allira potter wearing a white shirt looking at the camera in the outback

Indigenous Influencer Allira Potter On Healing & Decolonising Wellness

Healing, for some people, is a physical process of recovery. For others it’s seeing your psych and unpacking an anxious episode. Healing could also be the simple act of ordering your favourite comfort food, pulling up The West Wing, and blocking someone on every single social media platform you frequent. 

For Allira Potter, an Indigenous healer and meditation teacher, healing—and navigating the wellness world it often sits in—is a complicated thing.

As the world faces down the four horsemen of 2020 (fires, floods, coronavirus and, uh *checks notes*, a recession) you’ve probably had a few run-ins with IG ads from wellness warriors who are looking to help. A soft-spoken Brit’s meditation app, or a bendy blonde asking you to meet her on the ‘virtual yoga mat’, or, a personal favourite, crystal infused skincare, so you can raise your vibration above the gentle hum of panic buying… while being moisturised af.

The world of healing and wellness is just as skewed as the rest of them: thin, white cis-bodies in needlessly complicated poses are the most followed yoga teachers on Instagram. A common after school drink for brown kids gets repackaged as an Ayurvedic miracle: a turmeric latte for $7 at a Bondi cafe. Bundles of sage are stocked at mass online retailers, stripped of their significance to many Indigenous and Native cultural groups. I am often the only brown person in a yoga class, which is kind of a yikes in a city as multi-culti as Sydney. 

It’s a strange reality that some healing and wellness practices that originated from Indigenous cultures around the world now sometimes feature next-to-no presence from peoples from those cultures. And when people from those cultures begin their own practices, they’re often not met with the same level of support or trust as those outside.

When it comes to healing, health and the wellness industries, we need to ask ourselves: who isn’t in the room right now, and why?

Potter is one of those who probably feels these subtle (and overt) biases most keenly. Potter is a Yorta Yorta woman living in Geelong, who, as well as being a practising healer, intuitive reader and meditation teacher, is on a personal healing journey of her own. Potter has lived enough lives for about five people: she’s alternately worked as a model, a creative and photographer, was married, struggled with her relationship to drinking and overcame deep depression after the devastating loss of her mother during her teens. Now, coming into her own and marrying Reiki with Indigneous healing practises, she says that it feels like she’s becoming who she was always meant to be. 

We sat down with her to talk about the complexities of her identity, how she navigates being a role model within her community, and what she wants people to understand about Indigenous healing in a white-privileged wellness world. 

How did you become interested in healing and begin your journey as an Indigenous healer?

I guess being spiritual has always been in my nature. I grew up with a mum, who sadly passed away, who was very spiritual and into going to women’s circles and being like, super in tune with herself. And I always thought, “Oh this is like, this is a crock of shit mum, like who does this? This is not real.” But she almost knew that I was going to end up in this space because she was like, “Okay, whatever, you do you, mate.” 

As soon as I separated from my husband a couple of years ago, I found her deck of cards that she gave me before she passed away. And that sort of started my journey, I started meditating, which turned into meditating every single day. I started unlocking a couple of, I don’t know… spaces in my brain I didn’t even know existed in terms of my intuition and things like that. 

And then someone said, “Go and do your Reiki course, that will just change everything.” And I went and did it. And I was like, “This is amazing. This is how healers sort of start.” Then someone said, “Look up Aboriginal healers and have a look at what they did back in the ancestral days and what they’re actually doing in South Australia at the moment because  there’s a Healing Center there.” I looked it up and I was like, “Oh, okay this really falls in line with me.”

I did my Reiki Two course, which qualified you as a healer or Reiki practitioner. Then I started practicing on friends and they were like, “you’ve got something really special. I think you need to do this as a business.” That’s how it all sort of began. This year I was determined to get a massage table and set up a space at home. And it just sort of happened within one week, people were contacting me and they were like, “We want to get readings from you, we want to come in for a healing.” It’s been a bit of a whirlwind to say the least.

It sounds like Reiki came first and Indigenous healing came afterwards, how did you decide on this approach?

