From fishing to healing touch

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2000

Soft music plays as Jeri Museth gently moves her hands above Linda Morris' body, as though smoothing a sheet.

Sometimes when she closes her eyes, Morris sees colors as Museth's hands float above her - purples, blues and greens. She's not sure why. All she knows is the experience leaves her relaxed and with a sense of well-being.

``Every time I leave here, I always feel a little bit stronger,'' Morris said.

While other women might spend their Saturday mornings relaxing with coffee, Jeri Museth spends hers performing healing touch, which she describes as a way of directing energy fields that surround people in ways that help them heal.

She works as a natural resource technician for the state Department of Fish and Game during the week, which involves writing permits for transport of live fish and maintaining reports, among other duties. She only practices healing touch on the weekend and she doesn't charge for her services, she said.

It is yet another pursuit for the 56-year-old woman who has fished commercially, managed a general store in Elfin Cove, served on the state Board of Fisheries and done volunteer lobbying for causes such as domestic violence prevention and women's rights.

A Tlingit Indian who was adopted by a non-Native family, Museth grew up in Seattle and Kansas, but her ancestors are from Southeast.

She moved to Juneau in 1964 as a 21-year-old and has lived in Southeast ever since.

She started training in healing touch in the early 1990s. ``I just had a calling to it,'' she said.

She's studied a number of Native American spiritual practices, such as shamanism, and has participated in sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies and sun dances. She said they fit well with her healing touch practice.

``I think the ceremonies themselves are an extension of the meditation that is sort of required to do good energy work.''

Museth doesn't advise people to use healing touch instead of mainstream medicine, but in addition to it.

``Oftentimes energy work like this will enhance medications, make them work better,'' she said. ``It's still a mind-body-soul kind of thing. You need all three to heal.''

Some studies have supported use of healing touch for dealing with problems such as post-operative pain. Others have found no evidence that it's a valid treatment.

The president of the Alaska State Medical Association, Dr. Peter Lawrason of Fairbanks, said he isn't familiar with healing touch, but he didn't dismiss the idea.

``I think in general there's a lot of energy that can take place with hands, in massage or things like that, that can certainly help various illnesses.''

Museth doesn't worry about skeptics.

``If they want to try it, I usually try to make myself available to help facilitate that. If they don't want to try it, I usually don't try to persuade them,'' she said. ``Most people, if they're open-minded enough, can feel the difference.''

Morris said she was referred to Museth by her doctor at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. In addition to rheumatoid arthritis, she was having repeated bouts of pneumonia and influenza that put her in the hospital, and her weight had dropped from 115 to 86 pounds.

The sessions with Museth over the past year have helped, she said. She's now back to her normal weight and has more strength, Morris said.

Maybe it's the faint music, the quiet of a Saturday morning in a comfortable condo overlooking Gastineau Channel. Maybe it's Museth's calm manner. ``I feel real close to her,'' Morris said.

Or maybe it is the movement of Museth's hands at times churning just above the body as though reeling in a net, at other times making a smoothing motion.

``I always feel tense and uptight from the arthritis, and when I come here, it relaxes me,'' Morris said. ``It does make me feel better.''

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