Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Art as healing: finding hope and resilience in life’s challenges

Mt Vision Sunrise, a watercolor by Vera Kovacovic

For Vera Kovacovic, watercolor painting is an opportunity to filter a scene through her own lens, capturing its essence rather than its absolute reality.

Alabama Hills Sunrise, a photograph by Nancy Cox

Nature photographer Nancy Cox views her work as a peaceful pause in an otherwise busy world.

By Nancy Cox, RN

In my role as a healing coach at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – Abbott Northwestern Hospital, I like to encourage my clients to pursue their passion, in spite of or in light of their circumstances. If not now, when?

My passion is photography. My partner, Vera Kovacovic, has a passion for watercolor. We travel, I take photographs, and she paints. What a joy to share creative times together. In preparing for the current Art of Healing show at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, I thought it would be interesting to have Vera do a watercolor rendition of some of my photos, showing how an image can be seen differently depending on one’s creative eye, talent and perspective.

This is also true about life, especially during challenging times. My intent in my work is to help people see their circumstances with fresh eyes, seeking hope when it appears dim and allowing healing when it seems elusive. I am constantly moved by the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for healing.

Being primarily a nature photographer encourages me to seek out beauty. I can forget everything else when looking through the lens of a camera. I once spent three hours in 20 below temperatures shooting photos of the trumpeter swans on the Mississippi River in Monticello. By the time I was done I could barely feel my fingers, but I had the best time. It cleared my head, soothed my spirit and ignited a flame that kept me warm. Of course, making a beeline to the closest coffeehouse when I was done didn’t hurt!

Living fully can mean different things to different people. I can’t hike up a steep mountain with 30 pounds of camera equipment on my back trying to get a shot, nor will I risk life and limb. (I ask myself…Is this shot worth a year in physical rehabilitation?) So it forces me to slow down, look deeper and see things differently. This allows me to find my unique vision.

I cannot see life through another person’s lens, only my own. But I can seek understanding. It’s like looking deep into a photograph to see what the artist was trying to convey. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times not so much. That is what I believe Vera does in her interpretation. As a watercolorist, she starts with a blank slate and creates what she sees. She says it is the “essence” of the image through her own personal lens.

That is also what I do in my role as a healing coach. I need to stay aware of my own lens, but be able to go beyond myself and find the true essence of the person who has entrusted himself or herself in my care. It is truly an honor.

Nancy Cox, RN, healing coach, works with people dealing with cancer and their families. She sees clients at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute – Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-0200.

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Art of Healing exhibits this spring


Illustration by Nancy Carlson

Art is powerful. It can nourish the mind, body and spirit, and it can support healing. That is the inspiration behind a bimonthly Art of Healing exhibit offered by the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

You can view the following exhibits on the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus this May:

  • The paintings and drawings of Ken Moylan are on display at the Penny George Institute’s outpatient clinic – Abbott Northwestern. Moylan combines many traditional and historical styles, materials and techniques of painting, sculpture and architecture within his finely crafted images and objects. His work has been published by Landmark Editions of Minneapolis, and his art has been exhibited extensively across the United States in galleries, museums and art fairs.
  • The illustrations of Nancy Carlson are on display in the Wasie Building lower level gallery, outside the Livewell Fitness Center. She is the author and illustrator of more than 60 children’s books. She believes that life should be fun for everyone, especially for children. This optimistic message permeates her picture books which help kids learn to cope with different challenges.

The displays are part of the Penny George Institute’s Art of Healing Program, which provides arts-based wellness intervention and education, and supports a healing environment. For more information, call 612-863-9028.

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Nurturing creativity

113722870.PaintedHandsBy Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC

Creating art was an essential part of my youth. If I wasn’t taking or painting pictures, I was writing stories. Art school was an obvious choice for me. In 1979, I graduated from college in Moorhead, Minn. with a double major in fine arts and art education.

Then I moved to Minneapolis, and spent the next ten years creating art, working with galleries and exhibition spaces, and, yes, sometimes being the “starving artist.”

A few family complications later, and I found that I had to get a “real job,” or at least find a regular source of income. Healing and wellness had also always been a deep interest so I began to “reschool” in wellness and healing arts.

I have continued to write and create art even with less time to put a pen to a page or a brush to a canvas. But I have learned that creativity does not always need to be about creating art. It can be used in all aspects of life. Art and creativity can even be an act of wellness and healing.

