GINHAWA/BREATH: Wholeness and Wellness in the Filipino¹ and Filipino American Experience

Leny Strobel
25 min readOct 11, 2021


By Leny Mendoza Strobel with Professors Elizabeth de Castro and Violeta Bautista (University of the Philippines)


I have been wanting to articulate or expand on the concept of wellness and wellbeing in Filipino culture called GINHAWA. But where to begin? In the Filipino language this word is related to our breath/hininga; to the feeling of being at ease in our body, mind, and spirit. Where to find or how to access (in the diaspora) the scholarly works that articulate what our bodies already know implicitly or tacitly?

I first heard a scholarly presentation about this Filipino concept from University of the Philippines (UP) Psychology Professor Violeta Bautista at the KAPWA Conference held at UP Baguio in 2012.² As a psychotherapist, Prof. Bautista talked about Ginhawa in the context of her psychotherapy and counseling practice and her clients’ expressions of (lack of) wellbeing. However, it wasn’t until June 2018 that additional research materials came to my attention via Prof. Elizabeth de Castro (who is in the same department as Prof. Bautista) when she and Prof. Tony de Castro visited the Bay Area.

When Prof. de Castro told me they were coming to the U.S., I immediately thought of asking her to give a briefing or update about the status of Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino Psychology) in the Philippines. She had just completed a report on a year-long research project about “mental health issues in the aftermath of natural disasters” — a study about various psychosocial interventions made by mental health service providers during super typhoon Haiyan (2013) to relieve mental suffering and stress in the aftermath.³ I organized a symposium in June 2018 so she could share this important research to Filipino American mental health practitioners in Northern California. And because both Beth and Tony de Castro are also involved in organic and sustainable farming with the indigenous communities of Agta and Dumagats in Tanay, we requested a briefing about this as well, since both their academic and sustainable/organic farming interests intersect and are grounded in Sikolohiyang Pilipino’s indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP).

My interest in the concept of Ginhawa is connected to my study and practice of Qi Gong and breath-centered yoga and tangentially on Taoist healing arts.⁴ I have been practicing Qi Gong since 2008 and my learning about the role of Breath in Taoist healing and traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is central to this practice. I have also been in dialogue with a Filipino Taoist healer, Rene Navarro,⁵ and have asked him about breath work as part of one’s training because when I think of Ginhawa, the first thing that comes to mind is breath/HA. Are you breathing well? is a question about Ginhawa, an inquiry into one’s sense of ease, contentment, and peace in life.

Filipino Taoist healer Rene Navarro says that he had to borrow the language of Taoism and TCM because Filipinos do not have a well-developed and codified body of knowledge that would be comparable. Yet, in practice, he finds that his students in the Philippines are “instinctively” knowledgeable even though they may not have formal cognitive knowledge of these Taoist healing modalities (Qi Gong, acupuncture, herbal medicine, acupressure). In other words, many Filipino indigenous healers have a tacit understanding of the importance of breath in connection to a grounded sense of wellness and wellbeing, i.e., Ginhawa.

Rene Navarro tells this story:

I do know from experience that a Filipino healer treated my bum knee up in Baguio City last year. I was teaching in Amsterdam two years prior and I suffered from damp wind and cold from the North Sea. Laser, acupuncture, moxabustion, massage, herbs failed to effect a treatment. This woman — Aling Rosa — made a startling diagnosis by slapping a piece of white paper with coconut oil on it and after looking at the squiggles said that I had “hangin” (wind) and “lamig,”(cold). She also said that I needed to have my acupuncturist needle a point that she drew on a piece of paper.⁶

My Filipino hilot, Emily,⁷ also talks about “wind” (that can be hot or cold) as if to suggest that the soreness in my muscles or the stress in my body, are caused by the influence of the wind/air/breath. Nalamigan ka lang or nahanginan ka lang (a cold wind has entered your body and created imbalance).

When I was growing up, I heard the elders talk about illness in these terms, too. I remember how my mom would always want to put a handkerchief on my back when I was sweating because she didn’t want dampness to make me sick. Or when she would put a cold wet towel on my forehead when I had fever to draw out the heat in my body. Or when my dad would teach me how to apply acupressure on his aching joints or back pain. In other words, what we tacitly know in our bodies, even when our languages and native wisdom were taken away from us by colonial imposition, remains imprinted in our cultural DNA.

