IWM: Janna Shapero, Urban Healer

We spoke with Janna Shapero, owner of Urban Healer Wellness Co. Janna makes herbal medicine, and offers massage and yoga services in Toronto. We found out how to find the best yoga class, tips for choosing a practitioner or doctor best suited for your needs, and straight forward advice to change your life.

What is an Urban Healer?

An urban Healer is a person like myself, that supports city dwellers like yourself, to take better care of their health. In order to bear the title of healer with some integrity, one must have gone through a extensive journey of self-healing to be able to share that experience authentically with others. An Urban Healer is a contemporary version of the local medicine person who attends to the health needs of their community. They work with traditional healing methods that are rooted in medical intuition, common sense, and time-tested approaches. An Urban Healer helps a person restore lost connections to their own body wisdom.

Would everyone benefit from herbal therapy?

Herbal medicine can be benefit all people from all walks of life, as it has done so for the last 2.5 thousand years of recorded medical history. It is invaluable for minor everyday health complaints related to injury, digestion, sleep, uncomplicated infections, headaches, backaches and more. It can also be used to effectively manage or treat any chronic disease. A knowledgeable herbal clinician can provide relief for any type of illness, and work harmoniously alongside conventional drugs or treatments.

Do you make your own remedies? Are they safe?

I work with a combination of hand-made remedies that I create in my own dispensary, and medicinal grade herbal extracts that I acquire from a master herbalist here in Toronto. Safety is assessed on a client to client basis. The herbs chosen and the dosage provided are determined according to a client’s age and health status, as well as the medications they are using. The vast majority of herbs are safe and free of toxicity, but there are some contraindications especially during pregnancy, there are herbs with toxic constituents whose use must be monitored, or potential drug interactions. It is quite rare for consumers to successfully self-treat with herbs, and they should be somewhat wary of store bought herbal supplements as they are not tested for purity or safety.

Which massage style is most beneficial?

That depends on what issue a client is looking to address and what type of touch they are most comfortable with and responsive to. One is not more beneficial than the other. I assess my client’s needs, their constitution and tissue type through a variety of methods and modify the style or approach accordingly. The relationship between practitioner and client is quite often of greater importance than the technique.

Should everyone practice yoga?

I think everyone can benefit from a home-based yoga practice that is tailored to their specific needs. I do not universally recommend studio-based yoga classes to everyone because there is a high rate of unreported injury and lack of oversight for individual students due to large class sizes and a demanding pace of practice. In general, yoga keeps the spine and joints limber, strengthens the core muscles to support good posture, releases physical and psychic tension, and quiets the mind. Who cannot benefit from that?

Are all yoga classes the same?

No. There are a variety of yoga schools which train yoga teachers in different methods, ranging from therapeutic to athletic. The class is going to be an expression of the teachers training, experience and character.

What advice can you share to help someone find the right yoga instructor and class?

First determine what it is you need or want from yoga and then discuss that with the director of a studio you are interested in. They will recommend classes or teachers that most closely match what you’re looking for. Most studios have a wide variety of class styles and offer the first month of membership at a promotional price so prospective students can trial different classes. I recommend visiting at least two studios before committing. It is also wise to consider periodic private instruction to supplement and compliment group classes. They can help the student develop better form, find modifications for poses that are difficult, help to prevent injury, and in general help a student advance their yoga practice.

Do you ever get sick? 

Yes. I will typically get a minor cold 1-2x a year and manage a number of physical injuries on an ongoing basis. I have transient issues associated with sleep, digestion, stress and general aging, all of which I treat with natural remedies and therapies. For the last 30 years I have almost exclusively used herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, diet, exercise, massage, hydrotherapy, and yoga to address any health issues which have arisen. I have never taken a prescription medication in my adult life aside from a couple rounds of antibiotics and a tetanus shot over the last three decades. Having a strong foundation of education in holistic therapies and herbal medicine has allowed me to be self-directed and preventative with my healthcare.

Should we consult with an herbalist instead of a doctor? Instead of a naturopath? How are we supposed to choose a path and professional for healing?

No. I think allopathic and holistic medicine are very complimentary and both have something of value to offer. Combined together each approach becomes more powerful. The art is in knowing what to expect from each modality. Allopathic medicine provides great diagnostic tools, crisis intervention and symptom management; while herbal medicine seeks to treat the person rather than the disease, thereby addressing the root of the imbalance instead of the symptoms. These approaches can dovetail together very well, especially when medical doctors support their patients extracurricular efforts.

Choosing between a Clinical Herbalist and a Naturopath is a matter of personal preference. Naturopaths are trained in a spectrum of holistic modalities, whereas Herbalists specialize in one. Naturopaths rely more heavily on prefabricated neutraceutical supplements, whereas Herbalists tend to create or compound their own medicines by hand. People choose Herbalists typically because they want the most natural remedies available or they have already tried every other option. We are often a last resort.

It is very confusing and difficult to find the right practitioner or doctor. Success comes from taking ownership of your journey towards health, advocating for your needs, and taking responsibility for your lifestyle and habits. Working with a healthcare professional should be an equal partnership, with both parties steering the ship together. If you give your power over to your healthcare provider or fall prey to the magic bullet mentality, you will end up meeting many obstacles along the way.

Are all detoxes and cleanses the same but just packaged differently?

There are different detox formats – juice; smoothie; supplements; herbal tonics; and herbal teas. They all contain a similar range of ingredients which includes: whole foods; whole-food concentrates; prebiotics; fibre; probiotics; herbs for the liver, kidneys, lymphatic system, colon; and neutraceutical antioxidants.

Using a simple herbal tonic or tea with some sound dietary changes for 4-6 weeks in the Spring and Fall is what I practice personally and promote to my clients. You cannot realistically track efficacy when you take 2-3 products at a time with 50 different ingredients. Complex formulation benefits the manufacturer more than the consumer, as it gives them a proprietary advantage.

What time of year is best to cleanse?

Spring and Autumn.

What should we all look for in a cleanse or detox?

A sound approach and a short ingredient list that you can comprehend. Lifestyle advice that is motivating and empowering. Generally less is more – less products, less eliminations. If you have to take or drink things that make you want to throw up i.e. the infamous ‘Liver Flush’ it’s usually because your body really does not want to do it and I say listen to your body. Powdered smoothie blends or raw juices offer very transient benefits for a very high price. Unless prescribed to you by a healthcare professional, I would avoid supplements which contain herbal laxatives, prebiotics and probiotics if you suffer from dyspepsia, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, SIBO, Candida, IBS or IBD.

How do you know if what you are taking is working?

Your symptom(s) change for the better within 1-8 weeks of use. This will be dependent on how long the issue has existed and the appropriateness of the remedy chosen to address it. Initial treatment should include no more than 3 remedies maximum, preferably one to adequately assess its efficacy. This is where my approach as a Clinical Herbalist differs greatly from the average Naturopath, who typically prescribes anywhere form 5-7 remedies out of the gate.

How would you describe your relationship with social media?

It goes in waves. I enjoy keeping in touch with my broader network but eventually I reach a point where the content on my feed is not a match to my energy and I dip out for a while. I am an introvert who deeply values quiet time and empty space for reflection. I have always preferred direct social contact over virtual connection. Janna on Facebook // Instagram

What is something we should all stop doing or taking today to feel better?

Stop judging yourself and start listening to your body. Products won’t change your life, you will.

For more information visit urbanhealer.ca, and follow Janna on Facebook and Instagram