Wellness, specifically creative art therapy, is the cornerstone of Womankind’s Later in Life Program for older survivors of gender-based violence. Our approach is deeply rooted in the cultural values of our clients. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that the circulation of vital energies within one’s body is connected to physical changes and emotions. Therefore, when an individual experiences stress or trauma, the energy flow is disrupted. Instead of saying “I feel stressed,” clients may express heaviness or pain in their shoulders, back and/or neck area. Instead of expressing depression or hopelessness, a client may say they feel unbalanced or unwell. Therefore, as opposed to more Western perspectives that emphasize talk therapy, it may be more therapeutic for Asian clients if we give attention to their somatic symptoms. That’s why Womankind offers services like qi gong, tai chi, 3 point acu-beading, and trauma-sensitive yoga (and reiki and acupuncture in the past). These Eastern therapies help facilitate the energies within the body. All of these tie into the belief of using pressure points to release the stress and trauma that our bodies hold.
In celebration of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Friday, June 15th, we are proud to share the impact of wellness and healing on our clients in the Later in Life Program.
With some survivors who may be removed from their community or feel isolated, the sense of community is a powerful healing tool. This past spring, Womankind Advocate Evelyn Li taught Chinese ribbon dancing to a group of older survivors of GBV. Being active and moving helps participants to relieve stress and tension that are gathered in their bodies. As a choreographed team performance, this synchronized dance also increases communication and helps build a sense of community among the women. This sense of belonging is key in a survivor’s healing process because it ties back to Eastern culture that values the pursuit of a collective wellness and harmony.
Said one survivor, “The group makes me feel less lonely. I like laughing with group members and facilitators. I indulge myself in music and dance. Now I have more things to talk to my family members in China. They see that I’ve become more positive and talkative. I forget the troubles in my life.”
The Later in Life Program’s Project EngAging is a series of free wellness groups catering to adult (age 50 and above) survivors of gender-based violence that promote active aging. The group helps empower and engage older adults to participate in movement activities to stay physically active and utilize expressive arts to help promote self-expression. The process of engaging in activities allows older adults to realize their potential for physical, social, and mental well-being.
Picture #1: Meet Eunsam, Womankind’s Senior Ambassador. When she first came to the US from Korea, she felt trapped in her house. But when the door, representing Womankind, opened, she entered a new life she could never imagine at her age and for someone with her limited English capacity. Eunsam feels like now she can achieve anything because of coaching from Miyoung, her advocate at Womankind. She now understands English and is not feel fearful to go around. As a woman who always stood behind her husband, she now feels that she can even lead her husband in this new world.
Picture #2: When Eunsam first met Miyoung, Eunsam was very troubled and lacked confidence. While counseling her for her trauma with elder abuse, Miyoung had her co-facilitate the art groups at the Korean community centers. Although shy at first, after a few months of Miyoung’s coaching, Eunsam gained confidence and not only can facilitate the group on her own, but also gave suggestions to Miyoung on how to improve her groups. Miyoung then connected her to Flushing Adult Day Care Center where Eunsam now works as an art group facilitator.
Picture #3: This artwork is made by all the senior ambassadors. The flowers, representing seniors who are treated like useless scraps, are made from leftover silk that was going to be thrown away from sewing classes. But as you see, through artistic manipulation, the silk was beautifully transformed into flowers flying all over the sky. That symbolizes freedom, empowerment, independence, and overall getting out of the trauma and image of being weak seniors and immigrants.
Irene Lee is a gifted tai chi facilitator. As a Senior Ambassador for Womankind, she leads tai chi exercises with a group of older men and women survivors. After sustaining a knee injury, she discovered that most sports were too harsh on her aging knees, but the gentle and slow movements of tai chi were not. She took free classes in the park, then started learning at the YMCA. In her personal experience, the basic movements of taichi improved her blood circulation and helped calm her mind.
Having been a housewife her entire life, Irene didn't think she could teach others tai chi. She suffered hardships as a woman and as an immigrant. When she came to Womankind a year ago in her late 60s, she was shy and afraid of standing in front of people. After individual sessions with Miyoung and experiencing her therapy workshops, Irene started co-facilitating. It took her 6 to 7 months, but she slowly gained confidence in her teaching abilities and found out that she was good at it. She now leads her own tai chi group with other seniors in the Later in Life Program, and plans to continue helping seniors.
Tai chi is a holistic exercise for both body and mind, especially for older adults. When an individual experiences distress or trauma, the body holds the tension which causes your energy (or chi) to flow erratically. Tai chi fosters the relaxation of your energy, which when flows smoothly, has a natural balancing quality that aids the regeneration of your body. With tai chi practice, your awareness is also developed as you begin to notice where in your body holds tension. Tai chi movements generate the energy flow through the body’s pressure points and help open the flow of energy moving through your energy channels.
It's World Elder Abuse Awareness Day! Womankind's Later in Life Program is fundraising $250 to support its wellness efforts for older survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence. Every dollar that you donate will go towards developing more culturally-informed wellness activities, including those that you've seen this week. The money will be used primarily to purchase arts and crafts materials such as fabric, paint, brushes, and beads.
The Later in Life Program uses a strength-based approach as we believe that as we invest in building on the strengths of survivors and in providing resources, they will rise above their own situation. Eunsam and Irene are perfect examples. We recognize the amount of resiliency in older adults, and provide the right conditions to support survivors in finding their own healing process. They are the experts in their own situation.
More broadly, for every 10 older adults, 1 of them may be in an abusive situation. For every 1 case reported, there are 24 others who remain silent. This is a pressing issue in our community, as we are seeing a 137% increase in Asian seniors living in NYC since 2000. Being culturally aware is more than just translating flyers. It’s also about adapting services for the diverse communities in NYC. Together, we can continue to help older survivors of gender-based violence overcome their trauma and build a path to healing. Thank you as always for your support!