Atava is the founder of Ancestral Apothecary. She is inspired by the plants and guided by her elders, ancestors and dreams. She was born in Detroit, Michigan to a Mexican/Navajo/Hungarian mother and a Polish father and has lived most of her life in Northern California. She has made Oakland, California her home since 1992 where she lives in community with her wife and their two cats.
Atava is a well loved teacher and has taught hundreds of students. She loves to train healers and to support them to develop their natural healing gifts. She is the founder of Ancestral Apothecary School of Herbal, Folk and Indigenous Medicine, which was born from her dream to create of more diverse community of herbalists and healers in the Bay Area.
In addition to teaching at Ancestral Apothecary, Atava has taught at many venues throughout California and the US, including the California Institute of Integral Studies, John F. Kennedy University, Sacramento’s Sol Collective, the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium, the Portland Plant Medicine Gathering, the American Herbalist Guild Symposium, and Herbalists without Borders. She has also been a sponsored guest teacher with Mujeres de Maiz in Los Angeles.
Atava received her undergraduate degree from Stanford in Feminist Studies and her graduate degree from Naropa University Oakland in Indigenous Mind. She is also professionally trained as a clinical herbalist, flower essence practitioner, curandera, and dreamworker and is certified in both acupressure and Jin Shin JyutsuⓇ. Atava has also developed her own style of ancestral healing work, which she calls Deep Genealogy Coaching.
Atava is a founding member of The Healing Clinic Collective, which offers free healing services to underserved populations in the Bay Area. She has also volunteered for many year as an herbalist at the Charlotte Maxwell Center in Oakland, which serves low-income women with cancer and has been a member of Curanderas Sin Fronteras, which offers free traditional medicine services in the Bay Area.
In 2017, Atava and her school, Ancestral Apothecary were recognized for their positive contribution to the field of herbal medicine by receiving an award from the American Herbalist Guild recognizing Notable Work Supporting Diversity, Equity and Justice in Herbalism.
Atava loves the alchemy of herbal medicine making and has create her own line of herbal products. Each product is unique with its own story and healing properties. Ancestral Apothecary products such as Sage Shield, Siete Flores, Heart Mend can be found at our online store as well as stores throughout the West Coast.
Atava has a private practice where sees clients in her Oakland office and is also available to work with people from around the world via phone or internet.
Journey to Becoming A Healer
My quest to understand the true nature of healing began in college. I was trying to find ways to heal and understand myself after surviving a childhood with both mental illness and addiction in my family and my own struggle with eating disorders. I searched for sources of healing in psychology classes, but failed to find what I was looking for in academia.
This changed when I stumbled upon a shiatsu class and discovered the power of hands-on healing and learned about the mind-body connection. After I graduated from college, I pursued my interest in bodywork and received both basic and advanced certifications in acupressure from the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley.
I fell in love with herbal medicine in 1994 after attending my first herbal gathering, the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium. I was introduced to herbs that would become my allies for life like burdock, dandelion and yarrow. With only a little herbal knowledge I was able to start treating some of my own health issues such as acne and insomnia and was very impressed with the results.
I dedicated myself to learning all I could about herbal medicine and I started studying with my first herbal teacher. Yet I began to be curious about the healing traditions of my own ancestors. One day in the fall of 1999, I was working at an herbal store in San Francisco when a powerful indigenous woman walked into the store, Oaxacan curandera Doña Enriqueta Contreras. All the cells in my body tingled with the knowing that I was called to learn from her. Through Doña Enriqueta I also met Mexican curandera Estela Roman, who continues to be my friend and teacher to this day. The next year I travelled to Mexico to study with both of them and have been a dedicated student of curanderismo ever since.
In 2001, my journey to reclaim my ancestral medicine continued, but this time with my father’s lineage of my Polish ancestors. I learned about the brand-new Indigenous Mind Program at Naropa University Oakland and was guided to enroll. As a student in the Indigenous Mind Master's program, I was mentored by elders and healers from around the world including Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network and Hawaiian elders Auntie Mahialani Poe Poe and Mr. Hale Makua.
My master's thesis was an in depth exploration of the earth-based spiritual roots of my Polish Slavic ancestors, entitled “Journey to my Polish Indigenous Mind.” After embarking upon a shared journey to Poland with my friend from Naropa, Maura Singer Williams, we founded the Polish Ancestral Healing Project. Our intention was to create a safe space for people of different cultural backgrounds to explore their Polish roots.
Through these life experiences, my healing work has expanded to include helping people to remember their own ancestors, their indigenous roots and to recover their indigenous minds.
After graduate school, I finished my training as a western clinical herbalist and became a professional member of The American Herbalist Guild in 2008. As a lifelong learner, I have continued to study different healing modalities with many teachers. Most recently I have learned from Sergio Magaña, who teaches healing techniques from ancient Mexico including working with dreams and the obsidian mirror.
As an herbalist, some of my most important teachers have been the plants. Plants are our healing allies and conduits of the healing and spiritual power of Mother Earth. They are continuously teaching me about unconditional love, of service and of the inherent wisdom of the natural world. They are helping me to remember the ancient and instinctual relationship all human beings have with the plant world as a source of medicine.
Finally, I want to acknowledge all that I have learned from my students each day in the classroom. I am inspired by their dedication not only to their own healing, but to the well-being of their communities. I learn from the stories my students share, the questions they ask, the conversations they have, and the relationships they form with their herbal allies.
Thank you to all the people, the plants and the ancestors who have supported my journey thus far!
Healer Heal Thyself
I believe that facing and transforming our own health challenges (whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) is often a big part of our training as healers. This insight come from my direct life experience as well as by observing the process of my clients and students. Each healing challenge or crisis I have experienced in my life has taught me more about the power of la medicina and how the healing process works.
In 2015, after enduring the prolonged illness and death of my father from Lewy Body dementia, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, and autoimmune thyroid disorder. For years, I struggled to accept the new state of my body, and its limitations and challenges. I have worked hard on many levels and had to make many changes to my diet and lifestyle to recover my state of health.
This diagnosis has taught me about the patience and dedication needed to navigate chronic illness. I have done extensive research about autoimmune disease and I hope that my combination of life experience and professional training can help other people facing similar challenges.