The Old Ones seem to have familiarity with a concept of wellness and wellbeing based on what I now realize is part of an indigenous way of knowing, a non-western way of knowing. We can still reclaim this way of knowing and being.

I have previously explored the Filipino core values of Kapwa, Loob, and Pakikiramdam in my research and publications and public talks.⁸ In fact, Kapwa is a ubiquitous word now among diasporic Filipinos. It is now time to explore how Ginhawa flows from the balanced connections between these core Filipino indigenous values.

My research work has focused on the process of decolonization for Filipinos in the diaspora. In this work, I’ve emphasized the need for Filipino indigenous and cultural knowledge content that can displace colonial constructs of identity. The work of Virgilio Enriquez on Filipino indigenous psychology (or Sikolohiyang Pilipino) and his mentees, Prof. Beth de Castro and Rogelia Pe-pua, elaborated on Filipino core values: Kapwa,Pakikiramdam, Loob, and Dangal informed the discourse on decolonization in the diaspora.¹⁰

“What do you do after you decolonize?” was a question that came up in community discourse and in my own personal meditations. I was led to read indigenous poets and writers (Linda Hogan, Vine DeLoria, Gloria Anzaldua, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gerald Vizenor, Martin Prechtel, and many others) which, in turn, led to my quest to do my personal ancestral research as well as research on the Filipino precolonial figure of the Babaylan/Healer.¹¹ The research on the historical Babaylans led to exploration of the non-Western healing modalities because I tacitly know that our fragments of knowledge about indigenous healing practices are still in our cultural genes. My task in this essay is to try to reclaim and make meaning out of these fragments.

This exploratory essay is part of an ongoing phenomenological meditation on the Filipino/a concept of Ginhawa/Wellness and Wellbeing.

Early Studies of Ginhawa

The work around the concept of Ginhawa goes back to historian and ethnologist Dr. Zeus Salazar, who first wrote many years ago about how it relates to notions of hininga (breath), which isn’t just physical, but carries notions of inner energy and the spirit.¹² Zeus Salazar is quoted in the Ginhawa book¹³ by Lourdes Verzosa as defining Ginhawa in relation to inner energy and spirit. Verzosa’s contribution to the volume elaborates on the word “ginhawa” as a more powerful concept than “well-being” or “wellness” with its integration of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of wellness. The term resonated with Verzosa as a medical anthropologist since her work is to highlight the cultural context of health and illness.

Another scholar, Consuelo Paz, a language expert from UP, presents an interesting study on “ginhawa” or “kaginhawahan” (well-being) based on her studies among diverse ethnolinguistic groups in the country. She writes that “the state of being, ‘maginhawa,’ means ‘being prosperous, peaceful, free from want or problems’” for the Tagalogs and may be linked to similar words in other ethnic groups in the country that all mean “to breathe.” These include: “maginhawa” in Hiligaynon, Romblomanon, and Sorsoganon; “moginhawa” in Sebwano; “guminhawa” in Aklanon and Waray; “mangisnawa” in Kapampangan; and “manginanawa” in Sambal. The Tagalogs also use the expression “nakakahinga ng maluwag” (able to breathe easily) to describe the “state of relief from pressures and problems.”¹⁴

Paz also studied “semantic networks” in ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines. She found commonalities in the languages of these various groups wherein she concludes that “wellness is measured by material things, achieved with help from the spirit world and by social interaction maintained by nature or the environment. Wellness is a) the ability to breathe easily or loosely and b) the absence of want or freedom from pressures, and c) a physical state of feeling light and easy.

In an earlier study on soul and spirit in Filipino thought, Leonardo Mercado (1991)¹⁵ mentions that Ginhawa “has its seat in the intestinal region, often in the liver/atay. The abdominal region is considered important because “minor and nonvital wounds” are considered to be “far from the intestines.” Modern Filipino psychic healers often concentrate on this region as well. This implies that Ginhawa is an embodied practice — a body-mind-spirit integration. In medical Qi Gong, the intestinal region (dantian) is considered the energy center of the body. In the yoga lineage of Krishnamacharya, who is the father of modern yoga, the intestinal region is where the mala (waste) accumulates and is directed towards the fire (agni) located just above the navel in the solar plexus where the waste is “burned off and expelled.” The mala-agni-prana (breath of life) model in yoga refers to the foundation of health and wellbeing in these non-western healing systems. Additionally in these systems, the heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and lungs are associated with our emotion states in their positive and negative aspects: heart/tranquility or agitation; liver/kindness or anger; spleen/trust or worry; kidneys/courage or fear; lungs/equanimity or grief. When practicing tai chi, qi gong, reiki, and yoga — there is an inner alchemy that happens and restores the balance and harmony in this mind-body-spirit system.

