.Self-Care as a Political Act

In the East Bay, women of color and queer people are making alternative health-care practices accessible and culturally relevant to their communities — as well as a key part of their activism.

Chia pudding. Matcha bowls. Juice cleanses. If those offerings sound like the hallmarks of a business catering to a largely white clientele with disposable incomes and carefully curated Instagram accounts, you typically wouldn’t be off-base. But to Emanne Desouky, co-owner of Super Juiced, that’s a menu meant to nourish people fighting for social justice.

“I like using the word ‘self-preservation’ — it’s more of a radical, Black-centered way of talking about self-care that doesn’t make you think of trendy juice bars or a spa,” said Desouky, as we sit in the patio outside her juice bar. (Let the irony and housemade golden milk sink in.) “We mean preserving ourselves so we can fight better, have more energy, focus, and stamina, and all these things that we need to grow our movements.”

In 2012, Desouky and her partner, Rana Halpern, decided to pivot from activism to working in health food. Over the 10-plus years they spent organizing for communities of color in the Mission district, the couple became increasingly concerned about the health of friends and colleagues.

“I would watch every day as we were losing community members to chronic illnesses and things like heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms — health problems that if we spent more time caring for ourselves the way we care for our communities, they could be avoided,” said Desouky. Staying healthy is also a priority for the couple because Desouky struggles with an autoimmune disease.

So, they started a juice pop-up and three years ago opened Super Juiced inside Swans Market in Old Oakland, threading their social values through their business model. It’s a warm space with pink neon lettering on the wall and a Black Lives Matter sign hanging in the window. All their produce is organic and most of it comes from local farms, and they pay their staff of mostly queer youth of color above minimum wage.

They also try to keep their menu affordable, with smoothies priced between $8 and $9.50, which Desouky admits doesn’t help make the business profitable. The juice bar also carries products from other queer and people of color-owned businesses. Ingredients like orange blossom were inspired by Desouky’s Egyptian heritage. In January, the couple partnered with healers and a chef to offer what they hope will become a regular series of free workshops on “empowered health practices” for people of color activists and organizers.

Since the late 1980s, the concept of wellness has grown from a fringe hippie-ish idea into a symbol of luxury, now represented by an abundance of health, fitness, spiritual, and beauty products and services. Fueled by a growing global middle- and upper-class interested in all things health, the wellness industry is now estimated to be worth $3.7 trillion, with no signs of slowing down, according to a recent study by the Global Wellness Institute.

The irony is that many contemporary wellness trends, like practicing yoga or consuming turmeric, have their roots in ancient traditions from around the world — but are now appropriated and commodified at prices exclusively for an upper-income swath of Western customers. It’s estimated that 44 percent of Americans who practice yoga earn $75,000 annually, according to surveys conducted by Statistic Brain Research Institute. And according to a 2008 study, yoga users are overwhelmingly white. Researchers from the Global Wellness Institute warn that rising income inequality is “widening the gap between the ever-expanding wellness lifestyles of the affluent and the minimal wellness amenities/services currently accessible to lower-income people.”

But here in the East Bay, a group of women of color and queer people are making wellness financially accessible and culturally relevant to low-income neighborhoods, people of color, LGBTQI communities, and organizers working in social justice movements.

These acupuncturists, herbalists, and other wellness practitioners are offering free and sliding-scale services and programs specifically for identity-based groups. They’re also drawing from their own ancestral medicinal and spiritual lineages to treat patients outside of the boundaries of Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Many use modalities that specifically address mental and physical health problems that may stem from or can be exacerbated by systemic racism, discrimination, and historical trauma — something they say mainstream health care is, at best, late to acknowledge and, at worst, responsible for perpetuating.

While community-based wellness programs aren’t new, practitioners say creative forms of health care are especially important in light of the current political climate. At the same time, social and environmental justice movements are increasingly institutionalizing self-care as a tool of resilience for individuals and a transformative asset for leaders.

For these practitioners and their patients, finding ways to care for themselves and each other is a political act.

When Rachel Bryant met Asara Tsehai, an African medicine woman, the words “I’m dying” jumped out of her mouth before she even said hello. Tsehai was offering her services at a health fair at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center that Bryant organized as part of her role as health ministry program coordinator. Even though she was “this huge face for health,” Bryant was depressed and chain-smoking. Recently divorced, she was also a single parent, worried about money, and feeling like she was barely holding on.

Tsehai invited her to a healing retreat specifically for Black women. About 30 women attended, held hands in healing circles, shared stories and prayers, and ate healthy food.

