New London - As car and foot traffic jostled past the restaurants and shops of State Street on a typical weekday afternoon, muted light and soft instrumental music filled the fourth-floor room where Emily Lerner applied feather-light touch to the legs and spine of Frida Berrigan.
Berrigan, still and supine under a mauve flannel sheet, was receiving craniosacral therapy, a type of alternative medicine that aims to unleash healing and wellness through the membrane, spinal and cerebral spinal fluids, according to Lerner. The soft, slow technique helps release stress, fosters deep relaxation and eases pain and soreness, among other benefits, said Lerner, whose practice is called Emerging Wellness.
"It's very gentle. It's not until afterwards that I feel very much," said Berrigan, who lives in New London. Six months pregnant, Berrigan had come specifically for relief of back pain. "I used to get deep tissue massage, but with this, my back kept not hurting, and there's an emotional and psychological element as well. My attitude stays positive."
Emerging Wellness is a three-room space shared by Lerner and longtime friend Kimberly Giunta, who administers the ancient Indian techniques of Ayurvedic and Shirodhara treatments and offers one-on-one specialized yoga classes. One of five alternative therapy businesses on the fourth floor of the Harris Building, the cluster grew up spontaneously in January, and now calls itself the Harris Place Natural Health Practitioners.
"It was one of those moments of complete synchronicity," said Lerner, who walks to her practice from her home a few blocks away. "There's some overlap, but not much. We're much more complementary than competitive."
After looking a various locations, Lerner said, she and Giunta "lit up" when they first saw the Harris Place space, with its large windows overlooking the rooftops of downtown to the Thames River.
The New London Healing Arts Center, operated by Jamie Lee, whose skills include credentials as a reiki master teacher, was on the fourth floor when Lerner and Giunta moved in. The center opened a year ago to provide a space for affordable wellness and natural health and healing classes and therapy sessions by various teachers, and is in the process of obtaining its nonprofit status, Lee said. Among recent offerings were an evening massage clinic, a shamanic healing session, an acupuncture clinic and BioMat sessions. Lee has welcomed her new neighbors, and hopes more will join them.
"I would love to turn this whole building into one big healing arts facility," she said. "I want it to be a treatment facility that would open up a whole new world to New London."
Down the hall from Lee is Grounded Living Nutrition and Wellness, run by Sam Fritzsche. Meeting with clients in one-on-one sessions, he uses autonomic response testing to discern food allergies and devise an individualized nutrition plan that combats inflammation, fatigue and other symptoms. He may also recommend herbal teas, special supplements, lifestyle adjustments and breathing exercises, he said. Like the others in the group, Fritzsche, in his first foray as a stand-alone practitioner, said the number of clients he's seeing per week has exceeded expectations.
Those in the group each see four to eight clients a week.
"There's a lot of stagnation in the traditional health and alternative health fields, but this is a very progressive group, with a lot of energy," said Fritzsche, who found his way to nutrition therapy after being diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 23. "It's not like this is just a day job and I can't wait to go home. That's not the vibe here."
A few doors down from Fritzsche is Unity Consciousness Healing Arts, where Chelle Harper uses massage, reiki, guided meditations, therapy applied to pressure points and other techniques to bring about wellness. She complements her various skills with the use of crystals, singing bowls, essential oils, smouldering sage and other tools, drawing on various sources including the Indian traditional medicine principles of the chakras.
"I assist each individual to be able to attract a higher frequency," said Harper, who also teaches children's yoga classes at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School and movement and meditation classes at the Lymes' Senior Center. "I'll scan the body and detect dense energies, like fear and anger, and to vaporize them. Every session is different."
Like the others, Giunta also guides her patients toward better balance and wellness. Typically, she said, clients come to her with specific goals, such as relief from skin or digestive problems, getting rid of excess anger or losing weight, and she'll design a program to help them achieve those goals through diet changes, yoga poses, use of special herbs and oils and breathing exercises. The regimen might also include Shirodhara treatments, in which warm sunflower, sesame, bhringaraj or other oils are poured from copper pots over the forehead to release stress, relieve pain, stimulate memory and other purposes.
"It's been my experience that it's never just the body or the mind" that's causing illness, she said. "Stress plays a big part in disease, and this is really about looking at the whole person."
She plans to add Ayurveda classes to her offerings in the near future.
"This has really unfurled in a beautiful way," she said.