Restoring balance in this system also includes the role of food and its properties in maintaining balance. Since the food we eat is also seasonal, the role of the elements (earth, metal, wood, fire, air, water) informs the recommendations for healing foods. TCM and Ayurveda are both extensive bodies of knowledge in this regard. Filipinos associate food with health and this is seen in rituals which always include food offerings. Likewise, when Filipinos visit the sick, they always take along food as a gift to the sick. Salazar thinks that this practice is very un-Western. In the Asian view, food is medicine.

Ginhawa in the Filipino Therapist-Client Relationship

Ginhawa is the conceptualization of Filipino personhood/pagkataong, Pilipino having multidimensional modes of being: body-mind, behavior, emotion, gestures, voice, breath, posture, movement, gait, and mannerisms.

Ginhawa, as a concept about wellness and wellbeing, intersects with and connects to the conceptualization of Filipino personhood in Sikolohiyang Pilipino/Filipino psychology. Ginhawa is always embedded in culture and community. Ginhawa is manifest in the body’s vitality (sigla), ease in dealing with life (gaan), life potency (gana), joy (ligaya) — and all of these are embedded in intra and interpersonal relationships as explained in the psychology of Kapwa.

In popular discourse, Ginhawa may often refer to the alleviation of material needs/wants. Guminhawa na ba ang buhay mo? (Are you materially well-off yet?). This is the superficial meaning of the term. In psychotherapy sessions, Prof. Bautista¹⁶ says that her clients often speak of the lack of Ginhawa due to unhappiness in relationships, stressful career situations, or a sense of lack of ability to satisfy material needs. They also express an overall dissatisfaction with their sense of self and the accompanying “weight” or burden that they feel. A sense of Ginhawa is always the goal of therapy. Prof. Bautista’s framework offers the concept in this way: Ginhawa means to have a sense of vitality (sigla), a lessening of suffering or burden (gaan), a calming of symptoms — all of which leads to gana or healthy motivation and inspiration.

In therapy sessions, Prof. Bautista also refers to the embodiment aspects of Ginhawa. When a therapy session helps a client gain insight into a problem or is able to help them take action towards a resolution, the client talks about how the body feels (unburdened, feels light). Prof. Bautista says that as her clients resolve the originating situation that led to therapy, the clients then also move forward and deeper into a sense of wellness and wellbeing. This then leads to a sense of peace, joy, vitality, and contentment. To reach this sense of wellbeing, Prof. Bautista encourages her clients to commit to the therapy sessions and not just to episodic sessions. The sessions are important to sustain in order to experience, not just immediate alleviation of symptoms, but to allow the client to work towards a deepening and broadening sense of wellbeing and wholeness — which she calls a “global” or “total” person approach or wholeness psychotherapy.

There are many aspects or entry points in therapy towards this sense of wholeness:

Mental : Alertness, open mind, presence, right beliefs

Subconscious factor : Remove emotional baggage, childhood trauma

Feeling : Emotion Awareness; cultivate positive feelings

Embodiment : Awareness of the language of the body; body wellness

Connection : Maintain positive connections; learn conflict resolution

Spirituality : Cultivate spiritual discipline; clear sense of meaning and purpose in life

Ginhawa is a concept whose depth of meaning includes a wholistic view of personhood. Prof. Bautista emphasizes the need for therapists to not just learn how to address the specific situation presented by the client but to have the skills and capacity to address Ginhawa from this depth. Depth may refer to a sense of lightness (gaan), ease (kaalwanan), vitality (sigla), motivation/zest (gana). This embodied approach or body-based technique/protocol in therapy is what leads to Ginhawa. Prof. Bautista says that ongoing research in other areas of embodiment is likewise needed: hininga/breath; tindig/posture; lakad/gait, bearing; movement (kilos/galaw); voice (tinig); mannerism (gawi); gesture (kumpas).

The concept of Ginhawa has a spiritual dimension as well. Prof. Bautista notes the potential of addressing the spiritual dimension in Ginhawa because Filipinos are generally a spiritual people. She says that bringing in the spiritual dimension should not be doctrinaire and instead can focus on the experience of spirituality. Prof. Bautista often talks about forgiveness, ethics, devotion, vows, witness, prayer, pilgrimage to sacred places, burden-bearing and sharing as aspects of Filipino spirituality that are important in achieving Ginhawa.

