The vision for the future of Taos as a center for healing is deeply rooted in the traditional healing practices of Native and Spanish peoples. For more than 1,000 years,
people here have used herbs and ancient wisdom to heal diseases of the body and mind. The tradition continues.
There was recently an event called “Holistic Ways of Heartfelt Wellness,” sponsored in part by Red Willow Farm of Taos Pueblo and held at Pojoaque Pueblo Pow-wow Grounds. The event focused on the sovereignty of traditional foods and seeds as a way to bring back sacredness into the lives of Native peoples and communities.
Red Willow Executive Director Addie Lucero said that the conference also focused on sustainability. “Harvesting traditional plants should be done in moderation — no over harvesting and only during in-season,” she said.
Finding a mix
Painter and writer Anita Rodriguez’s family goes back 10 generations in Taos. She has great respect for the practice of traditional healing, acknowledging the long history of Native and mestizo methods.
“I cover all my bases. I see my family practitioner and also curanderos. I’ve experienced equal success with each,” Rodriguez said. She describes curanderismo as a mix of herbology, ritual and astute psychological observation. The “pláctica,” which is the discussion part of a session is similar to the “talking cure” that is used in psychotherapy. Rodriquez says that there continue to be several active curanderismo practices in Taos.
New types of holistic medicine practitioners are also drawn to Taos. Holistic medicine is an approach to health that looks at a person comprehensively or as a whole. It focuses on mental, emotional and spiritual aspects, in addition to the physical body. Rather than focusing just on treatment of physical symptoms, holistic medicine looks at underlying conditions and systems that may contribute to disease or chronic pain. This type of approach can work together with Western medicine and in this case is referred to as complementary or integrative.
In drawing a distinction between holistic and western medicine, Rob Hawley, founder of Taos Herb Co., said: “The difference between the two is that in Western medicine we expect one solution to be a magic bullet, versus the broader approach taken by holistic health that works with herbs, supplements and lifestyle changes.”
It’s argued that while Western medicine might be the best way to deal with an acute situation like a heart attack or broken bone, there are many conditions that can be better treated with a holistic approach. And as science increasingly proves the effectiveness of holistic approaches, more medical doctors are incorporating them into their practices.
“For medical professionals who believe in integrative medicine, the question of combining these various traditions is not just that it would be nice, but that it is essential to curb the increasing trend of severity of conditions that are preventable,” said Hawley. “Many of the most serious health threats, such as type-2 diabetes, obesity and coronary artery disease, are more effectively treated with diet, lifestyle changes, prevention and the resources of complementary medicine, rather than trying to manage these conditions after they are well on their way to making people ill.”
Taos Herb was co-founded by Hawley, his sister Tina Hahn and her husband Fritz Hahn in 1981. They were inspired by their father, Dr. Robert L Hawley — a pathologist and cardiologist who had an interest in mythology and storytelling. He respected the local healing traditions in Taos that include the use of herbs, healing rituals and spiritualism. He saw how this tradition could be a component of healing and well-being.
Bevy of options
When someone with a health concern like an upset stomach goes to Taos Herb, they are likely to receive lifestyle advice, such as eating less fat or eating earlier in the evening, along with recommendations for the use of herbs, such as bitters.
Hawley points out that these approaches are gentler than a drug might be — prescribed by a Western doctor. He said using all these different approaches together increases the chance of successfully resolving the issue.
Hawley encourages all his customers to critically evaluate studies that they might read about online, whether they refer to Western or integrative medicine. He said some alternative medicine approaches are validated by science. Hawley has a background in science research and feels comfortable with a foot in both worlds, he said.
“Imagine some day in the not too distant future that Taos will become a national center for combining the knowledge of diverse practitioners and disciplines of healing,” Hawley said.
With its deep history of traditional healing, and the growing number of holistic practitioners that are coming to Taos, it seems like the future vision of Taos as a healing center has already begun to be realized.
