He’s a Vietnam vet who wears clunky metal rings on nearly every finger and builds computers for fun, but lately the only place David Wilson wants to be is on his yoga mat.
The 50-year-old is homeless, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and has chronic pain in his neck and back. And until recently, a good night’s sleep meant just two hours of solid snooze time.
But since enrolling in a stress-reduction class at the Middletown [Connecticut] Community Health Center, Wilson says he’s finally sleeping through the night. Through yoga and meditation sessions, he is controlling his pain and has learned to focus his breathing.
The concept of mind over matter is nothing new to the medical world. Doctors have been pre-scribing meditation as a form of pain management for years, but now a few pioneers are working to spread the theory into poorer neighborhoods.
They are posting fliers in waiting rooms, getting doctors to pro mote the program and are recruiting people by phone and mail.
Their mission is to debunk the myth that yoga is only for the rich and very flexible.
There are a lot of stereotypes that people who are not rich wouldn’t be smart enough, wouldn’t be motivated enough, wouldn’t be interested enough. Meditation wouldn’t be some how as relevant to them,” said Beth Roth, a nurse practitioner who teaches the program in Middletown.
Then, Roth says, there are patients like Wilson, who has started holding regular meditation sessions with his roommate in a shelter. There’s also Cynthia Green, an unemployed 44-year old parent who takes a 10-mile bus ride from Meriden each week to make the class in Middletown.
Still, there are only five patients enrolled in Roth’s eight-week class in Middletown. She wants to get the word out that the program exists and that it is often covered by health insurance.
Medicaid and even private insurers may pick up the cost under new health behavior billing codes, Roth said. For those who don’t have health insurance, most clinics will offer big discounts based on family incomes.
During one of Roth’s recent classes, she started a group discussion by asking how the meditation tapes were helping the patients cope.
Wilson raised his hand and said he’d been listening to the tapes while also jamming to some Bob Dylan and Carly Simon. The pain that usually starts in his neck and then makes its way down to his fingers had started to subside, be said.
“If I put it out of my mind, you know it’s there, but it’s not some thing I focus on anymore,” he said, smiling.
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