Wellness has become something of a buzzword nowadays, and even a career path – you need only scroll through some of Instagram’s popular health hashtags to find a million aspirational photos of perfectly manicured hands holding mugs of matcha. But long before alternative wellness became trendy, curanderismo, a system of folk healing practices that combine the physical and spiritual elements of health, was an important part of Latin American cultures.
It was these traditions that inspired Josie Castañeda, the wellness guru behind the natural, self-healing treatment brand Curandera Remedies. Through a range of small batch alternative wellness products and services, Curandera Remedies aims to reconnect people to the sacred, natural world and bring harmony into their lives. It’s a practice that evolved out of Castañeda’s personal experience as an overworked New York City professional as well as her Mexico City upbringing, where she learned herbal remedies from her yerbero Cuban father, and observed her curandera grandmother perform ‘limpias’ or spiritual cleansings.
After her job at a lingerie company left her stressed, anxious, and suffering from insomnia, Castañeda began exploring yoga and meditation, and building on her knowledge of holistic healing. She eventually came full circle to combine her inherited knowledge of herbs and curandería with yogic and meditation practices. The end result was Curandera Remedies, which offers products like Señorita Moon Cycle oil for PMS discomfort, and cannabis-infused olive oils meant for sacred ceremonies (only available in Cali and Colorado). Other ointments in Castañeda’s apothecary include herbal teas, tinctures, henna soaps, and aromatherapy concoctions. Many of these products are inspired by ancient practices, like the hand-rolled smoke blends of rose, chamomile, and lavender, which are meant to soothe and reference the practice of offering tobacco to the ancestors. In addition, she performs holistic services like herbal consultations, Toltec bodywork, reiki, flower and crystal essence therapy, and private yoga and meditation instruction in Miami, where she is based.
Nonetheless, Castañeda does not consider herself a traditional curandera. She says for her practice to work, she has to speak the language of the people that seek her help. She wants to help people heal themselves.
Although a “New Age” revival of sorts seems to be underway, it’s important to acknowledge that healing practices like curanderismo have deep cultural roots in ancient healing traditions. Right now, the occult is all the rage, and you can buy $40 magic sprays in the many witch, crystal, and potion shops that dot gentrified neighborhoods, like LA’s Silverlake or Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés says in her introduction to Woman Who Glows in the Dark – the vanguard publication about curandera treatments by Elena Avila –“The phrase ‘New Age’ has never been and will never be a part of curanderismo.” Castañeda doesn’t buy into the capitalistic notion that you need a magic spray to meditate. She is a witness to the employment of curanderismo and yerbería for practical help and medicinal cures. “I don’t feed into the idea that curanderas are above and beyond. It’s impossible because we are not God. It’s an energy that comes through me. This is about me giving you the chance to heal yourself. Self healing is self discovery,” she says.
We caught up with the Curanda Remedies founder to learn more about her ideas on curanderismo and self-care.
What is your family’s relationship with curanderismo?
My Mexican great grandmother was considered a healer, a curandera. She was the family matriarch and did much of the healing in the home and for close family members. Growing up, my dad used folk remedies he learned in Cuba for healing colds, sprains, and other simple maladies.
Why did you start Curandera Remedies?
Curandera Remedies began as a way to share what had enriched my life. As a working professional I found yoga, meditation, and folk remedies altered my lifestyle. These healing modalities brought out the best version of myself, I wanted to share this with others so they too enjoy the benefits of these healing modalities.
Who were your teachers?
I have taken classes with various institutions and teachers but the teachers that have connected me further to these healing modalities are Julia Graves, Yogi Charu, and of course my Dad.
You were born and raised in Mexico D.F. and visit often. Can you describe how you saw curanderismo functioning there then and how it’s maybe changed now?
In my personal experience curanderismo used to be about healing the body and the mind. The visits to the curandero/a were about herbs, ‘platicas’ (talks), and some good spiritual advice that offered real help. Now it’s become this money-making machine of talking to the dead, extreme esoteric advice, and telling you more about what is wrong that needs to be ‘corrected’ so you can come back as repeat customer.
Explain your usage of the word curandera as it applies to your practice.
I use the word curandera as it is defined: ‘one who heals’.
How does your practice of modern day curanderismo differ from those elements used in traditional curanderismo?
Some of what I offer is traditional to the Latin American culture, such as the use of hierbas (herbs) and ventosas (cupping). And I mix these with other traditional healing modalities as traditional Western Herbalism, Meditation, Energetic essences, and Yoga. However, I do not offer esoteric advice, ‘limpias’, talks with the dead, brujeria, or enchantments which many curanderos now offer as a menu of curanderismo.
Do you ever get people who are critical or leery of the fact that you call yourself a curandera?
90% of the people I have encountered in the past four years have been extremely supportive. They see the connection to the products and services offered with the use of the name which I’m truly grateful for!! The other 10% is a bit more judgmental, they want to see more esoteric services and products.
How do you feel about the rise in interest in witchcraft, new age spirituality, the fact that Urban Outfitters sells guides on witchcraft, etc.?
The interest in spirituality is directly connected to the lack of fulfillment in our society. Many of us have been raised in environments where our ‘spiritual connections’ are lacking or completely neglected. We live in a society where we feed our material needs but not our spiritual needs. Because there is a lack of true leaders in the area, a store can sell and profit from such ‘guides.’ In my opinion, these are elementary and temporary mends to a much bigger issue in our society. Being curious on the subject is great, it’s a recognition of what is missing in one’s life but the lack of structure within the area itself allows for misguided information to spread.
I think many of us see the value of self-care and aim to have more of it in our lives. Can you give some practical advice for people who want to make sure they’re looking after their mind, body and spirit?
Self care is at the top of my list for anyone looking for conscious living! The best advice I always give is to stay consistent. Consistency will build a strong self care practice that will eventually become a habit, a way of life. I recommend starting with small steps of a practice that can quiet your body/mind and you can find a connection to your inner guides (spirit) such as 10 minutes of breath-work or meditation.
I know you left the hustle and bustle of NYC to pursue your dream of self-employment. Do you believe working professionals can truly maintain harmony and balance in their lives with all the stresses of city life?
Yes, a working professional can achieve and maintain harmony & balance. The key is to keep true to their priorities and make conscious decisions.
Visit her website to check out her work and all the current carriers of her homemade remedies in New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other cities.