Ganesh graces the soft purple cover of Sandy Aquila’s guestbook. The book is bound at the top; inside, on delicate handmade pages, the dates corresponding to the signatures within start at 2001. On some pages, the handwriting is big and breezy. On one, it’s in Arabic.
The book tells the story of the loft space at the top of the Old Market’s Omaha Healing Arts Center, which Aquila opened in 2001. On the main floor of the center, situated at 1216 Howard St., is a retail area, tea bar, and event space, where concerts, speakers, poetry events, yoga, weddings, and more are routinely hosted. On the lower level, holistic practitioners offer massage therapy, acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine, and other Eastern healing techniques.
Before the center was the center, Aquila said, the space was her uncle’s antique shop, and the loft at the top was his office. There’s still homage to that time—an antique claw crane game in the corner of the kitchen.
“We’ve joked about putting herbs and vitamins inside,” Aquila said.
It would befit the setting now, a sort of multipurpose space used by Aquila’s family at times, for small yoga sessions or healing workshops at others, and perhaps most often, by guest artists and healers performing or practicing at the center—the names filling Aquila’s guestbook.
In the loft’s open layout is a six-seat dining table and fully stocked kitchen on one side and, on the other, two comfy couches and a low-lying, Japanese-style seating area in front of a mirrored wall. A central raised sleeping area is cozily out of view. The windows are treated with breezy sheers, and a few Asian-inspired tables—including a large Japanese tansu with movable pieces that currently house a TV and its accessories—are placed throughout. There’s a big pile of pillows for impromptu seating. Tibetan sculptures speak to the Center’s—and Aquila’s own—world-culture influences.
There are, of course, also exposed brick walls, a high ceiling and a local artist’s piece—an abstract with Asian embellishments—prominently hung.
“It’s still Old Market,” Aquila said. “It’s just older world. It’s the Age-Old Market.”
Holistic medicine stems from a lot of ancient Eastern traditions, Aquila said, attractive to her because they focus on both outer and inner aspects of humanity.
“When I began studying Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic healing, I noticed that even the intake questions were holistic, asking about who you are, not only about the symptoms you’re having,” she said. “There is a spiritual quality, and I don’t mean religious—it takes into consideration the whole being. These ancient healing arts are holistic, treating the body, mind, spirit and the emotions through lifestyle, herbs, hands-on healing and much more.” Aquila looks at the center as a body, of sorts, and the people and healing inside as its spirit.
“This space is like a womb,” she said.
“It’s a creative and healing place that holds the potential for possibilities. Just as people hold space in their hearts for love or compassion for another, this space holds a healing and nurturing atmosphere for people to remember the light inside themselves.”
Aquila’s guestbook tells of so many connections made.
There was Dr. Alain Abehsera from Jerusalem who, during a three-day stay, shared his connective therapy practice—healing with his mind.
There was Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the Spiritual Head of the Himalayan Institute—a nonprofit that promotes inner prosperity through yoga, meditation, holistic health practices, and humanitarian projects—who spoke at the Center in 2005.
There was Sondra Ray, known as the Mother of Rebirthing, who led sessions designed to help people recover from the trauma of birth.
Alan Arkin taught a workshop on improvisational theater. Vinx, a world-influenced jazz and soul musician, riffed on traditional chanting and earned an Om-Center-specific nickname during his repeat visits: Grand Master Om. Musician Gerald Trimble, his ensemble and his assortment of old-world instruments—viola da gamba, lute, Turkish saz—are regulars here.
In November 2014, eight Tibetan monks created a sand mandala at the center. They spread out in sleeping bags in the loft one night, cooked traditional Tibetan momos, or dumplings, one morning.
Each guest who’s stayed, Aquila said, has left something in the loft, in its air. “So many amazing people have visited and stayed here now that it has been infused with a bit of their spirit and love.“Who we are emanates from us,” she said.
“How we move through the world has an energy; that energy has created an atmosphere that has made this space so special to so many. It’s not only about four walls but about the quality of the place on an energetic level.