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Meet Heather Palleiko of Sadhana Integrative Manual Therapies in Santa Monica

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather Palleiko.

Heather, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When my youngest daughter was 18 months old, I became very sick, and after many tests and doctor’s visits, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

My physicians said because they didn’t really know what was wrong, they couldn’t do anything to help me and prescribed a variety of different medications to treat my symptoms but not the root cause. I was referred to a clinic that specialized in integrative medicine. Over time I sought out more complementary medical care including acupuncture, massage therapy, and meditation. I made significant dietary changes with the mindset that “food is medicine,” learned how to manage my stress, weaned off my medications, and ultimately healed.

Then a few years later, which is almost a decade ago now, I found myself in a foreign country when my life was turned upside down. I had spent years as an artist, metalsmith/jewelry designer, and full-time mother, with minimal help from my then husband who traveled extensively for work. I knew something had to change. I returned to Southern California and decided that I wanted to go to school for clinical massage therapy and eventually work in integrative medicine.

With two small children at home, I couldn’t afford to go to medical school and thought this might be another way of getting into a field I found really interesting. I researched schools and realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend the school I really wanted to go to because I needed to be easily accessible for my young children. With that school being too far away, I decided on a school located close to my home in West Los Angeles called California Healing Arts College.

At 36 yrs old, I enrolled in their master massage therapy program. During my time, there two of the instructors took me under their wing and mentored me. I was then asked to become a teaching assistant; it was the stepping stone I needed. After I graduated, obtained my license, and took my national certification exam, I continued as a teaching assistant while working as a massage therapist for a physical therapy practice. After some time passed, I realized that I wasn’t being challenged, and decided to pursue my goal of working in integrative medicine as a manual therapist.

I wrote a letter to the University of California Los Angeles’ renowned integrative medical center The Center for East-West Medicine (CEWM). In my letter, I told them they needed to hire me and why. Low and behold the CEWM called me expressing an interest in speaking with me. In February of 2012, I showed up to my interview which ended up being in a conference room surrounded by six physicians and the Center manager. I had never experienced anything like that in my life.

At that moment I remember thinking, “Holy cow I am totally in over my head.” Two hours later I left my interview thinking it went well. The next week I received a phone call from the Center manager telling me that they liked me but that the hospital was putting a hiring freeze on their department and that I should check back with them in July. She also asked me if I had seen the listing they had on their website for hiring – I hadn’t.

I went to their clinic website to find the listing. It turns out they were looking to hire an acupuncturist with five years of training in western medicine. I remember being incredibly disappointed. I thought for sure this was just their way of letting me down easily, but that in reality, I was way out of my league. However, I put a reminder on my calendar to call back that July.

I continued working part-time at the physical therapy practice and started seeing the occasional rehabilitation client in a small mobile private practice I had started. July crept upon me quickly, and I thought, “Why not?” I called the Center manager reminding her who I was and stated that I was still very interested in pursuing a position with their clinic.

After a pleasant conversation, she stated she would call me back in a few days. I thought for sure I had hit another wall. Three days later I received a callback. “Hello, Heather? Hi, It’s Sue. I want you to know the physicians and our Director have discussed you, and we would like to offer you the position of Clinical Specialist with our Center.” I think I almost hung up the phone on her I was so excited.

I started my dream job in October of 2012, eight months after my interview. I served as the only staff Clinical Specialist in manual therapy for The Center for East-West Medicine for five and a half years. During my tenure there I provided patient care, taught first and fourth-year medical students, and gave lectures and workshops discussing the benefits of integrative medicine, manual therapy, and stress management.

During my time at UCLA, I had the opportunity to be the first co-author reporting on two clinical cases, “Myofascial Pain Presenting as Idiopathic Testicular Pain: An Integrative East-West Approach.” I was also a recipient of the 2015 UCLA STAR Award for excellent performance, contributions made, and goals achieved on behalf of the Department of Medicine and the Center for East-West Medicine.

Throughout my time working in physical therapy and integrative medicine, I continued taking classes learning new approaches, studying with colleagues, reading case reports and studies, and slowly building my small but growing private practice two days a week.

It was these life experiences of being chronically ill, and then working in the same environment that healed me, which planted the seed that would eventually grow into the concept of an integrated therapy center. I began to realize that my time at UCLA was drawing to a close in order to allow for something bigger in my own journey to take place.

In May of 2018, I resigned from my position at UCLA to expand my private practice which I had been quietly growing; and in November 2018, I opened Sadhana Integrative Manual Therapies, my integrative wellness clinic.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No. It has definitely not been a smooth road at times.

While my career was slowly starting to take form, my personal life was falling apart. I had no emotional support at home with a partner who had no interest in what I was doing, or belief that what I did had any value. My husband and I were having marriage difficulties that eventually led to our divorce.

At the same time, I was working in an environment with primarily male colleagues. With a background in fine art and contemporary craft, as well as an artist’s personality along with a streak of stubbornness, I didn’t really fit in to the white coat and collar mold. I was outspoken and asked questions that went against the culture of the clinic and the practice of western medicine in general.

One time it was suggested to me by a female administrator that perhaps I could temper the directness of my tone when asking questions and for further clarification in staff research and education meetings. I was so taken aback by this suggestion that I think my jaw was on the ground. Never in a million years would one of my male colleagues, in the same situation, have been asked to temper his directness.

