My earliest memories are filled with plants. My parents were both gardeners and my father is a landscape architect; at 85, he is still planting his vegetable garden this year. My mother had a deep understanding that we should be out soaking up and exploring the natural world. I first lived in the Midwest and then for a few years in the dry high plains of West Texas, an ecosystem completely opposite to the green hills, streams and rivers with which I'd become familiar.
My mother, intent on giving her brood reprieve from the dusty plains, gathered us up and drove each summer to a magical valley cared for by the Puye natives in New Mexico. My first herb walk took place during one such family vacation. Mormon tea, bearberry, juniper berries and piÃ±on, 12 plants in all: I pressed their leaves into my first notebook walking along the cliff-dwellers' trail.
My tour through different ecosystems continued after college, when I moved to the Cascade Mountains and worked for a brief time for Dr. William Kelley, who had cured himself of pancreatic cancer. Kelley understood that different individuals were of different metabolic types, and that poor and metabolically mismatched diet was a primary contributor to disease. Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez arrived from Sloan-Kettering that year to study Dr. Kelley's controversial protocols and review his cases.
While living there, I also had the opportunity to host and spend time with Daniel Bensky and his wife, who were completing his first TCM materia medica translation. Dan provided me with more information regarding constitutional differences, and offered great encouragement to continue pursuing my interests. I began treating my own symptoms with western herbs and pored over herb books.
After four years, I accepted a job in the Midwest and then transferred to the Bay Area, working in a number of corporate positions in the telecommunications industry. For several years, on weekends, I studied with Barbara Brennan, Dr. M. Mamas and with a number of elders, shamans, mystics and poets. I also pursued extra curricula in Core Energetics, Diamond Heart, Pathwork, Hakomi, Continuum, energetic anatomy and physiology, and massage.
Over the years, I found many references to Ayurveda and felt immediate and great affinity for its holistic approach. After a class in its basics, I had the blessing to literally bump into Dr. Vasant Lad one summer at Mt. Madonna, and began my Ayurvedic education in earnest. I felt completely at home. I graduated from formal Ayurvedic programs in the U.S. and in India, a land that continues to live in my heart, where I interned in panchakarma clinics. My teachers have been enormously generous and encouraging and I have abiding gratitude for them. It has been a gift to have so many of my interests merged together in this ancient system of healing. I began an Ayurvedic and panchakarma practice in Northern California over a decade ago and it gives me great joy to share it with others.
Having referred to Michael Tierra's books for many years, I enrolled at East West in the spring of 2009 to expand the number of global herbs I feel proficient in using. The education of an herbalist is life-long, and the mutual support and sharing at East West is simply wonderful.
In addition to Ayurveda and Herbology, I also love spending time with my beloved partner Phil, hanging out with our sweet dog Pico, spending time with my family and hearing them laugh, immersing myself in poetry, travel, sustainability, being in nature, reading the works of Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi, and Ramesh Balsekar, witnessing the play of light and dark, and observing the infinite forms of beauty.
I also teach classes and write a newsletter offering Ayurvedic information and ideas. You can visit my website at http://www.vitalityandbalance.com/
Congratulations to our December student of the month, Jenn Atkins, CNC, LMT!
My career as a holistic health practitioner formally began through my family business, Brazos Natural Foods, which opened in Bryan, Texas, in 1988. I worked on odd jobs in the store since its opening, but came on as customer-service staff in 1995, and my duties have expanded considerably since then.
What a lot there is to know in working at a natural foods store! I had a familiarity with some products already, having been raised by eclectic parents (comfrey root powder was a standard in our medicine cabinet), but was soon immersed in learning. I was also challenging my usually introverted nature to be more confident in working with people, and the store setting was a superb if demanding one for that!
If you've ever hung out in a busy Whole Foods supplement section and just looked at all those bottles, you can imagine that the customer service staff have to know where to find each item, what it's for, contraindications, what's in it (and I mean even the fine print and sources), about the company, which product would most suit the needs of the customer (having first tactfully asked about the issue and about some suspected related issues), and do all this within the limited and often grey scope of authority to advise the customer. It's one reason I'd love to see a training program that covers all such needs for store staff, a field in itself.
