Facing fear with relaxation

Support: Group helps participants cope with stress.

Visualization: Nina Dickins

Outside, day-to-day life continues apace, with traffic rumbling up and down the highway and people pursuing the hectic pace of life.

But inside a darkened room in the rec centre, peace is in progress.

Finding peace in the throes of illness can be a daunting goal, when the mind is whirling with fear and anxiety.

Enter Nina Dickins and her group of dedicated volunteers.

For more than a decade, they have provided respite in 90-minute weekly sessions modelled on a group founded 25 years ago at Vancouver’s Cancer Agency.

A volunteer since the group was formed, Dickins credits Marie Paule Wylie as the moving force in establishing the group in Salmon Arm.

Every Thursday, Relaxation Support Group sessions begin with a 30-minute “check-in” with the group, followed by guided relaxation and wrapped up with a 15-minute discussion.

In the all-important guided relaxation, participants are led through a process that relaxes the body and mind, allowing them to leave their cares and/or pain behind.

Quiet music fills the background as a soothing voice takes members of the group through a visualization.

Lying on comfortable mats, covered with cosy blankets, they are encouraged to go to a favourite place in their minds.

Perhaps it’s the serene waters of a beautiful lake, the solace of a sheltering forest, the soothing rhythm of waves lapping a beach or the stunning view from a mountain top.

“All are places people like to imagine they can go to find that sense of calm and beauty we hope to induce,” says Dickins, noting the visualizations are led by professional facilitators.

When it’s time to return, participants are slowly brought back to the room through a series of gentle stretches.

There is peace, too.

Back in the circle where the session began, members share a word of the week, which is imprinted on an angel card given to them at the meeting.

“This is a group where meditation, progressive relaxation, visualization and soothing touch are offered as ways to cope with disease, depression, loss or anxiety,” says Dickins, who points out the process has been scientifically proven to alter the body’s chemical balance and immune system.

“Over the more than  the 12 years it has been running in Salmon Arm, there have been many transformations in people’s attitudes and ability to cope.”

Dickins says group leaders are sensitive to and respectful of differing religious beliefs and spiritualities. They are careful to stay away from words such as healing or energy.

The soothing touch offered during visualizations is a gentle stroking between knees and toes and aids in relaxation.

“Soothing touch to the physical body is what visualization is to the mind,” says Dickins, who has remained with the group  because she considers it to be worthy of her time and energy. “And, I meet people who maybe came 10 years ago and ask, ‘is that group still going? You have no idea how much you helped me.”

The Relaxation Support Group meets every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Room One of the rec centre.

The group is not restricted to men and women with cancer, but is also intended for those who are coping with other chronic illness, says Dickins.

Newcomers are very welcome to attend and Dickins says getting started is as easy as a phone call to her at 250-833-0347.

There is no charge to attend the group and no referral is necessary. Would-be members are also welcome to just drop in. Wear comfortable clothing.


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