I haven’t mastered balance by any means, but I’m getting there. I have found that thing. That thing I can do every day to bring a sense of calm inside so that I have something positive to give to others. For me, it’s making stuff. Splashing colors around, finding new ways to finish and emboss metal objects, picking flowers and drying them, then grinding them into crackly confetti to make a pendant.

Over dinner last night, I explained to a girlfriend of mine that “making things” is saving my life. For a long time, it was being a teacher — that’s what drove me, got me out of bed every morning. To a large degree, my current work does the same.

But I can’t be present for my clients, or spread any good around in the world, if I’m in a shitty mood. I’m not doing anyone any service if I have a sour expression or outlook.

This morning, navigating directions on my newish phone (an impulsively-bought Windows phone, which I’m still getting used to), I wanted to update my Facebook status with all kinds of expletives about how awful this phone is, how badly it takes voice commands, how it has me push a zillion buttons before it will bring up GPS instructions.

Then I thought, um, THAT status update would ex out everything I stated last week, which is how lucky I feel to live in the First World. How lucky I am to drive a car, have a functioning body and brain, to have a roof over my head and the luxury of choice.

This doesn’t mean I have to be happy or ecstatic all the time. That would be a lie — I don’t feel that way all the time and I don’t expect to.

But now, as the day winds down, I can sit here and write, and later have a friend over and go out for a late coffee, then put energy into any of the ongoing projects I have stashed in nearly every nook of my desk space.

And tomorrow will look different than today. I’ll have made something, had meaningful conversations, moved forward — even if only by a half-inch or so.

What is that thing for you? Is it more than one? Have you found it yet? It took me many years to find it, as it stands today. So be brave, have the courage to keep moving towards and engaging in those things that bring you to balance.

It’s worth it.

Who Would YOU Be If…

Let go!

Let go! (Photo credit: jah~)

In my latest session tonight, I got to work on a first-time client who immediately picked up on the heat coming from my hands. I can only attribute the almost electric reaction that comes from my hands to energy healing.

Whenever I’m meditating a lot, as I had earlier today, in the hot blast of the Arizona sun (granted, I was in a swimming pool), I seem to connect on that energetic level even more with clients.

I also experiment with music (what volume to set the speakers on, and the wide range of choices for healing sounds in the background – from ambient music mixed with waves crashing, to instrumental indie pop, to lullaby songs and folk music). The choices in music lend much to the experience for both client and therapist.

Many times, while concentrating on  working out a person’s toxins (which I strongly believe are on mental and emotional levels as well as physical ones), my mind wanders to what I can do to be better and stronger while working.

Today, after a somewhat roller coaster of a weekend where family, friendship and relationship ties are concerned, I thought about letting go. Sometimes I hold on to things with so much fervor that I don’t realize how much I’m causing my own, and others’, suffering. That tight grasp applies to ideas, people, places, events…

So I just… let go. Today I let go. I’m sure there’s plenty more of the arduous practice of letting go ahead of me, but for today I’m relaxed, strong, and free.

Sometimes it means letting go of a friendship I or the other person has outgrown. Or it could be that I’m pursuing one of the many side paths in life that is no longer bringing strength, but rather leaching it.


joy (Photo credit: Ganesh K S)

These words sound trite to me as I write them. They sound like every self-help book or widely-published text from spiritual gurus. And I’m not knocking the gurus. They’re often the ones from whom I gather courage and hope.

Yet this question came to mind, as the crackling energy of my hands rested on my client’s upper chest, thumbs sinking deeply into muscles: Who would you be if…

How much better off would I be, and those I affect, if I just let go of that grip a little. It won’t happen instantly, but it will happen the more I put my energy into happier, less neurotic pursuits.

How would you complete this question: Who would you be if…

And what would letting go set you free to do?


JOY (Photo credit: Foreign Imagery)

The Wounded Healer

English: Wounded

We are all broken in places, whether the fissures are large or small. Relationship and friendship endings, leftover gaps from childhood and teenage years, and the grief of lost loved ones — these are all the wounds we carry with us, and the toll of these wounds is heavy.

Chronic pain and disease in the body are manifested by how we take care of ourselves on all levels: mentally, emotionally, and physically. For the spiritually minded, there are those elements as well. However we choose to define a power greater than ourselves (or if we believe there isn’t one), our spiritual health also contributes to our daily well-being.

A Reiki teacher once told me that migraines manifest from holding two opposing ideas in our minds. My dad, who has suffered from lymphoma since 2009, continues maintenance chemotherapy and radiation, which causes him memory loss, fatigue, and daily pain.

When I chose to once again leave California and return to Arizona, I left my family of origin once again.  The guilt was excruciating, though if someone asked me how I felt about it, I answered in an upbeat voice: “My dad’s doctors call him the Miracle Man. He’s outlived their prognosis by three years. He’s on maintenance and he’s hanging in there.”

Migraines, which I’d only briefly experienced after a car accident in 2000, were not part of my vocabulary. I pictured my ex-boyfriend laying on the couch, a damp, cool washcloth placed over his eyes for hours. He had migraines, sometimes knocking him out enough that he couldn’t work. What I had were dull, throbbing headaches.

Not so, the Reiki teacher told me. The pain at the base of the skull that wrapped itself around the left side of my head and ended in a fiery ache behind my eye — that wasn’t a headache but a migraine. And I had them daily for weeks when I first moved back to Phoenix.

What were my two opposing beliefs? The answer came to me in a half-second after she asked the question. I want to be here, practicing alternative therapy in the desert. But I should be back home, taking care of my dad. I’m a bad person and an even worse daughter.