In 2005, I began to challenge myself to become a formal practitioner. I started Quantum-Touch energy work classes and enrolled in a holistic diet and nutrition course by correspondence. In 2007 I became accredited through AADP as a nutritional consultant and enrolled in massage school. In 2008, I earned my massage license. Then I realized I needed better diagnostic skills to able to assess the needs of customers and clients. I'd known of Michael Tierra's course since 1990 and had read his books since childhood, and the store had carried Planetary Formulas since opening. So I knew just where to go to study, and in 2008 enrolled in the East West Professional Herbalist course. Immediately I gained a better ability to direct customers to their needs.
Some of my next goals include learning reflexology, continuing my nutrition and other studies, and perhaps someday becoming a licensed acupuncturist, which would allow me to better practice in my state. I also will continue my studies in ecology and horticulture. Informally, I want to have a large property to maintain as wildlife habitat, a luscious garden and some poultry, a modest profession as artist, and to be part of a thriving business that enhances the health and awareness of the community.
Meet our November student of the month, Melissa Fritts!
As a child I spent my time in the woods and fields - ever exploring the natural world. I quickly also became fascinated with the inner worlds and began intensive study of spirituality and philosophy as a young adolescent. I was fascinated with the mind, behavior, and belief systems. In high school I encountered psychology and decided that I wanted to pursue the path to a PhD in Clinical Psychology, ultimately helping others with alternative, outside the box, therapies. While in school for my B.S. in Psychology, I fell into a job working at a greenhouse that specialized in herbs, growing 300 varieties during peak season. I knew then that I would have to include working outside with plants in my livelihood, but was distraught as to how that would fit in with psychology.
One day, when I was 20, a co-worker mentioned to me that I would enjoy Horticultural Therapy and I was mesmerized, forever transformed. I knew this was my calling on some level. There was only one school in the area that offered the degree, as it was a new field, so, after I graduated, I moved with the intent of getting a second bachelor's in Horticulture and a master's in Horticultural Therapy. Various hurdles presented themselves in this time until I finally had to come to the conclusion that what I was doing wasn't my path. It was just too hard; I wasn't flowing.
I learned hard lessons that year. I moved back and decided I would teach myself Horticulture; who needs a degree (and the debt that goes with it)? I purchased all of the books that I would have needed for my degrees and read them on my own, taking notes just like I would've in school. I cleared 1/3 acre and planted my first garden: 80' x 40', which you can tell by its size, was my almost daily immersion (after work). I built my first greenhouse and started seeds. I still grow the Echinacea I started 13 years ago.
I got a job at a health food store and quickly moved up to management position. I had been studying nutrition and herbs for a few years at this point and enjoyed sharing my knowledge and helping others to be healthier. All the while, studying, studying, studying; I am ever a sponge. Eventually, I knew I had to get back outside and got into landscaping which, other than a 2 year stint as a librarian at a private, rare plant book library, I have been doing in one form or another ever since. I still have a goal of doing a Horticultural Therapy Retreat Center, and am not really sure how I am going to get there from here, but I am working toward it and being patient for the Universe to present its doors - a philanthropist would help!
The landscaping I do is eco-friendly. I use only my hands, no power tools, and do everything organically. I love having my hands in the earth and tending to our green companions; I know others can benefit from doing the same. I have been studying herbalism for 15 years now; a year ago I started this course because I wanted to feel comfortable with offering my services more. Most of my prior study had been symptomatic; I am delighted with how deep this course gets, its focus on diagnosis and energetics, and its blending of the world's healing traditions. Someday, I intend to offer therapy (though I won't legally be able to call it that) which will include herbology, horticulture, yoga, meditation, nutrition, counseling (another word I will not be able to use), and the like.
Congratulations to Mojohito Richerson von Tchudi, our October student of the month!
