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Using Yoga to Heal

Alice Duncan uses alternative therapies to help others relieve stress


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It’s an unusually cold day and Alice Duncan checks in with the women attending her online Adoration Talk and Meditation class. Although the class is offered online and in person, in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual is preferred.

“How are you doing today?” she asks each of the four women. The common theme is a sense of anxiety. They talk about sudden change in weather, busy lives and all-around uncertainty.

Ali, as she calls herself, invites the women to close their eyes and breathe. She asks them to identify anxiety in the body, place a hand to that spot and notice the energy. She then directs everyone to lightly tap the spot. After many deep breaths and a few minutes of tapping all relax and return focus to the breath.

Acknowledging past trauma

Ali, 47, has calmed much of her own anxiety and doubt. She has overcome getting pregnant at 16 and being sexually assaulted at 19, which led her to drop out of college.

She remembers being called ‘shy little Ali.’ She was the youngest of three girls who were usually the only people of color in any social setting.  Growing up, Ali remembers regularly being called the N-word and intimidated by a group of white boys who dressed like the Klan for Halloween. She was very afraid of “those boys,” and she says those feelings are rekindled when she scrolls through social media and sees former classmates’ comments against the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although Ali suffered from the racism in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, she didn’t let it hold her back. Eventually she became the first black female police officer in Fort Collins. But her struggles weren’t over.

Racism can cause traumatic stress

Ali began to recognize her anxiety when she joined the police force in 2003. She says she felt like she was a token black woman on the force, a feeling that caused her to often feel stressed at work. People didn’t know how to react to her and she felt the other women were subtly aggressive toward her. She also noticed that her coworkers acted more guardedly toward black civilians.

Then she discovered the self-healing methods of yoga, meditation and Reiki. These therapies emphasize self-realization of power and eschew past suffering. She found so much value in these mindful practices that in 2011 she requested four months off from the police department to study in India.

Six months after returning to her job, Ali resigned. She expanded her study and practice of alternative healing and now feels empowered. “I’m way more confident, focused, and I know my purpose because of the routine I chose,” she says.

Science confirms benefits

The Self Adoration and Meditation class Ali offers teaches practitioners to merge heart and brain energy by focusing on the breath and slowing a hyper mind. Moving through a series of yoga poses has similar effect for Ali. Such practices allowed Ali to realize her personal strength and develop a brighter outlook. “You may not have a say in what your life looks like but you have a say in what it feels like,” she says. Psychologists call this type of development post-traumatic growth.

Research has found that yoga and meditation reduce anxiety and stress and may help protect the brain. Yoga and meditation are becoming more accepted means of promoting mental health. The National Institute of Health (NIH) says yoga is an alternative method for treating anxiety disorders. Reiki, a form of energy healing, has also gained the medical community’s respect. First developed in Japan, this therapy usually involves placing hands just off the body or lightly touching the body. An October 2019 study led by researchers at Harvard University found a single session of Reiki can help improve physical and psychological health.

A sanctuary for healing

In 2016 Ali and her husband moved an hour south to Denver, where she opened a nonprofit studio called Urban Sanctuary. “People don’t know how to heal,” Ali says. “When you remove anger and frustration you heal. Otherwise, we’re blowing trauma into our neighbors and family with anger and frustration.”

Her intent is to provide these tools of meditation, yoga and Reiki in a safe space for all. She especially hopes to serve Black, indigenous and other people of color, as well as LGBTQ+, so they might heal from racism, sexism, homophobia, inadequacies, and overall fear and fatigue.

Diet and exercise complement mental health

Ali kick-starts her day at 4:30 a.m. with a cup of warm water and lemon, followed by meditation and exercise in the form of yoga and running stairs. She also lifts weights three times a week. She credits her plant-based diet and occasional fasting with improving her energy and mental focus.

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