By Yunyi (Jessie) Liu
Haji Healing Salon in Hyde Park, about a 15-minutey bus ride from the Red Line, can be challenging to find without help from a friend.
But customers entered the salon steadily on a recent Sunday morning and salon owner Aya-Nikole Cook greets them as they arrive.
“It’s such a beautiful place,” says Khadijah Kysia, an acupuncturist at the salon who lives in Humboldt Park on the West Side. When Cook invited her to work at the salon and provide community acupuncture treatments, Kysia intended to reject the offer at the very beginning.
“First, I was like, I’m not gonna come to this, because it’s too far,” she says. But once she got there, she changed her mind – the harmonious atmosphere mirrors the salon’s motto, ”We heal together.”
Haji Healing Salon is a vibrant social wellness enterprise that provides yoga/meditation, community acupuncture, bodywork and healing practices. Cook, a yoga teacher who fought to manage painful symptoms caused by uterine fibroids for eight years, created Haji Healing Salon in 2015, as a support program for women living with the condition she had come to know so well.
From her own experience with illness, surgery, and recovery, Cook learned that there are lots amazing healing practices more of us could be integrating and benefiting from. “If we have other, less invasive, effective and accessible options, I think surgeries could become more of a last resort,” Cook said.
Cook invited Kysia to become one of a team of five acupuncturists who each provide service one day per month. The Haji Healing Salon’s Sunday Sanctuary program happens every Sunday, beginning with community yoga lead by Cook at 10 a.m. Community acupuncture and bodywork are offered from 12 to 3 p.m. by Kysia and Joshua Bee Alafia, a filmmaker who says he is obsessed with Chinese kung fu. Sundays are the busiest day of the week, serving a steady stream of customers until about 5 p.m.
Cook says her wellness center is open to everyone, but she wanted to prioritize affordable services for people of color and the under-resourced populations of the south side of Chicago. Neighborhoods here can be wellness desserts as well as food desserts when compared to bustling downtown or the North Side, Cook said.
After a friend recommended that Kenya Naylor, a psychotherapist, visit Haji Healing Salon, Naylor decided that getting some wellness experience would make her more relaxed and provide additional healing resources for her own patients. “I feel like physical health and spiritual health, all those things are connected to mental health. So I tried to figure ways to offer them other things that they can do,” Naylor says. Cook heard Naylor’s words and she whispered “yesss” in agreement.
With an established customer base and a desire to offer impactful services to more people, Cook is now preparing for a big move to 746 E. 79th St. in the Chatham neighborhood this spring. All yoga classes will remain $10 per hour. Thai-style body work and chair massage sessions remain $35 for a liberating 30 minutes. Cook says acupuncture treatments cost $25 a treatment, compared to about $100 in some other places. She envisions a space activated by engaged members of the community, who heal, learn, grow and thrive together.