Vital Ways was Born Out of Necessity, Inspired by Tradition, Insisted Upon by the Community.

We’re often asked about how Vital Ways got its start, so we thought it’d be helpful to share our story.

Vital Ways is a national leader in holistic herbalism, nutrition and lifestyle education that offers a 1-4 year Clinical Herbalist Certificate Program, has a Community Free Clinic that provides 100% free holistic consultations to the public, Public Education Classes, and a Holistic Apothecary. You can find out all about the exciting things that we’re up to here.

To hear about how we got our start, then please read on.

Our story began as The School of Traditional Western Herbalism in about 2009. At that time our mission was to share education and offer health guidance with an emphasis on traditional herbalism and modern clinical skills, with a lesser focus on holistic nutrition and healthy lifestyle.

We had a multi-year school, public education classes, an herbal apothecary, and Free Community Clinic, similar in structure but different in content to what we have today.

Around our core faculty, Christopher Smaka and Hanna Jordan, we assembled an all-star cast of the Who’s Who in the Western Herbal World as adjunct and guest faculty. For our work, we received very positive feedback from students, clients, alumni and the community.

Born Out of Necessity, to Achieve the Goal of Healing

Although we were deeply inspired by and got positive results from focusing on Traditional Herbalism, in order to continually improve our successes, we found it necessary to evolve and continually develop and expand the curriculum each year, with such things as modern phytochemistry, nutrition, and extensive holistic healing methods from multiple progressive disciplines including mind-body medicine, exercise physiology, functional medicine.

Since our program has always emphasized effective healing as the goal, we’ve always emphasized that what we teach must be practical, and effective in the real world, verified by ours, and our student’s, client’s and patron’s repeated experience and results.

With this perspective firmly in mind, we realized that to guide our students to become the most effective healers, we needed to educate them with a more comprehensive skillset.

As a school focused on natural healing, we saw that nature provided all that a person needs to be healthy. We call this concept the Template for Vital Health. I’m sure you can guess the elements contained in nature’s Template for Vital Health: Abundant nutrients, regular movement, restorative sleep, a toxin free environment, connection to others etc. In fact, this template is such an important topic that we have entire blog post on it that will be published soon.

As this template held the keys to healing even the most complex conditions, we developed more classes and trainings to prepare our students to be able to use it in their own lives and in those they are assisting.

When we incorporated this material into our curriculum, we saw an immediate positive shift. Our Clinic Practicum Students who guided clients in our Community Free Clinic were highly adept herbal clinicians and by adding extensive holistic training to their skillsets, derived from nature’s vital template, they were even more able to more profoundly shift the health of others far transcending the limitation of symptom suppression band-aid herbalism that is a feature of reductionistic approaches.

Inspired by Traditional Healers: The First Holistic Practitioners at the Cutting Edge of Healing

The 3 great ancient herbal traditions, Greek/Unani Tibb, Ayurvedic, and Chinese, as taught and practiced in the regions in which they developed, each use advanced methods of healing that address the entire person holistically. Each uses interventions that include but are not limited to food as medicine, lifestyle changes, mind-body techniques and herbalism. These traditions as practiced in their countries, not so much in this country oddly enough, are truly holistic, meaning that they see healing as involving the entire person and not just a single type of therapeutic intervention.

These 3 great systems of medicine, that are still thriving today, integrate their 2000 year old holistic models, with the most modern science, physiology and research, while maintaining their original framework. I was very surprised to see this in both China and India, on my travels to examine and learn from these amazing healers. What I saw was that they incorporated the most modern concepts into their traditional model while ensuring that they maintain the integrity of their ancient healing wisdom that they evolved over millennia of experience.

Traditional in these cases does not mean unevolved. It means that the models started quite some time ago, and maintained many aspects of their original essence throughout the ages, as they continually evolved, they incorporated useful ideas from the leading edge of new health developments and innovations.

This is quite unlike the mainstream western model which largely seeks to replace, rather than improve or supplement traditions that came before it. This is one of the ways that modern medicine represents a patriarchal stance on medicine, but that’s a message for a different post.

The traditional systems are, and always have been at the leading edge of innovation, while preserving the effective holistic ancient model that they originated. This integration of traditional wisdom with modern innovations as practiced in those countries showcases an important principle, that of being able to harmoniously blend the most effective healing wisdom from across time into a singular model.

This is the guiding perspective that is at the essence of Vital Ways.

Vital Ways is based on an functional effective teachable and learnable integration of traditional wisdom with the cutting edge of holistic healing.

The Community Asks For More

As Vital Ways was growing from its traditional herbal roots and incorporating more aspects of healing from holism and nutrition, the community began to voice its interest in wanting even more. We were commonly asked if we were going to teach more nutrition classes, more mind-body medicine and more modern holism such as advanced detoxification. People were asking for more tools to add to their holistic herbalism skillset.

And we felt that to serve our purpose of contributing to community healing, we needed to listen and be responsive to the community’s requests.

So, we began to offer more public classes on these topics and evolved and then expanded our curriculum.

The Essence of Healing: From Negative to Positive Health

As we were broadening and evolving our curriculum, educating our students with more powerful tools, and personally increasing our own knowledge and skillset as those who teach always will, there was a simultaneous shift of focus away from simple symptom management, to the achievement of more vital and vibrant health.

Most health care models, mainstream and alternative, focus on the removal of symptoms. The familiar story goes something like this: A patient sees a practitioner, tells that practitioner of their symptoms, and the practitioner does their best to choose a remedy or surgery to eliminate the symptoms. If the patient is lucky enough to no longer have symptoms, then the symptom absence, a negative state, is considered the cure.

At Vital Ways, long before we changed our name, it became clear from our own health journeys, and from those of the hundreds of students, and thousands of patrons, and clients of our clinic and apothecary, that symptom removal was only a part of the journey of healing. And it was the less significant part.

The more significant and remarkable part of the healing journey was that once people took steps to restore a natural way of living with herbs, lifestyle and nutrition, they very often go beyond a reduction of symptoms and began to feel remarkably better overall. The experience of fewer symptoms, a negative state, is definitely an important step for many, but what we were seeing was something more, a palpable presence of feeling better, more vibrant, more content, more alive. This is health as a positive state.

This positive state of health, a state of vibrancy, a state of something present that we want, is how Vital Ways defines true health.

In 2015 Vital Ways was Born

So, in response to the clinical necessity, inspired by Traditional Wisdom, encouraged by the community, and through recognition and embracing positive health, Vital Ways was born. Looking back, it feels like it was a spontaneous event that rode on the heels of a tremendous amount of passion, belief, effort, sacrifice and a coalescing of the brilliant minds of students, public, faculty, alumni and staff.

And since that time, we’ve been maintaining this momentum by continually improving and evolving both our educational offerings and our clinical work to help as many people as we can.

If you want to find out more about Vital Ways, or join a class, please feel free to contact us at or call 503 914 7908.

Until we talk next, we wish you every success on your path to vital health,
Christopher Smaka
Director of Vital Ways