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Health fair offers smorgasbord of alternative choices

At first glance the 7th annual Yukon Wholistic Health & Wellness Fair looks like any other trade show.

At first glance the 7th annual Yukon Wholistic Health & Wellness Fair looks like any other trade show.

Thirty or so tables are ranged round the ballroom of the High Country Inn, with a variety of workshops, demonstrations, and other activities offered in nearby presentation rooms and an outdoor tent.

But step closer and you can smell the fragrance of essential oils and herbal teas, hear the sound of chimes, and become aware of a peacefulness, so different from the usual noisy chatter at such events.

At the same time, these alternative health and wellness practitioners are down-to-earth, practical, small-business owners — a long way from the old stereotype of blissed-out dreaminess.

From doulas to herbalists, from healing touch to astrological services, there’s something for everyone at this smorgasbord of healthy living.

Next to one table selling organic cotton clothing and healthy snacks for kids, stepped plastic triangles in bright colours are laid out on the floor.

They turn out to be “river rocks” — exercise equipment for a program called Fit Kids, run by Echo Johnson.

Johnson, a born-and-bred Yukoner, describes herself as a “newbie” at the fair — she’s only been running the program since February.

The goal of Fit Kids is to provide children with a positive exercise experience in a non-competitive and supportive environment, offering what Johnson calls “a total mind and body workout” for two- to six-year-olds.   

She leads hour-long sessions once a week at participating daycares that incorporate music, rhythm, dancing, and — to end the hour — yoga, which the kids “totally eat up,” says Johnson.

One of her movement exercises is the Alligator Game, which involves rolling across mats, jumping through hula hoops, and using those “river rocks” as stepping stones — a balance and co-ordination exercise.

Johnson has training in both dance and early childhood education, and has worked in daycares herself, but with two small boys of her own, didn’t want to work full-time.

“I’m a big promoter of health for kids, and I really wanted to do something that would help kids out.”

In fact recent studies show that most Canadian kids aren’t getting enough exercise — hence the attraction of a program that takes place in the childcare setting and doesn’t involve evening or weekend driving.

A similar program in the UK, which uses storytelling to guide children through yoga exercises, reports that teachers have noticed big differences in pupils enrolled in the program, ranging from greater body awareness to greater ability to concentrate.

Meanwhile I’m curious about the soft chiming coming from the huge crystal bowls elsewhere in the room.

Gaia Bicudo, the owner of Omaha Wholistic Spa in Whitehorse, explains that they’re “singing bowls” made out of quartz crystal, and that they “help bring harmony where there’s disharmony.”

The bowls, which sell for $300 and up, release alpha waves when they’re played, which induce a state of relaxation.

A mallet is used to stroke the bowl and produce the sound — a co-creation using the female aspect of the bowl and the male aspect of the mallet, explains Bicudo.

The bowls will float in water, so they can be floated in a bathtub to “charge the water and bring it back to life,” she says.

Bicudo also uses a therapeutic bowl in her bodywork at the spa — a gold-infused quartz bowl with a stem, rather like a gigantic wine glass.

The design means that she can move it around easily and use it anywhere on the body, while the gold “changes the properties of the quartz, bringing a little more celestial energy.”

Bicudo trained at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts in Santa Fe, where she was first introduced to the bowls.

She even uses them to heal injury, pointing to a woman standing nearby who had a badly swollen foot after surgery a couple of years ago.

Bicudo had her place her foot in the bowl and played it, and “15 minutes later the swelling had gone down and she could actually tighten her shoe.”

By now the workshop with shamanic practitioner Gaye Hanson is about to start, so I head down the hall to a large room that quickly fills with people.

Hanson, a cheerful, smiling woman of part-Cree ancestry, begins by smudging the room with a mixture of Alberta and Yukon sage.

She became interested in shamanism after her life fell apart — a job and a marriage ended at the same time — and she felt she needed something that went beyond the more intellectual approach of  psychotherapy.

She subsequently trained in core shamanism as taught by the Harner Institute, an organization founded by anthropologist Michael Harner.

Core shamanism, she explains, is a distillation of shamanic practices from around the world, and its elements — water, fire, candles, purification — are used in many different spiritual traditions.

In shamanic tradition, says Hanson, all of us have a power animal — sometimes more than one — and power animals may change over time.

One of Hanson’s power animals is a dolphin, “but only for play, and it’s important that I not use it for anything except something that is playful.”

One of shamanism’s core concepts is the existence of non-ordinary reality, which Hanson describes as a “parallel dimension that allows us to be in a different space — similar to meditation in that your body is quite relaxed, but often your senses are quite alive.”

Hanson ended the workshop with a short drumming session to allow workshop participants to briefly experience a journey into non-ordinary reality, explaining that the drumming speed used is the same as the fetal heart rate.

The drummer also uses a “call-back” with a different beat to summon people back from the journey.

That’s because people often find the journey compelling and don’t really want to come back, explains Hanson. However,  those who refuse to return can be found through a technique called shamanic tracking.

After the drumming session, a number of people reported encounters with power animals — wolves, monkeys — or feelings of being beneath the earth at the roots of a tree.

My own experience may have been an echo of my English childhood — finding myself in a peaceful, sunny meadow, with deer visible out of the corner of my eye.

I’d intended to pop in and out of several workshops during the afternoon — participants were free to do so — but the workshop was so fascinating I stayed to the end.

For more information on the above programs, you can contact Echo Johnson of Fit Kids at 456-7252, Gaia Bicudo of Omaha Wholistic Spa at 667-4611, and Gaye Hanson at 633-6753.

Patricia Robertson is a Whitehorse-based writer.