Story last updated at 2/27/2013 - 2:33 pm
Part of being human is experiencing ups and downs.
During those down times we often are told to appreciate what we do have going for us: a roof - maybe - our health, friends. But the ultimate quest of our nature is to be happy and whole, and there are more than basic vital needs to continue forward in a positive exploration of one's self, a path which has no end.
This is the gist of the Wellness Program, the brainchild of Mariya Lovishchuk, the Glory Hole's executive director. Enter Kiel Renick, the Glory Hole outreach coordinator. Renick took the challenge at a sprint. It is important to note that he might not consider food and shelter the only essential necessities to life. Being fully whole is a sphere that is composed with endless exposure to experiences that have a positive impact on our lives.
"Whether it's recovery from trauma, addiction, whatever complex set of circumstances has led (our patrons) to be here that they likely didn't choose; as we try to deal, we also need ways to enjoy our lives," Renick said. "Having positive components is part of the full suite. It's not just 'go and take your medicine,' it's feeling alive."
So Renick began reaching out to local practitioners of activities like yoga, massage therapy and acupuncture who might be interested in donating their professional experience and time to community members who would otherwise not have the opportunity to do so. He wanted to bring these experiences to the subset of community members who might not be familiar with these practices, or might not feel comfortable attending a local yoga class, for example.
"I think people need to be having fun," Renick said. "There's the element of me that's more meditative: people need to cease the desire for needing things; but when you look across the board at the gross patterns we carry out, that we're constantly trying to fulfill and strive for, we need play and have fun things other than the nihilistic destruction of consciousness."
Renick said the patrons of the Glory Hole often get attention and assistance with financial, legal and acute medical issues, but not with future wellness. Looking beyond the current negative issues in their lives, being at a point to embrace and pursue hobbies and recreation, doesn't have to begin after a living situation is resolved, a GED obtained or an addiction program established.
"The process of being the best person can begin right here," Renick said. "We're all working on that. Our folks, the patrons here, should not be waiting to get their other life (issues) together before they work on feeling the best that they can feel."
Renick said Lovishchuk set the tone for the Wellness Program: it's not about telling people what to do or forcing them to lead a life that the Glory Hole staff thinks is best. It's simply about providing the ability and access to various activities in a comfortable space and manner.
In its current state, the Wellness Program offers four activities: yoga, acupuncture, chair massage and somatic experiencing.
The first practitioner to jump on board was Megan Nigro, a somatic body experience practitioner. Nigro said that while her practice is basically a combination of counseling and physical touch, (Renick described it as work on an "intertidal zone"), it varies greatly from patient to patient.
"The work that I do is a bio-physiological trauma resolution model," Nigro said. "We're working with the nervous system in order to resolve whatever has brought it into a dis-regulated state."
Nigro said the body has rhythms: a heart rate and pulse, circulation, motor sequences. We swallow, digest, and these processes happen with regulation.
"There's a beating and a ticking and everything has timing," Nigro said. "When trauma disrupts the system maybe just one system is affected, but as time goes on it's a domino effect. One system's off and another one and eventually you have all these symptoms pouring out."
Nigro said these symptoms often include a deterioration of mental and physical health, a breakdown of normal organ operation.
"There's this developing school of thought that all these diagnoses: anxiety, depressive, and bipolar disorders, a lot of how we've categorized these mental health disorders are more symptoms of nervous disorders."
Her work attempts to address realignment and health via a focus on the nervous system.
"The whole aim for this work is to get the nervous system regulated," Nigro said. "When you look at a population that endures stress, there's a lot of call for this type of work."
Which is why she views her work as most beneficial to those who are struggling both physically and emotionally.
What was once a storage room on the second floor of the Glory Hole is now the Wellness Room where, with the exception of the yoga classes, the volunteering practitioners see patrons. Nigro uses the space for four hours a day, two days a week.
Corey Amselm is 52 and a current patron of the Glory Hole. He was raised in Pelican and spent most of his life commercial fishing. He endured numerous back-breaking falls during drunken escapades and fishing accidents and is still in the process of seeking financial assistance for medical attention. He said the pain he experiences from his injuries is "evil," clouding his ability to think clearly and experience much enjoyment. He admitted to periods of recklessness, unable to address stressful situations due to his pain. Recently, Renick approached him and said, "Come up and talk to this lady, she might help with your owies."
"I got on the bed and she put a pillow under my legs and stuck her hands under my back," Amselm said. "She wiggled her hands around, and (said), 'OK, how does this feel? Concentrate on what hurts, what doesn't hurt, what feels better.'"
Amselm said he was skeptical, initially.
"At the end she took the pillows down and helped me get my legs down and I realized I wasn't hurting so much," he said. "I sat down and put my shoes on and thought, 'Gosh, I'm starting to feel better.' I went downstairs and 50 percent of the pain was gone. I could think better. It was so nice. I couldn't believe it. I call her 'Magic.'"
Nigro seeks to initiate a healing process that occurs naturally in other species. Humans don't have the same coping mechanisms or protocol following traumatic and emotionally difficult situations.