Knowledge (dunong) — the need for content or knowledge input — is also sometimes needed to guide the client’s decision-making process and reflection. In one example. Prof. Bautista writes about a gay client who didn’t have the communication skills and understanding of interpersonal relationships in the gay community. This lack often landed the client in abusive relationships until he learned how to express himself and until he got clarity in how he wants his relationships to work.¹⁷

Ginhawa as Practice in Times of Crisis

The following paragraphs are a summation of the studies done by Prof de Castro¹⁸ and her team in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan:

Ginhawa is rooted in breath/hininga. A lot of descriptive phrases in Filipino, e.g., habol hininga/gasping for breath, kapos sa hininga/short of breath, and bugtong hininga/sigh are all descriptors of the breath as victims of the Typhoon Haiyan describe how they feel (De Castro). Their sense of wholeness/kabuuan ng pagkatao, depends on the condition of the breath…but within the context of the crisis, the biological and psychological concerns about one’s state of wellbeing is related to the presence or absence of social support systems. Social integration is a crucial factor.

In this social context and in a land of disasters and continuous catastrophes, a critique emerges: when people say they are naghihingalo/out of breath or naghahabol hininga/gasping for breath, they express their frustration with the lack of governmental and non-governmental agencies’ support systems as they cope with natural disasters. In a country that is constantly experiencing one catastrophe after another as the climate crisis escalates, mental health providers realized that they needed to come up with psychosocial support systems and services that address social injustice and inequality. In this relational framework, one’s sense of well-being is not individualized (as in the Western sense of self-help) but deeply connected to social relationships and context that include Nature (typhoons, earthquakes, flooding, etc.). Catastrophe and disasters erode naturally protective support systems of the community; they increase risk and amplify pre-existing problems of social injustice and inequality.

The typhoon victims express a lack of trust in the elites running the country, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and find that they then must draw from their inner spiritual resources to find their Ginhawa. This is where the Bayanihan spirit rises to meet the need to breathe, to feel Ginhawa. This is often perceived by outside observers as “resilience.”

From this spirituality, they draw out a capacity for joy and laughter (jokes and making things light). Natural disasters do not create pathological conditions, but the injustice that is exacerbated during the aftermath of such disasters is what challenges one’s sense of Ginhawa/Wellbeing.

Professor de Castro observed during this research project¹⁹ the following psycho-social approaches that the communities of typhoon victims embodied:

Pagdadala — Shared burden bearing. The concept of Malasakit — deep caring and burden sharing for one another. This is Kapwa in its deepest expression. Pagdadala was conceptualised by UP Psychology professor Edwin Decenteceo and it means “to carry a burden.” Not the same as pagsama (to accompany). Emphasis is on helping, not just “going together” as in pagsama.

Pagsama-ginhawa-paglaum (hope). To accompany another on their path to wellness. To walk alongside. To bear witness. To keep hoping. Again this is different from pagsama (to accompany), as it deepens in a relational context that surfaces hope.

Katatagan — Steadfastness. To bear the suffering with grace.

Balik kalipay — Return to happiness. Joy as compass. Trust and hope in a brighter tomorrow.

Urabayan — Native raincoat. This is a metaphor for the encompassing embrace of the Divine/God. Prof Violeta Bautista first heard of the word “Urabay” from the Tagalog elders in Quezon province who still spoke the old language. Urabay to them means a native umbrella made from nipa — a symbol of protection/sharing/helping others. Urabayan — a place where helping happens; where folks help each other.

Professor Bautista observed that there are local nurturers in communities. These are folks who are not necessarily there as helpers in a formal role, but just their nurturing presence is already helping others. Nurturing is different from healing and processing as psychosocial support. Nurturing is more connected to wellness. “Local nurturers help you survive beautifully.” Even without kinship ties, inside community folks benefit from the presence of nurturers.²⁰

Ginhawa — Borders on harmony, not just wellness (which is usually in individualistic terms), but Ginhawa is relational…as in Kapwa. Therefore, Ginhawa is a quality of survival. Ginhawa is not an external intervention that is invasive. It is community resilience. It emerges or surfaces through facilitation from external intervention, e.g., mental health providers. This is part of the vital support system of communities that renders those affected by typhoons as survivors rather than victims.

