It's Mental Health Awareness Month, and this May especially, Litehouse Wellness continues to put the "men" in mental health.
The group started as a way to reach out to Black men in Dallas; participants in the yoga sessions — called "broga" — carry some form of pain or trauma, which isn't unusual. As the organization notes on its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black men in America live seven years less than other races on average and suicide is the third leading cause of death among Black men.
Sherri Doucette, a doula, yoga and meditation instructor, founded Litehouse Wellness in 2017, almost two years after losing her husband to gastro-esophageal cancer. Doucette and her husband, Baba, got further in touch with their spirituality and holistic living following his diagnosis in 2015. It was his dream to go into communities of color and help men get more serious about their health and talk about what’s on their minds in a safe space. He never got the chance.
"When I got to a point where the grief was beginning to lift off my shoulders, and the remembrance of that conversation came back to me, I said to myself, Sherri, you have work to do," Doucette says. "That is when I founded Litehouse Wellness in 2017. It started with sharing yoga in all manner of restorative practices with men. So, I reached out to the owner of [resource center] Pan African Connection, and she loved the idea."
Doucette had doubts at first, wondering how she could take on healing men and whether they’d take her seriously.
"There was this internal battle of I don't know if this is what I'm supposed to do," Doucette says. "Why teach this? Why me? It's always been me coming from a place of deep respect during the practice honoring the people that I'm sharing it with and looking at it as a privilege to be of service."
Within a few months, more men started seeking out her broga classes. The organization also offers wellness retreats for men. While retreats are popular among women, men may view the idea with a side-eye.
One retreat the organization hosts is called “Wade in the Water.” It was an alternative to their three-day Higher Ground retreat, which was introduced in 2018. Due to the pandemic, however, Wade in the Water took place during one day along Five-Mile Creek. The retreat included spending time in nature, bentonite clay face masks, meditation, drums and journaling.
"How my vision is now, I share these healing practices with as many men as possible to change the narrative of what healing looks like," Doucette says. "It's to share, to spread the word that we can heal ourselves, that we have tools to heal ourselves, like harnessing the breath and moving slowly and sitting with complicated emotions.
"Going forward, I also see broga as a training program where men — particularly men of color — are being trained to become yoga and meditation teachers. Healed men heal men."
From the early part of the pandemic until last December, the theme of the sessions was "healing the grief." Men participated in healing circles, meditation, tai chi and creative self-expression to work through COVID-related anxiety, grief and anger.
Litehouse Wellness has transitioned from indoor yoga and meditation sessions to outdoor sessions at various parks across Dallas, including Klyde Warren, Reverchon and Kidd Springs. As the pandemic dwindles and indoor meetings become less scary, broga will soon be back in its usual place.
“We were really active during COVID, in a very nontraditional way,” Doucette says. ”I'm happy to report that we're getting ready to restart indoor classes at Pan African Connection within the next couple of weeks.”
Litehouse Wellness doesn't just cater to men's health. They also offer doula birthing workshops, plant-based foods, nutrition and other restorative classes. Before the pandemic, Doucette also hosted grocery store tours showing Black men and women healthy options.
“It's one thing to receive a diagnosis, like high blood pressure, and to say, 'Eat better,' but what does that really look like?” Doucette says. “What does that mean for someone who works a job where they’re away from home all the time and don't have access, or maybe someone who relies on fast food? I would host grocery store tours in partnership with Sprouts and Fiesta market and just take them in and introduce them to the whole food section and then take them to the produce section and show them how to shop and create meals that are cheap, easy, nutritious and yummy.”
A recent WFAA video spotlighting Litehouse Wellness' broga was nominated for both an Emmy and a National Association of Black Journalists award. Doucette says it reaffirmed her purpose and eliminated the doubts she faced at the beginning of her practice.
"I took it as a sign from the universe that this is my path," Doucette says. "That it's not my ego that led me here, that I was listening to the voice of God that led me to the stakes. With this season we're in, it amplifies the need for healing. No one else is coming to heal us."
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