By John McGreevy, TJJD Communications
The staff and volunteers at our facilities are always looking for new ways to help the youth in our care learn to regulate their emotions. Recently, the youth and staff at TJJD’s Ayres Halfway House, in San Antonio, took part in a sound healing meditation session, led by Jessica Neideffer and her very special assistant, a three and a half-pound dog named Lido.
Neideffer described the session as a process that at a basic level allows the participants to release feelings of stress, anxiety, and physical pain from their bodies.
“I work with sound and vibration to create frequencies to allow the mind to enter deeper brainwave states in order to experience true rest,” she said. “We create a safe space for participants to tune into their self in a new and different way and let go of the outside world. We return our focus inward and listen to the messages that the body is giving us. The sessions provide the opportunity to be aware of the internal dialogue in our mind and give us the chance to change it if we find the voices in our head to be unaligned with how we truly feel. We’re seeking a complete reset of the nervous system and energy of the body and mind.”
Neideffer was looking to expand where she practices her craft and reached out to TJJD’s Executive Director Shandra Carter, who connected her with Youth Experience Leader Elaine Windberg. Windberg put her in touch with Volunteer Services Coordinator Patty Garza with South District and Ayres House. “Patty already knew about sound healing so she was very excited about doing this with the kids,” Neideffer said.
Neideffer knew that the youth and perhaps even members of the staff at Ayres House might be wary of trying something so unusual to most of them. “Sometimes people are very skeptical about it because it doesn’t really have the credit behind it yet from some parts of the medical world," she said. “In fact, we’ve been using sound and vibrational therapy for many years. When we do ultrasounds, we’re using ultrasonic waves to see inside the body.”
Neideffer has worked with high school youth before and she understood the importance of shaping the session for Ayres House. “Every time I go to work with a group, I try to tap into what the lesson or the message is for that day,” she said. “I bring whichever instruments feel best for that group.”
“I keep things light, keep things humorous and I start to play one of the instruments while I’m talking just to get them interested and curious about the sound. It’s easy to get their attention once I start playing one of the instruments. As we connect, I tell a story. Then I get them to share with me what they’re feeling as they’re experiencing the sound, so it’s interactive and gets them participating in the experience, in their healing or self-awareness process.”
It certainly didn’t hurt to have Lido along to get the kids interested.
“Lido started accompanying me to different schools that I went to,” Neideffer said. “The kids just love him, he’s got this very big presence to him, for a three and a half pound chihuahua. When we walked through the door at Ayres House, he just ran in, with this sense of ‘I’m going to tell you what we’ll be doing today’. That’s the kind of energy he brings and anytime I feel like I can bring him along to a group session with me, it brings a lightness and it brings the ease and security that comes with dog, even if they’re not big. He has a big personality and he just makes you laugh.”
“Lido totally broke the ice,” Garza said. “This little dog walked into Ayres House like he owned the place.”
“A few of them were a little unsure, but I just asked them to try to have an open mind,” Garza said. “I told them nobody was trying to force them to participate.”
With 10 youth, five members of staff, and three interns gathered for the session on chairs, a couch, or quilts on the floor, Neideffer got things rolling.
“She explained about the sound bath process and about why meditation was important,” Garza said.
“A lot of the youth here have experienced childhood trauma. Trauma is blocked energy and she talked about how vibrations can release some of that energy.”
“We started with a meditation card deck,” Neideffer said. “The cards feature artwork to guide participants into a different perspective and open new conversation. Each participant picked a card, was invited to share their interpretation of the artwork and how it felt to them. Then I led a guided meditation to create safe space in the mind that provides a visual focal point for the kids to work with if the minds wanders.”
“After that,” Neideffer said, “I played the crystal singing bowls and allowed the kids to close their eyes and rest. The meditation sessions are an opportunity to explore the imagination and listen to what the body and mind are telling us -- notice if it feels loving, or not.”
When she finished playing, all the kids and staff were invited to share what they experienced while listening to the sounds. The kids got to play the instruments themselves to feel the vibrations. “They noticed how each person that played the singing bowls had their own unique way which created a different sound from the same instrument,” Neideffer said. “This was to show them the beauty of their own unique channel and how they share their energy.”
Neideffer spoke of how gratifying it was to hold this session at Ayres House. “These are the people I want to support, because it’s not just for the kids,” she said. “It’s for the caretakers and people working in the facilities because we all feel anxious, we all feel stress. These sessions help us to quiet the mind and allow the body to rest. That way we can reset our nervous system, we can get out of that ‘Fight or Flight’ for a little bit and really feel that deep breath that we’re missing.”
“When it was over almost all of the kids asked when Neideffer and Lido were coming back,” Garza said.