When faced with any “blank canvas” in life, meaning any endeavor with an unknown outcome, you can follow these steps to nurture your creativity:
1. Be present. I have adapted an exercise called, “Morning Pages,” from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Cameron recommends doing three pages of long-hand, stream-of-conciousness writing first thing in the morning. She says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. … They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. [They] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

You don’t have to write three full pages. Begin by writing for five to 10 minutes. It can help you feel anchored and face the day with clarity.

2. Do creative work in the morning. The creative impulse is fresher and clearer in the morning.

3. Forget about talent. What will the outcome be? Will anyone like it? Those are questions that can suppress the creative spirit. Try to start a creative process without detailed outcomes.

4. Stay open. There really are no dumb ideas. Go ahead and make a mistake. Often mistakes lead to new breakthroughs.

5. Keep it simple. Leave the details for later. Trust that they will fall into place. The creative spark is a time for simplicity. Most painters start with a broad simple sketch on the blank canvas before any paint is used.

6. Manage anxiety. Anxiety can be the subject of paintings and writing but it is hard to create when the artist is in a state of anxiety. Regular yoga, breath work and meditation can help with anxiety reduction.

7. Be brave. All of the above suggestions need a bit of bravery. Forget what others think.

8. Have fun. The creative process is closely aligned with having fun. Joy is a creative state of mind.

There is no such thing as “being more creative.” You already are creative. The creative spark lives in all of us and can be nurtured with intentional practice. And anyone on a healing journey can use a brave creative spirit, allowing room for new solutions and broadening the breadth of discovery.

Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC, is the Art of Healing program manger and a learning and Development specialist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

For more information on art and healing, read LiveWell blog entry, “Art as an act of healing.”

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Art of Healing exhibits in February and March

ArtArt is powerful. It can nourish the mind, body and spirit, and it can support healing. That is the inspiration behind a bimonthly Art of Healing exhibit offered by the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

You can view the following exhibits on the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus for the remainder of February and March:

  • The late Dr. André Bruwer’s X-rays of nature are on display at the Penny George Institute’s outpatient clinic – Abbott Northwestern. Over five decades, his passionate pursuit of X-ray art (pictured right) resulted in a stunning collection of images showcasing the unseen delicacy of the natural world. He called his X-ray images skiagraphs. The words skia and graph come from the Greek words for “shadow drawing.”
  • The paintings of Douglas Ross are on display in the Wasie Building lower level gallery, outside the Livewell Fitness Center. Ross changed the direction of  his work dramatically after his retirement from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he taught sculpture and drawing for 32 years. Upon moving from Nebraska to Minnesota, he embarked on a series of paintings inspired by the landscape of northern Minnesota. The focus of the majority of his paintings is the trees, rocks and water that form the dramatic landscape along the north shore of Lake Superior.

The displays are part of the Penny George Institute’s Art of Healing Program, which provides arts-based wellness intervention and education, and supports a healing environment. For more information, call 612-863-9028.

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Attend Monkey Mind Pirates musical – a fun, family event promoting mindfulness

Attend Monkey Mind Pirates in Search of the Island of Calm, an award-winning, nationally touring musical performed by Z Puppets Rosenschnoz  and Twin Cities families affected by cancer, chronic illness and autism.
Two free performances will be held Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
These special shows are the result of a six-workshop series taken by families living with cancer and families living with autism. Z Puppets artists lead the workshop using the story of a sea captain on the Quest for Calm. Mindfulness techniques, song writing and puppetry are woven into the workshop.
Come and see the results of the families’ work at one of these events:
  • Sensory-friendly performance with families affected by autism: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2:30 p.m.
  • Performance with families affected by chronic illness and cancer: Saturday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.

Doors open one hour before each show for Z Puppets’ free, family, happy hour of creative activities on the “Island of Calm.”

For reservations or more information, contact 612-724-1435, ext. 9, or

The event is presented by the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing and Z Puppets Rosenschnoz with the generous support of the Minnesota State Arts Board.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation or the arts and cultural heritage fund; and a grant from the National Endowments for the Arts.

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Art of Healing exhibits in April and May

Print by artist Laura Corcoran

Print by artist Laura Corcoran

Art is powerful. It can nourish the mind, body and spirit, and it can support healing. That is the inspiration behind a bimonthly Art of Healing exhibit offered by the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

You can view the following exhibits on the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus for the remainder of May:

The displays are part of the Penny George Institute’s Art of Healing Program, which provides arts-based wellness intervention and education, and supports a healing environment. For more information, call 612-863-9028.

