Healing in Underprivileged Communities

Ancient healing practices – like yoga and reiki, meditation, massage, acupuncture and energy work – are becoming more and more mainstream.

Studios and classes can be found nearly everywhere, and hospitals are including traditional healing practices in their treatments and instructional direction. The health and wellness industries have become multi-trillion dollar luxury businesses, with extensions creating income throughout accompanying merchandising.  

While more and more people are being exposed to the unquestionable benefits of holistic healing – including those who might have been turned off by the more esoteric, ritual or traditional aspects of these practices – we, at Taireiki, can’t help but ask; why aren’t these benefits being applied in all the places where they could really make a difference?

The fact is, most opportunities to access ancient healing practices lie behind pay walls and/or are given in very specific and monetized environments, even though their intrinsically low bars to entry (equipment, facilities, prior physical or athletic preparation, etc.) make them almost ideal answers to many of the issues people face today. Access based solely on inaccessible financial means ignores a genuine and profound need within these communities.

Seniors, the homeless, those who are mentally or psychologically impaired, at-risk youth and disadvantaged communities benefit immensely from exactly the kind of healing these ancient practices provide.

Traditional healing practices – and the benefits of each – are seemingly tailor-made for the specific issues faced by disadvantaged populations.  

Mentally and emotionally unbalanced individuals can often trace the root of their issue to a chemical imbalance (either from a pre-existing medical condition or the cellular damage caused by prolonged states of stress), and ancient healing practices have been documented to help process cortisol. adrenaline, norepinephrine and other stress hormones that wreak havoc on our nervous system. These practices also generate beneficial neurochemicals and promote the natural balance(sate) of a healthy body.

While most of the Taireiki community is familiar with the benefits of traditional healing practice, others may not be as aware of the specific benefits one can expect from diligent dedication to ancient holistic healing practices. Let us share a few:


Yoga

The poses, even in more modern systems, center on “flow,” stretch and naturally strengthening the bodies’ muscles to allow for better circulation, structural alignment, and many other benefits ranging from boosted immunity to mindful eating.

One of the most often ignored issues suffered by the homeless is the trauma and PTSD caused by becoming and being homeless. The deep breathing and mindfulness promoted by yoga allows participants to access and deal with the pain and mental stress while the postures help by both directly treating physical problems, as well as the other well documented neurological benefits the practice itself promotes.


Reiki

Reiki practitioners focus on manipulations of the natural energy fields of the human body (dissolving blockages, relieve pain, release stress and tension, etc.) through hands-on treatments, breathing and meditation. The ultimate goal is to “reset” the body (or specific systems) to its (their) natural state and to promote, support and enhance the natural healing, balance, and mind-body-spirit connection innate in to every individual.

Underprivileged communities can suffer from a lack of healthy food (food deserts, prohibitive pricing etc.) and increased life stress due to socioeconomic or circumstantial pressures and reduced access to primary medical care. Healing arts like Reiki specifically address tension relief, mindfulness to combat anxiety and stress, preventative holistic health and even pain relief. Being able to boost natural immunity, target and prevent minor aches and pains and heal or treat chronic pain can often mean avoiding a costly visit to the ER/UC or an individual being overwhelmed by the pressures of life.


Qigong

This Chinese discipline relies on slow precise movement, deep breathing and natural postural alignment, to stretch and strengthen muscles, promote harmony within the system of the human body, and increase self awareness and the mind-body-spirit connection in accordance with ancient Chinese cosmological principals.

Seniors, due to natural aging and a more sedentary lifestyle, often need to work on balance, tissue density, and respiratory health. Unfortunately, these same needs make it difficult for them to meet the sometimes athletic demands of yoga or Pilates.

Fortunately for this population, however, qigong is a perfect fit! Qigong can be practiced sitting or standing, or a combination of the two. It gently and progressively builds strength and most importantly, does not rely on strength, flexibility, stamina or any other athletic considerations to gain the benefits of a diligent practice. This focus on alignment and natural body positioning also makes qigong ideal for overweight or injured/differently-abled people as a supplemental program.


Pilates

A method developed by Joseph Pilates, using targeted precise movements and muscle isolation, as well as breathing, isometrics and even in some cases, purpose-built machines to guide the practitioner through a pattern of fitness movements aimed at increasing strength, stamina, postural alignments and the correct use (firing) of muscles.    


Many of these practices have overlapping benefits, as well. For example, both yoga and qigong can give at-risk youth a sense of community, help to relieve stress, address grief and other unprocessed emotions, and most importantly, foster a sense of control and self reliance, which can translate in to healthy self esteem and behaviors at school and in the community.

With the high popularity and obvious benefits of ancient healing practices, it’s a wonder they aren’t being utilized more. Luckily, one of the biggest reasons for lack of utilization is lack of knowledge, which is rapidly being addressed.  

A growing group of folks and organizations are looking to fund good service models, provide good services, or create overall strategy. Expert healers, on the other hand, need to use a more need-based public health-focused business model, and to target communities in need (housing developments, hospitals, senior centers, etc.) and provide their services.  

