Friday, January 29, 2010

The Power of Health: A Description of the Integral Healing Retreat

I thought I would give everyone an idea of our schedule for the Integral Healing Retreat we just did. What I really liked about it was that we had a very full schedule and used it to really look at health from a lot of different approaches. We were always looking at everything from new angles!
The retreat began Friday evening, with a short introduction where we introduced ourselves to each other and talked about why we had come to the retreat and what we hoped to accomplish. Then we had a delicious meal together, consisting of squash soup with a sampling of raw carrot-parsnip soup. There was a lively discussion about taste differences between the raw and the cooked soups. Quite a few of us liked the flavor of the raw soup better. Hats off to the chef! 
After dinner we had the first substantial group meeting of the retreat. I spoke in depth about the context, contents and goals we hoped to achieve with strong emphasis on the importance of experiencing, understanding and supporting health in ourselves. Learning to support the natural healing force in ourselves is what I envisioned the retreat to really be about; an ideal way to bring other people into this view and directly experience it for themselves. We all did a guided visualization then, in which we experienced the egg shaped energy field that exists all around each of us and we tried to see how that energy field interacted with our surroundings and with others. We spoke about the value and power of being together on the retreat and to use the time for working to refine and strengthen our own experience of health - whether we were health providers or participants. Then we did a drawing exercise that was remarkable for how directly it displayed what our unvarnished image of health and healing really is. Those of us leading the retreat drew pictures of how we saw the overall healing potential of the entire retreat. Those who were participants drew 3 pictures - one, how they saw themselves; two, how they saw themselves with their biggest health problem; and three, how they saw themselves free of this health issue. Such simple exercises are incredibly revealing and it was a powerful way to get to know one another. Each picture was as varied and expressive and vulnerable as anything I have ever seen. I think we were all amazed with what got expressed.
The participants went home for the night after that and our chef Jorin prepped for Saturday’s breakfast. I think Jorin was by far the busiest person on this retreat. She certainly went to bed the latest and got up the earliest!  Her spirit really reflected the essence of the retreat and her excitement and interest fueled all of our interest in food as a pathway to greater health.
Saturday was a really full day. We started at 7:30 am with a Qigong exercise and then we all had a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and grains. Our first formal group of the day was a talk about stress and how stress literally causes disease and discussed creative ways to help us all deal with stress. After the group was time for individual treatments. Every participant (including the organizers) got hands-on treatments from myself (doing osteopathic manipulation) and from Margaret (who did energy medicine treatments). Everyone also spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the chef learning new approaches to healthy cooking and preparation of food and for asking personal questions about health and food. We wanted everyone to be able to take home new food knowledge that they could apply immediately in their own lives. These times were also very valuable for us all, as we had the time and space to get to know each other on a deeper level. Margaret and I both found that our hands-on treatments went much deeper because everyone was in such a relaxed and unified state.
Lunch was a lively affair, with lots of animated dialogue amidst a delicious array of fresh, novel and tasty whole and raw foods. After lunch we had a group on nutrition and health in which we spoke about food as the life-giving energy source that it is, and explored ways we could change our diets to promote ever greater levels of health and well-being. We used Michael Pollan’s books  and Sarma Melngailis' raw cookbooks as they are great examples of places to go if you want to read and learn about food production, food preparation and food potential. Our emphasis was on each individual finding their ideal diet, to learn to draw on their own experience and intuition and we encouraged everyone to keep exploring this approach on their own. Our dialogues during this group and at other times were extensive and always relevant -- because we were having meals together so everything was right there on the table, so to speak :-)  We definitely had many very enjoyable and illuminating discussions about what we were actually eating, how to prepare it, what we could do to modify it, either for taste, variety or health. Jorin made sure there were lots of examples of raw vs. cooked food which was very interesting for all of us to see and we learned how easy it is to add raw food to our diet without just having more salad. Our dialogues were vibrant and alive, much like the food. Our chef fielded questions from all angles and gave all us ideas on how to take our diets to the next level. She engaged everyone in her passion for food which was a real focal point for the weekend.
The afternoon was filled with time for  individual treatments and then we had dinner (I think all we did was eat!) and the evening ended with a brief group to reflect and discuss people’s experience and to answer any questions that might have come up.
Sunday morning started again with Qigong exercise and yes, another lively breakfast! Our morning group was a guided visualization/meditation which emphasized bringing all our intuitive sense of what our next step to greater health might be and how to integrate that into our experience. It was a powerful meditation and nearly everyone commented afterwards that they didn’t even know they could get so relaxed.