According to Prof. Violeta Bautista, a more appropriate term would be “psycho-spiritual,” but in the field of psychology, which requires behavioral, affective, and cognitive indicators, the use of the term “spiritual” might be considered vague, empty, or flat in academic discourse. There is clearly a need to bridge the spiritual and psychological aspects of the concept of Ginhawa.

However, when looking at the importance of spirituality and its relationship with Ginhawa and with the concept of Kapwa as inclusive of the Filipino connection to Nature, to Creator, to non-human beings — then indigenous spirituality is invoked. The concepts of Malasakit/deep concern, Loob (inner self), Kalikasan (nature), Kabuuan ng pagkatao (wholeness) — are all aspects of Ginhawa. Breath has spiritual dimension and if social integration must be considered in looking at Ginhawa from a biological and psychological lens, it must also include ecological awareness and the importance and relevance of Filipino indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP).

Ginhawa is an expression of Filipinos’ deep spirituality that is voiced as a trust and a surrender to the will of a God (in the Christian language used by most folks) who loves and cares for Creation; a faith that provides them sustenance in perilous times as it calls forth a spirit of Kapwa/the self in the other; Urabayan/a pan-umbrella of care that includes everyone; Paglaum/hope; Pagdadala/to bear each other’s burden; and Bayanihan/to work together towards a common vision.

The Concept of Ginhawa in Indigenous Communities

In another study of the concept of Ginhawa among the indigenous Agusan Manobo,²¹ the following themes emerge:

Among the Agusan Manobo, pain and rage are forms of disrupted breath. Here the connection between mind, heart, and breath is made. They speak in terms of their feelings being informed by their thoughts of pain, of rage, of joy, of peace. Breath equals the mind/thoughts/feelings. There is no split psyche. When they talk about the state of their breathing, they are also expressing their philosophical, psychological, political, ecological awareness. It is all interconnected. According to Sheila Tampos in her study of pangajow practice among the Manobos:

This is evident in the Agusan Manobo model of ginhawa or ‘breath’: pain results from a process of inhaling or taking in the experiences of structural processes(e.g., poverty and land conflicts) both as an individual and as a member within a community who uses respect as a reference for social equilibrium,and it is through rage, which manifests in the killings known as pangajow (revenge killings), that this buildup of pain is released or exhaled….The use of the cultural concept of ginhawa (“breath”) to talk about these contemporary forms of pangajow reveals how the Agusan Manobo linked the concept to structural processes, specifically economic poverty, in terms of a sense of desperation and vulnerability which fuel pain and rage in pangajow killings.²²

When the Agusan Manobo talk about “breathing aches” they may be talking about an interpersonal experience where social boundaries, ethics, expectations, and forethought are involved. Therefore, pain is understood as being socially constructed.

Emotion is a way of understanding the world and a means for engaging it. It shows the inter-relatedness of indigenous ideas about self, morality, social order, and collective goals.

Economic poverty also disrupts breathing. Among indigenous peoples, their experience of pain is also rooted in their displacement, discrimination, and disrespect coming from governmental authorities and their peons. There is a lack of trust of the political and economic elites and the powerful that may render them helpless, hopeless, and passive. Their lost autonomy and displacement from ancestral domains affects their Ginhawa because to them, Ginhawa is linked to Banua (community) and Bantug (respect).

Indigenous peoples understand that there is a difference between natural versus human-induced disasters. Natural disasters do not develop pathological conditions. Violence inflicted by a fellow human being is harder to accept. According to UP Anthropologist Michael Tan, the need to address the structural systems (especially social neglect an environmental destruction) that breed poverty and injustice can be included in the study of psychosocial support systems and rehabilitation efforts.²³

According to Leonardo Mercado,²⁴ most Philippine ethnic groups have terms for soul, but spirit is mostly implied. Mercado proposes that the concept of spirit is expressed as Ginhawa. Spirit as the Breath of Life. In the body, Ginhawa is centered in the abdominal area or the navel as the center of the body (which is similar to the concept of prana in Yoga, Chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Ki in Vedanta).

