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Body, Mind Spirit: The "Whole" in Holistic Health
These articles by Vivian Fransen and Barbara Fox were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on Wednesday, June 3, 1998. All rights reserved.
When a group of neighbors were asked to come up with their own working definition of health, here is the list they generated. A person in good health:
It was a rather mainstream group of individuals of all ages sitting around a kitchen table in a Princeton home, trying to figure out how they could help one another make their community better. They started by looking within and among themselves to make it happen.
And -- 20 years later -- those are the same kinds of people who are on the minds of Marjorie Herman, executive director of the Holistic Health Association of the Princeton Area (HHAPA), and the staff and volunteer board of HHAPA these days.
In the '90s medical conservatives find themselves inching leftward. Hospitals are opening "wellness centers," and the federal government is funding research on methods once considered extreme. Meanwhile, those who believe in holistic health techniques are reaching out to the general public with the message that an individual is more than the sum of its parts, that the accent can be on the "whole" person, not the "holes or deficits" that appear in one's health.
"For so long, those of us in the holistic community have been preaching to the converted," says Herman. "Now it's time to reach out to the wider community."
And that's what HHAPA is doing. Now in its new location at 366 Nassau Street in Princeton (right next door to Summit Bank), this nonprofit organization is opening its doors on Saturday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to celebrate its move to bigger quarters -- doubling the square footage of space at the former location at 360 Nassau Street. This open house -- open to the public at no charge -- will feature a sampling of Tai Chi (a Chinese Taoist martial art form of meditation in movement), meditation, yoga classes, a tour of the library and new treatment room, and healthy snacks.
"Our vision is to be a community center for holistic living," says Herman. "While we have a reputation for being the center pin for information, now we will have the space to offer one-stop services for the entire community."
Marjorie Herman -- the daughter of a family doctor -- has had her own first-hand experiences with holistic solutions to health problems. Before starting her work with HHAPA in 1990, she had a full-time career in teaching and conducting music. But in the 1980s, her health took a nosedive. She quit her career as a teacher/conductor and all her community activities. "My job became healing myself," she says.
For four years she explored all kinds of ways to live with a chronic illness, a liver problem that no medical doctor was able to cure. She discovered the process of healing and focused on answering the question, "What can I do right around me?" to accept how she was. She came to the conclusion that it was up to her to "make up her own health." And slowly she made progress.
"Through daily walks to regain my strength, I began a communion with Nature which enabled me to experience, firsthand, its rejuvenating and even healing capacities," she says. She turned to musical composition for a creative outlet and composed a choral cantata called "Canticles of Nature."
"This music was inspired from excerpts of the writings of three men," she explains.
From John Burroughs are the words: "I go to Nature to be soothed, to be healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."
From Hieronymous Bosch: "The field has eyes, the wood has ears: I will look, be silent, and listen."
From Kahlil Gibran: "Forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair."
"Canticles of Nature" was performed in May, 1986, although Herman was not well enough to be the one to conduct this piece of music at the time.
"A friend suggested I take a class at the Princeton YWCA, which I did," she explained. "Then I volunteered to teach a four-week course on Growing Through Illness, which turned out to be a wonderful experience meeting other women who were learning about the process of healing. And this same friend later suggested I apply for a job at HHAPA in 1990. So I did. And now when the stresses mount and a break is needed, I'm the first to announce, `Staff Nature Walk,' when all of us at the HHAPA center will gather together for a refreshing stroll outside."
The most important lesson she had learned over the years is "to be in the moment." She explains, "Learning to be in the moment reduces stress and helps me accept where I am at the moment."
"And it doesn't have to be a life-threatening crisis to stimulate an interest in holistic health," she adds. "For example, when I find myself in a traffic jam on a rainy day, I can first acknowledge the feeling: frustration. But I don't have to rail my fists and grow frazzled. Instead, I can enjoy the moment of not having to be moving. Or I can quietly listen to the sound of the windshield wipers. Or I can pause to explore the beauty around me. And I can remind myself of a set of questions that are often posed in holistic gatherings: `What time is it? NOW. Where am I? HERE.'"
"A little more focused, a little less rigid." That's the way Marjorie Herman describes the changes of HHAPA's new logo, which shows a figure stretching beyond the boundaries of the circle that surrounds it. And HHAPA has witnessed an enormous growth in public awareness of holistic health options over the years.
"We are coming up against the limitations of a system that said our doctors were gods and that our doctors could fix us," says Herman. "There are so many chronic problems in today's culture, and we are rediscovering the values of self care. The wellness centers are helping educate people take care of themselves."
"I believe that one of the reasons we are seeing wellness centers at hospitals is because in 1992 the National Institutes of Health established the office of alternative medicine," says Herman, "to establish a research protocol to scientifically document such research methods as homeopathy, acupuncture, and meditation." The Clinton administration has made a substantial increase in this effort and major grants are being handed out. "There is a trickle-down effect in the medical establishment," says Herman. "It's almost `permission.'"