There were more individual treatments after that and then, alas, our final lunch together. The camaraderie at the table was extraordinary and so alive and we continued our exploration together of health and food. After lunch we had a final group in which we drew pictures of ourselves again. The participants were asked to draw a picture of how they felt the weekend had benefited their health and the coordinators/practitioner drew a picture that captured our total experience of the retreat. Just like in the first round of drawing, the pictures everyone drew were disarming and amazing and truly gave expression to something which we often find too challenging to say in words. We had a brief meditation and closing of the retreat and then it was time to say goodbye.
The best thing about the retreat for me was that all of us: the healers, the participants, the chef and the coordinator, the care givers and the care receivers, all participated in everything together. We all benefited from that collective experience and we all got a deeper sense of each individuals’ strengths and where each person needed some guidance. Our time together at meals really enriched the experience for everyone. We learned together and that made a lot of room for everyone to find their own way and seek out what worked the best for them. Also, I think the short guided meditations at the beginning and end of all the groups helped ground us in something bigger than ourselves and I feel, awakened the intuition to listen to our own health as it spoke to us from the deepest place in ourselves. Onward. 

So, what's next? Well, I am working on plans for more retreats!  Using this initial experience as a springboard to try other formats - larger groups, more intensive time with smaller numbers of people. Who knows? The door is wide open for all of us. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Integral Healing Retreat: Health House in Action

This weekend we had our first Integral Healing Retreat and it in no uncertain terms showed me the incredible potential of working together toward a greater experiential understanding of health. This was an experiment in the theory of integral medicine and in focusing on healing rather than on disease. A group of five participants and four leaders made up the retreat. We had two healing practitioners: myself (M.D., Functional Medicine and Osteopathy) and a woman who practices energy medicine. We also had a chef present for the entire retreat, well versed in raw, vegan and vegetarian cooking with a focus on healing foods, and one full-time support person. We also had a special group on stress management Saturday morning, conducted by an alternative M.D. associate of mine who specializes in mind-body medicine. Overall, we spent the entire weekend together, from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon -- and it was full-on, and fantastic!

I will be writing about this retreat over the next several weeks. It is taking me time to process all that happened because how deep we worked together and how much happened individually for each of us, including leaders. 

To recap from a previous blog [see the previous post about the plans for the retreat] integral is the foundation of what I do. Integral means whole, complete. If you google “integral” one of the definitions isconstituting the undiminished entirety; lacking nothing essential especially not damaged.” Our bodies are whole and there is something to be said for a doctor knowing the heart or liver or kidney really well but I believe that knowing that in isolation of the whole body doesn’t do justice for what we need to do to heal. If we don’t approach healing from the whole person, we cannot really find the potential that is available to all of us and is in its own way the mystery of life itself. And no matter what health issues we are dealing with, we are whole. Maybe we’ve lost an arm or have lost the use of a leg due to injury or stroke, or have an extreme sensitivity to food and need a special diet; or maybe we are dealing with an extreme amount of stress; but whatever we are dealing with, our bodies (which I include to be body, mind and spirit) are working to heal and take us to our maximum potential at that moment. There is a lot that we understand about how our bodies work. But there is a lot that we don’t understand, that doesn’t capture the mystery of how we survive and even thrive under pressure and with severe injury and disease. 

This is what I am interested in and this is what we explored during this retreat. More details to come....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Healing Reality

On this Thanksgiving I am thinking of all I have to be grateful for - friends, patients, family, health and happiness. I’m not one who is so big on holidays but this one seems a little more full, a little more poignant with all that’s going on in the world. Gratitude is an important part of healing of any sorts - whether its physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual challenges or any other challenge we face called life. And a day to celebrate that and bring our attention to that seems like a good thing to celebrate. 

We need healing right now - individually, culturally, and across the globe. At a fundamental level I think its a healing between mind and heart. It SEEMS easier to choose what we think we should do rather than what our heart is telling us to do. But that is just a habit. The heart is primary - it started beating days into our conception without any body or blood yet developed. So I think this is where we find healing - in our heart, and gratitude and love are the primary emotions that live here. This if not just metaphorical. 

There is a Healing Reality in all of us all of the time - a bright source of light, a mystery which is bigger and brighter than our apparent physical being but its intimately connected with who we are physically, emotionally, energetically, physiologically. This is my journey - to learn and give myself to this Healing Reality. And I am very grateful for all the people willing to share this journey and find out together what this is. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Capitalism vs. Our Health

One of the things that has become apparent to me is that at least part of the issue is that we are dealing culturally with the apparent conflict between capitalism and public health. One public health doctor in Florida was fired from his job because he equated what I will call junk food - donuts in particular - with death. Before he was fired he also equated hamburgers and french fries with a fat waistline and big thighs.

