AKapella: How music from the heart heals the mind, body, and spirit

In 2011, and again in 2016, The Cochrane Library (a collection of databases that contain high-quality, independent evidence for healthcare decision-making) published reviews of studies on the psychological and physical effects of music interventions on people with cancer.

The reviews covered 52 studies with 3731 participants, with some studies involving sessions with trained music therapists; other cases involved medical staff playing pre-recorded music.  The findings suggest that music therapy and music medicine interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, fatigue, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in people with cancer. Given that no negative side effects are associated with listening to music, it is certainly one healing modality worth trying.

Segue to an actual Philippine case: Alexa Kahn may not be a music therapist, but she sings, dances, and plays the piano. Music is in her DNA. While pursuing her passion, she found a way to channel her talents into making people happy and empowered. She started AKapella, where she uses her singing voice to inspire, uplift — and yes, heal people with physical and emotional pains.

Alexa shares her story: “I believe music has a very powerful healing ability. I first experienced its power when I was very young. When my grandfather was dying of cancer, it came to a point where he was in so much pain that he could barely open his eyes or talk. Whenever we visited him, we would sing to him his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.” Every time we sang to him, he would hum along and smile.”

Alexa Kahn sings from the heart to inspire and help her audience heal.

The sense of fulfillment that she got from that experience left a huge impact on Alexa. The benefits of music made itself felt once more on another unfortunate occasion; this time with her ninang, who was dying of cancer.  “She asked me to sing “The Prayer” to her because she said it made her feel unafraid to die. I was amazed how a song could make someone feel so empowered.”

These experiences with two of her loved ones became the spark that led to the creation of AKapella. To date, she has volunteered to share her gift of music with such organizations as the Jeremiah Foundation, Kythe Foundation, and the Carewell Community Foundation.

Alexa Kahn and her AKapella team with some Carewell members

During her  sessions with Carewell, she and her friend Monet Ganir, together with other AKapella volunteers, serenade members with songs the members themselves choose, which are mostly about struggle, acceptance, hope, as well as love and longing for departed loved ones.

Carewell volunteer Oscar Legado describes his feelings while singing along with Alexa as “magkahalong tuwa at lungkot.” Oscar lost his wife Lerry, a Carewell member, to cancer last year. Though still heartbroken because of his loss, he has learned to accept that it also meant finding new meaning and purpose in life. Today, he helps the foundation in its advocacy by volunteering to put his skills in reflexology to provide relief to other Carewell members.

A member who requested anonymity explains her reason for requesting Alexa to sing Beautiful by Christina Aguilera. “In many cases, cancer takes away physical things – a body part, perhaps lustrous hair after chemotherapy, which could make one feel less beautiful; but during the healing journey, one discovers  beauty in more meaningful forms, such as support from family and true friends, improved relationships, self-love, and stronger faith. After my breast surgery, I found Carewell, and that’s a huge blessing—to be with kindred spirits who laugh and cry with you, and with whom you can feel at ease without fear of being judged because they fully understand what you’re going through.”

The Carewell Community Foundation, true to its mission, simply leaves no stone unturned in providing programs to enhance the quality of life and the healing journey of people affected by cancer. Carewell members engage themselves in activities that are all part of an integrative and holistic plan to manage not only their physical, but also their mental, emotional, and spiritual issues.

Healing modalities at Carewell come in conventional forms, including medical and psychological counselling, support groups, and wellness talks. Meditative activities such as centering prayer, yoga, qigong, and gong sound therapy help in stress management. Its recent programs allowed members to experience Theta and millennium healing to address emotional concerns, and acupuncture for detoxification. Carewell members dance and express their creativity in arts and crafts classes. Fun is very much part of the equation, which members get a lot of, during field trips to respite destinations.

Persons affected by cancer, and even their loved ones, may join these wellness activities free of charge.

