Changing The Mind Through The Body

An Interview With Kevin Lee Fujimoto (PsyD ‘01) And Danielle Jomaa (MA ‘10)

Until the discovery of various bacteria and antibiotics in the 1800s, emotions were closely linked with physical disease. But the last 25 years have seen a shift toward addressing the psychological factors that can play a role in illnesses such as heart disease. GSEP interviewed two alumni who have found distinctive ways to incorporate a holistic approach to health and well-being in their practice.

KEVIN LEE FUJIMOTO (KF) is the creator of Surfrider Spirit Sessions (SSS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the lives of at-risk youth through its unique mentoring program. SSS uses the shared experience and power of surfing to provide a motivational pathway and a sense of ohana (family) to foster positive change and success in life.

Why do you focus on a holistic approach to health?

KF: SSS got its start when Hawaii courts asked how to instill the concepts of better choices, managing mistakes, and accepting challenges in our youth. Our answer was surfing. Participants develop mindfulness by learning how and where waves are formed, and they develop physical awareness through catching waves and practicing yoga. We take it a step further by helping them connect to Hawaiian cultural heritage, and malama aina (caring for the land) by picking up cigarette butts and taking pride in caring for our environment. Later, participants have the opportunity to give back by mentoring younger at-risk youth. I’m motivated to continue not only because of the results I see in our data collection, but because of the positive changes I see in our youth.

How can physical activity change our mental outlook?

KF: At SSS, we use physical activity to teach children to empower themselves. We promise each teen that if they accept our support and try, they will catch a wave on their first day. Many doubt us, but we make it happen. Then we ask, “What else can you achieve that you don’t believe is possible?”

How do you explain the connection between mind and body and overall health to the people you work with?

KF: Staff and volunteer mentors working with at-risk youth help increase awareness of the connections that are inherently woven in the fabric of who we are—between self and other; between thinking, feeling, and doing; between person, environment, and purpose; and between past, present, and future, to name a few. Even more effective than explanations, we often invite interested individuals to participate in a session to get a sense of the positive change that takes place. Then they are able to understand the approach on a cognitive level, but are also able to experience the shifts on visceral and spiritual levels.

What results have you seen from people implementing mind-body techniques?

KF: SSS was designed to address the problem of 5,000 youth in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system. Our state’s higher-than-the-national-average rates in runaway arrests, truancy, negative peer group association, and academic failure are of great concern. Through the program, we’ve been able to address underlying issues such as relationships with parents, improved health choices like avoiding drugs and alcohol, or feeling more connected to the community. The results show a shift in our youth’s perspective to focus on what they can positively achieve versus simply getting into trouble and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Just this summer, a former SSS youth graduated from her high school and was accepted to a university on the mainland. She came to us with severe emotional and behavioral issues, including attempted suicide, and was barely speaking to anyone. After participating in our program, she became a Junior Mentor Manager, training other youth to become Junior Mentors, and was our first Junior Advisory Board Member.

What are the key benefits to using this approach to wellness?

KF: Using a holistic approach, we are able to quickly engage our youth and motivate them to actively participate in the program at a faster rate. With a variety of levels for mentees and mentors to interact on and share their experiences with each other, a trusting relationship is quicker formed. SSS is able to positively influence a person’s overall general health while providing a greater awareness on how to develop a well-balanced lifestyle.

Surfrider Spirit Sessions

SSS is an IRS 501(c)(3) Hawaii nonprofit organization whose mission is to create and deliver holistic, ocean-based experiential education and mentoring programs that connect, enhance, and fill in the gaps within existing nonprofit programs serving at-risk youth. Created in response to a need expressed by Hawaii Family Courts, SSS envisioned finding a way to make reform and good citizenry “cool.” Matching at-risk and adjudicated youth with adult mentors, SSS leverages the shared experience and power of surfing to connect and empower.

Mentors help youth apply their water experiences to life lessons. Nurturing relationships develop as teens learn to trust and accept support from others. Youth discover new perspectives with a sense of belonging among mentors who are respected professionals from diverse fields in their community. Toward the end of the eight-week program, SSS youth serve as role models themselves as they mentor younger, at-risk kids from other youth agencies. Students gain newfound identities as empowered, environmentally and culturally conscious individuals in a supportive and desirable community.



RIMA DANIELLE JOMAA (RJ) is from Los Angeles and lives part-time in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, where she hosts personalized retreats and workshops. She’s a marriage and family therapist, a yoga instructor, a Reiki practitioner, a hypnotherapist and an entrepreneur. Her long-term goal and vision is to open a residential treatment center for adolescents and young adults in Costa Rica, with a holistic, yoga-based curriculum. She currently has a private practice in San Clemente, California.

Why do you focus on a holistic approach to health?

RJ: A holistic therapist helps a client’s body to de-stress, and to be nourished, and treats the traumas their body has experienced. Holistic practitioners understand that the whole of the person must be addressed if the client is to experience longstanding well-being. I’ve seen miraculous transformations with my own eyes, and I’ve also seen the sad results of those resistant to the benefits of alternative healing modalities and proper nutrition. My constant curiosity and wonder fuel my ongoing fascination with and study of the mind-body connection.

How does the mind effect the body?

RJ: Our thoughts and our energy shape our reality. Self-defeating statements such as “I’m not good enough,” resonate in our entire being. They become our energy, both inside the body and in our interactions with others. Disease is literally that—the absence of ease. Biologically, the stress hormone cortisol is produced in the body, contributing to the stress, and eventually it manifests in the body as disease.

How can physical activity change our mental outlook?

RJ: We can work to release toxicity and negativity in the body. Yoga teaches us to breathe negative energy out of all areas of the body and to inhale the positive things about the world, such as love, light, happiness, health, prosperity, and abundance.

How do you explain the connection between mind and body and overall health to the people you work with?rima_5

RJ: I like to explain that the body is a system, and that all the parts interact with one another. When one system begins to fail, it is indicative that other areas are out of balance and harmony as well. When a car isn’t maintained properly, parts start to break down. You can’t ignore that part and just keep driving, because eventually the whole system breaks down little by little.

What results have you seen from people implementing mind-body techniques?

RJ: I’ve seen entire families heal when a client is treated holistically. One client in particular was a little boy with numerous mental health issues, including autism, mental retardation, tuberous sclerosis, seizures, gastrointestinal distention (constant diarrhea and gas), verbal delays, learning disabilities, and more. His family had taken him to leading gastroenterologists and neurologists all over the country, all to no avail. To my shock, not a single doctor had asked the client’s mother what the client was eating, even though she constantly complained about his intense stomach issues. My supervisor at the time was a holistic practitioner. She introduced the family to organic foods, herbs, supplements, naturopathic doctors, essential oils, and more. Over time, as the child’s diet was changed and controlled, he slowly but surely changed and improved. Once he wasn’t in constant pain from his stomach issues, his personality emerged. His language capabilities exploded, he made jokes, he made friends and played with his older brothers, he learned to ride a bike, his attention improved, and his behavior completely changed. He went from being sad, sick, and isolated to being expressive, healthy, and happy.

What are the key benefits to using this approach to wellness?

RJ: A person who feels healthy and fit will more readily regulate their emotions, experience less mood disorders than those not feeling healthy and fit, have more cognitive clarity, and will feel generally happier overall.


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