Wellness on Whyte will be celebrating their 9 year anniversary on March 6th, 2021. I sat down to chat with Geha Gonthier, founder and owner of WoW to discuss the evolution of these past 9 years in business, her background in communal living, and what inspires the vision behind the work that she does today.
Wellness on Whyte prides itself on being a “conscious culture”: a place where every member of its staff has active participation in creating a sanctuary for not only their clients, but also themselves and one another. The organization is bound by an intentional list of “Commitments of Engagement”, a rubric that was created by the entire staff to ensure that conscious guidelines would be the spine of the organization, and that everyone involved would have a voice in its operation.
Emily: “Wellness on Whyte is structured around ‘conscious culture’. What does this mean to you, and why is it so integral to the organization?”
Geha: “Culture is always being created, isn’t it? And culture can either be created by people acting out of patterned ways, or we create something where we organize ourselves around principals that we all agree upon, that are beneficial for ourselves, for each other, for our clients, and the organization. In that case, we create a conscious culture.
“That’s why we have the ‘Commitments of Engagement’. It’s not because somebody said ‘let’s write all of this down and make a book of rules’, but moreso something where we can ask ourselves ‘how do we handle conflict?’, ‘How do we handle mistakes?’. We actually sat down, considered, discussed, decided, and everyone had a voice.
“It creates a really helpful process of awareness. We all make mistakes all the time. But culturally, mistakes are associated with shame, with hiding, and blaming. It’s not associated with taking responsibility, and asking yourself ‘what can I learn from that?’, or ‘let me share what I’ve learned with everyone else, because maybe they’ve made the same mistakes and would like to know! And they might even have some feedback on it for me’.
“So I wanted to create different parameters around how we communicate and engage with each other. Because I think for us to create a sanctuary, which is something we call our clinic, we need to make sure that we first create sanctuary with ourselves, and with each other. And what are the parameters we need to have in place to have that sanctuary? That is what conscious culture is to me. That’s why it’s important.”
Geha also incorporates the Enneagram into the structure of her organization. The Enneagram is a sophisticated system of personality type testing, and every member of staff is provided an extensive test to determine their type. Comprised of 9 major personalities, the Enneagram is used to help staff relate to themselves and their environment, and acts to facilitate a greater understanding of themselves and those around them, both personally and professionally.
G: “[The Enneagram] has also really changed the face of Wellness on Whyte. Us knowing each other’s types, talking about them, and having that be part of our conversation lets us hold space for one another. If I know that someone’s a 2, or a 3, or a 9, I have a different conversation with them than I would if they were a 7.”
E: “You come from a fascinating background. Can you tell me a little bit about the communities you’ve been a part of, and how they’ve inspired the journey into the work you do now?”
G: “The first community that really changed my life was living on the Rajneeshpuram ranch in Oregon with Osho. As many dysfunctions as it had—and it definitely did—I’d never lived in an environment that was so positive, so idealistic, so fun, and so respectful to life. And when I say life I mean life itself. As in, the way we communicated with each other, with our animals, and the way that we interacted with the land. It was inspiring to see that after 5 years, we had taken those 60 acres—quite a bit of land—which, according to the ecological report would only be able to sustain 4 cows, and we turned it into the most abundant wildlife area in all of Oregon. We’re not talking some Gobhi Desert situation, we’re talking in the middle of a state that was already so rich with lots of wildlife and resources.
“That really inspired me to see that human beings have incredible power to create benefit on the planet. The way we conserved water, what we did with food, it was all based on meditation. And work. We worked a lot, there is no question about that. No question about that.”
The Rajneeshpuram ranch was purchased in 1981, and its original population began as a handful of devoted followers of Rajneesh – also known as Osho. Geha lived there from 1984 to 1986, describing that by the time she left the ranch, there were about 5,000 people living there.
What transpired on the ranch and in the name of Osho’s influence is often described as revolutionary, as well controversial. However, for most Sannyasins, life at Rajneeshpuram was a deeply spiritual and significant time of their lives, and many say that they did not know about the dark activity occurring at the top of the organization, until it became known to the mainstream media. Many Sannyasins describe that the ranch is an often misunderstood place; one with problems, but also innovation.
G: “I know the ranch doesn’t always have a really good reputation. A lot of people like to point out the negative aspects of it, which is of course appropriate and a good thing to do. You want to look at the places where things didn’t work.
“However, I think it would be lovely to not throw the baby out with the bath water, and actually learn from some of the things that we implemented there that were so beyond anything that was being done on the planet at the time. It was a visionary place that gave me a foundation of my current optimism in believing that at the base of it, human beings want to make a positive difference in the world. And we have the ability to do that.”
