Unusual therapies offer wellness with a difference

COVER OF DARKNESS: When the world becomes too much, Still Point Wellness offers a place to get away from it all — all sound, all light, all perception of gravity. Floating in a body-temperature saltwater solution, clients can tap into the novel experience of escaping sensation. Photo courtesy of Still Point Wellness

Has your wellness routine become just a bit too routine? Are you weary of the same old same old? Bored with the predictable and uninspired by the mundane? The good news is Asheville abounds with alternatives for adventurous healing journeys and opportunities to indulge your curiosity.

Vibrant Vessel Wellness

Iona Jones says a frequent response from women after their first session with her is “I’ve been looking for this my whole life and didn’t know it existed!” What they’re referring to, says Jones, is actually an assortment of therapies and practices that she’s assembled during her own journey and combined into what she calls “womb work.”

Raised in the Appalachian region, Jones, the owner/operator of Vibrant Vessel Wellness in Boone, studied multiple modalities at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. She apprenticed under master teachers in the fields of somatic psychology and integrative bodywork and chose craniosacral therapy as her specialty. After moving back east, she launched Vibrant Vessel in Asheville before relocating it to Boone in 2017.

Womb work sessions might include such approaches as Mayan abdominal massage, pelvic floor opening and releasing techniques, sacred spot awareness and the yoni egg process. Mayan massage works with the area from the pelvis and hips to where the diaphragm meets the rib cage; in the egg process, the patient inserts an egg-shaped gemstone into her vagina and practices intentional breathing and becoming attuned to that area of her body.

“So many women are so disembodied from their womb space, so disconnected from it,” notes Jones. “There is so much societal and cultural shame and embarrassment infused into our relationship with our moon blood, ovulation process and sexuality. Womb wellness means healing and reconnecting with this sacred space.”

Sessions may be 60, 90 or 120 minutes, and more than one is needed, she explains, to work through issues. Jones says she has many Asheville clients who regard the drive as part of their healing process. She also offers three-month packages that are customized to the client’s particular needs. In that arrangement, she meets with the patient in person for two hours every other week, and they do coaching calls on alternate weeks. “The Soul Sanctuary was created as an enhanced container of support for the women I work with,” says Jones. “I recognize that anything showing up in our physical bodies has already existed in our emotional and spiritual bodies, so I address all of those.”


Still Point Wellness

Besides a collection of diamond-studded championship rings, what do Stephen Curry, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles have in common? These extraordinary exemplars of athletic excellence are all avid proponents of float tanks, also known as sensory deprivation tanks. Corey Costanzo, who owns Still Point Wellness with his wife, Robin Fann-Costanzo, calls the experience an inner adventure.

“When you go in the tank there is no sound and no light,” he explains. “It blocks all your external senses, so your inner senses start to come alive. The minutes go by, and in your mind you’ve been thinking of what you did last week and what you have to do tomorrow, but at some point your mind says, ‘Try to let it go.’ And all the energy we use to think, to fight gravity, to walk around and hold our body tight starts to free up, and your body uses it where it is most needed.”

At Still Point, the adventure takes place in an 8-foot-long by 6-foot-wide by 7 1/2-foot-tall tank, one of the largest on the market, notes Costanzo. One thousand pounds of Epsom salts are dissolved in 400 gallons of water. “The saltwater is only 12 inches deep: You don’t need 4 feet of water to float. That means the ceiling is another 5 feet from the surface of the water, which is comforting to people who are afraid they might feel claustrophobic. Your eyes and mouth are above water, your ears below it.”

To begin their 60-, 90- or 120-minute session, clients enter the private floatation suite, undress, shower, insert earplugs, step into the tank, lie back … and float. The heat is maintained at about 95 degrees and fresh air is pumped in; as the air warms up, the temperatures of the air, water and skin equalize, so even the sense of touch goes away. At the end of the session, clients shower, dress and are served hot tea, sitting in front of a 120-gallon saltwater aquarium. “We encourage people to partake of the whole experience, from beginning to end,” says Costanzo. “It’s a mind-body reset.”


Hold Me AVL

“I have friends who say, ‘Hey, I love to cuddle — I want to be paid to do it!’” Ishka Shir says with a laugh. “Me too! But there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Shir has training in such modalities as massage and therapeutic touch, to complement what she calls her compassionate nature and skill at listening. “I was cuddling friends in a comforting sense for many years, but when I heard about professional cuddling, I realized I could offer it to more than friends and acquaintances, so I started Hold Me AVL. I prefer to call it therapeutic cuddling, because I think that’s more reflective of what I do.”

Some people come to her unsure of what they’re looking for, and her intake form starts the conversation. “Other than logistical questions like name and address, I only have three questions, and one of those is ‘What are your goals and expectations for this session?’ Some people are very clear, and some don’t know but are curious. I think it’s great that they’re willing to try it.”

Good communication is crucial, stresses Shir, as are recognizing and maintaining boundaries. “With first-timers, I do a ton of checking in. Do you want to hold my hand? Is it OK for me to put my arm around you? Do you want my hand to be stationary on your shoulder or give you soft touches? Some people just want pillow talk. Some people want to cry and express emotion.”

Individual sessions are 30, 60 or 90 minutes, and many of her clients are men. Group events, such as the open-to-all Snuggle in the Park gatherings at The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, tend to attract more women, some of whom are dealing with sexual trauma and looking for ways to get safe touch. “One woman told me that her goals were to start by feeling comfortable with women touching her, and then perhaps someday she will be able to think about touching men again.”


