Yoga Relieving Stress, Tension for Wheeler Patients

“It Clears Your Mind.”

It’s five o’clock, and a men's counseling group spills out of its room at Wheeler’s Family Health & Wellness Center at 43 Woodland Street in Hartford. People chat as they wait for an elevator, check their phones, or get ready to catch a ride home.

Except for six, who have a yoga appointment.

Since Wheeler began offering free yoga sessions, both staff and patients have reported it to be a valuable therapeutic tool. The classes are part of a suite of alternative and complementary medicine offered at the center, including chiropracty, mindfulness, exercise and soon, acupuncture for addiction. Some of the programs are supported through the Wheeler Innovation Fund, created by longtime Wheeler philanthropists Peter and Mary Fran Libassi, as an innovation project to examine health outcomes and test new approaches to care for patients with multiple health conditions and a range of social stressors.

Nataly Cardona, RYT, is Wheeler’s yoga instructor. She says there was a lot of initial skepticism among some of the men, which has quickly faded as they see benefits.

“The students here walk in with a range of things bothering them: anxiety, addiction, urges, triggers, or chronic pain from their jobs,” she says. “But most want to try something different when maybe other things haven’t worked. Some just want to observe at first. The vast majority have never tried yoga, or don’t really understand what it means. But once they try it, they get it.”

Isiah, 35, of Hartford is one of tonight’s students. He says he’s practicing fundamentals at home, too.

“For me, it’s about relieving tension,” he says. “It clears your mind.”

He says when he’s stressed at home now, he lays a blanket on the floor and practices the breathing and mental focusing that Cardona taught him. He says it even helped him fight the urge for a cigarette recently.

Cardona hears him say that and gives him a thumbs-up from across the room.

“I tell everyone there’s no one fix. But this is a great tool for them to have in their toolbox.”

Cardona says one of the most meaningful experiences for her so far has been teaching yoga nidra, or yoga guided sleep meditation, to a class that was very tense and tired. She said the students told her they couldn’t get their minds to calm. She says she guided them all as they lay on their backs on the floor, and she laughed as she recalled that most fell asleep within minutes.

“I walked around waking them up. One student came in that day and said he was a big-time skeptic of the whole thing. Very stressed, very anxious, and by the end of the exercise, he was out. The first thing he said when he woke up was, ‘Whoa. I didn’t think I could let myself get that relaxed.’”

Asked if there was a way to improve the classes, Isiah only had one piece of feedback.

“Yeah, offer more of them.”

Wheeler’s yoga classes are free to patients registered for Wheeler’s primary care or behavioral health services.

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