by Kate Branum • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Throughout the years, yoga has developed into a tranquil way of staying in shape. However, the popular zen exercise routine wasn’t always so focused on complex poses and handstands.
Yoga, a practice that first emerged in northern India, was once used as a spiritual discipline to facilitate a connection between the mind and body. Raechel Morrow, founder and president of the Grand Rapids Center for Healing Yoga, is taking the practice back to its origins.
The Center for Healing Yoga is a small studio nestled into the Grand Rapids Wellness Collective building. Upon entering the dimly-lit studio, guests are welcomed by calming decor, a tea station, endless bottles of essential oils, shelves stocked with natural medicines and a fresh, calming scent beckoning them to leave their troubles (and their shoes), at the door. Here, you will find yoga of a different variety; the center specializes in yoga therapy, group classes and workshops that empower healing and comfort for people who have developmental trauma, depression, addiction, anxiety and eating disorders.
Morrow, a soft-spoken, gentle and insightful individual, has been a dedicated yogi since 1998. She fell in love with the practice the minute she tried it and quickly realized that yoga is much more than exercise for the body–it’s also exercise for the mind. Wanting to share her love for yoga and its healing properties with others, Morrow became a teacher in 2004.
“I started practicing yoga more for flexibility and balance of the body,” Morrow admitted. “Early on, before I began teaching I noticed the healing aspect of yoga. In my own experience, I’ve been able to feel my body more–feel sensations and feel things off of the yoga mat, too.”
In 2010, Morrow chose to expand her teaching to private, one-on-one sessions with regular clients, which led to what she specializes in now.
“Using the concept of pratyahara, or pulling back from external senses and sounds, each session offers insight on how to rediscover the soul.”
The type of yoga practiced at the center is less focused on physical moves and more geared toward meditation, awareness and freeing the mind, making it an excellent outlet for guests who have never done it before.
Group classes are capped at 10 people to promote a feeling of safety and intimacy and create a personal connection between each individual and the instructor. Each class runs consecutively for six weeks and lasts for about 75 minutes.
“When you’re working with people with addictions and trauma, it’s really relational and longitudinal–it’s over a long period of time, and that’s what we’re trying to build here,” Morrow emphasized.
Morrow and her colleagues lead all classes with the goal of providing the necessary tools each person needs to find an important connection between their minds and bodies and practice self-care outside of the studio.
Betsy Rosenbrook, a social worker and certified instructor at the center, has been practicing yoga for the past five years and began working for Morrow about a year ago. Bubbling with charisma and kindness, Rosenbrook pours her energy into teaching classes at the studio for individuals struggling with addiction.
“I came to yoga for getting in shape mostly,” Rosenbrook said. “Then, I quickly fell in love with it also as a way to find calm in my mind away from busy parenting. I decided I wanted to become a teacher to bring yoga to the mental health community, and I wanted to learn how to teach yoga as a tool for wellness.”
The Center for Healing Yoga focuses on finding awareness and discovering where emotions are stored in the body.
“Everything that’s happened to us is in the body,” Morrow pointed out. “There’s memory in our bodies and nerve bundles that are all connected.”
Each class offers an opportunity for self-study and encourages participants to delve deep into themselves and find out who they are and what they desire most. Using the concept of pratyahara, or pulling back from external senses and sounds, each session offers insight on how to rediscover the soul.
“We all have different seasons in our lives,” Morrow pointed out. “If you’re in a time of healing and a time of transformation, one of the greatest guides is silence. It’s the hardest thing to do but it’s about pulling away from things and going into yourself.”
Morrow and Rosenbrook are both conscious of the limitations of their students and strive to make them feel as comfortable as possible. All classes are tailored to fit the needs of the participants. For example, the structure of addiction classes differs slightly from that of the trauma classes.
“Silence and too much mediation can be incredibly triggering for people who have developmental trauma or anxiety,” Morrow said. “Physically, the body has been an enemy and students’ awareness has been on the external. We definitely stay with present moment experiences, and I do give moments of silence, but those moments are no longer than two minutes.”
The center aims to help remove the stigma and shame around having trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorders. Morrow wants each student to enter the studio with an attitude that says, “I’m empowering myself by taking this class!” One of her personal goals is to guide each person to believe that they are worthy of self-love.
“I work with so many clients and students that have body image issues, not necessarily eating disorders, but they really don’t like their bodies,” Morrow expressed.
“There’s all this shame about it. I think when we talk about well-being, it’s all about being empowering and saying, ‘I’m struggling,’ while removing the shame attached to it.”
More than anything, Morrow wants her students to think of the studio as a home away from home. She and Rosenbrook work hard to maintain a safe atmosphere that allows each person to receive the support, motivation and privacy they deserve.
“Our students are incredibly courageous,” Morrow said happily. “It’s so much easier to go through life blindfolded and not have to feel the pain of things, and our students come in here and they have to feel and it’s not always easy.”
The center is constantly evolving to meet the needs of everyone in the community. They are currently working on creating a family yoga class that will be open to children and their primary caregivers.
Morrow and Rosenbrook have found their niche and continue to grow along with their students as they accompany each individual on the journey to self-care and healing. Both women believe that everyone is capable of shaping their circumstances and living the life they were intended to live.
“There are places for all kinds of yoga, and this is just one of the many kinds out there,” Rosenbrook said. “This place is open to many different people, and it has something very unique about it.”