“I understood afterwards how Black women’s health can be impacted by isolation,” said Bryant. “I was ill because I didn’t have a community! I hadn’t had the opportunity to share my story and be in a safe space where we could all have our stories told.”

Bryant said it was the first time she looked at health through a holistic lens, and it changed the way she ate and cared for herself, in addition to pushing her into a different career path.

For Tsehai, who uses African culture as a foundation for her work, paying attention to spiritual and emotional well-being in addition to nutrition is necessary to heal the communities she works with. She has a private practice, offers intergenerational healing circles specifically for women of color leaders and professionals, and offers trainings for organizations that serve the Black diaspora. Although she’s been doing this work for almost 30 years, she said her services are more in demand from conventional health institutions lately than ever before. (She was recently hired by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services to lead a training for staff of community organizations serving Black constituents.)

Like other practitioners of color, Tsehai said that a holistic approach to wellness is important because Western medicine is failing to address the disproportionate health problems affecting the Black community.

“We feel the numbers rising — diabetes, obesity, infant mortality,” she said, referring to common indicators of health inequities in the U.S. that persist between ethnic and racial groups. “The numbers are rising and the Western approach is not working.”

The infant mortality rate is more than twice as high for African American babies compared to white babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the risk of having a diabetes diagnosis is 77 percent higher among African Americans and 66 percent higher among Latinx/Hispanics compared with white adults. While obesity rates have increased across the country overall, they’re substantially higher for Black and Latinx populations.

Patients are gravitating toward complementary or holistic health services, Tsehai explained, because Western doctors are focused on treating symptoms and don’t address the root causes of health problems particular to their patients’ experiences as people of color.

“You cannot pop a pill that’s going to take care of you not feeling protected,” she said. “The pain lives in our consciousness, our hearts, and our minds. A pharmaceutical product is not going to heal that.”

A growing amount of research ties racism to well-being, suggesting that discrimination experienced on a day-to-day basis and through societal systems can negatively impact one’s health. Discrimination has been associated with an increase in the risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, stress, depression, and other mental and physical health issues. It’s a dangerous cycle: The stress from experiencing racism can contribute to poor mental and physical health, while the very conditions of racism can prevent individuals from accessing the health resources they need — for example, the lack of places to buy healthy food options in low-income neighborhoods where people of color live.


Practitioners interviewed for this story frequently talked about trauma and its associated health effects, specifically in communities they work with.

“Trauma looks like engaging in different patterns that aren’t conducive to lifelong happiness and health,” said Daisy Ozim, executive director of Resilient Wellness, a West Oakland-based nonprofit that addresses multigenerational trauma in marginalized communities through direct service, health education, and policy advocacy.

“Here in West Oakland, we have a high rate for almost everything,” she said. “High school dropouts, homelessness, substance abuse, and all of that is related to trauma and lack of appropriate services that help individuals to pull themselves out of that trauma cycle.”

Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event, and Ozim explained that there are many types of trauma: Multi-generational trauma is passed down from one generation to another, while intergenerational trauma refers to different generations experiencing and exchanging their traumas simultaneously. Groups like Resilient Wellness believe that historical trauma — caused by events like slavery or displacement — needs to be included in conversations about healing.

Research shows that trauma impacts stress hormones and immune system functioning, with long-term consequences for physical and mental health. Practices such as meditation and yoga are increasingly being recognized — even by mainstream medicine — for their ability to change the way we respond to and cope with stress. Studies also show a link between a healthy diet and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.

Resilient Wellness is located on San Pablo Ave. next to the California Hotel, a restored 1920s historical landmark that now provides affordable housing. The health center hosts regular nutritious brunches for Black women and community listening sessions about the relationship between nutrition and mental health or economics and health. They also bring in practitioners of color to host workshops on topics such as wealth-building and dream interpretations. Since opening in 2014, Resilient Wellness has served more than 1,000 people.

Ozim, who has a background in public health policy, founded the organization after becoming frustrated with mainstream health care and public health systems for having a limited understanding of the ways in which intergenerational trauma impacts the “whole person and outer community.”

She said a community-lead effort “about promoting resiliency” is what will address intergenerational trauma, and not the medical system, which has historically created trauma for communities of color.

“Often with trauma we think about the individual and the interpersonal — a person’s experience and what was done to them, like domestic violence — but not how systems and institutions perpetuate trauma,” Ozim said. “Not to be hyper-critical, but the same system that created the issue is not going to be the one to solve it.”

