Self-healing with herbs has come a long way since we bought coltsfoot and comfrey from the ’70s New Age mecca Aphrodisia on Bleecker Street, self-diagnosing our maladies, while dabbling in Transcendental Meditation and doing yoga on the tennis courts at Grand Central Station.
Much has changed, but a thriving D.I.Y. spirit is fueling people who want to de-stress and de-tox more naturally. Josie Casteneda is leading one such movement. Born in Mexico City, she does work based on Curanderia, the ancient spiritual and herbal healing art rooted in Latin American folk traditions, along with meditation and yoga.I went to her workshop “Folk Remedies on the Spiritual Journey” in Brooklyn one Saturday to learn what this modern curandera is offering in the new millennium.
Josie, an effervescent thirty-something woman, greeted me warmly, along with her long-haired chihuahuas Nena and Memin. We sat down in her cozy, earth-red kitchen, lined floor-to-ceiling with sleek, white Ikea cabinets that brim with apothecary bottles bearing her charming CuranderaNYC logo.
Chatting like friends meeting over lattes, we soon got down to business. What issues did I want to address? The usual suspects, I told her: energy levels that can spiral out of control and scatter my focus into piles of pick-up-stix, resulting in panic and depression.
One-on-one interaction is important, as Josie strongly relies on intuition; her family history includes the gifts of shapeshifting and clairvoyance. She began to choose ingredients known to help, while picking up some vibes I didn’t know I was emitting. For instance: I was a vinegar, not oil infusion candidate. How did she know I drink two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar every morning instead of coffee? Later, she explained that as she headed for the oil, a visual popped into her head that told her to choose vinegar.
During the course of the three-hour workshop, she would concoct and explain what each one was and why it was chosen: Tulsi and reishi mushrooms to counter stress, ruby crystal for heart-opening, plus some general all-purpose healers like cayenne and garlic. I left with four hefty jars: a crystal essence remedy, a tea blend, an herbal and alcohol tincture to help with meditation, and a culinary preventative remedy. In the bargain--yes, at $95 this is a deal--I learned more about how this ancient tradition can address today’s ailments through this very savvy and modern yogi/healer.
Sharon Watts:What exactly is a curandera?
Josie Casteneda: Curandera is a feminine word for “one who heals,” dating back centuries to Mexico, Central, and Latin America. CuranderaNYC offers products and services that aid each individual through the healing modalities of Reiki, Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and herbalism.
SW:You were born in Mexico City to a family rooted in these healing arts. What are your earliest memories?
JC: Being treated with “healing smoothies” for bronchial issues, as well as being taken to a curandero to have my energy field cleansed. My great-grandmother was a curandera in the Toltec tradition, Great Grandpa was a shapeshifter, and my mother is a clairvoyant.
SW: As a young New York professional, how have you merged your cultural past with the present?
JC: Initially I did not use any healing modalities I was raised under. My meditation path began in 2001 at the Sivananda Yoga Center NYC, and my yoga asana practice in 2005--both begun to manage professional stress. Now I leverage my profession as a brand specialist for new entrepreneurs to pursue my path as a healer which is where I express my cultural background.
SW:What do you see as the most pressing concern for anyone living in today’s culture, and how do you address it?
JC: Through yoga we are taught that all bodily sickness is psychosomatic, which means sickness is a symptom, not a cause. Therefore I treat the mind with meditation to get to the real, root issues. I then treat the body with asana or herbs depending on the type of sickness. The symptom that I see the most with my students is a form of stress-related depression, which I categorize as “lack of spirit” or a disconnection to their body, mind, and spiritual awareness.
SW:Ayurveda is the yoga-vetted healing practice that normally comes to mind when we think of alternative medicine. Is Curanderia a different path to the same place?
JC: Traditional Curanderia is about healing both the body and mind. So in a way, traditional Curanderia is both yoga and Ayurveda together. Modern Curanderia, as I practice, works with a different body model and is much simpler in its use and application. I do believe in choosing a healing philosophy that is closest to the student’s native roots.
SW: Your clientele is primarily yoga teachers and herbalists--you, yourself train with the great herbalists Julia Graves and Ursula Basch. What is your ultimate goal for CuranderaNYC?
JC: Some of the workshops I have developed are to introduce yoga teachers to healing modalities besides Ayurveda. In that respect, I have a goal of having folk remedies and herbalism included as part of yoga training curriculums. However, the products and services I offer are for anyone who believes in alternative healing.
SW: Other than an armful of wonderful concoctions to begin self-healing, what do you hope people get from attending your workshop?
JC: It would be my wish that the attendees become more aware of their own body/mind tendencies and begin to heal themselves, as well as deepening their connection to the earth and all its bounty.
SW:That is my wish as well. I can’t wait to try my new remedies. Meanwhile, I have a sudden craving for Mexican food tonight.
The next workshops: "Folk Remedies On the Spiritual Journey' are Oct 18th and November 2nd. Interested students can pre-register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or go to her her facebook pages, here for Oct 18th, and here for November 2nd
--Sharon Watts, for more of Sharon's writing work, click here; to see more of her illustration, click here