In March of 2010, I found myself in Dharamsala, India - a misty, colorful mountain town home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee community in exile. I had ended up here on a whim. I was traveling alone in what, at first, felt like a very large and overwhelming place, and decided to take the train up with a few other female travelers I had met in Rishikesh. I had no concrete plans, and gave myself ample space to explore, to wander, and to see where the river of life would have me go.
Before embarking on my solo journey, I was working as an administrative assistant at a small, growing, arts & healing non-profit in LA. I have so many incredible memories working at this organization with its heart-felt mission and amazing all-women team, and I also realize that at the end of my time there, I was feeling the weight of over-work, exhausting and burnt out. I was so disconnected from my body, my desires and my joy that, on most days, it was difficult to even feel alive. And so, I quit.
I left for India, and traveling, yoga, and writing became my medicine. I dipped in the Ganges River regularly, meditated and practiced yoga in the morning with other travelers, cooked communal meals, laughed full-bellied laughs, and appreciated my life more deeply than I had before. I began to heal.
Then, as fate would have it, I met Dr. Gonpo Kyi in Dharamsala. She was a Tibetan Doctor of traditional medicine teaching reflexology massage out of her one-room clinic in a residential apartment building. Her office was small and cozy, the walls lined with posters detailing acupuncture points and meridians, shelves full of herbal medicine and odd-shaped glass cups. I signed up for her private course and attended class every day for one week. Despite the language barrier, she taught me the rudimentary locations of points, proper pressure, different massage strokes, and basic energy healing.
At the end of the full week, I earned a certificate stating that I, Andrea Natalie Penagos, had "successfully completed Tibetan Traditional Reflexology, Cupping, Acupuncture, & General Massage courses for Three Months on 26th March 2010 at Dharamsala." Indeed, I had not learned to practice acupuncture nor cupping, as the certificate stated, but this experience, in many ways, foreshadowed and planted the seed of curiosity for what would eventually become my calling and career years later. Now, I can say with so much gratitude that I finally am qualified to practice all of what Dr. Kyi certified and prepared me for five years ago in that faraway, misty mountain town, all because I took a step back and allowed the river of life take me whereever it wanted me to go.
It is a courageous act to prioritize ourselves, to advocate for our own healing, to stop when we know we need to. Taking time to regenerate, be that through rest, movement, meditation, creativity, or travel, is vital to us as living, breathing beings existing in this demanding urban environment. Always try to create the time, however short, to dip into the river of your peace, your joy, your desire, your healing. You never know what treasures you'll find there.