The wellness industry is meant to grow 10% annually before reaching a predicted global net worth of $7 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute. In Nebraska, this growth has translated to more alternative treatments.
More than 1,000 companies in Nebraska are related to wellness or therapy, according to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website. Many offer complementary medicine – those treatments that fall beyond the scope of scientific medicine.
Nebraska hosts an arsenal of alternative wellness treatments such as hydrotherapy, sound and scent therapy, cryotherapy, lymphatic massage and chakra healing. Practitioners of these treatments each say that their technique will lead to healthier living, stress relief or other benefits, but many Nebraskans do not know that these treatments exist.
What is wellness? While professionals have differing opinions, most agree that wellness is multi-faceted.
“Wellness relates to the entire person and is more than just the absence of disease,” said the 2018 Wellness-2030 report from the Global Wellness Institute, a non-profit organization that works to provide wellness education worldwide.
For Kenji Madison, associate director of Big Red Resilience and Well Being at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wellness is always changing for an individual, based on whatever is best for them.
“Well-being to me seems to be transitional,” he said. “Things don’t stay the same. So I have no real definition of it, but you have this self-care motive that is necessary through it.”
Mental health is just one aspect of overall wellness, although treatments to improve mental health have boomed since the pandemic. In 2020, the mental wellness industry was valued at $131 billion, $10.1 billion more than in 2019, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
Relocations, isolation, financial stress and human sickness have negatively impacted mental health globally. Prior to the pandemic– January 2019– 11% of adults reported symptoms of an anxiety and/or a depressive disorder compared to 41.1% in January 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that spreads information on national health issues.
“Everybody’s had an abnormal amount of stress the last two years. Even the least stressful jobs, they still have to deal with covid,” Ariel Clausen, a massage therapist in Lincoln, said.
To address this rise in anxiety and depression, some Nebraskans are turning to alternative treatments to get their minds right and get their wellness back on track.
The Global Wellness Institute breaks the mental wellness economy up into four major sectors:
- Self-improvement– steps taken alone to achieve wellness such as self-help books, therapy or cognitive brain training with puzzles or games.
- Meditation and mindfulness– includes all forms of meditation or mindfulness practice like coloring books, yoga or meditation apps.
- Brain boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals– any products that are ingested with the goal of improving mental health, such as teas, natural supplements or traditional remedies. This also includes newly researched substances like psilocybin and cannabis.
- Senses, spaces, and sleep– this sector describes products or services that are designed to target our senses and improve our well-being. This would include stress balls, candles or floatation therapy.
One example of a treatment that can benefit mental wellness is float therapy. Although the first float tank was invented in 1954 by American neurologist Dr. John C. Lilly, the treatment has only recently become commercially popular. There are five businesses that offer float therapy in Nebraska, according to a Google search.
Float therapy involves floating in heavily salted water for a period of time, typically an hour or two. The idea is to have complete sensory deprivation– the patient will lose their sense of touch and is typically in a silent, dark environment. Float therapy is seen as an extreme form of meditation.
“We call it the training wheels for meditation,” said Levi Wertz, founder of Lost in Float. “It only takes a few floats, and you’re an expert.”
Lost in Float in Lincoln has offered float therapy for five years and has helped thousands of people achieve mindfulness in water, according to Wertz. He said float therapy is an effective way to reduce anxiety, depression, stress and even pain.
At Lost in Float, the float tank is over five feet wide and eight feet long. The water in the tank is saturated with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, making it so dense that it is impossible to sink. The walls of the room are a foot thick, so all outside sound and vibration does not reach the tank. The water is the same temperature as skin, so the sense of touch is lost.
“You’re not going to be able to tell where your body ends and the world begins,” Wertz said.
The typical float session is 60 to 90 minutes. Despite the many benefits, Wertz said the experience of being sensory-deprived and alone for one to two hours can be extremely difficult. It is usually the second or third floats that have the best effect on a patient, he said.
“Some people come in for their first float and I think they expect it to be easy, like completely enjoyable, but it is challenging,” he said. “When is the last time you spent an hour with yourself in complete solitude?”
