Student Melanie

I never planned to become an herbalist. Though I spent much of my childhood mashing up plants in my backyard (and unknowingly smearing poke on my little sister while pretending to make medicine… an herbal experiment she’ll never let me live down!), my wildest dream was to become an actress. Off I went to NYU where I earned my BFA in Drama. I was on my way to fulfilling my lifelong dream, but something was missing. 

In my second week of college, the 9/11 attacks shook my new city to the core. Deep down, I wondered what use it was to spend my life performing. Would this really make a difference in the world? I believed in the power of art, self-expression, and the magic of storytelling. It had saved my life by giving me a safe outlet for things I couldn’t express any other way –but that deep soul work of an actor-creator wasn’t what I saw when I took a hard look at the reality of a career in the entertainment industry. 

I began to study community-based performance and took off down a new path of telling the stories of people from all walks of life. I became certified as a massage therapist with the intention of using that income to support my theater work. Working with pregnant teens in foster care, homeless and formerly homeless activists in the Bronx, and receiving a fellowship to create my first solo play in India, and becoming a member of Alternate ROOTS, I felt like I’d finally found my path. When I landed my dream massage job at one of D.C.’s top physical therapy clinics, I was on top of the world. Everything was working out. Then, I got sick. Really sick.

“Uninsurable” because of my extensive history of autoimmune illness, I very nearly died from a severe bout of ulcerative colitis because I couldn’t get medical care. I vowed that I’d never let myself be that vulnerable again. I wanted to do something not only to help myself but also to empower other people who were being left behind by our broken medical system. I knew in my bones that herbal medicine was the missing piece. I enrolled at East West in 2008 and never looked back. 

Now, my life has come full-circle. Healing and creativity are deeply connected in my personal life and in my practice. I create original theater and work with herbal & massage clients through my practice in Washington, D.C. Currently, I’m teaching my first online course focusing on women’s health and have found that incorporating creativity and soul work into the program has made as big a difference for the women as the herbal and lifestyle knowledge.

As we create from our deepest selves, it challenges us and opens up more of our soul’s wounds for healing. And as we tend those wounds, whether they’re physical illnesses or cultural soul sickness, we create more space and possibilities to bring forth what we are here on this planet to bring forth. The task ahead of us is immense. We need the plants, the traditional wisdom, our own intuition, and all of our creative abilities & compassion if we are to tend the Earth and our communities so that we may all thrive and live harmoniously. Thank you to everyone at East West for stewarding this traditional knowledge and for always keeping song, creativity, and joy at the center of the process.

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