When the Center for Native American Integrative Healing opened in Santa Fe in July, I knew that this, for me, was home. The Centers, in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, offer a unique blend of healing assistance, a combination of Native American healing with Western modalities and Vipassana Buddhism. I asked the director, Karen Waconda-Lewis (Isleta/Laguna) to explain this innovative approach.
SG: How do Western therapies, Native American traditional counseling, healing ceremonies and Vipassana Buddhism work together?
KWL: Frequently, healing is blocked by stress, deep emotions, re-invoked trauma or environmental toxins. Medications or drugs ingested over a period of years and stored in the fat cells can also block healing. By combining Western massage modalities with Native American sacred ways and healing practices we can open up the body and call on guided spirit for assistance. Traditional medicine plants, such as cedar, sweetgrass, sage and different minerals are used as well. Sometimes vibration energy, with humming, drumming, rattling and crystals is useful—to get back to our Earth vibration or plant vibration, or the vibration of one’s true being.
The center offers a holistic, mind-and-body approach to healing through massage, bodywork, meditation and traditional Native American healing. Our massage incorporates many therapeutic modalities, including Swedish Massage, Polarity Therapy, Core Synchronism and Myofascial Release, as well as other specialties specific to each therapist. Our emphasis is working on the cellular level, opening up the channels for self-healing—starting with the mind. We often co-partner with Western practitioners if the patient desires that form of integrative healing.
The center in Albuquerque will soon have a weekly women’s sweat lodge. It is a purification ceremony to rebirth the spirit, the body and the mind. Through prayers, there can be a transformation inside the lodge for healing. We also offer talking circles—when you actually put out your intentions they become real and can go directly to Spirit. With this natural focus there is reduced burden in the heart, physically in the shoulders, and in the mind there is less pressure—so this assists in the release of illness.
We offer healing ceremonies for individuals, couples or groups that address imbalances. The healer is setting up the channels and gateways so then the Spirit and minerals can come in and work in a good way. There are usually the four elements to serve as the medicine base—Fire, Water, Earth, and Air—because the medicine is connected with all our relations in nature. Healing sessions are confidential; nothing is shared once the ceremony closes.
SG: How did you come into this work?
KWL: I grew up learning the Native American use of flowers and plants for healing. In the Western modality, I started with sports massage, working two times with the Olympic Games, in Spain and Atlanta. My first background is in nutrition, and the athletes wanted someone to teach them to read food labels. Eating well and massage go together for good health, so I ended up working with the athletes in those two combinations. After that, I worked with people with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other disabilities. So, I was able to look at the body in a different way, and then focus on Myofascial Release, Trigger Point Release, Polarity Therapy and acupressure for rehabilitation—working closely with physicians in rehabilitative massages.
Knowing nutrition, anatomy and physiology is useful for tailoring special diets and healing massage treatments. The organs, tissues and blood respond to different modalities. Additionally, flower essences, homeopathics and gem essences are useful for healing various types of trauma.
As a child, I learned the Pueblo foundation that you are given to be in ceremony in silence—to observe yourself, your space, to have compassion for others, to be respectful and to honor by observing. Observing not only the outside, but also observing the inside sustains a person during difficult transitions and transformations. In 1997, I began studying Vipassana with Joseph Goldstein, and discovered the benefits of deep breathing and a sense of connectedness gained through meditation—also very beneficial for healing. In 2009, I finished the Community Dharma Leader studies and co-founded the Albuquerque People of Color, Allies Sangha, and the Native Healers Silent Retreat.
I’ve been teaching in meditation retreats here in New Mexico and at the Oakland Vipassana Center. Meditation fosters healing through stress reduction and compassion. The two traditions blend together well.
SG: You are also sponsoring meditation retreats. How do you integrate Buddhism and Native American healing there?
KWL: Our centers are open for weekly meditation sits in Santa Fe on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 and in Albuquerque on Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. The Dharma talks are a blend of Native American and Buddhist teachings.
Our meditation retreats are offered four times a year, on the Equinox and Solstice. We open with a traditional sweat lodge for cleansing and ceremony to emphasize opening the participant for healing. The following two days incorporate blessings, silent sitting and walking meditation—with a Dharma (teaching) talk on the second and third days. On the fourth day, a talking circle enables participants to speak about their experiences and have closure.
SG: Who are the practitioners at the Center?
KWL: There are two practitioners. I was raised in Native American healing traditions, have a BS in Nutrition and a MS degree in Community Health. Nara Shedd is a licensed massage therapist, a Certified Laban-Bartenieff Movement Analyst and a Certified Core Synchronism Practitioner and has worked with us for five years in this blended tradition. We both are licensed massage therapists and I am a traditional medicine healer. My daughter Camille Waconda-Smith assists with administration.
All are welcome!
Center for Native American Integrated Healing
227 E. Palace Ave., Suite B (Kruger Building) Santa Fe
201 Dartmouth SE, Albuquerque
Susan Guyette, Ph.D. is Métis (Micmac Indian and Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. She is the author of Planning for Balanced Development, co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature, and the author of several texts for American Indian Studies. www.santafeplanning.com