When Esra, an Oakland-based DJ and event producer who wanted to only go by their first name because of safety concerns, started feeling pain from standing for long hours during gigs, they didn’t even consider going to a doctor. Esra describes their gender as non-binary, which means someone who doesn’t identify as being exclusively male or female. Esra, who is of Middle Eastern background and has long dark hair, said they are easily mistaken as a cis-woman. So, to avoid difficult conversations, they would often present as such at the doctor’s office. “But then I couldn’t be my whole self,” they said, which made for anxiety-ridden appointments.

“As someone who knows that my physical pain has come from trauma and from the experiences of my identity, I can’t have a conversation about pain with a Western doctor,” they said.

Instead, Esra started treatment with Paolo Flores Chico, a trans acupuncturist in Oakland who organizes acupuncture and sound healing events specifically for queer and trans people of color. (Chico also cofounded the popular queer dance party Ships in the Night). “We had become friends through working in nightlife, and that’s nice because I feel like as a patient they understand me fully,” they said.

Queer and trans communities have a long history of being subjected to anti-LGBT bias in health care. Up until 1973, homosexuality was listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as was “gender identity disorder” until 2013. Labeling homosexuality as a disorder fueled extreme anti-gay conversion measures like forced institutionalization and electroshock therapy. While those practices are now rejected by all major mental health organizations, discrimination is still one of the reasons people are pushed away from the mainstream medical system.

“I have a lot of trans patients and friends who haven’t had positive experiences with Western doctors, and when we seek services for health and wellness, we have to deal with being retraumatized over and over again,” said Chico, referring to things like gender labels on intake forms and physicians who don’t use correct pronouns.

That can make people feel “punished” for their identity, argues Elokin Orton-Cheung, a queer community herbalist based in Oakland who sees patients as a primary care provider. The medical system has a long history of being “used as a way to control communities,” she said, citing medical experimentation in Black communities and the history of forced sterilization in hospitals and prisons.

In a survey of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of all respondents reported that they have faced cases of providers denying care, using harsh language, or blaming the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the cause for an illness. According to the same report, many transgender people say they’ve been denied care or encountered violence in health-care settings.

Historically, marginalized communities have found ways to care for themselves. Women’s liberation activists opened clinics in the ’60s specifically as a response to sexist attitudes in health care. The Black Panthers designed “survival programs,” including free medical clinics and food programs, to help African Americans and other oppressed peoples meet their basic needs because state systems weren’t doing so. The Panthers’ free breakfast program started in Oakland and, at its peak, fed thousands of kids daily in 23 programs across the country. While the federal government’s efforts to destroy the Black Panthers led to the dismantling of the program, it’s believed to have been the template for the current free breakfast programs in schools — and it remains an inspiration for many food and healing justice activists.

“There’s always been a level of care that exists in these communities, and elders that have held onto healing practices from ancestral lineage — that’s always been part of communities of color in Oakland,” said Iris Garcia of the Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is to eliminate structural racism. Garcia manages Akonadi’s So Love Can Win Community Response Fund, which supports community-rooted solutions to promote safety and healing in communities of color. “But I think what we’re seeing is that there are more conversations about what it means to have care and wellness outside of these historically clinical systems,” said Garcia.

The idea for the fund, which supports a number of projects featured in this article, came about in the summer of 2016, when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both African American, were killed by police, and 49 people were gunned down in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. At the same time, Garcia said gentrification was having visible effects in Oakland, with an increase in homelessness and an exodus of the Black population. The staff, reeling from the events of the summer, met with community partners and came up with an idea to provide resources to promote safety and create space to mourn the dead from state violence, which created solidarity between movements.

This was in step with national movements that began institutionalizing indigenous and cultural practices of self-care. The Medic and Healer Council at Standing Rock camps acted as first responders for water protectors and provided herbal remedies for activists there for the long haul. The Black Lives Matter movement is credited with starting a growing conversation about self-care in Black and other communities, where the repeated exposure to racial violence can be triggering.

“The political period we are now entering promises to require a redoubling of our efforts to organize against increasing oppression,” reads the Black Lives Matter Healing Justice Toolkit, which offers tools for healing before, during, and after direct actions. “We will need to match this fortifying energy with elevated and innovative ways of caring and showing up for each other.”

Garcia said she thinks the shift toward “healing justice” — which recognizes the need for collective healing to create social change — comes from a growing acknowledgement of how systems can harm people, and allows for more discussions about health problems without being personalized.

