A Holistic Approach to Western Healthcare

By  February 03, 2009

Like well-kneaded dough, Western medicine is slowly rising to the idea of a more holistic approach to healing. There is a growing need to shift from treating a patient’s illness to treating the individual as a whole, and our healthcare system is starting to catch on. More and more doctors are recommending yoga, while others have begun to embrace techniques such as acupuncture and aromatherapy.

Ayurvedic practitioners have been holistically healing for centuries. The ancient healing system of ayurveda believes the mind, body, and consciousness work together to create an energetic balance. When this energy is disrupted, it creates disease. With this in mind, it makes sense that patients are treated as a whole—mind, body, and spirit—so that they can return to their natural state of balance.

Even without looking at illness from an ayurvedic standpoint, there is no denying that the mind and body are connected: Stress can trigger a migraine, anticipation can give you a stomachache, and love can make you weak in the knees. As our society begins to awaken to the idea of a holistic approach to health and wellness, we look to our healthcare system for change. A recent undertaking by the Urban Zen Foundation is helping to guide the way.

A Model of Holistic Health
Founded by designers Donna Karan and Sonja Nuttall, the Urban Zen Foundation focuses on promoting well-being, empowering children, and preserving cultures. One of the foundation’s newest projects is the Integrative Therapist Program, which is based on the idea of treating those who are ill and in need of care beyond just their disease. The program aims to create an optimal healing environment for cancer patients in the hospital through the use of yoga therapy, aromatherapy, Reiki, nutrition, and contemplative end-of-life care.

Integrative therapists work with the modalities listed above to specifically address pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation, confusion, and fatigue in the patient, instead of relying solely on prescription drugs as a remedy for patient symptoms. At Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, an intense pilot program is being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the therapy and the optimal healing environment (including the family members, caregivers, and hospital staff) in reducing a patient’s pain and promoting healing.

Healing Through Asana

Yoga therapists work with patients leading them through simple pain-reducing yoga poses that can be done in the hospital bed, while also providing support for all those involved with the patient. At Beth Israel, the entire cancer floor is being renovated to include a yoga-meditation room. The room will be designed using feng shui principles to create a more healing environment for patients. Faculty includes renowned yogis Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee, Richard Rosen, and Richard Freeman, and athletic trainer Jamie Naughright, along with aromatherapy experts from Young Living Essential Oils.

Seeing the Whole Picture
By combining Eastern and Western medicine, doctors and nurses can truly offer patients a holistic approach to healing and provide optimum care to the patient. If the medical system is to start treating people as a whole, then it must view the world as a whole. There is no division between East and West. We are all one—mind, body, and spirit.

“Be the change you want to see in the world. We have to have one hand in the world and one hand in a place beyond the world.” —Rodney Yee  

~Laci Chiodo

To make a donation to or for more information on the Urban Zen Foundation, please visit the foundation’s Web site.