The art of sitting still: Tri-state residents embrace meditation practices amid pandemic –

Posted: February 13, 2021 at 10:54 pm

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Yoga, reiki and other forms of Eastern therapy methods have deep roots in China, Japan, India and other parts of Asia, with philosophies and schools of thought often stretching back thousands of years.

But these methods of treating body, mind and soul with a variety of physical and mental exercises or, in the case of reiki, using the bodys energy to heal itself have found their way into the Western world in the past 100 years or so.

Jeff Wright is a yoga teacher from Platteville, Wis., who has been teaching in the tri-states since 1985. He said that even almost 100 years later, yoga wasnt trending all that much.

It was a different kind of thing back then, he said. It wasnt as popular as it is now.

Wright began studying meditation with a professor at University of Minnesota in the late 1960s. He pursued the art of meditation for many years and thought the physical practice of yoga would be a good addition to his routine.

I thought it would really help to learn yoga and keep practicing it if I taught, he said. If you teach something, youre motivated to learn more about it. Its been 50 years that Ive been interested.

According to The Good Body, a website that collects research and case studies on health, the number of people practicing yoga has tripled in the past eight years. Those people arent just looking for spiritual enlightenment. The top reasons cited include relief from stress, anxiety and depression and a desire to improve energy, memory and focus.

However, in addition to the physical, moving practice of yoga, Wright also has a passion for stillness something he has been cultivating for more than 20 years.

Ive really simplified what I do and what I think helps people the most, he said. With COVID, Ive stopped teaching physical yoga. Im really focusing on stillness practice. Its just being still and letting the brain do what its going to do.

Wright emphasized that, like any good habit, its important to practice daily, even though we might not always want to do it.

Its like sleep in that way, he said. We need a reintegration of our minds but in a wakeful way. A lot of stuff goes into the brain, and its not always pleasant, so we dont always look forward to it.

Wright meets with two stillness groups per week, one at Rountree Gallery in Platteville and one at Body & Soul Wellness Center and Spa in Dubuque.

He also believes the act of being still is a perfect practice for what he calls formal public sitting (FPS).

FPS is based on two premises: One is that sitting, relaxed and wakeful for at least 20 minutes a day, unguided, allows us our natural mental health, he said. The second is that when doing this practice around others, they feel inspired by your stability and may join you as well. When many practice together, there is peace.

The core elements of yoga, particularly the act of stillness, is really very natural, Wright said.

You see animals in nature doing this all the time, sitting still for periods of time, he said. Its really a very natural thing for all beings to do. Its a turn-off for a lot of people that think that its something so exotic.

In fact, Wright said the process is not at all intimidating but simple. Theres nothing to learn, and the whole group is in and out in an hour.

We sit for 15 minutes, then we walk and loosen up a bit, then sit for another 15 minutes, then do it again, he said. Then, we chat for about 10 minutes, and then were on our way.

While Wright admitted the demographic for yoga has been middle class White, he would like to see diversity in his stillness groups.

Ive had so few minorities, he said. Id love to see a broader spectrum of people. This isnt a big, splashy idea, but its so useful. I just think there are so many other people who are missing these benefits.

Wright said sitting still doesnt have to mean doing nothing. In fact, he encourages those who need to keep busy to do whatever they want to do.

You have to give yourself time to get to those intuitive insights in your mind, he said. That may mean reading or spacing out in front of the TV. Its doing whatever works for you.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, such self-care and wellness practices have seen an uptick.

Rachel Harwood, owner of Perfect Zen in Dubuque, has been a reiki master for more than a decade. Reiki is a form of energy healing and can be used for both physical and emotional healing.

When people ask me what reiki is, I try to get them to understand that their body is full of energy, and we carry those through all of our experiences, she said. When you get an emotional response in your body, thats an indication that you have fully processed it. If you dont feel any tension or emotion, thats an indication that youve fully processed it, that youve moved past it.

Harwood uses a variety of methods in her practice, including sound massage and sound meditation, using singing bowls and tuning forks to pick up imbalances with discrepancies in sound.

I can hear it, and my client can hear it, she said.

While meditation focuses on breath and mind visualization, sound meditation brings the focus to atonal sounds using singing bowls, chimes or bells.

Body & Soul and Center of I Am in Dubuque boast similar offerings.

The sound tools help to entrain the vibration of cells and help them vibrate back to where they should be, Harwood said. Its an amazing way to balance the nervous system. When were in a state of stress, our body isnt in a place where it can rest or heal.

Harwood emphasized that our bodies are designed to heal themselves.

Were accepting of the Western model of medicine having things done to us and taking medicine, and that will fix you, she said. But we have much more power over our bodies than we realize. We have more control than we give ourselves credit for.

Brittany Wagner is a nurse from Ridgeway, Wis., who works at Upland Hills Hospital in Dodgeville, Wis. She has been a client of Harwoods for several years.

Ive been going to Rachel for more holistic therapies such as reiki and sound healings, she said. Theyve all been a great complement to my mental and spiritual health, especially while working in the pandemic.

Wagner also practices clarity breathing with Harwood, a method of breath work that can help access the subconscious.

It can take you to a million different places, Harwood said. It can be great for people who arent afraid to go there.

Wagner said the breath work she has done has greatly improved her personal and professional lives.

Its brought me a sense of balance and stillness, she said. Its in that stillness that I am able to reset and find some mental clarity and stress reduction.

Wagner said the work she has done with Harwood has made her feel more grounded as a nurse, wife and mother. It also gave her the confidence to step out of her comfort zone and be part of a medical mission in Guatemala.

I never would have had the confidence to do it if it werent for the medical and spiritual training Ive had over the years, she said.

Harwood also teaches yoga to school children at Challenge to Change in Dubuque. Teaching these methods of relaxation and stress reduction to young children has been rewarding for her. Harwood said Challenge to Change yoga programs are in more than 200 schools this year, compared to just 14 a few years ago.

We teach them mudras, which is a way of holding their hands or fingers to show how theyre feeling, she said. Youll see kids walking around the school holding their hands in these mudras. They are recognizing that this is something they need, and theyre connecting with that intention.

Harwood would love to see everybody learn yoga at a young age and thinks it could positively impact the course of their lives.

I believe that we all have access to connect with our inner knowing. Why wouldnt you want to know how to better understand how to connect to yourself? she said. Yoga is about tuning in and realizing what youre feeling. Theres a lot we can learn, and a lot that we can do if we pay attention early enough.

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The art of sitting still: Tri-state residents embrace meditation practices amid pandemic -

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February 13th, 2021 at 10:54 pm

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