I was candid but never disrespectful, I acted exactly like my male coworkers in the same context. I felt I had to work harder to prove myself, my value, my knowledge, and my right to be there treating patients. I remember that time being very challenging for me as I felt torn between doing what I thought was right, and feeling that I was being forced to behave a certain way to protect the egos of others. In May of 2018, I was able to start focusing on the financial planning for opening my clinic.

The one hurdle I kept hitting was how I was going to fund the initial startup costs. No institution wanted to fund my business. In fact, no one was even interested in looking at my business plan to see if I was worth the risk. I cried a lot. I yelled… a lot. I was losing the belief in myself that I could actually do this and create something special. I believed in it.

I just needed someone to believe in me. I realized that I needed to sit down and come up with a different plan. I asked questions. I listened to the people that know more than I do. I started thinking about money differently. I took on personal debt – the most I have ever had in my life – and I opened my business for 1/3 of the original cost I thought I would need.

Currently, my biggest hurdle is learning how to leverage my brand on social media and translate that into increasing my business sales and retaining new clients. It’s a whole new ballgame, but I’m up for the challenge.

Sadhana Integrative Manual Therapies – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Sadhana Integrative Manual Therapies is a boutique wellness clinic in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, bordering West Los Angeles. Sadhana is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates as ‘the path leading straight to a goal’ or ‘a means of accomplishing something.’ Our mission is to empower individuals to move smarter and live better through mindful movement, stress management, and integrative self-care.

I personally specialize in treating disorders of the Head, Neck & Shoulder, Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’ Disease, and Geriatrics. I also work with athletes. Additionally, I provide wellness coaching with a focus on stress management informed by the MedSEA program developed by UCLA. I wanted to maintain my connection to the art world, so I utilize art as a form of expression when coaching my clients.

My clinic uses evidence-based treatments to support whole body healing through a combination of eastern and western modalities designed to assist each client in achieving their optimal wellness. Our hands-on clinical approach combined with knowledge from the medical, social, and emotional arts uniquely blends these medical paradigms.

Dr. Hye Kim, LAc., of HYE Wellness, the acupuncturist who works out of my clinic, specializes in a variety of different health conditions including Mental Health, Hormonal Imbalances & Infertility, Pediatric Development, and Chronic Disease. Our wellness coaching sessions, stress management, and self-care support are specifically tailored to address each client’s medical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Often, integrative medical clinics have physicians seeing patients, telling them what they should do to improve their wellness, then send these individuals on their way out the door without a clue in the world how to implement the self-care routine that will be helpful to them in improving their overall wellbeing. Patients are left lost not knowing how to access the abundant resources that are available.

My clinic and our vision are the answer to this problem, and it is exciting to me. With many of our client referrals coming from primary care physicians and specialty care practices, we have the opportunity to inform, educate, and serve our clients. We are not only able to provide a variety of treatments and care in our clinic, but we are also able to discuss with our clients the variety of modalities and community classes available to them.

This might include meditation, mindfulness practices, wellness coaching and stress management, stretching, Pilates, yoga or other movement methods, manual therapy, and additional bodywork therapies that may be beneficial to their personal needs. Our variety of small group classes and one to one wellness coaching sessions benefit our clients who do better when they are motivated in a supportive environment with others.

When necessary, we are able to refer our clients to our vetted network of integrative health care providers including behavioral health physicians and therapists, physicians in a variety of specialty practices (i.e. functional medicine, rheumatology, neurology, pain management, otolaryngology, orthopedics, urology, urogynecology, and integrative internal medicine physicians), acupuncturists, physical therapists, chiropractors, physical trainers, movement therapists, yoga instructors, meditation instructors, and hypnotherapists.

Our clients trust that they can come to us with any question and we will have an answer or connect them with the provider who can give them the answer. Our goal is realized through a disciplined team approach in which each individual learns and creates life-long wellness habits. This approach towards wellness is itself a sadhana.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
As an entrepreneur and business owner, success means having a profitable and thriving business that can be expanded into multiple locations. It means being a recognized establishment in the community that promotes and provides accessible quality care for those seeking preventative, holistic, non-invasive ‘well-care.’

As a health care provider, success is providing a safe judgment-free environment for my clients to heal. Success is providing hope to individuals who feel hopeless. It is seeing clients heal. It is seeing them becoming the best versions of themselves and knowing that I had a part in that.

There is another part to my vision of success, it is that part that is simply my own personal desires. I see success as paying my bills and supporting my children without worrying about money. It means being able to buy what I want when I want it, and traveling when I feel like it. It means being able to provide for my family.

These three different versions of success coexist peacefully. Without each perspective, others can’t succeed. I’ve learned two very important things about defining success. The first one is that you must understand “the why” of your definition. The second thing is that one’s definition of success can be fluid. It can change and evolve as you do.


  • 30 Minute Manual Therapy Session $90
  • 60 Minute Manual Therapy Session $150
  • Cupping Therapy Add-On $50
  • Wellness Coaching Consultation $95
  • 60 Minute Wellness Coaching $135

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Siridyal

    March 6, 2019 at 10:06

    Heather Shaw is an amazing therapist, not only is she super skilled but she very intuitive as well.
    I highly recommend you seeing her because you WILL feel better leaving her office!

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