Strong Women: Dana Bailey – Herbalism, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Reiki
Let’s talk about earth medicine in the deep South; how the dense, verdant air moves and shifts, how history survives among the living, and the people whose roots hold tight to the soil. Earth medicine in the South, especially herbalism, is practiced at the knees of the ancestors. This practice is the people’s medicine, and those who cultivate it within their communities are seen as leaders and pillars. Dana Bailey is one of these pillars; she is vivacious, fun, carefree, and, especially, non-judgmental…being in her presence instantly puts you at ease. You can trust she has your health and best interest at heart. These qualities combined with her skills in herbalism, Cranio-Sacral therapy, and reiki make her an absolutely amazing practitioner, and she is a true asset to Mississippi and the surrounding areas.
Dana spent the first seven years of her life living in Dwight, Kansas – her father was an army man, stationed at Fort Riley. When he tragically died at the age of 27, her mother, Marie, moved Dana and her baby brother back home to Mississippi. From this point forward, Dana grew up in the heart of the South with her mother and brother, along with her Nanny and her extended family.
It is safe to say Dana’s introduction to plant medicine came from her Nanny. Nanny was a tea maker and grew many of her own plants to brew teas and infusions to cure her family’s ills. At the beginning of our interview, Dana recounted one of her Nanny’s brewing anecdotes: When Dana’s mother was little, she got very constipated and Nanny brewed her up a strong cup of terrible tasting tea. Marie didn’t want to drink it. Papa Jack, who didn’t believe that the tea would work, gave Marie a wink and when Nanny wasn’t looking, downed the cup so Marie wouldn’t have to. He then spent the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom!
When Dana was around 12 years old she told her Nanny she wanted to grow herbs, so Nanny gave her tips on how to grow some of her favorite plants – catnip, spearmint, and chamomile – and offered her a pile of reference books, saying, “Read these and one day you’ll be teaching me about herbs.” Nanny’s prediction more than came true – Dana now teaches MANY people about herbs.
Dana received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in Social Science from Blue Mountain College. She is planning on going back to school to complete a master’s degree in Counseling within the next five years.
Dana met her husband, Jack, at Starting Over Coffeehouse in Tupelo. She said she walked into the shop, ordered her coffee, and noticed there was a man in some kind of uniform at “her” table. She kept glancing at him because she thought he looked familiar, but she couldn’t figure out who he was. She got her coffee and realized he looked just like Sam Elliott. So she sat across from him, batted her eyelashes and said hi. He replied in a dry, deadpan tone, “Hey.” Then he took a final drag of his cigarette, drained his coffee, got up and walked out. Dana watched him leave and thought to herself, “He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m gonna get me some of that.” It took her six months to convince him to let her “bag and tag” him. On their first date she asked him why it took him so long to go out with her, and he told her he thought she was only 20, close to his daughter’s age. She was 32.
Dana says, “Jack is so supportive of everything, encouraging of whatever I want to do. Before, people would tell me no and I would just stop – he was so laid back and grounded that I felt safe enough to explore who I was – he was a loving container for my self exploration – my home base.” They have been together since 2003, and they share two beautiful grown children and a daughter-in-law.
Tumbleweed: Can I just say I love your stories–especially how you met Jack and your Nanny’s infamous teas. It seems like you are a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it. Tell us how you started on your path to your current work.
Dana: I was married to someone else before Jack, and when I mercifully ended that marriage in 2000, I was invited to go on a three month trip to Honduras with some friends who were missionaries. I had a lot of time for reflection. What did I want to do? I would be starting my life all over again. One evening I was on my balcony at the cabin overlooking the Caribbean – which sounds much more glamorous than it was; we were in a very poor village – and I thought to myself, “What do I really want to be when I grow up?” Massage therapy kept popping into my mind. I thought, “I can do whatever I want.” I finally realized I was an adult who could make her own decisions. So I told my friend Beverly I wanted to be a massage therapist and she said, “Let’s get you some training while we’re here.” So as we went from village to village we met with Honduran therapists in our free time and got massages, gave massages to each other and just learned as much as we could. Then when I returned to the states I went to massage therapy school in Tupelo, MS, and began working.
Tumbleweed: Now you primarily do CranioSacral therapy. Can you explain how that is different from your typical massage?
Dana: Yes, I worked as a massage therapist for a total of 12 years full time; I started my CranioSacral practice back in 2003. It is a light touch form of therapy that targets the central nervous system and fascial restrictions. Most of my clients are people with high stressed lives. Maybe they have a hard time relaxing or sleeping, or have been in pain for a long time. Their nervous systems get stuck in sympathetic mode. Sometimes they have been in accidents where massage is contraindicated or they are in stressful relationships with emotional problems. All of these types of clients can receive relief with CranioSacral work.
Tumbleweed: Dealing with those kinds of issues can take a toll on the body! And it is also not easy work for a practitioner to help others heal from those problems. What strategy have you developed to help you give your clients the help they need?