E: “How were you introduced to Osho?”
G: “Through my best friend, Arthur. I was living in New York as an actor, and I was just on my way to go on tour. I had been cast to play The Little Prince.
“These were the days when we had tape recordings, and Arthur had a beautiful apartment down in the village. He had a huge collection of records that I was going to make myself some audio tapes to take with me while on tour.
“He was away that weekend, and when I walked in, I had to go to the bathroom straight away. I walked in and sat down, and there in front of me was a book by Osho on Tantra. And I sat on that toilet and I read that book cover to cover.
“I felt like somebody saw inside of me. He talked about ecstasy, sexuality, and sensuality in ways that I was like ‘Yes! I can see that! I know that! But nobody else talks about it in that way!’
“He tapped all of it into freedom. How an ecstatic being can never be imprisoned. When you’re ecstatic within, you’re always free. And that made a lot of sense to me.”
Her friend Arthur owned 3 books by Osho at the time, all of which Geha read over the course of that weekend. The morning that her company left for tour, she stopped at a local spiritual book store to purchase every book on their shelves written by Osho.
It was on that Little Prince tour in 1982 that she decided to become a Sannyasin. Sannyas, a Sanskrit word originally meaning “life of renunciation”, became a title used to describe the devoted followers of Osho. Its meaning for them evolved to describe being “a follower of joy, of bliss”.
E: “Prior to this, did you have any kind of relationship to religion, spirituality, or meditation?”
G: “When I was very little, I had a strange and strong relationship with god. When I was 3, I walked away from home for the first time, and walked into the church to be with god. Someone had told me that that was where god lived, so I sat there and waited for him to come.”
E: “Are you still a Sannyasin?”
E: “Would you say that Osho is still your teacher?”
G: “Yes…and.. I don’t know that I would limit myself to just that, honestly. Osho had a language that was really appropriate for the 70s and 80s. There’s a language for the time right now that is really different, and that’s really important. Life in the last 30 years has changed drastically in the western world. Osho really gave me the foundation. I lived and breathed Osho for those 2 years that I was there, and even after that. [Afterwards] I lived with mostly Sannyasins in my surrounding, for a time in California, and eventually when I moved into my next communal experience in Maui.”
Following the ranch, Geha spent several years on Maui. She was surrounded still mostly by Sannyasins, though this time their community held less of a spiritual foundation. Her days on Maui were spent building and tending to an off grid community, as they settled harmoniously on a raw piece of land, gardening, and building structures such as yurts, houses, and bath houses. She describes her days of living by the ocean, swimming every day, and connecting to the lush surrounding nature. But it was not without its own set of unique challenges.
G: “What I learned there, even though we were all idealistic and we all wanted it to work, it didn’t really work as a community. That’s when I realized, you know what, community living isn’t so easy. You have to create a framework, which is why when I started Wellness on Whyte, I considered that. And I thought in the beginning, my framework is going to be a good one, but it’s not. It was limiting, because it’s only my version, and my framework can only come from my own experiences. In order to really create sanctuary, it needs everybody’s feedback. And that can be scary sometimes, because you hear things that you don’t want to hear.”
E: “Along this path of different communities, what eventually inspired you to birth Wellness on Whyte?”
G: “When I left the ranch, I really wanted to create a wellness centre. I started holding this vision of integrative medicine.
“In Europe, wellness is something really integrated into the culture. I was always really surprised that it isn’t in North America. Here you have your doctor, your chiropractor, maybe you go get a facial, but it’s all quite separate.
“In Europe, all of these things go together. You have organizations where you can get a massage, you can see an Ayurvedic practitioner, you can get your hair done, etc. It’s integrative. And to me that makes a lot of sense, because that helps me take care of someone really optimally.”
E: “What was your motivation behind creating not just a wellness centre, but a sanctuary?”
G: “I wanted to create an outer sanctuary to inspire inner sanctuary. I feel if we connect to our sanctuary within, if every single person on this planet, or even the majority of people on this planet would actually connect with their inner sanctuary, it would profoundly change the face of the earth. And I think that nothing less than that is necessary to bring the change for healing and evolution, from my perspective. It doesn’t always look like that’s where we’re going right now, but this is still what I feel really strongly about.”
E: “What have been some of your challenges over the last 9 years?”
Geha sighs, but an answer follows without hesitation.
G: “Insecurity. Personal insecurity has been the biggest challenge ever, in my entire life. Always. It can stop me dead in my tracks. Not trusting my decisions, feeling I can’t do it, this is the biggest challenge. Feeling I am not good enough, feeling I don’t do enough for everybody else.”
