Students sample alternative interventions at first Health and Wellness Fair

30 March 2012

When thinking of wellness interventions, many students are inclined to seek traditional medicinal solutions. As a reminder of some of the alternative therapies available, the Nursing Undergraduate Society (NUS) and Wellness Initiative organized a Health and Wellness Fair.

One of the event’s goals was to help participants become more balanced, happy and healthy students and practitioners. It revealed the variety of ways people find wellness, providing an opportunity to demonstrate different perspectives and a chance to experience these methods for improving their health as well as their patients’ health. Though the event was limited to their lunch hour, students were encouraged to visit the various stations and learn more about each approach via actually experiencing it versus simply hearing about it.

“The purpose of the event is to see a few other ways – aside from traditional medicine – that we as nurses and our patients can help create balance and well-being in our lives,” says Nicole Harada, BScN student and NUS athletics representative. “These exhibits are only a glimpse of things people do to find wellness.”

Two stations were focused on the benefits of massage therapy. Students trained by Bloomberg Nursing faculty Pam Walker offered hand massages, while registered shiatsu therapists from Hart House provided head and neck massages. Massage is used to enhance function, aid in the healing process, and promote relaxation and well-being through the working of superficial and deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue using various techniques. Benefits can include pain relief, reduced trait anxiety and depression, and temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate and state of anxiety.

Pet corner featured a couple of loveable canines, Elvis and Bella, brought to the fair by their faculty owners, to pose for photos and demonstrate the benefits and pleasure of spending time with animals. While the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy remains unproven, the goal is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Animals can be used in a variety of settings such as prisons, nursing homes, mental institutions and hospitals, and in the home. “Besides being cute,” says Walker, “Elvis is also a little ray of sunshine – and that has to be good for a person!”

Marco Mascarin, a Buddhist Chaplain at U of T’s Multifaith Centre, led the section on mindfulness meditation and qigong. Meditation improves physical and mental health, increases focus and concentration, and deepens peace of mind and sense of flow. Qigong is a practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing and meditation. In addition to the above mentioned benefits, it can also result in deeper, more restorative sleep and increased energy.

Artist and teacher Kate Anthony guided students at the art therapy table, which provided participants with an array of watercolours to be “in-the-moment” and express themselves through painting. As a treatment modality, the purpose of art therapy is essentially one of healing, to help clients express themselves when verbal communication is an issue.

Finally, still on a creative note, poet Ronna Bloom composed spontaneous poetry for attendees. Below is a poem she wrote for pet therapy volunteer Bella, a contented basset hound.

we are welcome
we are welcome
we are welcoming you
dog of poetry with your long ears
your long open and soft ears.
We want you here, the three “you”s”
Of us—dog, poet and nurse-
we are all the same
sitting here and writing and reading
panting and listening
in the awareness of the room,
the animals of our bodies-
those living and those simulated-
all our  sentient selves
welcome you. welcome us.
welcome back. we missed you.

This was the inaugural year of the Health and Wellness Fair, but organizers are sure it won’t be the last.