Dana: The ways I have blended my skills are often a reflection of the type of people I see; much like a response to a call. Clients come in with specific emotional issues, and releasing restrictions in the body allows emotions to bubble to the surface, and I provide a safe container for them to express, emote, and release what they are holding onto. The central nervous system is not the seat of the emotions – it is “stress response”. Imagine a five year old boy playing in his room and his older brother jumps out and scares him. This engages flight mode and the boy runs through the house, headed for the door. Suddenly his mother grabs his arm, stops him and tells him to stop running in the house. Now his central nervous system is stuck in flight mode; he has been forced to physically stop, but his flight response is still running full blast inside his little body. If he had kept running, he would have gone outside, maybe hidden, looked around, and eventually realized it was his brother and there was nothing to be afraid of, and his nervous system would have been able to discharge naturally. What I have found is I am treating people who are still in fight, flight or freeze mode, often after functioning for years without their nervous systems being discharged. I address those issues and give them a safe space for self-correction.
Tumbleweed: You have a very unique belief structure. Would you mind telling us more about that?
Dana: I will tell you a bit, but let me first say that, when I’m in session with a client, my belief system or cosmology is not important; only theirs is. I adore diversity, and I actively embrace it in my work and in my spiritual practice. I am an Earth-based spiritualist – I call it a form of Animism. To me, all of nature has spirit, animation and intelligence, and that we as humans are a small piece of that. God(dess) (however you see this underlying creative force) designed us (us, meaning all people; not just human people) that way. Trees, rocks, rivers, mountains, plants, animals, insects, fungi, even Mother Earth, have complex intelligence, they just express themselves in a different way from humans. Right relationship with Nature is more important than self gratification. I have my minister’s license from an interfaith school. It was a very diverse program that included Catholics, Protestants, Taoists, Wiccans, Pagans…any religion you can think of really. In completing that program I realized that it doesn’t matter what I claim to believe; it’s all the same (to me) on a fundamental level. I came from the Divine Presence, and when I don’t need this body anymore, I will return to that place from which I came. I don’t need to put a name to it in order for it to be true for me. Acknowledging and embracing the diversity all around me became the focus of my practice. I work with a fabulous lady named Lisa, and we run an online spiritual school that teaches people of all ages and spiritual backgrounds the art of self priestessing. I’ve been teaching with Lisa since 2008.
Tumbleweed: You have mentioned that acceptance has been a personal challenge for you.
Dana: Yes, my biggest challenge has been around diversity, acceptance, and compassion. I always felt different, like my family and friends wouldn’t be able to see past my differences and accept me and love me for who I am. I realized I had to become for other people what I needed most in my life. I have set myself up to be the person with arms wide open saying, “Come here. I will never judge you.” People have asked me, “If you have a pain point, or a need that is not being met, how can you help someone else?” Seriously, though, for me, it was in that action, in embodying and radiating what I needed most, that I found myself. It takes courage to use your dynamic voice; I was so afraid of criticism in the past, but I can honestly say that when the pain of not being myself became stronger than any fear of judgement…that was when I knew I had no other option; I had to become what I needed most.
Tumbleweed: You also practice Reiki and teach a lot of classes. When did all that start?
Dana: I have been a Reiki practioner since November 2002 and started teach all my different classes (as a Reiki Master Teacher) in the spring of 2003. My mother used to say to me, “If it’s not fun you won’t do it.” While that’s not completely true (okay, Mostly True), I do like to have a little fun with my work.
(Dana’s beloved Pudge)
Tumbleweed: You are starting an in-person beginning herbalism class. How do you structure your class?
Dana: Well it is three parts. The first part is teaching the student about herself. That means learning what her constitution and temperament is, among other things like looking more deeply at that individual’s energetics, habits, what she eats, where she may be out of balance. Then we move on to part two, which is learning about the energetics of plants and what plants can be matched with this person; what would bring her into a place of balance. For example, bitters are most often cooling, so to someone who is already cool, a warming herb like angelica should be added to bring the bitters into energetic balance for her. The last part is teaching the student how to make tinctures, elixirs, infused oils, salves, shrubs, oxymels, and nourishing infusions. My teaching is all about developing a relationship. What herbs make great friends for you? What plants will nourish you best? Those are things I want to help people discover.
Tumbleweed; You also encourage your students to learn from many teachers, don’t you?
Dana: Absolutely! I always tell people if they want to take an in-depth program, to go to Phyllis [Light], Rosemary [Gladstar], Sam [Coffman], Jim [MacDonald], 7Song, Matt [Wood], Thomas [Easley], etc. These herbalists all have such unique perspectives, and by learning all you can from different teachers, you really get a more thorough education. So I tell people to take classes with everyone they can can; no one can teach you everything.
Tumbleweed: Racheal and I have taken some classes from Sam. We also went to an intensive with him and 7Song at the AHG Symposium in Colorado this year.
Dana: 7Song! I am so in love with that man – I want to climb him like a monkey! (I wouldn’t really do that to you, 7Song). He and Matt Wood. Really, I love everyone.
Wait. No I don’t. Hahahaha.
Tumbleweed: I’m sure there are a lot of people who say the same. So, when did you open the Holistic Center in Tupelo?