Why do I call it junk food? This may seem obvious to some and just what is to others but the distinction is important. There are many foods that are “empty calories” - lots of fat and sugar in this case but no nutrients. No vitamins, no minerals, no phytochemicals, no antioxidants. Why is this important? Because really our bodies are happiest with all those wonderful and varied phytochemicals. Plants developed them to survive all kinds of hostile environments to protect themselves from heat, drought, disease, animals, etc. because they cannot move to change environments like animals can. And we as humans have evolved eating those plants and they help regulate our cells and their metabolism and make our cells and therefore us happy.

As David Kessler says in his new book, The End of Overeating, evolutionarily we have evolved to recognize, crave and fixate on fats, sugar and salt. Those staples are the reason we have survived as a race. These high energy and high calorie foundations have helped give us the boost to run from tigers and our enemies, to have creative bursts of energy when we didn’t have to focus only on survival. But really the foundation of our diets are the plants - the roots, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruits of those evolutionary beauties who watch us move all over the earth looking for home.

If we have those things we can eat the fat, sugar and salt but if we don’t have that as a foundation, our cells turn on different sets of genes and we get sick. We get sick with chronic diseases - diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, strokes, autoimmune diseases, alzheimers, cancer.

You see, we used to die of infectious diseases - cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia. Now in some areas of the world these are still major issues, and in the US there are still a few every year who succumb to these causes. But in the US really our main causes of death are cancer and heart disease/stroke and these are preventable and reversible if we look at our root history, our evolutionary history and do what we need to do to change our path.

So where does capitalism come into this? Right now the rules seem to favor big business - Oprah can get sued for saying not to eat meat by the meat industry and a public health doctor can lose his job for aggressively marketing against junk foods. Collectively there is an incredible force against those foods which are healthy - no one is making big money off of organic vegetables or whole grains. They can’t be patented or processed and repackaged. They are perfect as they are.

But I know there are individuals within the system who are concerned about this and who want to make a difference. I’ve met a program director at Aetna who is looking at the value of functional medicine in prevention and treatment and I’ve met a CEO of one of the major Blue Cross organizations who really cares and wants to use insurance for its purpose - to help people who are sick. So my challenge is to those individuals to stand up and stand out and seek out others who have like minds for the greatest challenge and creative purpose at this particular moment. We have the greatest opportunity to use all of our collective history - to look at all the government run health programs around the world - look at their good points and bad points; look at all the incredible information we have from science including the information from functional medicine and companies such as Metagenics, Xymogen and Thorne and see what works to prevent disease and reverse it. And we have an incredible public health system and hospital system which works when we need it - when there are emergencies of all kinds. So how can that be part of the picture and not the whole picture?

By using our creative ability to look both deeply at the major issues and look widely at creative solutions we can come up with a new way to look at health care which will be the epitome of what is possible now. That can be our legacy for the future of this world. Others can look to us and know the challenges that created the particular pieces which led to this breakthrough. This is how capitalism can actually promote health. How exciting is that?

I’ll be exploring more in future blogs about the joy our bodies experience with phytochemicals...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Health House: An Integral Co-Healing Retreat (not just a Halloween experiment)

We are embarking on an experiment - a healing retreat based on collective consciousness and experiential wisdom instead of just information. I find that most things relating to health are very information heavy. There is nothing wrong with the science and the information but I don’t think we learn best that way. I think we need to have experience inform our perspective so that we understand why we are making the choices that we do. Medical school is about information overload the first two years. But after that we learn by doing - seeing patients with their diseases, putting our hands on their bodies and hearing their stories. We need the information but we won’t remember it without experience.

There is a lot of information about right diet in the media but there are still a lot of Americans having french fries, burgers and coke for lunch. We want to create a retreat where people will have the experience of health and nutrition with the information, the science. We want to see how far we can go together in exploring health and wellness. The potential for all participants is huge - a collective look at health not tied to any particular healing modality or theory but open to all.

So this idea of an Integral Co-healing Retreat has come from several people. Two years ago one of my patient’s had a dream about this - and our first prototype retreat is going to be in his house. Then I have been working with a man who has helped me define my own life’s work as one of in depth health retreats. And then my partner, Richard Klein, recently had the hit we needed to do this as a collective consciousness experiment and create a new pathway to health. So here we are...

You’ll find Richard’s theory and treatise on what we want to do below. I’ll be blogging more as we refine what we are going to do and how our views of health are evolving.