Carla Perez, cofounder of the Healing Clinic Collective, which provides free collective healing events for traumatized communities, said her previous work in environmental justice didn’t allow for such discussions.

“You couldn’t talk about spirit as an organizer back then,” she said while watering plants outside of her Oakland home. “There was faith-based organizing, but that aside, you couldn’t really talk about any other spiritual aspect of your relationship to the issues that we were organizing around.”

The Healing Clinic Collective has helped others establish similar clinics and created a referral network of 130 healers and wellness practitioners, practicing more than 46 different healing modalities in the Bay Area.

Atava Garcia Swiecicki, the owner of Ancestral Apothecary, an Oakland school dedicated to the study of herbal, folk, and indigenous medicine, is excited about the new wave of young women of color weaving together their organizing experience and socially minded values with natural medicine.

“Let’s dream big,” she said. “If we say we want health care for all, let’s include acupuncture, herbalists, and preventative medicine. It’s not just about resisting the world we don’t like, but it’s about creating a world we do like.”

Van Dyne’s face strained under her black-rimmed glasses to hold back tears. The “limpia,” a practice of spiritual cleansing in Latin American traditional medicine, began with the sweeping of wet roses over the top of her head. Brenda Salgado, the curandera (the Spanish term for a folk medicine healer), made forceful and quick strokes, holding roses by the base of the stems and letting them snap as they brushed Van Dyne’s upright body. “May the roses help to clear blockages that keep you from speaking your truth,” said Salgado as she made a cross over Van Dyne’s face, landing on her mouth.

The most pain is carried in areas where the roses break, Salgado explained later. They always break over the heart, and in the pelvic area if someone has experienced sexual assault, she added. “The back is where we hold fear, feelings of scarcity,” she said. She repeated other affirmations as she moved down Van Dyne’s body, who was dressed in all black. A stream of white and peach petals landed on her combat boots as she released deep sobs.

Van Dyne was one of the about 20 students in Ancestral Apothecary’s two-month course called “The Curandera’s Toolkit.” The class primarily focuses on herbal medicine, while incorporating massage, meditation, and other aspects of curanderismo, all geared toward teaching students how to care for their own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Salgado, a first-generation Nicaraguan born and raised in the Bay Area who received most of her training from Mexican indigenous healers, was the guest instructor that day. After demonstrating on Van Dyne, she taught students about the history of roses in medicinal traditions from around the world, how to honor the plants as they cut or buy them, and how to perform limpias on their classmates.

Van Dyne said she didn’t expect to have such an emotional reaction to the limpia, but that she was in a tumultuous emotional state and it brought back some feelings of deep heartache. Excited about deepening her knowledge around herbal medicine, Van Dyne said she took the class because she’s experienced first-hand how “natural” or “folk” medicine has helped her health. She said in the last eight years she’s used a balanced diet and herbal medicine to manage symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, instead of the pills originally prescribed by her doctor that gave her horrible side effects. Her condition is mild, but the hormonal disorder can cause fertility issues, which is what most concerned her.

“I have had both physical and mental issues, where the Western modalities are helpful and they have brought some healing in the moment,” she said. “But long-term, I find that I’m better off with more natural medicines.”

For Van Dyne, who was born in Mexico, the class offered a return to a healing tradition that she’d been estranged from since her childhood. Her great-aunt, who helped raise her, was a curandera.

“She was always giving me teas and whacking me with plants and saying prayers, but I didn’t really know what she was doing,” she said. Her aunt lived with her in the U.S. until she had to return to Mexico, when Van Dyne was 8 years old. Van Dyne said that, as an adult, she got into healing and magic through paganism and other Eurocentric traditions. “But this class connected me to my own roots and the magic of my people,” she said.

When Swiecicki started teaching classes in 1996, there weren’t a lot of options for long-term herbal medicine programs or programs that didn’t teach from a Eurocentric perspective, she said. Because of her more political framework, there was a demand from students of color for more classes and longer-term programs. The school now offers short-term classes as well as a nine-month training program for future herbalists, and raised about $8,000 in scholarship money for students of color. As part of that class, students are required to research some aspect of healing from their cultural background. For Swiecicki, learning about both her own Polish and Mexican ancestors helped her face her cultural history and understand that everyone has indigenous medicine they can access.

“I see huge transformations in terms of empowerment and community building when they are able to share these things that they’ve learned about their histories,” she said. Connecting to one’s own lineage, Swiecicki said, can also be an antidote to cultural appropriation, which is common in holistic medicine communities.

