An Evidence-Based Way of Healing: The Innerwork Center

The concept of mindfulness (or sati) originated in ancient Indian Buddhism and invites the participant to look inward and reflect. Fast forward 800 years, and meditation is not reserved only for those seeking a spiritual experience; it is also an instrument for gaining perspective and living a full life.

This concept of mindfulness lies at the heart of the work of a local nonprofit called The Innerwork Center. Its approach is to offer insight into questions about mindfulness and purpose and to introduce compassion into all aspects of life. Originally founded in Richmond in 1994 as Chrysalis, The Innerwork Center has grown to include a myriad of spirituality and wellbeing programs.

Rachel Douglas, the center’s executive director, specializes in trauma-informed mindfulness and facilitating various practices of meditation, but this hasn’t always been her way of life. After years of working in academia and coming from a family of educators, Douglas attended a program where she was invited to look inwards.

“I was never invited into my body, that was like a vessel to drag my brain around,” Douglas said. “It was really profound.”

The Innerwork Center Executive Director Rachel Douglas

This initial curiosity lit a fire in Douglas, and when the executive director position opened, she jumped at the opportunity.

Since the pandemic, The Innerwork Center has been offering an even split between in-person and online mindfulness sessions.

“There was actually a lot of resistance to it because we thought we wouldn’t have the richness of the experience that we get in person – just feeling each other’s energy,” Douglas said. “But also there’s this real intimacy that happens when you’re on Zoom; it’s almost more of a window into who you are than if we were in person.”

With the recent popularity of mindfulness, contemporary meditation practices are straying away from traditional Buddhist and Hindu teachings.

“I do think we need to be really careful about the history and that we are avoiding cultural appropriation where possible,” Douglas said. “At the same time, I think contemplative thought is really cross-cultural. What we’re teaching at The Innerwork Center are evidence-based practices that are grounded in neuroscience, and I think that’s why there’s such a newfound interest in these techniques.”

On October 20, The Innerwork Center is hosting Rhonda Magee as a keynote speaker to discuss her book, “The Inner Work of Racial Justice,” and her way of incorporating mindfulness into the difficult conversations and interactions centered around race.

“She’s so brilliant – she’s a lawyer and a mindfulness teacher,” Douglas said. “Her approach is such a smart and unique way of talking about racial healing.”

Douglas discussed the repetitive nature of organizations hosting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) workshops and calling themselves safe spaces.

“We are all impacted by racism – it’s in the air that we breathe, so to call yourself a safe space is skipping over a lot of stuff,” Douglas said. “Progress is an inside job.”

To learn more about The Innerwork Center and the variety of mindfulness programs it offers, visit its website or follow the center on Facebook and Instagram. All images provided by The Innerwork Center.

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