• Story by Katie Willis | Photos by Cecile Davis

Finding Your Inner Sanctuary

The fast-paced lifestyle many people often lead in today's world can be hectic, with many feeling they need to be constantly available because of cell phones, tablets and easily accessible wi-fi. And it doesn’t help that 24-hour news cycles often leave us feeling anxious, negative and on high alert.

The feeling of being “plugged in” all the time may cause stress levels to rise, leading to anxiety, which can become hard to manage. Finding ways to cope with daily stress, physical and mental illnesses, and other challenges, such as situations of abuse or trauma, can be difficult. But there are options for those seeking to unplug and de-stress, and fortunately the Mid-Shore has a host of ways to accommodate almost everyone's needs.

“I think it's true for almost everybody, that getting away from all of this stuff that's calling our attention all the time — our phones, our iPads, our computers, the TV — getting away from those things is helpful,” said Freya Farley, executive director of Evergreen Easton Point.

Evergreen Easton Point is an advocacy organization for health and wellness in the community. The center offers programming services around that idea, including acupuncture, massage, reiki, yoga, tai chi and meditation classes. Farley said the center is a place for the community to experience serenity, whatever that means for them.

“We are really looking to educate the community on health and wellness in a holistic way,” Farley said.

Farley said the center also is working toward a partnership with Talbot County Public Schools, where it will help bring mindfulness to the school system's students by training teachers to bring mindfulness into their classrooms and help calm and center their students. She said she is hoping the programming and training will be offered as ongoing support for the county's teachers and in the future the program may expand to other Mid-Shore counties.

Photo by Cecile Davis

“Reaching kids is really imperative,” Farley said. “If you reach them when they're young, they will always have that for the rest of their lives.”

Farley said teaching kids to center and calm themselves while they are young is easier than trying to shift imbedded behaviors in adults; however, she said the center specializes in shifting those ingrained adult behaviors, thought processes, underlying physical and/or mental health issues, or even instances of trauma, which can create challenges to promoting one’s well-being.

Programming tailored to help people relax includes yoga, tai chi and yoga nidra, all mindfulness-based and designed to help to calm the nervous system, she said. Yoga nidra in particular, which also is called “yogic sleep,” can help those suffering from high anxiety and stress, and help with post-traumatic stress disorder, because it “brings them back into the body,” Farley said.

“That's really the goal of those, is to sort of bring you back into your body and calm the nervous system, and as that happens, the mind starts to calm down also,” Farley said. “This is really kind of a stressful time for a lot of people.”

She said it is important to look at health and well-being as a maintenance effort, part of a daily routine, and although taking part in these programs will help participants feel better in some ways immediately, tangible benefits aren’t always evident at first. She also cautioned people against seeking out the “quick fixes” when it comes to their health and well-being.

“(A quick fix feels) really good when you're doing it, but longterm that doesn't really get to the root of the problem, it doesn't help you find the tools that you need to be able to continue (your well-being) moving forward,” Farley said. “It's important to continue with (these programs) so that your body really gets into a routine of knowing how to do that.”

Farley said our bodies want to be in balance, so maintaining healthy lifestyle practices and focusing on health goals will help your body crave more stability.

“Over time, your body starts to crave the things that you’re doing. And your body wants to be in balance, that's its natural state. So, if we can help encourage that movement towards balance, your body naturally already wants to go there. It's just kind of turning that switch and helping the body remember. Over time, that process gets easier,” she said.

Farley said people for the most part will immediately realize they are sleeping better and waking up more rested, and many people leave Evergreen’s classes feeling relaxed already. The goal is to keep that feeling going and develop the tools you need to help yourself find that calm and peace anywhere.

“Whenever you take time for yourself,” Farley said, “you're always going to feel that benefit, just from the time itself.”

The best way to start the road to well-being is to start a health journal, she said, where it will be easy to list problem or focus areas, and to track specific goals.

“It's not so esoteric,” Farley said. “There are those tangible (goals) that they're looking for, and people don't always know what that is.”