In partnership with Alexa and her AKapella team, the foundation is set to hold another session of mood-uplifting music on December 14, 2018 at the Carewell office in Makati. To know more about Carewell and its cancer-support activities, please call 815-1294 or visit www.carewellcommunity.org/



Catanduanes: Raising its happiness index via abaca farming

The tourism tag ‘Happy Island’ suits the province of Catanduanes to a T. It is blessed with unspoiled beaches, rolling terrain, and many idyllic spots that continue to attract foreign and domestic visitors. Its latest tourism figures showed an increase of 11.31% from 2016 to 2017 driven by visitors seeking new travel experiences.

Catanduanes also takes pride in being the country’s top producer of abaca. The Bicol region contributes about 40% of the roughly $130.3 million annual abaca exports to major global markets. At least 90% of the regional share comes from the rich soils of The Happy Island.

Abaca has been traditionally turned into twine, cordage, textiles, and handicrafts. Its more modern applications now include manufacturing various items such as automotive parts, paper and currency notes, and many fashion and lifestyle products.

The quest for organic and eco-friendly raw materials has further contributed to the preference for abaca over synthetic materials. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) has recently developed a technology that combines abaca and resin to form a composite that is lightweight, cheap, and corrosion-resistant. ITDI used this technology to form the roof and sidecar of a motorized tricycle to demonstrate the unique qualities of the composite.

The global demand and prospects are obviously huge; but the challenges faced by abaca industry players in meeting this demand are equally daunting. There has to be massive expansion and rehabilitation of abaca farms throughout the country. The aging population of abaca farmers needs to be addressed by encouraging the younger generations and convincing them that farming can be profitable. Economic losses have been reported owing to low productivity and deteriorating fiber quality resulting from viral-borne plant diseases. Thus, new methods are needed to improve not only the yield but also the quality of the fiber.

banner.jpgDuring the recently held Abaca Festival in Virac, Catanduanes, local farmers had a chance to convene with Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua and Mr. Kennedy Costales, Executive Director of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), for vital updates affecting their trade. In this gathering, 107 farmers from the 11 municipalities of the province were awarded cash incentives to help rebuild abaca farms that were devastated by Typhoon Nina in 2016. The awarding was part of the PhP50-million ‘Cash for Work’ program set by the Department of Agriculture aimed to gov cuabenefit around 15,000 Catandunganon farmers.

For his part, Governor Cua assured the farmers of government support in propping up abaca planting in Catanduanes while reminding them of the need to improve the quality of their produce. Noting the loss of interest in farming among millennials, he said that initiatives are being taken to make farming easier, requiring less brawn activity, but with the potential for workers to rake in decent income.

ceremonial awarding








Ceremonial awarding of cash incentives


Representing PhilFIDA, the attached agency of the Department of Agriculture tasked with developing and sustaining the fiber industry in the country, Executive Director Kennedy Costales cited the latest initiatives to double, even triple, the country’s abaca output in the following years. As stated on its official website, PhilFIDA “pursues a range of programs particularly for the development of disease-resistant and high-yielding planting materials, sustainable disease management program, improved fiber extraction machines and the acquisition of sustainability certification for the production of high-quality abaca fibers.”

Director Costales reiterated PhilFIDA’s vision to mechanize abaca production in Catanduanes and the rest of the country. Additionally, in the next few years, abaca farmers in the province will be organized into cooperatives to be run corporate-style by professional management teams.

This is the core of the Abaca Tuxy Buying Special Project (ATBSP), a new trading system meant to eliminate the traditional “all-in” buying scheme where unorganized farmers sell their produce in an individual and fragmented manner. The farmers are at the losing end of this arrangement, as the grades and standards of abaca are applied only at the level of the Grading and Baling Establishments (GBE), who get the premium for high-quality fibers. The farmers are thus constrained from improving the yield and quality of their products.


Given the same grade of abaca, the machine-stripped fiber tends to be whiter, finer, and more lustrous than the hand-stripped fiber

The ATBSP aims to improve the marketing arrangement by clustering farmers into cooperatives with 50 to 100 members each. The project takes half the burden off the farmers’ back by simplifying abaca processing from the traditional 12 steps down to 6, allowing farmers to focus on the quality of the fiber. They will be trained in all aspects of production, including warehousing and fiber trading, grading and classification of fibers that meet market standards.  “This shifts their mindsets from being mere farmers to being entrepreneurs,” says Dir. Costales. The cooperatives will handle the rest of the steps, including stripping the fibers using spindle-stripping machines, drying, classifying, bundling, and selling the fibers in bulk directly to GBEs and local processors.

