My path to holistic health


I am embarking on the holistic healing path and discovering what it means to me along the way. My why, reason to do what I do! I believe this path has chosen me. Since as long as I could remember wanting to help and serve others has been a part of my life in some capacity. As a young child I volunteered in numerous organizations and programs from working with the homeless to visiting older adults in nursing homes.  My parents instilled in me the value of being nice to others and I took it a few steps more by finding out what else can I do to make people laugh and feel good.

One of my greatest accomplishments thus far in regards to serving others is my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer. From 2007-2009 I served in a small mountainous community outside of the capital city of Chalatenango, El Salvador as a Youth Development Volunteer. My first year I worked with the youth and we developed diverse activities such as creating shows to put on for the community, cleaning up the polluted river flowing near their caserio (town), to cooking new dishes (they enjoyed making calzones and got a kick out of the name because in Spanish calzones means underwear) and learning English. Yet after a year most of the youth reverted to their old habits of watching novelas, involved in other activities, or spending time con la familia. 

So, I moved on to other projects and continued teaching classes at two local schools. I also conducted a community survey by walking around my community asking the women to choose from 5 activities what they were most interested. By this time I could do a survey in each house within 30 minutes, depending on the family I visited. Although most of time I would do what all community members would do, talk about the weather, the crops, and the kids.

The Peace Corps has the expectation that a volunteer’s first 6 months are solely about practicing the language and getting to know the community. The first basic rule of community development is earning the people’s trust. If people don’t trust you, they won’t work for, or with you. I set a personal expectation that I would get to know everyone in the community. This was not a hard task as there were only 100 people in this community yet the challenge was there were 6 other communities near by and they wanted to know me. I also set the expectations of learning, having fun, and enjoying the new place I would call home for 2 years.

Chalatenango was one of the hardest hit areas during the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. The worst year where over 70,000 people were slaughtered was in 1980. My community was created after the Peace Treaty was signed and land was reassigned, especially to the guerrillas. They were given land, money, supplies, and then left to fend for themselves. Now, most simply have land where they have a house and a nearby plot of land to grow maiz y frijoles. They also have their nightmares, memories, and physical ailments. As a social worker I knew the art of listening and asking the right questions to encourage people to talk about their experiences for I was curious and wanted to know. This experience was unknown to me as I have lived in the safety of US suburbs. I would also accompany families to memorials and refugee camps. I learned about their pain and their strengths. I was also intrigued because so many of their stories were similar to the battles fought during the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950s. My parents both were born and raised in Cuba and left after the revolution when they discovered their human rights were violated and Fidel Castro did not keep his promises.

I vowed I would return and help the guerrillas and their families, especially the women. The women would tell me countless tales of watching their husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins assassinated in front of them or knew they died in battle. At the time I did not know the effects of trauma yet I had a gut feeling many of their health issues were associated to the trauma of their experiences. The health issues many rural community members experienced were diabetes, digestive issues, and anxiety. One woman who was very dear to me would faint each time she would become upset or cry. She was also constantly going to the doctor for one ailment or another and was on various medications she could barely afford as she was the sole provider of 3 teenaged children.

However, I did not know what I could so I decided to go for my Masters as I had my Bachelor’s of Social Work. So, six months before I was to leave El Salvador I applied and was later accepted to New Mexico State University Dual Master’s of Social Work and Public Health. I wanted to work in community development and prevention. They are a perfect pair.

My first year, in Las Cruces after I left El Salvador I reset my personal expectation of getting to know my community. I was active in many projects during my Peace Corps service and I wanted to continue being engaged. I will admit I overdid it and by the second year I slowed down. However, it was in this first year, second semester I learned about Reiki. I took a class because I was curious. I honestly had no idea what it was but it felt right.

The year 2009 will be forever etched in my mind as a challenging year. January 2009 my older sister Yoli was diagnosed with lung cancer (non-smoker).  I left the Peace Corps in May 2009 which was bittersweet as I said goodbye to very close friends in my small community, promising to return one day. In the summer I traveled with a friend from Florida to New Mexico for a road trip and to attend the National Rainbow Gathering in Cuba, New Mexico. Then, I began NMSU school in August 2009.

