A healing group is making Chicago a little quieter in Pilsen

The soothing sound of a gong echoed in the breeze as birds sang in a small park east of Pilsen on a sunny Wednesday evening. Dozens lay on the floor, eyes closed and hearts open to a type of healing many had never heard of or just how life-changing it would be.

“We have room for our emotions, our heart, our soul and those we have lost. We named what was heavy in our bodies and took time to be vulnerable and supported,” wrote Cristina Puzio, an energy healing practitioner and meditation teacher of the sound healing sessions held each week at El Paseo Community Garden.

“Can you name what moves in your heart and soul? Or name what was heavy in your body?” she asked after dedicating this session to the victims of the July 4th Highland Park shooting and their families. “Please take the time to process your emotions, thoughts and feelings. Find a healthy way to deal with your individual emotions (and) grief and with the emotions (and) grief of the collective.”

Puzio began creating spaces to offer meditation and other types of energy healing to the people in her community — Latino families and youth of color — more than five years ago when she realized that few knew about the practices and their benefits . Meditation practitioners were unavailable due to distance, cost, and language barriers.

So she began hosting meditation workshops and sessions at the park, inviting others to learn about the benefits it had to offer and teaching them to use it as a therapy method, all she asked for was a donation. Meditating is a way of dealing with physical and emotional pain that helps reflect and process life situations, healing the soul, mind and body, she said.

In the course of 2020, the circle has grown significantly. The meditation sessions gathered more than 50 people not only from Pilsen, but from all over the city. The pandemic has shown that humankind is bound by suffering, Puzio said, so meditation has become a way of survival for many.

After losing loved ones to the COVID-19 virus, Lizeth Garza, 32, said she turned to meditation to help her deal with the grief. She has been participating in the meditation circle for two years.

“Women, femmes, non-binary or people of color who are most affected by what is happening in our world need a space of healing in our community,” Garza said. “It’s critical for us to be grounded and connected to this earth and to be in a space where we can connect and heal one another.”

After recognizing the need, Puzio began networking with other spiritual leaders, practitioners, and psychotherapists who have helped create a network of Spanish-speaking wellness leaders to bring holistic care, energy healing, and to offer alternative medicine at affordable prices — sometimes for free.

The initiative has been solidified as part of the park’s program, which includes weekly meditation and sound healing, yoga, and a free offering sanacion Clinic offering Reiki, Cupping, Massage, Smoke Cleansing and Cranial Sacral Healing on the first Tuesday of every month.

Puzio, now the park’s director of wellness, said the work was done by a group of practitioners and spiritual healers who have a genuine intention of preserving and nurturing the community by donating their time and services. Its purpose is to make these services accessible and available to the community to raise awareness of the importance of their mental health benefits.

“Meditation is an underutilized form of healing that is often not factored into overall health and wellness,” said Teresa Moreno, a McKinley Park resident who religiously attends Wednesday’s circles.

These alternative forms of therapy and medicine have often been seen as inaccessible to communities of color because mental health is not usually a priority, takes time to pursue and is most often costly, said Paula Acevedo, co-director of El Paseo Community Garden since 2015.

Others, she said, didn’t believe these practices made a difference in their mental and physical health. Reiki, a Japanese form of energy healing, is now offered at Northwestern Medicine, Puzio added.

The practice is an energy treatment using a technique called Palm Healing, in which energy is transmitted to the patient through the palms or practitioner. It helps treat mood disorders—anxiety or depression—and insomnia and chronic pain, among other things.

Since Puzio began offering her services at the park, Acevedo has pledged to support the efforts as they align with the park’s mission to strengthen environmental stewardship and civic engagement while protecting equitable green spaces on behalf of the community.

“A lot of people may have felt they didn’t belong in a room where people are meditating, or they may have felt intimidated,” Paula said. “We want to create a safe space for everyone.”

When Eddie Galvan, 24, found out about the program, he decided to give it a try after experiencing a lot of stress, he said.

“I tried to do it at home but it didn’t work, I needed something else,” Galvan said.

In order to maintain and expand the services, Puzio and Acevedo plan to seek funding to hire more licensed practitioners and continue to offer all services at a low cost. The group is also seeking to form a committee that can guide the project over the coming months and years to come.

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