The farmers present were then shown how a  spindle stripping machine works. Compared to hand-stripped abaca fibers, which are coarse and priced at PhP55.00 per kilo, fiber produced mechanically are of higher quality and can be bought at PhP110.00 per kilo on average.


A ceremonial turnover of heavy equipment (a 6-wheeler and a 10-wheeler), a forklift, weighing scales, among others, to the Pinoy Lingap-Damayan Credit Cooperative (PLDC) capped the day’s event. These were funded by the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Earlier this year, Congressman Cesar V. Sarmiento, Representative of the lone district of Catanduanes, filed House Bill No. 7369, declaring the province as the Abaca Capital of the Philippines. The Bill seeks to promote and support the abaca industry in the province, while safeguarding it from destruction caused by plant diseases and calamitous events.

The Bill also stipulates the creation of an Abaca Research and Development Center attached to the Catanduanes State University – College of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Center shall conduct researches and studies on the development, production, management, and marketing of abaca fiber; provide technical assistance and support to abaca farmers; and develop technologies beneficial to the abaca industry.

Favorable events are coming together for the benefit of the soil tillers and the parahagot (abaca strippers) of Catanduanes. It’s about time they got their share of good cheer on The Happy Island.


Auspicious Luck Woven in Cashmere

Take the versatility of the cashmere fiber on one hand and the luck-enhancing properties of feng shui on the other. Bring them together and you will have creations that are highly stylish, luxurious, and delightfully auspicious.

MH invitation

This is exactly what happened when international feng shui master Marites Allen met Jyotika Jhalani, the Founder of Janavi India.

Marites is the CEO and founder of Frigga Charmed Life, a London-based line of auspicious fashion wear and accessories that currently ships to many Asian countries and the rest of the world. She is the first and only Filipina certified “Master in Feng Shui” by the prestigious International Feng Shui Association and is the go-to consultant of many well-known entertainment, political, and business figures in the country.

Hailing from Kashmir, Jyotika started Janavi as an ode to Handmade in India.  It has evolved into the brand known today for its unique use of embroidery and beadwork embellishments on cashmere. Janavi has worked with  top international brands like Chanel, Dior, Ferragamo – designing and manufacturing the best embroidered cashmere stoles and shawls.  Today, brand Janavi India retails in over 200 luxury stores worldwide.

Finding a common ground in their life-works, Marites and Jyotika soon became partners in producing an upscale shawl collection under the brand “JANAVI INDIA X MARITES ALLEN.”

Under the joint venture, Marites provides the symbols and designs grounded on feng shui principles and interpretations.   Janavi then uses these inspirations to come up with  finely crafted and embellished shawls.

The initial collection was officially launched at Manila House Private Members Club, Bonifacio Global City on May 22, 2018.

Marites and Jyotika: Two Great Energies Coming Together

with tessa and other guests

Invited guests composed of avid feng shui followers, Manila House members, and media representatives got to view the first original designs, which include cashmere shawls representing the nine lucky symbols – each one related to the auspicious configuration of stars in 2018.


There is a specific set dedicated to the symbols of Chinese zodiac allies and friends. This grouping of three zodiac signs is believed to bring good luck to each member of the affiliated group.  The following photo is for the Influencers group of Rat, Dragon, and Monkey. There are also available creations for the Horse, Dog, and Tiger (The Individualists); Rabbit, Sheep, and Boar (The Noble Masters ); Ox, Snake, and Rooster (The Visionaries).

monkey dragon rat


Of steemed importance in Chinese astrology is the Celestial Phoenix considered to be very effective in attracting fame, power, money luck and fulfilling wishesIts symbolic rise from the ashes makes it very auspicious in inviting new opportunities and increasing good reputation. It is also used as a love enhancer and is believed to benefit females most effectively.

