Good vibrations

A first-timer’s journey into reiki, sound therapy and conscious-touch massage sessions

Photo illustration by Maria Ratinova

Interested in sound therapy, reiki or wellness massage? Visit for more information on class times and schedules.

“Hi, I’m here for sound therapy at noon.” Eight words I never expected to say.

I’d never heard of sound therapy, and making time to care for myself with intention has rarely been a priority. In a culture where individuals’ worth is measured in productivity, work dominates the hours and our passions often collect dust. And once work is finished, we turn to ad-riddled platforms to decompress. We idly lose hours in social media or the latest Netflix series. It’s easy to fall prey to the comfortable glow, exchanging meaningful time with family or ourselves for what we’ve come to define as a moment’s peace.

But now that everyone 21 and older can legally access marijuana, I wondered: Are there dispensaries where weed users can access holistic healing?

I sought a 420-friendly place to find relief for what generally ails me: anxiety, upper-back tension, wrist/arm soreness and possibly ADHD, which I downplay as “trouble focusing.”

Still, holistic dispensaries or cannabis-centered spas haven’t taken over in pot-friendly places. Even in states that legalized recreational use before California, cannabis spas largely use CBD products, the plant’s non-stoney healing compound. When asked, various Sacramento dispensaries had similar responses as to whether they offered holistic services: Unfortunately, no.

But there is one spot that’s filling the gap. Kimberly Cargile, executive director of A Therapeutic Alternative, started at the Midtown dispensary as a volunteer yoga instructor. She and Kath Collom met about 20 years ago in Humboldt County, where Collom was Cargile’s yoga mentor. Each had years of experience in the marijuana industry, and saw dispensaries’ untapped potential.

“We have shared this vision that a cannabis dispensary should be more,” said Cargile.

Common Roots Holistic Wellness Center, sister company to A Therapeutic Alternative, is the result of that vision.

Common Roots offers weekly drop-in services such as crystal reiki and Bhakti yoga Monday through Friday that members of A Therapeutic Alternative can sample. If they feel it, they can schedule treatments with the practitioner at their rates.

Dispensary staff refer members to the holistic treatments at Common Roots to address an array of health issues.

“PTSD, migraines, endometriosis …” Cargile read from a 28-plus list of diseases, conditions and injuries. “Pretty much everything,” added Collom, CEO and massage therapist at Common Roots.

Patients must be members at A Therapeutic Alternative to access their services, but it’s not a far trip. Common Roots (at 725 30th Street) is around the corner from ATA (3015 H Street) in the McKinley Park area.

Because the city has no public consumption ordinance, patients can’t ingest or use cannabis products—including CBD-infused massage lotions—at Common Roots. Cargile said they plan to open a cannabis spa that combines consumption and holistic therapies and classes once an ordinance is passed.

So, anyone who wants to be high or medicated for these services will need to vape, smoke, eat a piece of chocolate or (God help them) dab before arriving at Common Roots.

And a mild vape buzz was a pretty good mental space to be in for my first treatment.

The alternative bowl

Ruby DeVol uses her voice, a collection of instruments and intuition in her practice. In a dim room, a massage table is surrounded by Tibetan singing bowls, rattles and bells.

She asks how am I spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

We cover what could be better—my low energy, shoulder pain, difficulty focusing. I leave out the fact that my right eye has been twitching for three weeks. We cover the good: I’d just deposited a paycheck that put me on good financial footing. She celebrates that, and tells me to stay in that expanded state to continue to attract opportunities and bring in money.

“If you can hold that space, everything comes,” she says.

I sometimes grapple with the spiritual aspects of healing practices, but hold onto this message.

DeVol strikes the side of the Tibetan singing bowl with the mallet and stirs its sound, sending vibrations to the space in and around my back where it sits. She rotates between breathing tones against points in my body and waving a rattle, “fairy bells” and other instruments around me.

Sound therapy uses sound waves to rebalance and unblock the body’s energy. It has also been used to break down kidney stones. When we finish, my body feels light and relaxed, like I’m floating.

“That’s the thing about sound healing: You don’t have to believe in it for it to work,” DeVol says.

As someone who is just starting to slide into these waters, I appreciate that.

Spiritual buzz

“Doing hospice work I really noticed … we wait until people die to say, ’Rest in Peace.’”

That doesn’t make sense to Joan Marie, who focuses on stress reduction through her practice of conscious touch. She believes everyone deserves peace and holistic health.

“When my dad transitioned, when he went into hospice he was on 17 meds,” she says. “I just thought, ’This is insane.’ There have to be alternative ways.”

Each conscious touch session depends on the patient’s needs, and could include soft-stroke massage, meditation or breath work. She’s worked with babies, pregnant women and hospice patients.

As I lay face up on the same massage table, Marie asks if I have any meditation practice already in place.

“No, I’m pretty new to this.”

She tells me to place one hand over my heart, the other below my belly button and focus on filling the space in between with my breath. My eyes are closed, and she moves her hands and breath over my body, touching down to massage my hands, shoulders and feet. I feel two little shocks—once when she touches my left arm, then again on my right arm—toward the end of the session.

She leaves the room and I stay still, letting the buzz in my arms and feet take over. I feel euphoric, restored, genuinely peaceful.

Healing energy

Christian music is playing in the Lyft ride to Common Roots for a reiki session. As I note the lyrics, the driver says it’s important to spend time with family. She tells me her son died unexpectedly last year, and there was a lot she wanted to do with him. “We think we have all this time,” she says, then trails off.

Her advice reflected my own guilt and anxiety about prioritizing work over family. Her words hit me because I know she’s right. Don’t we all?

I don’t tell Chris Poe about the moment, but I think he’d describe it as, “divinely manifested.”

The tatted reiki practitioner says he’s helped treat patients with ailments including arthritis, as well as pain and nausea from chemotherapy treatments.

As he begins work on my body, my brain is all over the place. Eyes shut and unable to focus, I crack a smile like a kid in class during a serious lecture.

Thinking about my breathing, I try to fill the space between my heart and pelvis and my brain calms down. I can hear his breath as he slowly moves around, motioning above my body. Just as he’d let me know beforehand, he gently touched my head, shoulders, hands and feet.

When he touched my right foot, a purple flash appeared in the right side of my head. Poe had said some people get color traces. That’s neat, I thought. But I didn’t expect it to happen to me.

What I did expect was to feel a little more relaxed for a few hours after each session, which was the case. Even the eye twitch stopped. Since the treatments, I’ve also noticed myself slowing down. Slow walks and early mornings in bed with coffee have become more important. And I’m taking more time to pay attention to my breathing, the tension in my body and life’s synchronicities around me.