A 2018 study from the National Institute of Health found that a single one-hour session of float therapy was able to induce a strong reduction in anxiety and a significant improvement in mood for all 50 participants who were affected by a range of stress-related disorders, including PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.
“It’s just the most incredibly freeing moment and empowering thing to experience,” Wertz said.
Floating in a closed tank for an hour can be scary or anxiety-inducing at first for some, according to Wertz. For those who look for a more traditional way of relaxation, massage therapy offers an alternative.
Massage treatments can improve circulation and immune health, as well as reduce anxiety and stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some evidence suggests that massage therapy can aid in reducing chronic pain, but it is under-researched, according to the National Institute of Health.
Today, there are over 80 different types of massages, from Swedish and deep tissue, to hot stone and aromatherapy massage. Residents of Nebraska can enjoy many of these unique massage techniques.
In Lincoln, Oasis Healing Hands Healing Minds spa performs hot stone massage and Reiki, or chakra healing, in addition to other treatments. During a hot stone massage, the therapist uses warmed stones, instead of their hands, to work the patient’s muscles.
Hot stone massage allows the body to get to a deeper form of relaxation, according to April Clausen, owner and operator of Oasis Healing. The stones are able to heat the joints, loosen muscles and increase circulation, which makes the massage more pleasurable for the client, she said.
“It’s like sitting in a hot tub for 10 minutes, but it lasts an hour,” she said.
Clausen said the more stressed a person is, the tighter their muscles will be. Stress typically shows itself in the shoulders and neck. She even said that certain personality types have more of a need for massage than others.
“Type A people are rock hard because they are so controlling of their environment, that they lock up,” she said. “I can tell right away if someone is a type A.”
Clausen also does Reiki massage, a Japanese technique in which massage practitioners use their hands to balance the flow of energy in a client’s body. During Reiki, there is little to no physical touch. It involves manipulating chakras to realign the body’s magnetic fields.
Chakra, meaning “wheel” in Sanskrit, is part of an Eastern idea that the body contains orbs of energy that work together to maintain harmony. Each chakra represents a different area of the body, has a different color and resonates with different sounds, crystals, foods and more.
There is very little research done on Reiki and its benefits, but some studies from the National Institute of Health show positive results, especially for the elderly.
Clients at Oasis Healing will often say they saw colors during their Reiki treatment, and these colors will coordinate with the color of the chakra they were having issues with, Clausen said.
In the scientific world, there are few who believe in the effectiveness of Reiki or any form of energy manipulation because it is almost impossible to detect or test.
“This energy has never been detected by scientific instruments; many scientists have tried,” Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University, wrote in his column for Psychology Today. “Physicists will assure you that if a form of energy cannot be detected by our current instruments, then a) it does not exist, and b) therefore it cannot interact with or influence matter (i.e. you). If a form of energy can interact with your body then our scientific instruments will detect it.”
Despite the skeptics, Clausen said she encourages people to forget the stigmas they might have about the truth behind Reiki. The idea of energy flow and manipulation has been around for many centuries, she said.
“Some people think that Eastern medicine is weird,” she said. “But you know our science has only been around 200 years. This other stuff has been around for thousands of years, and I’m pretty sure after thousands of years if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t be here.”
Besides hot stones and Reiki, Nebraskans also have access to steam tent aromatherapy. A massage technique that has roots in the 1930s, this process adds the scents of essential oils to massage practice. Like hot stones, the oils are meant to relax the mind and body to get the patient ready for the physical massage.
Aromatherapy is easy to find, as many massage therapists have already introduced essential oils into their massage process through their hand oil or with diffusers. In Nebraska, patients can take this process a step further. At Downtown Wellness in York, massage therapist Denise Mommens performs aromatherapy massages with a steam tent. She begins by placing a large tent over her patient, then fills the tent with hot steam and essential oils.
The steam makes the inside of the tent about 104 degrees, giving a similar effect to a sauna. Mommens creates her own scent combinations based on the problems the client might be having. For example, peppermint and eucalyptus are used to clear sinuses, and lavender and orange can help with headaches.
Mommens uses raw forms of the herbs, puts them in a bag, then places the bag in the steamer connected to the tent. The herbs boil with the steam and create essential oils that fill the tent with the scent. Although the patient’s head is outside of the tent, the aroma is still very potent.
