LiveWell®

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


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The evolving field of holistic health – from alternative medicine to integrative health

By Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, licensed acupuncturist, Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing

At the end of my senior year of high school, our yearbook held predictions about each graduate’s future. It was predicted that I would quit my position as editor and chief of the New York Times to become a Zen Buddhist monk.

Even though this was one of the more absurd prophecies, this prediction actually hinted at my career path. Indeed, I did leave behind my dream of becoming a journalist to become a Chinese Medicine and integrative health provider at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

I think a Zen Buddhist monk is the closest comparison to an acupuncturist that the yearbook committee could find. In high school, none of us had heard of acupuncture, and the field of integrative health – sometimes called holistic health – did not even exist. We didn’t yet have the language to describe my future profession.

Holistic health – focused on the body, mind and spirit – has evolved over the last thirty years from alternative medicine to complementary medicine to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to integrative medicine, and most recently to integrative health.

Though 50 million people use integrative health services in one form or another – be it acupuncture or meditation or integrative nutrition counseling – it is still relatively uncommon for conventional health care organizations to adopt integrative health services and programs.

The main tenets of integrative health have become established with holistic physicians and nursing programs around the nation. CAM providers have teamed up in clinics and hospitals to offer integrative health services.

I work for Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the largest integrative health program within a health system in the nation. We have been tasked with expanding our program across the hospitals of Allina Health. This means more hospitalized patients will have access to services like guided imagery, aromatherapy and massage therapy to help support their recovery, manage pain, deal with anxiety and sleep better.

Many health care systems look to the Penny George Institute for a better understanding of how to develop successful integrative health programs and improve health care overall. Fortunately, the Penny George Institute has a research team to collect and analyze data to help us better understand how and when integrative health therapies help patients the most.

Still, the language and science about what we do is still in the making. A deep understanding of how and why some integrative therapies work has not yet been revealed.

As clinicians, we are at the center of this evolving field. We have a crucial and unique perspective. What we see, experience, and practice helps define integrative health. It’s an exciting place to be.

In future blog entries, I plan to put my journalism skills to work by interviewing my colleagues about our work. I hope this collection of upcoming interviews will provide insights into integrative health care.

Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, is a licensed acupuncturist with Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She provides integrative health services to hospitalized patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.


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Dancing for well-being

By Guest Blogger Maria Genné, founder and director of Kairos Alive!

Dancing is good for our well-being

When we dance, we increase our circulation, balance, flexibility and strength.

The research is clear: moving is good for you and dancing is even better.

When we dance, we increase our cardiovascular circulation, balance, flexibility, strength, and we get a good cognitive workout. With shifting rhythms, patterns and dynamic changes, dancing challenges our neurological system.

When we dance with others, we add a key indicator of well-being ― social interaction. When we reach out, hold another’s hand, smile, look into each other’s eyes, and move together to music we enjoy, we fill a basic human desire to connect with others in a positive way.

We also get a burst of neuropeptides – our body’s response to the stimulation of movement, music and interaction with others. As the late geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen said, this creative artistic stimulation is “like chocolate for our brain.”

In addition, dancing can help us resist or delay the cognitive and physical challenges of the aging process, including neurocognitive impairment. In 2003, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published their 20-year study on the impact of leisure activities on dementia. It found that dancing had the most significant impact in delaying the onset of dementia.

At Kairos Alive!, we call our participatory dance, music and story making “Choreography of Care™.” I have been a dancer, choreographer and teacher for many years. In that time, I have invited people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to dance in a creative, open-hearted way. I have seen a diverse community of people ― grandparents, young children, parents, frail elders, teachers, young men volunteering from a correctional facility, and older Veterans ― come alive with creativity and imagination when they expressed themselves through dance, music and story.

I also have discovered that there are many ways to dance, including dancing in a chair. We have an opportunity to reclaim dancing as a basic human expression, no matter our age, background or ability. There are many ways to dance from line dancing to the twist, from Scandinavian folk dancing to contemporary dance, from dancing in the living room with our children, to waltzing across the dance floor with our sweetheart.

The best way to begin is by dancing the way you like to dance to music you enjoy. Sometimes it might mean waiting until you have the house to yourself and remembering the quote, “dance like no one is watching.”

Another way to get moving is to dance with others. Look for dance classes or special dance events at your local community center, community education program, performing venues and professional dance organizations. Or you could organize a dance event.

Recently our Kairos Alive! artistic team started offering the Kairos Dance Hall™ to bring together people of all ages and abilities to take part in lively, interactive dance/story/theater events. Participants dance to live music performed by professional musicians. See a video from an event in Detroit Lakes.

It is an opportunity to bring the whole community together for joyful participation, health education, and personal and community well-being. We call it our “dance party for all ages,” and it is free and open to the public.

I hope you will join us at an upcoming Kairos Dance Hall™:
Minnehaha Falls Park Pavilion in Minneapolis on June 18 at 7 p.m.
Loring Park Community Center in Minneapolis on June 26 at 7 p.m.

Maria Genné is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and founder and director of Minneapolis-based Kairos Alive! – a performing arts and arts learning organization.


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My path to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband, Daniel Wolpert.

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband.

By Debra Bell, MD

This fall marks the start of a new chapter for me in a more than 25-year journey as a family medicine and integrative medicine physician.

In September, I started offering integrative medicine consultations alongside two other physicians and a clinical nurse specialist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. I am part of a team of integrative health practitioners, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, integrative nutritionists, and a psychologist.

As a new team member, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and my style of practice. Doing that requires giving you some history on how I got here.

I consider my work in health care a calling. I was exposed at an early age to medicine and drawn to the notion of helping people. As a pre-med student, I became interested in women’s studies and birthing practices. I found inspiration from my mother’s first edition books from the 1950s and 1960s about natural childbirth and breastfeeding and went on to study natural remedies used by midwives and ancient healers.

In medical school, I took a year off to concentrate on an independent study of natural medicine. I met my husband, and we spent 10 months traveling internationally visiting spiritual communities around the world. This led us to choose a simple life in which health and spiritual well-being are a priority.

We moved to Vermont, where we had a small, commercial, organic farm. I started an integrative medicine family practice and home birth private practice. Later we moved to California, where my husband attended graduate school, and I worked in a practice with other integrative medicine providers. I enjoyed having like-minded colleagues, and we learned a lot from each other.

From California, we moved to Crookston, Minn. People often ask how we ended up moving to northwest Minnesota. Divine intervention? I felt drawn to the area for a number of reasons. I found the open space and big sky breathtaking. In my practice, I could offer my services to a broader population, and the clinic at the local hospital was very supportive.

I was pleased by the number of community members who previously had never considered natural therapies but decided to come to see me because they wanted a holistic approach. Often, they did not want another prescription and did want to address more than physical symptoms. With an integrative medicine approach, we could address all aspects of well-being and healing ― work life, home life, exercise, diet, stress, coping skills, emotional well-being, and spirituality

Holistic medicine refers to focusing on the “body mind and spirit,” but often there is less emphasis on the “spirit.” I try to make sure I focus on all three.

In time, I created an integrative medicine center in partnership with the hospital. I worked with acupuncturists, massage therapists, spiritual directors and others as a team to provide holistic care.

After 13 years in Crookston, I am ready for this new chapter at the Penny George Institute. I’m looking forward to working with a remarkable team of practitioners and serving patients in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area.

Debra Bell, MD, is now seeing patients. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.