A partially homogenous life as the son of progressive academic education philosophers, with its customary international travel and bouts of expatriateship went marvelously awry when the professionally-bored young man deviated from the prescribed path of desk-job-to-pay-rent and began to engage fully in rooted-nomadic life of a somewhat serious spiritual seeker hell-bent on a naturally healthy lifestyle.
I traveled internationally, and attended the most progressive of state-run educational institutions where - devoid of intention - I lived comfortably among vegans and gender-ambiguity. Formal education was focused around the radical idea that people ought to have access to the public airwaves - community radio, theatre, animation, cinematography. Eventually, I found myself sitting at a desk job on the 21st floor of a San Francisco financial district high-rise, enduring epic bouts of telephone tech support, where I, aghast, was the supporter. It was out of desperation that I discovered qigong, yoga, kung fu, and a cleansing whole-foods diet. I stopped using the microwave.
But all this wasn't enough. I knew that in order to break the habit of consumer capitalism, hopeless suffering, degenerative disease, and social malaise, I would need to radically change my life; divorce myself for the first time from the advertising-laden comforts of urban society.
I moved as far from anything I had previously experienced, to an intentional community and rural mystery school known as Heartwood Institute. I studied Asian Healing Arts and Whole Foods Nutrition with master Paul Pitchford, and eventually recruited as a Teaching Assistant. I entered the East West course in August 2007 as a natural extension of the comprehensive, assessment-based modalities I was now practicing in the classroom and Wellness Center.
After Heartwood's closure in 2008 my wife Heatherlee and I joined my extended family in Chico, California, where, finally rooted, we are beginning to farm and homestead. Our immediate plans include the formation of a community healing clinic based on the principles of TCM and Ayurveda, deep nutritional healing, herbal remedies, therapeutic touch, healing movement, and the profound beauty of a mindfully simple lifestyle.
I am prolific on the web, and you can follow my day to day activities on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/mojohito), befriend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/mojohito), read articles and essays on my blog (http://mojohito.ro), see my curio collection (http://mojohito.com). Also, check out our clinic Grass Roots Vitality & Herbs (http://wholefoodshealing.com/), and learn more about the beautiful spiritual partnership I share with my wife Heatherlee (http://richersonvontchudi.com).
Meet our September student of the month: Meret Giacomini!
I spent most of my childhood in a mimosa tree day dreaming and imagining that the pink fiber optic tutu-like flowers were twirling ballerinas. Instant Nutcracker Suite heaven! Little did I know I was sitting in the middle of a great big "happiness tree" (albizzia), the bark of which I would one day be recommending to my clients to lift their mood.
When I finally climbed down from the mimosa tree and got my "higher" education, I studied (and good Lord, later got a degree in) psychology. However, looking back, I realize the only academic class I really ever looked forward to was a plant taxonomy class (no, I wasn't learning to stuff plants). The class was taught by William Neiring, a kind of "Julia Child of the Wild," a botanist and teacher at Connecticut College in New London, CT. He later authored the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Eastern Region. From January to June we were out in the Connecticut woods noticing how dogwood twigs telescope, and how sweet a sweet birch twig tastes, and later tiptoeing into muddy neverlands to see skunk cabbage declaring the end of winter.
I spent the last two years of college attending as many dance classes as I could possibly fit into my schedule and squeezing in some academics here and there. Dancing has been a lifelong love. If there are any genius bones in my body, they are in my feet! And I must say, if I thought I could heal people by dancing, I would do it. Just when I thought dancing was everything, I had a baby girl. Full-time Mom-ing became my favorite pastime.
In 1985, my daughter and I moved from Oklahoma to Fairfield, IA, to be part of a community of 3,000 meditators. Sarah was 5 and ready to waltz into kindergarten and I waltzed into the world of Ayurveda. At that time, Ayurveda was just being introduced to our little community. There were Indian vaidyas (doctors) coming to town and a clinic opening up. Ayurveda went right into my heart and up and down my spine. I had one of those moments of absolute clarity that this was my new direction. I verbally tackled one of the vaidyas saying "Hey, this is what I want to do!" Judging by the look in his eyes he was probably thinking, "Uh, hmm, you go meditate some more. Don't call us, we'll call you."