Namaste in Nature

BETTER TOGETHER: The average American, says yoga teacher and outdoor guide Miranda Peterson, spends 90% of their time indoors. Combining yoga with hiking improves that balance and offers many other mental and physical benefits, she says. Photo courtesy of Namaste in Nature

In Asheville, yoga studios seem second only to breweries in number, with several to choose from in every corner of the county, but only one local practice takes place exclusively outdoors. “I did my yoga training in India, backpacked around Asia and hiked the Himalayas, the Andes and the Alps,” says Miranda Peterson, the founder of Namaste in Nature. “When I came back to my hometown, Spartanburg, I taught in a studio there for about a year while I was figuring out what next. I moved to Asheville in 2017, and a friend suggested yoga hikes. I said, ‘That’s a thing?’ She said she had seen it but not around here, so I said, ‘Done!’”

Peterson began with Meetup groups, and when people started coming whom she didn’t already know, she realized the concept would work and went professional. On her website is a blog post she wrote listing 108 benefits of yoga hiking.

“That’s a lot,” she concedes with a laugh, so she summarized her message at the front end, highlighting such positives as boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, increasing confidence, losing weight and improving memory and focus.

Peterson offers three yoga hike options; the most popular is a three-hour excursion to Catawba Falls. “We meet at the trailhead,” she explains. “We hike to the waterfall and have a guided meditation there. Being outside with the sound of the falls, connecting with the earth while meditating, is an amazing way to release those negative ions. We hang out a bit, hike back and go to this kind of secret spot off the trail, spread the mats we provide and do a full yoga practice of about 60 minutes; then we hike the rest of the way back to the trailhead.”

She says she’s been surprised by the number of participants who have never done yoga, meditated or hiked but are curious about the concept. “The average American spends 90% of their time indoors. My goal is to include people who are newer to yoga, to meditation, to hiking, to inspire them to give it a try and get the confidence to keep doing it.”


Appalachia Guild of Healing Arts

“The stairway to 12 ½ Wall St. is kind of like the Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾,”says Daniel James Wicker, co-founder of the Appalachia Guild of Healing Arts. “Go through Platform 12 ½ and into this magical world, and come out a different person.”

The world behind that whimsical address began in a single tiny office where Wicker and co-founder Tara “earth” Murphy served up several kinds of treatments. In just three years it has grown to include four treatment rooms where seven therapists each offer something a little bit different. Among the options are craniosacral therapy, mouth work, SomatoEmotional Release, reiki sound healing, myofascial release and Chinese fire cupping. “Integrative energy work is kind of our catchall term for what we do, and it is really dependent on the practitioner,” Wicker explains. “I practice reiki and a little bit of qi gong and chakra balancing. I might combine those in a session. One of our practitioners does shamanic energy work, and we have done polarity therapy.”

He says reiki is the most accessible form of energy work, and it can be integrated into a massage.

Every second Sunday, the guild hosts a “reiki recharge circle” for practitioners, amateurs and folks who might want to dip their toes into the practice and learn more.

“People can be skeptical sometimes, but we think it’s amazing and want everyone to try it. We want people to experience more than just the massage therapy and bodywork and start to learn about advanced modalities and energy work, try some of these other things out, have some experiences and open the door to the other work we do. This community is so open to and curious about things of a healing nature. It’s about holding space for each other.”




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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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3 thoughts on “Unusual therapies offer wellness with a difference

  1. SpareChange

    The article cutesifies and ultimately legitimizes several therapies which have been widely and repeatedly discredited when subjected to any kind of serious research or analysis. At a minimum, the author and Mountain Xpress should also be soliciting insights from those who can provide at least some critical perspective, and who might at least question some of the more grandiose claims of therapeutic efficacy proffered by those offering several of these treatments and approaches.

    Call me cynical or just boringly conventional, but as appealing as inserting egg shaped gemstones into one’s vagina may sound, I’d really like to see at least a little bit of a counter narrative on what the downside might be. I don’t question that some of the simpler therapies or treatments discussed may in fact be relaxing and have other related benefits, but at the end of the day, are they any better than a nice walk, or a light massage from a partner, followed by a nap? Of course there’s no money to be made in just telling people to go for a walk or take a nap. So, if you can wrap treatments in a lot of mumbo jumbo and jargon about “the ancients,” and the mystical powers of certain gemstones, or throw around phrases like shamanic energy work, there’s no telling who you might be able to fool, or how much you might be able to charge.

    Back in the late 1800s Asheville benefactor EW Grove made his fortune hyping a simple quinine solution, and attributing all kinds of unproven and untested health benefits to it. We might look back on that and shake our heads at how naive consumers were to believe in such quackery. All I’m suggesting is that the author and Mountain Xpress cast the same critical eye upon the approaches and therapies under discussion.

    • Virginia Daffron

      I always appreciate hearing reaction to our wellness stories, which cover a wide range of topics including Western medicine, alternative medicine, health and wellness events, research, public health trends and issues, health care policy, mental health, access to health care and more.

      In this article, no claims of “therapeutic effectiveness” are made for the “womb work” services other than the practitioner’s claim that her clients find those services helpful for connecting in a positive way with aspects of the female experience that are often seen as shameful or hidden. There is nothing in that assertion to debunk from a traditional medical perspective.

      When specific claims are made, I agree that it’s appropriate to examine the available evidence of efficacy. In some cases, that may mean comparing the benefits and negative effects of allopathic approaches with alternative therapies. Skepticism can be brought to bear from many angles.

  2. henry

    Well written and exactly my beliefs. There is no need for some unproven therapy. Be your own therapist.

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