“We all can learn from different cultures, and yet it also can be a sticking point when folks in those very same communities don’t have access to that knowledge or there’s someone from a dominant culture that is receiving more money,” she said, noting that Ancestral Apothecary only invites teachers who draw from their own cultural traditions. When people aren’t aware of their ancestors’ indigenous healing practices, she said, there’s a flailing-like search for meaning, and people end up grabbing from other cultural practices.

Intentionality and mindfulness about how practitioners use and frame their relationship with “the medicine” is key, agreed Chico, who is Filipinx and studied Chinese medicine. “I always state who I am and where I’m coming from,” they said, explaining that getting licensed in Chinese medicine was important because it would enable them to create more access to healing resources for communities who need it.

In the East Bay, there are a number of practitioners who reconnected to their cultural lineage while working through their own healing journeys and are now helping others on theirs.

Sachi Doctor, who offers personalized wellness services and handcrafted Ayurvedic products, began reincorporating Ayurveda into her life after studying economic development at the London School of Economics. Yoga was everywhere in London and triggered her to look deeper into the practices she often learned out of obligation from her first yoga teacher — her mother. It coincided with her own struggles to alleviate chronic pain from ulcerative colitis.

“If you look at the wellness scene on the West Coast, you don’t see a lot of Indians practicing yoga or Ayurveda, not in the large swath you see white women,” said Doctor. “We can be frustrated about how these things are being reflected back to us, or we can carry the mantle ourselves.”

She said that since the 2016 election, her services have been even more in demand. “Never before November was I asked to speak to a political action group,” she said. “I’ve seen a swelling of women’s groups, working spaces, and other networks specifically interested in mindfulness and meditative practices.”

Adilia Torres, who runs herbal medicine pop-up La Botanica Azul, is a breast cancer survivor. When she decided to incorporate herbal medicine and spiritual practices into her cancer treatment, she said her family and doctors didn’t quite get it. Torres was born in Mexico, but her family relied largely on Western medicine. Her experience with cancer and her work in mental health with trauma-impacted immigrant communities underscored her commitment to weave traditional medicine with community health. Eventually, she wants La Botanica Azul to become a house of indigenous medicine in Oakland that centers people of color.

Orton-Cheung grew up with Chinese herbalism in her home. She studied sustainable agriculture and first picked up herbalism from a Western herbalist in 2013. It was after doctors discovered a cyst the size of a football in her ovary that she was called back to study clinical herbalism more seriously — not just to better treat herself but to help others. While she was able to get the surgery she needed, many of her friends with reproductive health issues were uninsured and unable to access the same treatment. The experience fueled her business, Shooting Star Botanicals, which offers consultations on a sliding scale. She also teaches at Ancestral Apothecary.

Having collective healing experiences is an important part of wellness, too, according to practitioners and patients.

At the last For the Love Community Acupuncture & Sound Healing event organized by Chico, attendees gathered at Qulture Collective in Oakland while listening to a DJ and receiving acupuncture treatments on yoga mats. Chico said they wanted to fill a need for queer and trans people of color to gather outside of bars and dance parties.

“A lot of times I experience healing through going to a show, or doing things that make me feel good but are not necessarily good for my body,” said Esra. They said it was nice to socialize with like-minded people and to leave feeling like they had a positive collective experience.

A crucial part of the Healing Clinic Collective’s work is creating a model for collective healing. Its first clinic in 2013 brought together 16 healers who offered free services for communities “recovering from ancestral and historical trauma, and experience layered and intense forms of systemic oppression.” More than 200 people received reiki, massage, womb wellness education, limpias, and yoga classes each day. Ninety percent of the attendees were Black and Brown women or women-identified.

“There’s a lot more collaboration and working together to offer services to the community than there was in the past,” said Swiecicki, who takes part in the Healing Clinic Collective as well.

This year, the organization released a guide to organizing clinics, based on the 12 it’s done in the last five years. Perez said groups as far away as Argentina and Canada have reached out for consulting, and their work has directly inspired at least a dozen large- and small-scale healing clinics.

The clinics also offer healers-in-training exposure to different healing modalities. “A lot of volunteers are people who are students and not ready to be practitioners yet but are in that mind,” said Perez.

When people see themselves reflected in their classmates and teachers, that helps them feel more comfortable, too, according to Mushim Patricia Ikeda-Nash, community coordinator at the East Bay Meditation Center, based in Oakland.