Soon after, the Ayurvedic clinic was opened here and I went to visit it. I walked in the door and the receptionist/nurse looked at me and said, "You would make a good Ayurvedic technician. Would you like to interview?" I walked out with a job. I steeped myself in Ayurvedic "teching" for six years, administering abhyanga, shirodhara, swedena, pizzichili, udvartana, pindasweda and, of course, bastis (herbalized oil enemas) to over 2,000 patients. At the end of six years I felt both a saturation in Ayurveda (and sesame oil!) and a yearning for more. My job as a "tech," though priceless, did not allow me to have the full knowledge I was seeking, only enough to perform the treatments I was doing. My desire for more knowledge was never fulfilled in this situation. What a great relief it was (years later) to find East West School of Herbology with its doors of knowledge wide open to its students.
I enrolled in East West school about three years ago after some considerable soul-searching about what would be the best way to contribute something good to this world. I thought about my fascination with the use of herbs as medicine. I read Jethro Kloss' Back to Eden and John Lust's The Herb Book (like every good back-to-naturish person did back in the '60s). I was constantly recommending some herb to someone or taking one myself, but without the great traditional knowledge of herbal energetics I was only partially satisfied. I heard that feverfew was good for migraines and it worked for me. Some things were less successful and I understand now why.
So, in my soul searching, I came to some conclusions: I had spent a lot of my life recommending and trying herbal remedies; I wanted to know what I was doing; I wanted to be able to go as deep as I wanted to go; and that one-size-fits-all herbalism wasn't for me. So I checked out every school I could find online and East West stood out like a shining star!
As far as my aspirations, I want to help people and I want to see where this new phase of learning leads. I plan to finish my professional herbalist studies by the next spring seminar, complete the certification process, apply to the American Herbalists Guild, and then hang out a shingle and see who shows up.
Congratulations to our student of the month for August: Karen Kimrey!
Karen was born under a Cancer sky in mid-20th century America, the first child of nomadic parents, who finally found her way "Ëœhome' in the early 1970s to a piece of holy ground near Fayetteville, Arkansas, a university town located in the Ozark Hills. Since then, she birthed and nurtured two daughters to womanhood, earned degrees in horticulture and education, spent happy years teaching at the Montessori school she established on her place, loved and lost then loved again, organically farmed blueberries, herbs and bees, and studied those things that resonated most strongly: plants, astrology, bodywork and other healing arts, how to run a profitable business, mystic literature, the Ozark ecosystem and culture, sustainable farming, metaphysics and wisdom/spirit traditions, stovetop distillation of hydrosols, mask-making, and ethnic cooking. She readily admits being an information junkie and celebrates the inception of the Internet, believing it to be the closest thing to instant manifestation available to her, at least for now, on this earth plane of existence.
Formal study based on the lifelong love of plants and healing handed down by grandmother came later, beginning in earnest with admission into the prestigious professional herbalist program at East West in the late summer of 2007. Enjoying the fun and responsibility of her new status as an advanced level student means graduation, mentoring and American Herbalists Guild certification are goals in sharper focus now. Meanwhile, Karen is restoring a 100-year-old cottage she just bought very near her home that seems destined to be a healing space.
The distinctions between work and play are practically non-existent for Karen, so she typically spends her time doing things that simply bring her joy, like hanging out with family and friends, traveling, study, doing bodywork or yoga, tending herb clients, practicing astrology, gardening, teaching, medicine-making, hiking bluff lines high above the Buffalo River, exploring inner realms through creative processes, listening to music while preparing beautiful meals, hosting her house concert series, and being in, on or near water.
Congratulations to our student of the month for July: Kevin Pennell!