I have a lot of friends that are in the wellness space, and do yoga and meditation. I’d been in a marketing degree for two years, and I sort of sat there from a marketing perspective, and I thought “Shit, there’s a lot of white people in this space, where’s the market for Indigenous culture to be added into the wellness space that’s done by an Indigenous person or a First Nations person?” As shit as it sounds from a marketing perspective, it was a real niche. Nobody was doing this. I could really tap in and bring something unique to people that actually want to have a sense of culture and healing at the same time.

Are your healing practices linked to an Indigenous sense of spirituality? 

Yes, 100%. I try and incorporate as much as I possibly can, without sort of educating people too much. I don’t want people to come to me and sort of drain my energy in that sense: wanting to know so much about culture when they can go and Google it themselves. I start off by acknowledging the land that I’m on and I’ve got clapsticks that were passed down from family members, and I incorporate those when I’m doing healing. It’s things that don’t overwhelm people, but give them a sense of what my ancestors did back in the day. 

Do you use your healing practices to connect to culture? 

Yes, I do. And to sort of tap in, I wouldn’t say that I’m psychic, but I will say that I am able to tap in and receive messages. I’ve had connections to ancestors. That sounds really weird when you say it out loud. But yeah, 100%. I’ll use my feelings to tap into culture.

What should someone expect at a healing with you? Does it matter what their background is?

I don’t think anyone needs to be of any cultural background or anything like that. I think they just have to come in with an open heart and mind and just get ready to experience whatever needs to be experienced and whatever needs to be brought up. 

I’ve had people come to me and be like, “I’m stuck in a rut, surely your healings can help me?” and I’m like, “Absolutely. come on in.” Just make sure that you’re not actually against the idea of getting these healings because that’s when it won’t work. 

How do you navigate a very white-dominated wellness space as an Indigenous healer?

I never really thought about it before now. I mean, I’ve been doing yoga for a couple of years now and I never really thought about it when I would go into a class and be like, “Shit, I’m the only black person here. What’s that about?” 

It wasn’t until I started getting into the spiritual side of things and meditating and doing the healings that I was like, “Oh, there’s no black people doing this.” There’s a lot of white people that are—as shit as it sounds—using that cultural aspect, but not actually having an understanding of cultural protocols. That’s something that I’ve been really passionate about voicing on social media and especially with my friends in the wellness space. 

I went to a women’s circle the other weekend. I said, “It’s awesome that we are doing this and that you guys are healers and you’re doing tarot card readings for people, but always keep in the back of your mind that to acknowledge the land that you’re on.” 

If you are going to use culture, make sure it’s with heart and intention not just because it’s “cool”, or because you want to jump on a bandwagon. A lot of people in the wellness space, just do it to get on the bandwagon and have no idea about cultural protocols at all. 

What are some mistakes you see people making around cultural protocols?

I got into an argument with a well known person on social media because he uses the didgeridoo in his yoga practices and he’s not Indigenous at all. I messaged this person, and I said “I love what you’re doing, but just out of curiosity are you Aboriginal?” “No, I’m not.” I was like, “Okay, that’s cool. I just wanted to give you a little bit of education,” and I did. I shit you not, his response was, “We’re all one, blah blah blah, don’t take it the wrong way!”

I was seeing red. That is probably one of the most common things, the didgeridoo getting used by non-Indigenous people in meditation and yoga spaces. It’s really insensitive. I don’t think people have that education around it to say, “Oh shit. I’m doing something wrong.”

He was really fired up at me, and I said “Mate, I’m just trying to educate you. Happy to have a coffee with you and discuss this.” I told him It’s probably better that it’s come from someone like me who is calm, collected, and will give you an education. Rather than an elder that’s going to shame your business.

How can a wellness or healing practitioner respectfully incorporate culture into their work?

It’s a matter of having a chat to a local, the local community and the land that you’re on. See if you can get someone in to do a Welcome to Country to open up your space or have an Indigenous person do an acknowledgement. Or do an acknowledgement yourself, with intention and respect for culture when doing it. 

