TAKOMA PARK – Rose Khalsa heals people without ever taking an X-ray, drawing blood or prescribing medication.
Instead, she communicates with spirits, draws on the strength of “power” animals and journeys far distances without leaving the room.
Khalsa is a practicing shaman, offering spiritual therapy that is gaining interest in the conventional medicine realm.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, funded a study that could determine what Khalsa has known for more than 20 years – shamanic healing works as an alternative therapy.
“I tell people not to substitute this work for a doctor or a therapist,” said Khalsa, “but people do get better.”
The main job of a shaman is to make a person feel happy and healthy, said Khalsa, founder of the Polarity Center and Shamanic Studies in Takoma Park. A shaman does this, she said, by journeying between this world and another, altered world to heal others.
“You go to another reality where you connect to spiritual teachers . . . it’s an altered reality that’s very real,” said Khalsa. “Journeying” is a shaman’s ability to travel to different places and gain energy from the different spirits there.
“We work with a person’s spirit . . . specifically with unseen things,” said Khalsa.
Many of Khalsa’s clients suffer from depression or have been in accidents. They express feelings of “being out of sorts” or “never feeling the same.” Others seek healing because they feel they have been cursed. And, typically, the people who visit shamans have tried other, conventional methods of healing.
Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Oregon, the federal grant recipient, is studying shamanism as an alternative medicine for chronic pain.
The study focuses on 25 female participants, ages 25 to 55, who have been diagnosed with temporomandibular disorder, which causes jaw pain. The study will not only determine if shamanic healing has a positive effect on patients with the disorder, but also if protocols can be developed to treat patients shamanically.
“We’re on the road to try and validate shamanism as an alternative medicine,” said Nancy Vuckovic, investigator with Kaiser Permanente.
The participants will meet with a local shaman for diagnostic and treatment visits, including a spiritual journey. After the participants complete the journey, surveys and health screenings will be completed for six to nine months to see if the patient reverts to pain.
“We will see what has changed in the patients . . . if there is a renewed sense of optimism or no pain,” said Vuckovic.
Although Khalsa is not involved in the study, she and the participants were all trained at the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, headquartered in California. The foundation trains approximately 5,000 people per year. Other shamans who are “called” to shamanism practice with individual instructors in many different countries, including Africa and Asia.
Khalsa now teaches shamanism through yearlong, once-a-month workshops. Typically, she has 10 to 18 students per year and a quarter of her students repeat the class.
Jasmin Lizarazo decided to take Khalsa’s class to explore her interest in medicine and different philosophies of life.
“I needed to follow my heart, and studying shamanism sounded fascinating and fulfilling,” said Lizarazo.
Lizarazo is a Montgomery County high school health teacher who practices her shamanism regularly. She may return to Khalsa’s class again to practice more techniques.
“The biggest thing I walked away with is the fact that shamanism isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life,” said Lizarazo.
Shamanic healing typically involves four techniques, gaining power, extraction, soul loss and depossession.
If a person is in physical pain, Khalsa may perform extraction, or a healing of the body. Many clients experiencing dizziness or headaches have bad energy in their bodies, which Khalsa identifies and removes through prayer.
“Everyone responds differently to treatment,” said Khalsa. “But they do move on, they do get better.”