Saying Kevin has a varied background is an understatement! Having started a career in broadcasting at age 14, he stayed with that through his 40s, working in management, as an on-air personality, and in journalism. Kevin earned a Bachelor's Degree in Pastoral Studies at Spurgeon College in Florida, which led him to pastor churches for about 10 years. He's also been a police officer and insurance claim investigator.
Though these career paths may look disassociated, Kevin has always enjoyed working with people, helping them become the best they can be and so finds himself today teaching and writing to encourage them to that end.
In the early 1990s, Kevin met Ken Two Feathers, a Penobscot Native American from Maine, who taught Kevin about Native American culture and ceremonies which helped to change his life. "He was a man whom Creator used to help me focus on my true calling as a healing facilitator, writer, and teacher," Kevin says. "Two Feathers helped me find my truth and spiritual path. He helped me find and identify with my true self instead of being a chameleon living in society." Two Feathers left enough of an impact on Kevin that he wrote the book about Two Feathers' life, Two Feathers - Spiritual Seed Planter in 2003, now published by Lotus Press.
Kevin was introduced to "Mother Redbird" during his spiritual journey in the mid "Ëœ90s. Through her, he was introduced to herbs, and desired to learn more as he watched her make formulations and teas for people who needed physical healing.
Later that decade, Kevin began focusing on healing modalities, and eventually became a Reiki Master/Teacher, certified hypnotherapist, and shaman. Even after all of these, Kevin sensed the need to integrate the natural world into his current practice, SpiritWings in Bethel, Maine.
In the late summer of 2007, a friend introduced him to the East West School of Planetary Herbology. As someone who had struggled with self-education of herbs and occasional herbal workshops, Kevin decided that it was time to jump in with both feet and plant himself deeply into East West's Professional Herbalist program.
"Everything began to fall into place, like things usually do when we make life-changing decisions," Kevin recalls. "In the next two days after signing up at East West, three people that I didn't know came into SpiritWings that knew Michael Tierra's work and one had met him at a workshop. It was like the Universe was saying, "ËœYou need further validation on your decision? Here you go!'"
Besides his herbal studies, Kevin enjoys the natural world by kayaking, primitive camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring nature to become a part of it instead of apart from it. He also practices martial arts and has studied Goju Ryo for over five years. "Martial arts, like my involvement with the natural world and Mother Earth, is not a hobby," Kevin says. "It's a way of life, learning to live in balance and harmony with all." He also plays flute, sings, writes, rides his motorcycle, walks and meditates to relax.
The East West Foundation Track Herbal Seminar in May of 2009 challenged him to further his healing training even more. He recently enrolled and received his acceptance at the New Hampshire Institute for Therapeutic Arts where he'll begin training as a massage therapist in January 2010.
Kevin's goals include completing East West's Professional Herbalist course by 2011 and becoming a practicing Professional Clinical Herbalist recognized by the American Herbalists Guild soon thereafter. He also wishes to pursue training for Jin Shin Do Acupressure.
"Life is an opportunity for us to learn to be better souls, to help those around us, to be "ËœHollow Bones' for the spirits to use, maintaining the attitude and philosophy of purpose beyond self, so others may enjoy life to its fullest so they too can become better souls," Kevin says of his multi-pathed healing journey. "As part of the herbal family, it's all about loving, caring, sharing, being thankful for, and giving to one another, especially at the East West School of Planetary Herbology."
Please enjoy the bios of our June students of the month: Mara Ribbin and Holly Nielsen!
My early love of the natural world was encouraged by my grandmother. She was so at home there. I would often help her in the garden and some summers would help her harvest dulse seaweed along the North Atlantic coast. My grandmother was very familiar with herbs, but encouraged schooling rather than the "old ways," so I did not really find my way to herbs until I was older.
I became an R.N. in 1964, working in psychiatry for 10 years, newborn intensive care at UCSF for 16 years, hospice and more, over a 34-year period that was very enriching and life-changing. I also watched health care change from care of whole persons into more profit-driven businesses with increasing emphasis on pharmaceuticals. Many, many factors contributed to this.
