By Zhalisa “Zee” Clarke
Photos by Narkita Gold
Trained in India, Zhalisa “Zee” Clarke specializes in sound healing with Tibetan Singing Bowls and Vipassana meditation. Founder of Luna Vibrations, she is certified in the ancient Japanese energy healing technique of Reiki, and she’s a certified yoga instructor. Zee’s approach to healing is to help you channel the healing energy that is already inside of you, your inner self, your higher self, your true power.
You can listen to Zee read her piece here, or read below!
When I was growing up, I thought that going to therapy was only for rich white people. In my mind, they didn’t have to worry about basic survival needs. They had both the time and the privilege to acknowledge emotional challenges and address them. My exposure to alternative healing modalities like yoga and meditation was similar. The western commercialization of these practices led me to think that they too were not for people that looked like me. But when life threw me some curveballs, I sought out anything and everything to help me through.
I lost several dear friends to health issues, suicide, and car accidents. Grief became more than just a concept, but a complex roller coaster ride of lived experience. The glass ceiling at work seemed to be thickening and I kept bumping my head against it over and over again. A family member developed a mental health condition that led me to gain a deep understanding of the word “trauma.” I had a couple close encounters with my own death, and finally….finally I started seeking help.
As black women, we are supposed to be strong. We are supposed to take care of others. We hold the family together. We are often people’s rock. We solve problems. We make sure everyone is ok. So the idea that I would need help in this way was a hard thing for me to acknowledge and accept.
In addition to finding a therapist, I found myself in yoga and meditation classes that were incredibly impactful to my well being. I was learning how powerful these tools were both in terms of my mental and emotional health, as well as my physical health. I was starting to feel a sense of peace, a sense of living with ease, and my inner vibrations were finally in harmony. Most of all, I was better equipped to handle the challenges that were to come my way.
I went to India to take a deeper dive into these practices because I felt like there was a disconnect between what I was taught in my classes in the U.S. and the true teachings from thousands of years ago. It was in India that I discovered the ancient practice of sound healing with Tibetan Singing Bowls. I’ve played the violin for most of my life, and music and sound have always been a form of self-expression, a personal voice. The idea that one could heal from sound blew my mind. The first time I had a one-on-one sound healing session with Tibetan Singing Bowls on top of the body, it was unforgettable. I felt the bowls vibrate in every cell of my being, and all of the stress I had been holding in my body melted away. Physically, it was as if I were floating in the most calm of oceans, completely relaxed. Mentally, I had been transported to a place where the troubles that had been ailing me were no longer in control. I knew they were there, but they didn’t affect me in the same way. I was at peace in a way that I had never been before. Later, I learned that institutions like the National Institute of Health (N.I.H) have cited that this practice reduces anxiety and depression, and the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center uses sound healing to stimulate the immune system of patients. It is also used for pain management, as the sounds are chemically metabolized into 'endogenous opiates', which act on the body as internal painkillers and healing agents, according to the Deepak Chopra Center.
For me, it was the medicine that I needed for my own healing, and I found that a combination of sound healing, breathwork, and meditation were a powerful trio when more of life’s challenges came my way. I remembered the moments where I felt overwhelmed, and I felt the calling to share these tools with others that might also need them. More often than not, I was the only black person in the classes I went to in these areas. I would look around, notice, practice some mindfulness techniques around how this made me feel, where I felt it in the body, and then continue with the class. What caused me to pause was the fact that black people and people of color have suffered from so many challenges, systemic oppression, the resulting economic and social consequences, stress from these circumstances, and stress related health consequences (high blood pressure, heart issues, etc). There are also things like inherited family trauma and the impacts they might have on our beings (Mark Wolynn’s book “It Didn’t Start With You” explains this in depth.)
The experiences of racism that we face in everyday life make it even more critical to have these tools. Two years ago I was harassed by the police after a grocery store employee accused me of shoplifting deli meat. As a vegan who had just spent $220 at this store, I had so many emotions around this humiliating experience and yet, I was thankful that I didn’t get physically harmed by the police. Earlier this year, I played violin at a violin vigil for Elijah McClain, a young unarmed African American man and violinist who was murdered by the police because as a black man he looked ‘suspicious.’ The police came to the peaceful vigil in full riot gear attacking musicians with pepper spray and shooting projectiles. After these incidents and the more subtle microaggressions that I experience regularly, I now leverage mindfulness meditation, breathwork techniques and sound healing to get me through. Rather than spiral into the various paths of deep anger or dark depression, I use these tools to help me observe the emotions and let them flow through. In doing so, I am taking care of myself so that I might have the strength to move forward and help drive both change and the healing of our community.
While we black people could benefit from healing from the acts of ignorance and hatred that occur in this world, I can’t help but ask myself why these acts are committed in the first place. Why do people call the police on unarmed black people like me and many others? Why do the police behave in an unwarranted and often inhumane manner? I believe that these folks need healing as well. Is it fear? If so, of what exactly? Is it insecurity? A thirst for power? Regardless of the exact cause, I think these acts are a direct result of some internal pain. Some of this pain might be inherited-- perhaps they learned this behavior from their parents, but the origin of the behavior must still be rooted in something, and that something is what can be addressed. I believe that we are all capable of healing, and we all have a right to experience peace in our lives.
I created Luna Vibrations in order to help all members of our community to heal. In addition to one-on-one sound healing sessions with Tibetan Singing Bowls, I lead in person and online group sound baths, guided meditation sessions, and breathwork classes in Denver. Since our minds and our bodies are so deeply connected, this sense of inner peace can have a direct impact on our physical health as well.
If you’re interested in exploring some new tools on your journey, I invite you to try the following:
#1) Belly Breathing: De-Stress
When: In the heat of a stressful moment/situation
Time: < 1 minute
When something super stressful happens, something that is triggering, it is easy to get fully consumed by the emotions that naturally come up as a reflex. Our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight lizard brain, takes over and we lose control. Think about a fight with a family member or a coworker. Perhaps an irresponsible driver cuts you off in traffic. Or, maybe someone says or does something to you that is incredibly offensive. In these moments, I invite you to practice a very simple technique of belly breathing. This will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and allow you to calm down and be a witness to both emotions you are experiencing as well as the way your body is reacting (raised shoulders, clenched fists, stuck throat, etc).
Here’s how to do it:
Place a hand on your belly.
Inhale for a count of 3, so that on 3 your belly has expanded to its limit, gently pressing against your palm.
Exhale for a count of 3, and feel your belly come towards your spine.
Repeat for 5 breaths.
Notice how you feel, and repeat if necessary.
#2) Sound Bath: Awakening Your True Self
When: Before you go to bed
Time: 20 minutes
#3) Guided Meditation: Healing from Racism
When: For People of Color experiencing racism and microaggressions
Time: 15 minutes
For those in Denver, Luna Vibrations will lead Breathwork and Sound Bath classes every Tuesday in September at 8am in a live, socially distanced outdoor experience at the Denver Sculpture Park. More info and tickets here.