Institutions and organizations with funding in those areas are also usually willing and eager to work with expert healers to solve issues. In fact, they are looking for wellness professionals to come in and provide these healing services. See below for some of these organizations*.

As healers and practitioners, we are often focused on the individual and can sometimes forget the community and the holistic impact we can have. The Taireiki community and our healers, use the ancient healing arts to restore balance and harmony in our everyday lives, realizing that these practices can have a higher order effect on more serious and complex societal problems.

For example, Taireiki owner, president and master healer Ivor Edmonds serves, and has served, a number of communities across the Greater Boston Area, including St. Francis House Shelter, Tewksbury State Hospital, Boston Centers for Youth and Family, and local senior centers.

Each night, people die because they lack healing services. Overcrowded domestic abuse shelters; old people who fall alone, and the Potter’s fields filling up during harsh weather are all preventable outcomes with life or death consequences of our societal problems. There’s already a great deal of political debate about this issue, but the truth is that there is no more time for rhetoric; eventually you have to act in service, and that time is now.

Whether you believe that simply practicing positivity and healing can metaphysically affect the overall level of good in the world, or are just trying to get the highest number of individuals the best quality services, the work you do is important and every little bit helps.

Please let us know how we can help you.

***

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085832/

  2. http://www.traumacenter.org/clients/yoga_svcs.php

  3. https://www.muih.edu/aggregator/sources/1

  4. https://www.muih.edu/maryland-university-integrative-health-kicks-fall-2018-largest-group-new-enrollments

  5. https://www.brighamandwomens.org/about-bwh/volunteer/reiki-volunteer-program

Breath and the Adrenaline Response

As the 2018-2019 MIT school year and track season started, I received a request from Coach Halston Taylor to educate his track team about reducing performance anxiety before and during track meets. I’ll explain this in more depth later, but the simplest way to put it is there is an important connection between breath adrenaline and the startle response.

He gave me this request as the 80 member track team noisily setup up their mats and props less than a minute before class started then sat down in the rear of the room with his laptop open to observe.  This left me about 15 seconds to prepare the new lesson for the team.  For a second, I froze as the pressure of having to deliver a brand new lesson with no time to prepare in front 80 athletes and the Dean of Athletics overwhelmed me.  Luckily I knew what to do to calm down, so with a breath I relaxed and proceeded to teach the team to relax under the same pressure I ironically felt just moments before.  I spent 10 minutes at the start of class and at the end instructing them on breathing.  At the end of class Coach Taylor said, “We’ll see how they do, they have a meet this weekend,” then promptly walked out to attend to the team.

I lingered as I locked up the equipment wondering, did I communicate well? Did the team understand me? Coach Taylor is a prolific athlete with a serious foundation in anatomy. Did he agree with what I told the team?  I didn’t have time to think about it as my next class stated in 45 minutes across campus. This was Thursday evening.

On Friday afternoon I attended my Pilates Teacher Training session and the same subject came up as we discussed proper breathing during Pilates mat exercises.  I briefly told him about the track team and Coach Taylor's request and that I planned to revisit the discussion the following week.  Arnold Lee, a Master Trainer, referred to it as the “startle response,” which briefly involves a sharp inhale, an increase heart rate, and an adrenaline dump into the blood stream. Speaking with him gave me some clarity on the topic, which was great because a few days later a private client came for a treatment with very high levels of anxiety.

This person had been to the emergency room the week before with respiratory issues and a concussion that were made more complex because they were triggering childhood traumas.  It was clear that the best thing to do was reduce the immediate anxiety and grief before moving forward with anything else.  For that session, all we did was learn how to breath properly and I got instant feedback about whether or not it was working.  By the end of the session we were have such a good time laughing, joking and learning, that neither of us realized we had gone an hour over our appointment time. For me, this was a good illustration of how to reduce anxiety with deep breathing in the span of a few short moments.

Thursday came along and it was time to teach the track team again.  This time, eighty-plus students came into class and noisily set up their mats and props.  As the last of the students entered, Coach Taylor walked in and said, “Oh, they did great last weekend;” meaning the team competed well at their first meet of the year and did not succumb to the pressure. At the time, there were so many distractions in the room and I was so involved in mentally preparing to deliver a refined lesson on deep breathing, it almost didn’t register.

Overcoming Shock and Crisis

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of going through some type of crisis, shock, or trauma, hopefully there were people around to help you. In the best case scenario, you’ll be able to rely on the kindness of strangers and professionals trained to guide you through this situation.

However if you have the misfortune of going through a negative experience alone, I want to be sure you have the necessary tools to take responsibility for your own healing and treat yourself from the immediate after effects of crisis.

When you go through an emergency, there are several physiological changes that happen, which fundamentally alter the state of your consciousness, such as:

  • The reptilian mind, or brainstem, becomes hyper active.

  • Adrenaline shoots from your adrenal glands located above your kidneys and into your bloodstream.

  • Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone,, floods the bloodstream agitating all the cells in your body and preparing your muscles for fight or flight.

  • Your heart rate will begin to increase pumping blood into your muscles.

  • Blood flow will also reduce to certain internal organs, and the frontal lobe of the brain.

In preparation for the emergency, as the flood of neurochemicals and hormones saturates your cells, your perception will become altered. You may experience tunnel vision, the inability to see peripherally. You may become fixated on what’s happening directly in front of you to the exclusion of the rest of your environment. Some people experience hearing loss and are unable to perceive people speaking, loud noises, or sirens.

Exactly what will occur to you will, of course, depend upon your individuality and the circumstances. However, it is sufficient to say that the longer and more intense the shock affecting your system the more intense your body’s physical reactions.

If this remains unchecked for too long it may lead to cardiac arrest or worse. It is of the importance to get control over yourself during these intense moments of shock, however, the methods for doing so often fall far short of their intended goal.

The most effective way that we teach to gain control of your bodies functions under Extreme duress, is through slow conscious deep breathing.

First, deep breathing is one of the few tools that we almost always have access to, regardless of the crisis. This type of breathing involves more than just filling your lungs with air and exhaling. So, a step-by-step practice to teach the correct method follows.

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder width, with your feet parallel.

  2. Sit up, taking your back off the back of your chair (if you can) and make spine straight.

  3. Place your hands on your thighs. It should take minimal effort to maintain this position.

  4. Exhale out of your mouth and empty your lungs fully contracting your stomach and diaphragm.

  5. Next close your mouth and inhale slowly and deeply. As you do so, your abdomen should expand like a balloon being filled with air. Your shoulders and upper chest should remain still until the inhale is nearly complete.

  6. Once you have inhaled completely filling your lungs hold your breath and count to four slowly. You should feel as little strain on your body as possible.

  7. Then slowly exhale out of your mouth, allowing your abdomen to contract and empty your lungs.

  8. After you have exhaled, hold your breath and count to four slowly.

  9. Then repeat the steps 5-9.

Inhale… 2…3…4… Hold…2…3…4… Exhale…2…3…4… Hold…2…3…4… Repeat

When done correctly, you will feel your heart rate slow down, and your vision and hearing will return to normal. Any shaking in your muscles or nervousness in your stomach will begin to dissipate. The effects of the increased levels of cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline running through your bloodstream will diminish.

Most importantly, you will be able to think clearly and your sense of well-being will begin to return.

At times, I have students who attempt to practice this deep breathing exercise during a critical moment of fear and shock, and they report to me that it did not work. The key to ensuring that this exercise works in-the-moment, is making sure that the deep breath you take fully expands your belly in abdominal region keeping your chest and shoulders still.

What you are doing internally when you take slow deep breaths while expanding your abdomen, is massaging all of your internal organs. Your kidneys, liver, spleen, stomach, small intestine, large intestines, adrenal glands, gallbladder, etc. are physically massaged by taking a deep breath inside your torso. It is this internal massage that will move lymph fluid, blood, and the associated stress neurochemicals through your body preventing them from overloading your mind, changing your emotional state from shocked and afraid to calm and in control.

If you would like more information about this technique and others to help you during the moment of crisis, or if you would like to learn further techniques on how you can gain control over your own emotions, contact us or attend a Trauma Sensitive/Informed Yoga class.

We are here to help you.

Deep Breathing Exercise


Preparation

  1. Sit up with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. 

  2. Empty your hands and close your eyes.

  3. Exhale fully, clearing your lungs.

  4. Extend your right arm to the front of your body.

  5. Inhale, slowly lifting your right arm up above your head.

  6. Exhale, slowly lowering your right arm down to your right knee.

  7. Extend your left arm to the front of your body.

  8. Inhale, slowly lifting your left arm up above your head.

  9. Exhale, slowly lowering your left arm down to your left knee.

  10. Extend both arms to the front of your body.

  11. Inhale lifting your arms above your head.

  12. Exhale, bringing them down to your knees.

  13. Inhale slowly and deep.

  14. Bring your hands together in front of your heart (prayer position). Inhale deeply, then exhale clearing your lungs.

  15. Inhale slowly and deeply while lifting your hands above your head, maintaining the prayer position.

  16. Exhale slowly lowering your hands together in front of your heart.

  17. Inhale, extending your arms to the front, maintaining the prayer position.

  18. Exhale, returning your hands to your heart (prayer position).

  19. Inhale slowly, opening the right arm to the right.

  20. Exhale slowly, returning the right arm to the prayer position in front of your heart.

  21. Inhale, opening the left arm to the left.

  22. Exhale slowly, returning the left arm to the prayer position in front of your heart.

  23. Inhale, opening both arms to their respective side.

  24. Exhale returning them to the prayer position in front of your heart.

  25. Place your hands on your knees.

  26. Exhale fully and relax.

  27. Return to normal breathing and sit for a few moments in stillness and silence.

  28. End