Video Credits: Ms. Marites Allen


The 26-piece collection may be viewed and purchased at the Manila House until June 2, 2018.

Marites may also be consulted for customized shawls based on the personalized feng shui reading for a specific individual. The resulting creation will feature symbols or icons of elements favorable to that person.

Succeeding designs will be available online and at all Janavi shops overseas and Frigga boutiques in the Philippines.




Bench Fashion Week 2018 – Day 3

Change is coming, no ifs and buts about it. In the local fashion world at least, it bodes of exciting and vibrant possibilities for Spring and Summer of 2018.  This was crystal clear on the last day of Bench Fashion Week (BFW) 2018 last Sunday, March 11 at The Playground of Bench Tower in BGC.

Here’s how BFW presented the different looks as conceived by three known fashion authorities.

Assembly_Philippines, a multibrand store concept located at the Rockwell Powerplant Mall, SM Aura Premier, the Podium Mall, and at the S Maison Mall at the Conrad Hotel, suggests  these structured, yet sleek, lines.


Instagram photo by benchtm


Designer Joey Samson goes bold by combining menswear materials with perky details resulting in richly layered, mostly androgynous creations.

joey samson

Instagram photo by benchtm


The most-awaited collection was understandably that of Bench, which is well-known for its fashionably trendy designs. The pieces are summer-perfect, with colorful and breezy materials that allow youthful spunk to come through.

Spot Miss World 2013 Megan Young and Bench princess Juliana Gomez in this video.

(All collections are available at the 3F of the BENCH/ Flagship store until March 25, 2018)

– oOo –

I cannot end this post without putting in a few lines for one of the newest Bench fashion influencers – Nikki Allen, who had her runway debut last Sunday. I first met her when she was just a frisky three year old. Walking the ramp is the latest addition to her long list of interests, and she only recently turned 15!

She plays the sax, violin, guitar, and the uke.  At the British International School, she is a consistent straight A student excelling in academics while finding time to be with the choir, band, cheerleading, and debating team.  If she so chooses, she can be an excellent writer, too.

At home in the kitchen, she can bake yummy goodies and earn good money from them. If need be, she can pinch hit as her mom’s make-up artist. Equally in her element outdoors,  she got her diving certificate from PADI two years ago. Earlier, while the Allen family was setting up base in the UK, Nikki was actively involved in stage plays at the Oxford Theater. Her mom shares that she aced her voice examinations from the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music and at 12, she had a chance to be with a group that sang before Princess Anne.

One question I dare not ask this young lady is what she wants to pursue after school, because the options are longer on the things she CAN do, than on those she cannot.


nikki allen by bench

Nikki Allen at BFW S/S 2018 (photo source: benchtm)


Congratulations on your latest achievement, dear Nikki! Take a bow, too, Marites and Nick Allen for the great job of nurturing such a multi-talented gem of a daughter. Of course, sibs Shannen, Kevin, and Kirck complete the awesome Team Allen!

Please click here to watch Nikki and the rest of the young Bench talents. The video is from the Facebook page of her proud mom, feng shui maven Marites Allen!


How to Make the Earth Dog Your Best Friend

In her 13th Annual Feng Shui Convention to help prepare for the Year of the Earth Dog, international feng shui master Marites Allen shared a very interesting peculiarity about the 2018 Flying Star Chart. For those who are new to the practice of feng shui, the Flying Stars School is a popular discipline that charts the locations of the lucky and unlucky energies or cosmic elements. These energies change directions every year, month, day, and even every hour. The chart is used to determine which sectors of houses, offices, and other structures should be enhanced for good fortune, and which ones should be cured or corrected to counter the negative energies.

Annual Feng Shui Chart 2018-01Ms. Allen said that in 2018, the numbers in the chart follow a unique alignment. The top numbers when added from left to right: 8 + 4 + 6= 18; when reduced to a single digit, 1 + 8 = 9.  The middle numbers 7, 9, and 2 add up to 18; again, reduced to a single digit = 9. The bottom numbers 3, 5, and 1 when added produce 9. The same thing happens when the numbers are added from top to bottom and even diagonally.

