One of the most popular activities of the Global Healthworks Foundation outreach clinics is the chair yoga class we call ‘movimientos de sanación’ (healing body movements) . It is provided to all our patients – young and old – as preparation for a full, multi-modality treatment that each patient receives from the volunteer practitioners. These fun classes, which include basic yoga, qigong and stretching movements, were specifically designed to encourage patients to practice at-home exercises daily. Read Noah Goldstein’s reflections from one of his GHF outreach trips below.
Movimientos de Sanación: Movement as a Means for Healing and Growth
Written by: Noah Goldstein
I close my eyes and I'm in the big bright open conference room transformed into a treatment space full of patients on massage platforms—some waiting patiently, others with their eyes closed and looks of serenity on their faces—all are emblems of humanity. In contrast to the relative stillness of the patients is the calm but constant movement of the acupuncturists, bodyworkers, health promoters, translators, coordinators, and Reiki practitioners. It could be likened to a beehive with much commotion and individual movement characterized by an underlying sense of unity and coordination. I also like to think of it as an orchestra—each instrument playing its piece, some percussive, keeping a steady beat, others melodic—all necessary to create the symphonic music of healing and transformation.
There are books-worth of stories to share from this week-long jornada (medical mission) in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala, during which our team of volunteers from the U.S. and Canada treated over thirteen hundred indigenous people. But here I can only explore a couple of themes, both of which have been content for contemplation for some time now.
Several times on this trip I glanced up from the patient in front of me to take in everything going on around me, to hear the whole band playing so to speak, and out through the great glass windows of the treatment salon I saw a circle of local Guatemalans — young and old— with great big smiles on their faces swinging their arms around in some manner. They were taking our (chair) Yoga class. Clearly from the joy their faces expressed this was a super fun activity, and bringing fun and playfulness into anyone's life is already a great deal of good, but there were some additional benefits in this situation.
First of all, as someone who sees my body as an essential part of my whole being and not just as a vehicle to move mind-spirit around, anytime I see people engaged in delight in being in their bodies, I see goodness, all the more so when these are people who came to seek medical attention for pains and aches. Here is an opportunity to revel in one's own health in the midst of dis-ease. I see that as powerfully perspective-altering and tried to bring that illumination into the treatment room as often as possible—frequently with words and with a heartfelt orientation towards the patient: bring out the health (rather than suppressing the disease). "I'm hearing that you have a lot of aches and pains, I'm going to help ease that and I want you to think back to twenty minutes ago when you were using your body in a joyful way and remember and know that inside of you is always a wellspring of vitality."
The ‘movimientos de sanación’ (healing body movements) activity is provided to all the patients as preparation for a full, multi-modality treatment that each one receives from the volunteer practitioners. This activity, which includes basic yoga, qigong and stretching movements, was specifically designed with the indigenous population in mind. With each exercise, the instructor informs the student/patient about the benefits that can be achieved if the take-home exercises are practiced daily. For example, the belly-breathing exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety and can improve sleep problems. The half-eagle pose and car-driving wrist exercises stretch the forearm and hand muscles used for daily work activities such as weaving, washing clothes, and making tortillas, and can help ease the pain of arthritis. The seated spinal twist and belly-circle rub exercises can help with digestive and elimination problems. Tapotement and rubbing on the legs can stimulate improved blood circulation for those suffering from diabetes. What a joy to see these patients so excited to actively participate in their own health improvement.
“What a joy to see these patients so excited to actively participate in their own health improvement.”
It is also my belief that anytime you help someone do something new and different, you are broadening their awareness of what's possible—creating opportunities for shifts and growth. Specifically with the body movement class, we were showing people a fun and gentle way they can take care of themselves and their health. How much of this will translate into their daily life remains a question, but I can certainly dream of a scenario where a patient we treated spends ten minutes every morning moving her body and doing some stretches, loosening her muscles, relaxing her mind and reconnecting to an experience where complete strangers treated her with unconditional kindness and respect. Maybe that day (and every day) is a little easier, and maybe her body is a little less stiff. I can even imagine a town where a small group of women gather every afternoon for half an hour to do some of the exercises together—and in bonding through physicality, they also bond emotionally and feel more solidarity and strength. Then they move through the world in a different way that works better for them.
These may seem like big leaps to make from one Yoga class, but for many people this was not their first (or last) class. And maybe a little extra nudge from the bodyworker or acupuncturist or translator leads to a click, and these may be small changes, but that’s where you have to start.
“The impression that I got was that these classes were a joy to teach, were warmly received and made a palpable difference for the patients.”
I didn't teach any of the Yoga classes myself, but I spoke with those who did and with the translators and with the patients, and the impression that I got (in addition to what I saw with my own eyes) was that these classes were a joy to teach, were warmly received and made a palpable difference for the patients.
At the end of the day, each time a group of volunteers show up to share their services from their hearts unconditionally, it shifts things. It plants a seed of possibility, it engenders faith in humanity and hope for a better future and new possibilities. It creates a small shift, a tiny transformative ripple that may be, after all, far-reaching.