My father and I have a complicated relationship. There is a long history there, and I don’t think this blog is the place to write about it.

gemeiner Löwenzahn / Pusteblume

gemeiner Löwenzahn / Pusteblume (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After talking to the Reiki teacher, I felt the hot hand of the migraine for the rest of the evening, but I noticed it was gone before I went to bed. I woke up the next morning, and it was…gone. And remained a mystery to me. Had I resolved the two opposing beliefs?

Only time would tell. I still get migraines from time to time, but nothing like the ones of last year, which felt to me like punishment for being alive. When I got to the root of that pain, I realized I thought I deserved bad luck for leaving my family behind.

I still do feel sorrow for my father. During holidays, when my mom reports an especially bad or fatigued day for my him, or when I’m caught up in the whirlwind of the day and someone says the C word (cancer). Then I remember. My dad has cancer, and though it’s non-Hodgkins (good), he will have it until he dies. At the present moment, there’s no cure for what he has. The disease will continue roiling in his body, tamped down by chemo and other therapies, but it will never be fully arrested.

I try not to bring my own pain or loss into the therapy room with me. Some days I’m more successful at leaving my issues at the door than others. Through Reiki practice for four years and meditation for many more than that, I’m usually able to focus solely on the client. The music helps and I find my groove. Sometimes though, I know I’ve brought some of those broken parts into the room with me.

My friend Brandon told me recently that he likes “how I try to fix the broken pieces of people.” I hope that is what I’m doing. I get positive feedback, sometimes just a thank you at the door, and often I see repeat clients.

The process of healing, though, is never done. We heal and grow into (hopefully) better versions of ourselves until we leave our bodies.

What I’m thankful for, every day, is that we’re all in this together. I never leave the studio with a lack of gratitude or awareness that we are all connected as human beings.

Tales Heard On (and Off) the Table


meditation (Photo credit: HaPe_Gera)

I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about boundaries ever since going into the healing profession. Working with people on a sometimes deeply personal level challenges me in ways I never expected.

As a former elementary and special education teacher, I mostly worked with children of course, but I also learned much about politics and interacting with adult staff during that time. A few of us agreed that teaching is often not confined to working with children. In fact, many of our hours we spent doing paperwork, going to meetings, and problem-solving with co-workers. There were many opportunities to learn, not just from from mentors with much more experience than me, but how to help one another and learn how communities work as a whole.

English: Attentive male student in new class r...

English: Attentive male student in new class room provided by the ‘Solar.net Village’ project. Camera Info: OLYMPUS SR83 Digital F-stop 2.8 Exposure 1/130 Create date: 1999:09:02 16:09:34 Contact creator at http://Stockhausen.yojoa.org – Page also was a link called ” San Ramon, Choluteca Honduras: 1999 first ‘Solar.net Village’ ” to access the full WEB collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I still carry with me from my teaching days is an understanding of community, and how much the way one lives impacts their schooling and, in fact, their abilities. A mentor during grad school once sat down with me for an hour or more, explaining how much our students in particular were effected by their life circumstances. Language barriers, having to move households often because of financial issues, parents who were either not in the picture at all or working three jobs to support their families — these were just some of the issues these children faced.

I remember being startled to learn that many of our special ed students had never seen the ocean. Coming from California, then living in Arizona, I couldn’t comprehend that a child had never smelled ocean air of felt wet sand squishing between their toes.


Reiki (Photo credit: nexus6)

Now, working exclusively with adults and in a completely different setting, I’m surprised to find similarities between helping adults and helping children. I wrote before about how unexpected emotions and stories pour out on the table. Between the four walls of the studio, surrounded by candlelight and music and the whir of the fan, clients tell me some of their deepest secrets.

Without going in to too much detail, I hear stories of infidelity and how it’s possible to love two partners at once, why a client does the Ironman every year since training keeps him away from the sadness of his failing marriage, and a recent client who feels a loss of identity since immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico.

I’m both awed and uplifted by some of the stories I hear; others help me realize that whatever struggles I have going on in my own life, I’m not alone.

In Reiki training, I learned how to seal myself off from others’ energy so that I could remain steady and strong, ready for the next healing session. I also have rituals I perform during each session to cast away some of the pain my client feels, and often the stiff lower back or tensed shoulders I feel with my hands has much more to do with what’s going on inside the person than anything physical.

I’ve had clients tell me that I’m saving their lives. This isn’t an ego thing. I understand that what I do is put forth the healing capabilities we’re all born with, that I’m the channel and not the source. If this sounds a little out-there, a little too New Age or metaphysical, work as a massage therapist for awhile and you’ll see what I mean.

Healing drops into the core of who we are. It’s about getting to those deeper levels of emotion and experience that enables us to be healed and, in turn, be a healing presence for others.

Like I said before, there are strong links between teaching and healing. Looking into the eyes of an eight-year-old who struggles to read and feels disconnected from his peers who read fluently and effortlessly… it isn’t so different from hearing a grown man tell me he’s hit a wall in his relationship and fears going home, or a woman who had children while still grieving the loss of her own mother.

All I can say is, as tired as I sometimes feel after a day of work in the studio, I love what I do. This work is as rewarding as teaching was for me, and I feel honored and blessed that I am able to help people in a way that hopefully goes beyond the space of those four walls. This work also shows me just how much we are all still children, how we never really outgrow that need to be nurtured and heard. And through caring for, and listening to my clients, I feel cared for and acknowledged. I want to document this journey so that I don’t forget any part of it.

If you are reading, tell me how you have felt healing through touch, talk, or some other form of connection with others. What do these statements mean to you?

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