And here’s Ken Wilber’s introduction about Integral Medicine - part of why I picked this as the kind of medicine I practice. Integral Medicine

Principles of an Integral Co-Healing Retreat

By Richard Klein

THE GOAL: To bring together physicians & healers with client/patients in an intensive, focused setting, in order to co-create an inclusive field of healing energy in which the mystery and mechanisms of human healing & wellness – physical, mental/emotional, spiritual – might reveal themselves; further, to create the optimal conditions for healers and patients alike to directly perceive the mechanisms of wellness and to invoke the spontaneous experience of healing—be it in body, mind or soul.

THE RETREAT: Why “Integral”? Integral, because it is necessary to step away from the materialistic, dogmatic, too-highly specialized, over-individualized practice or approach to medicine and healing.

An Integral Co-Healing retreat brings together a group of highly motivated, adventurous, skilled healing practitioners and their clients/patients for a period of 3-5 days. During that time, every healer will treat each individual patient in private sessions. Practitioners who work in a group dynamic will conduct their group work in sensible concert within the scheduled individual treatments. Other types of group activites should also be devised in order to bring together the retreatants for visualization, mantra or meditation practice, or for other educational programs related to nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, or any other topic of value as determined prior to or during the retreat.

Also – and crucially – all the participating practitioners should also share treatments with each other. “Physician, heal thyself” is applied as a pillar of the retreat and an integral part of the process. Patient downtime between treatment and group sessions should be somewhat structured with interim practices involving reading/education, or any variety of healing and/or spiritual practices, including visualization, mantra or meditation, in order to maximize receptivity and depth of effect.

During regular intervals during the retreat (at minimum once each day) the practitioners should assemble privately for in-depth discussion regarding each client/patient, sharing their individual findings and working collectively to create a coherent, incisive portrait of each patient’s condition, history, and needs – reaching, together, for the most accurate diagnosis and effective course of treatment. The more fully engaged the practitioners are with each other, without regard for the particular quality of the engagement—be it consonant or dissonant—the more trust and openness will be created during the retreat. There should be a direct correlation. The practitioners, therefore, should always strive for the most lively and authentic kind of engagement, tending toward consensus but never bowing to the tyranny of political correctness or the temptation to compromise for the sake of inclusion.

Any truly authentic co-healing paradigm will be created anew each time a group forms with the intention to create it. The mysterious foundational mechanisms of healing will always remain untouchable, unknowable, but the intention to create a healing environment in which those mechanisms might emerge, is in fact the sole, guiding principle and motivating force behind the Integral Co-Healing Retreat. The full responsibility to heal then, falls not on any one practitioner or participant nor on any single healing modality, but rather on the ability of the entire group to come together in search of wellness.

Within such a highly engaged dynamic, the likelihood of significant healing breakthroughs during a retreat is maximized and might also occur for the practitioners as readily as for the participants! It is, however, always unreasonable to expect (or even worse, demand) that remarkable healing will always occur in every retreat. Rather, like the prophet Elijah, a place is set at the table, an invitation sent, prayers offered. The rest is out of our hands, and that’s how it should be.

That said, even if “nothing extraordinary” seemed to occur over the course of an entire retreat, the powerful intention, depth of trust and shared empowerment created between the practitioners, the patients and amongst them, should leave everyone with the unmistakable impression that “something amazing” did indeed take place after all.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Health Care Reform

The words “health care reform” are bringing up a lot of very interesting and fiery reactions lately so I thought I would put my two cents in. I feel we need to step back and take a much wider view on what we can do to promote health - and even what the issues ARE.

So where do we start? There are common sense things that we can all do now that impact our health. Some are big and some are small. We all change at our own pace - sometimes a health crisis motivates us to want to change immediately and sometimes we just decide to start somewhere.

And sometimes I just want a place to vent....

The issues are as varied and complex as there are varieties of human beings and what we eat. As Michael Pollen says, we are omnivores - we can eat anything and conversely we can eat only what we choose to eat. We are driven by ingrained genetic programing - fats, sugar and salt - so big business has used this to market some interesting foods to us - hamburgers, donuts and french fries. And we also have genetic desires for all varieties of fruits and vegetables - those psychedelic phytochemicals which make our cells dance and sing much more than salt, sugar and fat but we have to remind our cells of this absolute fact.

I’m here to look at all these issues with you - to explore together so we can find a new way forward. Our health is our life. And our legacy for the future depends on us taking a look at the whole picture - who we are individually, collectively, culturally, genetically and where we are going.

So here we go....