Gonnnnng. Gonnnnng. Gonnnnng.
Sound waves crashed over Daisy Rivera’s still body, shocking her from her quiet meditation. The gong’s energy pulsed through her and stirred her soul.
That was some 10 years ago in one of Rivera’s first Kundalini yoga classes. To other class participants, the gong may have been a novelty. But to Rivera, her gut-level reaction to the sound hinted at her future.
Daisy Rivera fell in love with the sound of Tibetan bowls. (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)
Rivera, L.C.S.W., is a clinical social worker in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine who sees the impact of cancer and other serious diseases on City of Hope patients and their families, especially native Spanish-speakers. She listens, empathizes and helps them find solutions to problems challenging their care. She also brings spiritual aspects to her caring that can make a difference.
Not satisfied with Western medicine alone, Rivera studies yoga, sound therapy and Reiki — an ancient Japanese form of healing relaxation based on energy flow. The disciplines help her cope with the stresses of working in oncology. She also has used them in her everyday work to support patients and other City of Hope staff.
Rivera began her exploration with Kundalini yoga, a branch of yoga that emphasizes expanding sensory awareness and intuition. Kundalini yoga participants chant mantras and go through postures, focusing on breathing and rhythm.
Around the time she finished graduate school, she felt what she describes as “a calling” to become a yoga instructor. She spent weekends at a yoga center, immersed in her practice — even waking to meditate at 3 a.m.
She balanced teaching yoga with her work in mental health, offering yoga classes to Latino children and adults at a community center in East Los Angeles, as well as teaching meditation and breathing techniques to women in therapy. “When you look at someone’s breathing, it can tell you how they’re feeling,” she said.
After she moved to City of Hope as a clinical social worker in 2006, she found her next discipline: playing Tibetan singing bowls. A sort of bell, these bowls produce sounds of different frequencies when their sides vibrate. Traditional healers in Asian countries have used these bowls in ceremonies for centuries, she explained, under the principle that sound helps clear blockages in the body.
She became certified to play the bowls and she integrates them into her yoga instruction. She notes that several medical centers include sound therapy in their integrative medicine programs.
The most recent addition to her holistic skills is Reiki, a calming technique based on channeling “life force energy” through light touch. And she has already taken advantage of her Reiki certification to help some patients.
“We had a patient ready to be discharged, and an ambulance was here to take her to a nursing facility. She had anxiety, though, and didn’t want to leave,” Rivera said. “She got a migraine and was so nervous about the transfer that her physician was paged.”
When Rivera entered her room, she asked the patient if she would trust her to help ease her headache. When the patient agreed, Rivera dimmed the lights and performed Reiki. After about 10 minutes, the patient relaxed and calmed down — and felt safe enough to be moved.
“These techniques provide other options when our words fail,” Rivera said.
When patients ask for Reiki, other clinical social workers now send them to Rivera. She hopes to formulate research on the technique eventually.
But she helps more than patients. She recently volunteered her services to lead a series of six yoga classes for City of Hope staff members. The brainchild of Lia Aquino, a clinical research associate, the yoga classes were packed with four to five dozen employees each week.
Rivera believes holistic therapies provide practitioners with a sense of balance and can keep them centered, whether at work, at home or in treatment.
“These techniques are a great gift to give someone,” Rivera said. “People can take action to help themselves once they understand the mind-body-spirit connection.”