The summer of 2009 I spent time with Yoli accompanying her as she followed her heart and sought a holistic healing treatment instead of chemotherapy. She wanted to continue telling stories to children in Atlanta and undergoing chemotherapy would not allow her to do that. Her holistic treatment consisted of 5 focuses; mental, physical, social, spiritual, and emotional. She read books on curing herself of cancer, she attended numerous workshops and researched health gurus, then tried the techniques that she thought sounded the best. I was amazed as I learned about health from so many different aspects. I wanted to learn more. I joined her on this educational healing journey. In Las Cruces I read different books, attended workshops, and learned Reiki. Of course, while in a dual masters program, working, and while involved in numerous student and community organizations. I am so thankful I did not become overwhelmed or sick. Yet, I didn’t trust myself practicing and when I received that dreaded call I gave up what I have learned about holistic health.

Yoli passed away May 2010 from cancer, a form the doctors never confirmed. I was heartbroken as she was my soul sister, a true love through many lives. I continued staying active, working, and going to school but I stopped learning about alternative therapies, especially Reiki. I couldn’t help her heal so what was the use, I thought.

A year after she passed away my mother was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. She took the traditional route and thankfully continues to live today. However, I knew it wouldn’t be enough so I sought alternative therapies. I learned about reasons people become ill and what options are available. I shared this information with my mother and she listened. Together we learned about herbs that help prevent cancer, watched funny movies, and embraced the moment. She also amazed us all with her strong faith in God and working within the 5 realms. I took a year off of school so I could help her as she recovered from back surgery when a tumor on her back was removed. I lived with my parents for 6 months and then returned to Las Cruces as she was better and I wanted to save our relationship as my parents and I have different values in regards to gender roles. I do not judge them for their traditional ways as it is what has worked for them for 44 years now, yet in my relationship I count on more of a partnership.

Once I returned from Las Cruces I fell back into Reiki and within a year I became a Reiki Teacher/Master. I was on the fast course because I realized this was the gift I could take back to Central America. In 2011 I completed my public health internship with a non-profit in Nicaragua and I fell in love with the people and the culture. Within the two months i was there I became active in the community and became friends with many people. I decided after I graduated I would return to work with the non-profit I continued to be involved with and have a Reiki and counseling practice.

I graduated May 2013 with my dual Masters’ of Public Health and Social Work and completed my training as a Reiki Teacher/Master. In June I moved to Esteli, Nicaragua to work with the non-profit. In July I purchased a cot and began to offer Reiki and counseling. I founded at this time Mariposas Holistic Healing. Soon I was rewarded with a partnership from my best friend Libby, a Yoga Instructor and practitioner, and Laura, our Marketing Director. Libby and Laura were both living in Nicaragua and we spent time discussing our goals for Mariposas.

Within a month I had 2 consistent clients and had met with 3 first time clients. I was thrilled with the success of my business, although I had no idea what I was doing. In August I left the non-profit due to differences in leadership, I lost respect for the Director and therefore did not trust him. So, we parted ways and I began to put more thought and effort into my practice. More clients came to me through word of mouth and my offer of the first session free to try it out.

Reiki was and still is a foreign concept to the people of Nicaragua, as it is here in the United States. Reiki, is an energy based stress reduction developed in Japan. However, the basis of energy healing work dates back to the time of Buddha. Buddhism use energy work for spiritual enlightenment where Reiki focuses on healing self and others. One way I explained Reiki to new clients who were Catholic was to say it was a similar technique used by Jesus. Actually, once they experience Reiki for the first time they are thankful because for the first time in a long time they were able to completely relax.

Reiki was a part of my practice, counseling was the other. I sought more techniques. I returned in November 2012, 6 months after I left for Nicaragua, because my boyfriend Joel needed me. We met two months before I graduated and we fell in love shortly after seeing each other at a mutual friend’s house. I had my plans set for Nicaragua and was not about to let a man get in the way of them. So I promised I would see him again in December.

We attempted to hold on to our relationship yet it was challenging. Then he started going down hill with his mental health as he was struggling with post traumatic symptoms, residue from his 3 tours he served while in the Army. I decided it was time to return to the states and be with the man I truly love and have said I want to spend the rest of my life with. Now was the time to put my words to action. As much as I loved the work I was doing in Nicaragua, he was my primary focus.

