By SHEILA PRITCHARD
The Niagara Holistic Wellness Initiative, launched this summer, helps students understand the importance of holistic well-being by using the traditional concept of the Aboriginal medicine wheel.
A holistic approach to wellness recognizes that a person’s mind, body, spirit, and emotions are all interrelated, as with the four quadrants of the medicine wheel.
Niagara College’s Manager of Student Services, Sheryl Johns, says a holistic approach to wellness and student development is important.
“Student Services professionals understand that wellness and healing occurs within all aspects of a student’s life – physical, emotional, spiritual, academic – and ideally, when these elements are in balance the individual is healthy, productive and successful in achieving their dreams and goals.”
The initiative is funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Mental Health Innovation Fund and is made up of a team of people of diverse backgrounds from Brock University, Niagara College, and community partners of the Niagara Region.
The program will be delivered to students at Niagara College and Brock University and includes on-campus orientation, luncheon workshops, face-to-face programs, and the Niagara holistic wellness portal, a user-friendly, interactive website for post-secondary students.
Johns says the Aboriginal Medicine Wheel is another tool for counsellors to use when they are assisting and responding to students’ support, academic, health and wellness needs.
“The model complements the various techniques that Niagara College counsellors use in their work with students and in supporting their success. The medicine wheel is an appropriate symbol for the dimensions of life and healing.”
Tanja Steinbach, Aboriginal counsellor here, uses the holistic approach in her counselling.
“As a counsellor, I almost always use the medicine wheel teachings as a tool to assist students in gaining a better understanding of where they are,” says Steinbach. “I feel that this approach works best as we look at the whole person rather than just the immediate issue at hand.”
Jill Brindle, Learning Services manager for Aboriginal Student Services at Brock University, says one of the most important things about this initiative is recognition.
“There are so many resources available on campus and in the community that cover students’ well-being, but often students aren’t aware of what’s there,” says Brindle. “Students face a lot of stress in the whole process of going to university and college and to meet that concern, students need to know where to go and that there are the resources they need to feel supported.”
Brindle says it’s really about having students realize there are many options to help them through a crisis and further build strength.
“One of the things I really like about the wheel is that it reminds us of ourselves, that we have so many of these strengths and it’s just a matter of finding balance. It allows us to reflect on ourselves.”
Workshops give attendees the opportunity to communicate, connect and become aware of the resources in the community.
Brindle says, in some cases, elders and knowledge keepers from the Aboriginal community will sit in to share wisdom and thoughts from a traditional perspective.
“Wellness has deep roots,” says Brindle. “I don’t think you can separate someone’s academic success from other aspects of their life, whether it’s physical, spiritual, emotional- they all play a part in the intellectual development of any of us.”
To learn more about the initiative, visit the Niagara holistic wellness portal at www.mycircleofwellness.ca or contact Niagara College’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Services at 905-735-2211 Ext. 4214.