Now in its 20th year of operations, HHAPA did indeed start with 12 people meeting on a spring day in 1978 to discuss the possibility of creating a holistic health center in Princeton. The meeting took place at the kitchen table of Pat Hite, who soon became known in Princeton for her quiet energy and her warm, inclusive leadership.
"In the early days, Pat Hite -- HHAPA's founder and first executive director -- ran programs, wrote the newsletter, and answered the phones," explains Herman. In 1994 Hite had a stroke that made her unable to continue as executive director, yet she remains active in the organization and has become a poet. "We're so glad that she's still in our midst, as her spirit is so central to what the organization stands for." Hite is scheduled to be present at the open house at a 1 p.m. dedication ceremony naming the new workshop room the Pat Hite Room.
Today, more than 700 members, 10,000 individuals on the mailing list, and 25,000 readers of the publications look to this association for information to promote their health and well-being.
HHAPA's mission is "to provide a supportive context in which each one of us can explore what it means to be a whole person -- body, mind, and spirit." With an annual operating budget of $300,000, a staff of eight paid workers, and scores of volunteers, its activities include serving as a "drop-in," "call-in," and "on-line" resource center with a database of information about the more than 3,000 providers of holistic health services in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
HHAPA also publishes an annual directory entitled "The Holistic Health Resource Directory for New Jersey and Pennsylvania," and a bimonthly magazine called "Holistic Living." In addition, it serves as a clearinghouse of information on events relating to holistic health, and it orchestrates workshops and seminars on such topics as stress management, nutrition, body awareness, cooking, and meditation.
Every nonprofit organization has its peaks and valleys when it comes to raising funds to support the work, and HHAPA has had its share of financial challenges. Through a restructuring process that took shape in 1995, this association developed a business plan for its publications, attracted board members with financial expertise, and even had the good fortune to find a foundation that gave a grant to bring on a fundraising consultant.
Furthermore, HHAPA has launched its 1998 Challenge, which seeks to raise a total of $140,000, with funds matching four dollars from two private donors for every one dollar raised. To date, $60,000 has been raised, which is right on track with the target dates. A campaign to increase memberships -- ranging from $45 to $80 for individuals, $60 to $95 for families, and $95 to $1,100 for practitioners -- is now underway, offering various benefits from a menu of choices.
Almost all of this depends on volunteers. Volunteers are respected and appreciated by HHAPA. Volunteers work on fundraising events, mailings, public relations, and computer needs. They are also trained to serve as desk volunteers -- handling information requests and giving information to match the needs of callers and "drop-in" visitors.
Volunteers do not provide health counseling, Herman emphasizes, and those who seek information are not dissuaded from obtaining mainstream medical advice. "We are a referral service," says Herman. "It is a very fine line that we walk, admittedly, but we do encourage people to combine the services of a responsible physician with holistic methods. Every problem doesn't necessarily need to be dealt with, necessarily, by an MD. We develop materials to help people make good choices for themselves, but we don't make recommendations about specific practitioners or modalities," she says. "It is tricky, but we try to give people a very wide choice."
"Particularly for people in transition, our center is a place for healing," says Herman. "People often come to HHAPA when they are shifting careers, adjusting to an empty nest, striving toward recovery from illness, dealing with relationship challenges, transitioning into a new season in life, working through grief, or seeking spiritual enrichment."
"I came to HHAPA, having just moved to the states from England and inquiring about nutritional possibilities," says one HHAPA visitor, Charlie Fall. "After using the information HHAPA gave me, I found a nutritionist who could help. With my background in whole foods cooking, this eventually led to me writing a cookbook with easy and tasty recipes free of yeast, dairy, sugar, wheat and gluten, which has helped others."
Another visitor who was in between jobs took her friend's suggestion to "go to HHAPA and see what it is all about: I needed to do something in sync with my heart, something that would connect me with like-minded people and enable me to experience a working atmosphere that mirrored my personal values," she says. "When I walked in the door, that sense was confirmed, and I knew then that I wanted HHAPA to be a significant part of my life. Starting as a volunteer, I found I went home infused with positive energy, regardless of how I may have felt when I came in. Since then I've learned that this is a common experience here at HHAPA."
Everything old is new again," says Herman. "Even my dad -- the old fashioned kind of GP -- sometimes had a hard time resonating with the holistic terminology, but he did practice that kind of medicine with his patients. He would spend tremendous amounts of time with his patients, finding out what was going on in their lives and helping them to find lifestyle solutions. `If it helps you to stand on your head, do it,' he once told me."
Though Marjorie Kleiman Herman was the daughter of a physician, she grew up with a passion for music, not medicine. She grew up in a Baltimore suburb and met her future husband, Buzz Herman, in the third grade; both would have careers in music. "I was born a musician, writing music and playing the piano at age 8, discovering harmony and singing in the choir in junior high, and serving as student conductor and accompanist in high school," she says.
