By Amy Goodpaster
Upward of 100 women breakfasted on fruit and bagels at Ex Libris Saturday in anticipation of a day that would bring new experiences and perhaps a deeper understanding of themselves.
The Savannah College of Art and Design hosted its annual Women's Wellness Conference April 17, and offered participants a choice of 14 workshops, which included such topics as yoga, health issues, energizing your spirit, enhancing your creativity through dreams, improving your self-image and self-expression, exploring women as goddesses, meditation, self-defense, exercise and healthy eating on the go, the art of creative listening, kickboxing, learning to be more assertive, and humor as a way to relieve stress.
"Too often we get tied up with responsibilities," said Karen Townsend, co-chair of the conference. "But set aside your worries and concerns and get ready to get connected to your mind, body and spirit." With that Townsend introduced Marianne Frederick, a professional speaker and humorist.
Frederick, who was a physical therapist for 20 years in addition to being a wellness and safety instructor, shared a few of her life experiences with the audience to illustrate how important a sense of humor is when dealing with stressful situations.
Frederick distributed pieces of a puzzle to each person that said "mind," "body" or "spirit" on them. In an ice-breaking exercise she had everyone get out of their seats and look for two people to complete their "mind, body and spirit."
"This exercise is a great way for you to meet new people and to network," said Frederick. "Your world will be expanded."
At the end of her talk, Frederick handed out marbles to each person, and said they symbolized how we hide our talents and joy from others.
"Think of this as a spare in case you lose your marbles," she said.
According to Heidi Harris, personal counselor at SCAD and conference chair, this year's event drew the largest crowd ever. She said that's due to Frederick's speech and the high caliber of workshops offered this year.
"Marianne's keynote address was excellent," said Harris. "Adding humor to your life is so important. We can get so serious sometimes, it really helps you get through the day," she said. "We had 12 outstanding committee members this year who took their jobs very seriously." Besides Harris and Townsend, the committee consisted of Dana Roes, Jonna Grable, Kim Larson, Adrean Vanderwilt, Samantha Markey, Marie Vea, Tracy Kozlowski, Molly Brodak, Nancy Emmeluth and Gloria Underwood.
At 10:15 a.m. conference participants walked across the street to Eichberg Hall for the first workshop of the day.
The room was packed for the first-ever workshop on dreams offered at the conference. Katharine C. Otto, M.D., led the workshop titled "Dreams: Jewels of Creativity, How to Tap into Your Mind's Riches."
"Dreams can be an opportunity to grow," said Otto. "If you're willing to work with the symbolism, it can lead to unlocking the secrets to your dreams."
Participants shared their own experiences with déjà vu and psychic dreams, and it became clear during the 45-minute workshop that many of the women shared similarities in their own dreams.
"You'll get feedback from your dreams if you learn to recognize the clues," said Otto, who is a psychiatrist in private practice in Savannah, and who specializes in dreams and symbolism.
"Dreams can't be forced and they can slip away from you like clouds if you try and grasp them," she said.
Otto suggested keeping a dream journal. "It's really important to assess your mood during your dream. Most dreams have to do with the present, and by recording the events that are going on in your life, you can often see parallels in your dreams," she said.
Any experience, encounter, belief or attitude can become material for your dreams, according to Otto. Sometimes it can even take years to analyze just one dream.
"She confirmed a lot of what I had suspected about my own dreams," said Melinda Sellers. "I'm glad to learn that it's OK to change the end of your dream."
Laurie Fahey wished the workshop was longer. "It was fascinating, and I think many people don't realize that they can control their own dreams. Many people had personal questions about their dreams. It would have been nice to have had more time to talk about individual dreams."
As 11:45 a.m. rolled around, participants hurried to their next workshop.
In "Experiencing the Creative Feminine: Enhancing Your Self-Expression," instructor Mary Guay led participants into unchartered territory when she asked the class to dance around the room to their own individual rhythm. Following this exercise, she asked the women to sit on the floor, close their eyes and imagine they were in the garden of their full potential. After Guay led participants on this journey of self-discovery, she passed out paper and crayons so the class could document their journey. Afterward, each person explained her drawing to the class.
"In the beginning people moved stiffly and were self-conscious," said Chere Peterson. "From our being strangers and the fear of being judged. But through the exercises and the music we connected and were then able to explore each other and ourselves."
Following a healthy lunch across the street at Ex Libris, women made their way back to Eichberg Hall to attend the third workshop of the day.
In "Exercise and Eating Tips for the Woman on the Go," aerobic coordinator Andrea Rahn and personal trainer Amy Levy from Cory Everson's Fitness For Women led a workshop on the importance of incorporating exercise and a healthy diet into one's life.
Rahn and Levy distributed an informative handout spotlighting the important role water consumption plays in a healthy life, common sense food portions and tips for eating out at sit-down and fast-food restaurants.
Rahn demonstrated how women can begin a simple weightlifting program without having to join a gym, by using products commonly found in the kitchen.
"Give yourself two weeks to start a healthy habit," said Rahn. "Make a commitment to exercise 3-5 days a week, and be sure to begin your day by eating a good breakfast."
Rahn also demonstrated easy exercises women can do in hotel rooms while traveling.
In the last workshop of the day Judean Drescher led a class in "Easeful Body, Peaceful Mind, Useful Life - The Goal of Yoga."
Drescher led the class in a relaxing, as well as challenging, session of hatha yoga.
"Where we put our awareness is where we put our energies," Drescher said as the barefoot women in the class sat cross-legged on the floor.
"This conference is absolutely wonderful. I wish SCAD would offer it four times a year," said Peterson, who has attended the conference for the past three years.