Now, I have returned to Las Cruces where I lived previously for almost 4 years while in graduate school and the place I really began learning and practicing holistic ways. I began reconnecting with old contacts and was soon teaching Reiki 1 classes as people were interested. I also became involved in another networking company FGX Express which sells amazing and effective pain patches because I knew they could benefit so many people. I then began to volunteer with a community acupuncture clinic as their Border Project Training Coordinator. I am now responsible for coordinating trainings and trainers in the Juarez region for those interested in Chinese medicine techniques. In return I would be able to attend the trainings and become a practitioner.

I am blessed with these new found opportunities and know the return to the US is offering another chance to grow more as a holistic healing practitioner and coach. I want to share with people here in the US and in Latin America the technique I am learning and practicing to reduce stress and be healthy on all five levels.

This is just the beginning of my holistic healing path and it is balanced and genuine. Once my partner receives the health care and retirement benefits he deserves from the government then we will continue our healing path together in Nicaragua and beyond.

Healing from loss

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May 2010 my older sister Yoli passed after enduring a year and a half infested with cancer cells. Losing her tore a piece of my heart for we beat as one at times. We had our differences of course and we sometimes didn’t see or speak to each other for weeks. There are days she appears to me in so many ways, a picture of her appears, or a note she wrote me, and I smile at the thought of her. She will always be my big sister and have a special place in my heart.

I was born and raised in Miami by two Cuban, first generation, parents. We lived in a middle class home and we were groomed to the belief that education was the key to life’s happiness which then led to money, stability, and a family. My older brother is 6 years older and my sister almost 3 years older than me. We loved each other, however, due to the age differences we rarely spent time together unless there were family activities.

College after high school was an expected path after high school. So, first my brother went which was exciting because that meant I could move into his room and finally have my own room after 12 years living with my sister. Then Yoli went off to college and I was on my own with my parents. Which meant they caught me more often misbehaving. Not good! Finally, it was my turn. Off to college myself. I left to Saint Augustine and lasted 3 months. I then returned home with my tail between my legs. By January I was back at school but this time community college which I excelled in.

During this time Yoli and I became close and I would visit her in Atlanta where she was finishing college and France during her year abroad. I truly believe that distance and maturity in both of us helped our relationship blossom. Our relationship will be another blog for it deserves its own space.

In 2009 Yoli was diagnosed with cancer which originated in her lungs yet was not from smoking tobacco. She chose to heal herself naturally and sought to discover the root cause of her illness. She battled the cancer for a year and a half. However, the cancer won and by the time she was taken to the hospital in April the cancer had spread all over her body. The doctors said she had weeks to live and therefore my parents suggested it was time for her to return home, to their condo on Key Biscayne. I was in my 1st year of graduate school in the midst of completing a dual masters of social work and public health. As soon as I could I packed enough clothes for a month and headed to Miami from New Mexico.

Once there I stayed with her every night in the hospital for a few days until it was time to transport her to my parents’ house. Then a hospice program was instilled in the room we would continue to share as there were only two bedrooms in their condo. Regardless I would have volunteered to stay with her so she wouldn’t be alone.

On May 21 she transitioned in the morning while sleeping as everyone was out of the room for a moment. She left without a word and without fuss. Now, almost 4 years later I would continue to sleep in the same room she passed away in whenever I would pass through Miami while visiting our parents. I felt close to her while laying in the twin bed opposite of where she would have slept and sometimes I could still see her there.

Finally, the time has come when my parents decided it was time to leave their large condo of 3200 square feet and downsize to 1500 square feet as they are getting older and wanted a smaller space with less fuss. However, leaving was bittersweet as they had lived there for 15 years and saw many life transitions.

Our last night in the apartment I laid in the twin bed and wept as I said goodbye to the last physical place Yoli rested her head. I know she will always remain in my heart yet leaving our room was the last step in saying farewell as I continue to heal from her loss. My parents, especially my mom, is also sad to have left yet she acknowledges it is also healing to leave and she hopes to continue creating other memories in their new home.