“Ninety percent of all harmonious healing begins with relaxation,” says Jan Kinder, the founder and director of The Self Center at Caneel Bay in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, “And relaxation begins with awareness.” For over 30 years, Kinder has been helping clients achieve awareness—be it of physical, emotional, or spiritual nature—through an innovative combination of techniques, therapies, and even music. “I’m kind of a mutt,” she laughs, explaining her penchant for combining methods and exploring all aspects of the mind-body connection. In fact, it’s something Kinder’s been doing all her life, ever since a Buddhist monk introduced her to meditation at age eight (she also started doing yoga as a teen.) Later, after becoming a nurse (she’s still a registered RN), the accomplished pianist became interested in how certain types of music can elicit physiological reactions, so she got certified as a music therapist—then continued to work with patients at NYU Medical Center’s Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine, where she dealt with everything from chronic pain to head trauma. “
Back then, everything was lumped under the heading ‘New Age,’ ” Kinder remembers, “but I was just finding what seemed to me to be the common threads between the mind and body.” Eventually, Kinder’s success led her to study Ayurveda, meditation, and Mind Body Medicine with Deepak Chopra (for whom she then became a certified educator), then to establish the Mind Body Health Institute in New Jersey. While doing all that, Kinder would travel annually to the Caneel Bay resort in St. John, where she appreciated the hotel’s relaxing no-TV, no-phone set-up. During one trip in the late 1990’s, she approached the hotel’s manager and pitched an idea for a wellness facility on the property. In March 2000, The Self Center was born.
“The Center doesn’t really fit into one category,” Kinder explains. “It’s a mind-body-awareness-wellness place.” Perched atop a bluff and boasting stunning views of beaches and Sir Francis Drake Channel, the facility offers everything from guided imagery and several types of yoga to color therapy, Reiki, spa services, and shamanic healing, all designed to enhance individual well-being and identify and understand stress. Techniques are taught in a way that makes them applicable to life “back home,” and participants are encouraged to continue them to achieve long-term benefits. Of course, Kinder also offers various sound therapies, including “Tuning the Body,” in which pulse diagnosis and tuning forks are used to identify blocked energy in the body, followed by the use of vibration to dissolve the tension; the result is an extremely relaxing therapy that, as Kinder has found, tends to affect clients at their very core. Primordial Sound Meditation, a silent mantra-based meditation program developed by Dr. Chopra, is another popular relaxing treatment that helps participants “connect with their true selves—and therefore change their perception of stressors,” says Kinder. “It helps us learn to respond, not react.” We recently checked in with Kinder to learn more about her thoughts on sound, stress and learning to achieve awareness.
Throughout your career, you have made combating the effects of stress a key part of your harmonious wellness therapies. Why is stress such a harmful factor?
As the mind thinks, so the body reacts, so cluttered, unclear, or negative thoughts can definitely affect us physically. When there’s too much mental stimulation and tension, muscles become tight and rigid, breathing is rapid and shallow, we don’t get enough oxygen, and the heart rate goes up—it’s like a fight or flight response. Of course, there will always be stressors, so we have to learn how to interpret and perceive them. There’s a difference between external and internal stressors, for example, but both are obstacles to what we want to achieve in life. So the key to any stress-fighting therapy should be awareness—of stress-inducers, and of the self. The great thing about awareness is that once it is open, it doesn’t close. But what you do with it is up to you! For me, it’s always important to be present in the moment, and remember that at any given time, the past and future are in your imagination.
How can sound play a part in relaxation, and what should we look out for with regards to a “negative” sound environment?
Everything from traffic noises to common office sounds affects us—we really are what we hear. A lot of this you can’t control, but there are some things you can do, like choosing a pleasant ring tone or waking up to a CD alarm clock instead of a buzzer, that can make a big difference. It’s also okay to go to sleep to music, but choose something slow and relaxing, without sudden outbursts or crescendos. Acoustic works are the best, as is anything that’s at a tempo of 60 beats per minute, which is the speed of the heart at rest. Other simple but effective stress-fighting tools include laughing—allow yourself to make mistakes, and laugh at them— and being flexible; if you’re stuck in traffic, for example, see it as unexpected “free” or “me” time instead of worrying about being delayed. Humming is great, too—it’s soothing and creates a tension-releasing vibration—as is singing in the shower. Expressing yourself is always good!