"Wild animals go through a process of trembling, and then a motor sequence," she said. "The survival energy gets discharged and they can go about eating and drinking and chewing and not get stuck. We have traumatic events and then the energy gets stuck in our systems. It's all instinctual brain psychology, it's not like we're thinking about it, it happens way before thought."
Beverly Ingram offers a free hour of yoga once a week in the Rainforest Yoga studio.
"It was one of the things we chose because Mariya and (I) know yoga can be a positive activity," Renick said. "It's healthy physically and emotionally and mentally. There's a space that's a nonprofit downtown."
Rose Kahklen is a 40-year-old self-proclaimed "couch-surfer." She started coming to the Glory Hole because she spent most of her money on booze and needed food. Now she frequents the facility to offer her support.
"I come here to help be an ear, a hug, support for people who have taken their grief and pain into a bottle, exactly where I went," Kahklen said.
Now, with Ingram's generous donation of yoga instruction, Kahklen said she's learning how the practice can improve her ability to be supportive as it helps calms and balance her.
"Yoga has brought back to life my senses," she said. "I have a support system, and the Glory Hole is part of it. I am a recovering alcoholic, and these classes are just a great addition to my sobriety. They strengthen it. I didn't have to (be court-ordered) to do this, I didn't have to go to jail or almost die. I just got tired of being tired, and I'm doing all this on my own."
This is exactly a point Renick made.
"You might not have a house today, but you have yoga," he said. "For an hour you can unlock the part of your brain that thinks 'I'm homeless I'm homeless I'm homeless, and it doesn't control my identity and emotional state. I'm in control of it always. I'm in charge of my heart and my mind and I can steer these to other people and start teaching it.'"
Renick gives a lot of credit to the practitioners.
"That's been one of the cool things from the get go: it hasn't been like pulling teeth," he said, to get practitioners on board. "Every single one of our practitioners wants more people. Participation is the goal and we have not maxed out."
Renick said the current practitioners seem to embrace the opportunity, as they are most fully aware of the positive benefits their practice can provide.
Suzanne Cohen, an acupuncturist, has been practicing for 21 years in Juneau. She received her training in Portland, Ore., and worked with a population of people who had the choice of incarceration for drug or alcohol-related offenses or a 12-step program combined with acupuncture. When she moved to Juneau, in the early 1990s, she combined a private practice with work through Gastineau Human Services, providing acupuncture to residents in a halfway house. Cohen, along with Emily Kane and Jane Parrish, rotate on a three-week schedule, providing acupuncture at the Glory Hole Wellness Room once a week.
At the Wellness Room, Cohen said, the acupuncturists are able to practice in a group setting. She believes this fosters community health.
"I have read there have been free acupuncture clinics set up for firefighters during 9-11 and Katrina," Cohen said. "To help with stress. They were all based on this model of treating people together in a group situation."
Cohen said acupuncture can be used to assist people experiencing stress, anxiety, digestive orders, pain and insomnia. A better night's sleep, she said, is critical.
"If you're getting the rest you need your body is recovering from the daily grind," she said. "You're better able to make decisions about the things you eat or your consumption of alcohol. It can help subside cravings, calm down jitteriness in a withdrawal setting and help people deal with stress and anxiety."
She said the effects are subtle, but worth it.
"I feel that it's important for alternative medicine to be accessible to anyone," Cohen said. "This is one avenue."
The fourth practice included in the Glory Hole's Wellness Program is massage, performed about once a month by Jenna O'Fontanella.
"People who experience homelessness also experience disconnects, a lack of physical compassion, positive intimate connection, physical connection," Renick said. "You don't see a lot of hugging going on."
Massage appealed to him as a component of the Wellness Program because, simply, it feels good.
"Touch feels good to most people," Renick said. "It is both positive in the extreme present moment and also has therapeutic effects."
He was careful to point out that massage can also be complicated with the population the program targets. Many of the patrons have experienced varying levels of trauma in their lives and massage can surface bobbing emotions. Additionally, some people might be resistant to psychological therapy or counseling because of the level of participation it requires. Renick said what is great about providing massage is that it can be away for people to receive attention and therapy they might not otherwise get, without having to actively participate.
To actively participate or not isn't the point; it's about taking control and propelling oneself toward a healthier and happier life. Renick said he understands that there are vital necessities that everyone needs to just live, but he also recognizes the Wellness Program as a way to build on being more fully aware of one's self and capabilities.
"It's not just that it's raining outside or my knee hurts or my boyfriend broke up with me," Renick said. "It's our inner sense of peace and wellbeing. We do have the potential as humans to drastically change and cultivate (a) sense of happiness and peace. I want everyone here to be as happy as they can be."
Somatic experiencing with Megan Nigro is offered in the Glory Hole Wellness Room from 1-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Acupuncture is offered by Suzanne Cohen, Emily Kane and Jane Parrish in the Wellness Room from 9:30-11 a.m. on Thursdays.
Chair massage with Jenna O'Fontanella is offered once a month in the Wellness Room. The next session is March 11.
Community Yoga with Beverly Ingram is held at Rainforest Yoga on Fridays, from 3-4 p.m.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.