Since ancient times, health and well-being have been noble and necessary goals. People have sought cures from a variety of sources, including nature — plants, animals, outdoor exploration — and modern medicine.
Advances in the latter area cannot be overstated, but many seek answers to their ailments in a more holistic and organic realm, turning to herbal tinctures, aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage, nutrition , CBD products, yoga, and other proactive body-balancing choices.
“We heal ourselves through a wellness network,” says Christi Albert, owner of Ellister’s Elixirs, a North Queen Street boutique selling organic, plant-based skincare and wellness products. She refers to a thriving women’s wellness collective currently flourishing in Lancaster.
Albert notes that, especially since the pandemic, “(social media) has helped support other makers and small healers by sharing each other’s content, skills, and offerings.”
The result, she says, is wider access to healthy learning opportunities for the public.
“As women, it’s important to have the support of other women to feel uplifted and feel good about themselves and caring for each other,” Albert says.
A focus on healing
Dr. Erin Gattuso, a naturopathic practitioner in Manheim, is committed to helping women find alternative approaches to chronic health issues, from fertility issues to menopausal symptoms.
“Root healing is largely emotional, and the goal is to break down the conscious into the subconscious thoughts and belief patterns,” she says.
Breathwork and bodywork can also help people “connect to a deeper layer of their emotional selves,” she says.
Gattuso also works with men, often using craniosacral therapy (CST), a gentle manual technique used to relieve compression around the skull, spine and surrounding joints to help heal deep trauma. Although the effectiveness of CST may be questionable to some, many patients insist that it helps their health and sense of well-being, according to Medical News Today.
Gattuso says she is proud to be part of the Women’s Collective for Healing in Lancaster, and mentions other talented and committed people in the growing field.
“Christi Albert is great at cultivating different experts and bringing them together,” she says.
One of Gattuso’s pet peeves is that everyone wants to work with herbs, but many of them aren’t dedicated to the art and science.
“In alternative medicine, you have to dive deep because every client’s body is different,” she says.
A collective effort
Susquehanna Apothecary provides raw herbs, tinctures, and even locally made, ergonomic rebel garden tools. The company is owned by Benjamin Weiss and managed by Ella Usdin. They also offer classes, which Gattuso says she’s excited to take this spring.
Among this growing wellness collective, Gattuso also cites Lancaster Farmacy, which grows medicinal herbs, flowers and certified organic produce. Owned and operated by Elisabeth “Eli” Weaver and Casey Spacht, Lancaster Farmacy, according to its website, describes its mission as empowering others to “reclaim their health through the ancient knowledge of natural traditions of whole foods and herbs.” .
Gattuso calls Weaver “a force” and says she has the utmost respect for “crazy women like her who choose agriculture.”
The woman-owned coffee and herb house Blade & Spade Coffee Apothecary, on West Walnut Street in Lancaster, serves seasonal dishes and drinks made from scratch and infused with ‘mylk’, a plant-based version of milk From a cow. Owner Alyssa Miller’s suppliers include the businesses mentioned previously, ensuring that Lancaster’s wellness professionals help and support each other so that they, in turn, can support the community.
The most common condition people seek relief for is chronic anxiety, the women say. “But not just since the pandemic,” says Albert. She attributes the rise to the pervasiveness of technology.
“It’s hard to turn things off – as technology has increased, so has anxiety,” she says.
Worry and unease as a root disease can lead to hormonal, skin, intestinal, and painful issues. “Anxiety fuels other ailments,” Albert says.
But, she adds, there has been a “COVID shift,” with parents balancing working and homeschooling their children and looking for ways to gain the upper hand in holistic and healthy ways.
Gattuso agrees, noting that the pandemic has taken its toll.
“The anxiety has gone through the roof and is harder to deal with,” she says.
Anxiety can show up in other areas, like the gut, bowel and sleep, which impacts the immune system, Gattuso says. But a holistic approach can heal the symptoms as well as the cause, creating long-term wellness, she adds.
Another effective remedy can be creating a sense of community, says Gattuso. For example, before the pandemic, her clinic offered parent connection groups where mothers with (or struggling with) food issues or allergies could come together with other like-minded people.
“It’s very comforting,” she said. “Feeling seen and supported is the foundation of security, which facilitates healing and well-being.”
Albert, too, envisions a pandemic-free period where she can offer an hour of free community meditation in the studio adjacent to her boutique, giving people “a safe place to feel calm and recharged.”
“Community is the biggest missing health factor in most people’s lives because in the United States we encourage individualism,” says Gattuso.
This lack of community connection has been exacerbated by COVID-19, she says.
What else is good for health and well-being? Sing and dance, says Gattuso.
“Women were supposed to sing together!” she says. Whether it’s calling and answering or singing your own tune, “singing is such a relief – it resets you”.
Body movements – walking, dancing, exercising – are also essential to well-being. “When I work with a lot of (anxious) women, dance is often the level of release they need,” says Gattuso. “Dancing can improve your health and well-being.”