Elizabeth Johnson focuses her healing energy on rescue dog Wilbur. Her practice specializes in treating animals. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News-Times

Elizabeth Johnson focuses her healing energy on rescue dog Wilbur. Her practice specializes in treating animals. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News-Times

Island a haven for practitioners of holistic treatments

Some holistic healers on Whidbey have seen a dramatic increase in demand this past year.

Surrounded by bowls made from different metals, Gail Kronberg strikes a note with a mallet on the rim of one of them, causing a reverberation that immerses the listener in a bath of sound.

It’s an otherworldly sound, not unlike something out of a science fiction movie.

Kronberg specializes in sound therapy, in which gentle noise and frequency are used to create balance and align energy centers, referred to as chakras, in the body.

To create this effect, she uses Tibetan singing bowls, which are made of seven different metals. Each has its own vibration frequency and tone that corresponds to a chakra.

A “D” note, for example, corresponds with the heart chakra, which is the center of love, compassion and relationships.

“It’s like playing a symphony of sound,” she observes from her place on the floor, where she plays a different set of bowls, these ones made out of crystal and in all different colors.

She explained that Tibetan singing bowls have many uses. Apart from being involved in different kinds of therapies — such as relaxation therapy — they can also be integrated into massage and acupuncture, or can be used as part of meditation.

Bowls are often played on a person, sending vibrations deep into the body. Specific therapies are based on the pattern the bowls are played in. A mallet is used to either strike or rub the bowl, with the latter method causing deeper frequencies.

And sound therapy is not just for those with two legs. Kronberg’s 12-year-old black lab, Dodger, also enjoys the singing bowls when they are played on him.

The sound makes him sleepy, which is not uncommon. Kronberg explained that the sound vibrations work on the theta waves of the brain, which occur most often in sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation.

A change in practice

Kronberg is one of the newest healers to call Whidbey home. The island boasts a variety of holistic healing practitioners, from naturopaths to hypnotherapists to energy healers to physical therapists who are branching out and using new technologies.

The Whidbey Island Holistic Health Association lists 54 providers on its website, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Lynne Donnelly, president of the association, estimated that there could be as many as 250 holistic practitioners currently on Whidbey.

Donnelly created the network of practitioners nearly a decade ago as a way to connect with fellow healers. Until about a year ago, members of the organization had been giving presentations at the Sno-Isle Libraries.

But with the COVID-19 restrictions severely limiting gathering sizes, practitioners had to get creative. Elizabeth Johnson, whose methods of healing focus on treating horses and dogs, gave a TED Talk in partnership with the library system that draws parallels between aging dogs and aging humans.

In her presentation, Johnson referenced an ongoing study, called the Dog Aging Project, being conducted by University of Washington and Texas A&M University.

The project aims to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging in canines.

Johnson spoke about supporting healthier aging of adults by talking about her own experience caring for her mother, who had dementia.

She is in the process of writing a book about the same subject.

Giving the TED Talk came at a particularly difficult time in her life last year, but Johnson said she is happy she did it.

“I knew I had to be brave enough to put that out there, because I just knew it was going to help so many people,” she said.

Ever since she was a child, Johnson has always found herself drawn to animals.

“I felt like they were less understood. Humans can vocalize anything they want. These guys are a little bit more of a mystery sometimes,” she said, while reaching down to pet her newest rescue dog, a yellow lab named Wilbur.

For many years she has helped heal animals through a variety of modalities, including massage, herbal and homeopathic remedies and dentistry.

Now, Johnson is making the transition from doing the hands-on work to teaching others how to heal their animals using the same techniques she has practiced.

“What I really have realized is that there are many ways to heal animals or people,” she said. “And when you heal an animal, you often heal a person too, because the animals mirror so much that the people have going on inside themselves, whether it’s emotionally, physically, mentally.”

Johnson has taught online classes before, but said she prefers being able to teach in person.

“It’s hard to do in this climate,” she said. “You could do it online but it’s easier to do when you can do it hands-on with someone and you can say, ‘See, feel this.’”

Other healers, however, are finding that online classes have become a way to teach people they’ve never interacted with before.

Donnelly has been teaching tai chi classes to people from all over the world.

“I do miss having people here,” Donnelly said.

“Teaching to an empty room, and trying to keep the energy up — that’s challenging, to maintain peoples’ interest,” she said.

She is also able to continue her practice, which includes techniques such as allergy elimination and acupressure, a form of very light touch.

With acupressure, she explained that only about five grams of touch, or the weight of a nickel, is applied to a point.

“People are often surprised with that kind of light touch that I can get deep changes because their bodies don’t resist,” Donnelly said.

A surge in interest

For the many holistic healers of Whidbey, the past year has altered the services they provide. For some, it has been a steep decline in clients. But for others, the increase has been dramatic.

At the outset of the pandemic, teletherapy became a popular option for practitioners. But since then, many have been able to maintain in-person appointments while adhering to masking protocols and other safety guidelines put in place to combat the virus.

Wendolyn Rue, a physical therapist, has noticed an increase in clients coming to her Oak Harbor practice.

“With COVID, people are more willing to look inside and they have more time to start getting connected with their body again,” she said.

She has been working on transferring to movement-based physical therapy for years, but has made more recent changes to her practice by adding mindfulness meditation and deep tissue lasers to the mix.

The laser, she explained, provides light therapy that is good for inflammation, muscles, bones and sprains, among other things.

“There’s really no tissue that it doesn’t affect, because it affects tissue at the cellular level,” Rue said.

It may not be for everyone, she said, but sessions with the laser can provide healing effects that can last for up to 24 hours. It takes about 10 minutes on each body part and several sessions will make its effects last longer.

Physical therapists aren’t the only ones whose services have been in demand.

Jenna Alexander, a certified hypnotherapist in Freeland, has also noticed an uptick in clientele. People who are experiencing anxiety and isolation because of the pandemic have sought her services most recently.

Hypnotherapy, she explained, is also good for confronting bad habits and fears. The process can involve a guided meditation, and is definitely different from the image Hollywood has created of the practice.

“There’s that old stigma from the movies that you’re not going to be in control of yourself, which is completely false,” Alexander said, adding that hypnotherapy is really designed to give you more control over your life, not less.

“As long as you’re willing to be receptive to it, it really works,” she said. “The therapy part, it’s really personal and customized to their needs.”

A unique place

No one knows for sure what about Whidbey attracts such a high density and variety of healers, but some hazarded a guess.

Susan Averett, who teaches reiki, a healing technique using touch, attributed it to the island’s creative types and open minds.

Johnson said she thinks Whidbey’s beauty, peace, nature and especially water attracts holistic healers. It’s what made her move from Montana to the Pacific Northwest.

“The ocean is incredibly powerful,” she said. “It’s this big vat of mystery that hasn’t really been discovered. We know more about space than what’s underwater.”

Charlene Ray, who offers counseling services, summed it up like this.

“There’s something about the place,” she said. “It is a healing place.”

Gail Kronberg plays a Tibetan singing bowl on her 12-year-old lab, Dodger. The practice of sound therapy can have healing and soothing effects for listeners. Kronberg is one of many holistic healers who call Whidbey home. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

Gail Kronberg plays a Tibetan singing bowl on her 12-year-old lab, Dodger. The practice of sound therapy can have healing and soothing effects for listeners. Kronberg is one of many holistic healers who call Whidbey home. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group

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