Soak, meditate and crash your way to better health

Alternative therapies are helping to relieve stress and live in the moment.
Goat Stands Among Women Stretching At Outdoor Goat Yoga Class
Goat yoga is a fun way to de-stress. Photo by iStock

These days, it’s all about relieving stress, shedding anger and tapping into our best selves. Therapy is a huge help — with guidance from a qualified professional. But sometimes, folks would rather bash old computers, hurl plates at a wall or paint calming lake and tree scenes. Then there’s ax throwing and floating in dark saltwater for an hour.

There has been a lot of research around mindfulness — such as the benefits of yoga, meditation, breathing and body-centered psychotherapy — as ways to relieve stress, reduce insomnia, reduce anxiety and depression, and handle social anxieties.

The Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness offers classes and workshops on topics ranging from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to Eat for Life: Mindful Eating. So, where does plate-throwing and yoga with goats fit in?

“All of these things are somewhat body centered which, therapeutically, has been helpful,” said April Kaiserlian, LMSW, co-founder of Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness and a body-centered psychotherapist. “These types of activities are the lighthearted side of the healing journey.”

And there’s a place for “lighthearted,” said Kaiserlian. “These activities get people out of their heads and into body-centered practices. Fun is an incredible way to cultivate healing.”

Tyler Phaneuf runs Phlot, which offers individual float tanks filled with Epsom salt that allow “floaters” to relax in a dark, quiet, body-temperature environment.
“Floating helps reduce stress, anxiety, muscle tension and chronic pain, as well as lowers blood pressure and helps athletes heal,” Phaneuf said. “It also takes a meditation practice to a new level.”

He dreams of adding another flotation room, saunas and massage rooms to round out the experience, noting that the number of floaters has increased as more people hear about it.
“Flotation helps people cultivate a more ‘being’ mode,” Kaiserlian said. “The body knows there isn’t much it can do while floating, which supports ‘being.’”

She points to other healing modalities such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, taking a baking class, painting and even laughter yoga. “It’s about people getting out of their heads and into their bodies,” Kaiserlian said.

Angela McElroy is owner of Dorr to Eden, which offers goat yoga during the summer months. It’s yoga with goats sitting on the yoga mats, nuzzling a neck, wandering through the group — and occasionally pooping on a mat.

“Two years ago, we did two goat yoga classes. As people were leaving, they said how much the class brought them joy and made them laugh,” said McElroy, a former social worker and now a doctor of naturopathy. “If you can bring a little laughter and joy back into the world, that’s great.”

McElroy is certified in equine therapy, which she does at Dorr to Eden, too. She invites her miniature donkey into the yoga events and has a tortoise that kids can visit with and even paint.

“Things like goat yoga keep you in the present moment; you’re not thinking about the past or the future,” she said. “You can experience joy instead of anxiety. You can keep away from the woulda, coulda, shouldas.”

Goat yoga and floatation aside, Kaiserlian encourages participants in these alternative well-being therapies to pay attention to the emotions that are prompting the desire to break things, shoot things or escape into an activity, as well as pay attention to when these things don’t work.

“Working through rage can be cathartic, but sometimes it can trigger trauma,” she said. “Notice that, and if you experience a trigger, you may need additional support. Also, you can smash something and have a release, but have you discovered the information behind that emotion?”

There’s growing research behind mindfulness and body-centered psychotherapy, among other things, but not so much about things like goat yoga and rage rooms.

“These things are outside the bell curve. They are on the edges and can be a doorway into deeper work,” Kaiserlian said. “They are less threatening, there is less judgment and less stigma.”

Alternative therapies
Looking for something to calm your nerves, de-stress after a long week or take your mind off the difficult things in your life? The list below provides an overview of the many alternative well-being therapies around Grand Rapids. Visit websites or Facebook pages, read reviews, get recommendations and choose the best alternative therapy for you.

Relaxation and healing therapies:
Phlot — flotation in a sensory-reduced environment;
Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness — mindfulness tools to manage your stress and increase health and well-being;
Dorr to Eden-Naturopathy and Animal Enhanced Growth — healing the mind, body and soul with animals and herbs; and
Yoga — studios around the city offer varied times and practices
Massage therapy — locations around the city offer varied times and modalities
Acupuncture of West Michigan — customized treatment plans;
Holistic Care Approach — multidisciplinary wellness center;

Creative therapies:
Brush Studio — art class meets night out, also available for private parties;
Bamboo Studio — private parties and art classes;
The Mud Room — pottery painting, wood signs, pottery wheel studio, handprints;
Pottery Lane — six-week classes and Girls Night Out;
Michigan Fibre Studio — instruction in wide variety of fiber arts;
GRCC Cooks — cooking classes for all levels;

Assertive therapies:
Break Room Therapy — physically release emotions by smashing things;
Grand Rapids Escape Room — you have 60 minutes to escape or complete the challenge;
The Great Escape Room — Sherlock-themed escape room adventures;
Target Axe Throwing — combine urban lifestyle with rural action;
Terra Firma — bouldering (climbing without ropes) for all levels;
Inside Moves — top rope and lead climbing, as well as bouldering;
CKO Kickboxing — burn fat, reduce stress, tone up;


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