Early on, I also came to see the limits of Western medicine and sought to learn adjunctive therapies. In 1972, I began to study energy healing and, over the years, studied with many gifted teachers from many traditions, including shamanic. I bought Michael Tierra's The Way of Herbs back in the early "Ëœ80s. I loved his experiences and knowledge of herbal energetic and what they could do, his emphasis on wholistic care, and the importance of diet.
I signed up at East West in 1995. There was no time limit on finishing back then, and I studied until 2001. Much of that time and, really until late 2007, life had other plans for me. Though my studies were often derailed, I continued to use what I had learned and knew I would always return.
I attended my first East West seminar last year and just returned from my second one last month. The seminars really jump-started my learning at a whole new level than I could do on my own at home. It is also such a great way to meet so many wonderful people who love plants and herbs and are interested in natural healing.
I plan to finish my lessons and attend my third student seminar next year and then work with a mentor. The emphasis on TCM assessment that East West provides is such a gift in being able to put together a plan of care that really addresses a person's needs. I am so appreciative of the course, and all the truly extraordinary teachers, who live what they teach, and teach so well.
In addition to herbs and energy healing, I also love poetry (especially mystically inclined poets like Rilke, Rumi, Hafiz, Oliver), astrology, and inner growth.
I live in Chico, a university town in the Northern Sacramento Valley of California, with my husband, Casey, and our two lovely daughters, Seyda and Adelle, ages 6 and 3.
Growing up in Wisconsin, we were an outdoor family. My most vivid childhood memories all involve encounters with amazing plants in the Northwoods of Wisconsin: lifting back the spathe of a jack-in-the-pulpit to see "Jack"; watching a tiny wasp inside the large yellow slipper of the lady's slipper orchid; seeing the blood of bloodroot for the first time under the cathedral of a mature sugar maple forest; and stumbling upon a faerie circle of tiny mushrooms in a clearing. As a child I was more often in the woods alone with the plants than playing with the neighborhood kids.
As an adult, this led me to choose botany as my undergraduate degree. I then headed west to bigger country and worked as a botanist in some of the most incredible places: the High Sierra, Hell's Canyon of the Snake River, and the High Desert of eastern Oregon. My specialty involved working, mostly alone, in very isolated country locating new populations of threatened and endangered plant species. In this isolation, I began to reflect on the relationships humans had with plants and concluded that for my work to be more meaningful, I needed to shift it into this lens.
Finding the East West School of Herbology in the fall of 2006 was an epiphany in my understanding of the uses of plants as herbal medicine, (along with some useful animal and mineral substances!). The lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine suits my background as a scientist and the wonderful teachers and students of East West highly resonate with me. I've found my calling to become an East West herbalist and thus create profound meaning by utilizing my relationship with plants to help people attain balance and health in their lives.
I spend most of my free time either studying the East West course materials or in my garden. It is wonderful to see my children having a similar relationship with plants. Seyda is the herbal tea connoisseur and Adelle already knows most of the plants' names in the garden. I also work with Seyda's kindergarten class in a school garden.
Gardens have always been a metaphor in my life. It is a metaphor that we all need in our lives, if not actual time working a garden. We must become gardeners of plant and human communities with the intention of creating lasting health and beauty for now and for the future. To maintain the balance of life on this planet, we must be stewards of this green mantle. It is good to know Gaia is very forgiving of her children! I see our world as moving away from its old dichotomies and beginning to encompass this metaphor of the garden.
When I graduate from East West, I will begin my home practice as an herbalist with an office overlooking our newly planted extensive gardens already filled with over a hundred species of medicinal plants. Garden therapy, time spent working in and simply enjoying the centering sensory delights of a garden filled with birds, insects, smells, tastes and textures will be a part of my practice. I look forward to my mentorship with an East West herbalist and attaining membership in the American Herbalists Guild. Other herbal interests are working with and creating flower essences, wildcrafting, botanizing, and homeopathy.