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Art as an act of healing

by Jayson King, RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC

In 1985, Nancy Azara, a New York based artist, introduced me to the idea of “Art as an Act of Healing” at a workshop in Duluth.

At the time, I was the classic struggling artist living in Minneapolis – working part-time jobs to get by and support my art, trying to forge relationships with galleries, and creating art in a shared loft space in Northeast Minneapolis with a group called Art Attack.

Nancy’s idea – that art is an act of healing – filled an essential part of my art education. During late-night discussions with other students at art school, we decided art is created purely as an extension of the ego. Through Nancy’s week long intensive workshop, including daily guided meditations and circle discussions, it dawned on me that this wasn’t my ego speaking on the canvas, but it was an expression of my own healing journey.

Since that workshop, I’ve continued to look at all forms of art through this “Art as an Act of Healing” lens. What does the artist’s statement and expression tell me about their own healing journey? What can I learn about healing communities?

There are many examples that show how art serves healing and community:

  • a Somali immigrant whose work is a link to her culture of origin and a way to support herself
  • an artist who rediscovers her passion to paint after a cancer diagnosis
  • a recent exhibition of seminal work from the 1980s at the Walker Art Center which revealed how intensely AIDS has affected all our lives.

This holiday season, my family went to see a variety show featuring Kevin Kling with Dan Chouinard and the Brass Messengers at the Guthrie Theater. Through their graceful humor, stories and music, the artists reminded me once again of the power of art to mirror culture, overcome personal obstacles and differences, and exemplify hope and light.

Managing the Art of Healing program at the Penny George Institute allows me to come full circle with my life art experience. The Art of Healing program is designed to answer the question: “How can creative expression heal?”

Through inpatient art care, hospital-wide exhibitions and community outreach, the Art of Healing program can use art not only as a personal healing force but also as a bridge between clinically-based healing, the holistic nature of all healing, and healing of the greater community.

My invitation to you: the next time you see a piece of visual art, listen to a piece of music, or watch a play or film take a moment to witness it as an act of healing.

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Dangerous Flexibility

By Sheila McNellis Asato

Resolutions_medYears ago, I quit making New Year’s resolutions and decided to just focus on one word for the year. Resolutions felt like a list of chores rather than exciting possibilities for exploration.  It’s no surprise that I often abandoned them as soon as the weather warmed up.  I also noticed that when I made resolutions, each one focused on an area of weakness, such as losing weight or organizing the house, rather than on new possibilities for growth and wholeness.  Once I changed my focus to just one word a year, something shifted and a new kind of creative energy entered the process.  In 2011, my word was STRENGTH; the year before that, the focus was on FLEXIBILTY.  Last year, I concentrated on RESILIENCY.

Choosing just one word has been incredibly freeing–leaving room for improvisation while giving me a sense of purpose and direction throughout the year.  I quickly learned that when I try to articulate every twist and turn in a to-do list, there isn’t enough room for the natural detours that pop up.  By focusing on just one word, I have a clear sense of direction with room for the unexpected.

Last year, the word STRENGTH led me back to the gym.  A sense of curiosity and play came into the gym with me, actually making it fun!  I really wanted to understand first-hand what it meant to cultivate strength in my body as I often suffer from chronic pain.  How would increasing my physical strength affect my relationship with my body?  Is it possible to exercise without creating more pain in the process?  I soon learned that for me, the key to cultivating strength was to work out more frequently, but for shorter periods of time.

During my first Pilates class, I was appalled to discover how weak I had become over the years.  One day, when I stretched much further than I should have and couldn’t get back up, my Pilates instructor warned me that too much flexibility without strength could actually be dangerous.  How counter intuitive!

It was one of those “Ah ha!” moments which made me think about all the other areas of my life in which I am very flexible but not terribly strong at self-care. Where else had I lost core strength while constantly bending to meet the needs of others?  What latent strengths did I have that could be built upon?  These questions led to a renewed interest in studying Japanese, as well as reconnecting with my love of music and Zen.

After focusing on RESILIENCY for an entire year, I also have learned that without flexibility and strength, it is impossible to bounce back from the many challenges of life.  In 2013, I will focus on SUSTAINABILTY.  I wonder where that will take me.  If you could pick only one word for the New Year, what would it be?