July 2014

Doing what she loves and helping others

Former Lourdes Hill College student, Janella Purcell feels like “the luckiest girl in the world” that her life as a naturopath, healer, author and media personality allows her not only to do what she loves, but be able to help others.

BY Debra Vermeer

Former Lourdes Hill College student, Janella Purcell feels like “the luckiest girl in the world” that her life as a naturopath, healer, author and media personality allows her not only to do what she loves, but be able to help others.

“I see it as a really big blessing, that I can be utilised to help others,” she says. “And when you do help others, your life is just as blessed.”

Janella is a practising naturopath, with clinics in Sydney and Bangalow on the NSW north coast. Her practise also incorporates Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine and other eastern-based physical and spiritual healing methods.

She has appeared regularly on TV, presenting healthy living segments on programs such as Channel Nine’s Today Show, as well as being a part of the series, Good Chef, Bad Chef, seen on Networks 7 and 10. She has written a number of healthy living books and contributes regularly to magazines.

“I just feel really lucky that I can do what I love and feel really enriched by it and help others,” she says.

Born in Brisbane, the third of four children, Janella says that food was a big part of her life from an early age. Her mother’s parents were born in Lebanon (her paternal aunt and God-mother is a Franciscan missionary nun) and her dad is Aussie-Irish. From age 12 she was the main cook of the house.

“I was brought up with a pretty conscious mother and grandmother around this type of thing,” she says. “They taught me that we all need to eat well and that if you put good food into your body, it’s like putting good fuel in your car and it keeps you going along in good condition.

“I think I took over as the house cook at about 12 because Mum and Dad ran a busy building company, so I just took over most of the household duties, and I loved it. The kitchen was mine. It was wonderful.”

Despite this positive food environment, Janella spent much of her teenage life battling a weight problem and embarking on a never-ending treadmill of different diets.

School, first at Mt Carmel Primary School and then Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane, was an enjoyable time.

“I was a pretty social kid and sporty, so I think that makes school easier. But it was a much more conservative upbringing than kids go through now, and Brisbane was, I think, a much more conservative place. It was like a big country town – no cafes, we didn’t go out at night, so it was pretty much head down, bum up. It was study, exercise, sport, but mostly, it was about family life.”

The noted musician and singer of spiritual music, Monica Brown, was teaching at Lourdes Hill during Janella’s time there and had a big impact on the young student.

“She just took me under her wing, and I count that as a blessing every day. She’s still one of my best friends. She had, and still does have, a really strong influence on my life.

“Monica taught us to meditate in religion classes and be mindful of the present, so she was wonderful. It was probably a bit ahead of its time in the 1980s, in Brisbane, but it was great. Lourdes Hill was a great school. I loved it.”

After school, Janella studied fashion design, which she enjoyed, but a few years into her career, says she got “really bored”, and, having moved to Sydney by this time, she began looking around for something else to do.

“I got back into food,” she says. “I was working in restaurants, both behind the counter and on the floor and then, at about age 25, I thought ‘something’s got to give here – I don’t know what to do’.

“So I went to Asia for about a year. I started in Bali and left in Thailand, and that changed my life. I learnt about herbs there and food as medicine and the different ways of healing, and about eastern philosophy. And I loved it.”

She came back from Asia with plans to open a health food store and juice bar in Sydney, but the plans were unexpectedly waylaid.

“I broke my leg. I was roller-blading around Centennial Park with my best friend, saying ‘I need a break, I need a break’. Then I smashed my leg and my friend said ‘Be careful what you wish for’!” she laughs.

“But it stopped me. It really stopped me and I was still, probably for the first time in my life. I couldn’t wash my hair, I couldn’t move and I had to rely on people, which really shifted my personality, because I was such a giver and a doer, and I just had to stop.”

In that stillness, Janella says she heard a message which changed her life.

“I heard a voice saying, ‘you’re a naturopath!’. It was so strong! It was saying I needed to teach the message of food as medicine, and that’s what I was here for,” she says.

“It was a very powerful moment. So I immediately enrolled in naturopathy in Brisbane and loved it. It was just so right and everything just flowed from there.”

She took a job managing a well-established wholefoods store in Sydney for five years, where she learnt the ropes of business, before branching out and opening her own healing centre in 2004 which includes an organic café downstairs and her naturopathy clinic upstairs, from where she still practices in Sydney today. Before long, the TV and magazine offers came along, which she says were wonderful opportunities to share her message.

“I’m just so interested in the human condition, how our emotions affect our physical health, and how to shift that,” she says.

“Most clinical disease starts from an emotional place. Whether it’s a thought or action, or chemicals or food, anything inflammatory or acidic that comes into our body is going to put out our equilibrium.

“You can’t work 20 hours a day and be jealous and be worried about money and not exercise and not get fresh air. It’s just not how our body wants to be.

“Herbs are so wonderful as a tool when the complaint is physical, or when it’s very new, allowing you to shift it, and mostly it won’t come back. But if it’s an old thought pattern, an old way of living, an old way of eating, it’s harder to shift that, obviously.

“That’s why I do so much with the body, mind and spirit – asking ‘where does this come from?’ Often, people don’t know where it comes from. It’s really subconscious, so we find it and move it, ideally.”

Janella says her professional learning also freed her of her own see-sawing weight issue.

“I got free of being always on a diet when I started to learn why I was this way,” she says.

“Learning about Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine and how your personality can affect your health, that was the last piece of the jigsaw for me. In the end, I realised that my trying to get love by proving myself to be worthy of it, being a good little helper, was making me fat, and still does.”

Janella’s life philosophy has also led her to a place of deep communion with nature and the environment. She spends three weeks each month living in the Byron Bay hinterland and one week in Sydney, seeing clients and family there.

“It all goes together,” she says. “What’s good for us is also good for the planet and mother earth.

“I have a rich spiritual and inner life and that is why I moved into the Byron hinterland. Right now, I’m just looking at rainforest all around me and mountains and rolling hills. I thank God every day. It’s just heaven.”

Find out more about Janella’s work, including her books and recipes at www.janellapurcell.com

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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