How she keeps calm and counsels on.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Makeup by Weeraya Wongpinij of #TeamSwaness
Meeting The Journey practitioner and mental health life coach Sonal Karamchandani for the first time, I’m immediately put at ease by her warm demeanour and ready smile; no doubt the case for her devoted clients in Thailand and around the world, many of whom are public figures and celebrities. For someone whose waiting list for a session can span up to a month, however, she remains self-effacing and humble, attributing her runaway success to good fortune, word-of-mouth reviews, and being completely candid with her own experiences. “People are happy to pay it forward,” she tells me. “I’ve had people gift 10 others with a ‘Session with Sonal,’ and they in turn gift their loved ones with the same, and that’s how I am who I am today.”
The owner of her own practices, Healing our Soul and Journey with Soulnal, Sonal is an NLP-licensed coach and Theta healer who uses all the tools available at her disposal to address people’s mental health concerns and guide them towards healing from their grief and trauma, which often manifest in physical ailments. She walks me through the different methods she uses, from what she calls the more ‘masculine’ tool of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which taps into the language of the brain to reprogramme the way we think and address mental health issues; to Access Bars, known as an energy healing process that release blockages in our minds; to Brandon Bays’ world-renowned The Journey method of conscious life transformation, which she calls a more ‘feminine tool.’
Before she found her calling in counselling others, however, Sonal started out as a self-described “jack of all trades; master of none.” Born and raised in Singapore and briefly in Japan, she had a self-confessed difficult childhood. “My mum gave birth to me when she was 40, and sadly I lived on mostly junk food, drinking Coke like water,” she recalls. “I was a walking pharmacy within, who fell sick at the drop of a hat, or raindrops. I would take 60 Panadol Extra capsules a month, followed by a combination of meds for my debilitating migraines.”
After studying computer studies and business before working at Singapore’s main DBS Bank branch, Sonal found herself in “a world full of money, literally. Some days I’d even count money in the main vault.” However, she found that it never fulfilled her ‘inner child’s dream.’ In 1994, she got married and moved to Thailand, after which she enrolled in a fashion design course before choosing to instead pursue motherhood full time, while also selling Indian artefacts in Thailand and abroad. It was during one of those trips to India that she enrolled in The Journey courses and completed the 50 case studies required to receive her license. After addressing her own mental health concerns and experiencing the physical results for herself, she realised she could use her own past experiences and trauma to reach out to others who had gone through the same. She shares her journey with Masala.
What made you realise this field was your calling?
In 2014, I lost my mum and even though she passed on at 82, it was the biggest blow of my life. Two months later, while the grief was still fresh, my daughter left for university in Singapore. The empty nest syndrome combined with major depression, and I reached rock bottom, to a point where I had constant panic attacks, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. At the time, my loved ones were oblivious because I blamed my migraines, which had become worse than ever, and I would just shut myself in a dark room, wallowing in depression. This went on till the end of that year.
In December 2014, a dear friend asked me to read The Journey (2003) by Brandon Bays, after which I felt intuitively guided to attend the course. The last of the five seminars was on life transformation and it’s based on finding your life purpose. For the first time, I saw myself as a healer for kids and women. Having seen the results of The Journey on myself, it was like a whole new world was awakened within me. Till then I was a complete sceptic, but the people who knew me before would barely recognise me now – thriving, healthy, and full of joy.
What exactly do you do, and what is your specialisation?
Cheekily I’d say, I rewire people’s brains! On a serious note, I specialise in everything to do with healing, but grief, fear and phobias, limiting beliefs and patterns, fertility and teenagers, as well as family bonding are closest to my heart.
Grief is the most personal because while I’m better, I do still grieve my mum from time to time, and I don’t let anybody tell me to do otherwise. I have a lot of clients who come to me when they’ve lost someone, and that’s very close to home.
Mental health is a subject that many communities, including the Thai-Indian community, are still hesitant to talk about. How do you address those concerns, and how have you found the courage to talk so openly about what you do?
I’ve been very lucky that my work has spread through word by mouth. Often people will just ask me what I do, and I share my experiences – how I got rid of my migraines, my panic attacks, depression, and once, even a broken elbow without the aid of physiotherapy.
I’m a walking, talking example of my work. When I share these stories, it leaves most clients wanting to try it out. A lot of them have come to me for life coaching, which they do once a month, and some public figures do them once a week because they have added pressure from the media. I do have people who are addicted to ‘Sonal sessions!’ [laughs]
I can share my own stories because I’ve always been candid, and everyone knows that I wear my scars on my sleeve. In the Thai-Indian community specifically, I have a lot of older clients as well because I speak Hindi with them, and my mother tongue, Sindhi. When one family member notices the change after their sessions, they recommend it to their other family members, which is I think another reason why people are so receptive. That’s another thing that I like to do, family bonding.
Do you find that there are concerns that are unique to the Indian and Thai-Indian community?
There’s a lot of peer pressure and relationship issues, not so much with couples, but more with family – with in-laws, or between parents and children. I’ve found that in Thailand, there’s a lot of peer pressure and bullying within international schools, which pressure kids to have good grades, and put a lot of pressure on parents.
Mental health issues often create physical ailments – for example, I’ve noticed that a lot of people here suffer from migraines, a lot of kids have Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, and PCOS, the latter of which has become way too common among young women. Very often, the reason is stress from not feeling good enough, self-victimising, and job and relationship issues.
Everyone has gone through a certain amount of trauma over the last year. Have you noticed that people are prioritising their mental health more these days?
I’d say people are more open about mental health thanks to social media, but yes, 2020 has changed people’s approach to mental health, even among the community here.
But there’s so much information readily available that people are getting confused. Too much knowledge can be dangerous, as people can spread misinformation, or preach without application, or they may have blind spots. Because we all went through so much over the last year, this has caused some people to be insensitive to those who are genuinely going through a tough time.
I’ve always liked the saying, “be a friend who wipes tears, but let the tears fall.” People need to give their loved ones the space to be vulnerable and raw.
One of your specialisations is phobias and fear- based issues. How do you help address those issues, especially when it can concern things out of people’s control, such as this pandemic?
First, stop watching too many news segments or reading WhatsApp forwards that add to your fears. When you have fear, you can’t manifest. Those affirmations won’t have value until you work on your blocks.
I’ve noticed a lot of times, in our society, we pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in other people’s lives, and not enough of the emotions going on in our lives. We talk about other kids, and other families, and compare our family members with them. When we do that, we’re creating a very fearful future.
I always tell people, visualise. Your thoughts become reality. If you are conditioned to constantly say things, like, “no one understands me,” you attract that kind of negativity within your life. We are programming our mind by constantly focusing on things that we don’t have. You need to focus on what we already have, and what we want.
What is the most important advice you’d like to give everyone struggling mentally, especially during this third wave?
“Talk to your pain or else your body will.” My advice is threefold: firstly, always show your mind the worst. Once you’ve seen the worst, it’s like watching a horror movie from back to front; you’re not afraid of it anymore. Secondly, visualise what you want – do a vision board. Thirdly, eat healthy, take Vitamin C with Zinc, Vitamin D, and do yoga and pranayama breathing.
Sometimes addressing other people’s mental health concerns can take a toll on your own – how do you ensure that you maintain your own mental health?
I often do salt scrubs, cord cutting, and earthing, and I get my own life coaching sessions twice a month. While I love what I do, when you do 4-5 sessions a day, two hours each, my back does give way! So, I do go in for a massage every now and then, to release stuck energy.
I’ve also been very lucky that I have an understanding family who have been very supportive. I owe this to my husband and my kids; they’ve been my rock.