With all that is going on in the world today— widespread unemployment, war, disease, gentrification, civil unrest— our minds and our bodies can become easily overwhelmed.
If the body does not find time for relaxation and the mind does not find a way to unload, fatigue, anger and depression creeps in.
Sheree Sophas knows those feelings all too well. After losing her husband five years ago to an illness and then being forced to close her small business damaged by Hurricane Sandy, she too was ready to “check out.”
“I had to rediscover who I was after my husband of 17 years passed,” said Sophas. “I had to ask for divine guidance. So I went to massage therapy school, found my purpose and am now standing in it.”
Sophas was certified in Reiki, Ayurvedic massage, reflexology, as well as geriatric, infant and pregnancy massage.
Her husband was a corrections officer, and so she had many years to observe their lifestyle, their schedules. She saw what they had to deal with on a daily basis and so began traveling to Rikers Island to offer her therapy services to them first.
“Their schedules are so crazy, they would result to very unhealthy practices,” said Sophas. “I just wanted to make sure that when they were with me, they made that time a restorative time, because hour of deep massage is equal to seven hours of sleep.”
Sophas calls her sessions “A Mental Vacation,” a way for people who cannot always afford a physical vacation, an affordable way to escape.“I call it a ‘re-set.’ A mental vacation includes guided meditation; it is massage therapy, aramotherapy, sound therapy and active isolated stretching therapy,” said Sophas.
Sophas eventually moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant and opened Surreal Serenity, a “vacation spa” located at 926 Atlantic Avenue on the border of Clinton Hill and Crown Heights.At Surreal Serenity, Sophas combines the Eastern medicine techniques of massage that employs acupressure to balance the body, as well as the more well-known Swedish massage technique that manipulates the musculature.
Before each one-hour session, she provides a pre-assessment, where she discusses with the patients how they’re feeling, what’s going on in their lives to determine whether there are some pre-existing issues that could assist her in treating them holistically.“I look at the tongue because it’s an important map of the body, tells me how the organs are functioning,” said Sophas, also a certified doula.
Her “mental vacations” seemed to be doing the trick for a lot of her clients, including the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, Metro Health Plus and Berkeley College where, every 12 weeks, she offers quick acupressure treatments for students preparing for tests.
“It helps [students] with their memory,” said Sophas. “I show them how to use a pressure point called the Du 20 that induces relaxation and mental clarity. How you find the Du 20 is by following the top of your ears all the way to the top of your head, inhale, exhale, then press down.”
Sophas says, aside from her highly requested mental vacations, she also assists patients with more serious diseases, such as cancer, in healing and wellness.
These days, it seems everybody needs a vacation. Now you can afford to take one… or two… or three…
“It provides a well-needed respite, a refilling of one’s cup,” said Sophas. “Not only do these vacations open up the vessel for people to heal mentally and physically, but even after they leave here, it puts people in the frame of mind of wanting to do things that continue that feeling and that process.”