When Ginhawa refers to the wholeness of the Filipino self, it points to the concept of Loob (inner self).²⁵ Loob has both inner and outer dimensions; it is relational because it connects to one’s Kapwa.²⁶ Kapwa, on the other hand, refers not just to fellow human beings but also to non-human beings, to all of creation, to the Creator, and to the cosmos. The breadth and depth of Kapwa is all inclusive, all encompassing. Therefore, to conceive of Ginhawa as wholeness is to show the intersection and connection to the concept of personhood in Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Ginhawa in the Filipino psyche is embedded in culture and community; therefore, it is not individualistic as in the Western sense of a self-mastery that is often disconnected from culture, community, history, nature, Land/Place, and spirituality.²⁷

The Human Development Index²⁶ is used to rank countries in terms of human development key indicators: “long and healthy life expectancy, being knowledgeable/educational achievement, and a decent standard of living.” The Philippines is ranked among the “high human development” countries, but it is on the lower tier of this category. The question that arises when looking at this measure of “wellbeing” is that it is based on economic indicators, so that wellbeing is correlated to material achievement (as defined by developed economies), educational achievement, and long-life expectancy. “Economic achievement” is keyed in to developed economies in the world, but the current global economic and ecological crisis points to this economic model as unsustainable, breeding inequality, and destroying local and regional economies. The extractive and exploitative values of a capitalist system are the reasons this has given way to an “age of anger.”²⁹ Furthermore, the promise of neoliberalism (on which developed economies are based) is failing many populations, especially in the global south.

How would spirituality, if included as a value in this index, transform the way we measure development? What if we look at, not just human development, but the health of the planet in general and the health of regional ecosystems that support the diversity of life on the planet? In this post-anthropocene age, there is now much reckoning of the flawed paradigm of the human-centric, capitalist economy-centric global system. The earth’s carrying capacity is now exceeded. What can the Filipino concept of Ginhawa contribute to the conversation about moving through and living well in a time of global unease and instability?

Ginhawa in the Filipino American Diaspora, 2020

The above review of literature about Ginhawa as a wholistic concept of wellbeing among Filipinos in the homeland points to the following themes:

● Ginhawa is a state of psychological well-being: sigla/vitality, gana/motivation, gaan/lightness of being and sense of ease. This is the internal (Loob) dimension of Ginhawa.

● Ginhawa is rooted in community and respect and, therefore, can be conceived of as being socially constructed.

● Ginhawa is affected by environmental conditions due to climate chaos (typhoons, floods, earthquakes).

● Ginhawa is affected by human-caused calamities (displacement of indigenous peoples, and marginalized sectors of society, lack of social safety nets, hunger and poverty, social injustice).

● Ginhawa is evident when psycho-social support systems are in place and nurtured by Filipino indigenous values, e.g., pagdadala/burden sharing, Urabayan/inclusive sheltering of one another, paglaum/hope, kalipay/sense of joy.

● Ginhawa as Breath of Life is the integration of body-mind-spirit. The lack or absence of its psychological, spiritual, and social dimensions can result in “disrupted breath.”

● Ginhawa draws from the well of indigenous spirituality and the values that inspire Filipinos to care for each other as Kapwa.

The Center for Babaylan Studies (CfBS) has been a container in the diaspora for Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) since 2010.³⁰ Through its conferences, retreats, symposia, publications, webinars, and its vision and commitment to decolonization and re-indigenization, CfBS has facilitated the dissemination of knowledge and cultural practices that foreground Kapwa as a core value. Through its collaboration with PAMATI³¹ and other indigenous-led organizations in the Philippines, it has maintained its commitment to be in solidarity with indigenous peoples and communities. CfBS has encouraged and nurtured diasporic Filipinos in their search for heritage roots and these efforts are now made visible by many indigenous cultural practices that have enlivened a sense of connection and community. Kapwa is a ubiquitous concept today which signals that its meaning has entered the consciousness and popular discourse of our diasporic communities.

For example, Filipino American psychologist EJR David writes that the recovery of Kapwa can be an antidote to colonial mentality.³² Another scholar, Joanna LaTorre, names Kapwa as a core value embodied by leaders and mentors of the decolonization movement in the diaspora.³³ Among Filipino American mental health professionals, Kapwa is also recognized as a core value when they invoke coping strategies in the time of pandemic.³⁴

Many US-born Filipino Americans who are monolingual (English only), recognize the meaning of Kapwa because they see it embodied by their parents or grandparents or newly arrived relatives from the homeland. Those who are already in the process of decolonization recognize that Filipino language concepts like Kapwa live in their cultural DNA or in the body’s unconscious memory. The process of recovery from historical and colonial trauma includes this uncovering and naming of what is previously inarticulable or ineffable.