She said that's where the center florishes, by helping people find out what their health goals are, and then sustain them.

“Find your sanctuary,” Farley said. “(Evergreen) is a wonderful place to come feel relaxed, but it's also about finding that within yourself, and being able to take that away from here and not need a specific place or time, or class, to be able to find that within yourself.”

While some of the programming may be new and different to those first entering Evergreen, Farley said it is important to realize anyone can achieve balance and well-being in their lives, and Evergreen's programming is meant for those with all levels of experience.

Farley’s passion, though, is developing programming where people get out in nature, which she believes can help stoke the healing process and also reduce stress.

“When we say 'get out in nature,' it's a little bit of a misnomer, because we are nature. We're part of nature. We belong in the lifecycle of nature. So being out in nature, and being part of that cycle and process is natural for us. It helps bring our bodies into balance.

“It's so important to be viscerally connected to the land and the water. I think that's part of wellness for us, and it's important for us to feel that connected so that we can take care of the Earth also. So it's kind of this symbiotic thing.”

There are locations throughout the Mid-Shore where you can get out and experience the calming influence of nature, including Tuckahoe State Park in Queen Anne, Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, the Frank M. Ewing/Robinson Neck Preserve on Taylors Island, Martinak State Park in Denton, Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge near Rock Hall, Turners Creek Park and Sassafras Natural Resource Management Area in Kennedyville, and Terrapin Nature Park in Stevensville.

But sometimes your particular situation can require a different approach. For those experiencing physical, mental, or emotional challenges, therapeutic horseback riding may be an option worth exploring.

Talbot Special Riders' Executive Director Kim Hopkins said horses can calm the mind, body, and soul. The program runs out of Timber Grove Farm in Preston. The nonprofit has been serving the people of the Mid-Shore's five counties for more than 35 years.

The program runs full-time, year-round. TSR offers 10-week spring and fall sessions, with the fall session running now through November. There also are shortened winter and summer sessions, which run for six weeks each.

TSR has three core programs: equine therapy, hippotherapy and Equine Facilitated Learning. TSR recently began a new program called CATCH Riders, which stands for Creating A Therapeutic Change through Horsemanship, a learning program that assists riders by enhancing life skills and encouraging growth.

CATCH Riders is unique because it is made of three components: an unmounted portion, a mounted portion and a support group at the end of each day. The program first was implemented with a group of sexual abuse and trauma survivors.

Hopkins said hippotherapy also can be a good alternative for seniors who have been diagnosed with dementia-related conditions or Alzheimer's disease, because there is evidence equine therapy assists with lessening aggressive behaviors and aids in memory recollection.

She said equine therapy encourages relaxation because, when working with those dealing with trauma, anxiety, and panic attacks, the horse is a nonjudgmental, living being that offers comfort. The horse's steady, rhythmic breathing also allows program participants to regulate their own breathing.

The benefits of therapeutic riding can include improved self-esteem and motivation; development of trust; and improved attention, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Hopkins said even the program's volunteers find they are more relaxed while helping program participants with the horses. Since the organization is solely volunteer-driven, this may be an added benefit for those considering helping out with TSR.

“(Volunteers) may come to the farm after a tough day at work or home, and I can see the stressors start to melt once they pick up a brush and glide it across a horse, or stop by the barn to nuzzle a warm horse muzzle,” Hopkins said. “While working with our riders and horses, the volunteers are focused 100 percent on the tasks at hand, and any worries from outside forces are immediately forgotten. Many have told me that coming to TSR is their therapy.”

One thing is for certain, according to Hopkins and Farley, making your health and well-being a priority, and taking time to take care of yourself, is what can make the difference in any lifestyle change and help bring about a sense of peace within one’s life.

“The idea of find the sanctuary within yourself, anybody can do it,” Farley said. “Everybody deserves to be healthy and feel good, and be relaxed.”

For more information about Evergreen Easton Point, visit evergreeneaston.org or call 410-819-3395. For more information, to donate, or to volunteer with Talbot Special Riders, visit www.talbotspecialriders.com or call 410-673-7450.


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