So what is so special about the number 9? In feng shui, 9 represents the Prosperity Star. In Chinese, the pronunciation of this number has the same meaning as longevity and eternity. It is the number associated with the Emperor of China, whose robes are always embellished with nine dragons. The resulting 9-configuration of the annual Flying Star chart is something that only happens once in nine years and can be interpreted as something that brings positive indications.

Ms. Allen shares specific suggestions on how to maximize the positive luck potential of the auspicious energies and protect us from the effects of the afflicted stars in her 2018 horoscope books, almanac, and planner available at all Frigga Charmed Life shops and National Bookstores. These must-have references are also available online at www.frigga.co.uk and lazada.com.ph and oshopping.com.ph

Alternatively, here are nine general suggestions to get things right and attract good fortune in the Year of the Earth Dog.

1. Know your correct Chinese zodiac sign.

Especially for those born in January or February, it is important that you get this detail right. For example, someone born on 22 January 1993 is a Monkey; while someone born a day later on 23 January 1993 takes the Rooster sign. The Chinese zodiac follows the lunar calendar, not the Gregorian or Western calendar. The first day of the lunar calendar starts somewhere between January 20th and February 20th. Visit frigga.co.uk, choose your year of birth on top of the page, and click “Shop your Sign” to know your zodiac sign.

2. Get a copy of your personal birth chart.

So you know your animal sign. The next thing you’ll probably do is read up on the forecasts for that zodiac sign from books and the Internet. But did you know that your personal birth chart—because it requires very specific details like year, month, date, down to the hour of your birth—can reveal much more precise indications about your life prospects? Your birth chart will reveal valuable information that will help you understand why things happen the way they do in your life, your significant time periods, what colors and accessories will be lucky for you, and how you can harmonize the different feng shui elements to see improvements in your life, among others. Your feng shui consultant should be able to help you get your personal destiny chart.


3. Understand the Annual Four Pillars Chart.

If you have your personal destiny chart, you can compare it with the Destiny Chart or Four Pillars Chart of the year. You will then see if the elements of the year are in your favor or not. It will now be easier for you to determine which types of feng shui interventions you need to achieve a harmonious environment by boosting the good energies and ‘curing’ the troublesome ones.

paht chee chart v2-01

4. Mind the lucky and unlucky sectors of your home or office.

Every year, nine Flying Stars representing good and bad energies fly into different sectors of your home and office. For 2018, the auspicious energies are located in the Southeast (Wealth Star 8), South (Romance and Travel Star 4), Southwest (Windfall Star 6), Center (Multiplying Star 9), and Northwest (Victory Star 1).

The afflicted energies have flown to the East (Robbery/Violence Star 7), West (Illness Star 2), Northeast (Argument Star 3), and the North (Misfortune Star 5). Ms. Allen stresses that it is just as important to suppress the malevolent energies with suggested feng shui cures as it is to boost the positive ones with charms and enhancers. For suggestions, please call 0920 9509390.

5. Know your zodiac allies and friends.

During a year when luck prospects are not very favorable to a specific birth sign, seeking the support of luckier zodiac allies and friends could offer some help. It may entail displaying or wearing their symbol or representation, which is equal to “borrowing” good luck from them during tough times. By virtue of their friendly affiliations with the Dog, those born in the years of the Rabbit, Tiger, and Horse can look forward to positive energies in 2018. Dragon, which is the conflict animal of the Dog, may face some rough times ahead.

Click here  or watch the video to know more about your astrological allies.


6. Plan your activities around your lucky days and hours.

Is this possible at all? Feng shui says it is, definitely!  Choosing an auspicious wedding date, for example, takes tedious computations, but Ms. Allen has made it easier by putting together those lucky and unlucky days to schedule important activities in her 2018 Almanac and Feng Shui Planner. Add them to your must-have feng shui references each year to help you choose proper dates for starting businesses, travels, medical procedures, haircuts, etc.

daily schedule


7. Know your lucky directions.

Each one of us has lucky and unlucky directions. These directions indicate the quality of energy that is most beneficial for us. We can use this information in many ways, including determining our head facing direction when we sleep, or which direction to face during important meetings or negotiations. Check out your 2018 Feng Shui Almanac to know your auspicious directions.

