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Tucked away in a small, pretty, white and blue beach cottage facing the Solomons boardwalk is a shop with much more to offer than just the merchandise on display, although the wares are eye-catching and attractive. Inner Equinox is not merely a retail business: It’s a center for the community of holistic healers and life counselors in Calvert County.

Inner Equinox has been located in Solomons for the past six years, serving a diverse clientele who seek counsel and relief for personal situations that may be impacting their lives physically or mentally, and perhaps impeding their spiritual growth. Inner Equinox is mission-driven. The proprietors, Michele Quesenberry and Shari Russell, are both trained and highly experienced practitioners of alternative healing and wellbeing disciplines. Each woman has found that these alternative disciplines have helped them to survive and grow beyond medical and emotional trauma in her own life. This has given both a passion to pass on to others this healing knowledge.

Russell survived cervical cancer 15 years ago. After her recovery, she discovered within herself an intense desire to change her life. More than anything else, she wanted to pursue another way of life that would give back to the community all the love and support she’d received during her illness.

She worked for the government but found this wasn’t a satisfactory career after surviving her bout of cervical cancer. So she took a buyout, and opened a one-room workshop in a garage, where she began to study and research holistic living and alternative healing practices. While studying the books of Louise Hay, an American motivational author best known for her 1984 book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” she met Quesenberry, who also had been studying Hay’s books.

Russell had has become a certified Reiki practitioner. Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that promotes healing. Reiki is based on the idea than an unseen force of energy within us is the basis of life. If the life energy force is low, then the person is more likely to get sick or feel stress. Reiki is a technique for strengthening life energy by the practitioner’s hand movements. This treatment encourages the life energy force to keep flowing, to augment and enhance mental and physical healing and health.

This concept of a life energy force that is the basis for life is a basic hypothesis of oriental medical practice. Tai Chi Gong a medical practice rather than a martial arts practice, works on the principle that the life force energy can be increased by series of physical exercises and breathing techniques. Many western medical doctors not only counsel their patients to practice this form, but do so themselves (my medical doctor, dear reader, has been a Tai Chi Gong student for years).

Quesenberry is a licensed Heal Your Life Teacher and Life Coach, and Self Leadership Facilitator. After surviving an adolescence and early adulthood of great spiritual dislocation, she decided on a career path that would give guidance to others suffering similar personal ordeals. For more than 12 years, she’s counseled individual clients, and facilitated many workshops on personal growth, teaching her clients how to focus on positive change through self-awareness; to face and overcome self-imposed limitations, and learn how to take better care of themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. She is currently investigating grief rituals, talking with a well-respected shaman about the effectiveness of these ancient ceremonies to comfort and heal the bereaved.

Personal growth and positive mental and physical change can be achieved if the person is willing to work hard enough. These practitioners see their role as encouraging clients to work to heal themselves. Patients going through grueling medical treatments for serious diseases like cancer are usually debilitated, anxious and depressed.

It’s pretty well accepted that anxiety and depression lower the body’s immune system and impede recovery. What holistic practitioners can do is complement the medical treatments by teaching patients techniques to maintain a positive outlook, to strengthen their will to recover. The practice of meditation can strengthen a patient’s resolve to survive and prosper. Various types of massage can relax tension and anxiety so the patient can rest, an important factor in any recovery.

Russell is not cancer-free now. Last year in 2010 she was diagnosed with lung cancer. So far, she has passed her one-year anniversary of treatments through a special program at the NIH. I asked if she meditated, and if that helped.

“I [often] forget to meditate, but I drive negative thoughts away just by thinking them away,” she laughed.

That sounds a lot to me like someone who has worked so long with these concepts that meditation is as natural as breathing. It’s not that easy to just think away negative thoughts about anxiety-producing situations.

Quesenberry and Russell are happy that the medical profession now accepts as valid many of the concepts and techniques used by holistic practitioners. Russell credits the media for much of this acceptance.

“Ten years ago, you couldn’t find much in the way of holistic education. I think I found one book on Reiki. Now many daytime talk shows I’m thinking of ‘Dr. Oz,’ and another doctor program right afterwards stress the benefits of good food, exercise, and mind-body regimens like yoga.”

Quesenberry added, “The idea of meditating is well established now. NIH has a labyrinth (an ancient tool for assisting meditation), and Johns Hopkins is doing research into vibro-accoustics they have a chair that vibrates with sound for guided meditation.”

The retail business is only one part of Inner Equinox, but the most visible part to the visitor. In addition to the three small rooms the shop occupies, there is a small rear workroom used for massages, reiki, reflexology, and other consultations. The window looks out on a grassy back yard, but the effect is a beach-cottage-porch feeling of airiness and informal comfort.

“We wish the room was larger, but we’ve tried to make the best use of it,” Quesenberry said. “We also use it for workshops and seminars.”

Inner Equinox maintains a website which lists the services available, with the names and the qualifications of the various practitioners who perform the services. This list comprises a whole range of services, many more than I can mention here.

An aura of friendliness and serenity permeates the shop space. Step inside the front door to be greeted by a waft of incense; pleasant, without overwhelming. The shop’s three rooms have merchandise related to holistic healing. The merchandise includes objects related to aromatherapy, crystals, candles, incense and the like, including some beautiful prayer flags in wonderful colors strung around one wall. The front room holds cased jewelry.

Some of the semi-precious pieces, like the crystals, have mystic or esoteric significance, some are just ornamental accessories. The shop also carries some inexpensive jewelry for the younger folk who wander in. Russell, who is a jeweler, showed me some of her creations, eye-catching gemstone bracelets.

“A portion of the profits on the bracelet sales goes to the National Cancer Institute,” she said.

The shop is located in a high tourism area, but the emphasis is clearly on the hard work of healing oneself by changing and growing into a saner, more balanced maturity. Among the more frivolous shop stock are books and compact discs that require serious study, to learn various self-help and meditation techniques that could be put to use in many different life situations.

Inner Equinox appears to be well on the way to realizing its overall mission, to establish a holistic community of healers, in Calvert County. This community complements the community of holistic practitioners at the Joy Lane Healing Center in St. Mary’s County. Each community supports the work of the other, through shared information, client referrals and study.

Even the luckiest among us can’t go through a lifetime without getting a few kinks or dents in the psyche. These often are hard to get rid of, and an irritation to the soul, like the grit in an oyster. We all know what that proverbial oyster does with that grit. So it’s good to know we have a place that can help us turn our irritants to pearls. And it’s right here in our own backyard.