La Buena Vibra: Building community with alternative medicine

“We are all healers. We all have it in us and it comes from the divine or whatever you want to call it we are all vessels for healing.” -Isabel Garcia, Reiki Master Teacher,RMT

Isabel Garcia, Reiki Master Teacher,RMT

When I first heard about the meditation circle it intrigued me just like the Tibetan Buddhist temple near my home.  I’ve always been too shy to go in, but sometimes, when I walk by I peek in and everyone is in meditation, chanting or banging on a brass bell. There is a giant statue of a green Buddha smiling tranquilly at me. I’ve always liked the idea of meditation but haven’t done it because I have trouble sitting still. It wasn’t until I read Eat, Pray, Love and decided to explore the Sri Gura Gita that was mentioned in the book. I was so curious about it I even downloaded the English PDF version of the Sri Gura Gita. When I got the Facebook event invite I hesitated because I wasn’t sure how I felt about meditating with other people. I decided to go and experience first hand the  meditation circle and if others could benefit from it.

Meditation Circle
We meet at Biblioteca Popular, an independent bookstore in Pilsen, I plop down on  a chair, notice that in the center of the room there is a small table with a picture of Green Tara, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity, and  incense burning.

“The reason I come is because I felt the need to start connecting to other people who share similar beliefs and prayers,” says Jenine Arteaga, a Humboldt Park resident, that makes the trek to participate.  ”It’s a step forward in my spiritual path. It definitely builds community and allows us to connect with people from different parts of the city.  It’s a good spiritual community to be part of.” 

The meditation circle is organized and led by Isabel Garcia a certified Reiki healer. Reiki is a form of energy healing from Japan. “Rei” means spirit and “ki” means energy and translates to universal life energy. Isabel describes energy healing as spiritual energy that comes from a life force that you breathe in and is amplified. 
“Western medicine has a place and having been sick with uterine polyps  I understand its place and benefited from it, however, western medicine only addresses the physical,” says Isabel. According to an article published in 2011 in My Health News Daily more Americans with limited access to healthcare are turning to complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM).  “While claims made by CAM treatment providers about their benefits can sound promising, we do not know how safe many CAM treatments are or how well they work,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

However, benefits of mediation include:  Stress relief, improved concentration, awareness of posture and breathing, reduced anxiety, relaxed nervous system, decreased muscle tension, increased productivity, and released  emotional toxins. So, if you are participating in meditation and energy healing should you stop going to your doctor? Isabel gets this question a lot. The answer is no. You need to keep seeing your doctor to monitor your health. “Spiritual energy healing is going to change your vibration only and replace negative energy with healing energy,” says Isabel.


The mantras are chanted in the ancient Sanskrit language originating in India and is believed to be the language of energy. Each mantra is associated with the each chakra of the body. We begin our first chant dedicated to Ghanesh a deity worshipped in Hindu sects of India and Nepal. My tongue stumbles over the chant. Everyone is in deep meditation,  I squirm in my chair trying to focus and keep up with the chant.

Om Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi

Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat…

“Letters of Sankrit light up different parts of our chakras and energy shifts when you chant,” says Isabel. Her favorite chant is the Gaya Tri because it seemed to keep being mentioned in meditation books and she has chanted it ever since. In a nutshell, the chant itself means enlightment of yourself and all beings. We chant this for a really long time until my chattering-monkey mind quiets and I  find myself in a focused and relaxed state.

prayer beads

As we chant, I notice that some people have what looks like rosaries. After the meditation session, I inquire about them and discover they are Mala prayer beads. In meditation the prayer beads are used as a healing tool and help you keep count of your mantras with 108 beads. The large bead, known as the Meru, absorbs the energy of the mantras. This tool helps anchor your thoughts and helps you focus. You can also wear your prayer beads that have absorbed the energy of the mantras around your neck.

La Buena Vibra

After our meditation session, Isabel and I go next door to taquería El Milagro to talk about the work she is doing in the community. Isabel is wearing her mala around her neck near her heart chakra. She orders a taco de puerco slathered in green salsa and when I see the color of the salsa the image of green Tara floats into my mind. We begin to chat  and I discover that the meditation circle was born when Isabel’s friends started asking her how to meditate.

These days with so many people struggling in this economy stress levels are high and some people have even begun to normalize high levels of stress. What people don’t realize is that if you don’t know how to manage or release stress it often leads to health complications. With so many requests for a meditation circle she couldn’t say no to sharing healing knowledge with the community.

“I’m humbled by the way people are receiving it and by the way they are benefiting from it and their dedication to it,” says Isabel.

Between sips of champurrado, I asked Isabel how she knew she was a healer? “When I was eight years old I was talking to my sister and I told her that everything we needed to heal ourselves is on the planet” says Isabel.  But it was not until she became an adult that Isabel accepted her gifts as a healer and her life changed. She quit her 9 to 5 job to focus on her healing work and develop a stronger spiritual self.

“Some of the challenges of being an energy healer is that people don’t take it seriously or don’t understand it.” I asked Isabel about the best way to advocate for healers and she said, “Share your experience with others about this type of healing.”

Healing Sessions For Survivors of Sexual Assault

Isabel also mentioned that she has started organizing healing sessions for women that are survivors of sexual assault. Her healing sessions for survivors of sexual assault come at a time when according to the Centers for Disease Control 1 in 5 American women report being sexually assaulted. The last session she did in February included counselor Emily Robison, Sexual Abuse Crisis Counselor of the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The goal of the healing session was to create a safe space to come together and mediate. and create a stepping-stone for these women on their journey to personal healing. The need is so tremendous that this month Isabel is organizing more healing sessions  for women in the Pilsen neighborhood.

I’m A Healer, Now What?

If you are interested in learning to heal others or if your gut feeling tells you that you already are but you’re not sure what to do next Isabel suggests you talk to other healers, ask for guidance, take classes that focus and develop your skills and as the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Recently Isabel participated in a supervised Nunye, which is a 32 hour vow of silence with no food or water.  In the near future Isabel plans to start giving Reiki workshops for people interested in energy healing.

I ask Isabel what her thoughts are on a medical model  that brings together Latina healers and doctors under one roof working side by side and if a model like that could ever exist in Chicago? She says, “A clinic that that treats the whole human being (physical, mental and spiritual) would help people tremendously. I think people are ready for a medical model like that in Chicago.” While this type of healing isn’t for everybody what is certain is that when women create their own spaces it builds and strengthens community.

Keep the conversation going and tell us in the comment section what your experiences have been with alternative healing or western medicine.

Contact Isabel Garcia for more information on the meditation circle or healing sessions.


or via / 312-730-7710 /


Read more on benefits of mediation….

Learn more about Tibetan Buddhism..

This project is supported by the Local Reporting Awards, The Chicago Community Trust, Community News Matter initiative. Get the full scoop on The Reportera Series.

One Response to “La Buena Vibra: Building community with alternative medicine”

  1. A-ron says:

    Where is the Tibetan temple you mentioned? The one by Cicero?

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