8.  Wear auspicious clothes and accessories.

Feng shui uses shapes, colors, symbols, and elements to seek harmony and balance in life, so it lends itself naturally to fashion. Wearing feng shui-inspired clothing is the most personal and intimate way of attracting good fortune, projecting our aspirations, and hoping for their fulfillment. This is the basic tenet behind Frigga Charmed Life, a fashion brand started by Ms. Allen in 2012. Visit frigga.co.uk to learn more about lucky fashion.

must haves


9. Lastly, use feng shui with the purest of intentions.

Feng shui  practice is more than just wearing charms or placing cures and enhancers where they may best attract good energies or deflect bad ones. Foremost, it is about setting your goals with the objective of seeking improvements not just in your life but in others as well. Having said this, believe in your heart that feng shui works and could make a difference in your life. But always remember the saying: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”


Three enchanting islands, one fine day

Sometime in November last year, we took a trip to Busuanga, one of the roughly 1,780 islands that make up the archipelagic province of Palawan. It was meant to give us a taste of paradise in what is known as the “Last Ecological Frontier of the Philippines.”

coron westown.jpeg

Coron Westown Resort. Our mid-range accommodation for this tour.

From the Busuanga airport, we took a 45-minute ride to Coron, a municipality and fishing village that serves as the jump-off point to various other surrounding island destinations. It is not to be mistaken with Coron Island, the third-largest island in the province where tourists go to dive and view Japanese ship wrecks.

Confused already? You might find some helpful clarifications on this page.

I will not even try to describe the lovely islands we visited. Unfortunately, not even the photos we took could do justice to some of the most beautiful places on this side of the world. The feeling of being in, and living, those blissful moments was simply beyond words.

First stop: Bulog Dos.

Bulog means bald head, which is what the island looks like from a distance. Why Bulog Dos? Because there is Bulog Uno 🙂 . Which was not part of our island-hopping tour.

bulog dos.jpg


The sandbar seen from the viewing deck

Next: Banana Island

Nope, no bananas here. But why the name? The island is shaped like a banana fruit from afar. I stand corrected: we had bananas brought in to complete the bountiful lunch served by the tour operator.





Last stop: Malcapuya Island

The tour guide shared that Malcapuya is of Hispanic origin and roughly means ‘a beautiful woman with bad attitude.’

A woman or an island blessed with such beauty could, perhaps, be forgiven for having a ‘bad’ attitude. Malcapuya has often been reviewed as a smaller, but even better version of Boracay because of its cleaner beaches.


But maybe not for very long. The property is now owned by the same developer of Boracay Regency Hotel and changes may be seen within the next five years.

Three grades of Malcapuya sand: (1) Fine…


(2) Finer…


(3) Finest.


Please click here for more photos.

The Philippines now has 7,641 islands to explore, with roughly 1,780 located in Palawan alone. So many attractions. So little time.




A new ‘project’ on the Taft block


cover photo

It opened barely a week ago but it’s already threatening to steal some business from foreign brands Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, at least in the millennials area of Vito Cruz/Taft Avenue.

The Coffee Project is the latest business meant to complement the other ventures of All Value Holdings Corp. owned by Senator Manny Villar. Earlier Coffee Project shops opened only last year in different parts of Metro Manila and in the Villar-owned Vista Malls in Sta. Rosa, Antipolo, Pampanga, and Bataan. With capitalization of PhP240 million, it hopes to complete at least 20 projects by end of 2017.

Check out why The Coffee Project is billed the most Instagrammable café in the metropolis.

when all else fails

start your day

no one gets hurt

your monday be short


There’s a nook to suit your every mood.

hello taft

bike corner

hello taft 1

way up

More to see on the upper level but they will have to wait till my next visit.

ceiling art

Enjoy your coffee with this  ceiling  art above your head.


And ‘hugot’ lines aplenty.

love is all you need

hello goodbye

trash can

your ex

View more photos here.