The circle of 25 drummers waited in silence as a tall woman in the center sang to the four directions.

“Element of air, inform me,” sang Doris Issendorf Linder of Henning. “Mother earth, nourish me.”

Normally, Linder would have burned cedar, sage and sweetgrass along with her prayer song, but Nelson Gables in Alexandria doesn’t allow burning, so she spritzed scent instead. She was in Alexandria on Tuesday night, invited by Nature of the Soul, an Alexandria-based group that meets monthly to discover different ways of healing.

Nature of the Soul was started three years ago by three local alternative healers who were inspired by a similar group in Iowa: massage therapist Michelle Lehn, numerologist Debra Quarles and hypnotist Kathy Weber-Zunker.

Before forming their group, they said they found that people who believed in alternative healing and spirituality felt isolated and alone in Douglas County.

There was a sense of oppression, said Quarles, who once overheard women at a yoga session whispering about “A Course in Miracles,” a 1976 book sometimes called the “New Age Bible” that that author claimed was dictated to her by Jesus. The women in the yoga class didn’t want others to overhear them for fear of being ostracized, she said.

Pulling them together created a sense of community, the organizers said.

Newcomers to their group have said, “I had no idea there were other people who read the books I read or think the things I think,” Weber-Zunker said.

“There’s a lot of people searching, even conservative people,” Quarles said. “Our little conservative community has an underground.”

“Nobody knows that, because we’re not in the mainstream,” Lehn said.

They have brought together many of the area’s alternative healers, they said, joking that Lehn’s office is equivalent to Station 9¾ in the Harry Potter books. Station 9¾ is a train platform visible only to wizards; it carries students to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once people enter Lehn’s office, she will help them or connect them to one of about 30 alternative healers in the area.

“I refer someone every day,” Lehn said.

Each month, the group invites speakers to share new ways of healing. Topics have included chiropractic care, acupuncture, fermentation, unwinding and dowsing, which uses rods to shift energy in the environment.

Sometimes, physical pain or other health symptoms might be more related to the emotions than to the physical body, Lehn said. Anger, she said, gets stored in the shoulder.

“When someone comes in with shoulder pain, I’ll ask them, ‘Who do you want to punch?’ They’ll say, ‘My kid’s hockey coach.’”

While she doesn’t condone actually punching coaches, she might suggest imagining the coach’s face on a pillow and punching that.

People often aren’t in touch with their emotions, Weber-Zunker said, or are afraid to express them.

Quarles said she has been practicing numerology for 40 years and bases her life on her own significant numbers. For instance, she chose to start a month-long diet of no gluten, sugar or dairy on a date with a favorable number, and was able to stick to it even while going out to eat and watching others indulge. She plans vacations around her favorable dates.

'Soul hug'

Tuesday’s gathering drew participants from Alexandria, Parkers Prairie, Carlos, Brandon, Garfield and Glenwood. Linder and her friends supplied the drums, which she crafts from hides. She took prayer requests; people asked for healing for loved ones, guidance for a recent widow, healing for the country and “all missing and kidnapped indigenous women.”

The drumming of a heartbeat began in unison from 26 drums: Bum-bum, bum-bum.

“The drum is a tool to get you out of your head and into your heart,” Linder said.

The rhythm changed as some began beating two big drums in the center of the circle. The sound poured from the drums, vibrating in fingertips and spines.

Drummers went around the circle, talking about what the drumming meant to them.

“It feels like a soul hug,” said Sarah Pianka, a data analyst from Brandon.

“It’s like the heartbeat of mother earth,” said Jen Weber, a beekeeper from Parkers Prairie.

“It was as if there was a sound beyond us with the beat of the drum,” said Andrea Olson, a hospice chaplain from Alexandria.

Some of those present said they hope to start a drumming circle in Alexandria and planned to meet at someone’s house this weekend.

Sharon Saxton of Alexandria, a retiree, said she finds “a total freedom of self” in drumming. “You can be who you are, as simple as that, with no fear or reservation,” she said.

Yet people often turn down her invitations to drum.

“There’s fear and apprehension, almost like it’s voodoo,” she said.

Some, like Saxton, said they were not churchgoers. Others, like Weber, said they are Christians. Weber teaches yoga at the YMCA, a Christian organization, and holds back on her full expression of spirituality in that class because she doesn’t want to “step on any toes.”

Weber believes there is a wide range of spiritual practice, and while some Christians fear yoga itself as an anti-Christian practice, it fits in well with other Christian beliefs.

“There’s false ideas that people have about things,” she said.

At Nature of the Soul meetings, organizers say people don’t have to choose between faith and spirituality.

“It’s not weird and it’s not out there,” Lehn said. “Everybody’s healing path is up to them. … Your soul needs work as much as your body needs work.”