Trends, groups, treatments and more
Nationally and regionally, there is also a trend toward combining holistic approaches to healing with Western methods. The University of New Mexico School of Medicine holds a four-day symposium of integrative medical practitioners called SIMPLE. In the past, the symposium has been held in Albuquerque, but this summer the conference moved to Taos. A new local nonprofit Integrative Medicine de Taos (IMdT) helped land the conference at the Sagebrush Inn and it was combined with the Taos Health Symposium that organized events for the community. There were more than 150 attendees at the conference, and in combination with community events, more than 550 people were involved in all. Already, an additional two-day event on botanical medicine called “Simply Spicy” is being planned for next July in Taos.
IMdT was founded by Dr. Loretta Ortiz y Pino and Steve Kenin. The group hopes to continue to bring educational conferences to town for physicians in the area of integrative medicine. The nonprofit thinks that the reputation of Taos as a place of diverse healing traditions, along with its natural beauty, will draw future events that benefit the local community in wellness and economic opportunities.
UNM-Taos has a unique program of study that results in a certificate of holistic health and healing arts. The program was founded as a way to help students find self-healing, as well as to provide a well-rounded base for those who want to pursue a particular field of holistic healing like massage, yoga, counseling or reiki. At the main campus in Albuquerque, there is a annual summer course on curanderismo organized by Professor Cheo Torres and taught by alternative practitioners from the Southwest and Mexico. That course is also now offered online.
Examples of holistic healing practices, local options
• Wellness coaching and functional medicine
Health coaching provides support to people seeking to improve an aspect of the well-being. One such business, “365 Days of Wellness,” was established by Alana Grier nine years ago to provide on-site and online wellness trainings. The worksite wellness programs include team building and customer service trainings, programs to help quit smoking, weight management programs, onsite fitness, stress management, evidence-based wellness programs and preventative health screenings. She offers one on health coaching, yoga and massage therapy — along with personal training.
In October, Grier began offering health coaching at the Taos Primary Care Clinic where Dr. James Cardasis practices functional medicine. She hopes to work with in partnership with Cardasis and other local physicians who have patients that need preventative lifestyle support.
“Functional medicine can be described as an evolution in the practice of medicine,” said Grier. “By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.”
• Allergy treatments
Among the alternative practices in Taos is Allergy Solutions of New Mexico. Amanda Lora said her services focus on addressing the organ systems involved in an overreaction to a pollen or other substance, versus the Western method of treating the immune system with injections.
“By targeting the organ systems…symptoms can be significantly reduced in a much shorter period of time, usually within the first two to three treatments,” said Lora. “Because the therapy does not use needles, supplements, herbals or medicines, it is safe for all ages. The therapy uses kinesiology, biofeedback and acupressure to affect change.” Lora practices at the Taos Center for Natural Healing.
Massage is one of the most well-understood and well-represented alternative medicine approaches in Taos. Taos Therapeutic Massage Group is a new practice that opened this year, specializing in manual medicine, including treatment for injury recovery, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain. Although the office is new, the licensed massage therapists Bonnie McNairn, Susan Myers and Beth Searcey have been practicing in the Taos community for more than 18 years.
Shamanic healing is a spiritual healing technique that supports the outcome of any other healing discipline, whether traditional or alternative, according to Rev. Shaman Sandra Chestnutt of Earth Walk Medicine. Chestnutt says that by “spiritual,” she means that when one is suffering, be it from an illness or ailment, emotional pain/suffering is a large component of their condition — often times larger than the illness or ailment itself.
“Long after treatment, the emotional suffering has not necessarily healed,” she said. “Your physical body can hold ghost traces of an illness thought recovered from. This resonance from an illness leaves behind an electromagnetic signature of the DNA that hides from detection and medical cures, waiting in silence to be charged back to life. When the body becomes powerless, or suffers, the illness becomes powerful, or debilitating.”
Chestnutt said the techniques used in shamanic healing neutralize the ghost traces, reducing or eliminating the vulnerability for continued suffering. “People feel ease as they are transformed to an improved state of well-being,” she added.
• Using bear root
“Uses for bear root (osha) are important this time of year to protect from cold and flu,” said Addie Lucero of Red Willow Farm on Taos Pueblo. “Boil into a tea. You can add organic local honey with water and bear root. Boil down into a syrup. Other beneficial herbs like Yerba Buena (mint), lemon balm, or others that are good for respiratory issues, can be added. Store it for use throughout the season.”