The tent is left over the client for 15-20 minutes, then Mommens begins the physical part of the massage. Beginning with the heat and steam forces the body to relax, and makes it easier for Mommens to address the tight, tension-filled parts of the body.
“You become like butter, and then those problem areas are more prominent, and then I can work on those,” she said
Sharon Pennington, a massage therapist and client at Downtown Wellness, said many Nebraskans think of massage as a treat, rather than a regular practice.
“I think a lot of people when they hear massage, they think luxury,” Pennington said.
Mommens said finding ways to relax, like massage therapy, can be extremely beneficial, especially since the stress of the pandemic. She said she enjoys being a massage practitioner because she is able to help people move past the pandemic and live better, healthier lives.
“If I can help educate you and help bring you down, because life is way too stressful if I can help you do that, then that helps you a little bit every day to help you handle all that’s getting thrown at us,” she said. “So it’s like my little way of influencing and of helping people.”
Mommens uses scent to relax the body, but sound can have the same effect. Sound therapy is a type of sensory experience that uses certain frequencies and volumes to provide deep relaxation. This often includes Tibetan singing bowls. The practitioner will hit the bowl with a gong and, depending on the size of the bowl, will produce a different frequency and sound.
Stress management is a large benefit of sound therapy, but also lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and headache relief. The National Institute of Health found in a 2015 study that exposure to certain vibrations led to significant improvement in fibromyalgia patients.
Samantha Gallentine, a nurse at Tabitha Health and a former yoga instructor who has been performing sound vibration therapy for two years, said sound therapy has many benefits, but that not everyone will enjoy the sound-scape the first time. If the patient is high strung, they may pay too much attention to the sounds and not let their mind relax.
Gallentine places the bowls on the body in order to get another, tactile level of the treatment. The water content of the human body– about 60% – means that as the patient feels the vibration of the bowl, the waves move through the body easily. Those waves are then able to resonate with the cells and push the client back into homeostasis, Gallentine said.
The different vibrations affect the body and the mood in different ways. When she creates sounds close to the feet, she hits bowls that produce lower pitches to induce grounding feelings. When she is near the head, she uses higher pitches.
Patients who are depressed will benefit from high pitches to make them feel lighter, while patients with high anxiety will benefit from the low, grounding noises to bring them back down to earth, Gallentine said.
After treatment, the patient typically feels more balanced, she said.
“How you are feeling after we are done is probably everything is a little bit more aligned, or you are more whole,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words.”
The treatment is deeply relaxing. Gallentine said she has rid patients of anxiety and panic attacks. The effects of the treatment last in the body for 72 hours, she said.
“It slows everything down in the body,” she said.
Sound therapy is an excellent aid in meditation, Gallentine said, as it gives the mind something to cling to. Those who find meditation difficult or mind-numbing may appreciate the ambient sound.
Gallentine also performs soundscapes, in which she uses different instruments to create an immersive sound experience. She owns many instruments to create these experiences, from wind chimes to drums. Humans and other animals are naturally drawn to the sound of drums, she said, because they remind us of heartbeat and they resonate with the Earth.
“When we were in our mother’s womb, we heard her heart beating as we were developing, so we’re drawn to drums,” she said. “They’ve been used for thousands of years.”
As massage and sound therapy develops, so do treatments for immune system health. Eating diverse, healthy foods, drinking water and managing stress are proven ways to help your immune system, according to Harvard Health. Many people are realizing the importance of taking these steps to maintain immune health, Wertz said.
“Now, there are more people who are conscientious about things, especially the immune system,” he said.
Lymphatic massage and sauna or sweat therapy are some alternative ways that Nebraskans are turning to in order to expel toxins in their body and improve immune health. Lymphatic massage is a light pressure massage that aims to unclog the lymphatic system and help the circulation of waste in the body. During a lymphatic massage, it can feel like nothing is happening because of how light the pressure is, said Michaela Judd, owner of 3D Wellness in Lincoln.
“For lymphatic, less is best,” Judd said. “A lot of people will complain about if you actually go to a professional about lymphatic massage like they’re not doing anything. But people have to be educated on that because it really is, it’s speeding up your lymphatic system. It’s just very gentle, it’s not hardcore like they think of a massage.”
