By: Gema Sanchez, PT

It is written on entry mats all over the world. Welcome. You cross the threshold believing you are wanted there, that those who reside there do not mean you harm. That you are safe. But as many of us have experienced, it can be a false invitation when the welcome mat on the threshold is only for some, not all. This is the reality for many people in many places around the world who live where they are not welcome. They live in a stressful environment of hostility and fear, without refuge, always on guard. Even in their own communities.

The effect of stress on our lives and well-being has been the topic of many recent studies. Time and again, the researchers find that when we are stressed, we do not heal as well. When we are in a state of “fight or flight”, the resources of the body are reallocated to survival, and things like healing and digestion are put on the back burner. We flee, we survive, we live to fight another day and we hole up and lick our wounds. Only when we find our safe hidey hole does our body chemistry change and resources are reallocated to healing, our “rest and digest” state. Even now, when we are not running from predators who will kill us or constantly worrying about where our next meal will come from, our body biochemistry responds to stress in the same way as our ancient ancestors.

There are certain requirements for healing. We must be in the right biochemical state, to allow the allocation of resources to go to healing instead of survival. We must have the basic building blocks of cell regeneration that we get from our diet and environment such as vitamins, minerals, protein and fat. We need the steady, low level exercise that our ancestors had, walking and foraging all day, to keep our systems healthy and our brain biochemistry balanced. And we need rest and sleep, because it is during restful sleep that we repair and rebuild the damage done on any given day. But in order to rest, we must feel safe.

Which brings us back to welcome. Feeling safe, finding our hidey hole to heal. We recently put a sign in our front window. We welcome you. For centuries, there have been places of healing which are safe havens, neutral zones where the only time you are not welcome, is when you do not welcome others. Places where you can catch your breath and do not have to watch your back, because all agree to abide by the rules of that space and maintain the space as sacred, a place of healing. A place where all the descriptors do not matter, you are injured and this is a place to heal; that is all that matters. For those of us who reside here, who spent our days in the complicated and difficult task of healing, it means that we create a culture of welcome. We check our prejudices at the door, we view all humans as worthy and we create the safe space for healing to occur. We expect the same from those who come here, that they respect the space of healing for all. But we are always learning, and we need those who come here to help us learn and understand what is takes to heal, what it means to be truly welcome, how to embrace and welcome all, and what it takes to create a healing space. At a time and in a place where prejudice is condoned, where violence is accepted and where fear is commonplace, we have chosen to be a neutral zone, a safe haven, a place for healing. Welcome.

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