Dana: Well, the Holistic Center has been in existence for a long time, but it sat empty for a few years. It began in another location, and the owner of the building asked me to move my practice there. I worked there for six years and I loved that sweet space. One day she called and said that I had to leave because she needed the space for something else. The name wasn’t mine, but she said that I could continue to use it. It has been the name of my business since August of 2013. Now I have a great business partner, Evanna, and we lease a wonderful space on Traceland Drive in Tupelo.
Tumbleweed: What is your favorite herb, and why?
Dana: My first love is Goldenrod; it is just so much like me. When I first learned about it, I was sneezing my head off and someone pointed to goldenrod and said, “That’s what’s making you sneeze,” so I avoided it as much as I could (I am very sorry to admit). Then when Jack and I moved into our current house, there was a big healthy stand of goldenrod. I didn’t notice it until it bloomed that fall, and I thought, “Oh no! That’s goldenrod!” Jack offered to get rid of it, but I couldn’t let him do it. So I did some research. I had, like many others, confused goldenrod with ragweed [which blooms at the same time]. Goldenrod is such a misunderstood plant, and I grew up feeling the same way; and she actually became the medicine for the problems I was experiencing. One year, I studied her throughout the entire year and made all kinds of medicine. I noted the changing flavors based on when it was harvested, when the medicine in the plant was the strongest, etc. She also taught me a lot about myself.
[You can read her blog post about her year with goldenrod here]
Tumbleweed: What has been the most challenging thing about your work?
Dana: Developing Osteoarthritis and having to stop doing massage therapy has been my biggest challenge. This was a huge loss of income, and having to say goodbye to some amazing clients who only wanted massages was very sad for me. Many massage therapists develop arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. It is just not a long term, full-time job. It can be if you take really good care of yourself, but I wasn’t smart when I began this career. I was seeing 8-10 people, 6 days a week. I should have been seeing 4-5 people, 4-5 days a week… that’s a full time career for a massage therapist in my opinion.
Tumbleweed: What makes all the hard work worthwhile?
Dana: The integrative work I do now is very exciting to me. I am meeting so many new people with challenges and I’m finding that working with my clients in this way – seeing the light turn on for them – seeing them step into a place of wellness – can be life changing to witness. It is an honor to observe their process and how strong and resilient they are. Many of my clients are women and it is so amazing to me how strong women really are when they crack open and allow themselves to be vulnerable. I was talking to my shamana sister Karen about this…about being in our communities and walking with integrity. Karen and I are very aware of the subtle instances we may not walk in complete integrity, and we’re willing to explore those dark places in ourselves and continuously align our actions with our hearts. Karen told me, “What we do, Dana, is shine a light on the places within us that aren’t pretty. But once they’re exposed to that light and our acceptance of them, they become treasure.” Women are so strong. When I am hurt, get angry or can’t get past an issue, that is when I turn to my allies and I work though my stuff. It gets messy and ugly and sometimes a bit snotty, but I don’t settle for anything less than wholeness for myself. Each time I heal, I get a bit more whole, and the more whole I am, the more I can be in right relationship with others and walk in this world in a good way.
Tumbleweed: Feminism is a hot topic right now. What does it mean to you?
Dana: Being able to do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I fucking want to do it. However I want to express myself. I love men, whew do I love men, and many men are very supportive of women. It is just as empowering in my opinion to be a stay at home mom and teach the next generation [as it is to have a career outside the home]. If I want to make googly eyes at Jack and wash his undies, I can be a feminist and do that. If I want to split everything down the middle financially with Jack, I can do that as well (please don’t tell him I said that.) Feminism has lots of growing and maturing to do – but I am so glad we have it.
Tumbleweed: We always ask women about their strong female roots. Do you have a woman from your ancestry who has inspired you?
Dana: I get told that I’m like my Nanny in a lot of ways. But she was a much more fragile person than I; I think I am more like my dad in temperament and personlity. Nanny’s softness brought out the softness in me, though, and I am grateful for her impact on my life. However, I would have to say my mother is my inspiration; my mother is such a strong supporter and a place of strength for me. She and I grew up together. She was 18 when I was born. Don’t get me wrong, she was definitely my mother before she was my friend. But when I became an adult, she became my dearest friend. I can call her any time and she will be present and supportive of me. My mom always says, “My mother (Nanny) was my biggest cheerleader,” and I feel the same way about Mom; she is my biggest fan. I learned loyalty and how to have deep, long lasting friendships from her. She raised the bar on what a true friend is. She is my biggest role model around how I want to show up in the world. She is a fierce ally, she loves deeply, and she is loyal. So yeah. My mom is my biggest inspiration.
Dana’s mother’s influence on her daughter is palpable. Dana is the kind of person that you feel is instantly your best friend. She is supportive of those around her, and works to help her community in any way she can. And we are so glad to be part of her circle.
Thank you, Katie and Racheal, for this great interview opportunity! Please visit them at http://tumbleweedapothecary.tumblr.com and show them some support.
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All my love,