She studied at Peabody Conservatory and, after majoring in music at University of Maryland, Class of 1966, she worked as a music editor and teacher in Boston, then earned her master's and doctor's degrees in choral music at Indiana University. In 1973 she began teaching at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and she started dating Buzz again; he was teaching music in a junior high school near Washington. They married and moved to Bucks County, where he trained to be a paralegal and started working for AT&T. Now they live in Hamilton Square, and he continues as a professional musician by playing in a quintet, Freedom Brass, and conducting an amateur orchestra, the Lawrence Symphony.
"My husband has always been a champion for me over the years, encouraging me to take a few more steps forward even when I didn't feel strong or when I was tempted to let my fear of relapse take over," she says. "And music has become more than the theory and the notes and the sound of complex harmony; it's a healing tool."
"Although I knew music in a technical sense, this was a time when I allowed music to reveal itself to me for its soothing qualities," she adds. "The role of music and healing is now considered a science of its own."
After helping to heal herself with music in a holistic way, Marjorie Herman then had another health problem. This one -- severe back pain -- gave her firsthand experience in observing how the lines between conventional medicine and alternative methods often overlap or become increasingly enmeshed.
"It was two years of agony for me," she says. "Here I was -- working with this holistic health center yet living with my own nagging back pain. Naturally, I reached out for help wherever I could -- my physician did diagnostic testing that revealed no clues. Then I tried acupuncture, chiropractic care, meditation, homeopathy, and visualizations. When it persisted and benign solutions failed, I went to specialist after specialist. But no lasting results came. It was baffling to live in pain and not know what was going on with my body."
"Then one day someone came into my office and made the suggestion to see a doctor she knew at the University of Pennsylvania. I took her suggestion and made an appointment with this gynecologist. When I walked into his office in Philadelphia, he looked across the room at me, and said, "My dear, you are in such pain. We're going to find out what is going on.'"
"After carefully listening to me describe my pain, he took such a genuine interest in wanting to help me find out what was the matter," she continued. "I took some more tests and finally agreed to exploratory surgery," which revealed the adhesions in her abdomen that were exerting pressure on her back.
"And I remember my relief in hearing those words from this doctor, `I think we found it'," she added. "This doctor was a specialist, yet his method was thoroughly holistic in spirit. Now, my back pain is history. I'm a human being, not a human doing."
Ralph and Lahni DeAmicis will speak at 10 a.m. about Feng Shui, a 4,000-year-old practice that pays attention to natural elements and energy currents to promote an environment where people can live in harmony with their surroundings.
Herman gives a workshop entitled "Living as a Whole Person" on Friday, June 5, at 10:30 a.m., part of the all-day "17th Annual Greening of the Gray Conference" at Mercer Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road. The $8 registration fee includes lunch; call 609-586-9446.
Just 10 minutes away from the Holistic Health Association's new building is another holistic center, a for-profit one. The Princeton Center for Yoga & Health was founded by a woman who used holistic methods to heal herself. "I had a healing crisis that brought me to yoga," says Deborah Metzger, "and was encouraged by my students and by my vision to open this center."
She and her partners started Princeton Center for Yoga & Health in 1996 and she now owns and runs it by herself. Located at Montgomery Commons, it has 1,500 square feet for massage therapy, hypnotherapy, and therapeutic touch, plus workshop space for everything from yoga and dance to T'ai Chi.
"The goal is to have a forum for people to do workshops," says Metzger, "for people to find different ways to find health and healing, to have different opportunities to try things, and to support the practitioners." About a dozen different kinds of yoga classes are held weekly, plus hypnotherapy, massage therapy, healing, astrological readings, several kinds of meditation, dancing, and a rotating schedule of workshops. Metzger's specialty is Phoenix Rising yoga therapy, 90 minute one-on-one sessions for $75. She is on the board of the HHAPA, and firmly believes there is room for both. "There is so much interest and need," says Metzger. "The more of us out there doing this work, the more people realize this is valid."
Like Marjorie Herman of HHAPA, she does not espouse ignoring medical advice. "If people come to me with a physical problem I always suggest they check with their physician. Often people come to the classes because they haven't found relief in the medical community, or they are looking for mind/body wholeness and stress."
An alumna of the City University of New York, she has an LCSW from the University of Pennsylvania, and was the founder and first president of Womanspace. Married to an administrative law judge, she has children ages 14 and 20. Until she opened this center she was a mental health planner for the state.
The health problem that drove her to seek holistic solutions was pneumonia that developed into asthma when she was pregnant. Her doctor as much as consigned her to a lifetime of using cortisone inhalers. Instead, she sought relief with yoga. The asthma did not disappear, but with the breathing techniques and the postures of yoga, she found another way of thinking about the body mind experience. "A few years ago with the stresses of my job my symptoms came back. I discovered that the body will start to talk to you if you don't start paying attention. It whispers first, and then it will start yelling."
"In a way I am grateful to it. I just keep getting reminded since I teach it. I teach what I need to hear, and eventually I hear it also," says Metzger. "Many people have awful experiences in their lives but if you can just create a little distance from it, and find some ways to treat your body with compassion, you can find a different way of being."
-- Barbara Fox
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com -- the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.