There has been a need to extend the concept of Kapwa as a Sikolohiyang Pilipino core aspect of the Filipino personhood to its wider implications in the cultural practices of decolonizing and indigenizing diasporic Filipinos. It is in this context that the concept of Ginhawa was introduced in the diaspora.

Ginhawa in the Time of Covid-19

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to shelter-in-place, the core members of CfBS felt the need to create a sanctuary and refuge for the sudden changes in our lives. Isolation, social distancing, and no-touch made us realize how debilitating this is to one’s mental health. In a month-long daily programming, CfBS pooled a resource list from its network of healers, culture-bearers, social justice activists, mental health providers, scholars/researchers to offer “elements of care” in Ginhawa.³⁵ These daily offerings were attended by 40–60 participants from across the US and Canada.

The “elements of care” focused thus: Earth/physical health; Air/mental health; Water/spiritual health; Fire/relational health. The Earth element offerings focused on: the body and connection to the Land and the disconnection caused by the violence of colonialism; the body’s need for respiratory health in the time of Covid-19 and what herbal remedies can offer; strengthening Kapwa through decolonizing fitness; Hilot as a healing modality; and building body resilience for Brown and Black bodies.

The Air/mental health element focused on: tending to grief in the decolonization process; remembering the good foundation provided by Kapwa and Kagandahang Loob; creative and healing expressions through poetry, art, storytelling, Qi Gong, acupuncture, and meditation; remembering ancestral lineage and the power of reconnecting with ancestors; breathwork in coping with uncertainty.

The Water/spiritual health element focused on: how to build dambanas/altars to honor the ancestors; healing historical shadow material to release blockages to vitality and ease; learning rituals, chants, and stories that connect to Spirit; understanding the myth of the Aswang and how it connects to wellness; healing gifts from the queer body; the sacredness of indigenous cultural practices like weaving and batok/tribal tattooing.

The Fire/relational health element focused on: healing community ruptures; Kapwa and healing across differences; Kapwa as love for community; Panaghuisa/solidarity across cultures in the diaspora; resource sharing to create regenerative resilience; solidarity with indigenous communities in the homeland; decolonizing conflict in relationships (addressing cancel culture, call outs, and silencing); understanding settler colonialism and diasporic identities; eldership and younger-ship in the community.

The naming of the elements Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and their corresponding course content in the Ginhawa series shows this wholistic body-mind-spirit approach to wellbeing and wellness. The process of creating these offerings was collaborative and was also drawn from the wide network of skillful facilitators. The webinar format allowed for teaching, sharing, reflection, ritual, and ceremony — all of which are preceded by agreed-upon sacred indigenous-informed protocols to build trust and confidentiality.

It can be said that the pandemic crisis, like the natural calamities endured by Filipinos in the homeland also surfaced, in this limited context of social media spaces, the psycho-spiritual-social support of pagdadala/burden bearing, paglaum/hope, Urabayan/sheltering together; kalipay/return to joy. Among diasporic Filipinos this is a form of healing via the process of decolonization and indigenization.

The diasporic response to Ginhawa is more aligned with the concept of “disrupted breath” among indigenous communities like the Manobo in the homeland. Decolonization names disconnection from Land as a consequence of colonial and imperial adventures of the West. Turtle Island (United States) as the site of native genocide will always be the marker of the historical shadow that remains unacknowledged and/or denied. This native genocide is also related to the U.S. colonization of the Philippines; as the “Indian Wars” ended, U.S. soldiers were deployed to fight in the Philippine American war in late 19th century. The displacement and disconnection of Filipinos from the Land led to their immigration to the US, where even to this day they are deemed as “Other” and not belonging. This contributes to the dis-ease of identity and its effect on the wellbeing and wellness of an entire ethnic community. Covid-19 has offered many diasporic Filipinos a space to reflect and shift attention to mental health and healing justice issues. Since the shelter in place, Filipino American mental health practitioners have offered webinars and workshops (via zoom)³⁶ invoking Kapwa as framework; additional healing modalities such as art, creative expression, yoga, batok, baybayin, and others are integrated into these offerings.

Breath is community. Breath is prayer. Breath is in Bayanihan.³⁷ To invoke Ginhawa then is to draw upon the power of Hininga/Breath of Life.


[1] I used the term Filipino instead of Filipina/o/x. Discussion of this issue can be found here:

[2] The Kapwa Conferences are organized by Heritage and Arts Academies of the Philippines led by Kidlat Tahimik and Katrin de Guia. The Baguio Conference in 2012 was the third conference.