It’s so tricky because I don’t think anyone in this whole wellness space had any idea until a lot of people, Indigenous First Nations people like myself, started pulling everyone up. Saying, “whoa, hang on a second, you shouldn’t be doing this. It’s a constant process of education. 

Considering the quite traumatic and marginalised space Indigenous people and culture occupy in this country, does incorporating culture into your healing practice help you bring it into a more positive space?

Definitely. My cousins and First Nations friends they’re the same, if they feel out of balance they want to go see an Indigenous healer. Given that we’ve just passed Invasion Day, everyone’s emotions have been so shit. I’ve had numerous mob come and see me, so I can give them a little bit more clarity and heal them in that sense. It feels empowering.

Do you find people treat you differently to other non-Indigenous healers?

Yes and no. There’s some people that are just like, “Oh, you know, I’m just going to get a healing,” like any other Reiki healing in that sense. I do have people who treat it in a sense of “Oh my god! She’s an Aboriginal healer!. I love Aboriginal people…” and don’t have a sense of respect or cultural understanding and awareness if that makes sense. Yeah, and I don’t know. It’s a bit tricky.

They’re almost too enthusiastic, or see you as a gimmick?

Yes, that’s correct. They see me as a gimmick. It’s just the reality of it, I’m not going to win every battle. And it’s just a matter of educating people at the end of the day, and they can take it or leave it, but it’s up to them.

Do you have mentors or elders who guide how you incorporate Indigenous culture?

Yes, I’ve always been really hell bent on getting mentors. I have a spiritual mentor who’s my Reiki teacher. I’ve also have a local indigenous lady who is my business and cultural mentor, because I feel like that’s important. So she’s always challenging me, educating me, questioning why I’m doing this and putting me on the right path, but everything has a cultural element to it.

If there’s something that I need to know in relation to me personally, then I’ll go to the elders in my community, and like the Yorta Yorta. But otherwise, he said something to do with Geelong. I’ll contact the Wathaurong community and seek their help from an elder in that community.

You’ve spoken about moving away from alcohol. Is that just a physical detox for you or do you think about it in a wider social lens?

Definitely feel in a social wider lens. I’m honest with people: last year was probably my biggest year of partying. I was going through a shitty mental health year, and I used alcohol as a way of coping. I guess most people my age use partying to escape. It’s like alcohol and substance abuse is the norm, but it just does not get spoken about.

Towards the end of last year, I had a light bulb moment where we had another Indigenous person passed away, a death in custody, that was alcohol related. I sort of had a moment of, “Shit. I’m really not being a good example here for the younger generation by going out every weekend and partying. How am I supposed to break the cycle?”

I said to my friends, my white friends, I’m going to do a dry January. Number one, I need to detox, number two, I need to be that leader in the community that I’m seen and perceived to be. And number three, I’m going to break the cycle. 

The majority of my friends said I wouldn’t do it. And others were like, “Alright, cool, we completely support you.” I went the whole month without alcohol, which was so big for me. I had something of an awakening to, “You can be a conscious drinker, you don’t have to binge drink to fit in with society’s norms.”

Not drinking has also helped me with my business, by being able to trust my intuition a bit more and open up a lot more. I’ve gone from binge drinking to not drinking to just being like, “Okay, you’re allowed to have a glass of wine with dinner on the weekends. That’s okay, that’s an adult thing to do.”

How can someone add healing practises to their life?

Being mindful every single day can change so much. We’re on the go 24/7, taking five minutes to just go stand outside and put your hand out. “Yes, I can see my hand. Yes, I’m here. How do my feet feel? What am I standing in?” To stay mindful and present that can change absolutely everything. That’s probably the easiest thing that I can say to someone in terms of trying to feel  better or wanting to step into getting a healing. Start to become a little bit more mindful.

You can follow angel Allira on Instagram @allira.potter and @hello.allira.creative and meditate with her on the Bloom meditation app.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.

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