Since opening its doors in 2007, the East Bay Meditation Center has been offering identity-based meditation groups, a practice rooted in the center’s Buddhist-based social justice and anti-oppression philosophy. That includes “Alphabet Sangha,” weekly meditation group for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people of color, teens, and people living with disabilities or chronic illness. People pay by donation, and those who can give more make up for those who can’t. About 55 percent of people who register for the center’s classes identify as people of color, and about 40 percent identify as LGBTQI. Two-thirds of the teachers are people of color.

“The impact of having groups of identity-based populations is that it has made these wisdom teachings and practices around mindfulness-based meditation available to thousands of people, regardless of their ability to pay,” she said.

The meditation center also carves out a special space for activists.

Ikeda-Nash teaches a year-long mindfulness course called “I Vow Not To Burn Out,” to help social justice activists live in a more “emotionally and spiritually sustainable way.” At the beginning of each class, students take vows not to burn out, and Ikeda-Nash said that some come in so depleted they aren’t willing to make that vow until later in the course. But mindfulness gives students the power to reflect on their own states of being without judgment, which can encourage healthier choices, she said.

It’s what Tsehai refers to as shifting the paradigm of leadership. “The way they were living their lives was causing havoc because they’ve been nursed on an idea of leadership that you just give until you have no more to give,” she said about her clients. In her work with Black professionals, she leans on prayer, writing exercises, and other spiritual rituals.

That lifestyle is also being addressed at Super Juiced.

“We decided to host these workshops because we noticed that everyone comes through the shop doors except for movement people,” said Desouky. “Folks that are in the movement don’t have time to come, they’re not taking breaks, they’re traveling a lot and just eating whatever they can find.”

The workshop series brought in an acupuncturist, herbalists (including Orton-Cheung), and a plant-based chef who specializes in Latinx-centric healthy foods. The demand was so great they’re looking to expand it.

While the wellness spectrum blossoms in the East Bay, practitioners are facing the challenge of how to balance providing financially accessible services and making a living.

When Swiecicki moved to Oakland in 1992, she was joined by a community of other queer women who put down roots in what was once an affordable place to live.

“I have a lot of concern for people starting practices now,” said Swiecicki, adding that it takes time to build a successful practice. The school is running out of space, but finding a new location would likely mean having to raise the rates — an unappealing thought for Swiecicki, who is concerned that the classes, while even below market rate, are already unaffordable for some people.

The cost of degree or certificate programs can deter people, or leave practitioners in serious debt, and holistic medicine often falls out of traditional academic scholarship options. Spenta Kandawalla, an acupuncturist and herbalist, took out loans to attend the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.

“But it’s terrible on the other side, because you’re an acupuncturist and not a lawyer,” she said. “And school is long — people think it’s a year but school is three-and-a-half years, year-round.”

For Orton-Cheung, offering services on a sliding-scale system works — for now. “There’s a lot of tension right now in the Bay as people are getting displaced and struggling to live here, and there are not any reparations or financial acknowledgement of that,” she said. “But I am finding because of my sliding-scale, folks who can are being more generous.”

Garcia of the Akonadi Foundation hopes that a larger systematic transition toward different modalities of wellness can help sustain practitioners in the area.

“We would love this work to be invested in as a public good,” she said. “We see a little bit of that in terms how these larger systems have been shifting, the way they talk about well-being is really different than before.”

In that vein, the challenge continues for the health-care industry, higher education, and local governments to adopt indigenous or culturally appropriate healing practices and make space for leadership from people of color and LGBTQI communities.

After her first experience with Tsehai, Bryant turned her career path toward mental health as a therapist working with youth, and later to higher education, teaching and working to diversify the student body at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. She thinks academia is the last frontier of how to make a systematic shift.

“How do we use it to move upstream and create a whole new generation of providers that have a different consciousness and understand complementary and indigenous healing, or at the very least honor the cultural practices of the people that they are serving?” said Bryant. “That’s where my career has taken me — to try and influence the next generation of healers.”


Super Juiced


Healing Clinic Collective

HealingClinicCollective.net (practitioner directory available for download)

Paolo Flores Chico


Elemental Alchemy


La Botanica Azul


Asara Tsehai

[email protected]

Ancestral Apothecary


Shooting Star Botanicals


Resilient Wellness


East Bay Meditation Center


Spenta Kandawalla, Jaadu Acupuncture


Editor’s note: Esra’s last name has been omitted in the story to protect their privacy for safety reasons. This version has been updated.


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