At 3D Wellness, Judd takes lymphatic massage a step further with a blow-up air suit called the Ballancer Pro. The suit is a recent development in compression technology that has gained popularity after being endorsed by several celebrities, such as Jennifer Lopez and Chrissy Teigen.
Lymphatic massage is recommended by certain hospitals, such as the Cleveland Clinic, for cancer patients, especially when lymph nodes are removed. This form of massage, also known as pressotherapy, has little research and therefore little evidence that it can improve immune function in a human body, but there have been promising results in animal trials and for treating athletic injuries.
However, Judd said that treatments, such as the Ballancer Pro, can greatly increase lymphatic circulation. She said patients often have to urinate after treatment because the suit is able to expel toxins out of the body quickly.
“What will take your body like six weeks to move through the lymphatic system, this will take 40 minutes,” she said.
Another treatment that practitioners say can improve immune health is cryotherapy. During a cryotherapy session, the skin is exposed to short segments of extreme cold with liquid nitrogen or argon gas.
3D Wellness and Lost in Float both offer cryotherapy. Wertz said that full-body cryotherapy can create healthier immune cells and assist in the parasympathetic nervous system. Judd said pain, inflammation and even fat cells can also be reduced.
3D Wellness uses a localized cryo technique that can focus on specific areas of the body. It involves using an air gun to blow cold, nitrogen air onto the skin. The device Judd uses tells her when the skin has reached freezing, which only takes about 30 seconds, then she moves on.
Localized cryotherapy is especially helpful with pain and inflammation because it has extreme but similar results to an ice pack. Vivian Clough, a customer at 3D Wellness, started cryotherapy after she gave birth to her son. She said it makes her feel relaxed and toned.
“I could stand there all day,” she said. “Especially when it is snowing out there, you would think it would be cold, but no it feels good.”
Lost in Float uses a full-body chamber, where the patient stands in the cold gas for about three minutes. This gas is usually around minus 200 degrees. Wertz said this is great for the body because it induces stress. By mimicking adversity, the body trains itself to manage stress better.
“Basically your body has to respond to that stress like it would to exercise or anything else and you get the net gain benefit of that stress,” he said.
The technique of damaging the body in a controlled sense in order to get the benefits of the body’s reaction or training to that damage is called hormesis. This is the process involved in cryotherapy. The National Institute of Health has found anti-aging and longevity effects from processes that involve hormesis.
“Single or multiple exposure to low doses of otherwise harmful agents, such as irradiation, food limitation, heat stress, hypergravity, reactive oxygen species and other free radicals have a variety of anti-aging and longevity-extending hormetic effects,” Suresh Rattan, a biology and aging researcher wrote for the NIH.
Hormesis was a term first coined in 1943, but similar techniques were reported as early as the end of the 19th century. Exposure to controlled stress is important because it forces the body to become adaptable to different issues.
“Your body needs to become resilient to the stress,” Wertz said.
The pandemic opened a lot of peoples’ minds to the importance of immune health and mental wellness, but these things have always been important. Managing stress doesn’t necessarily need to cost a lot of money either, it is all about finding something that works for you, Kenji Madison said.
“Look for something that’s sustainable,” he suggested.
Treatments such as float therapy, cryotherapy or massage therapy are not financially sustainable for everyone and can often be too time-consuming.
But Madison said there is one thing every person can do that is proven to help mental wellness and manage stress: positive self-talk.
“The ‘be kind to yourself’ thing is a serious mantra for me,” he said. “Everyone can be kind to themselves, to a degree. Enjoy yourself.”
Kenji Madison and Levi Wertz discuss some simple steps people can take to improve mental wellness.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of wellness has seen an interesting spike, as many people are looking for any way to improve their immune systems and manage stress.
“People are really starting to think about their health,” said Clough, the customer at 3D Wellness.
The wellness industry is full of helpful tips and treatments, but also misinformation and anti-science supporters. Gallentine said people need to be careful about what they are pressured into doing for their health. Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. The important thing is to find some way to rewind and relieve stress, she said.
“Whatever makes the individual feel the most relaxed is the most beneficial for them,” she said. “Do your own research, and personal experience is best.”