Writer: Mathany Ahmed
What if healing power could be multiplied? By inviting groups to participate in traditionally solo activities, three Iowans offer a new take on mental wellness, right at the intersection of therapy, community and transformation.
Cannady Fritzjunker, Dog Training Elite
One day, Cannady Fritzjunker got a call from a local hospital, where a young patient hadn’t left his room for several weeks and was withdrawing from friends, family and hospital staff. Fritzjunker and her 90-pound pit bull Gus leapt into action, beginning weekly visits to the patient’s room.
“The nurses said he would talk about that visit for hours,” Fritzjunker said. “It was the first time they’d really seen him smile and laugh in a while.”
Each week, Fritzjunker and a specially trained team of dogs venture out into the community. They cuddle with stressed-out college students, get belly rubs from pediatric patients or wag their tails around staff at the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Soon, the pups will participate in storytimes at area libraries, with a little reading help from their human handlers.
“It’s magical, really,” Fritzjunker said. “A dog walks in, and all of a sudden, there are smiles on people’s faces. They’re distracted from their pain or from their trauma.”
Inspired to Serve
After 25 years in social work, supporting crime victims, people with disabilities and kids in foster care, Fritzjunker wanted a career change. “Dog Training Elite really checked all my boxes as a former social worker,” she said. “Being able to work with service dogs and therapy teams and still make an impact on the community really was important to me.”
While all 20 locations in Iowa can offer the pet therapy, the Des Moines franchise Fritzjunker started with her business partner, Kimberly Cameron, is uniquely committed. They spent three years building relationships with community partners throughout Central Iowa.
Today, Fritzjunker and Cameron are looking for new pups to join the roster. Dog owners who think their pets may be ready for a career in service are encouraged to reach out and have their pets evaluated. Obedience can be taught, Fritzjunker said, but the best therapy dogs love people and are naturally confident. “We call them bulletproof,” Fritzjunker said. “They have to deal with any noise, any kind of energy level, any age.”
The four-legged volunteers undergo more than a year of training, which desensitizes them to the stress of encountering strangers in unfamiliar settings. But even with training, some dogs have a stubborn streak, as Fritzjunker learned after a hospital visit.
Gus “planted himself outside Starbucks and would not move,” she recalled with a laugh. “Now I have this supposed-to-be-perfect certified therapy dog who just will not move from Starbucks until he gets his pup cup.”
Lindsay Bordwell, Yoga + Co.
The classes at Yoga + Co. often focus on nature. Students can greet the sun at Gray’s Lake or journal about the month’s intentions during a session under a new moon. But when Lindsay Bordwell heard some of her students say they had never been on a hike — they didn’t know where to go or didn’t feel safe — she saw an opportunity to take them to new frontiers.
Young women, students of color and LGBTQ+ participants were especially struggling and worried about venturing out on their own, Bordwell said. So she started offering adventure classes where students can join her to kayak at a local park or hike at sunset before a wind-down yoga class.
“I just wanted to take awesome humans to my favorite places around Iowa,” Bordwell said. “It’s like a little adventure to a place they’ve never been before, just to see the beauty of the land.”
Inspired to Serve
Bordwell began her own yoga journey more than 10 years ago and became a certified instructor in 2018. Initially, she wasn’t sure which direction to take but started teaching wherever she could. After a year of taking jobs at gyms and hosting classes at local businesses, she decided she needed a physical space to expand her work.
“Yoga can be really different for every person,” Bordwell said. “I just felt like more places needed to be available for humans to discover what that is to them.”
She opened her own studio in 2019, just a few months before the pandemic changed the landscape of group fitness, along with everything else. Four years later, she’s still focused on making yoga accessible, especially in Des Moines. There are no membership fees, and classes are open to people of all backgrounds and skill levels.
For Bordwell, accessibility and inclusion also applies to the instructors. She recently partnered with Lululemon to sponsor yogis from marginalized communities who want to become yoga instructors. The cost of the 200-hour certification course can be prohibitive, so Bordwell hopes the sponsorships will help. “It’s important to honor the history of yoga,” she said. “Yoga is social justice.”
Deb Jennings, Sounds for the Soul
Every Tuesday afternoon for the last 11 years, a small group of people have brought mats, blankets and pillows to cocoon themselves on the hardwood floor at the Unity Center of Des Moines.
As light filters through the stained-glass windows of the nondenominational chapel, sound healer Deb Jennings plays a gong, tuning forks and Himalayan singing bowls. The vibrations of the ancient instruments resonate through the space while she leads guided meditations on self-compassion, healing and the importance of service.
“I have them breathe in love and gratitude for themselves,” Jennings said, “so they can love and accept themselves just as they are, right here, right now, in this very moment.”
Inspired to Serve
Jennings is a lifelong musician who started playing the piano at 5 years old. Despite her love of music, she hesitated to commit to a life of performance or teaching. But that all changed in 1995, when a group of sound healers visited the church where she played piano for the choir. “When I heard the first note of the singing bowl, I felt my heart pull to it like a magnet,” Jennings said.
Unity Church of Omaha gave Jennings her first singing bowl, and since then, she’s built a collection of instruments from around the world. After an apprenticeship in sound healing, she began studying Buddhism to understand the history of the practice. This led to an invitation to study music in China, Tibet and India, where she spent a month learning from musicians at temples and monasteries. After that transformative trip, she returned to Iowa to care for her aging parents and set up a meditation practice at the local Unity Center.
In addition to the weekly meditation sessions, Jennings hosts monthly ceremonies connected to the lunar cycle. She encourages people to set intentions when the moon is new and release things when the moon is full.
“As we gather together in groups, the energy feels more powerful,” Jennings said.
Cacao ceremonies are a new addition to the schedule. Commonly used to make chocolate, the plant naturally relieves stress and boosts moods without any psychedelic effects. Ceremony participants consume cacao tea or cookies and then bathe in healing sound. After the meditation, the group regathers to discuss the experience.
“It’s something I can share with people that helps them communicate on a level that words can’t reach,” Jennings said. “I just want to create healing in the world so we can love each other better.”