[3] Elizabeth DeCastro and Violeta Bautista, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies in the Philippines (UNICEF and Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Center, 2015).

[4] I’ve been studying Krishnamacharya Yoga lineage with Monica Anderson, a third generation Fil Am, for three years and studying meditative and healing Qi Gong since 2008 with Ardath Lee. I also studied Reiki with Lori Furbush and was certified as a Level 2 practitioner.

[5] See Rene Navarro’s website:

[6] From “The Interface of Chinese Healing Modalities,” amended text of remarks read by Rene J. Navarro, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM), at the Conference on the Integration of Traditional and Alternative Healing Arts sponsored by the Department of Health/PITAHC and the World Health Organization at Bayview Park Hotel on February 21–22, 2002. He holds a diploma in acupuncture and a certificate in Chinese herbology from the New England School of Acupuncture. He can be reached at:

[7] Emily is a licensed massage therapist in CA, but she inherited her healing hands from her grandfather who gave her secret prayers, amulets, and panata (religious vow) to use in her healing.

[8] See my website:

[9] See Leny M. Strobel, Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans (Giraffe Books, 2001); L. M. Strobel, ed., Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous (Ateneo de Davao University Research and Publications Office, 2010); L. M. Strobel and Lily Mendoza, eds., Back from the Crocodile’s Belly: Philippine Babaylan Studies and the Struggle for Indigenous Memory (Center for Babaylan Studies, 2013).

[10] See Rogelia Pe-Pua and Elizabeth Protacio-Marcelino:,%20Rogelia/PePua_Marcelino_2000.pdf

[11] The following books authored and/or edited by Leny M. Strobel: Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous (2010); Back from the Crocodile’s Belly (2013); A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan (2005).

[12] See Michael L. Tan:

[13] See:

[14] See Consuelo J. Paz, Ginhawa, Dalamhati, Kapalaran: Essays on Well Being, Opportunity/Destiny, and Anguish:

[15] See Leonardo N. Mercado, “Soul and Spirit in Filipino Thought”:

[16] Violeta Bautista, “Paglalakbay Tungo sa Sikoterapi ng Ginhawa.” Department of Psychology, University of the Philippines.” Unpublished manuscript.

[17]Violeta Bautista, Unpublished manuscript.

[18] De Castro and Bautista. “Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies in the Philippines” (UNICEF and Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Center, 2015).

[19] Lourdes Ladrigo-Ignacio, ed. Ginhawa: Well-Being in the Aftermath of Disasters (Flipside Digital Content Company, Inc., 2011)

[20] Online conversation with Beth de Castro and Bolet Bautista on 2/12/19.

[21] Sheila Tampos. “Cultural Concepts and Structural Processes: What the Pangajow Killings Reveal.” North Carolina State University. MA in Anthropology thesis (2015).

[22] Tampos, 10.

[23] See Tan’s essay, “Ginhawa”:

[24] See “Soul and Spirit in Filipino Thought”:

[25] Albert E. Alejo, SJ. Tao Po! Tuloy! Isang Landas ng Paunawa sa Loob ng Tao. (Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 1990).

[26] Katrin De Guia. Kapwa: The Self in the Other, WorldViews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture Bearers. (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2005).

[27] J. W. Kremer and R. Paton. Ethnoautobiography: Stories and Practices for Unlearning Whiteness and Uncovering Ethnicities. (ReVision Publishing, 2013).


[29] Pankaj Mishra. Age of Anger (US: Farrar, Giroux, and Straus, 2017).

[30] CfBS website:

[31] Pamati is a ten-day gathering of Filipino indigenous chanters, babaylans, ritualists and Philippine-based and diasporic culture-bearers. Other organizations in the Philippines doing this work: Heritage and Arts Academy of the Philippines (HAPI), Balay Patawili, LASIWWwai (Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association), Mamerto Tindongan and Ifugao Hut Project.

[32] See “A Brief Note on Immigration, Colonial Mentality, and Kapwa”:

[33] › La Torre Thesis Final

[34] See B.J. Gonzalvo:

[35] See “Ginhawa: Elements of Care in a Decolonizing World:”

[36] See, for example:

[37] As mentioned by one of the panelists, Penny B.:



Leny Strobel

Leny is Kapampangan. Settler on Pomo and Coast Miwok lands. Founder and Elder at the Center for Babaylan Studies.