Our insecurities, anxiety, and depression often reinforce the misconstrued conception that we are not enough. Kyla Mitsunaga, a certified Theta Healing, life, and happiness coach spoke with The Universal Asian with full vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency to share her personal journey and practices for cultivating our truest form.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong to a Singaporean mother and Japanese-American father. I grew up around British people with English being my first language. Because I grew up in the '80s, there was no term for third culture kids (TCKs), who are children raised in a culture different from their parents. I’m so happy for TCKs and their community, but it was called an identity crisis in my day! I can empathize with the #hyphenatedAsians identity because growing up I was never American, British, nor Asian enough. Graduate school at Harvard was like a jumpstart in being American, even though I have a U.S. passport! I’m living in Korea now, and I feel very comfortable here. Korea is my home; even though everyone thinks I’m Korean or Korean-American, no one understands I have no Korean blood.
What caused you to transition from being a Harvard professor to a life and happiness coach?
I went to graduate school at Harvard, and I spent my 20s and most of my 30s clueless career wise. After graduate school, I was offered a position as a professor at the University of Yonsei in Korea and fell in love with the campus. Concurrent to my job as a professor, I was building my career on the global speaking circuit.
I met the Dean of the University of Mexico at my first speaking gig in Austria, and he invited me to speak and inspire students to give back to their communities in Mexico. After extensive research, I found all roads lead back to happiness with the simple premise that if you give back to others, you become happier. I built a happiness workshop and brought it to the University of Mexico, and was featured on the evening news! I then brought my workshop around the globe to 16 countries across Asia, the U.S, and Europe! Back at the University of Yonsei, I created a freshman seminar based on my happiness workshop in which 150 students enrolled. For reference, our freshman seminars usually max out at 15 students.
Then, my mom was diagnosed with early onset dementia, which was a pivotal turning point because I had researched and workshopped happiness, but I couldn’t help myself. I ended up taking 2017 off and did things I always wanted to do. I quit my job as a professor, wrote a book, hired a certified life and happiness coach, and created a private cafe in my apartment.
The best thing I did for myself was go on a retreat in Bali where I met a Theta Energy Healer. I didn’t know what it was, but I was determined to heal myself organically since I knew the research behind antidepressants. I took this leap of faith and ended up working with her for two years. Last year, I became a certified Theta Healing Practitioner so I can certify others! It completely transformed my life as evidenced by my client’s results and my own! I built my business, WITH Warriors, to incorporate one-on-one theta healing, virtual retreats, eight-week online programs, etc. I’ve researched the tools, tips, and strategies that worked for me. I’ve experienced 15 different healing modalities, but Theta Healing reliably and continuously gets me out of depressive states.
Can you describe what Theta Healing is?
Clients usually come in with fear, anxiety, or stress. The majority come in with anxiety, especially during COVID-19. The coronavirus has been this magnifying glass for what has gone unhealed because there aren’t distractions like clients are used to. Routines at work have changed, and there are many factors beyond their perceived control. We briefly engage in talk therapy, then I guide us into the theta brain wavelength, which is a scientifically rooted brain state between alpha brain wavelengths that is similar to meditation, and delta brain wavelengths, which is synonymous for sleep. I ask questions like: “Who told you that you’re not enough?” “Why do you believe that?” “Why do you seek evidence to support that story?” “Is that your story?” “Is that someone else’s story imposed on you?” So many of us, especially women, have bought into that “I’m not enough” story.
In life, we tend to neglect the limiting belief and focus on the repercussions it brings. We pile more on until everything collapses due to an unstable foundation. In Theta Healing, we get to the root of the limiting belief and pull it. This way, all the limiting beliefs that were built on top are broken down, and we begin rebuilding like a game of Jenga. During a theta session, you don’t notice anything. It’s not until triggers no longer stress you where you experience results. Theta may not work for everyone and some people prefer Reiki, which is our more known cousin. Maybe others prefer yoga or meditation, but whatever it is, as long as you’re getting results, I say do it!
It’s safe to assume that your clients come to you because they have a desire to heal, but what advice would you give those who struggle with mental illness and lack the motivation to get better?
Take your life a day at a time. One thing that was really helpful for me was to stop burning the candle at both ends. What I mean is making a decision, and then judging yourself for that decision. We spend our time in high judgement of ourselves and others and typically our forgiveness for ourselves and others is very low. The great thing is that when we start realizing we judge less, we actually become more forgiving.
How do you balance being forgiving of yourself and others and not letting others take advantage of you?
Being understanding and empathetic are different from forgiveness, which comes later. In theta, we call resentment one of the three Rs (resentment, rejection, and regret). A large part of why we hold resentment is because we don’t forgive. In the initial stages it’s really challenging, but the more you get to know yourself, the more you love and respect yourself. I would say my top core value is being true and with myself. I spent 38 years of my life as a people-pleaser. When I reevaluate my top core value, if something’s at the expense of my mental health and mental sanity then I pull back. Most of us spend 15 plus years learning about subjects other than ourselves. We don’t learn about fear, handling emotions, banking, or real life skills, so we spend a lot of time needing external validation.
I saw that you gave a TED TALK on "Why Teachers Must Learn WITH Their Students." Were you always a strong public speaker, and what advice would you give to those who aren’t?
I think judgement is the reason why public speaking is feared more than death. My story started in high school when my dad enrolled me in an acting class because I was so shy. I’m actually an extroverted introvert because I spent a lot of time recuperating myself and WITH myself. I started in a workshop class in high school and began winning speech competitions. We’d have to give a speech in front of the whole school if we won. I would say I was never confident, and I was always afraid. But, after high school and then becoming an educator, I realized I cannot stand in front of an audience and tell others to change their lives if I couldn’t express myself! I’m also on the global speaking circuit with a lot of older white men, and I’m usually the only woman and certainly the only Asian woman. Self-transcendence was a huge motivator for me, especially when fighting self-doubt thoughts. I wrote a book with myself on the cover, the transcendence part is not about me. It’s about younger Asian women who can see what’s possible for her!
What life advice would you give to others, especially young women of color?
Don’t follow the path that other people have created just because it may be easy. Instead, create your own path, even though you may have to use your machete, avoid mosquitos, get cut and cry, and it may be very challenging, but you will create and inspire other women to do the same. No matter how challenging, it’s that moment of self-transcendence where you realize your body is just a vessel. We’re only here for a finite amount of time on this earth. Every morning I get up and ask if today was my last day on this earth, would I be ok?
If your answer to that question is no, then you just change something. It’s not always easy doing happiness and growth work. When I was depressed I didn’t want to get out of bed, and that’s okay! But if I share that with someone, they know they are not alone. We just don’t talk about it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Try to learn about who you are inwardly and whatever is meant to be will follow.