‘Restore’ event explores holistic health

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Ruth Ann Plourde suddenly interrupted the workshop as her class was trying to recreate the graceful but agonizingly slow T’ai Chi forms she’d taught moments before. “How’s the monkey chatter now?” she asked, in reference to humans’ normally racing thoughts. “Are you feeling in the present?”

No doubt about that. It took all one’s concentration to put the right foot out in front, lean into it, and simultaneously do the choo-choo move with the arms. No one was thinking about irritations at work, the price of gas, or picking up the kids. At the end of the class participants said they felt focused and relaxed.

An assistant professor of holistic health at the University of St. Catherine, Plourde teaches T’ai Chi and Qigong classes and brings the exercises into the workplace through her company, “Innergize.”

She was one of more than 30 holistic health teachers giving hour-long introductory workshops and presentations at “Restore,” an October 5 conference at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, which was attended by several hundred women and a handful of men.

Warren King, a licensed acupuncturist and specialist in auricular medicine (which takes cues from the energy emanating from a patient’s ears to assess and treat illness) focused much of his talk on environmental toxins and how they affect health.

“You might be taking your neighbor’s drugs,” he offered, underlining the revelation that scientists have found traces of prescription drugs in drinking water tested around the country. King believes many common illnesses can be traced to arsenic in chicken, mercury fillings in our teeth, rocket fuel in tap water, and the prevalence of parasites. Coupled with a diet of unprocessed and simple foods, “80 to 90 percent of the time herbs or homeopathic medicine can kill off” the toxins or parasites that are causing chronic fatigue, nausea or PMS, said King.

Several healing touch practitioners volunteered to give 15-minute sessions throughout the day, including Aimee Prasek, an organizer of the event and alum of the holistic health studies program at the University of St. Catherine. Healing Touch is an energy therapy that uses gentle hand techniques, on or off the body, that are thought to open the patient’s energy channels and get the energy moving to accelerate healing of the body, mind and spirit.

While some people feel no sensation under healing touch, others describe a sensation of flowing energy, relaxation and nurturing, and they may sense images and colors. Some patients may feel an emotional release or have a sudden insight into their lives. And some might elicit a loud stomach gurgling during an energy session.

“That’s typical,” said Prasek. “Things are opening up and moving around.”

Patients and healthy individuals have been turning to alternative healing methods such as energy work, meditation and yoga for years, and in the case of chiropractic, for decades. Now conventional Western medicine is getting on board with what it calls “complementary and alternative medicine” or “CAM.” (The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines CAM as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.”)

Conventional or not, most leading teaching hospitals and major universities now offer CAM training programs and despite tighter budgets, hospitals are launching new holistic “wellness” centers for patient care. Sponsors of Restore included the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, Abbott Northwestern, and the University of St. Catherine, among two dozen other CAM-focused organizations and businesses.

Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic’s complementary and integrative medicine program, said “physicians are slowly coming around” to acknowledging the benefits of CAM. He highlighted key findings of published studies undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and other giants in health care research that provide evidence that alternative health therapies like acupuncture, meditation and yoga help reduce pain, improve overall quality of life, and reduce stress. That’s significant since stress is accepted as a leading contributor to many diseases as well as premature aging.

Kathlyn Stone is an independent journalist in St. Paul. She maintains a health and science news site at fleshandstone.net.