E: “So you would actually say that most of your business challenges have come from core, inner wounding?”
G: “Yes. Which has also been the basis of the greatest healing. Because when you run a business, you can’t escape it. You can’t look at it tomorrow. It’s in your face. You have to figure it out, like it or not. You have to face the conflict. You have to have those difficult conversations. You have to hire or fire that person, like it or not.
“Out of all my personal growth that I’ve done in my life, running this business, running an organization like this has challenged me more than anything else. Even though it has been super challenging at times, and I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, I acknowledge that it has been the most transformative experience ever.”
E: “The feedback that I hear in regards to your treatments is pretty profound. You’re making deeply significant and positive changes in people’s lives. What is your relationship to the role and responsibility you have of facilitating wellness?”
G: “My treatments and what happens in the treatment room is basically an empowering of people to understand that the [the body and its systems] is a super computer, with more capabilities than these computers that we’re communicating through right now. But we have not read the owners manual. That is the journey that I facilitate for people.
“And because everyone knows that on some level, that is why they are so profoundly touched. And when they let that in, something happens. And what happens you call healing. And that happening you call wellness. And to have someone on the outside give you the kind of empowerment is similar to Osho giving me that empowerment. In order for this to take over, it is something that needs to be cultivated and practiced. And I see my role is to help people coordinate their own personal wellness in a way that they cultivate that relationship, and they begin to read their own owners manual.”
E: “I feel like Traditional Chinese Medicine is an under appreciated practice, one that people don’t know enough about. What do you think TCM can teach people around becoming well, and their wellness?”
She sighs again, and we share a laugh.
E: “Sorry, I know that’s a loaded question..”
G: “Traditional Chinese medicine is a really amazing art, which integrates things like feng shui, mindset, astrology, and medicine. So it is truly a medicine of body, mind and spirit. In the ancient days, as an acupuncturist you also had to be an astrologer. Before someone came to see you, you saw their astrological chart. So you saw not just the genetic information they received from their parents, but also the celestial influences their body was incarnated onto this earth with. It’s a really big picture.
“When you were looking at wellness in the ancient days, it included details like ‘where should you be living? How should you be living? What is the most beneficial direction of your bed to face? Should you get up early, or do you do your best work late at night?’ There was so much to consider.
“I think Chinese Medicine has a lot to teach us, as it is so inclusive of all of the many different aspects that contribute to the technology of human being-ness. And as such, it is somewhat misunderstood, and hasn’t really gotten the acknowledgement that it deserves.
“What is that spark that is that mystery? What is that space in between matter? Because matter, even though it seems so firm, it’s almost completely space. And Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine consider that. They understand that this human being-ness is a mystical compound of all the different elements on this earth. Because that’s where we are. Spirit might be much larger than that. But on this earth, it is beneficial to have all of these elements balanced within the body. So, the body, mind and spirit connection is something that is really strong in this particular medicine, and quite undervalued.”
E: “I love how you used the term big picture, because earlier in this conversation we discussed not feeling good enough, and feeling like you don’t have value. And I think the immense amount of consideration that TCM has brings to light that there is something very mystical, magical inside of everyone. And I think that helps give people a sense of value, purpose, and meaning.”
G: “There’s such a depth to TCM, and I think it is super exciting to integrate these understandings with the outstanding accomplishments that we have in Western medicine. It is hugely beneficial to use an approach of strengthening and harmonizing.”
E: “I think there’s sometimes an assumption and misconception that if people participate in more holistic approaches to medicine, that they must distrust or disregard Western medicine. While that could be true for some people, that’s not the case all across the board.”
G: “It is a misconception, often on both sides. It’s not that western medicine dislikes TCM. I have lots of nurses, doctors, and people in the pharmaceutical world that come to me, because they understand and appreciate the benefits. It would be so dear to my heart to find more ways to integrate.”
E: “Absolutely. Congratulations on your 9th year! What do you see in the future for Wellness on Whyte?”
G: “Thank you!
“So much more is possible this year through the exploration of online offerings. I would love to share more education, information, and healing by using technology to spread this kind of empowerment. I know that empowerment was really important for me to heal and grow along my journey, and I know it continues to be really important for all of my clients. I see WoW’s reach continue to spread and extend wider, the benefits of our sanctuary becoming more accessible through technology.”
Exciting things are currently in the works for Geha Gonthier and her team at Wellness on Whyte, both on and offline. You can find her on Instagram for weekly Yoga & Qi Gong classes, education, and inspiration @drgeha. Connect with us @wellnessonwhyte.